I have been pondering over my recent discussion with David McGavran, the Engineering Manager for Adobe Premiere Pro about the limitations of Premiere’s own XML format when it comes to interchange. I am grateful for this exchange. I realized that my ideas are not possible to be implemented in Adobe Premiere Pro itself. After all, it is a relatively uncomplicated tool with the sole specialization in editing. I hoped it could become a Smoke-like base for other applications to work from, but it turns out not to be feasible in any foreseeable future.
However, instead of letting go of my dreams, I decided to take a wider look on the problem, and paint the vision in even broader strokes. Fortune favors the brave.
Right now the Production Premium suite is still a patchwork of applications with significantly different structures stemming from various technologies that Adobe acquired along the way. The interchange between them is sometimes very good (especially with Photoshop files), but sometimes mediocre (like sending Premiere project to SpeedGrade), and often limited to a single workstation running all the applications (like the Dynamic Link). Even though I remain amazed on how much Adobe Engineers have been able to achieve within the limitations of software architectures, some dating from over 20 years ago, there are times when the integration is still sorely lacking.
With recent switch in Adobe policy towards the Creative Cloud solution it makes even more sense to give broader structure to this patchwork of loosely related applications, especially in the world of post-production, where the effective teamwork, alongside with project and asset management are some of the vital keys to success.
Adobe had already made an attempt to create an asset management system in the past, although it turned out to be a dead-end. I don’t know the exact reasons why they cancelled Version Cue in CS5, but for me and a few companies that I worked for at the time, the issue was stability. After three consecutive crashes of VC database, and literally days of attempts to recover the assets, we gave up on this quite promising solution. Clearly it was not production ready, even after a few years of work.
The void however remains, and the suite still lacks an application that would bind everything together, at least in post-production world: a comprehensive project management, and conforming tool.
Let’s take a look at a sample, deliberately vague workflow involved in film post-production:
- Dailies ingest and grading
- Rough Cut
- VFX work alongside the editorial
- Audio engineering and mixing
- Final grading
- Finishing and mastering
Hopefully there is a picture lock between 3 and 4, however the pride of Adobe has always been the possibility of retaining flexibility up to the very end of the process, and personally I would love to retain it.
Even though the production suite does contain the applications that can take care separately for each part of the process, tying them all together mostly still involves at least a well thought out folder structure, and perhaps a third-party asset management tool, and is prone to human error, especially during backup and archiving and in an environment involving more than one person. Any sensible version control is also lacking, and when it is implemented in a rudimentary fashion (raising version number in After Effects project file name) it can break other dependencies, like Dynamic Link.
What would the missing application need to do?
- Media ingest, transcoding and metalogging – similarly to Prelude but also importing from already partially created Premiere project if some editing was done in the field already
- Sending media to SpeedGrade or via FCP XML to any other grading app
- Receiving graded media either with .look files or as color corrected new versions (ie. track versions of a clip regardless of its filename and/or extension)
- Sending media to Premiere projects, supporting templates and bin organization
- Conforming Premiere projects with graded media and relinking without opening Premiere
- Preparing and managing assets for VFX work in AE or Photoshop on a shot by shot basis with templates and bin organization
- Tracking versions of VFX assets, including rendering and review
- Reviewing and exporting Premiere sequences without opening Premiere
- Conforming Premiere projects for FCP XML or AAF export and import and keeping track of conformed/rendered files
- Re-conforming XML or AAF import for Premiere
- Outputting any project from any of the suite apps
- Archiving and backup options for projects
- Managing meta-assets like templates, grades, presets, user preferences and other
- Possibly a few other important things that I forgot to include
All of this – of course – with the possibility of working with many users, many separate workstations, and in both stand-alone and integrated version.
In the end, I’d love to have the functionality or integration with Shotgun or any other “big iron” project management system. Right now it is partly being done with the use of Panel API that Adobe has added in CS6 to Premiere, but it’s just a single application patch, which works only in certain kinds of workflow. Granted, it’s a step ahead – and I hope that fully-featured scripting is the next big step in proper direction – but it’s still not enough.
Am I asking for too much? A lot of the necessary bricks seem already in place. I hope that you can see how such an application would contribute towards even greater usability of the Production Premium suite, especially in the more collaborative environment. Even though it seems like another patch on top of the patchwork, it would be more like a gate to the outside world, and a useful internal interchange manager, rather than half-hearted attempts to fix problems on the level of a single application that leave some of us wanting.
Is it feasible to give more structure to the patchwork of Adobe Production Premium? Can Adobe Engineers do it by theselves, or should they acquire a technology that is already somewhat mature like CatDV? Who knows. However, perhaps passing these ideas to Wes Plate or other brilliant guys on Adobe team would make them excited enough about such development project, that they would be interested in following it, and that the management would consider such a project worthwhile. Think big, Adobe! Audaces fortuna iuvat!