Creating Thumbnails Has Never Been Easier

One of the byproducts of my work on THAT Studio Panel extension for Premiere Pro and After Effects has been an After Effects script that would generate a massive amount of thumbnails for video files. The initial idea to use it to prepare Panel assets did get scrubbed along the way, and we never got to using it in our automated workflow, but I believe it was too valuable to go to waste. Therefore here it is – name any way that you want to generate frames from your After Effects compositions or video files, and Master Thumbnailer will do that for you.

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PEV04 – Norman Hollyn on Performance Enhancing Visual Effects

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This interview is part of the larger series about Performance Enhancing Visual Effects. Norman Hollyn is an editor best known for his work on Heathers. He’s a professor at USC, where he teaches editing. He wrote two books on this topic as well, “The Film Editing Handbook” and “Lean Forward Moment” which I heartily recommend. For those more visually inclined, a great course of his, “Foundations of Video: The Art of Editing“, is available on Lynda.com, and you can find a few of his webinars on Moviola.com

Before I published my previous interviews with Alan E. Bell and Zbigniew Stencel, I sent Norman drafts of those and asked for his opinions. Here is his reply. see more

Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects Plug-in Development Course on fxphd.com

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I’m happy to announce, that this term I’m teaching plug-in development for Adobe Premiere Pro and Adobe After Effects on fxphd. I’ll be covering the basics of C/C++ and Adobe After Effects SDK in a bit more detail, as well as GPU acceleration for Premiere. All these will be illustrated with a simple vignette effect that we are going to create during the course with the students. Believe it or not, any similarities to the very first effect that I wrote are coincidental. see more

PEV03 – Zbigniew Stencel (Editor) About Performance Enhancing Visual Effects

pev03_fi

This interview is part of the larger series about Performance Enhancing Visual EffectsZbigniew Stencel is a Polish film editor. He worked on recently released  No Panic, With A Hint of Histeria, and Czułość, which is going to arrive to the cinemas somewhere in the first quarter of 2016. Read on what he has to say about PEVs.


Please briefly introduce yourself.

My name is Zbigniew Stencel. I’m an editor based in Poland. I graduated from the Polish National Film, Television and Theatre School in Łódź (specialization in film editing), I have cut documentaries, music videos and ads. During recent years I focused on various 3D stereoscopic projects. Just now I edited two feature films.

How did you first learn about Performance Enhancing Visual Effects (PEVs)?

I guess Kirk Baxter, Angus Wall and Alan Edward Bell got me inspired. I read and watched various interviews and videos with them, where they described the process. But I used these kind of effects intuitively before. I thought it was cheating – and I was ashamed that I couldn’t find a “proper” editing solution to a problem in the movie. I was taught to always find a way using a simple cut, not to resort to “tricks”. When I learned about PEVs I was relieved, that maybe it’s not cheating – that it is the evolution of editing techniques. I think using PEVs gets editing even closer to directing.

Could you describe PEVs in your own words?

PEVs are techniques of merging audiovisual elements of film that are at editor’s disposal. It’s mainly visual elements, but I extend that to audio, with all the ways that sound can help “sell” a shot or a scene. It’s the synthesis of what was shot on set but not at the same time. It’s a collage with consistency. PEVs create what was intended on set but never happened there.

Can you recall the first time you used these effects, and can you tell us what your thought process was at that time?

I guess it was one of the films in film school. Two characters were sitting on a bench. I wanted to hold a shot of them sitting for a little longer, but one of the characters got up and walked away. I did a split screen with slowdown on this moving character, so the two of them sat together a little longer. It looked acceptable, so I left it in the movie.

I too have heard of PEVs referred to as “tricks” not related to storytelling even by experienced editors. Where do you think this perception might come from? Is it the unfamiliarity with the technique, a misunderstanding, or is there something more to it?

Experienced editors might think that PEVs will replace basic skills and techniques of storytelling in film editing. PEVs are expansion of our skill set. Maybe some not tech-savvy editors are afraid that these techniques are difficult, or that the “classic-NLE” means of editing will become obsolete. I think any problem can be resolved with simple cuts and make particular thing work in the movie. With PEVs we can not only make something work in the edit, but make it look better.

You said that PEVs make editing more like directing. This is a very astute observation. Can you elaborate on that?

When you make some actors do things that they didn’t do on set, you’re stepping into the shoes of the director. Using PEVs is like doing a re-shoot. In most cases PEVs help with problematic situations with actors in the footage. Directors and actors are very close on set, but in the editing bay the intimacy starts to grow between the footage and editors. This relationship is not as direct as its counterpart on set, but editors are still “saying” to actors “do this, do that” with cuts, and even more with PEVs.

Zbig in the editing/colour suite. He decided to avoid showing his favourite NLE - because he loves them all.

Zbigniew in his editing/grading suite. He decided to avoid showing his favourite NLE – because he loves and knows them all.

Do PEVs influence the way you approach editing?

I try to use PEVs as the last resort. I dive into the footage to find what I may have omitted, to look at it from a different perspective, to find gems. Only when I’m sure I will not find what I’m looking for, I use PEVs. It would be lazy to use PEVs before that. All those editors in the history of cinema resolved difficult situations with their creativity – we cannot lower our standards and standards of our profession.

Does the knowledge and ability to perform PEVs allow you to be a better editor and tell better stories?

It’s always about telling a better story. Be it PEVs, transitions, effects – they all should serve the story. Cliché, but that’s what I think. But I’m a fan of a simple cut. I’m more proud of myself, when I resolve a problem with straight cuts than with PEVs.

Do PEVs change the way you look at the footage and think about it?

Yes, but I try to use “PEVs perspective” on footage only when all other ways of problem solving in editing failed. When I see the footage for the first time I’m not automatically analyzing “Here I will use split-screen, here I will do a slowdown and add a mask”. All these ideas come later if they’re really required.

What differentiates PEVs from the “true” editing?

I think PEVs don’t make the editing any less “true”. But maybe cutting on Steenbeck, KEM or Moviola was “true” editing. It was all about cuts. Any dissolves involved sending a cut to laboratory, not mentioning more difficult processes. I was editing on Steenbeck for a year in film school and I thought about simple cuts, not masks, slowdowns, cloning or repositions. So maybe the “true edit” is something that was available almost since the dawn of cinema: a cut.

Do you think PEVs should be taught to new editors in film schools? To what extent?

When students understand the basic principles of editing and they can solve issues with techniques known to the editors in the era of film – then yes, they should be taught to use PEVs. But in the first years of education, maybe, just maybe, they should be forbidden to use them.

Do PEVs influence your relationship with the director?

Yes. At first, the directors were hesitant to use this technique. They didn’t know that the tools were in an NLE. After few shots done this way which looked good, they were like: let’s merge this part of this take with the other shot into one. If I wasn’t sure that I searched through all the footage for particular scene or sequence I didn’t agree to use PEVs.

How often are you using PEVs?

I try to minimize the use of this technique, as I explained before. It can range from 5 to 15 shots in a movie.

How much are you doing yourself, and how much is passed to the VFX team?

I’m doing an offline version with offline resolution footage in an NLE. VFX guys get online resolution clips and they’re doing the final shot. I have to be sure to pass all the necessary metadata and references so that they can recreate what was approved in the offline. So the idea is created in editing room but it’s realized by the VFX department.

What was your simplest shot that you created?

I think that it was the one created in film school, still intuitively. I like these kind of simple treatments, but my ambition is to create – if a film I am editing requires it – some PEVs with face replacement or roto to smoothly add body parts. These kind of manipulations are still not my league.

Can you tell us about your most complex shot?

It was a reaction shot of six people. In each take they weren’t synchronized in their movements. I had to merge their reactions so they would turn their heads and bodies at the same time. The shot was static, but you had to compensate for slight differences in camera position and positions of the actors. It’s not that hard technically, but the choice of particular takes and timing is crucial. Of course, the VFX team made it even better.

And the most satisfying one?

The most complex shots are the most satisfying ones.

How much time do you spend on a shot?

From a few minutes to half an hour at the most. The time is precious in the editing bay so If I can’t achieve it in the short time I just make it less polished and leave it for the VFX team. Sometimes shots are more complicated, so NLE tools are not enough.

What kind of tools do you use to make PEVs in your daily work?

In today’s post production world there is no comfort in knowing only one NLE. So I use the one that’s desired for particular project. Inside Media Composer there’s the Animatte effect. Inside Premiere Pro – masks, that are now very nicely built into clips effects controls and other effects. In Final Cut Pro X – the Draw Mask effect. I also use retiming on selected composited shots – my favorite is FluidMotion retiming in Media Composer. So masks and retiming are basic tools for PEVs.

Thanks a lot for your thoughts.

PEV02 – Alan E. Bell (ACE) About Performance Enhancing Visual Effects

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This interview is part of the larger series about Performance Enhancing Visual Effects. Alan E. Bell (ACE) is the editor who invented the term and made it his trademark. He is most known for his work on The Green Mile, (500) Days of Summer, The Amazing Spiderman, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and recently The Hunger Games: Mockingjay part 1 and part 2. Read on to learn his thoughts about PEVs.

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PEV01 – An Introduction to Performance Enhancing Visual Effects

PEVs 01

The term “Performance Enhancing Visual Effects” (PEVs) or “Performance Based Visual Effects” was coined by Alan E. Bell, the editor of (500) Days of Summer, The Amazing Spider-Man”, and most recently The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and two parts of Mockingjay. It encompasses all manipulations of the source material aimed at making an actor’s performance better. Usually the alteration takes part only in part of the frame, as opposed to typical cutting and juxtaposition of whole frames. In my opinion the availability and recent popularisation of these techniques constitute a significant shift in the history and process of editing.

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Resolve 12 Editing Experience

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Full disclosure: I was offered a full version of Resolve Studio from Blackmagic Design in exchange for this review with no other strings attached. While this perk might have influenced my opinion about the company and the product, it’s no secret that I have liked Resolve for a long time, used it on my projects since version 9, and trained people how to work with it. It’s simply a great, affordable grading tool, a worthy replacement of Apple Color. Now it is attempting to take over your edit suite, and this is what I decided to focus on in my assessment.

With the release of version 11, Resolve started to aggressively expand from purely grading tool into non-linear editing. Regardless of the initial hype and of impressive initial toolset, editing in Resolve 11 was clunky, the experience far from seamless, and in the end not really suited to anything but casual editing or correcting bad conforms. There were some brave souls who attempted to try it out on their projects, and even some universities decided to forego installing an NLE in their suites, in favour of Resolve. But I have not seen any projects edited purely from start to finish in Resolve 11. After the initial waves of enthusiasm, Resolve editing faded into background and became little more than a curiosity.

The recent release of Resolve 12 is supposed to change that. There are quite a few significant improvements, especially in the audio area, like the possibility to use VST and AU effects, more priority given to audio over video playback, a brand new audio track mixer, as well as new editing tools – multicam clips and compound or nested timelines plus any trim type that you can possibly imagine. This brings the editing toolset almost to the completeness, at least in the sense of 2015 NLEs.

The new editing toolset

Most of your usual suspects are there, including such useful things as head and tail edit, and a sync lock, which actually works properly and predictably, unlike in certain other applications. In fact, one thing that Resolve should be commended for is the way it handles track collisions on rippling – it’s intuitive, clever and saves a lot of time in the end. Similarly, the way you switch modes from Normal Edit (no operation changes timeline length) to Trim Edit (all operations are now rippling) is clever, possibly not innovative, but very clear and agreeable to my way of operating. Dynamic trimming is also there, available with a single keystroke. The only thing I can complain about is the discoverability. It takes a moment to realise what the modes do and how they work, apart from being just tools; that to open a timeline in the source monitor you have to drag it there; or that to perform Lift you have to use Delete Selected with in and out set. Some tools are simply hidden too well, not present in any menu. Another example: creating subclips is only possible when you right-click on the selected in-out range in the source monitor.

The additions to Resolve 12 trimming and editing make it a viable tool for creative editing.

The additions to Resolve 12 trimming and editing make it a viable tool for creative editing. Some options are pretty well hidden though!

There are also a few nifty features speeding up the editing process that Resolve is still lacking – one of them is the ability to set in and out point of the clip while scrubbing over the thumbnails or the filmstrip in the project media browser. While editing using the source monitor is important, and a lot of people do work that way, it is not always the most efficient, and especially the newer brand of editors might be missing them.

Where it’s still the big iron

How does editing in Resolve 12 feel though? After all, the editors are used to an immediate feedback, seamless, realtime playback experience and working with tons of media. Does Resolve 12 live up to the expectations?

I’d say yes and no.

Resolve needs a powerful machine to work properly. While any other NLE can fly on my MacBook Pro 2012 Retina, Resolve struggles, and sometimes fails, especially with heavily compressed H.264 media. I need my heavy-weight Windows workstation to get the performance which makes me comfortable. Coming from the high-end, big iron background, Resolve has not yet transcended its legacy limitations. It lives purely on a GPU, so if your edit is anything more than straightforward cut and occasional dissolve, or your resolution is high, you are going to encounter performance issues, if your graphics card is not good enough. Simple playback might be fine, but even going backwards of fast forward using JKL is not that responsive, often you will notice a significant lag between key being pressed and the reaction to it.

Also, if you are using effects and third party transitions, these are hardly ever rendered in the real-time. Arguably, this is also the case on other platforms, but in Resolve there is no way to just render part of the timeline, and it takes much more time for the software to recover from dropped frames. Yes, there is a nice background rendering option, very similar to what we can find in FCPX, but there is no granular control over what gets rendered – it’s either something not specific or nothing.

There are workarounds, like using cache, using proxy media, reducing playback resolution. They are not without their own issues, and very often require significant amount of hard drive space. In fact, the whole Chapter 5 in the excellent Resolve 12 User Manual is dedicated towards the topic of performance tuning, and it’s definitely worth reading. However, when compared to other NLEs, and especially on the lower end platforms, the smooth experience is not to be expected, when not sitting on a powerful workstation. Way better than in version 11, but we editors are a picky, spoiled bunch.

Project settings window can be intimidating to the uninitiated. Defaults are sensible, but still it is worthwhile to read the manual that comes with the software or ask someone with more experience.

Project settings window can be intimidating to the uninitiated. Defaults are sensible, but still it is worthwhile to read the manual that comes with the software or ask someone with more experience.

Finally, there’s the question of Resolve project management. It has definitely been simplified from the previous versions where a database server was used. One needs to remember though, that all the projects are still saved in a single location, and to move them to a different place you have to export them. Setting up Resolve for use in networked shared environment is not a task an average editor will be able to perform though, and it might be at times problematic, so before you get yourself in trouble either read the manual, or ask a person who has experience in this matter. Thankfully, you can move projects between computers using the drp files without much hassle. It’s definitely something to be aware of and get used to.

Where it falls short

There are still some legacy limitations like the need for all timelines to be of the same size and frame rate. It might not be a huge deal, but some of the more complex projects involve various deliveries. Hopefully this gets addressed in one of the future updates. Come to think about it, the project settings window contains a lot of options dealing with colour grading workflow, which for an average editor might be hard to understand.

Another limitation is the size of the timeline window, and inability to customise user interface to the extent that we know from Avid or Premiere. With some edits, it is not uncommon to have a 10 or even 12 edit tracks containing various elements – live action, motion graphics, visual effects, subtitles, and so on. For audio you definitely need twice that, or even more. Resolve’s current interface is best suited for flat timelines of 3-5 video tracks at the most – unless you are using a 4k or higher resolution display or dual monitors with full screen timeline option on. Therefore some projects will feel great, while others will make you wish for some more screen real-estate or workspace flexibility.

Editing

Editing is smooth on a powerful machine, but your average laptop might turn out not to be enough to seamlessly run Resolve.

Also, editors live by their keyboard shortcuts, and this is where Resolve has significant room for improvement. For one, keyboard shortcuts are stored per project, and are available via project settings. True, you can save your presets, and set the defaults, but at the same time, it would make much more sense, if they were stored as a user preference. Some of the shortcuts are great – kudos for all nudging and clip selection – but some come as defaults from FCP legacy and make less sense. A few common operations require pressing adjustment keys like shift or alt, sometimes multiple of those. Therefore the very first thing that one needs to do is to redefine them. Unfortunately, the keyboard shortcuts editor is not great and feels clunky and dated. At least a search box a la Adobe Premiere would make it easier to find relevant commands, and of course nothing beats the graphic representation of a keyboard, like in FCP.

Where it just works

Media organisation and metadata management is good – nothing revolutionary, it just works as it should and like an editor is used to. If you had used previous versions of Resolve, you will notice that the project structure is now more similar to the one in a traditional NLE – and for the better. There are bins, timelines can reside in any bin, bins are searchable. Any clip can have traditional metadata attached to it, which you can also look for, sort by and fill in, if necessary. Resolve 12 introduces Smart Bins – basically saved searches that update in real-time. Unfortunately, metadata entered in Resolve is project-specific, and won’t be shared between various projects.

Media management in Resolve just works.

Media management in Resolve just works.

Audio editing is usually smooth, if you discount the timeline size limitation. It’s great to have the ability to use audio effects and plug-ins. Right now Resolve does not ship with any, and I have not found a way to incorporate VST plug-ins shipped with Adobe Premiere. On the other hand, on OS X it recognises your standard Audio Units, which is great. At the time I was writing this review (Resolve version 12.1) there was one bug, which might or might not be a deal-breaker for you: AAC-encoded audio will distort when two such files are interacting with one another – either on separate layers, or via cross fade transition. Hopefully this gets fixed soon, as sometimes we do work on really strange types of footage, and encountering AAC-encoded audio is unfortunately not that uncommon.

Of course, coming from the world of grading, Resolve supports most interchange formats, including OMF and AAF, which you might want to use to pass your sound edit to an actual sound mixing application like Pro Tools or Audition. It also imports and exports XML and FCPX XML edits, so if it comes to worst, you can always execute your escape plan and move to an NLE of choice.

One of the potentially more useful features is the searchable Edit Index (aka Timeline Index in FCPX), being essentially an EDL representation of your timeline. Absent duplicate clip markers, it’s a handy tool for manual checking. You can also use it to browse the markers and flags present in the current timeline, though I am missing the marker list for a clip open in the source monitor, where it would be really, really handy as well.

Where it shines

The timeline interaction is often great – very similar to FCPX, ways ahead of Avid and Premiere. Moving clips around feels snappy, adjusting the edits is also fun. Audio levels are adjusted in real-time – of course, not accounting for effects, but this I would not expect – adding crossfades and editing transition curves with often just a single click and drag of a mouse. The expandable keyframe editor, similar to the one present in After Effects, is terrific. A lot of great thought went into this design. It is both simple, and at the same time efficient and powerful, definitely one of the high points of this software. I miss a bit more control over audio transition envelopes or logarithmic audio fade-ins and fade-outs, but that’s about it. Also, did I already mention that the track sync-lock actually works predictably?

It takes two clicks to get to the keyframe editor, but once you're there, you don't want to go back.

It takes two clicks to get to the keyframe editor, but once you’re there, you don’t want to go back.

Newly added multicam is smooth and nicely done. All the required options, including syncing by audio waveform, are there. Playback is good, switching between the angles does not seem to cause any hiccups. In general, the experience is satisfying.

While a lot of effects, generators and transitions were already present in Resolve 10, most of them of limited use, Resolve 12 adds the “Smooth Cut” transition, an equivalent of Avid’s Fluidmorph, or Adobe’s Morph Cut – a mix between cross-fade and optical flow morphing from form one shot to the next. It does seem to work a bit better than Fluidmorph, and it is not limited to the shots containing visible and discernible faces, like the Morph Cut is. While I’m not often impressed by bells and whistles, this feature alone is sometimes worth the effort of at least moving your edit to Resolve.

Where it excels

Since this piece is dedicated to editing in Resolve, I’m not going to do a detailed overview of grading tools. But there are two things new to Resolve 12 which can help you even at the editing stage. One, there is the Resolve Color Management – among other things it allows you to specify the colour space profile that should be attached to any clip that you bring into the project. It will make sure that the flat footage gets a preliminary correction which brings you into your timeline colour space – for example, making the flat log files more contrasty and saturated, ready for Rec709, DCI P3 or even HDR delivery. Previously this could have been achieved with the use of LUTs, but the downside was that any data that got clipped in the process was lost. Resolve Color Management takes care of it without this drawback.

The second feature that might save an editor a great amount of time is the Shot Matcher. Similarly to its SpeedGrade counterpart, it aims to analyse the source clip, and then attempts to bring the selected clips into line with it colour-wise. For any documentary editor or a person who deals with a lot of footage that is not exposed evenly, it’s a blessing. Of course, at best it can be a starting point for the proper grade, but when you’re editing, the contrast and colour continuity can make for an easier, swifter experience, especially with people not used to ignoring colour differences while watching rough cuts.

Shot Matcher can be a great time-saver when using a lot of  unevenly shot media.

The Shot Matcher can be a great time-saver when using a lot of unevenly shot media.

As a grading application, Resolve brings to the table excellent colour management from start to finish, top class grading toolset that now slowly moves into compositing territory, version management, numerous delivery options, remote and collaborative work, and last but not least – control surface integration. While not essential to an editor who just edits, for one who wants to expand into other areas, especially grading, these are a huge benefit, and could be the main reason to start your new projects directly in Resolve. And if you have been using Resolve to grade already, you can now perform creative editing there as well, or move your rough cuts from your NLE, finesse, grade and finish in a single application.

Verdict

What’s my opinion of Resolve 12 for an editor then? Still not there as a pure NLE tool. Not sure if it ever is going catch up to dedicated applications, considering its underlying architecture and limitations. But if you intend to profit from Resolve grading toolset, want to avoid the pain of conforming, don’t want to spend money on a tool you would rarely use, or have a project which does not require you to juggle tons of media, and have a decent piece of hardware to run it on, by all means give it a go. I know a few people using Resolve 12 as a supporting NLE already, and they are praising it.

Resolve has been developing extremely fast, considering that it is only the third version to have editing capabilities. The promises from Resolve 11 have been finally realised in 12. If this trend continues, I believe the new version will have smooth editing experience, and even more interesting features that will help solidify its position in the online/finishing world (including more Fusion integration). This would go a long way towards making it almost a one-stop shop for post-production, from dailies to delivery. And when Tangent Ripple comes out next year, you will most likely see it alongside Resolve in many editing suites around the globe.


 

If you are interested in learning how to use Resolve, Alexis van Hurkman has recently released another of his tutorials, this time dedicated to editing in Resolve 12. You can get it on Ripple Training website. 

The Inevitable Convergence III – The NLE/Grading Edition

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With the introduction of Resolve 12, suddenly the race towards a unified NLE/Grading tool become very interesting. It’s hard to argue, that colour correction and grading became an integral part of post-production workflow. It’s also seemingly one of the low-hanging fruits, as opposed to visual effects and audio. Let’s see what is going on for all major players in this regard.

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The Bane of UI Minimalism

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I am appalled at some trends in the User Interface design these days. Touch screen devices became an entrenched market a couple years ago, and suddenly everyone and their mother decided to optimise the User Experience (UX) to take into account this new animal. Nothing bad about the general idea, but unfortunately in some cases the results seem to have been the apparent devolution of the UI design.

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