Automate VFX Sequence Titles

Automate VFX Sequence Titles

This tip comes by way of George McCarthy, who was our VFX Editor extraordinaire on Mission: Impossible 4. I also created an online EDL to SubCap Converter you can use in lieu of the more manual way described below.

If you’re on a show that has to turnover a sequence to a VFX house, you’ll likely find the need to export a Quicktime of that sequence with titles over any shot in the sequence that will be a VFX shot. This reduces confusion between Editorial and the VFX vendor, and is useful not only to label each shot with the shot ID, but also because it’s not always obvious which shots are supposed to have work done to them. Makeup fixes, for example, wouldn’t be immediately obvious when scrubbing through a Quicktime, but if you title the shot then it’s easy for the VFX vendor to match your count sheets to a visual reference.

SubCap Example

Before Avid added Generator clips to the effect palette, you had two options for titling your sequence. One was to manually type in shot names, durations, etc., and save each title individually in a bin. The other was to attempt to use the Autotitler function that existed in Marquee, though almost immediately after Marquee came out, Avid broke the Autotitler in a software update and left it that way for years. In either case, you’d still be left with the task of manually cutting in titles over each shot, which is a tedious and error-prone task.

There are now multiple methods for doing this in a more automated fashion, including one I just learned about that uses the Timecode generator plugin over a subclip, but in this article I’ll look at using the SubCap effect and feeding it a text file converted automatically from an EDL.

Prepping an EDL

There are a couple reasons why an EDL is handy for generating a subtitle file. The first is that you can include locators in the EDL, so you can reuse the locators you’ve already created in your sequence that list each shot’s ID. The second is that by using an EDL instead of a straight locator export, you can get timecode ins and outs for the shot, so that the subtitle is the appropriate length. From this you can also calculate the duration if you’d like to include that in your title.

So the first step is to make sure your sequence is ready, you’ve run the Commit Multicam Edits command, and all of your VFX shots have a locator somewhere on them that lists the correct shot ID.  Save your bin and open the sequence in EDL Manager. You do not have to lift out non-VFX shots from your sequence, but you do need to make sure that Locators are turned on in the EDL settings, and that your EDL type is CMX3600.

Make sure Locators are enabled in the EDL settings


Export an EDL from the video layer where your VFX locators exist, and then either use the converter I created to do it for you, or bring that into a text editor that allows regular expression Find & Replace (such as TextMate or jEdit). This is the regular expression I use to grab all the right bits from the EDL

\d{3}[^\n]*([0-9:]{11})\s([0-9:]{11})\s?\n(?!\d{3})(?:.*\r?\n(?!\d{3}))*?\* LOC: [\d:]{11}\s(\w+)[^\S\n]+([^\r\n]+)\r?\n?
Looks scary, I know. But that one line of gibberish looks for any series of lines in an EDL that include an EDL event next to a Locator comment. When it finds one, it saves the timecode in and out for the sequence as well as the color and text from the locator. With all that information saved you could choose whether or not to use the color to handle a certain color of locator differently than another, or to calculate a duration based off the timecodes. Using backreferences, you could fill in your Replace field with $1 $2\n$4\n\n, for example, and that would give you the format you need for a SubCap file. This RegEx won’t get rid of all of the non-vfx EDL events that you would want to ignore, so you’d have to go through and do that manually remove those lines or write a RegEx that negates the one above. Don’t forget to add the opening and closing tags, too. A small sample of the final product of a SubCap file looks like this:
<begin subtitles>

04:00:00:00 04:00:08:00
CS0010 (FORMERLY CS1000)

04:00:42:22 04:00:51:00

<end subtitles>

Importing into the SubCap effect

Once you’ve got your SubCap text file, throw a SubCap effect on an empty video layer and go to Import Caption Data to bring your titles in. Make your adjustments for appearance (make sure to check out the Global Properties pane as well), and optionally you can save a stylesheet for the future so you only have to make those adjustments once.

SubCap Effect Panel


Check Your Work!

This is the last step, and it’s very important. Just because the process is automated doesn’t mean that there wasn’t an error, or that your source EDL was perfect. Check your sequence to make sure it has everything it’s supposed to and nothing extraneous. Even on small shows there can be a lot of hands in the locator jar, and you might find an errant locator buried in a nested clip, or a missed two-cut shot that got separated from its locator. If you need to add a title, it’s easy to do so from the SubCap effect editor).

Timeline with SubCap-Imported Titles

Next Article

EDL to SubCap Converter

When turning over VFX sequences it's useful to put titles over all VFX shots that display their shot IDs. This tool helps you use an EDL with shot locators as the source for Avid's SubCap effect


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  1. Fantastic! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Evan,

    Can’t seem to get your expression (as below) to run in a text editor by pasting into the find field. Tried in Text Wrangler and TextMate. What else needs to be entered into the find field beyond your “one line of gibberish”?

    “bring that into a text editor that allows regular expression Find & Replace (such as TextMate or jEdit). This is the regular expression I use to grab all the right bits from the EDL”

    \d{3}[^\n]*([0-9:]{11})\s([0-9:]{11})\n(?!\d{3})(?:.*\r?\n)*?\* LOC: [\d:]{11}\s(\w*)\s*(\w*.*)\r?\n?

  3. hey Chris,

    This regex was a little out of date compared to the one I use on the converter page, so I just updated it, though the more recent changes just helped the expression better deal with more complicated EDL events. It should still have caught something when you tried it in TextMate. Nothing else needs to be added into the field, you just have to make sure you have the Regular Expression checkbox checked in the Find dialog.

    If you send me your EDL ( I’d be happy to take a look at it. Also, have you tried the page with the converter on it? That’s much faster than doing it manually in TextMate.


  4. If I’d known this 2 days ago, it would have gone a long way to save me a 6am finish! Fantastic. The automated EDL – SUBS converter is just icing on the cake.


  5. Hi. This tool is brilliant. Is there a way of keeping everything from becoming UPPERCASE? (I’m assuming not as it becomes uppercase in the EDL manager by default, but just wondered if you knew of a magic trick)

  6. Yeah it’s all on the EDL Manager, and I don’t know of a way to not have it capitalize everything. Sorry! 🙂

  7. So I just figured out that there’s a helpful flag in the EDL template file that you can switch off to prevent it from making locators all uppercase.

    Go to /Applications/Avid EDL Manager/Supporting Files/EDL manager templates and open the cmx3600 template. You’ll see the option for uppercase a few lines down and can change it, save out to a new template (you should also change the name of the template so you don’t have dupes in the list), and then launch EDL manager and use it.

  8. Wow! What a timesaver! thanks!

  9. A big big big thanks. Very useful tool !

  10. Great tool! Simple, easy, convenient! Thanks for sharing.

  11. Wow, this is great. Thanks for sharing this, just made my life so much easier

  12. you should do a post about the other method you mention, using the Timecode generator plugin over a subclip.

  13. Wow! Fabulous. I just used your EDL to SubCap Converter, and I’m thrilled at how much time was saved.

  14. Just thinking out loud here… I use multiple lines of text in my VFX locators — first line has the VFX number, second line has the description. I’ve been copying my locator text into the Timecode Burn-in Effect Notes track to achieve a similar end as this Sub-cap method, though it takes a lot of copying & pasting from locator (I mean marker) over to Notes field to do so. I’ll try the EDL Sub-Cap method next time and see how it goes, but I would have to make custom perl script to do multiple locator lines. Only trouble is, because all my locators are on Filler Timecode Burn-in events on a separate video track, they don’t show up in an CMX EDL. What’s the rule for the EDL to “see” a locator? Not on black or filler?

  15. Chuck-

    You might try using clip notes instead of locators now. Avid has added a bunch of functionality to their clip notes feature, and you should be able to do multiple lines in there as well as designate the timecode generator to display those clip notes without having to export an EDL and reimport as a subcap. I haven’t yet done that workflow yet but I’ve heard from people who have and they seem to like it. If you try it, let me know how it goes.


  16. Another reason to upgrade!

  17. Is there a way to import multiple Caption files? I have VFX locators on V1 and V2 and V3, which results in three Caption files.

  18. Okay I wrote a perl script that read my three EDLs and sorted the green VFX marker events by timecode to create one Subcap importable file and include both lines of comments (line 1 is the VFX # and line 2 is the description) . Remind me to upload it to Github…

  19. You should! Yeah this tool is meant for locators on only one track.

  20. Okay here’s the first draft.

    It’s very specific to my EDLs at the moment, and I already see a typo for episode number, but it can be modified and generalized in future versions.

  21. Now I’m running into carriage in the EDLs becoming unpredictable as sometimes EDL Manager creates the EDL with Windows carriage returns (\n) and sometime it creates them with Mac carriage returns (\r). I need a consistent line delimiter if I’m going to combine multiple EDLs into one Subcap file.

  22. Yeah one of the first things I do with any file is normalize the line endings. Saves a lot of hassle…

  23. Changing the EDL Template worked on AMC 6.5. Now I’m on AMC 2018.8 and I’m having issues.

    Firstly, there are more templates in the /Applications/Avid Media Composer/SupportingFiles/EDL_Manager_Templates folder than are in the drop down menu in the List tool. 26 compared to about 8 it looks like in the List tool. Is the List tool accessing that folder for templates or am I looking at the wrong folder?

    Secondly, setting the toupper_conversion value from TRUE to FALSE in the File_129 has no effect on the comments in the EDLS — they remain uppercase. Does this variable only work in CMX templates?