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.

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2 Comments

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  1. Evan. Thank you so very much for taking the time to share your knowledge. These are some amazing tips.

    Best,
    Carsten

  2. Fantastic write-up. Looking forward to more blog entries.