Continuing Tales of an FCP Switcher – CS6 workflow, for now

Our third entry in the continuing tales of our switch from Final Cut Pro to anything else.   (Catch up on Part 1 and Part 2 if you missed them)  Today we’re talking Adobe Premiere Pro CS6 and the workflow we’ve developed for a current broadcast series.   Before you read this, yep, it’s a bit convoluted but we fully expect this to smooth out and get better as Adobe moves their product forward.

 

Native as much as possible

Gone is the “log and transfer” requirement of FCP and it does take some time to get used to the fact that you can literally jump right in without the need to do anything to your media.  As much as we can, we just leave everything raw and native as it came in.  Saves a lot of time initially and with some very fast “big iron” systems, we have cut our back end render times down to essentially “real time.”   Our 27 minute shows render in about 28 minutes.

Our biggest struggle is getting field cameramen to STOP converting the native files to quicktime files.   QT files actually slow down Premiere Pro as they’re 32 bit files.   They’re slowly catching on but it’s kind of maddening when we get the QTs.

The other beauty is that Premiere Pro can read native cards even when information is missing, like those LASTCLIP.txt files that come along with P2 material.  I can’t tell you how many times that file was missing and FCP would not do anything with the camera data.  Premiere Pro can read the data just fine so that’s been a huge help.

 

Capture Scratch

As you know the “Capture Scratch” for Adobe CS6 is a bit different than in FCP.   You have to set up the Capture Scratch yourself and we use the strategy laid out in “An Editor’s Guide to Adobe Premiere Pro” as our guide to set up the folders correctly.

We create a single Project Folder at the root level of our SAN for each project.  This makes it very easy for Archiving at the end of the process as we just simply drag that folder to an Archive Drive.  We have to be very vigilant and ensure that all of the media is put into the correct location BEFORE we import anything to our Project.  All of our native media and captured video go directly into the Captured Video folder while all audio goes into the Captured Audio folder.     We then add additional folders as necessary for Graphics, Exports, Color Grading, etc….

At the moment, if we need to capture from video tape, we still use FCP 7 as we’ve not had reliable VTR control from our primary edit systems.   We will be testing out tape capture via our Resolve system that has the Decklink Extreme 3D in it shortly.   We’re also receiving an UltraStudio 3D Thunderbolt box to test with our new iMac 27″ machine.

 

Sequences

This particular project is cut at 1080i / 29.97 and we’ve found that AVC Intra 1080i / 60 Sequence Preset gives us a perfect starting point for our Sequences in this project.  In fact, we use the AVC Intra Sequence settings as the starting point for just about all of our projects.

Most of our systems are set up with the AJA Kona boards for output to our Flanders Scientific monitors and KRK Rokit 5 audio monitors.   For the editing process, it’s basically the same as FCP though must faster since we’re cutting all native as much as we can.

 

Sound Design

At the end of the process, an AAF is prepared along with a quicktime reference movie for our Sound Designer who mixes the show in ProTools.    He sends us back a Stereo AIFF file for the Master timeline.

We prepare the reference quicktime file on our 12 Core Mac Pro for maximum render speed.

 

Color Grading

Davinci Resolve is our color grading tool of choice and at the moment, it does not support all the native resolutions we can use in Premiere Pro CS6.  So a flattened ProRes Quicktime file is created from the final timeline to be sent to Resolve.    Again, this file is created on our 12 Core Mac Pro.

Typically we can use an EDL to pre-conform that file to add all the cuts and dissolves back to the edit, but for whatever reason the EDLs being generated by our CS6 systems contain a lot of errors that are causing Resolve to crash.   So I just use Resolve’s “Scene Detect” tool which is just stupid powerful and generally it takes me between 10 and 15 minutes to prep a 30 minutes show for color grade.

At the end of the color grade process, I render out a flattened ProRes file to go back to the editor.

(Note: SpeedGrade does not support our AJA or BMD I/O devices so that’s not an option for us at this time.)

 

Graphics

Lower Thirds and most on screen graphics are created in Photoshop.   Full screen animated graphics are created in After Effects but without dynamic linking, I just render the self contained movies as they’re short and easy to do.

 

Final Output

First off, we move the Project File to one of our 12 Core Mac Pros for final render.   This is our Resolve system that also features dual nVidia graphics cards.   Renders are a little faster than realtime.

For this particular series, we need to lay out to HD tape for mastering.   Layback to tape is handled by our BlackMagic Decklink Extreme 3D card inside the Resolve system.  Before starting the tape layback, we have to ensure that our Video In Point is the very first frame in the Sequence.   For whatever reason, the BMD VTR controls don’t respect an In Point in the Sequence.   So we just have to ensure that the very beginning of the Sequence is the In Point for the Edit.

The we simply choose File > Export > Tape and it brings up the BMD VTR controls.   Enter in the In Point for the VTR itself and then click “Ok” and tape layback begins.  Unlike FCP we don’t see any sort of video playback on the computer screens, we just see it via the VTR output.

That’s pretty much it.  From there we ship out our tape.   The use of FCP 7 to capture when necessary and the flattening of the file for Resolve convolute the workflow a little bit.  Those are small tradeoffs for the tremendous time savings just editing the entire show natively.  Editors can start working on stories in minutes compared to hours when we had to Log and Transfer everything.

 

The Caveats

You didn’t think this was all roses, did you?

We have a nagging issue with “Media Pending” slates that interfere with the video output both in the software Program monitor and the AJA / BMD outputs.  Whenever you launch a Premiere Pro project you invariably see the yellow “Media Pending” slate appear as the software loads your media.   As the media loads up, the Media Pending slate should disappear.

For lack of a better term, it’s “sticking” across most of our systems.   Even after all of the media is loaded and Premiere Pro has finished re-linking, the yellow slates stay up on the screens preventing us from outputting video.  Play the timeline, we can hear the audio, we can see the thumbnails of the clips in the timeline, but we can’t actually see the video play out.  We are talking to both Adobe and Small Tree Communications to see where the culprit may be.

We have also experienced unexplained instability with CS6.   Systems that work perfectly for months suddenly come up with the “I’m sorry, your system has experienced a fatal error” message from the software before it quits.  No rhyme or reason.

So the move from FCP 7 is progressing very nicely but not without a few bumps here and there.   Come to think of it, you can say that about pretty much all software out there these days.

 

11 Comments

  1. I think it’s funny that shooters want to convert everythingt to ProRes.. it takes them longer to do it (unless they are using a KiPro or etc), and all the software these days handles the native files pretty well.

    Have you run into issues of audio conforming taking a super long time in Premiere? We’ve had issues with some interview footage shot with a Canon C300 (about 4 hours worth)… we edited natively, and everytime we opened the project on a different machine, it would take an hour or two to conform all the footage. Tried playing with cache settings, but no luck.

    Thanks for your FCP switch series… lots of good information!

    • Thanks for the kind words!

      The conforming / audio peak file creation is something Adobe has to address as that’s an application deal. We don’t like it either.

      That being said, we have not seen anywhere near the conform times you say you’re getting. My editors are working with 4 to 40 hours of materials so far for the projects and it’s a matter of minutes until the peak files are ready. Maybe 10 min max. Even on the iMac.

  2. Hi Walter

    FWIW, I believe you can turn off automatic Peak file generation in the prefs.

    Regarding using FCP7 for capture and Resolve for layoff – have you considered/used/dismissed using BMD’s own Media Express application? Would be interested to know a little more about the pros and cons.

    Cheers
    Andy

    • No, we haven’t tried the Media Express app, nor the AJA VTR Xchange (Mac) or Machina (PC) yet.

      For Tape Layoff, the BMD tape operation inside Premiere Pro CS6 is working really well so no need to use BMDs app for the layback at this time. When we get something that works, I just stop testing for alternatives until I get some extra time. At this time, any extra time I have is dedicated to Smoke 2013. :)

  3. Walter,

    I’ve been experiencing the same problems with Media Pending. The only solution I’ve found is to shut down the application and restart it. When that happens, everything works fine. I’m not using a beefy system like you guys, I have a MacBook Pro with 2.53GHz Core 2 Duo, 4 gigs of RAM and I’m connected to a G-RAID in raid 0 via Firewire 800. I was concerned that I was loosing media or my drive system was failing. After reading about your problem, I’m starting to lean towards the idea that it’s an application issue and not a hardware issue.

    • Re the ‘Media Pending’ lag followed by no image in the timeline.

      I had the same issue when archiving my project.

      Deleting the preview renders brings the footage back in the timeline.

  4. Walter, thank you for this series of posts. It is most appreciated.

    I have a question: What are the criteria you used in choosing AVC Intra as the base codec?

    • AVC Intra is not the “base codec”. It’s the base frame rate / frame size for the edit. It’s a square pixel HD format so we go with that preset

      The codec is chosen by your Video Preview setting which defaults to I Frame MPEG. We change that to ProRes so the actual codec we render to is that. The AVC Intra just sets everything up square.

  5. Walter-

    I’ve been reading through all of your posts about your transition from Final Cut to Premiere, and they have been most helpful. The comments from the community have also been insightful.

    I recently made the switch at our church, and I have run into a bit of a quandary. Have you discovered any way to open a FCP project file in Premiere without having to export an XML file from FCP?

    The reason I ask this is because I no longer have access to FCP on any of our machines, so exporting the XML files is not possible. Have you encountered any other way to access FCP files in Premiere without the XMLs?

    Any thoughts/suggestions are greatly appreciated!

    Aaron

    • No, it is not possible to open an FCP project directly in PPro, you must go the XML route. Does not sound like there are any third party plug-ins or tools coming along that can do this either. They would have to have access to the FCP source code and that’s not something Apple is going to let folks see. But we can hope.

      We keep a few FCP 7 systems around for this very purpose and next year we’re going to have an intern here with their initial responsibility to be going through a lot of our older projects to convert them to XML.

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