An idea on how to dramatically improve Premiere Pro

I will admit right at the beginning – the idea is stolen from Autodesk Smoke 2013. I hope they don’t have a patent for that, because it’s so fantastic. But first let me make an obligatory digression.

There are a few things to like in Smoke, and there are other not to like. Something that really turned me off was the fact that something as simple as a clip with an alpha channel would not play in the timeline without rendering. Excuse me? As far as I know there is no other NLE on the market anymore that requires it. And we’re not even in 2013 yet. This constant need of rendering was something that turned me away from Final Cut Pro. I thought we’re long past that.

I also didn’t like the fact that the order of applied effects is pretty strict, although ConnectFX, and Action are really well developed and pretty flexible tools coming from the makers of great finishing software. This is the part which I liked. But after creating your comp and coming back to the timeline, you always have to render it to preview. Period.

The real trick of Smoke rooms seems to come to clever media management that is obscured from the user. I fail to comprehend how it is different from rendering  a Dynamic Linked composition in Premiere Pro. Except from the fact that Premiere will at least attempt to play it, if ordered, and Smoke will just show “Unrendered frame”. But then, it’s just me.

However, Smoke has a feature that in my opinion is awesome, and should be implemented in Premiere Pro as soon as possible. It treats each source clip as a sequence from the get-go. It’s a brilliant idea.

In case you are wondering why I am so excited about it, let me make a short list on what you could do with the clips before you put them on the timeline when such option is available:

  1. Set audio gain and levels.
  2. Add additional audio channels or files and synchronize them.
  3. Composite another clip on top – or even make it a fully-fledged composition.
  4. Add versions of the clip.
  5. Apply LUT or a grade.
  6. Pre-render clip into proxy or dynamically transcode like in After Effects.

Can you see it now? You can work with your source material before making any edit. At the same time all these effects will be applied to the clips being inserted to the timeline or already present after the edit is complete.

I would love to see this implemented in Premiere. I don’t think it would be that hard, since sequence nesting is already possible, as is merging the audio clips. It seems to be only one more step with perhaps some clever way to turn on and off layers or effects of the clip already present on the timeline. It is the ultimate flexibility that would allow for quite a few new workflows to appear. I hesitate to use the abused words of “a game changer” – but I can’t help to feel terribly excited about it.

Oh, and while we’re at it, why don’t we tie it with scripting, and Premiere Pro project file as a universal container for other applications to work from?

My vision of Adobe SpeedGrade

SpeedGrade seems like a very promising addition to Adobe Creative Suite, which I have already mentioned. However, after playing with it for a short moment, I found with regret that it does not fit our current infrastructure and workflows. Below is a short list of what kind of changes that I consider pretty important. These requests seem to be quite common among other interested parties, judging by the comments and questions asked during Adobe SpeedGrade webinar.

First, as of now the only way to output a video signal from SpeedGrade is via very expensive SDI daughter board to nVidia Quadro cards. This is pretty uncommon configuration in most post facilities. These days a decent quality monitoring card can be bought for less than 10 times the price of nVidia SDI. If the software is to gain wider popularity, this is the issue to be addressed.

Adobe seems to have been painfully aware of its importance, even before the release. I’m sure that had it been an easy task, it would have been accomplished long ago. Unfortunately, the problem is rooted deep in the SpeedGrade architecture. Its authors say, that SG “lives in the GPU”. This means that obtaining output on other device might require rewriting a lot – if not most – of an underlying code – similarly to what Adobe did in Premiere Pro CS5 when they ditched QuickTime and introduced their own Mercury Playback Engine. Will they consider the rewrite worthwhile? If not, they might just as well kill the application.

Second, as of now SG supports a very limited number of color surfaces. Unless the choice is widened to include at least Avid Color, and new Tangent Elements, it will push the application again into the corner of obscurity.

Third, the current integration with Premiere is very disappointing. It requires either using an EDL, or converting the movie into a sequence of DPX files. It’s choice of input formats is also very limited, which means that in most cases you will have to forget about one of the main selling point of Premiere – native editing. Or embrace offline-online workflow, which is pretty antithetical to the flexible spirit of other Adobe applications.

The integration needs to be tightened, and (un)fortunately Dynamic Link will not be an answer. DL is good for single clips, but a colorist must operate on the whole material to be effective. Therefore SG will have to read whole Premiere sequences, and work directly with Premiere’s XML (don’t confuse with FCP XML). It also means that it will have to read all file formats and render all the effects and transitions that Premiere does. Will it be done via Premiere becoming a frame server for SpeedGrade, as is After Effects for Premiere when DL is employed? Who knows, after all, Media Encoder already runs a process called PremiereProHeadless, which seems to be responsible for rendering without Premiere GUI being open. A basic structure seems to be in place already. How much will it conflict with SpeedGrade’s own frame server? How will effects be treated to obtain real time playback? Perhaps SpeedGrade could use Premiere’s render files as well?

An interesting glimpse of what is to come can also be seen in an obscure effect in After Effects which allows to apply a custom look from SpeedGrade to a layer. Possibly something like this is in store for Premiere Pro, where SG look will be applied to graded clips. The question remains, if the integration will follow the way of Baselight’s plugin, with the possibility to make adjustments in Premiere’s effect panel, or will we have to reopen the project in SG to make the changes.

This tighter integration also means that export will most likely be deferred to Adobe Media Encoder, which will solve the problem of pretty limited choice of output options presently available in SpeedGrade.

As of now SpeedGrade does not implement curves. Even though the authors claim that any correction done with curves can be done with the use of other tools present in SG, curves are sometimes pretty convenient and allow to solve some problems in more efficient manner. They will also be more familiar to users of other Adobe applications like Photoshop or Lightroom. While not critical, introducing various curve tools will allow SG to widen its user base, and will make it more appealing.

Talking about appeal, some GUI redesign is still in order, to make the application more user friendly and Adobe-like. I don’t think a major overhaul is necessary, but certainly a little would go a long way. Personally I don’t have problems with how the program operates now, but for less technically inclined people, it would be good to make SpeedGrade more intuitive and easier to use.

These are my ideas on how to improve the newest addition to Adobe Suite. As you can see, I am again touting the idea of the container format for video projects – and Premiere Pro’s project file, being an XML, is a perfect candidate. Frankly, if SpeedGrade will not be reading .prproj files by the next release, I will be very disappointed.

Why Premiere Pro could use scripting

I’ve been testing the workflow from Premiere Pro to DaVinci Resolve (similarly to other more renowned people). For many reasons I want to avoid sending a flattened file, instead relying on XML interchange, and a few annoying simple issues make it pretty inconvenient:

  1. We’re using XDCAM EX in mp4 wrapper and NXCAM (AVCHD) files which Resolve does not support. Transcoding is necessary although it’s the subject for another entry.
  2. Time remapping in Resolve is much worse than even in Premiere, not mentioning After Effects. All speed changes should be rendered and replaced before exporting XML.
  3. Some effects should be rendered, but transitions should be left untouched.
  4. All Dynamic Link clips should be rendered and replaced.

Doing these things manually takes a whole lot of time, and is very prone to mistakes. This is a perfect example when a simple script would make one’s life so much easier. The script would:

  1. Traverse the timeline, looking for clips having properties mentioned in points 2-4.
  2. Create a new video layer or a sequence, whatever would be faster.
  3. Copy the clips there one by one and queue export for each to desired codec, encoding timecode and track either in metadata or the name.
  4. After the export is done, it would import the renders, and replace old clips with the new ones.

Alternatively, I could have one script to export (1-3), and another to reimport (4).

See? It’s relatively simple. The possibilities of scripting are almost infinite. For example, I could also change all the time remapped clips automatically into Dynamic Linked AE compositions and render them using its superior PixelMotion algorithm – although I would rather appreciate Adobe including it in Premiere itself, getting rid of the old and awful frame blending. I could even attempt to change them to their Twixtor equivalents, although I must say that my experience with this effect is pretty crashy.

I looked at SDK for Premiere Pro to see if I could write a plugin that would make this job easier, but as far as I know such possibility does not exist. Plugin architecture for Premiere is pretty limited, and compartmentalized, and using C++ for this seems like a bit of an overkill.

Adobe, please support scripting (JavaScript, Python, or any other obscure language) in Premiere Pro. This way users will be able to create their own tools to solve inefficiencies of the program, and your job will become much easier. And Premiere Pro will prosper and develop much quicker and much more effectively. Besides – you don’t want FCPX to overtake you, do you?

Premiere Pro saves the day

Recently I was doing a small editing job for a friend, and ran into a few interesting problems.

The footage provided was shot partially on a Canon Powershot, which saves it as an AVCHD MTS stream. My computer is not really up to editing AVCHD, so I decided to transcode the clips into something less CPU intensive. The final output would be delivered in letterboxed 640x480p25 because of the limitations of the second camera, so the quality loss was of little concern. Having had decent experience with AVID’s DNxHD codecs, I decided to convert it to 1080p25 36 Mbps version. And then, the problems began.

Even though Premiere Pro did import the file without a problem, Adobe Media Encoder did hang right after opening the file for transcoding. I decided to move the footage to AVID thinking that perhaps it would be a good project to hone my skills on this NLE, but it was complaining about Dolby encoding of audio, and didn’t want to import the footage. I then tried to use Sorenson Squeeze to convert it, but it also threw an error, and crashed. Even the tried MPEGStreamclip did not help.

I was almost going to give up, but then came up with an idea to use Premiere’s internal render to transcode the footage by putting it on an XDCAM HD422 timeline, rendering it (Sequence -> Render Entire Work Area), and then exporting it with the switch that I almost never use – “Use previews“. I figured, that once the problematic footage is already converted, then the Media Encoder will handle the reconversion using previews without problems. I was happily surprised to have been proven correct. And because Premiere’s internal renderer was able to cope with the footage without a glitch, it all worked like a charm.

Use Previews switch

“Use Previews” can sometimes save not only rendering time, but also allow for encoding problematic files.

Afterwards the edit itself was relatively swift. I encountered another roadblock when I decided to explore DaVinci Resolve for color grading, and exported the project via XML. Resolve fortunately allows custom resolutions, so setting up a 640×480 project was not a problem. I also had to transcode the files again, this time to MXF container. This was a minor issue, and went relatively fast. However, due to the fact that some media was 480p, and some 1080p, and I have done quite a lot of resizing and rescaling of the latter, I wanted to use this information in Resolve. Unfortunately, Resolve did not want to cooperate. It’s handling of resize was very weird, and every time I clicked on the resized clip to grade it, it crashed. I’m certain that the scaling/panning was responsible, because when I imported the XML without this information, everything worked great. It might have something to do with the fact, that I was running it on an old GTX260, but still, I was not able to use the software for this gig.

In the end I graded the whole piece in Premiere Pro on its timeline. Here’s the whole thing for those of you who are interested:

The anatomy of a promo

This is my latest production. It’s a promotional spot for a non-profit organization that is dedicated to another passion of mine – historical personal combat.

What follows is an overview of the production of this short movie, including how the screenplay changed during production, breakdown of my editing process, and a few techniques that we used in post-production to achieve the final result.

Production

It was a collaborative, voluntary effort, and included cooperation from parties from various cities in Poland. The Warsaw sequences (both office and training) were shot with Sony EX-1R, 1080i50, with the exception of slow-motion shots that were recorded at 720p60. Sequences from Wroclaw and Bielsko Biala were shoot with DSLRs at 1080p25. Therefore the decision was made to finish the project in 720p25, especially since the final distribution would be via youTube.

The most effort went into filming the Warsaw training, where we even managed to bring a small crane on set. Out of two shots that we filmed, in the final cut only one was partially used – the one where all people are running on the open clearing. We envisioned it as one of the opening shots. As a closing shot we filmed from the same place the goodbyes and people leaving the clearing, while the camera was moving up and away. It seemed a good idea at that time, one that would be a nice closure of the whole sequence, and perhaps of the movie as well.

We had some funny moments when Michal Rytel-Przelomiec (the camera operator, and the DOP) climbed up a tree to shot running people from above, and after a few takes he shouted that he can last only one more, because the ants definitely noticed his presence and started their assault. What a brave and dedicated guy!

A few days later we were able to shot the office sequence. The first (and back then still current) version of the screenplay involved a cut after the text message was send to what was supposedly a reminiscence from another training, and finished up with coming back to office, where Maciek (the guy in office) would pick up a sword and rush at the camera. Due to the spatial considerations on set (we were filming in Maciek’s office after hours), we decided to alter the scenario, especially since we had already filmed the training sequences, including the farewell closing shot.Therefore instead of Maciek picking up a sword and attacking the camera, he actually rushed away to training, leaving the office for something dearer to his heart. It was also Michal’s idea to shot the office space with 3200K white balance to create more distant, cold effect, and it worked really well.

Post-production

All footage (about 2 hours worth) was imported into Adobe Premiere CS5, that allowed skipping transcoding and working with the source files from the beginning right to the end. After Effects CS5 and Dynamic Link were used for modest city titles only, although perhaps it could have been used to improve a few retimed shots. Music and effects were also mixed in Premiere.

The promo was in production for over half a year, mostly because we were waiting for footage from other cities, some of which never materialized, and we decided to finish the project with what we had. Actual cutting was pretty quick, and mostly involved looking for the best sequences to include from other cities. Some more time was spend on coming up with a desired final look for the short movie.

Editing

The general sequence of events was laid out by the screenplay written by Maciek Talaga. At first the clip started immediately with corporate scene. We were supposed to have some similar stories from other cities, and I was ready to use dual or even quadruple split screen for parallel action, but since the additional footage never materialized, I decided to pass on this idea. In the end it allowed us to focus more on Maciej Zajac, and made him the main hero of our story, what was not planned from the start.

After leaving the office we had to transition to the training, and preferably to another place. Wroclaw had a nice gathering sequence, and completely different atmosphere (students, backpacks, friendship and warmth), which constituted excellent contrast to the cool corporate scenes from Warsaw, presenting another kind of people involved in pursuing the hobby.

The order of following cuts was determined by the fact, that we had very little material from Bielsko-Biala, and it all involved the middle of the warm-up. We had excellent opening shots from Warsaw, which were great for setting the mood, and adding some more mystery. I used them all, and even wanted to transition to push-ups and other exercises, however when the guys already stopped running, coming back to it in Bielsko sequence ruined the natural tempo of the event. Therefore with great regret I had to shorten the crane shot to the extent that it most likely does not register as a crane shot at all, and transition to Bielsko for the remaining part of the warm-up.

Coming back to Warsaw seemed a little odd, so I decided to cut to Wroclaw to emphasize the diversity, and a short sequence with a few shots of a warm-up with swords. Here I especially like the two last cuts, where one cuts on action with the move of the sword, that is underlined by the camera move in the next shot, and then the one that moves the action back to Warsaw, when a guy exits the frame with a thrust. I was considering using a wipe here, but it looked too cheesy, so I decided to stick to a straight cut.

As an alternate to this choice, I could at first come back to Warsaw, and move the Wroclaw sequence between the warm-up and sparrings, but this would then create an alternating cadence Warsaw-other place-Warsaw and I wanted to break this rhythm and avoid that. Therefore I was stuck in Warsaw for the remaining of the movie, even though it had at least two distinctive parts left. We had an ample selection of training footage from Wroclaw, however it was conducted in a gym, and including it would ruin the overall mood and contrast closed office space vs. open training space, so in the end we decided against it.

Unfortunately we did not have any footage from gearing up, so the transition between the florysh part in Warsaw to the sparrings is one of the weakest parts of this movie, and I would love to have something else to show. I did not come up with anything better than the cut on action though.

The sparring sequence is mostly cut to music selection of the most dynamic and most spectacular actions from our shoot (not choreographed in any way), including a few speed manipulations here and there to make sword hits at proper moments or to emphasize a few nice actions, including the disarm at the end. There were a few lucky moments during shooting, where Michal zoomed in on a successful thrust, and I tried to incorporate them as much as I could, to obtain the best dynamics, and to convey as much of the atmosphere of competitive freeplay as was possible.

The sequence ends on a positive note with fighters removing masks and embracing each other. I tried to avoid cutting in the middle of this shot, but it was too long, and I wanted to have both the moment where the fencing masks come off, and the glint on the blade of the sword at the end (which was not added in post). In the end the jump cut is still noticeable, but it defends itself. There is a small problem with music at the end, because I had to cut it down and extend a little bit to hold it for the closing sequence, but it is minor, and does not distract too much from the overall story.

Apart from the serious and confrontational aspect of the training, we wanted to stress the companionship, and I believe that both the meeting sequence in Wroclaw, and the final taking off the masks and embrace did convey the message well.

During cutting I realized that regardless of the added production value of the crane farewell shot, there is no way to include it at the end. It was too long, it lessened the emotional content, and paled in comparison to the final slow motion shots that I decided to use, including the final close-up of Maciek, that constituted the ellipse present in the first version of the screenplay. Therefore it had to go, regardless of our sentiment towards it.

The feedback from early watchers was that Maciej Zajac was not easily recognizable for people who did not know him, and made us wish for something more. The idea of the beginning with sounds and no picture came from Maciek Talaga, and I only tweaked it a little bit. We first thought about putting as the first shot the one where Maciej takes off the fencing mask, however it did not look good at all, and the transition to the office scene was awkward at best. In the end I proposed the closing close up as the first shot, which in our opinion nicely tied the whole thing together, being both introduction of Maciek, setting focus on him as a person, and also nicely contrasting the “middle ages dream or movie” with his later work at the office. Excellent brief textual messages authored by Maciek Talaga added also a lot to the whole idea.

Color grading

All color correction was done in Premiere Pro with the use of standard CC filters and blending modes. I experimented with the look in the midst of editing, trying to come up with something that would best convey the mood. I started with high-contrast, saturated theme, and moved quickly to a variation of bleach bypass with a slightly warmer, yellowish shift in midtones. However, it still lacked the necessary punch, and in the end I decided to over-emphasize the red color (an important one for the organization as well) with a slight Pleasantville effect. It gave the movie this slightly unreal, mysterious feeling, and the contrast underlined the seriousness of effort.

The office sequence did not need much more than the variation of bleach bypass, not having anything actually red. The increase of contrast and slight desaturation was mostly enough to bring it to the desired point, thanks to Michal’s idea of shooting it at lower Kelvin. Warsaw sequence required additional layer of “leave color” effect where everything apart from red was partially desaturated, a little more push towards yellow in highlights and in midtones, all blended in color mode over previous bleach bypass stack. I will do the detailed breakdown of color correction I used in a separate entry, although perhaps with the introduction of SpeedGrade in Adobe CS6 this technique might become  obsolete.

Michal also suggested a clearer separation between the various cities, so I pushed Wroclaw more towards blue, as it involved more open air, and Bielsko more towards yellowish-green, to emphasize its more “wild” aspect. In the end, I had the most trouble with footage from this place, because as shot it was dark, had bluish tint, and involved pretty heavy grading, which on H.264 is never pleasant. Overall I’m satisfied with the results, although there are a few places that could benefit from perhaps a few more touches.

The blooming highlight on the fade out of the opening and closing shot was a happy accident and a result of fading out all corrected layers simultaneously mixed with “Lightning effects”, at first intended only for vignetting (as mentioned in my another entry).

I like the overall result. I also enjoyed the production on every step of the way, and even though it could still perhaps be improved here and there, I am happy. It was an excellent teamwork effort, and I would like to thank all people who contributed to its final look.

Democratization of Color Grading – what’s the next move?

Yesterday BlackMagic released an upgrade to its free version of the industry standard grading tool, daVinci Resolve. The biggest and most influential change was surely removing the limit of 2 nodes that was present in previous Lite version. This bold move essentially makes the professional color correction software available to everyone for free. I am still waiting for the announced Windows version, that would make it even more accessible, but it’s almost a given at the beginning of the next year.

There still are limitations – you can at most output at HD resolution, even though you can work with footage that is much bigger than that, you won’t get noise reduction, you are limited to a single GPU. That said, most of the people to whom this version of software is directed hardly ever yet think about projects in 2K and above and have not considered buying a second GPU except perhaps for gaming purposes. However you choose to look at it, BlackMagic did surprise everyone by providing amazing piece of truly professional software for free. This kind of democratization of grading tools is certainly terrific, and unexpected. It is however not yet disruptive enough. What will BlackMagic next move be?

I see this release as a preemptive strike against Adobe (see my previous post on Adobe acquiring Iridas) and following Apple recent “prosumerisation” trend. In Adobe CS6 we will almost certainly see integrated SpeedGrade color-correction software – to many it means that they will get this tool almost for free (for the price of upgrade, but you would most-likely want to upgrade anyway). To attempt to win the new users, there was little else that BlackMagic could do. However the question still remains, why would BlackMagic voluntarily resign from some part of their income? Why not sell the newly unlocked Lite version for $99 or $199 and profit handsomely? What’s in it for them, apart from perhaps profiting from monitoring interfaces that they already sell? Let’s speculate a little bit.

One of the things that distinguishes “real” from “would-be” colorists is a control surface. It’s a tool dedicated towards increasing speed and ease with which to operate the software. All companies that provide serious grading software also sell special panels that go with it. This hardware is extremely expensive, costing anywhere from ten thousand to several hundred thousand dollars. BlackMagic does have its own model, which costs about $20 grand. Of course, in the world of high-turnover, high-end productions, such costs are quite quickly recovered. But this highly demanding pro world is relatively small, and competing companies rather numerous: BlackMagic, Digital Vision (former Nucoda), Baselight, Autodesk, Quantel, to name a few important ones.

Certainly no home-grown editor would-be colorist will shell out $20k for a tool that will sit idle 90% of their working time. Towards this end companies like Euphonix (now Avid), and Tangent Devices developed less sophisticated models that cost about $1500. For a pro it is often a very reasonable price for an entry-level piece of hardware that will pay for itself pretty quick. However, for a prosumer it is still at least two to three times too much, especially considering very limited use of the said tool. Regular consumers are willing to pay $499 for a new iPhone, avid gamers usually spend this much on a new GPU, and I guess this is about the limit that a prosumer color-grading surface would have to cost to catch on big time.

From a business perspective, selling 10 000 pieces of hardware costing $500 each earns you more than selling 10 $20k ones. Apple knew that when they released Final Cut Pro X (regardless of what you think about the program). Professional market is quite saturated, and there is not much to be gained there. It is also very demanding. Prosumers are much easier to appease, and their tools do not have to withstand the amount of abuse that pros require. Following the Apple model – giving the tool to prosumers – is a surer promise of profit, than appealing to the demanding pros.

The question is – who will make this move? Two years ago I would say that Apple might be one of the best candidates, but after introducing weird color control in Final Cut Pro X, and focusing all their efforts on touch panels I’m pretty sure they are not the ones. I don’t expect Tangent Devices or Avid to undercut the sales of their relatively low-cost models, especially after Tangent recently revamped their panels. BlackMagic is the most likely candidate, because right now they only have their high-end model. Creating a new version takes a lot of R&D resources, both time and money, and it is pretty hard to compete in this segment. BlackMagic also always did appeal to those with lower budgets, and this kind of disruptive move is something that is the easiest to expect from this company.

Therefore I am waiting for a simple control surface that will cost about $500-$700, will be sturdy enough to last me two years of relatively light to moderate use, and sensitive enough for the kind of color grading that I presently do – nowhere near truly professional level, but sometimes quite demanding nevertheless. I understand the big problem is producing decent color wheels, but I don’t loose hope that somebody will come up with some neat idea, and implement it. And no, multitouch panel will not do. If you wonder why, read another of my articles on the importance of tactile input. The whole point of control surface is that you don’t have to look at it while grading.

Finally, is the realm of professional colorists in any danger from the newcomers? To a certain extent perhaps. The field will certainly become more competitive, and even more dynamic, perhaps a few players will drop out of the market. On the other hand, more people will be educated about the quality of good picture, and more will require this quality, and also will be able to appreciate excellent work that most of the professionals do. All in all it probably will influence more the job of an editor than a colorist, bringing the two even closer together – the editors will be required to learn color correction to stay in business. In the high-end productions not very much will change, the dedicated professionals will still be sought for both for training and for expertise. Perhaps some of the rates will go down, but most likely in the middle range. In the end I think it will have net positive effect on what we do and love.

Will we then see a new product during NAB 2012 or IBC 2012? I would certainly be the first in line with my credit card. And if we do – you heard it here first. :)

Image deblurring and warp stabilizer would be a killer combo

In case you have been living under a rock, and have not yet seen the recent Adobe presentation on image deblurring, here is the video. I recommend you watch it first, and then read on:

The demo itself is pretty impressive. I’m sure it won’t fix every photo, and it will also be having it’s own share of problems, however I don’t think there is anybody who would disagree, that this technology is really revolutionary. Richard Harrington blogged “It will change everything”, and it surely will. There is a lot of creative potential with this technology as it is.

However, the real killer would be translating it to video. I can’t even start to count how many times have I tried to stabilize shaky footage only to back down considerably due to the motion blur that no stabilizer has yet been able to remove. No matter how good a stabilizer, be it a simple tracking and position/rotation/scale lock or more advanced algorithms like warp stabilizer, if the camera movement is erratic, you will get a variable amount of motion blur, which is often more pain to watch, than original shaky footage. Therefore I received all claims about warp stabilizer being a new steadycam with more than a grain of salt.

However, if warp stabilizer did include image deblurring, then it would indeed be another game changer. Interestingly, kernel calculation in moving picture might be actually helped quite a lot by temporal data and tracking (although subframe calculations would still be necessary), and the algorithm for video might in the end be less computation-intensive on the per-frame basis. And instead of the simple stabilize option, we would have the option to remove motion blur, or even calculate proper motion blur for the newly stabilized footage.

How great would that be, huh?

For those willing to delve deeper and read on the history of this research, here is a nice article from fxguide.com, that describes it: You saw the unblur clip with the audience gasping…here is the source. And for those interested in other impressive work in Adobe, check out the rest of Adobe sneak videos. Especially look at video meshes, pixel nuggets and local layer ordering. These technologies might find their way to your favorite editing software as well.

What pro users want from Premiere Pro, what Adobe will not deliver and why

After acquiring the IRIDAS Adobe is in a perfect position now to replace the now EOLed Final Cut Studio as a preferred suite of applications for editing and now relatively low cost finishing. This is also what is most likely to happen, even though personally I would love Premiere Pro, After Effects, Lightroom,  Photoshop, Audition and now SpeedGrade to be integrated in one single seamless application a la Smoke. I am obviously not the only person to think about that (see comments here), nor even the first one by any stretch of imagination.

Here is however why I don‘t think it will happen though. For one, recent changes in pricing and the fact that Adobe software has became very affordable for new businesses and startups is something that the company is not going to strike out by building a single finishing application encompassing the functionality of the whole suite. Arguably the fact that you can essentially rent a single specific tool for your job for next to nothing is one of the things that makes Adobe software more popular than ever. This business model would be seriously undermined by conversion of the suite to a single application, and this is what actually none of us think would be a wise thing to do.

Secondly, the architectures of After Effects and Premiere Pro – not even mentioning Audition – seem to be quite different. Even though Adobe has gone to great lengths to ensure proper translation of projects between the applications, there is a realm of difference between this and actually merging the two together in a Smoke-like manner. Don’t get fooled by the similarities of the interface. The engines running these two are quite different, and to actually enclose one in another might be impossible without rewriting most of the code. Adobe already did that while creating 64-bit applications, and there is hardly any incentive to do that again, especially since their time for development has actually shortened due to the “dot half” releases.

The only sensible way to approach this is to create a new application from scratch, but that would be essentially duplicating the features of already existing programs without any real benefit to the business, and at at least twice the cost. This is not something that is going to happen without a serious incentive to do so. Perhaps incorporation of SpeedGrade into the suite might be such a good pretext, but it all depends on the underlying architecture of the program itself, and is not going to happen soon, so don’t hold your breath until CS7 or even CS8.

I bet that in the short term we will see the remake of SpeedGrade’s interface to suit more the CS family, perhaps a few more options will be added, and a “Send to…” workflow will be established between Premiere, After Effects and SpeedGrade, perhaps with the addition of plugin a la recent Baselight development for the old FCP. This is what is feasible to expect in CS6. SpeedGrade will be able to see and render all Premiere and After Effects effects, transitions etc., due to the incorporation of either Dynamic Link or the standalone  renderers that already are present in Adobe Media Encoder, and hopefully will be able to merge projects from Audition as well.

Perhaps a new common project file format will be born, independent of any application, akin to the container, where each application reads and works only on its own parts, and it all comes together in SpeedGrade (finishing), Bridge (playback) or even AME for export. And if nobody at Adobe is working on such an idea yet, then please start immediately, because this is exactly what is needed in the big shared workflows. This format would get rid of the some of the really annoying problems of the Dynamic Link, and would open a lot of possibilities.

In the long run we might see a birth of a new Ubertool – a true finishing app from Adobe, and if a container-project idea is embraced, the workflow might even be two-way. I would imagine that this tool would also incorporate some management ideas from recently demonstrated Foundry Hiero, like versioning, conforming, or even preparing material to send to Premiere Pro, AE, Audition, etc. for other artists.  Because Adobe Suite does not need only the Color Grading software for completion. It needs a true project management and finishing application, and that would be an excellent logical step for Adobe to take, and then their workflow would really encompass all stages of pre-, post- and production proper. Which I hope will happen in the end.

One thing that I am sure Adobe will not do: they will not repeat the debacle of FCPX. The new Ubertool might be able to do all that other apps do, and probably more, perhaps even better, but they will not fade the smaller tools out of existence immediately, if ever, and everyone will be able to talk to each other as seamlessly as possible.

Three (or more) ways to make a vignette in Premiere Pro

UPDATE: You can download the plugin that I wrote here.

One feature that I lack in Premiere Pro is masking and vignettes in its standard color-correction tools. Unless you are using plugins like Colorista, other dedicated grading software or simply send your sequence to After Effects (if you have it), there is no obvious way to make a vignette. Here are however three ways to accomplish this effect, each having their pros and cons.

The first two ways to make a vignette require use of a blending mode, and towards this you need to understand what they actually do. I recommend going to ProVideo Coalition site, they have a nice tutorial on the subject. We will be using multiply mode to darken the image or overlay to saturate and lighten/darken the image (basically increase contrast and “punch”).

Multiply mode darkens the underlying image using the luminance value of the layer (clip) to which it is applied. 100% black darkens underlying layer to 100% black, 50% gray darkens by 50%, so for example 50% gray multiplied by 50% gray is 75% gray, and 100% white is totally transparent.

Overlay mode is partly multiply, and partly opposite. In overlay mode, 50% gray is transparent, darker colors work like multiply, and lighter colors lighten the image in the opposite manner than multiply: 100% brightness (white) makes layer below white, 25% gray makes underlying 100% black 50% gray, and so on. An overall effect is an increase in contrast and saturation (if you want to get more “punch” from your footage, try making a copy of it on the layer above and applying overlay mode to it, and see what happens, it’s a common trick to use).

I hope you’re not confused yet :) Now for the vignetting:

1. Photoshop file

Simply create a Photoshop file or tiff with a dimension of your sequence. Set your foreground color to black, and background color to white or gray, click on the second gradient option to select radial gradient, click on “reverse” and drag from the center of attention outwards, drawing a vignette shape. The lightest point should be placed where the center of attention should be in your footage, and the darkest on the outside. Save the file, it should look something like this:

Import the file to your project by dragging it into project window, put it on the timeline, and apply appropriate blending mode – it’s available under the opacity part of Effect Controls palette for this clip. Tweak opacity setting to achieve desired effect.

It is a very simple, method, that is also the least intensive on CPU, although it requires switching to another program to do part of the work, and does not provide easy way to change settings – you have to change the file itself. Another advantage is that you can put it on the top layer and affect all layers below.

2. Separate layer with ramp

Create a new solid in project window. The color is unimportant, make it the full size of your sequence. Then put it over the footage, put a “ramp” effect on it (it’s in “generate” sections. Select radial, reverse, and move start point towards the center, and the end point towards the edge of vignette. Your ramp should look similarly as the Photoshop file above. Then apply blending mode and adjust opacity as in method 1.

This method is a little more CPU intensive, but gives you the possibility to change the vignette without leaving Premiere, and does not require you to have Photoshop or any other such tool at all. You can even animate the vignette if you feel like it.

3. The Circle effect

If you don’t care about elliptical vignetting, you can use the Circle effect, which populates the oh-so-intuitive category of “generators”. It is a really versatile effect that I’ve found only recently. If you apply it for the first time, you will most likely dismiss it – as I did. However, it has most things that a decent vignette needs – set your blending mode to multiply, set your color to black, add feather, reverse the mask, and there you go. What is missing is the possibility to draw an ellipse instead of a circle, and to rotate it. But still it can be pretty useful, and it is not very CPU intensive. No CUDA acceleration though.

By the way, if you thought that the Ellipse effect present in the generators category would make your day, you’d be sorely disappointed. It’s a completely different effect, incidentally totally broken in Premiere Pro, even though it works well under After Effects.

4. Lightning Effects

The most demanding, but also giving you most options, including the possibility of additional color correction, is the effect that I have hardly ever seen mentioned in the context of Premiere – “Lightning Effects”. It is quite a powerful tool, giving you a lot of AE lights functionality without the need to use dynamic link or such. If you want to create a vignette, simply apply it to the chosen clip. Now do some tweaking:

  1. Select the first light as the spot light (usually set as default).
  2. Click on the effect name or the transform icon to the left of it to see visual input in viewer window.
  3. Adjust the center point, both radiuses (radiae?) and the angle so that the center is where you want to point viewer’s attention.
  4. Alternatively tweak focus (feathering) and intensity properties for additional effects.
  5. You can also tweak Ambient Light Intensity and Exposure to adjust overall lightness or darkness of the image.

Voila! This is it. Below are some pics before and after. As you can see I decided to go for rather subtle effect, but Lightning Effects is a really powerful—if CPU intensive and not supported by GPU acceleration—tool that you can add to your editing and color correction arsenal. It has enormous potential, and creating a simple vignette with it may even sound like a blasphemy, but it’s a good place to start the exploration. The only drawback is that you can’t apply it to multiple layers below like you can with other two methods. But hey, in Color you can’t do it as well, so don’t complain 😀

Visual input of Lightning Effects filter

Footage before

Footage after

Premiere Pro positive

Some of you might wonder why do I keep complaining about Premiere Pro, and not move to some “more professional” software like FCP or Avid.

It so happens that there is a number of features that Premiere Pro has, which make it a really great tool for video editor like me who often needs to work on a project from start to finish – from ingest to distribution – under a relatively tight time constraints.

I like the fact, that I can do 90% of my audio in Premiere Pro – it has basic mixing tools, automation and support for VST plugins for whole audio tracks, works in 32-bit, and even though the basic plugins are of mediocre quality, one can always supplement them with more advanced ones, and the output is usually acceptable. I certainly could achieve better results in Audition or Protools, but in most of the cases there is no need to. Also there is no problem with importing most of the audio files format (good luck handling mp3 files in FCP), although again Mac version does have some strange issues with audio that was not sampled in 48k, and the workaround is simply moving to PC or converting the files. It might be hard if your operator used 32k sound though…

Speaking about various formats – CS5 is really amazing at handling almost anything that you throw at it – image sequences, AVCHD, AVCCAM, DVCPRO, XDCAM, RED footage… Call it what you will, PPro will swallow it, and allow you to work with it without the need to transcode the files. If you want a professional intermediate, you can always obtain Cineform codec or on Mac even use ProRes. But there is no need to – and it is a huge timesaver.

It is especially true with CS5 and CUDA graphic cards. I put a few XDCAM EX clips in a sequence, and on an i7 PC with GTX 460 I threw some of the color correction filters that I routinely use. Fast Color was a blast – no wonder, it always is. Luma Curve was a blast – nice. Three-way color corrector – no problem. Seven additional Three-ways? You bet CS5 could handle them in real time. It gave up only after I threw four more Luma Curves just to see how much is too much. I got a few seconds of playback, and then it stopped. Whew. Essentially, anything that I would be needing will be handled in real time… on a PC. If I wanted the same for Mac, I would either have to buy an outdated and no longer supported nVidia 285 or a Quadro which costs over $1000.

Color correction in Premiere is certainly not as easy and streamlined as in dedicated tools like Color or daVinci, and I must admit that basic CC is much better resolved in Avid, but still, you do have presets, you do have most of the tools that you need (basic color corrector, three-ways with secondaries, luma and rgb curves, keying and other important stuff). There are a few things missing – vignettes or saturation curve – but these can be remedied by installing additional plugins like Colorista.

I must admit, that I miss real-time scopes. All the scopes are present in Premiere, but they don’t update during playback, which is a pity. Kudos go to FCP for having those, and also for icons on color correctors to copy settings to next or second next clip on the timeline. In Premiere changing your settings in the clips is a little more troublesome. However, at least you don’t have to double click them to see their effects control window, like you have to in FCP.

Premiere also has great management of render files. FCP can loose them upon any movement on your part, and if you combine it with the FCP’s tendency to force you to render almost anything that is not a color-corrector or a transition, it can be a major drawback. Premiere remembers the position of files and filters, and there is always a chance of going back, if the clips realign themselves properly, even in a different place in the timeline. Huge, huge advantage.

What I like about Premiere the most though is that it is really the most flexible editing software that I have ever used. FCP is not so close second, Avid, even with the recent updates, still lags far behind. Work really goes fast (when there are no nasty surprises on the way), much faster than in the rest of them. Even though I’m pretty proficient in operating both FCP and PPro, I find the latter smoother, quicker and more intuitive to work with.

Therefore the only reason I’m whining so much is that this certain piece of software could have been much more reliable, and much better, if it was free from the bugs and weird gotchas that tend to happen from time to time. And if the Mac version did have all the plugins and transitions that are available on PC… oops, I did it again. Sorry :)