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Premiere Pro doesn’t export markers of 0 duration to FCP XML

While doing research for a commission that I recently received, I found out that Premiere Pro CS6 does not export markers of 0 duration to FCP XML. This proved to be a bit of a surprise, and also turned out to be a major flaw for the software that I am supposed to develop.

I had to find out the way to automatically convert all the markers into the ones with specified duration. Fortunately, as I wrote many times, Premiere Pro’s project file itself is an XML. Of course, as it was kindly pointed out to me, it’s pretty complicated in comparison to the exchange standard promoted by Apple, however it is still possible to dabble in it, and if one knows what one is doing, to fix a thing or two.

Marker duration proved to be a relatively uncomplicated fix.

In the project file, markers are wrapped into the <DVAMarker> tag. What is present inside, is an object written down in JavaScript Object Notation. I’m not going to elaborate on this here, either you know what it is, or you most likely wouldn’t care. Suffice to say, that the typical 0 duration marker looks like this:

<DVAMarker>{“DVAMarker”: {“mMarkerID”: “3cd853f0-c855-46de-925c-f89998aade87”, “mStartTime”: {“ticks”: 6238632960000}, “mType”: “Comment”}}</DVAMarker>

and the typical 1 duration marker looks like this:

<DVAMarker>{“DVAMarker”: {“mComment”: “kjhkjhkjhj”, “mCuePointType”: “Event”, “mDuration”: {“ticks”: 10160640000}, “mMarkerID”: “7583ba75-81f5-4ef2-a810-399786f3a75d”, “mStartTime”: {“ticks”: 4049893512000}, “mType”: “Comment”}}</DVAMarker>

As you can see, the mDuration property is missing in the 0 duration marker, and the duration 1 marker is also labeled as “Event” in the “mCuePointType” property. It turns out, that it is enough to insert the following string:

“mDuration”: {“ticks”: 10160640000},

right after the second curly brace to create the proper 1 frame marker that gets exported. You can do it in your favourite text editor yourself, and then the corrected marker would look like this:

<DVAMarker>{“DVAMarker”: {“mDuration”: {“ticks”: 10160640000}, “mMarkerID”: “3cd853f0-c855-46de-925c-f89998aade87”, “mStartTime”: {“ticks”: 6238632960000}, “mType”: “Comment”}}</DVAMarker>

Granted, it’s a bit tedious to do it by hand for hundreds of markers (as was my client’s request), and unless Adobe decides to fix it in the near future (I already filed a bug report), or Josh from reTooled.net releases it first on his own, some time at the beginning of the next year I might have a piece of software that will automatically convert the 0 duration markers to 1 frame ones, so that they get easily exported to FCP XML. I understand that this is a pretty rare problem, but perhaps there are a few of you who could benefit from this solution.

The main bugger? Most likely it will be Windows only, unless there is specific interest for the Mac platform for something like this.

The proper way of using transitions in Adobe Premiere Pro

SIYAH (Summary If You Are in a Hurry): If you want your clip to fade to black, apply simple cross-fade at its end. Use dip to black only as a transition between two clips, not at the beginning or at the end of a clip.

There seems to be some misunderstanding about how and when to apply transitions like Dip to Black or Dip to White in Premiere Pro. It is even propagated in some training videos and this is pretty unfortunate. I hope this article makes the issue clearer.

First, let’s take a look at how transitions work in Premiere in general.

You can apply any transition as a transition between two clips (“Normal transition”). By default it will be centered on the edit point, although you can easily change it either in the timeline, or in the effect control panel. The transition will then be applied between the two clips – applying the cross-fade, slide, wipe, swush and any other wild effect that you choose to use.

Standard cross-fade transition applied between two clips gives an expected result.

You can also apply a transition at the beginning, or at the end of a given clip (“Single transition”). In that case, Premiere will act as if it was applied between your clip, and a transparent video clip, revealing (but not proplerly transitioning to) the layers beneath, and if there are no layers, the black background.

Cross-fade transition applied at the beginning of a single clip. It is the proper way to fade the clip from or to black.

Push is a good example of the difference between transition and reveal. If you apply it between two clips, you will see both pictures moving. However, if you only apply it to a clip on a layer above, only the clip with the transition will move, revealing a static clip beneath. There are times that you might want to use one way or the other, depending on your artistic preference. No way is necessarily more proper than another, just be aware of the difference.

Push transition applied as the transition between two clips. Both clips take part in the movement.

Push transition applied at the end of a clip reveals the underlying static layer. Only the clip with the transition is moving.

Now let’s take a look at how Dip to Black or Dip to White transitions work.

Each is an equivalent to creating a single frame of black or white, and cross-fading first the outgoing clip into the given color, and then fading in the incoming clip from this color.

Dip to Black as a transition fades the outgoing clip to black, and then reveals the incoming clip by fading from black.

It means, that if you apply it at the beginning, or at the end of the clip you will see the clip fading to the color in the middle of the transition, not at the end of it. I’ve seen people compensating for it by tweaking the transition end point in the effect panel, which seems to me the worst possible way to do it. Let me repeat: you should never use Dip to Black or Dip to White at the beginning or at the end of a single clip. Use it only as a transition between two clips.

Dip to Black applied to the beginning of the clip will produce the first half of the transition as black frames. You should never do that. Ever.

Dip to black might also produce some weird results with multiple layers or transitions stacked upon each other. It used to be worse in previous versions (the example shown in the video mentioned at the beginning would fade the whole sequence to black upon encountering the video due to a bug in render order in CS3), but still dip to black will fade all layers below itself to black, not only the clip that you apply the transition to. It might surprise you, especially if you don’t know how exactly the effect works.

Dip to Black applied to a given layer will fade to black not only this layer, but also all the layers beneath, and in earlier versions of Premiere also the layer above. Unless you know what you are doing, stay away from this method of applying this effect.

I hope this clears the issue.

Tips

Additionally I’d like to offer a few productivity tips regarding the transitions in Premiere Pro CS6:

  • Keyboard shortcut for “Apply Video Transition” is set by default to ctrl/cmd+D. Set your default transition to Film Dissolve or Dip to Black, and redefine as ctrl+alt/cmd+opt + D.
  • Define a keyboard shortcut for “Apply Video Crossfade Transition” as ctrl/cmd+D.
  • You can also customize “Apply Video Dip To White Transition” and “Apply Video Wipe Transition” in a similar manner, if you so choose.
  • To apply a transition at the beginning or at the end of the clip that is adjacent to another clip, hold ctrl/cmd while dragging the transition from the bin – unfortunately, no keyboard equivalent exists yet. This tip also applies to earlier versions of Premiere.

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.

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