NLE Tips – Audio Track FX

I’ve written quite a few blog posts and articles about audio mixing methods in Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro. But over time, methods evolve, change, or become more streamlined, so it’s time to revisit the subject. When you boil down most commercials and short-subject videos (excluding trailers), the essence of the soundtrack is just voice against a music bed with some sound effects. While I’ll be the first to say you’ll get the best results sending even a simple mix to a professional mixer, often budget and timeframe don’t allow for that. And so, like most editors, I do a lot of my own mixes.

My approach to these mixes is straightforward and rather systematic. I’m going to use Premiere Pro examples, but track-based mixing techniques can be universally applied to all NLEs. Even FCP works with track-based mixing if you properly use its audio roles function. I will almost never apply audio effects at the individual clip level, unless it something special, like simulated phone call voice processing.

All dialogue clips usually end up on A1 with crossfades between to smooth the edits. Add room tone between for consistency. This also helps the processing of the track effects, especially noise reduction. If I have more than one voice or character, then each goes onto a separate track. I will use clip volume adjustments in order to get the track to sound even across the length of the video. With this done, it’s time to move to the track mixer.

In this example from a recent product video, the reviewer’s voice is on A1. There’s a motor start-up sound that I’ve isolated and placed on A2. Music is on A3 and then the master mix bus. These audio plug-in effects are the ones I use on almost every video in a pretty systematic fashion. I have a nice collection of paid and free, third-party audio plug-ins, but I often stick to only the stock effects that come with a given NLE. That’s because I frequently work with other editors on the same project and I know that if I stick with the standard effects, then they won’t have any compatibility issues due to missing plug-ins. The best stock plug-in set can be found in Logic Pro and many of those are available in FCP. However, the stock audio effects available in Premiere are solid options for most projects.

Audio track 1 – Dialogue – Step 1 – noise reduction. Regardless of how clean the mic recording is, I will apply noise reduction to nearly every voice track recorded on location. My default is the light noise reduction preset, where I normally tweak only the percentage. If you have a really noisy recording, I suggest using Audition first (if you are a Creative Cloud subscriber). It includes several noise reduction routines and a spectral repair function. Process the audio, bounce out an export, and bring the cleaned-up track into your timeline. However, that’s going to be the exception. The new dialogue isolation feature in Resolve 18.1 (and later) as well as iZotope RX are also good options.

Step 2 – equalization. I apply a parametric EQ effect after the noise reduction stage. This is just to brighten the voice and cut any unnecessary low end. Adobe’s voice enhancer preset is fine for most male and female voices. EQ is very subjective, so feel free to tweak the settings to taste.

Step 3 – compressor. I prefer the tube-modeled compressor set to the voice leveling preset for this first compression stage. This squashes any of the loudest points. I typically adjust the threshold level. You can also use this filter to boost the gain of the voice as you see in the screenshot. You really need to listen to how the audio sounds and work interactively. Play this compressor off against the audio levels of the clip itself. Don’t just squash peaks using the filter. Duck any really loud sections and/or boost low areas within the clip for an even sound without it becoming overly compressed.

Audio track 2 – Sound FX – Step 1 – equalization. Many of my videos are just voice and music, but in this case, the reviewer powers up a boat motor and cruises off at the end of the piece. I wanted to emphasis the motor rumble, so I split that part of the clip’s audio and moved it down to A2. This let me apply different effects than the A1 track effects. Since I wanted a lot of bottom end, I used parametric EQ at full reset and boosted the low end to really get a roaring sound.

Step 2 – compressor. I once again applied the tube-modeled compressor in order to keep the level tame with the boosted EQ settings.

Audio track 3 – Music – Step 1 – equalization. Production music helps set the mood and provides a bed under the voice. But you don’t want it to compete. Before applying any effects, get the volume down to an acceptable level and adjust any really loud or quiet parts in the track. Then, apply a parametric equalizer in the track mixer panel. Pull down the level of the midrange in the frequencies closest to the voice. I will also adjust the Q (range and tightness of the bell curve at that frequency). In addition, I often boost the low and high ends. In this example, the track included a bright hi-hat, which I felt was a bit distracting. And so in this example, I also pulled down some of the high end.

Step 2 – stereo expander. This step is optional, but it helps many mixes. The stereo expander effect pushes the stereo image out to the left and right, leaving more of the center open for voice. However, don’t get carried away, because stereo expander plug-ins also alter the phase of the track. This can potentially throw some of the music out of phase when listened to in mono, which could cause your project to be rejected. If you are mixing for the web, then this is less of an issue, since most modern computers, tablets, smart phones, not to mention ear buds, etc are all set up for stereo. However, if you mix is for broadcast, then be sure to check your mix for proper phase correlation.

Mix bus – Step 1 – multi-band compression. The mix bus (aka master bus or output bus) is your chance to “glue” the mix together. There are different approaches, but for these types of projects, I like to use Adobe’s multi-band compressor set to the classical master preset. I adjust the threshold of the first three bands to -20 and a compression ratio of 4 across the board. This lightly knocks down any overshoots without being heavy-handed. The frequency ranges usually don’t need to be adjusted. Altering the output gain drives the volume hitting the limiter in the next step. You may of may not need to adjust this depending on your target level for the whole mix.

Step 2 – hard limiter. The limiter is the last plug-in that controls output volume. This is your control to absolutely stay below a certain level. I use the -3 or -6 preset (depending on the loudness level I’m trying achieve) and reduce the input boost back to 0. I also change it to read true peaks instead of only peak levels. 

Step 3 – loudness meter. The loudness meter keeps you honest. Don’t just go by the NLE’s default audio meters. If you have been mixing to a level of just below 0 on those, then frankly you are mixing the wrong way for this type of content. Really loud mixes close to 0 are fine for music production, but not OK for any video project.

The first step is to find out the target deliverable and use the preset for that. There are different presets for broadcast loudness standards versus web streaming, like YouTube. These presets don’t change the readout of the numbers, though. They change the color indicators slightly. Learn what those mean. 

Broadcast typically requires integrated loudness to be in the -23 to -24 area, whereas YouTube uses -14. I aim for a true peak target of -3 or -6. This tracks with the NLE audio meters at levels peaking in the -9 to -6 range. Adjusting the gain levels of the multi-band compressor and/or limiter help you get to those target levels.

©2022 Oliver Peters

NLE Tips – Proxy Hacks

Editors often think of the clip within the edit application’s browser as the media file. But that clip is only a facsimile of the actual media. It links to potentially three different assets on the hard drive – the original camera (or sound) file, optimized media, and/or proxy media.

Optimized media. You may decide to create optimized media when the original media’s codec or file format is too taxing on your system. For example, you might convert a media file made up of an image sequence into an optimized movie file using one of the ProRes or DNx codecs. When you create optimized media, that is often the media used for finishing instead of the original camera media. For sake of simplicity I’ll refer to original media from here on, but understand that it could be optimized media or original camera files.

Proxy media. There are many reasons for creating proxy media – portability, system performance, remote editing, etc. Proxy media is usually lightweight, more highly compressed, and of a lower resolution than the original media. Nearly all editing applications enable users to edit with lightweight proxy media in lieu of heavier, native camera files. When proxy media has been created, then the media clip in the NLE’s browser can actually link to both the original camera file, as well as the proxy media file. Software “toggles” in the application can seamlessly swap the link from one type of media file to the other.

The NLEs that offer proxy editing workflows integrate routines to transcode and automatically switch the links between proxy and original camera files on the hard drive. DaVinci Resolve 18 is the newest in this group with the addition of the Blackmagic Proxy Generator application. However, that tool only works with Resolve Studio 18 downloaded from Blackmagic Design’s website. The Generator is an addition to Resolve 18 and augments the built-in transcoding tools. In either case, you don’t have to use the built-in routines nor the Blackmagic Proxy Generator. You can encode proxies using different software and even different computers. Then you can attach those proxies to the clips in the editing application at a later time.

Creating external proxy media

Proxies can be created with any encoding software. I like Apple Compressor, which includes a category of presets specifically designed for proxy media generation. The presets can be modified according to your needs.  For instance, you can add a LUT and effects, like a timecode overlay. This makes it easy to know when you are toggled to the original or the proxy media within the NLE.

Before creating any proxy files, make sure that your original files all have unique file names. Rename any duplicates or those with generic file names, like Clip001, Clip002, etc. There are several key parameters needed for successful relinking between original and proxy media. These include matching names, frame rates, timecode, lengths, and audio channel configurations. Some applications let you force a relink when some of these items don’t match, but it will usually be one file at a time.

Frame sizes can be smaller, since that’s an aspect of any proxy workflow. For example, if you start with 4K/UHD original media, but you create half-size HD proxies. The embedded metadata in the proxy file informs the NLE so that the correct size is maintained when switching between the two. Likewise, the codecs do not need to match. You can have 4K/UHD ProRes HQ originals and HD H.264 proxy media (I prefer ProRes Proxy). The point is to have proxy media with smaller file sizes, which play back more efficiently on your computer.

When you transcode proxy media files in Compressor or any other encoding application, it’s best to render them into a folder specifically called Proxy. This can be anywhere you like, but it’s best to have it near your original camera files. If you have multiple camera file folders – organized by camera roll, day, camera model, etc – then there are two options. You can either have one single Proxy file for all renders or have a separate subfolder called Proxy within each camera roll folder.

Dealing with externally-created proxies in different editing applications

Final Cut Pro – There is a setting to switch between Proxy Preferred and Original/Optimized. When you create external proxies, highlight the original camera clips and relink to the proxy media in the Proxy folder(s). Once proxies have been linked, then you can seamlessly switch between the two types of media.

Premiere Pro – There is a similar toggle button accessible in the timeline tools panel. The linking steps are similar to Final Cut Pro. Highlight the originals and then Attach Proxies. Navigate to the Proxy folder(s) and attach that media. The toggle button lets you switch back and forth between media types.

DaVinci Resolve Studio 18 – This update changed the proxy workflow as well as added the Generator application. You can still use the older proxy generation method. If so, then set the encoding parameters and location in your project settings. If you encode using the Blackmagic Proxy Generator app or an external application, then it’s a different process. The advantage to using Blackmagic Proxy Generator is that you can set up watch folders for automatic encoding.

The default location when using the Blackmagic Proxy Generator app or Resolve’s internal routine places a Proxy subfolder inside the folder of each roll of original media. When that condition exists, then original clips added into the Media page automatically include links to both the original and the proxy media. In fact, the Proxy subfolders don’t even show up in Resolve’s browser when searching for media. When both types of media are present, then the Resolve clip icons reflects that duality.

When you transcode externally with Compressor or another app, then media placed into individual Proxy subfolders will also automatically link inside Resolve. However, if you render to a single, unified Proxy folder, then you’ll need to manually relink the proxy files to the originals in the Media page. Like the other two NLEs, you can do this as a batch function by navigating to the Proxy folder.

I hope these pointers will be a useful guide the next time you decide to use a proxy media workflow.

©2022 Oliver Peters

NLE Tips – Premiere Pro Multicam

The best way to edit interviews with more than one camera is to use your edit software’s multicam function. The Adobe Premiere Pro version works quite well. I’ve written about it before, but there are differing multicam workflows depending on the specific production situation. Some editors prefer to work with cameras stacked on tracks, but that’s a very inefficient way of working. In this post, I’m going to look at a slightly different way of using Premiere Pro with multicam clips.

I like to work in the timeline more than the browser/bin. Typically an interview involves longer takes and fewer clips, so it’s easy to organize on the timeline and that’s how I build my multicam clips. Here is a proven workflow in a few simple steps.

Step 1 – String out your clips sequentially onto the timeline – all of A-cam, then all of B-cam, then C-cam, and so on. You will usually have the same number of clips for each camera, but on occasion there will be some false starts. Remove those from the timeline.

Step 2 – Move all of the B-cam clips to V2 and the audio onto lower tracks so that they are all below the A-cam tracks. Move all of the C-cam clips to V3 and the audio onto lower tracks so that they are all below the B-cam tracks. Repeat this procedure for each camera.

Step 3 – Slide the B, C, etc camera clips for take 1 so they overlap with the A-camera clip. Repeat for take 2, take 3, and so on.

Step 4 – Highlight all of the clips for take 1, right-click and select Synchronize. There are several ways to sync, but if you recorded good reference audio onto all cameras (always do this), then synchronizing by the audio waveforms is relatively foolproof. Once the analysis is complete, Premiere will automatically realign the take 1 clips to be in sync with each other. Repeat the step for each take. This method is ideal when there’s mismatched timecode or when no slate or common sync marker (like a clap) was used.

Step 5 – Usually the A-camera will have the high-quality audio for your mix. However, if an external audio recorder was used for double-system sound, then the audio clips should have been part of the same syncing procedure in steps 1-4. In any case, delete all extra tracks other than your high-quality audio. In a two-person interview, it’s common to have a mix of both mics recorded onto A1 and A2 of the camera or sound recorder and then each isolated mic on A3 and A4. Normally I will keep all four channels, but disable A1 and A2, since my intention is to remix the interview using the isolated mics. In the case of some cameras, like certain Sony models, I might have eight tracks from the A-cam and only the first four have anything on them. Remove the empty channels. The point is to de-clutter the timeline.

Step 6 – Next, trim the ends of each take across all clips. Then close the gaps between all takes.

Step 7 – Before going any further, do any touch-up that may be necessary to the color in order to match the cameras. In a controlled interview, the same setting should theoretically apply to each take for each camera, but that’s never a given. You are doing an initial color correction pass at this stage to match cameras as closely as possible. This is easy if you have the same model camera, but trickier if different brands were used. I recently edited a set of interviews where a GoPro was used as the C-camera. In addition to matching color, I also had to punch in slightly on the GoPro and rotate the image a few degrees in order to clean up the wide-angle appearance and the fact that the camera wasn’t leveled well during the shoot.

Step 8 – Make sure all video tracks are enabled/shown, highlight all the video clips (not audio), and nest them. This will collapse your timeline video clips into a single nested clip. Right-click and Enable Multi-Camera. Then go through and blade the cut point at the beginning of each take (this should match the cuts in your audio). Duplicate that sequence for safe keeping. By doing it this way, I keep the original audio clips and do not place them into a nest. I find that working with nested audio is rather convoluted and, so, more straightforward this way.

Step 9 – Now you are ready to edit down the interview – trimming down the content and switching/cutting between camera angles of the multicam clip. Any Lumetri correction, effects, or motion tab settings that you applied or altered in Step 7 follow the visible angle. Proceed with the rest of the edit. I normally keep multicam clips in the sequence until the very end to accommodate client changes. For example, trims made to the interview might result in the need to re-arrange the camera switching to avoid jump cuts.

Step 10 – Once you are done and the sequence is approved by the client, select all of the multicam clips and flatten them. This leaves you with the original camera clips for only the visible angles. Any image adjustments, effects, and color correction applied to those clips will stick.

©2022 Oliver Peters

NLE Tips – Premiere Pro Workflow Guide

Avid Media Composer is still the king of the hill when it comes to editing feature films and other long-form projects. However, Adobe also has a strong and ever-growing presence with many editors of notable TV shows, documentaries, and dramatic feature films using Premiere Pro as their NLE of choice. Adobe maintains a close relationship with many of these users, often seeding early versions of advanced features to them, as well as seeing what workflow pain points they encounter.

This battle-testing led Adobe to release a new Best Practices and Workflow Guide. It’s available online and as a free, downloadable PDF. While it’s targeted towards editors working on long-form projects, there are many useful pointers for all Premiere Pro editors. The various chapters cover such topics as hardware settings, proxies, multi-camera, remote/cloud editing, and much more.

Adobe has shied away from written documentation over the years, so it’s good to see them put the effort in to document best practices gleaned from working editors that will benefit all Premiere Pro users.

©2022 Oliver Peters

New Plug-ins Bring More Spice to FCP

Continuum FCP Units, Hawaiki Keyer 5, XTheme Tech

All editing applications benefit from third-party video plug-ins. Two of my favorite developers are Boris FX and Noise Industries/FxFactory. Over the years Boris FX has evolved into a powerhouse plug-in developer offering the most comprehensive effects packages on the market. FxFactory takes a different route. They develop their own plug-ins, but also serve as a platform and marketplace for numerous partner/developers. The result is a product mix that’s both diverse and eclectic.

Boris FX Continuum FCP Units

Boris FX Continuum Complete has been their flagship product for decades. It runs in many of the popular post production applications, including Avid Media Composer, Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects, Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve, and Apple Final Cut Pro and Motion. As I’ve previously noted, Continuum FCP differs from the other versions of Continuum and is sold as a separate product. Boris FX also breaks down some of the categories of Continuum effects into its Units products, which are subsets of the full version. These are packaged for editors and designers who don’t need or want all of what’s in the full version.

This summer Boris FX released the free BCC Looks package for Final Cut Pro editors. That was followed up recently with three new Continuum FCP Units collections: Stylize, Color Essentials, and Transitions. These are affordable collections sold with perpetual licenses. They include hundreds of presets plus Mocha masking with each effect. If you purchase all three, as well as pick up the free Looks plug-in, you’ll have a lot of what’s in the full Continuum for FCP bundle. However, you’ll need the full version for certain popular effects, like lens flares.

The installer you receive is for the complete Continuum suite. As you run it, you’ll be prompted for the activation code of each purchased Unit. You can opt to install only the licensed plug-ins or the full package, which means the non-licensed effects run in a watermarked trial mode. Adjust an effect’s parameters in the FCP inspector panel or open it in the FX Browser, where you can toggle through presets or customize the settings. Transition effects also use on-screen graphs for the effect’s velocity curves.

Boris FX has done a good job of curating the collections with plenty of useful effects. For example, Stylize features effects such as glitch, prism, gobo,  grunge, and more. Color Essentials includes many film effects, like film stocks, gels, bleach bypass, etc. Finally, the Transitions Unit offers a variety of zoom, glitch, glow, prism, and light leak dissolve effects. You certainly get a lot more with the full version of Continuum; however, the effects included within these Units collections are ones that you’ll use quite often. They complement Final Cut’s built-in effects palette, so you won’t feel like you’ve bought something that’s already in the native application.

FxFactory: Hawaiki Keyer 5

Virtual production has had all the buzz, but more often than not for budgetary reasons the fallback is green/blue-screen keying instead of a “volume” studio. To create a convincing composite, you need a top-notch keying plug-in. One of the best, just got better. The developers behind Hawaiki Keyer just upgraded version 4 to the new Hawaiki Keyer 5. This is offered through FxFactory and runs in Final Cut Pro, Motion, Premiere Pro, and After Effects.

The installation adds four plug-ins: HK5 (green), HK5 (blue), Comp Tools 5, and Slice 5. The first two are compositing effects specifically optimized for a green or blue-screen background. Comp Tools supplies all of the Hawaiki Keyer edge tools if you are using a different keyer. It will work as long as the keyer generates an alpha signal. Slice is an analysis tool. Green and blue-screen keying covers 99% of this type of compositing, but you can still use either keying effect if some non-standard background color was used. Hawaiki Keyer 5 offers a broad range of tools to adjust the key, edges, light wrap, and post-process color correction.

New features in version 5 are built-in cropping and shape masks with AI tracking. A common production situation is to shoot wide with the intent to isolate the subject on the green screen background. The shot often extends past the edge of the background cyc and may include crew or lighting or other elements that need to be removed. HK5 is optimized to even out the background for a cleaner key. It now includes tools to mask out all of the material other than what you are intending to key. No need to add additional masking and cropping effects, because these are built into the plug-in itself.

Shape masking uses AI tracking, which can be set to follow objects or faces (including multiple faces), using facial recognition. This is real-time and happens automatically without the need to first analyze the movement and generate a tracked path. As far as I know, it’s unique to have this function integrated directly into the plug-in. For my money, these new features along with the depth of the adjustments available make Hawaiki Keyer 5 the best green/blue-screen keyer plug-in on the market.

FxFactory: XTheme Tech

One major advantage to using Final Cut Pro and Motion is the ability to create your own effects and graphics templates based on the Motion Templates architecture. This has empowered a huge ecosystem of small developers to create free and paid graphics packages. Adobe’s Essential Graphics panel templates pale in comparison. There are many FCP templates, but few are designed with elements built to work together for a coherent look. The exception is idustrial revolution, whose XEffects plug-ins and tool kits are offered through FxFactory. These include professionally-designed social, sports, and news packages that are great for graphics-challenged editors like me.

idustrial’s newest is XTheme Tech, a set of titles, effects, and transitions. These matching elements are designed to be complementary and can be used as an elegant graphics package for any type of show. The tool kit is exclusive for Final Cut Pro and includes over 100 lower thirds, backgrounds, tracking callouts, panels, bars, transitions, and more. There’s also a demo project with examples of how to build looks. Elements from the demo timeline can also be copied-and-pasted into your own sequence.

The bundle includes 10 color swatch titles intended for inspiration. That’s pretty cool. Color accents and background colors can be easily modified in the inspector, which lets you experiment with your own color combinations. Copy-and-paste any of the colors from the swatches into the Mac color picker for use elsewhere. You can make parameter and text changes in the inspector panel, but also on-screen. That’s especially helpful when pinning control points for tracking callouts.

The type of plug-ins and effects that an editor might need can certainly vary from one production to the next. However, these newest updates from Boris FX and FxFactory are definitely worth looking into. As a collection, they form a versatile tool kit for any Final Cut editor and can elevate the quality of any production.

©2022 Oliver Peters