Category Archives: Featured

Screenshot of the Hellboy 2 Avid Project Window

Organizing a Project’s Reels and Versions

This article is a little outdated (sorry!). I need to do a thorough rewrite, but in the meantime know that since 2008 I’ve decided to contradict my writing below and just use R1v## as my reel format. When I hit a milestone I make a new bin, label it as Director’s Cut or Assembly or Preview #2, throw the appropriate sequences in there, and then stash the bin in an easy to find folder in my project. It works pretty well, and I’ve found the fewer characters in your reel names, the easier it is on everyone.

 

The determination of how to organize all of the sequences you’ll create during the course of your project is extremely important, but unfortunately it is also nearly impossible to standardize. I work in features primarily, so while my organizational system is based around reels and suits me just fine, it would need a lot of modification were I to go to episodic or reality TV, commercials, etc. Individual editors also have their preferences for organization based off of how they are accustomed to working, and if you’re an assistant editor your degree of influence over the project’s organization will vary depending on how much the editor wants to delegate this type of organization to you.

With all that in mind, I wanted to set forth a description of the system that I use to keep all my reels in order on a feature. I’ve seen quite a few organizational systems used in different editing rooms, both on films I’ve worked on and ones I’ve just visited, and so far this is the best one I’ve seen. Thanks to editor Sean Albertson and 1st assistant editor Seth Clark for introducing it to me on Rocky Balboa.

Organization By Milestone

One of the most frequent organizational structures I see used by others uses a simple version number attached to the name of the reel. The problem with this is that you get up to these massive version numbers (R1AB_v72, R2AB_v117, etc.), and there’s no common element to link all these versions together in a meaningful way. The system I use has two levels of versioning included in the name of the reel; one is to track a milestone like a director’s cut or a preview screening, and the other is to track the individual versions of a reel created leading up to that milestone. For example:

A sequence name I might use is: R3_DC1_v4, which breaks down like:
R3 = Reel Three
DC1 = Director’s Cut 1 (this is the milestone)
v4 = The 4th version of Reel 3 for Director’s Cut 1.

Using this system, I can not only group my bins and sequences according to the progress of the project, but I can also make sure other departments are working with all of the right reels quickly and easily. Additionally, as it’s often the case that a director/studio/editor wants to go back and look at a previous version, with this system the editor can instantly find and pull up an old version from the project window so long as he knows roughly when the version he is looking for was created.

Screenshot of the Hellboy 2 Avid Project Window

Screenshot of Hellboy 2 project organization. In the project window you can see DC1-DC6 folders. The bins on the right show DC7

Defining Reels

This is global across all organizational systems, so feel free to skip this section if you already know about delineating reels.

Once you’ve got all, or at least most, of your scenes cut, you’ll probably want to create reels out of everything. The general guidelines for creating reels are that your first reel be no longer than 1600 feet from Picture Start to Last Frame of Action (LFOA). All remaining reels should be no more than 2000 feet, though there is a little bit of slack on all of these numbers. With the exception of the beginning of R1 and the end of your credits, no reel should start or end on black. Similarly, don’t cut a reel in the middle of a piece of music. The best reel breaks are between scenes that have no picture or audio transition, so that the break is as seamless as possible. You also want to avoid cutting a reel in the middle of a scene, even if there are no picture or audio transitions, since you may find that the color of your reels varies slightly and a reel break in the middle of a scene could produce a color shift.

Defining Milestones

Ok, so assuming that you decide to use this system, it’s important to know when to create a new milestone. I usually create milestones for the Editor’s Cut (EC), the Director’s Cuts (DC1, DC2, etc.), Previews (PV1, PV2, etc.), and Locks (LOCK1, LOCk2, etc.). And if you’re wondering why I allow for multiple locked cuts, I’d like to know what director you’re working for and if he or she is hiring.

You don’t want to create too many milestones or you risk confusing all of the departments that rely on your organizational system. At the same time, don’t create too few since that will defeat the purpose of organizing your reels this way and make finding old cuts much more difficult. I find that the key to creating a new milestone is to decide whether or not you’ve reached a point in the project that you want to save, including if you’re about to make a very significant change that you want to delineate from previous versions. To rephrase the question, you can also ask yourself whether you’re going to need to create an output of this sequence anytime in the future. For those milestones I mentioned above, clearly you want to have easy access to them since by the time all is said and done you will likely have needed to make more than a few outputs for the studio/director/sound dept/etc.

A final note: If you like, you can simplify the creation of milestones by sticking to a single abbreviation like “DC”.  On Hellboy 2 my milestones went from DC1 – DC7 because everything was happening so quickly and there were constantly new hires coming in for sound, so I felt it was safer to keep the system as simple and predictable as possible. The downside of this is that it’s not as clear to anyone who looks at this project later what each DC number represents, even though I know DC3 was our first preview, and DC6 was our first lock.

Defining Versions

How you elect to version your sequences is something that needs to be figured out between the editor and assistant editor. Some editors I work with prefer to manage their own versions and just rely on me to define the milestones. Others prefer that I manage everything and create new versions nightly or weekly. In the end it doesn’t really matter how you version the sequences so long as the system works for you and, at the end of a milestone, you can pop open your reel bins and see what the final version of that reel is for that particular milestone.

Conclusion

Hopefully this has been a clear explanation of how I like to organize my reels on a feature film. Please let me know how it goes if you decide to try this out, and if anything is unclear or needs further explanation, leave a comment below!

Access iTunes From Within Avid

Access iTunes From Within Avid

At this point, my sound effects library has grown to the point where I can’t bring it with me into Avid. It’s just too unwieldy, and I’d end up bringing in a lot of sfx I’d never use. So starting with Hellboy 2, I kept my sfx in iTunes, and would use the iTunes interface to sort and preview my library. When I found an effect I liked, I’d drag it to the desktop and then import it into Avid (in OSX you can’t drag direct from iTunes to Avid, although last time I was on Windows you could).

Now, I’ve taken to using a feature of Finder (Leopard-only) that I’ve long overlooked: the ability to filter Finder by media type. In your sidebar, under “MEDIA”, you will find the Music item. Clicking on this accesses your iTunes library, including any playlists (I keep all my sfx in a smart playlist so I can quickly filter out the sfx), and even allows you to Quick Look them by hitting the spacebar. Find the track(s) you want and off you go, without ever leaving Avid.

Search iTunes from within Avid's Import dialog

Search iTunes from within Avid's Import dialog

The Caveats (as usual)

When using Quick Look you can’t change tracks as easily as in iTunes or standalone Finder, but it still works. You just have to hit spacebar twice when you want to preview a different track (once to stop, another to start a new track). Doing it this way prevents you from having to switch applications and incur the wrath of the 5-10 second catch-up process that Avid does every time you switch back to it with a large Unity project open.

Also, this method works great when you’re searching for a small number of sfx of the same type (variations of crowd, e.g.). It doesn’t work as well if you’re searching for a bunch of different types of sfx, since every time you do a new search it will forget what files you’ve already selected. You’d have to search for one type of sfx, import, rinse and repeat.

Converting Avid Locators to DVD Studio Pro Chapter Markers

Converting Avid Locators to DVD Studio Pro Chapter Markers

I have two methods for making DVDs for directors, depending on how quickly the DVD is needed and what quality level or features are required. For faster but lower-quality DVDs, I just play out to a standalone DVD Recorder. For higher-quality DVDs I usually export a Quicktime, run it through Compressor, and ultimately bring it into DVD Studio Pro. When I go the DVD Studio Pro route, I also like to take the opportunity to appropriately chapter my DVDs. It’s a pretty quick and easy thing to do, and provides a more meaningful set of chapter points than the automated ones you get on a standalone recorder. My favorite method for quickly chaptering a Quicktime uses Avid locators to provide Compressor and DVD Studio Pro with my chapter points. Below is the process I use, or for the shortcut just use the online tool I created.

TOOL: Locator to Chapter Marker Converter

Converting Avid Locators to Compressor/DVDSP Chapter Markers

In order to convert Avid locators to chapter markers, a little knowledge of regular expressions is required. You also need an advanced text editor that can handle regular expressions (I use the free and multi-platform jEdit). You do not need to add locators to your sequence before you export it. Exporting your sequence and making locators suitable for chaptering can be done in either order. You do need to have exported and processed your locator file before you go into Compressor, though.

Adding Locators to Your Sequence

To prepare your sequence, change the sequence Start time to 00:00:00:00. I normally clear out all the other locators in my sequence as well, and since I always copy a sequence to a new bin before I export it, removing the locators isn’t an issue for me. If you’d like to keep your existing locators, then just add a new video track and put all of your chapter locators there.

Once your pre-existing locators are cleared and/or you’ve got yourself a new video track to work with, go ahead and add a locator at every point you’d like to make into a new chapter on your DVD. Once all your locators are added, go to the Locators window and export them to a text file. If you’ve chosen to add your locators to a new track while keeping existing locators on other tracks, then sort the Locators window by track, select all the locators you just added, and export only those Selected locators to a text file.

Exporting Avid Locators

Exporting Avid Locators

Converting the Locators Text File to a Chapter Marker File

Once you’ve got the text file with your exported locators, it’s time to open it in your advanced text editor. An exported locator file initially looks like this:

Evan Schiff    00:02:18:09    V4    white    Chapter1
Evan Schiff    00:03:11:11    V4    white    Chapter2
Evan Schiff    00:04:57:18    V4    white    Chapter3
Evan Schiff    00:06:41:16    V4    white    Chapter4
Evan Schiff    00:07:37:06    V4    white    Chapter5
Evan Schiff    00:08:29:05    V4    white    Chapter6
Evan Schiff    00:12:33:04    V4    white    Chapter7
Evan Schiff    00:13:33:23    V4    white    Chapter8
Evan Schiff    00:15:19:11    V4    white    Chapter9
Evan Schiff    00:16:14:15    V4    white    Chapter10
Evan Schiff    00:17:44:20    V4    white    Chapter11

Using a regular expression search/replace, you can instantly reformat your locator file to conform to Compressor and DVDSP’s required marker file format, which looks like the text below:

00:02:18:09 Chapter1
00:03:11:11 Chapter2
00:04:57:18 Chapter3
00:06:41:16 Chapter4
00:07:37:06 Chapter5
00:08:29:05 Chapter6
00:12:33:04 Chapter7
00:13:33:23 Chapter8
00:15:19:11 Chapter9
00:16:14:15 Chapter10
00:17:44:20 Chapter11

If you don’t label your locators, all you’ll see in the marker file is timecode. This is fine, the only required data is the timecode, and DVDSP will automatically add chapter labels if you don’t supply them.

To reformat the file, you would use the following regular expression:

^[\w\s]*(\d{2}\:\d{2}\:\d{2}\:\d{2})\tV\d\t\w+\t(.*)$

Your text editor’s dialog box would look something like the image below. I usually do a couple Replace & Find clicks just to make sure the pattern is working before I hit Replace All and save the file.

Regular Expression Search/Replace

N.B. In the Replace dialog box, your text editor may use either $1 or \1 to make back-references.

Importing Markers into Compressor

After you’ve saved your new marker file, open up Compressor and load your Quicktime into it. Make sure the Quicktime is selected in the main window and displaying in the Preview window. To the right of the Preview window’s timeline, you’ll see the marker button, under which you can Import Chapter List. Select your file, and if everything’s been done correctly, you should see markers pop up in the appropriate places in your movie.

Compressor Menu to Import Markers

Compressor Menu to Import Markers

Successfully Imported Markers

Successfully Imported Markers

Once your markers and DVD export settings are ready to go, Submit the job. Once the render finishes, you can import it into your DVDSP template file, and as soon as you lay it down onto a track you’ll see that the markers/chapter points appear automatically.

Why can’t I just add chapter points directly in DVD Studio Pro?

You can, but there are several limitations you’ll be imposing upon yourself. First and foremost, if you make your m2v without adding the markers first, you will not always be able to add a chapter point at the exact frame you want to. To get technical for a minute, when you encode an m2v file the frames of your source Quicktime are compressed into three types of mpeg frames. These are I-frames, P-frames, and B-frames (read your Compressor or DVDSP User Guide for more detail). You can only place a chapter marker on an I-frame, and if you don’t tell the encoder where you want an I-frame to be, it will put them wherever it sees fit, and this may or may not be on the frame that you want to make into a chapter point.

Second, the Compressor and DVDSP timelines are not nearly as precise as Avid’s, and don’t give you the visual identification of where clips start and end. I find it much faster to put accurate chapter points on the Avid timeline than in either Compressor or DVDSP.

You can put your chapter points wherever you like in DVDSP if you import the Quicktime directly and let DVDSP make your m2v file, but then you lose all the advantages of using Compressor, not to mention still having to deal with DVDSP’s clumsy timeline.

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

Hellboy 2 Turnover Workflow

Introduction

Turning over reels from HD material in your Avid to sound, music, and marketing departments is a process that requires a lot of rendering time no matter which way you do it. At the outset, your two options for getting your Avid material into Quicktime format are to either export the reel directly to QT, or to play out in real-time to another computer running the capture tool in FCP. Below is a table of all the turnover specs for each department, which I think are pretty standard requirements, followed by a discussion for what we tried on Hellboy 2 and how we ultimately chose to accomplish all of these turnovers.

[TABLE=2]

Exporting a QT vs. Playing Out to FCP (for SD Turnovers)

As you can see in the table above, the majority of our turnovers were Quicktime-based. If the Marketing Department hadn’t required an unmasked image, I probably would have used my sound turnover QTs to make their DVD, too. And if I had more time to experiment, I probably would’ve devised a way to export ‘blank’ QTs without a matte and then apply the matte in Compressor, which I actually did do on a few isolated occasions but never ended up incorporating into the workflow. But anyway, moving on…

As I mentioned above, there is no part of making an SD turnover from your HD material that is quick and painless, unless you are going to something with a 29.97 frame rate. The problems are basically these:

  1. Exporting an average-length reel (~20 minutes) from 1920×1080 in the Avid to a 720×486 (or similar-sized) QT takes an average of 1.5 hours per reel.
  2. Playing out via an SD output on the Adrenaline to another computer running FCP means that you’re going out of the Avid at 29.97fps, without giving FCP a way to know where your A-frame is and so reliably bring you back to 23.976. If all you need is 29.97 SD, then the biggest drawback to this is just the quality of whichever type of video output you use (SDI, Composite, S-Video, etc.)
  3. If you play out via HD-SDI to an FCP station capturing in HD, you still face the task of compressing the HD QT that FCP creates down to SD. If you figure 20 minutes to play out, plus roughly an hour to trim the QT and compress to SD, you’re looking at about the same amount of time as an export.

A black box hardware solution that takes HD-SDI and outputs a QT of the specified size in real-time without adjusting frame rate would be great. There must be something like this in existence, but I haven’t heard about it yet and haven’t seen anything in my searches that sounds like it does what I want. So since I couldn’t find a box like this, and since the tedious process of rendering, playing out, and compressing down to SD was roughly equivalent in time to exporting a reel directly to QT, I chose to go the direct export route. Ultimately, that meant a simpler turnover process for us in Editorial, as well as higher quality video for the departments who would be receiving the turnovers.

An Exception:

When we started our turnovers, I did go the playout route for our Composer and Music Editor. Their specs had originally asked for 320×240 QTs @ 29.97, but when I sent them a 720×486 QT just to test out, they decided they liked the higher quality files (who wouldn’t?) and changed their spec. So I played out through a Canopus box to FCP, trimmed the QTs and sent them on their way until one day we decided to test exporting a 29.97 from our 23.976 Avid project. The frame rate test worked (going from 24.000 -> 29.97 still doesn’t, I believe), but at the same time the Music Editor was testing the new QT he was noticing how much higher quality the exported video was. And so the workflow changed again…

Exporting Reusable Quicktimes Efficiently

One of the biggest tricks I developed on HB2 was to create Quicktimes that I could reuse. Since the biggest outlay of time required in turning over is exporting HD material to an SD Quicktime file (AAFs, guide tracks, and EDLs require much less time, and can all be done while the QTs are exporting with time to spare), the more work you can divert to Compressor instead of Avid, the better. We ended up exporting “blank” Quicktimes, which contained almost all of the visual burn-ins required for all of our turnovers except for individual initials. We also exported these Quicktimes without any audio, since it takes time and rendering to pan audio tracks in the Avid (and problems multiply if you have any Time Compression effects), and since you’re limited to 2-track stereo on any QT export from Avid.

This is what our “blank” Quicktimes looked like after they were exported mute from the Avid. They have a 1.85 matte covering the key numbers, the requisite “Property Of”, the version of the reel, and the date.

blank_qt_burnin1

After these Quicktimes finished exporting, we would then take them into Quicktime Pro and add the audio guide tracks we had exported on a different Avid while the QT was rendering out. Each guide track was added as a separate audio track to the QT, which in the end gave us a QT with three audio tracks (DX and FX as mono AIFFs, and MX in stereo). We would then go in and set the channel of each audio track to either Left or Right depending on what we needed (this is changeable at any time, including after running through Compressor), and do a Save as Self-Contained Movie (~1 minute per file).

Once the audio was added and panned appropriately, we would then take it into Compressor for creating individualized Quicktimes. Our basic Compressor settings simply kept the video codec as it was (Motion JPEG A, Medium Quality), and set the audio as Pass-through so as to keep our discrete three-track audio. We then added a text overlay, saved the setting and started the render. Each reel takes approximately 10 minutes to render (keep in mind that results vary by codec), and produces a new, basically identical QT file that looks like this:

personalized_qt_burnin

HD Turnovers

There’s a lot less to talk about when making HD Quicktimes from an HD Avid project. Given the appropriate equipment, which I probably could’ve gotten on HB2 but never did, I think playing out HD-SDI would be the fastest way to go. Video quality is obviously not an issue when playing out HD-SDI, and there are no tricky frame rate issues to tackle. We generally only had to export a single set of HD Quicktimes, just for our mixing stage, so in that case we included the personalization in the Avid title we applied to the reels before export, and eliminated the need to go to Compressor afterwards. As the show neared completion we had a few HD-capable sound and foley stages requiring turnovers, so only then did we use the “blank” QT export -> Compressor personalization process. But again, given an AJA or Kona card, I’d probably would’ve just played each one out.

Summary

It is a lot of steps to create template Quicktimes, but what this workflow gave us was the flexibility to make multiple, customized copies of our reels quickly, easily, and in batch. I can’t count the number of times we were asked to create additional copies with slightly varying specs or burn-ins, and being able to do that without re-exporting from Avid was a life saver. Additionally, Compressor can be happily processing copies in the background while you continue to work in Avid. It may slow down the Compressor renders a little, but as long as you’re not doing anything too processor-intensive in Avid, you should have no problem with running both programs concurrently.

Timewise, the following are pretty accurate estimates, although it will clearly take some more time when you first set up your Compressor workflows or go through the Quicktime Pro process.

  • Prep burn-ins and matte in Avid – 2 minutes / reel
  • Export from Avid – 1.5 hours / 20-min reel  ** (This will change as processor speeds increase. Also, some people have had luck with creating Reference Quicktimes, but I haven’t.)
  • Export Guide Tracks – 5 minutes / reel (assuming you’ve split out your tracks before starting to turnover)
  • Add audio tracks to exported QT file in Quicktime Pro – 3 minutes / reel including time to save as Self-Contained Movie
  • Add individual burn-in using Compressor – 10 minutes / reel

Bonus

Aside from just sticking someone’s name on a QT, here are a few other things you can do with QTPro and Compressor:

  • Make a DVD of the whole feature
    • In QTPro, mark an IN/OUT on each of your ‘blank’ reels at the FFOA and LFOA, then copy and paste in reel order into a new movie. Verify your audio panning and reel breaks (wouldn’t want the reels in the wrong order!), then just Save as a reference movie. Take your reference movie into Compressor, make a new workflow (you can resize/add a matte or text as needed), and render to MPEG-2 and AC3 and burn to DVD in the software of your choice. Voila, 45 minutes of rendering to make the MPEG-2, ~10 minutes for the AC3, and you’ve just made a high quality DVD in less time than it would’ve taken to play it out analog.
  • Save time by rendering two halves of a reel simultaneously (Verify your results. 90% of the time this works flawlessly, 10% of the time there are inexplicable problems at the split point after Compressing)
    • If you have multiple Avids available and are short on time, you can render half of a reel on one Avid and half on the other. Make sure you render with the Use Marks option checked, and that your OUT mark on Avid #1 is adjacent to the IN mark on Avid #2. Once you have each half reel as a QT, copy/paste one half into the other, add your audio, and continue with the process by doing a Save as Self-Contained movie before bringing into Compressor. If you don’t have audio, you can just save as a reference movie. Always verify your results after running through Compressor, I’ve run into unexplained repeated frames at the splice point in my output QTs when doing this and have not been able to reliably recreate the conditions that cause them. But if you’re in a rush, it can be worth the risk.
  • Letterbox
    • I usually output my 720×486 turnover QTs as anamorphic, in part because it’s faster than making everything letterbox, and so far no one’s cared. On my next show I’ll use 864×486, since that’s the proper aspect ratio, and I don’t think I need to take NTSC client monitors into account anymore. Anyway, if you need to do a letterboxed 720×486 QT from an anamorphic original, Compressor can do this for you during your export. Just add the Letterbox option to your workflow and select either Matte or Resize accordingly.