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Dr SG, or How I Learned to Love SpeedGrade…

sgSome time ago I mentioned that due to certain turn of events I ended up learning more about SpeedGrade than I ever expected. Since the cat is out of the bag now, let me elaborate. I was contacted – of all days on April 1st – with an offer to become the technical editor for the “Adobe SpeedGrade CC – Classroom in a Book” book authored by none other but Alexis van Hurkman himself.

After making sure that it was not April Fool’s Day joke, I was happy to accept the job. It turned out to be a great experience. Granted, Alexis is an experienced technical writer, so I ended up having very little input, but the side effect was that I learned SpeedGrade from top to bottom – something that would most likely never happen otherwise.

Regardless of my still present love for Resolve, I ended up appreciating several nifty features that SpeedGrade does have. The shortcuts to quickly adjust the interface, the ability to create grading layers spanning over several clips, quick adjustments for tonal ranges (shadows, midtones and highlights) really emphasize the “speed” part of the application.

Of course, the limitations which I described before still apply, and Resolve is still king when it comes to power windows, tracking, secondary selections and automatic grade management. But SpeedGrade definitely has potential, and from what I know, it is not going to go to waste.

I’d like to thank Senior Editor Karyn Johnson for the opportunity to be part of the team, and sincerely recommend the book to anyone interested in learning SpeedGrade. And if you are a Premiere CC user, you might need it sooner than you think. Be prepared.

Warning about using RGB and Luma Curves in Premiere Pro CC

Update: The 7.1 version due out in October is going to fix the issue altogether. Great job, Adobe!

Update: The 7.0.1 patch for Premiere Pro CC fixes some of the below mentioned issues, although unfortunately not all of them.

To my great chagrin Premiere Pro CC changed the way curves operate. Right now the curves, both RGB, and Luma, clip the superwhites and superblacks, and there is no interpolation going on after the curves hit 0 or the white level (255 or 1.0). In CS6, the curves followed the general slope, and it was possible to recover some of the “overshot” material. Right now, if you stick to curves, all clipped data is lost.

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Curve's interpolation in Premiere Pro CS6 allowed to recover superwhites or superblacks, and correct the contrast in the same instance.

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Premiere Pro CC clamps all superwhites and superblacks, and recovering the detail is not possible with the use of RGB or Luma Curves.

This is completely new, unexpected, and if you ever used curves, it changes your workflow dramatically, even if you don’t know it yet.

It means that you must remove the superwhites and superblacks from the clip before you use RGB curves. It means that if you were like me, using curves to apply the basic correction and contrast in one go, you cannot do it now. You have to first make the signal “legal” – reduce the superwhites and raise the superblacks with for example Fast Color Corrector, so that they fit between the range that curves operate on – RGB scale that is not overshot in either direction, even if you are working in the floating point (max bit depth).

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In Premiere Pro CC you need to use Fast Color Corrector or Three-Way Color Corrector to bring the superwhites back into the RGB scale. Only then you can apply curves, and be sure that you are not loosing data.

It also means that there is no real backwards compatibility within the projects that used curves. Your colors will not be the same, if you had any superwhites in the project. I highly advise you to finish your current projects in CS6, and only then create the new ones in CC, being mindful about the necessity to use Fast Color Corrector before applying curves.

Adobe is aware of this issue, and hopefully some fix will come soon, but while using CC 7.0.0 version of Premiere you need to remember about this very real problem.

D is for “Deselect Before Applying a Default Transition”

The very first thing that you should do… no, let me try again. The very first thing that you must do after installing and opening the new Premiere Pro CC is to set a keyboard shortcut for Deselect All. Trust me. This will save you a lot of trouble later.

This is something that you must do as well, if you think that applying transitions in Premiere no longer works.

Open the Edit menu, choose Keyboard Shortcuts…, and in the search box type “deselect”. Fortunately only one option will be visible, the one that appears in the Edit group – “Deselect All”. Assign a shortcut to it which will be easy for you to remember. I sincerely recommend D , because D is also used to apply default transitions. And if you have used Premiere before CC, you will have to learn this new shortcut combination:  DCmd /Ctrl + D to apply the default video transition, or  DShift + Cmd /Ctrl +D for audio transitions.

 

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Set this shortcut right now!

Why?

Premiere Pro CC introduces what is called “the primacy of selection”. Translated to plain English it means, that if you have anything selected in the timeline, Premiere will attempt to use the selection for any operation you choose, disregarding track selections, playhead position, etc. While there is an argument to be made that it’s more effective, more consistent (well, perhaps some day), it is changing the behavior which was long established in Premiere – using the playhead position for applying transitions.

Here’s how the new behavior works: if a clip is selected, and it is between two other clips, nothing happens. If the clip has at least one edit point where it does not touch anything, then the selected transition is applied to the loose ends. And if multiple clips are selected, the transitions are additionally applied between these clips. Not very obvious, right?

before

The clip on track V2 is selected. You might not even notice it. At least I didn’t!

after

And here’s the result – instead of applying the transition to the edit point under the playhead, the selected clip receives the transitions on both sides.

If you are like me, and you select and deselect clips all the time, whether to adjust effects or for any other reason, then this new behavior is going to bite your muscle memory hard. Before you learn the  DCmd /Ctrl +D combination, you will find yourself cursing two times: once when the desired transition does not appear in the place you think it should, and the second time, when during preview you find stray transitions in various places.

This is the collateral damage or “the primacy of selection”. If you forgot to deselect, and want to use the old way of applying transitions – by the track selection and playhead position – then you are screwed, and need to adjust. It does not help to know that this behavior is the result of Final Cut Pro’s inability to select multiple edit points at once, and was introduced there as a remedy to this limitation. Supposedly a lot of FCP users asked for this functionality in Premiere. They got it, and it came at a cost to established workflows. Like the introduction of patch panels in CS4, only more mischievous, because the results may not be immediately visible.

before-2

Here the selection is a bit more obvious. Watch what happens, when the shortcut is pressed now.

after-2

The transitions are applied at the end, and in between the clips. Remember to learn the new combination of keys – D, cmd/ctrl+D – if you want to use the playhead to apply the transitions.

To add confusion, there is a keyboard shortcut to “Apply Default Transition to Selection”, which works exactly like Apply Default Transition if clips are selected, although it applies both audio, and video transitions.

My little mind can’t comprehend the idea behind this change, especially since I’m not the only one who was taken aback upon the first encounter with the new behavior. But I know of others who are happy about it, and I found some use of it as well… only to encounter a stray transition during the final viewing of a recent production.

So remember – D , Cmd /Ctrl +D is your new shortcut for Apply Default Transition at the Playhead.

Apple’s move to FirePro GPUs in the new Mac Pro

Perhaps one of the biggest surprises during the recent sneak-peek of the new Mac Pro was the inclusion of AMD FirePro GPUs. While at first it might look like Apple again showing the middle finger to all CUDA users, and perhaps to Adobe or BlackMagic, “it ain’t necessarily so”.

Personally, I always liked AMD and ATI for their affordability, power saving, and sensible performance. Even though they usually lagged a bit behind nVidia and Intel, it was good to have competition which would keep the big players in check. In fact, the Pentium 4 fiasco was the moment when I really hoped that AMD will become the leading player in the CPU game. I have this personal love of underdogs. Alas, it was not meant to be.

The trouble began when Adobe started to use nVidia’s CUDA technology for acceleration, and when the performance of Intel’s new iCore series left AMD far behind. Essentially, if one wanted to use Adobe software, the choice was completely gone. It was Intel CPU and some kind of CUDA GPU. Adobe officially pushed heavily for Quadro solutions, which were way overpriced, and in terms of performance always behind the latest GTX series. Personally, I never bought into Quadro hype, because the benefits were not there.

On the other hand, Apple stuck to ATI cards, giving the users very limited offer, if they wanted to profit from CUDA. It was GT8800, GTX 285, or Quadro 4000. All terribly outdated or pricy. Now, this could really have been considered the middle finger to Adobe, considering FCP and Motion as competing products, and we know that Adobe engineers were not happy about the turn of events. Of course, it was also Apple’s way of promoting their own standard – OpenCL – which came about partly as the competition to nVidia’s CUDA. So the situation was a bit complicated, especially for Mac users.

Granted, nVidia was collaborating with Apple, AMD, IBM, and Intel on OpenCL since its inception, as part of the Khronos Group. Therefore the support for OpenCL soon became a standard for nVidia GPUs. Also, while CUDA is proprietary and optimized for Fermi/Kepler architecture and performance, OpenCL is open, and able to utilize any device, which can support its extensions. In OpenCL even CPUs can be put to work using the same code that programs GPUs. Of course, while there are only 4 to 12 cores in a single CPU, as compared to about a thousand in a decent GPU, the CPU input tends to be neglible, but it is there. The performance on equal hardware lagged until very recently, but last year OpenCL bridged the gap, and the two seem to operate on the parity level now.

Besides, Adobe has supported OpenCL in Premiere since CS6. BlackMagic claims that Resolve 10 will also have OpenCL support, and they seem to be pretty happy about it. The end user should not experience any problems, perhaps with the sole exception of the Ray-traced 3D engine in After Effects, which requires CUDA for accelerated processing. But this will most likely change in some future version as well.

I should indeed be cheering for OpenCL for having finally taken off. After all, it’s superior to CUDA in all but performance, and Adobe users should in fact be happy that the new, open, and less expensive alternative to nVidia/CUDA has been created. Especially if you consider that the hardware is not equal, and the recent AMD W-series GPU cards seem to fare pretty well against its Quadro equivalents. I might consider it myself in my future upgrades. My lack of enthusiasm stems perhaps from the fact that I wanted to add GPU acceleration to my plug-ins, and invested a bit in researching the CUDA engine, and not OpenCL.

After giving it some thought I agree with Philip Hodgetts, that there is no point in panicking, and that CUDA is the solution that will either go away in the future, or be relegated to some obscure niche in certain specialized applications. OpenCL is indeed the future. So at least in this regard the Apple’s bet is absolutely spot on.

And the new Mac Pro? Well… it’s a completely different story.