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Little Frog in High Def

Musings of an NLE ronin…
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Archive for August, 2012

One thing I find myself doing very often while editing remotely…me in L.A., the production company in Virginia…is exporting Quicktime files of my project for my producers at “home base” to watch.  I will do this on an Act by Act basis…when I finish an act, I’ll export it, upload to their FTP.

Now, like most, if not all of you, I don’t like to sit and wait for a long time while this process happens.  I have stuff to do. So I want this to go fast.  And I have found a formula that makes it not only go fast, but keeps the file sizes small too.  Without making the video look too crappy.

First off, I want to note, this is REVIEW quality. Meaning, you watch it for content, not quality.  The outputs aren’t high res, they aren’t high quality.  They are OK quality.  This is how I keep the file sizes small, and export times fast.  How fast?  Real time fast.  A 48 min sequence exports in about 50 min. OK, a little SLOWER than real time.  But what if I told you this includes a timecode window? One that I didn’t render before exporting?  Yeah, that impressed me too.

OK, so the first thing I do is highlight all my tracks, and from start to finish on the timeline.  Then I do an EXPERT RENDER…meaning, “render all effects that aren’t real time effects.”  Since I render as I edit, this often takes little to no time…but some stuff slips through the cracks.  Then, I make a new blank layer, and drop on my Timecode Generator effect.  And then, without rendering again (if you did another expert render, it would want to render that timecode…for the entire length of the sequence)…I simply choose FILE>EXPORT.  A window pops up asking for export type, and location of where the file should go.  From there I click on the drop down menu and choose EXPORT TO QT MOVIE, and set my destination, and file name.  Then I use the following settings.

1) This is the main export window.  I’m not going to repeat all the settings you see here, I only want to point out that I use 640×360, as I am editing a 16:9 sequence, and I make sure it is chosen in both the WIDTH AND HEIGHT section, and the DISPLAY ASPECT RATIO section.  This frame dimension must be consistent in all export window options. Oh, and USE MARKS means that the IN and OUT points I set are the range that will be exported. I will have my full timeline up, but only want to export one Act, so I mark IN and OUT for the act I want to export. Make sure that is checked, otherwise it’ll export the whole sequence.

OK…moving on.

2) I click on FORMAT OPTIONS to get the above menu.  I make sure to enable AUDIO and VIDEO here. Even though I might have it chosen to do video and audio in the previous menu, if it isn’t chosen here, you won’t get it. Gotta to it in both places.  Click on AUDIO…choose 44.1 and 16-bit stereo. If you want smaller QT files, make it mono, or 22.0 and mono.  I don’t do this. Because audio is very important. If the picture quality sucks…fine.  People can see past that. But if the audio sucks, is noisy…then the QT is unwatchable.  This is the one area I keep the settings in the GOOD range.

OK, click on VIDEO and you get:

3) A couple things to mention here.  At first Avid defaults to SORENSON 3.  So click on the drop down menu and choose H.264.  If you leave the DATA RATE on AUTOMATIC, that allows you to adjust the slider.  If you type in a number, RESTRICT TO, then you can’t. I generally keep it on AUTOMATIC and put the quality at MEDIUM.  For smaller files, you can restrict to 1000 or 1500 kbps.  I just find MEDIUM to be a good middle ground. Another important thing to do, is change the encoding from BEST QUALITY, where it defaults, to FASTER.  This is the key to the fast export times.

Click OK.  Click OK again..the other OK, in the MOVIE settings.  Then click SAVE AS…and name it whatever you will.  This way you don’t need to redo your settings.  Just choose the preset you make and you are ready to go.

Then watch it progress in real time.

Now, if you want fast encoding of QT H.264 files…also in real time. Then look at the Matrox solutions. Compress HD is a PCIe card that fits in the MacPro computers. And then there are the MAX versions of their hardware IO devices.  If you use the Matrox H.264 option, that will trigger these devices to kick in and aid the encoding process. Making high res H.264s in real time.  Chew on that.

(NOTE: I am working with footage from the Canon C300…accessed via AMA and consolidated, not transcoded. So our footage is XDCAM 422…a GOP format. And GOP formats don’t allow for SAME AS SOURCE exports. So I can’t do that and use, say COMPRESSOR and add the TC burn there. If your footage was DNxHD in any flavor, you’d be able to do that. But I wonder if doing that, then taking into Compressor or Sorenson and compressing is any quicker than the real time, direct output from Avid that I have laid out here.)

OK, so I’ve been bad about blogging lately. I blame work.  Long hours are bad for bloggers.

ANYWAY…so that you all don’t go into withdrawl, I’ll link to a great post by my friend Jon Chappell over at digitalrebellion.com.  His post on Avid AMA best practices is one that anyone who uses and Avid must read.  Not “should” read…but MUST read.  This is required reading.  There will be a pop quiz.

The forty first episode of THE EDIT BAY is now available for download. This one is about the dangers of going above and beyond .

To play in your browser or download direct, click here.

To subscribe to this podcast in iTunes, CLICK HERE.

I’m going to avoid the tech in this post, and try to concentrate on the creative.  Because to tell the truth, there isn’t a lot of tech involved, just editing.  Yes, can say things like the trim tool in Avid make cutting this show very easy, as the trim tool, in my opinion, is one of the best tool for cutting narrative.  It allows me to nuance the scenes better than I could with FCP.

Oh, sorry, I’m talking tech.  I’ll stop.  I’ll stop saying things like I’m doing my temp mix on the timeline without the audio mix tool open, I’m using keyframes. Not chopping up the audio tracks and lowering/raising levels in the mixer and adding dissolves, like I always have done in the past.  I’ll skip saying that.

I guess I could say that I’m sticking to traditional editing, and not relying on a lot of fancy transition effects.  Well, I’m using ONE, and only as a transition between scenes that denote a passage of time. It’s a simple film leak that’s super imposed between the cuts, with speed ramps for 4-5 frames on either end to make it look like a camera starting and stopping.  Other than that, it’s all straight cutting.

And that’s what I want to really get into…the cutting. The way I approach the cutting. This show is an interesting cross of interviews, narration and recreations.  That makes it a bit of a challenge to cut.  See, I can’t just cut it like a narrative show, just cut the scenes as scripted. I need to make sure that the narration fits, and that interview bites fit. See, I have to have the scenes driven mainly by the sound bites, with the audio from the scenes to be lowered to make room for them, and only have it break through at certain points so that story points are made in the narrative.  It’s a balance…a tough one.  Because the dialog of the actors will be the same as the interview, so the interview audio needs to go over the acting, but then punctuate the scenes with audio from the scenes.  And still allow for space for narration to fill in the gaps.

Now, while they did take a lot of this into account when they shot, there are still moments where I have more narration than I do scene, so I need to recut the scene after I add the interview and VO so that I can cover what is being said. It can be tough at times, but it can also allow me to find reactions to emphasize what is being said.  It’s a challenge, and all this does add time to the edit. I’m not cutting a doc with VO and sound bites that I just need to fill in with b-roll and music…nor am I cutting straight narrative, where I can rely on performance to carry the story. I need to blend both.  And moreso than previous shows I have cut that had recreations, like Andrew Jackson and the Mexican American War.  Those relied mainly on VO and interview bites, and all the recreations were basically backdrop to those.  Very few sound ups were had.  But this show has a 60/40 split, leaning towards performance over interview.

OK, with the story part cut, I need to also address audio.  I tend to cut the story and the interviews and VO first, and then go back and add music and sound design. And yes, I mean sound design. More on that in a second.

MUSIC

This show will have a composer, and the temp tracks we are relying on are from previous shows and other cues in their library.  The music will all be redone, so what I am doing is just temp, but it needs to sound like the final to make the scenes work…to sell it to the producers and network. So a good amount of time is taken on the music. And as what always happens with music, the timing of the scene changes slightly when I add music, and add sections where the music punctuates the action.

SOUND EFFECTS

Well, I have to say “sound design.” No, I am not an audio mixer, but I still need to do quite a bit of sound design. I need to layer music, and small hits, rises, impacts…scary SFX cues and demon breaths and all sorts of audio to make the scary parts work. I mean, you should see them without the scary music or effects. They are creepy, sure. But add the SFX and it REALLY sells it. Audio can get pretty thick…16 tracks of audio, and more than a few are stereo tracks. Go down to the WEEKS 3-4 post and see what my timeline looks like. I might have 3 tracks of video, because I might layer a couple shots, have a layer for transitions, and another for titles. But that’s it.  AUDIO? 16 tracks…the most I am allowed for real time playback. Audio is by far more involved than video.

But again, this adds time. A lot of time.  Hunting through music cues for the right one, one that you didn’t use before. And wait, what was that one I heard when looking for something in that last act? Where is that one, it will work great here.  And then listening to all sorts of WHOOSHES and IMPACTS and ghostly audio again and again to see what might work, and what just sounds cheesy.

So I delivered the rough cut of my first episode…and it was 58 minutes long. It needs to be 48 minutes for international distribution, with 5 minutes taken out for domestic. So it’s a tad long.  I’m awaiting notes on that one. In the meantime, I’m in the middle of Act 4 of my second episode (of 6 acts) and making headway. Just today I cut 2:48 of finished, fully mixed and sound designed video.  A little slower than usual, I try to get 4-5 min done a day. But today I was working on a scene that was full of dramatic tension buildup, and ghostly encounter, so it took a little time. I expect notes on my first episode tomorrow, so when that happens, I’ll stop work on episode 2 to address those so we can get that off to the network.  Then back to finish up the rough cut to get that to the producers. And by then my drive with the next episode will arrive.

No rest until it’s over.  #postdontstop

The fortieth episode of THE EDIT BAY is now available for download.

This one is all about how you need to leave the editors alone when the tackle the initial edit…the rough cut.

To play in your browser or download direct, click here.

To subscribe to this podcast in iTunes, CLICK HERE.