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Little Frog in High Def

Musings of an NLE ronin…
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Category: Premiere

I started this blog in 2005, when I made my leap from editing on an Avid in standard definition…to editing with FCP in high definition…thus the name Little Frog in High Def (Little Frog being my Indian name from my youth). This blog was me talking about my foray into the world of HD specifically using Final Cut Pro…for broadcast TV shows. A diary of my successes and my failures…lessons I wanted to share so that people could learn from my…well, successes and failures.

So now, with the EOL of FCP and me moving back to using Avid Media Composer…and Adobe Premiere…I’d like to list off my 10 favorite things about FCP that I will miss.  My favorite features that made me love the application.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still use it for a while, my current job as a matter of fact most likely will use it for a few more years.  Companies out here tend to do that…use what they have because it works…until it no longer works (in some cases, even when it doesn’t work).  I post these in hopes that the other NLE makers will see them and go “yeah, that’s a cool feature” and try to incorporate it into their future releases.

Here are the top 10 favorite features that I’ll miss in FCP…in no particular order:

1. Resolution independence. I like that I can add HD to an SD sequence, and it works fine.  720p in a 1080p sequence look fine too.  And I can take 1080, put it into a 720p sequence, and scale and reposition to show what I want to show.  Adobe has this too…Avid does not. If I put a 1080p clip into a 720p project…it becomes 720p.

2. Audio mixing on the timeline, and with keystrokes. My favorite ability is to lasso audio, and press the CONTROL key and bracket and + – keys to increase and decrease audio by a few db.  Control brackets adjusts by 3db in either direction, – and + by 1db.  This allows for very quick and very precise audio mixing. And if I didn’t do that, just toggling Clip Overlays brings up the level lines and I can drag up or down, quickly add keyframes for more controlled audio dips.  Yeah, Avid does this too, but it isn’t as elegant. And Avid doesn’t do keyboard audio mixing. Nor Adobe.

3. Speaking of audio…I like having more than 16 tracks of realtime audio. Most times I don’t have more than 8-14 channels of audio, but it isn’t all that rare for me to have between 24 and 48 channels of audio. I have been in that boat many a time, especially when dealing with 6 people on individual mics, the need to add b-roll audio, extensive sound design for SFX, and smoother music editing.  And yes, as a picture editor I am responsible for a lot of the pre-mix. Many clients/network execs can’t watch a cut with temp sounding audio…so it needs to sound finished.  And be very in depth.  Avid stops at 24 total tracks of audio…only 16 audible at a time.  PPro is better…it allows, well, at least 48. Although the audio mixer is track based, not clip based, and mixing audio on the timeline is lacking…more difficult than it should be.

4. The ability to work with picture files at full size on the timeline without plugins. Being able to add picture files, in their full size (well, they have to be under 4000 pixels or FCP gives the über helpul “general error”) onto my timeline and do small moves, or temp moves on them and have them remain sharp is handy.  Avid imports still as media, unless you use the Avid Pan & Zoom plugin, which allows for manipulation. But isn’t as easy as direct picture access.  Adobe works like FCP in this respect…so that is good.

5. Clip enable/disable. With the click of Control-B, I could turn off clips in the timeline that I had highlighted…rendering them invisible and silent.  This was a quick and easy way to see clips under clips, without turning off track visibility and un-rendering EVERYTHING. It enabled me to only turn of portions of my timeline. To be fair, Avid doesn’t need this, as you can monitor separate video tracks, and go under clips without losing one render.  Disabling audio files quickly, so that I can only hear the music though…that is something Avid doesn’t do. Yeah, I could click-click-click to turn off tracks.  But it is so easy to lasso/disble in two quick strokes. And I could use it to turn off clips surrounding others for easier soloing of audio elements.

6. Simple compositing on the timeline. FCP is a far better compositor than Avid…for an NLE. Adobe is good too, but the simplicity and ease that I can composite shots in FCP dwarfs what I can do in the Avid.  And I can blend elements better, add filters to single clips only, rather than from a clip, and everything below that clip.  Composite modes right there on the timeline for many cool effects (not all broadcast safe, so beware). Building a composite shot, or funky transition is easy in FCP…a tad more involved and difficult with Avid.  As I said earlier, Adobe Premiere Pro does this well too.

7. The wide variety of plugins.  Let’s face it, there are simply a LOT of plugins available for FCP.  Enough free ones to keep you occupied and happy…and dozens more cheap ones.  A few spendy ones.  But really, A LOT of plugins.  Did I use them all? No, I have favorites, and I don’t rely on them a lot.  But when I need them, I know that I have a wide variety that I can choose from, give the look I want to make.  Avid has darn few, and of those few, they are EXPENSIVE. The only free ones are the ones built in.  There are no great free fan-made plugins for Avid.  FCP had lots of people doing this for free…for fun. FCP has a great and vast plugin community.

8. Organization of materials. This is big…so big that I had a tutorial DVD that covered all aspects of this topic. I am big on organization.  But the strength of this, the beauty of it, was also a curse. If you are new to FCP, or don’t know how it dealt with assets or  just weren’t paying attention, you could hose your project in a big way, or make life difficult down the road.  So it’s a gift, and a curse…to quote Monk.  FCP allowed for organizing footage in the project, and outside of the project, on the desktop level. It kept all tape imports and tapeless imports separated by project. And renders as well.  All captured/imported media was imported into the Capture Scratch folder, into project subfolders.  This made it really easy to find only the assets used by certain projects. I liked to make one folder per project, point FCP to that project for captures and renders, and make folders for audio assets, stills, graphics…everything.  So that all assets for one project were in one location. Easy to backup, easy to transfer…easy to delete.  The danger of the way FCP did things is that if you just grabbed a picture file, or audio file from your desktop and put it into the FCP project, the original file REMAINED on the desktop. So when you transferred the media to a drive for mobile editing, or to hand off, you might forget those odd stray files. So you really had to pay attention and be organized on the desktop level, and in the application. But this was a REALLY powerful way of doing things.

Adobe does this too…so that point is moot.

Avid doesn’t. Avid puts ALL imported assets, regardless of project, into one location. Or if you need to use multiple drives, into single folder locations on multiple drives.  And the media wasn’t accessable via the desktop level, all organization needed to be done inside the Media Composer itself.  I find this limiting.  But, it is just one way that Avid keeps track of everything, and VERY well.  There are power-user things you can do, like change the MXF folder names so that you keep multiple folders, separated out by project. But you should only do this if you know what you are doing, and know how Avid does things.

9. Exporting a Quicktime file with multiple channels of discreet audio.  Before MC6, this was something ONLY Final Cut Pro did. In fact, when I asked someone how to do this from Avid as DNxHD, they responded “it can’t. And that is the reason we have one FCP station, so that we can do just that.” But now, with MC 6, I can do that too. Isn’t as smooth as it is in FCP, but it is close, and will only improve.  Adobe PPro cannot do that…it has Mono, Stereo, and Dolby 5.1 options only. We’ll have to see if CS6 adds this ability.

10 – The ability to import only portions of tapeless media via Log and Transfer.  In Final Cut Pro you can import only portions of clips if you want.  Have a 1 hour clip of nothing, then 2 min of something happening?  Import only that.  Premiere Pro, being native only, does not do this. All or nothing. With Avid, you have to do a few tricks…extra steps.  Access via AMA, put your selects onto a timeline, and then transcode.  I guess that isn’t too bad, but not as slick as Log and Transfer.  And again, Premiere Pro doesn’t do this.

OK…eleven things.  I will also miss the ability to open multiple projects…and especially multiple sequences.

Avid and PPro have improved, and might now include something I used to only be able to do in FCP.  Either that or I simply only have 9 things.  Either way, I’m keeping the title the same…sounds better to say “my top 10 list” rather than “my top 9 list.”  Monk knows what I’m talking about.

Please feel free to add your favorite features you will miss in the comments section. Doesn’t need to be 10, but I am interested in what tricks other people do in FCP, that aren’t doable in other apps.

OK, I’m not all about Avid now. I’m giving Adobe Premiere Pro some love too. With Apple no longer making a tool I can use, I’m exploring the other two main options for NLEs and seeing what they are capable of. Seeing how they might fit into my workflow needs. Now, while Avid does easily plug into my broadcast workflows, I do have other projects that would be cumbersome to work with in Avid Media Composer…even MC6. So those projects I used Premiere Pro to tackle.

Project #1 – Show Pitch/Sizzle.

I have a producer who is in development mode. Working on four to five show pitches in hopes of getting one of them picked up as a series. Them being low low budget, he’s forced to shoot it on his own, with a flip camera that shoots .AVI files. When I was first approached to edit these, I figured I’d use Avid to get back up to speed with that, and to beta test it while I went along. But, as it turns out, trying to convert those AVI files into something Avid could import was a huge issue. When audio did carry over, it didn’t stay in sync. It was way out of sync. And after 5 attempts to get things right, I gave up. I launched Premiere Pro, used the Media Browser to bring in those files and guess what? They worked perfectly right away. I cut them natively and they were always in sync. And because I worked with them natively, they imported instantly…no conversion time.

Now…I must mention that the computer I used for this was my personal machine. A MacPro OctoCore 8.0Ghz (Early 2008) with 12GB of Ram, and the Nvidia 285 graphics card that enables CUDA and speeds up the Mercury Engine…so it enabled PPro to deal with this format more easily. At one point I did move the project to a different machine (with the same version of PPro), but this machine was a Quad Core 3.0 and had an ATI graphics card. So the Mercury Engine was relegated to software only…and boy, did it become sluggish. Glad I only used that for changes.

But for this project, Adobe PPro CS 5.5 was perfect. Did quick edits on four show pitches, all shot with either the producers AVI flipcam, or in two instances, an HPX-170. Native import of the P2 files was nice to have. And editing that format was much smoother. I was able to do quick graphics (lower thirds), able to send a few VERY shaky clips to After Effects for smoothing out, and export directly to the MP4 format my producer wanted. And because this was all so quick, the low rate I was getting for the job actually worked out to be a better deal, as less time was spent transcoding the footage.

Project #2 – Family Home Video…shot with my Canon T2i.

The other project I decided to take into Premiere Pro was the family trip up the coast to San Francisco, along the coast. I’d been putting this off for a while, but finally, because I had a couple weeks of no work, decided to get it done.

Again, I brought the footage into PPro 5.5 natively…H.264 files that would choke FCP 7, and also chokes the new Avid MC6…although I hear FCX does fine with them. And again, because of my faster processors, amount of RAM, and the CUDA enabled Mercury engine, editing went smoother. When I took the project to my laptop (Dual Core 2.4Ghz MacBook Pro)…it was more sluggish than a turtle in the mud. So I really needed to stick to my main rig for this. Editing was smooth, easy, and when I was done, I was able to export a nice quality H.264 file for Vimeo for the family to see our exploits in SF.

Now for the nitty-gritty.

PROS:

I am pretty comfortable working in the PPro timeline. Things act pretty much the way they acted in FCP. The way I can grab clips and move them, the way I can adjust audio in the timeline by dragging the levels up or down. I can even do a SELECT ALL DOWNSTREAM and move things down (Press T using the FCP keyboard setup, and hold SHIFT to get the double arrow to select all the tracks. Just T will get you one arrow that selects one track). Making titles was easy, doing my moves on stills was sure JOY as I have my AE controls, and EASE IN and EASE OUT actually work!

My editing time was sped up because I didn’t need to take time to convert media before I began editing. Very cool when under a tight deadline, and when your budget is low. The less time you spend editing, the more you make per hour.  And the less you stay late getting the work done.  And I could play back multiple layers without rendering. That was something new to me, and nice to actually see in person. I had 4 layers with a text layer on top of that for one of the pitch pilots, and it played with only one minor hiccup…but I attribute that to the AVI files.  They were not optimal.  PPro did well with them anyway.

I was able to use my Kona card for external monitoring (you need to use AJA sequence settings for this) so that I could see what I was doing on my external monitor. One tip for monitoring is that while you do use the AJA settings, in the Adobe Preferences, PLAYER, do not choose AJA, rather choose ADOBE.  This enables things to work smoother. Dunno why, but it’s how it is done.  But, initially this was pretty problematic. Nearly show stopping.  Why?  Well, because when you viewed the Program Monitor (Canvas…the timeline playback monitor) on the external monitor…it was smooth. But the window in the PPro interface was not. It stuttered badly.  And since that is the primary window I look at, it was unworkable for me.  Also, the Viewer…Source monitor…wasn’t viewable on the external monitor.  ONLY on the computer display. And if you use the AJA player, you could ONLY see it on the external display…the Source monitor in the computer interface was black…empty.  So it wasn’t the optimal viewing by any means.  It was pretty poor actually.

But then a couple days ago AJA released the 9.1 drivers for the AJA card, and the 9.1 drivers for the Adobe Plugin, and with that came the option in the Player Preferences for “AGGRESSIVE CACHING,” meaning that (according to the release notes):

“When this Option is enabled, AJA’s Plug-ins will read further ahead in the timeline during playback operations. The feature should be used to mitigate minor frame dropping issues. Particularly, this feature was created because some DSLR clips can take a very long time to open, and subsequently cause frames to drop when they are played back.”

That new driver and plugin solved all the monitoring issues. Now I could see smooth playback on the Program monitor and my external monitor…as well as see what was on my Source monitor in the computer and on the external.  But one thing I noticed is that when I use AJA settings, editing and playback aren’t as smooth as when I choose the native format settings, or use other Adobe settings.  Now, I know that AJA does support the Mercury Playback Engine with their hardware I/O, but the amount of GPU support you get from that is limited…it does take a hit.  That’s why things were a bit sluggish.  I do hear that Adobe is working with AJA and others to improve this.

CONS:

OK, now for the bad.  My biggest issues with Premiere Pro was the overall working in the timeline. There were too many things that just slowed me down. The biggest issue I had was patching the source tracks to the timeline tracks. When I dragged the source video to V2, or V3…that track wouldn’t enable…meaning, it wouldn’t light up…become selected.  I’d have to click on that track after I patched my source.  So too many clicks. Avid automatically enables the track you patch to.  And in FCP, once the source is patched to the timeline, it is always connected, and patches to the layer you move it to…until you manually unpatch it.  So…too much clicking to get stuff patched.

No matter how you have your Audio and Video tracks selected in the timeline, audio will always be put into tracks 1 and 2 if you simply drag from the Source to the Timeline.  If you INSERT EDIT, or OVERWRITE EDIT, it will follow your patching. But no matter what, if you drag to the timeline, audio will always go to A1 and A2.

Here’s an example video.

I cannot adjust my audio levels on my source clips.  Not while they are in the Source monitor. That’s a problem. They might be too hot and breaking up, so I’d like to lower them.  Or, I’d like to universally preset the audio levels on that clip so when I cut multiple parts of it into the timeline, the audio is already good.  As it is now, I can only adjust the audio AFTER I cut it into the timeline. So I have to adjust the levels for every clip I add, and always after I add it.  Annoying, and slows me down.

On the topic of audio…the audio mixer works unlike any NLE audio mixer I have ever used.  The sliders will affect the WHOLE TRACK, not the individual clips on that track.  So if I lower A1 by 6db, the entire track is lowered by 6db.  Unlike in FCP or Avid where the audio mixer relates to the CLIPS in the timeline and in the source monitors…the Adobe mixer doesn’t interface with the clips in either location. It only interfaces with the timeline as a whole.  See, when I am in FCP or Avid, and I have my playhead parked on the timeline on several layers of audio, and clips, when I adjust the levels of say, tracks 10 and 11, the mixer adjusts the levels of the CLIPS that it is parked on.  This way I can mix the levels of my clips.  With Premiere Pro, you can only adjust the audio of the clips on the timeline, by dragging the levels on the clips themselves.  And if they are mono, you need to do each and every individual clip.  Unlike in Avid where I can gang all the tracks I want to adjust in the Mixer, or, enable all the tracks on the timeline and adjust the audio keyframe of one clip, and all the other tracks that are selected move as well.  So this is a major stumbling block for me as well.  Audio mixing needs to be addressed.

Audio output…so far it is limited to stereo out.  That is a big issue for me as well as I need to deliver QT masters with between 8 and 16 channels of embedded audio.  Before today only FCP did that, but with Avid MC6 coming out with this same ability, we now have two options that enable me to deliver what I am required to deliver. This is a feature request I have filed with Adobe.  If you have feature requests, you should file some too.  I hear they are eager to get them.

The trimming capabilities are worse than even FCP…which I didn’t think possible.  So trimming should be absolutely avoided in PPro.  Heck, I avoided it 95% of the time in FCP as well, as it was poorly implemented.

Batch capturing is spotty, at best.  I was able to capture video with my Kona card, and that was cool.  But what I do to save time is log clips as I scan the tape, then set the application to then batch capture all the clips while I then go each lunch, or do some other menial task. Adobe PPro’s batch capture with the Kona 3 was so unreliable, that I’d have to sit and babysit it.  It’d miss a clip several times, and often I found myself capturing one clip at a time. Booo…a working lunch!  Tapeless?  Adobe shines!  Tape…which I still capture a good bit of…not so much.  Rememeber guys…tape isn’t gone, not yet. I’ll have the need to capture from tape for quite some time now…being a documentary editor.

Overall I did like it.  And do feel that it is the next step up from FCP 7.  There are just a few stumbling blocks in terms of general editing that have me shaking my fist at the computer screen and swearing out loud.  Small things like needing to click several times to patch audio and being limited in the ways I can mix audio…and I do a LOT of audio mixing. The small things do count…but so does the ability to work native.  So if I am faced with tight deadlines and tapeless footage, PPro is high on my list.  Tape capture…That’s Avid-land.

First, I’d like to point out two excellent articles about FCP-X and the future of post. First, a blog post by Oliver Peters, and then a Creative Cow Article by Walter Biscardi.  Both very good and in depth.

OK, now on to me.

I finally downloaded the FCP-X trial and explored the application for a full day. Prior to this, I used it briefly for two hours. But now, while spending all day trying to make something with it, I discovered that I disliked  just about everything about it.  Every minute I spent using it made it worse because it was backwards from the way I like to work.  But I guess that is how it is designed…to be unlike any other NLE, and to do things very differently.  But is the different way better?  Not for me. Am I too tied to TRACKS?  Maybe. To tied to two monitors when working?  Maybe. Dislike that I needed the Skimmer on to view footage in my EVENT, but that meant that the Skimmer would be on in the timeline too, and every time I moved the mouse, I’d be hit with a barrage of hyper fast audio? Definitely.

I had a list of all the issues I had with FCP X, and I was going to gripe about every one, but then my blog went down for five days giving me time to think about things and I’m not going to post another rant.  I am only going to say that I will not be using FCP X in the forseeable future.  Why?  Well, it doesn’t solve any post issues that I currently need solving, and the whole reason why I moved to Final Cut Pro in the first place was that it solved a big post issue I was facing

You see, I started this blog many many years ago, April 2005 to be exact, when I made my leap from Avid Media Composer to Final Cut Pro.  I had been using FCP for a couple years before that (starting with FCP 3) on smaller side projects, like actor demo reels, a handful of short films, a couple of corporate videos.  But I didn’t think it was quite right for me to use on broadcast work…even though FCP 3 was enabled to do this with the RT Mac and Cinewave hardware cards.  It wasn’t until FCP 4.5 came out with it’s native workflow with DVCPRO HD that it caught my attention.

See, I was working at the time on a National Geographic series that was shot with the Varicam to tape at 23.98…720p 23.98.  But the Avid Meridians that we were using couldn’t deal with that format…they were SD only…so we dubbed all the footage to DV tape and offlined that way.  And then when the time came to online, we were faced with a big issue…The Avid Adrenaline that we were onlining with didn’t do 720p…only 1080.  So we needed to upconvert everything, and deal with the 29.97 to 23.98 frame rate difference, and that was complicated, and costly.  We went over budget by just over a hundred grand for 9 episodes.  Not good.

Shortly thereafter I was asked to edit a History Channel series on the Mexican American War…and the producer wanted to shoot with the Varicam.  I was hesitant, given my recent experience.  And while Avid did release an update shortly AFTER our online to allow for 720p onlines…I had just been to a LAFCPUG meeting where I saw FCP 4.5 demo’d showing how it could capture DVCPRO HD from tape natively.  No offline/online…it was online from the start.  And it was 720p…23.98.  Final Cut Pro offered a solution to a post production issue I needed solving.  So I leapt on it.  Then we were going to also try to shoot with the new Panasonic P2 cameras as b-roll…and FCP was the only NLE to actually work with that format as well…so it was a no brainer.  (If you want to see my experiences with that, dig into the archives).

So…with the release of FCP-X and how Apple seems to have changed the way it feels editors should work…it doesn’t offer any solutions to any post workflow needs I have.  In fact, it actually lacks many features I need for the type of work I do. Other than being able to string pictures together to tell a story, and make the audio sound decent and picture look OK…it is missing everything I need to master for broadcast.  You know the list…no OMF for audio mixing, no output to a broadcast monitor for color grading, no ability to export to Color or Resolve for grading, no way to export multi-channel audio that I need (oh, wait, with the update I now have ROLES…), and on and on.

So, instead of trying to make it work…or wait for it to eventually work…I will be looking at the alternatives.  Going back to Avid Media Composer…and exploring Adobe Premiere Pro…both of which are making advances yet retaining the basic editing methodology that editors rely on to edit quickly, and concentrate on the creative and not the technical. They solve the post issues that I am currently faced with.

OK, while I am also transitioning some projects to Avid Media Composer (that I know fairly well, having used it for 10 years before I switched to FCP), I am also transitioning to Adobe Premiere Pro CS5.5 as well.  Because in playing with it, I find it VERY similar to Final Cut Pro in many ways.  And how I can manipulate media on the timeline is very FCP-like, how to composite graphics and layer footage, add titles and a whole list of other thing, is more natural to me. That’s a big bonus because that’s how my brain works.  I have always been more comfortable (and faster) with basic editing in FCP opposed to Avid Media Composer.

Anyway…while there are many many similarities, there are enough differences to make one get a little frustrated with PPro, and swear at it.  Those differences will just take a little getting used to…you always have to learn how the other NLE does things, as it isn’t EXACTLY like FCP does things.  So it will take a little time.

What are these differences?  Well, Walter Biscardi seems to be leading the charge (from FCP to Premiere) and has started a list of things that are slightly different, in his quest to change NLEs.  And he has been kind enough to provide not only pointers about these differences, but has done so in video form.

Here’s part one of his “gotchas” video series.

(If you want to see other videos he has done, such as how to configure PPro to work with an AJA capture card, go here)

So Apple came out with this shiny new operating system with a really cool name…LION. And you are thinking to yourself, “Hey, I’d like to install that new OS on my computer.” OK, I can dig that. But there are a few things you should do FIRST, before you install. Especially if you use this computer to edit with Final Cut Pro…and depend on that machine to earn your keep. Because if you install LION, and things don’t continue to work as well as they used to, then that will cost you in lost time that can lead to lost money.

Step #1 – RESEARCH!!!
You need to look into whether or not your current applications will even work under the new OS. You might be shocked to find that many of them won’t. For example, Final Cut Studio 2 will work…but the INSTALLER will not. Because the INSTALLER isn’t Intel native…it requires Rosetta to work, and LION doesn’t have Rosetta. For this reason, MANY applications that rely on it won’t work. Adobe CS2 will not work on Lion. So do your research to find out if the applications you rely on will work on the LION OS. Make sure that the hardware you rely on for video input and output (capture cards) have drivers for LION.

Step #2 – CLONE YOUR WORKING SYSTEM!
Clone your current working OS drive. Get a cheapish firewire drive…something that the system can boot from…and use Carbon Copy Cloner (bombich.com/download.html) to completely copy the current working system drive to another drive. This way you have a copy of your working setup in case LION doesn’t work out. If things don’t work, just boot from that drive and erase your main drive and clone it back. You will lose a day, tops. And this keeps you from needing to reformat the drive, install the OS fresh, and all the applications fresh, then bring back all of your files, set up all the applications properly again…stuff that can take days.

You can back up any files you want manually as well..but the clone will have everything in case you forgot something.

Step #3 – DO A CLEAN INSTALL
Boot from the LION drive and then ERASE your system. Wipe it clean. Then install the Lion OS fresh. This ensures that you are getting the best possible OS install. Installing on top of existing OS might work…it does for some…or it might not. Some people report issues, others do not. But doing it completely fresh ensures that you have the best possible install. After the install, check for any possible updates with the SOFTWARE UPDATES in the System Preferences.

Step #4 – INSTALL ALL OF YOUR APPLICATIONS FROM THEIR INSTALLERS
DO NOT use Migration Assistant for applications. Install them fresh from their install disks or installer files. Because many of them, like FCP, install bits and pieces of the application throughout the OS, and Migration Assistant might miss those files. Correction, WILL miss those files. So if you want to have a good working application, install from the installers. You can migrate your files if you want…or manually drag them from the clone drive…but not the applications.

Then run the updates for the applications (if they are Apple apps, use the SOFTWARE UPDATE in the System Preferences) to update them fully. And install any drivers, firmware, other bits for other things on your system. Like Capture card software (make sure you get the latest versions of the drivers) and plugins and graphics cards drivers.

If I forgot anything, please feel free to comment and add that to the list.

Personally, IMHO, if I have a good working system, I do not update. Because my system is working, and I might not need any of the new things the new OS offers. I recently upgraded to Snow Leopard only in March, because one application I relied on…the new version of it…only ran on Snow Leopard.

OK, so I am playing a bit more with Adobe Premiere CS5.5, and this time seeing what it can do with still images…pictures.  Typically I will do my moves on stills in After Effects, or Motion, because the way FCP does them is wrong on many levels.  The “ease in, ease out” is iffy, at best in FCP (never worked for me), and zooming from really far out to really close in isn’t a constant speed.  It starts out fast, and slows down.  I forget the term for this…the speed is constant, but the perception of it is that it starts out fast, then slows down.  Well, After Effects, and Motion, compensate for this and make it look more consistent.  So I wanted to see what Premiere could do.

I brought in some photos I shot of my kids, with my Canon T2i.  The pictures are 5184×3456 pixels.  Now, FCP would choke on these, because they are over the 4000 pixel limit. Not at first, but when you try to render…BAM! “General Error.”  Which tells the editor nothing, unless they know from experience that you can get that if you have pictures that are either CMYK color space, or over 4000 pixels.  Adobe Premiere doesn’t have that limit.  It took in the pictures no problem, and allowed me to work with them, and render them, no problem.

I put a still on the timeline, and out of habit, double clicked on it to open it in the Viewer (preview monitor).  I was glad to note that my FCP muscle memory in how to do that also works in Premiere.  And I was happily surprised to see that all the controls I am used in After Effects were available in Premiere:

If you want to manually move the still about the frame with the mouse, you click on the word MOTION and that gets you cross-hairs, telling you that you can move the pic with your mouse.  Or you can adjust the horizontal and vertical position by clicking on the numbers and moving the mouse to the left or right, increasing or decreasing the numbers.  Either way you want to work.

But the cool thing is that you set your keyframes, adjust it where you want to start and end…and then you can right-click on the keyframes and choose TEMPORAL INTERPOLATION>EASE IN or EASE OUT.  This will start the move on the still gradually, and end on it gradually, rather than the jerky sudden start and stop you normally get…and typically get with FCP (even if you use EASE in and out…because it rarely works right).

So I do my move on my still, I put the playhead just before the still, press play and… it stutters.  Hmmm.  Might be because I am on an older (two generations older) MacBook Pro…2.4Ghz model.  Or because the still is very large.  Or because I am on a DSLR 1080p24 timeline, which already has a yellow bar…meaning that Premiere needs to process the footage as it plays.  Might be a combination of all those factors.  So I made a DVCPRO HD sequence, 720p24.  Brought in some footage in that format, made a new sequence with settings to match…and the footage in the sequence had no color, meaning that Premiere could deal with it natively, without any processing needed on the fly.  I added a still, and moves (the spot with the still had a RED render bar, and it did on the DSLR sequence as well) and pressed play.  It played through without any problems.  So I assume it is because the system already had to deal with processing the DSLR footage.  Things might be smoother on the MacPro.  I’ll have to test that and tack my findings on the end of this post.

OK, so back to the DSLR sequence and the jerky still.  It was only jerky the first time, for when I played through the second and third times, it was fine.  Having a bit of knowledge of Adobe products, I assume it built up a buffer…a RAM PREVIEW of the move.  And I assume the more RAM you have, the more buffer it can build with footage that needs to be processed.  OK, well if I want this to be smooth the first time, and all additional times because I am on a laptop with limited resources, I rendered the still.

And I found out something too…a little bit about how Premiere handles rendering.

I started rendering the picture, but then decided that I wanted to change something, so I cancelled the render. When I did, nothing was rendered.  This might be normal for Premiere people, but you see, coming from Avid and FCP…when we render, if the render is stopped, everything that was rendered up the point you cancel stays rendered.  Even halfway through clips.  Well, I found out that if you render only one clip in Premiere, if you stop the render, the render is lost…all of it.  Premiere only retains renders of full clips before you cancelled.  Meaning, if you have 5 clips to render, and you cancel the render partway through clip #4, clips 1-3 will retain the renders, but clip 4 wil not.  There are no partial renders of clips in Premiere.  All or nothing.

That was fine in this case, I was going to make a change.  But what about LARGE renders?  I guess I am used to FCP and Avid MC where at times rendering everything can be too much to ask the computer, and we need to render in chunks.  You can still do that in Premiere.  But what about large files…with layers of video.  And you start the render…and an hour into it you realize that you want to change something on the last clip.  So you stop the render, and all the progress you made up to that point is lost.  That can be a bummer.  Someone on Twitter (@Salah_Baker) said that “that is when the razor blade becomes your friend.”

There is a logic in keeping one render file per clip…so I won’t fault them for that.  Because when I make a change in FCP to a clip, I have to re-render the whole darn thing anyway.  Avid is a bit better about that, but then again, it manages media and renders better than anything, so…

Still, I’m very happy with how Premiere deals with pictures that I am satisfied.  Better ease in and out, ability to handle large stills..and they are much higher quality than I am used to in FCP.

OK, if you have been following me for a while, you know that I use both Avid Media Composer and Final Cut Pro…and I am pretty proficient with both. If you haven’t been following me for a while… I use both Avid Media Composer and Final Cut Pro, and am pretty proficient with both. I am a fan of both. I might lean more towards FCP, because it better fits the way I like to edit. But I know that Avid had strengths in many areas that far surpass what FCP is capable of. Plus I started out on Avid MC. So I am comfortable with both.

But, I like to be a well rounded person.  Mainly because I dish out post advice, and I like to be sure to give people the proper advice based on many factors in their post/production workflow.  For this reason I have owned and used capture cards from all three major FCP capture card makers…AJA, Matrox and Blackmagic Design (As well as Aurora…I had a Pipe Pro Studio).  So, now I am digging into Adobe Premiere Pro, to see what all the hoopla is about.  I hear a lot of people raving about how much better this is than FCP or Avid.  It’s about time I looked for myself.

INTERFACE.

Took a little looking around to see what was where.  I couldn’t find the INSERT and OVERWRITE buttons for a while.  Always used to them being in the PROGRAM (Canvas) monitor.  In Premiere, they are in the PREVIEW (Viewer) monitor.  But, they are there.  You can drag clips onto the timeline, or use the period or comma buttons (insert and overwrite), or drag into the Canvas.  Many ways to get things there.  Standard J-K-L keys for keyboard operation, and I and O for marking IN and OUT.  So that is comfortable enough.  And you can customize the keyboard…which helps those of us with pretty set in “muscle memory.”

I like the media browser.  Allows me to find the media I want to import from my various tapeless sources.  I can OPEN files in the Preview monitor before I decide to add them to the project…so I can see what I have. And then I hit upon the thing that people RAVE about Premiere.  The ability to import all sorts of tapeless media, without converting/transcoding.

WORKING NATIVE

OK…I will have to admit…this is frickin’ COOL.  I could get used to this.  I have a small external drive with DEMO files on it.  AVCIntra, DVCPRO HD (both from P2 cards), AVCHD, Canon DSLR, XDCAM EX, RED. Stuff I use to demo things, and to test things.  Well, I was able to bring in all the footage into the project with ZERO transcoding.  Just a few seconds to make the clips and there they were, ready to go.  Now, when you choose a new sequence, you have to choose the settings of that sequence.

For this test, I choose AVCINTRA 1080p24.  I imported clips from my AVCIntra card, then some DVCPRO HD, AVCHD, XDCAM EX.  All instantly…all natively.  Man, I can get used to this.  I mean, sure, first I’d have to copy the cards to my media drive, but still…instant import into the application is slick. I was able to mix the footage fine.  I got a yellow render bar…even with the AVCIntra footage, that the sequence was designed for.  Maybe that isn’t a render bar…a QUALITY bar?  I’ll have to do more reading up on that.

When I added the DVCPRO HD footage, it was smaller on the screen, and the render bar turned red.  Well, it was 720p, so it did appear smaller.  Didn’t automatically scale like I am used to with Avid MC and FCP…but I right-clicked and there was an option to scale to sequence, and I did, and it went to the yellow render bar, to match everything else.  And I was able to play all this footage back, no problem.  LOW resolution…it started at 25%, but I made it 50% at least.  And it was fine on my tower.  My laptop slowed a little, so I made it 25% for that, and things were fine (running off a FW800 G-Drive mini).

AUDIO MAPPING ISSUE

OK, at first I was really annoyed by the following behavior, until I noticed it only happened when I mixed media types.  Now it still annoys me, but a little less.  So in this AVCIntra sequence, I have 4 channels of audio from the footage…4 mono tracks.  They show up on the first four channels, and I can move them up or down…anywhere I want (after I unlink them from the video).  But when I added an AVCINTRA clip…and DVCPRO HD clip…the audio clips from them ONLY appeared if I dragged the footage from the Viewer to the timeline.  OVERWRITE wouldn’t bring over audio…only video.  I could drag audio down LATER, after video.  Or DRAG the clip and get both, but not with the mappable keys, or the Overwrite option.  AND…to top it off, they appeared on different tracks than the other 4 clips.  It appeared on track 5…and I can’t move it…up or down.

After talking with a couple people it seems that the AVCHD audio is showing up as a STEREO track, while the AVCIntra audio is all MONO.  And because of that, they cannot be on the same audio track. Premiere will bring in a stereo track as a single track, to save space.  The same thing happened with the DVCPRO HD clip…one track only.  But that is odd, because when I made a DVCPRO HD sequence…I see THREE channels of audio.

I was pointed to Premiere CS5 articles on how to set up audio preferences and deal with this, and I did set my default Audio track format to MONO.  That DID allow me to bring in all 3 channels of DVCPRO HD p2.  BUT, again, when I tried to drag onto the timeline, it relegated the audio to lower tracks.  5-8.  And I cannot move them up to 1-4 to be with the AVCIntra footage.  None of this is an issue with media of the same type…this is all about mixing media types as far as I can tell.  Even though all the media is 48khz and 16bit, and told to come in as Mono…they won’t mix.

This puts a SERIOUS hamper on my editing workflow.  Because I assign audio to specific tracks.  1-2 is narration or VO, 3-6 is Sound on Tape (SOT), 7-10 is Sound Effects, and 11-14 is music.  I keep this uniform for most of my projects.  FCP does this…Avid does this.  Premiere seems to be very resistant to doing this.  And I have spoken to a few people who have said, “Yeah, that’s an OLD issue…been that way forever.”

OK…how do you all deal with this…Premiere editing peoples?  I’m used to delivering for broadcast, and with working with multiple editors so we need a uniform way to organized audio track assignments.  This behavior puts a serious hamper on my workflow…and is throwing me for a loop.  I love the ability to instantly add media, with zero transcode time.  I love the ability to mix media on the timeline and edit.  But this audio thing is really tripping me up.  Small thing, I know.  But still big enough to put me off to the application.  Small things matter.  Demo the Avid MC ability to add footage and preserve the transition and we all go NUTS!  It’s small, but at the same time huge.  Just like this…small audio thing, yet huge.

OH, and another thing.  Avid has DNxHD as it’s main codec.  FCP has ProRes.  Adobe Premiere has…??  What?  There doesn’t appear to be an Adobe format used for mastering.  I posed this on Twitter, and got a variety of responses. From “Adobe likes to work natively, and then you render out to what you are delivering…DVD, BluRay.  Output to tape.” Other said they use ProRes, or DNxHD as final masters.  Well, with ProRes, you need FCP installed.  No encoder for that without FCP on the system.  And DNxHD…that codec and encoder is provided free of charge from Avid.com  And that is cool.  So now I can encode to a finishing format.  But why doesn’t Adobe have one?  Just curious.

So…I like the interface, love the  ability to instantly import and access my footage, edit mixed formats.  But audio mapping issues have me stymied.  But, I’m still learning…still playing around and figuring things out.  If anyone has solutions, feel free to post them in the comments.  OK, back to digging into Premiere.

EDIT: (With mixed media and using my MBP 2.4Ghz laptop, I am dropping frames like crazy.  Something that my Octo 3.0 MacPro does not do. So the computer does mater quite a bit.)

YET ANOTHER EDIT: Kevin Monahan, who is a professional editor who used FCP extensively but now works for Adobe, pointed out this great video to me. It explains all about the audio tracks and how to get the audio into them. Explained from the point of view of an editor switching from FCP to Premiere. Which I am doing. http://tv.adobe.com/watch/switching-to-adobe-premiere-pro-cs5/audio-/