Nuke Studio For After Effects

conform-studio

When I first saw the demonstration of Nuke Studio shown on NAB, with each new feature I was thinking: yes, this is exactly as it should be done. This is precisely how Dynamic Link should work from the get go in Adobe applications. Congratulations to The Foundry for making it happen. I wish I could afford your tool :) see more

The Strange Maths of After Effects Timecode

For past few weeks I’ve been developing for That Studio a number of scripts for After Effects which are supposed to make one’s life easier, when dealing with an edit in Premiere that requires handling of more than a couple of VFX shots.

One thing that surprised me is that you can’t access layer’s timecode directly using scripting, even though you can do this using expressions. At first I thought that I can use the Time Remap effect to do this, since its values are supposedly shown as a timecode. But a brief experimentation shows that it’s not the case. Time Remap values are given in seconds from the start of the layer regardless of its timecode. Ouch.

Therefore one has to resort to a brutish hack to obtain the layer’s starting timecode: create a text layer, add an expression that reads the layer.sourceTime value and assigns it to the text, and then read the source text in the script. That’s hardly an elegant solution, and it would be so much better, if the layer.sourceTime was supported not only for expressions.

Perhaps I could live with it, but on top of it there is a nasty bug hidden in AE, and it can bite you rather hard, if you’re not careful.

You might be familiar with the fact that when you precompose a single footage layer, and choose to leave the effects in the main composition, the precomp will have the length of the whole footage file, and will inherit the exact timecode… more or less so.

You might not be aware, that if you are using 23.976 fps frame rate, the timecode might be off by a frame or even two when you attempt to render this layer – which you will notice only if you open the file, because even the render queue will show the correct timecode value. You can mitigate this by manually entering the starting timecode in the composition settings window.

The real problem begins when you are trying to set this timecode via scripting. Let’s say you want the composition to start at 20:20:51:22, which at 23.976 fps translates to 73325.2419085752. When you assign it to the desired composition, the internal AE procedure will truncate it to 73325.2421875, which will result in the timecode which is not frame accurate, and even though it is displayed correctly in the composition, it is incorrectly rendered and written to file. You can check it yourself by running the following script on a selected composition (make sure to first enter 20:20:51:22 into the Start Timecode of the Composition Settings dialog):

c = app.project.activeItem;
a = c.displayStartTime;
alert(a);
c.displayStartTime = a;
alert(c.displayStartTime);

Note, that the value changes by the sheer fact of assigning the code to the composition start time. My supposition is that the internal workings of AE convert the double value into a float, thereby reducing the precision at higher values. That’s definitely not nice. Depending on how critical the timecode is for your application, it might rule out automation of certain tasks, and make it more troublesome to render – you have to always manually enter the starting timecode, even if you precompose. I have not found a way to reliably code around this bug.

The conclusion so far is: forget about accurate timecode renders from AE, especially if you are using 23.976. 29.97 or higher fps and do not start from a full second. Lower integer frame rates seem not to be affected so much, as are easy dividers (12 for 24 fps, etc.). Unfortunately, even if this is fixed in the future releases, it still means that you can’t use scripts that rely on this feature for earlier versions of AE.

How To Fix Hiero XML Export For Premiere… Sort Of

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Some time ago, if you ever tried to export XML from Hiero to Premiere, you got a generic importer error message and that was it. This issue – audio related – was thankfully fixed in later versions of Hiero. However, another hydra reared its ugly head, and this time attempted XML interchange resulted in something along these lines: see more

The Inevitable Convergence – Episode II

convergence2

In the aftermath of IBC 2013 I wrote about the inevitable convergence of various software packages. It was easy to see how various vendors began expanding their packages into areas beyond the primary intended roles. NAB 2014 confirms this ongoing trend, and breeds more and more interesting solutions at various price ranges.

Let’s quickly sum it up: BlackMagic Design gave Resolve a serious boost in the editing realm and collaboration, The Foundry announced Nuke Studio, bringing Hiero timeline into Nuke – or another way around, if you prefer – upping the VFX management expectations for everyone and aiming towards the on-line market. Autodesk enhanced real-time timeline capabilities in both Flame and Smoke, while Adobe is constantly tightening the interaction between its various applications to make them work seamlessly as one. The case can be made that Avid is also attempting to do precisely that, gathering all its offerings in Avid Everywhere platform mirroring Adobe Anywhere though with proxy workflow instead of real-time server rendering.

All in all, this expansion outside the primary areas suggests that the applications are mostly mature, the toolset required to fulfil the primary functions is pretty much there, and the software companies are aggressively attempting to widen the user base. This is the case especially with grading packages, where the competition is relatively intense, and the high-end segment stops being perceived as the only viable support. Witness Digital Vision licensing its precision control surface to SGO Mistika, and going software-only route with its Nucoda, dropping its price in a clear attempt to widen its reach.

Which breeds the question – is specialized software doomed to fail in the long run? Will the likes of Baselight eventually run off of the resources to sustain themselves? Certainly, there are some comfortable niches where individual applications do and will exist – Mocha for planar tracking and Silhouette for rotoscoping seem to be pretty good examples. But they thrive in the space where they have no competition, protected by patents or relative obscurity. It’s a very cozy place to be in, but there are not many like these. How will Nuke fare against Mamba FX, now that it has Mac version? How will Premiere, Avid and FCPX survive the BlackMagic incursion?

Today for pure editing still nothing beats dedicated NLEs. I bet it might be a year or two before somebody attempts to do a larger editing project in Nuke Studio or Resolve. But I can easily see how shorter forms might resort to these tools, especially to Resolve for its unbeatable price point and relative ease of use, and Nuke Studio will comfortably find its place in the VFX editorial and possibly finishing.

Lastly, there is the problem of feature bloat and discoverability. When software starts to expand into areas not envisioned from the moment of its conception, the risk of hitting a development wall is pretty huge, since the base code and the user interface was not optimized for these additional tasks, and the forays will most likely appear clumsy to the eyes of the users of specialized packages. Nuke will never be as good roto software as is Silhouette, and I highly doubt it will outclass After Effects in motion graphics.

Will the convergence happen though? Will there be enough overlap between Adobe Creative Cloud, Nuke Studio, Autodesk Flame, and daVinci Resolve that the choice will come down to user preference and – gosh – pricing? Not unless BlackMagic partners with SGO, Eyeon or takes over Toxik from Autodesk. If that happens, all bets are off.

As for now, we can happily choose any tool we deem appropriate for the job and out budgets.

It’s the Feature Countdown…

Like last year around NAB, this time Adobe announced the preview of the upcoming release of its Digital Video Applications (DVA) which include Premiere Pro, After Effects, SpeedGrade, Media Encoder, Prelude and Audition.

You can read the general overview of the new features in a few places (Creative Cow, fxguide, Studio Daily), various Adobe blogs give you a complete overview of the upcoming features, Scott Simmons at ProVideoCoalition gives a more indepth look into the new features of Premiere Pro itself, and for those visually oriented, Josh from reTooled.net prepared a video. Here as usual I will attempt to give you a bit more nuanced view with a possible long-term impact on the real world workflows. I also hope to showcase some of the most important ones in more detail pretty soon, and our favorite NLE will enjoy a separate detailed post. Right now let’s take a view from a few stories high.

The overall theme of this upcoming release is something that I would describe with a single word: “Finally…”. Finally we have a number of features that many have been asking for – sometimes for years. I know it may sound a bit ungrateful, and it’s no secret that we all would love to have these from the very beginning. But this release seems to really deliver – features galore, big and small, all to make your life as an editor easier. Therefore, when I use the word “finally”, it means that it is really there, without “buts” and “howevers”, and with full appreciation of the required time and resources, and a long road that all had to travel to arrive at this point.

One of the more interesting developments in this cycle is the new version of Prelude with its ability to trim clips in the rough cuts (finally), and tagging. The first feature makes it feasible to do the rough cuts in Prelude without the need to precisely mark the subclips, or to adjust the selections on the fly. We can finally do the quick assemblies, selects, what have you, and we can be as OCD about them, as we want.

Tagging, the second feature, has tremendous potential, similar to Keywords Collections in Final Cut Pro X. The ability to apply tags during playback using a fully customizable, state-of-the-art, JSON driven Tag Panel or to apply several tags to a single marker makes logging much easier and much faster. This is precisely what was missing in the metadata workflow between Adobe applications. Therefore we finally have a non-hierarchical way to quickly and consistently annotate the source footage. In the preview software versions that I had access to, tags are currently searchable only in Prelude, and only on the clip basis via the search box in the project panel. Hopefully, this is going to trickle down at least to Premiere, which can already see the tags, but can’t yet look for them or show them in any meaningful way, and that the searching capabilities will become more advanced.

On a technical note, tagging is implemented via an interesting extension of Flash Cue markers, and I will definitely elaborate on it soon. Right now, if you for some reason feel unhappy that the FLV format is being totally ditched from Adobe video applications in this upcoming release, you can comfort yourself with the knowledge, that not everything Flash-related is going to waste.

There are a few other new features that span throughout several CC applications. For one, Premiere and SpeedGrade now sport the Master Clip Effects (MCE). The idea is quite simple – when you apply an effect to a given clip, not to its instance in the timeline, it is applied as a separate “layer”, so to speak, below all timeline effects, and ripples through all instances of the master clips on all timelines in the project. It’s a great feature, especially useful with color correction, and the fact that SpeedGrade can also work in this mode, makes it even better. Here however I am not saying “finally”, because there seem to be a few quirks associated with it. I will elaborate on them in a separate Premiere Pro note, perhaps even wait for the release version of the software to see how these issues are resolved.

Regrettably, Master Clip Effects do not apply to sequences – yet? – which would make them totally awesome. This, and the possibility to render and replace such modified master clip or a sequence to the codec of one’s choosing. But even without it, it’s a killer.

The mechanism used for MCE allowed also Adobe to create the Live Text Templating for After Effects compositions in Premiere. Here we can see the roll-out of a 1.0 release of a feature, which covers only the most basic – though also the most frequently requested – ability to edit a selected text layers of Dynamically Linked AE comps straight in Premiere Pro. It’s a boon for all lower thirds, titles and similar graphics. It’s pretty simple to work with – you mark your composition as a Premiere template in the comp settings, and then any unlocked text layer in this composition or pre-comps (very clever!) is going to be accessible in Premiere in the same way MCEs are – by using match frame on the timeline clip or opening it in the Source Monitor, and then looking up the Effect Control Panel.

The drawback of Live Text Templates using MCE mechanism is that, if you want to duplicate this composition in the timeline, it will duplicate the clip in the Project Panel, similarly to how Titles currently work. This perhaps is not the most elegant solution – ideally we’d only have a single template, and only adjust the effects on the instances in the timeline – but it does work, and the link to the original AE composition remains, you can easily change anything in it in After Effects, and the changes will propagate to Premiere. Of course, it is not the final word in terms of templating. If you have comments or ideas, make sure to send them to Adobe, I know they are listening.

Next, both Premiere Pro and After Effects can now contain their effects using masks. Here I can definitely say “finally!”, at least when it comes to Premiere. Finally you can create a vignette or limit your color correction using a mask. Such masks can also be tracked, using the same technology that was already available in After Effects for past half a year. It works and it’s great. There is a minor limitation – currently there are only two types of masks present in Premiere – elliptical or polygonal. No bezier shapes or variable feathering, to access these you still need to go to After Effects. But these two types of masks will suffice for the usual 80% of cases, especially given the controls to expand or uniformly feather the mask.

Interestingly, the implementation in Premiere Pro seems much easier and much more elegant than its After Effects counterpart. While masks in Premiere are shown under each effect, AE requires you to navigate your timeline, make sure your effects masks do not interfere with masks that you apply to the layer, and so on. Quite a few inelegant steps on the way. The only positive side is that you can reuse these masks for multiple effects, which is not possible in Premiere. But the masks do carry over when you send a clip to AE via Dynamic Link, which is also a welcome addition.

Thanks to these features suddenly a lot of things became much easier to achieve in Premiere itself, without the use of Dynamic Link or After Effects round-tripping, especially in the Motion Graphics area. The only large things currently missing here are Pixel Motion algorithm for speed changes, and Motion Blur. About the impact of this release on the future of Creative Impatience plugins I’m going to elaborate in another note.

One of the best features in the upcoming Premiere Pro is the improved performance of the search field in the project panel. Yes, it seems tiny in comparison to all other loudly touted upgrades, and it’s more of a fix, than a marketable feature. But it means that finally we will be able to use the search box in larger projects, and that is no small change. On similar note, marker names will finally be visible in the marker panel, and can be searched for. For the list of all the features see Premiere’s blog, and an upcoming post on this website.

Astute readers and long time users of Premiere had most likely already noticed one feature that is sorely missing to complete the “finally” list. Unfortunately, Project Manager does not get an update in the upcoming release, and we will not be able to easily transcode or trim our projects either for archive or exchange. If I had to name a major disappointment, this would be the one. Here’s to hope that we’ll see some working solution soon – IBC perhaps?

But enough complaining. On another front, SpeedGrade seems to have finally received support for AMD GPUs in the Direct Link mode, including dual GPUs – owners of new Mac Pros rejoice – a new YUV vectroscope that works like every other vectroscope on the planet, and sports a decent graticule, a control to clamp the scopes instead of resizing them, and vertical sliders supplementing the offset/gamma/gain rings, easier to access and manipulate with a mouse. Some keyboard shortcuts became unified with the ones present in Premiere, and you can also enable or disable any track in the timeline in the Direct Link mode, which previously was impossible, making it easier to consider various grading options or simply hide distracting elements.

Media Encoder can finally be installed separately from other applications, which should make reinstalling and troubleshooting much easier, in case you ever need to do that, and apart from a number of bug fixes it also added support for industry standard AS-11 DPP, which you will never need unless you are delivering Broadcast material to UK, and – perhaps more importantly – encoding unencrypted DCP, which will be helpful if you’re going to submit your great movie to a film festival. Now, if only we had access to DCI P3 color space in Premiere…

Audition received a modest update as well – support for Dolby Digital, multichannel wav files, and some multitrack enhancements that should make your life easier if your sessions stretch vertically enough for you to consider turning your monitor short edge up.

Finally, After Effects enjoys integrated Mercury Transmit for live preview, support for HTML5 third-party panels (can be pretty significant in the long run), some updates to Curves effect (still not compatible with Premiere’s RGB Curves though), and an interesting technology for improving the mattes that you get from Keylight or other keying effects. Both will definitely come in handy, especially since I’m right now involved heavily with Hero Punk project which was shot totally on green screen.

There are also updates to Story and Anywhere, but I can’t meaningfully comment on either.

All in all, it looks like it’s going to be a pretty solid release, centered on Premiere Pro. Dare I say – finally? ;)

Showcasing an Adobe Workflow

Recently, after I was forced to go all freelance, I’ve been doing quite a lot of editing and VFX work for Kanen Flowers and his company That Studio. You might have already seen the teaser that we did for his new upcoming movie with the cryptic title “18:20″, but perhaps of more interest might be the behind the scenes that showcases the workflow used to manage the assets and coordinate the project – and a tiny bit of yours truly. see more

ProRes Encoding on Windows Finally Feasible

For quite some time one of the holy grails of multi-platform support has been the ability of encoding ProRes codecs on Windows. Or the lack thereof. True, there were makeshift solutions based on ffmpeg encoder that required either a knowledge of command line scripting or the use of other open source applications like AnotherGUI. see more