Our third entry in the continuing tales of our switch from Final Cut Pro to anything else. Today we're talking Adobe Premiere Pro CS6 and the workflow we've developed for a current broadcast series. Before you read this, yep, it's a bit convoluted but we fully expect this to smooth out and get better as Adobe moves their product forward.
Native as much as possible
Gone is the "log and transfer" requirement of FCP and it does take some time to get used to the fact that you can literally jump right in without the need to do anything to your media. As much as we can, we just leave everything raw and native as it came in. Saves a lot of time initially and with some very fast "big iron" systems, we have cut our back end render times down to essentially "real time." Our 27 minute shows render in about 28 minutes.
Our biggest struggle is getting field cameramen to STOP converting the native files to quicktime files. QT files actually slow down Premiere Pro as they're 32 bit files. They're slowly catching on but it's kind of maddening when we get the QTs.
The other beauty is that Premiere Pro can read native cards even when information is missing, like those LASTCLIP.txt files that come along with P2 material. I can't tell you how many times that file was missing and FCP would not do anything with the camera data. Premiere Pro can read the data just fine so that's been a huge help.
As you know the "Capture Scratch" for Adobe CS6 is a bit different than in FCP. You have to set up the Capture Scratch yourself and we use the strategy laid out in "An Editor's Guide to Adobe Premiere Pro" as our guide to set up the folders correctly.
We create a single Project Folder at the root level of our SAN for each project. This makes it very easy for Archiving at the end of the process as we just simply drag that folder to an Archive Drive. We have to be very vigilant and ensure that all of the media is put into the correct location BEFORE we import anything to our Project. All of our native media and captured video go directly into the Captured Video folder while all audio goes into the Captured Audio folder. We then add additional folders as necessary for Graphics, Exports, Color Grading, etc....
At the moment, if we need to capture from video tape, we still use FCP 7 as we've not had reliable VTR control from our primary edit systems. We will be testing out tape capture via our Resolve system that has the Decklink Extreme 3D in it shortly. We're also receiving an UltraStudio 3D Thunderbolt box to test with our new iMac 27" machine.
This particular project is cut at 1080i / 29.97 and we've found that AVC Intra 1080i / 60 Sequence Preset gives us a perfect starting point for our Sequences in this project. In fact, we use the AVC Intra Sequence settings as the starting point for just about all of our projects.
Most of our systems are set up with the AJA Kona boards for output to our Flanders Scientific monitors and KRK Rokit 5 audio monitors. For the editing process, it's basically the same as FCP though must faster since we're cutting all native as much as we can.
At the end of the process, an AAF is prepared along with a quicktime reference movie for our Sound Designer who mixes the show in ProTools. He sends us back a Stereo AIFF file for the Master timeline.
We prepare the reference quicktime file on our 12 Core Mac Pro for maximum render speed.
Davinci Resolve is our color grading tool of choice and at the moment, it does not support all the native resolutions we can use in Premiere Pro CS6. So a flattened ProRes Quicktime file is created from the final timeline to be sent to Resolve. Again, this file is created on our 12 Core Mac Pro.
Typically we can use an EDL to pre-conform that file to add all the cuts and dissolves back to the edit, but for whatever reason the EDLs being generated by our CS6 systems contain a lot of errors that are causing Resolve to crash. So I just use Resolve's "Scene Detect" tool which is just stupid powerful and generally it takes me between 10 and 15 minutes to prep a 30 minutes show for color grade.
At the end of the color grade process, I render out a flattened ProRes file to go back to the editor.
(Note: SpeedGrade does not support our AJA or BMD I/O devices so that's not an option for us at this time.)
Lower Thirds and most on screen graphics are created in Photoshop. Full screen animated graphics are created in After Effects but without dynamic linking, I just render the self contained movies as they're short and easy to do.
First off, we move the Project File to one of our 12 Core Mac Pros for final render. This is our Resolve system that also features dual nVidia graphics cards. Renders are a little faster than realtime.
For this particular series, we need to lay out to HD tape for mastering. Layback to tape is handled by our BlackMagic Decklink Extreme 3D card inside the Resolve system. Before starting the tape layback, we have to ensure that our Video In Point is the very first frame in the Sequence. For whatever reason, the BMD VTR controls don't respect an In Point in the Sequence. So we just have to ensure that the very beginning of the Sequence is the In Point for the Edit.
The we simply choose File > Export > Tape and it brings up the BMD VTR controls. Enter in the In Point for the VTR itself and then click "Ok" and tape layback begins. Unlike FCP we don't see any sort of video playback on the computer screens, we just see it via the VTR output.
That's pretty much it. From there we ship out our tape. The use of FCP 7 to capture when necessary and the flattening of the file for Resolve convolute the workflow a little bit. Those are small tradeoffs for the tremendous time savings just editing the entire show natively. Editors can start working on stories in minutes compared to hours when we had to Log and Transfer everything.
You didn't think this was all roses, did you?
We have a nagging issue with "Media Pending" slates that interfere with the video output both in the software Program monitor and the AJA / BMD outputs. Whenever you launch a Premiere Pro project you invariably see the yellow "Media Pending" slate appear as the software loads your media. As the media loads up, the Media Pending slate should disappear.
For lack of a better term, it's "sticking" across most of our systems. Even after all of the media is loaded and Premiere Pro has finished re-linking, the yellow slates stay up on the screens preventing us from outputting video. Play the timeline, we can hear the audio, we can see the thumbnails of the clips in the timeline, but we can't actually see the video play out. We are talking to both Adobe and Small Tree Communications to see where the culprit may be.
We have also experienced unexplained instability with CS6. Systems that work perfectly for months suddenly come up with the "I'm sorry, your system has experienced a fatal error" message from the software before it quits. No rhyme or reason.
So the move from FCP 7 is progressing very nicely but not without a few bumps here and there. Come to think of it, you can say that about pretty much all software out there these days.
Cutting a few corners. We all do this from time to time because, well it's human nature. If we can get by without anybody noticing..... what's the harm?
When it comes to the creative process, we have all cut corners in one way or another and it's usually to meet a deadline. There's times we just have plain HAVE to cut a few things out, do something a different way because the budget and the time is running out. But when it comes to the quality of the final output, if the time is available, make the time to give your client the best possible output. Today we had to make such a call.
When a project is finished we generally review it in our Screening Room which has a 7 foot projection screen. Primarily because typos just jump right out on a screen that big, but also because if something is not quite right with the video, it's plainly apparent.
Today it was plainly apparent something was wrong with one of the stories on a show. It appeared to be overly compressed for some reason and I knew that it was an HD originated story, not up-converted from SD. We immediately stopped playback and the editor and I went back to review the sequence.
The footage in question was originally prepared by another production company and sent to us along with an FCP 7 project file. It was all XDCAM 1080i that had been transcoded via Log and Transfer to quicktime files. Problem was that some of the footage appeared to be missing when my editor opened the timeline. It was originally a 30 minute show that we were cutting down to a 9 minute segment for our show.
Also included was a self contained quicktime file of the entire story, so my editor and Producer made the decision to simply cut the story from that quicktime file, since all the media was obviously there. In Premiere Pro it appeared as an XDCAM 422 file and while working on the edit, the compression issue just didn't jump out to my editor. They assumed it also had something to do with the un-rendered state of the footage in the timeline. We've also had some XDCAM footage come to our shop in the past that looked overly compressed for one reason or another.
Turns out the quicktime file was the culprit. It was overly compressed by the production company for reasons unknown. The end file size was about half what I would expect for a self contained 27 minute show file. When we put the same shot up on the 7 foot screen from the QT file vs. the original media, the difference was plain as day.
Now this was a fully completed and mastered show, ready to go out the door. We could have cut a corner at that point knowing that the majority of the home audience would never notice the compression issue and just shipped it. The Producer had already approved the Master, we were just making one final quality control check. But our client is paying us to put out the best possible show, not just send it off because they looked at it and said it was ok.
So we put the brakes on and notified the client right away of the issue. We made the decision to replace as much of the QT file with the original footage as we could. This will also involve me going back into Resolve to re-apply the color grade to the entire story. It'll add two un-billed days to the edit schedule due to this all happening just before the July 4th holiday, but it's the right thing to do. Our client is very happy we caught this and are taking the time to correct it.
It would have been so easy to just ship the show and if there was a complaint later, reminded the client that they approved the Master. But that's not the right thing to do, we have to do right by our clients. Spend that extra hour, day, week, whatever, if you have the time available, put the brakes on and put out the absolute best quality product you can create.
Ultimately the home viewer will have a much better experience and that, of course, is why we're in this business in the first place.
We are transitioning our hardware in the shop so we’ll have multiple computers and some other assorted hardware for sale over the coming weeks. We’ll update this blog post as equipment becomes available.
All of our machines have been used in a Post Production environment and have been well cared for. All machines are sold “As Is” with no warranty offered or implied. Please contact Randy Lockey for purchase information. Randy (at) biscardicreative.com or 770 271 3427. These will be sold first come, first served basis and we will NOT hold any equipment for any amount of time.
Check and Credit Cards are accepted for purchase, contact Randy for details. Thanks!
Full details of all the equipment for sale is on the company website blog. It will be updated as more equipment comes online for sal.