Category Archives: Avid

Add Virtual Cuts to a Clip Based on the Tracks Beneath

Ever needed to add cuts to a clip at the edit points of each shot inside that clip? Yeah, me too. I’m sure this has uses outside of the feature film world, but since features are what I know, I’ll explain this using an example from doing a DI.

Imagine that your DI house has just finished assembling a reel, and they send you a check tape. You ingest the check tape into your Avid, and cut it into your reel’s sequence on the top-most video layer. All is well and good, except that you have one, unbroken 20-minute clip on your timeline. Sure, you’ve got the video tracks beneath it with your dailies, but you’d really like to add edits to that 20-minute clip where each shot starts and ends.

Fortunately, this is pretty easy to do, but Avid has hidden it away inside of the Pan & Scan effect (as of MCA 3.1.2). Here’s how it goes:

  1. Load up the sequence that corresponds to your unbroken clip. For features, this would be loading up the Reel 2 sequence that your Reel 2 DI check tape is supposed to match, for example.
  2. Add a new video track, and cut in the clip you’d like to slice up so that it is in sync with the video tracks underneath
  3. Add a Pan & Scan effect to the clip you just cut in
  4. Make sure that all your track selectors are active
  5. Go to the settings for the Pan & Scan effect, and under the Action menu, click Subdivide. This will add virtual cuts in your clip wherever there is a cut in the active video layers beneath it.
  6. Using the segment tool, select all of the segments on your newly-sliced clip, and click the Remove Effect button. This will remove the Pan & Scan effect from that track, leaving you with one clip and a bunch of matched-frame edits at the boundaries of each shot.

N.B. I referenced this briefly in Step 5, but I’ll explain it a bit more. When you click the Subdivide button, Avid will insert edits corresponding to whichever tracks are active and have cuts beneath the track with the Pan & Scan effect. So if you want to make your virtual edits based on V1, V2, and V4, but not V3, just don’t have the V3 track selector active when you click Subdivide.

Once you’re finished you should have a timeline looking somewhat like this:

A sample timeline after using the Subdivide effect on the top-most video layer

A sample timeline after using the Subdivide effect on the top-most video layer

Importing 24fps Quicktimes Into 23.976 Projects

Here’s a neat little console command to tell Avid to ignore the frame rate of any imported Quicktime. You would need this command if, for example, you’re cutting in 23.976 but your vfx house insists on delivering 24.000 fps QTs. This would also work in the reverse, if someone delivers you 23.976fps Quicktimes and you need them to be 24.000fps.

Open the console and type in this command:

ignoreqtrate true

To turn it off, just substitute ‘false’ for ‘true’.

This works particularly well in the 24/23.976 situation since there are actually the same number of frames in both types of Quicktimes, they just play at slightly different speeds. So by telling Avid to ignore the frame rate of the Quicktime, you can prevent Avid from trying to interpolate frames to convert 23.98 to 24, since it shouldn’t be doing that anyway.

First-time Avid Setup

Whenever I’m first setting up a Mac Avid, whether it’s a rental for a show I’m working on or my own desktop or laptop, there are a bunch of things I like to do before getting down to work.

  • Connect your Avid to the Internet and/or internal network
  • Go through this list of good Avid practices. I’m not sure if there’s one for Leopard yet, but the gist is to turn off any features that could interfere with your interaction with the Avid application or slow down the performance of your system in genera. In particular make sure to turn off Software Update.
  • Install necessary software
  • Import your User Profile, as well as that of any other person who may need to use your Avid (other editors and assistant editors)

Why you should connect your Avid to the Internet

I’ve heard from many an assistant editor and rental company that Internet-connected Avids are a bad idea, but I believe that if you’re careful and professional (i.e. don’t use your Avid as a BitTorrent client), the advantages of connecting your Avid to the Internet far outweigh any disadvantages.  Connecting your Avid to the Internet has the same amount of danger to your Avid, and no more, as any other computer. I agree that general net surfing on your Avid should be avoided (especially if you’re on a PC), but otherwise no harm will likely come to your computer or to the Avid application by having it hooked up.

The advantages of hooking your Avid up to your network are as follows, and they basically fall under the two categories of internal and external file transfers.

  • Internal File Transfers
    • Everyone, at some point, usually multiple times a day, needs to get a file from your laptop to your Avid or from your Avid to another Avid. If you’re on a Unity, you can use the Unity workspaces as shared storage space for exchanging files. You can use a flash drive or hard drive if you must, but this is quicker and equally safe. If you’re not on a Unity, or if you need to do a transfer from your laptop to your Avid, you can use AFP. In your System Preferences on one of the two computers, enable Personal File Sharing:
      • Then, on the other computer, select Connect to Server from the menu in Finder, and type in the AFP URL you see in the Sharing pane (mine is afp://192.168.1.104). Type in any password you may have, and you’re on your way. AFP, by the way, is significantly faster than SMB / Windows Sharing. personal_file_sharing
  • External File Transfers
    • I like to use my Avid for uploads not only because it’s faster than my laptop and has access to the Unity, but also because I usually don’t have the free hard drive space on my laptop to accommodate the size and quantity of files that I normally transfer. I could copy those files to an external drive, connect that to my laptop, and then start the upload, but that seems like a big waste of time when I can just upload from the Avid.
    • Overnight Uploads
      • On HB2 I was frequently in a position where I needed to upload gigabytes of data overnight from London to LA. I could’ve left my laptop in the office uploading all night, but who wants to do that? Instead, use your Avid, especially if you don’t have it doing some other all-night task like exporting reels to QT.
      • For Signiant, I also set up a Mac Mini on HB2 to do a lot of the overnight file transfers back to Universal. If you do this, then you can use your Avid to transfer the DVD image or whatever you’re uploading from a Unity workspace to the Mac Mini, and then use the Mini to upload to the studio.

Recommended Software for your Avid

This is just a list of the software that I install on any Mac that I’m working on, Avids included.

  • Alfred: easy keyboard-based application and macro access. I used to use Quicksilver but development on it stalled
  • Growl: provides nice, discreet notifications for software running in the background (email checkers, FTP clients, my Automator backup script)
  • jEdit: full-featured free text editor, since TextEdit is a joke. jEdit also supports regular expression search/replace, which has saved me countless hours over the years. bbEdit, TextMate, or similar are also good options.
  • Chrome : I like Chrome for my browser, but FYI Avid’s manual doesn’t work in it, so sometimes I have to open Safari.
  • Quicktime Pro : Probably being phased out, but still useful if you have the choice.
  • DVD Studio Pro: Easy and full-featured DVD creation, but not available for purchase any longer. Hope you bought Final Cut Studio before FCPX came out.
  • Name Mangler, or similar file renaming software. This lets you rename a batch of files according to regular expressions, numeric sequences, and other conditions.
  • Dropbox : Great for putting your Avid project into if you’re a one-man show. On bigger shows with multiple Editorial locations I use it to pass individual bins back and forth between myself and other assistant editors

Backing Up Unity Media

Every once in a while it becomes necessary to back up all of the media on your Unity, and this is a fairly big task. It can be terabytes of data that you need to transfer to a backup drive or drives, and there are better ways of doing this than just drag and drop. So whether the backup is needed at the end of the show for archival purposes, or somewhere in the middle because you’re switching cities and need to ship the Unity to a new office, here’s a little script I wrote to help accomplish this task safely and reliably. Some knowledge of Terminal is required (but not too much).

Backup Strategies

The script I’ve detailed here does rely on a bit of manual work. You will need to do the math to figure out which and how many workspaces from your Unity will fit onto the external drive(s) you have available. The Unity Administration Tool should help you out with that.

This script should be modified and run once per external drive. So once you know how you want to distribute your Unity workspaces across your external drives, then you should only set this script up for one volume at a time. When it finishes and is successful, change the Target Volume and Source Directories in the script file and execute it again.

How To Troubleshoot

Troubleshooting seems to be one of the least understood concepts of working with computers. Everyone is familiar with having software problems, and most people have a friend that they can call for advice on how to fix the situation. What is not understood as widely as it really should be is how easy it is to troubleshoot something yourself. Even if you don’t solve the problem yourself, the legwork you can do on your own, before calling for help, provides very useful information to anyone trying to fix the problem for you.

Troubleshooting is a very logical exercise, and often one that involves a simple process of elimination. You have to be observant, and note when you can get the problem to happen, and equally importantly, when you can’t. You also have to be aware of the immense amount of knowledge available on the Internet to help you solve any type of problem. If it’s a problem with OSX, there are sites such as macosxhints.com or the Apple Support Site and Discussion Boards. Microsoft has their own useful support site. If it’s a problem with Avid, then try searching the Avid Community Forums. Or just search Google, which often times has already indexed all these sites for you.

I think the big thing you need to remember when troubleshooting is this: Someone has had your problem before, and has found a way to solve it.

That bears repeating. Whatever problem you are encountering has almost certainly been encountered before, fixed or worked around, and written about on the Internet. Even if it hasn’t been fixed, it’s probably still been written about, and you can put your mind at ease by knowing that even if you have to wait for the next version to come out, at least other people are suffering also and it’s not something unique to what you’re doing.

And another thing: Looking up solutions on the Internet isn’t cheating. I once impressed another assistant editor by fixing her problem with a deck configuration, only to have her turn around and scoff when I told her I’d just looked up the answer on the Avid forums. Being a good troubleshooter has nothing to do with knowing all the answers in advance, but it has everything to do with knowing how to find the answers quickly. The more problems you solve through your own research, the quicker you’ll get at zeroing in on the sites most likely to have the solution to your next problem. And don’t forget, if you solve a problem no one else has solved yet, write about it! Find a forum that talks about the problem you’re having, and post the solution for everyone else who encounters this problem after you.

If in the end you are unable to solve the problem you’re having, but still think it to be a solvable problem, make sure to tell the person you call for help all the steps you’ve done already. Otherwise they’ll just waste their time repeating all the steps you’ve gone through just to get to where you are already. For example, when my Internet goes out and I call AT&T, I usually get myself bumped directly up to their Level 2 support because I immediately tell the guy who answers the phone at Level 1 all the things I’ve done already. Those guys at Level 1 just have a book of common procedures that people usually don’t bother to do on their own, so if you call and tell them that you’ve already done everything in their book, you save everyone the time of troubleshooting for the wrong solutions and get bumped up to the people who actually know what they’re doing.

The other thing I tell people who have a problem they need to troubleshoot on their own is that they should not be afraid to tinker. If you’re at all hesitant about troubleshooting on your own, you’re one of the least likely people to cause any serious harm. So go ahead, play around. Try to reproduce the error and see if you can identify the conditions under which the error occurs, and those under which it doesn’t. Once you know the conditions under which the error occurs, you might then try a divide and conquer approach. This means that you go one by one through all the steps it takes to recreate the error, and test all the options to see which of those steps is the actual cause. It’s kind of like a choose your own adventure book. At each step, try all the options and see what happens. Oftentimes, this approach will not only tell you which specific action is the cause, but it will also give you a good idea of what to do to fix it or find a workaround.

Lastly, I am always wary of phone tech support people who try to fix the problem for a few minutes and then give up and tell you to reinstall or reformat. In my experience, when you reinstall an application, you may reset the problem, but you haven’t fixed it and it is likely to come up again. When you reformat, you’re spending hours of time getting back to where you were without any guarantee that the problem had anything to do with the steps you’ve just taken to try to fix it. Reformatting is an especially drastic step that I find to be recommended by tech support people far more often than is actually necessary. A little patience and inquisitiveness will go a long way towards fixing your problem quickly, and in a manner that’s not nearly as destructive as reformatting or reinstalling.

An Avid Example

On Hellboy 2, I ran into a Bus Error when exporting an AAF with Embedded Media. This was strange, since I’d exported tons of AAFs with Embedded Media already, and there was no reason that this process should now not work. I was even more discouraged because Bus Errors, as any Mac Avid user knows, can be incredibly obtuse and can have any number of causes. Reproducing the error reliably took a little while to accomplish, but I soon figured out a pattern. I was sometimes able to export an AAF or two successfully out of however many reels I’d selected, but the more sequences I had in the bin I was exporting the AAF from, the more likely it was to crash during export. Not only that, but the first part of the AAF export process always seemed to work, it was in the time after consolidation but before actually writing the AAF file that Avid would crash.

What I took to doing as a workaround was creating new bins, putting just a few sequences in each, and exporting AAFs for only 2-3 reels at a time instead of all 7. But one day when I had time to spend on troubleshooting, I got to actually figuring out the cause, and it was much simpler than I had imagined. Basically, when you export an AAF with Embedded Media, what you are essentially doing are these 3 steps: consolidating a sequence, saving the bin, and then copying all of the newly-consolidated media into the AAF file as it’s being written. I selected one of my sequences and did the consolidation manually, saved the bin manually, and then manually exported an AAF with the consolidated media. No problem. I then selected a second sequence, since I knew the problem didn’t always occur the first time around, and repeated the process. When I went to save I suddenly got a helpful error message that said I had too many clips in the bin for Avid to be able to save it. I moved a few sequences out of the bin and deleted the previously consolidated media that I no longer needed, and then Avid allowed me to save.

Based on that error message and my troubleshooting steps, it seemed that the problem during my AAF export was the same error without the helpful error message. After a reel or two had been consolidated, I then had too many clips in the bin for Avid to be able to save it. Additionally, all of the clips that were referenced in the sequences in that bin contributed to the total clip count. So even if I had only 6 sequences in the bin, in Avid’s eyes that bin still contained thousands and thousands of clips. The problem was simply that Avid only knew how to handle the error of having too many clips in a bin when you approached that limit through manual consolidation. When you wanted to do a compound process like exporting an AAF with embedded media, Avid ran into the same clip count limitation, but without the error code programmed in to handle it. And, at least on Macs, when Avid is overwhelmed or encounters an error it doesn’t know what to do with, it crashes out with a Bus Error.

So in this case, the workaround I came up with before I knew what the problem was ended up being the right solution anyway. But by knowing what the cause of the Bus Error was, I could not only avoid running into it, but I could also rule out any other, deeper problem.

Conclusion

When things start going wrong, don’t waste your time waiting for help. You are unlikely to break things more than they already are, and you’re actually more likely to fix it than you think. Just be patient, careful, and work your way through the steps it takes to recreate the problem until you can diagnose what the specific cause is. Between the steps you take to troubleshoot your problem, as well as the vast amount of troubleshooting information available on the Internet, you should be able to greatly decrease the amount of downtime you suffer due to technical problems.

Automating Avid Project Backups

REVISED 9/23/09: Rewrote for Leopard

The Importance of Backing Up

The most important part of an Avid project is, of course, the project directory. Media can be replaced, albeit tediously, but your project directory cannot. Therefore, it is not only important that you back up your project daily, but that you also take it with you when you leave for the night. Simply copying the project from one workspace to another is not sufficient, nor is just copying it to your local Avid drive. If a disk or two fails on the Unity and the only copy of the project you have is there, you’re probably screwed. If there’s a fire and both your Unity and your desktop Avid burn up, you’re definitely screwed. The number one rule of making backups is that the two copies must be geographically separated. I cannot stress that enough.

Thankfully, it’s easy and painless to do this, and you can automate it. It doesn’t matter whether you use a PC or Mac, you can automate it on either platform. But for the purposes of this tutorial, and since I’m pretty solidly in the Mac user base now, I like to use Automator and Growl (both Mac-only). To download my Automator script, click the link at the bottom of this post.

Automator

The process of creating an Automator workflow to back up your Avid project is fairly simple. The process I’ve chosen involves syncing the Avid project directory on the Unity to a copy of it on your Avid’s desktop, creating a zip file of the desktop copy, and then transferring that to a USB drive. It requires five actions, which are these:

  1. Run a Shell Script

    Don't forget to change this command to your own project directory and desktop folders!

    • This command runs the program rsync, with the arguments “-avP” to provide directory recursion (so it will copy all subdirectories of your project directory), copy almost everything while maintaining file attributes, and be verbose about what it’s doing (which is good if you run this command manually from the Terminal, but won’t have an affect in Automator). The command is as follows:
    • rsync -avP --delete --exclude "*.log" --exclude "~avid_remove*" --exclude ".DS_Store" --delete-excluded /Volumes/Project/YOUR_PROJECT /Users/YOUR_USER/Desktop
    • The “–delete” argument tells rsync to delete any files on your local directory that do not exist on the Unity. So if you delete a bin on the Unity, it will make sure that bin is removed from your local drive, too.
    • The “–exclude” arguments tell rsync NOT to back up any files that match *.log, ~avid_remove, or .DS_Store in their filenames
    • The –delete-excluded argument tells rsync to delete any files in your backup directory that do not exist in your project folder, including files that have been excluded above, if for some reason there are any in your backup directory
    • The reason I use rsync instead of just re-copying the entire Avid project folder to the desktop and overwriting yesterday’s copy is that when your project directory gets to be several GB in size, it is much quicker and just as thorough to copy only the files that have changed since your last backup. Otherwise you end up recopying a bunch of bins that haven’t changed since months ago, and that takes time.
  2. Get Specified Finder Items
    • Once rsync finishes, this command runs to tell Automator where your backup directory is.Get Finder Items (Leopard)
  3. Create Archive
    • This action takes your desktop Project directory, and creates a zip file out of it. You want to do this because bin files (.avb) are highly compressible, meaning that you can take your 2GB project directory and compress it down to a couple hundred MBs.
    • In the “Save as:” text box, you can see I’m telling Automator that I want my zip file to be named with a variable for today’s date, such as “Warrior.90922.zip” and that I want it saved to the Desktop.

    Create Archive (Leopard)

    My Automator variable that inserts today's date. Rearrange the parts of the date however you like. I choose this method so Finder sorts my backups chronologically.

  4. Copy Finder Items
    • This action takes your newly minted zip file and copies it to your flash drive.
    • N.B. Plug your flash drive in before running this workflow. If you don’t, Automator will fail, but if you do then you can leave and come back in 10 minutes to a fully backed up project already on your flash drive.
    • Copy to Flash Drive (Leopard)

  5. Show Growl Notification (optional)
    • This step allows you to display a Growl notification once the backup has completed. I find this useful because I can go make some tea while Automator is running and see at a glance when I come back if it’s done yet. Growl will also make a sound when it displays the notification, so you can grab your flash drive the instant it’s done and go home. Growl is a separate application you have to install, though, so there is a bit of extra prep you need to do before this action will be available inside Automator.

      Growl (Leopard)

      Make your Growl notification "Sticky" if you want the notification to remain on screen until you click on it.

And that’s it. After Automator finishes, you’ll have a backup copy of your project on both your local Avid drive, and your flash drive. You should then take your flash drive home with you every night, so that your backup copies are in separate places. I also keep an archive of every zip file I make on an external hard drive. Most of the time you won’t need this, but sometimes it’s useful to be able to go back a few days or months in your project’s history.

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