Archive for the ‘Avid Wish List & Bugs’ category

The Interaction Model

March 20, 2011

Apple’s sneak peak of Final Cut 8 has encouraged people to start thinking about their wish lists: 64-bit, more native formats, background rendering, export to YouTube and many other ideas have been floated. That’s all great, but what I want is a new interaction model. Most of what we do as editors looks like this: play a clip or sequence, press stop, open a dialog box, make a change, hit okay, move the position indicator backwards, and play again. Over and over again, all day long. The idea that you could change a sequence that easily was miraculous in the early years, and the need for all that stopping didn’t seem onerous. But now it seems downright anachronistic. I want an application that keeps playing. We have the processor power to do this now, but our applications are full of low-level code that waits for you to hit stop before it’ll do anything.

In Pro Tools you can be playing your timeline in one area and go somewhere later in your session and make a change without stopping. When you get there, you’ll hear the change. Motion lets you loop your composition and change it while it plays. Final Cut lets you move around in the timeline while video keeps playing. Screenflow lets you save while video plays. And Sony Vegas lets you do just about anything without stopping.

What else would we get if we could have that never-stop technology?

  • Render while you work.
  • Never stop to save.
  • Import and export while you do other things.
  • Change bin data while watching dailies.
  • Play more than one clip at the same time, experiment with different placements of of music against picture, compare clips side-by-side.
  • Mix while you play without having to stop and hit record.
  • Live mute and solo.
  • Live editing.

To make music you need a musical instrument. Workflow enhancements are important. New features are important. But how the machine allows us to shape the material affects everything. The simplest potter’s wheel is more interactive, more tactile, more responsive than our best editing machines. It’s that kind of live interactivity that will change the way we work.

Reminder

I’ll be speaking at the Editors Lounge this Friday in Burbank, as part of their pre-NAB panel discussion.

Panelists: Debra Kaufman, Lucas Wilson, Mark Raudonis, Michael Bravin, Terry Curren and me.
Location:
Key Code Media, 270 S. Flower St, Burbank, CA 91502
Time: Food at 6:15, Panel at 7.

DetailsBe Sure to RSVP

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MC Chapter Markers to DVD Studio Pro

February 3, 2011

Converting Media Composer sequences to DVDs without a realtime burner isn’t difficult. But creating a proper DVD with a chapter menu on a Mac still isn’t for the faint of heart. To make the DVD, you’ll export a QT reference movie and burn it with the DVD application of your choice. But adding chapter markers and making a chapter menu takes some alchemy.

The trick is to create locators in the MC timeline, export them, do a bit of editing on the resulting text file, and import it into DVD Studio Pro. For a full chapter menu, it’s easiest to import into Compressor first.

Start by creating locators where you want chapter breaks. Put them all in the same track and color them the same way. That’ll make it easier to distinguish them from locators you’ve used for other purposes. Add the chapter name to each locator as locator text. Then open the Locators window (Tools > Locators), select the locators you’re interested in by Command-clicking and choose Export Locators from the Fast Menu at the bottom of the window.

In the dialog box that follows, export selected locators only. The result is a simple, tab-delimited text file containing only the locators you selected. Open the file in a text editor and remove header information and all columns except timecode and locator text. In Apple’s TextEdit or Microsoft Word you can select and delete entire columns by Option-dragging over them — you shouldn’t have to get into regular expression searches. Your resulting file should have just two columns, like this:

You must reference the same starting timecode as DVDSP does or the markers won’t line up properly. DVDSP defaults to hour 0. Avid sequences default to hour 1. In this example I simply changed all the values to start with hour 0.

Once you’ve got this cleaned-up text file, export your sequence from MC as a QT reference movie with “same as source” settings. MC renders all effects and generates a new audio track, and links the QT reference to your Avid media.

Then create a new project in DVDSP, select the menu tab, drag the movie in, and when you see the drop palette, select Create Button and Track. DVDSP picks up your QT movie and a button is created for it. You can customize the button or the DVD any way you like. Then open the Track Editor (Cmd-9). Right-click the marker track and select Import Markers. Navigate to your text file and select it. All your locators appear in the DSP timeline, named with your locator text.

Test the DVD by clicking Simulate. You should be able to jump from marker to marker. (The markers won’t be exactly where you put them — they’ll be shifted slightly to fall on MPEG I-frames.)

The last step is to create a chapter menu — a list that appears when you first load the DVD. DVDSP will do this automatically with exports from FCP, but, as far as I can tell, not from an imported marker list. You have to create each chapter menu individually. To do it automatically, you’ll need a different workflow, importing into Compressor and then DVDSP.

Start by opening Compressor, dragging in your Quicktime reference and applying a DVD setting. With the video selected in the Job window, click the marker menu in the Preview window and select Import Chapter List. Navigate to your text file. The markers will appear under video in the preview window. (Compressor reads the source timecode correctly, so you shouldn’t have to change the timecode hour in your text file.)

Compress the file and then drag it into DVDSP, and select Create Chapter Index from the drop palette. The video is imported and the chapter menu is created and linked automatically. Simulate and burn the DVD.

This is fairly straightforward, but it’s not exactly trivial, and you have to have a decent understanding of all four programs involved to make it work. Avid could make it a lot simpler if MC would convert locators to chapter markers in exported Quicktimes. Then you could bring them into the program of your choice with a lot less hassle.

For more tips like this, check out my new book, Avid Agility. It’s available from Amazon.

The Pros and Cons of Fast Scrub

October 26, 2009

If you’re using Avid’s new DX hardware (Nitris or Mojo), then you’ve probably been using “Fast Scrub,” perhaps without knowing it. This is a slick new feature that makes the timeline more responsive, by dramatically improving the number of frames displayed as you drag. Fast Scrub offers some of the smoothest timeline performance in the business — so smooth that you can often check your work just by dragging through it. It also improves audio responsiveness, especially if you keep the caps lock key down. (I don’t, but I know many of you do.) If you’re using DX hardware you’ll find it in Timeline settings. It’s turned on by default.

But if you like to leave waveforms on — and I can’t work any other way now — then Fast Scrub will make you crazy. Why? Because it causes waveforms to redraw much too frequently, even when you are just manipulating video. If you simply move a video clip in segment mode — with no change to any audio — all your waveforms, for your entire timeline, will slowly redraw, during which time you can’t do anything but wait. Many other seemingly innocuous things will also trigger a redraw. Undo will usually do it, for example. I’ve even seen redraws after simply changing a clip name in a bin.

With a fast CPU, waveform display in the Media Composer has become very usable (and waveforms in MC have always been much more detailed than in FCP). But with Fast Scrub you have to turn waveforms off, or keep a straight jacket handy.

Okay, so why not just disable Fast Scrub, itself? Timeline dragging is plenty responsive with software-only systems or even with Adrenaline, so turning it off  shouldn’t be a big deal. Unfortunately, with the DX hardware and Fast Scrub off, timeline dragging goes back to the way it was before version 3 — very slow. So you’re damned either way.

Caught between a rock and a hard place, I’ve had Fast Scrub off for a week or so now, and I’m getting used to it. But I sure wish the timeline could be as responsive as it is on my laptop at home.

How Would You Use Multitouch?

August 25, 2008

The NY Times ran an article yesterday about how multi-touch is about to become more commonplace (Turning Point for Touch Screens). Dell is putting it on a small laptop, it’ll be on all kinds of cellphones soon, and the next version of Windows is supposed to handle it natively. Since the iPhone has pushed this technology into the mainstream, it seems likely that Apple will bring it to OS X, as well.

The question for us in post production is how and whether we’d use it. Is it the world’s coolest thing, or a novelty that will wear off after an hour or two?

At NAB a few years ago, I experimented with Photoshop on a 20″ touchscreen from Wacom, and it was super-intuitive and fun to play with. And that was an old screen that could only handle one contact point at a time, with no understanding of gestures. Modern multi-touch would be much better.

My favorite fantasy would be use this kind of thing in trim mode. Select transitions with your fingers. Trim by dragging with your hands. And scrubbing? Just move your finger over the audio to listen to it.

But a multi-touch screen would likely lie flat or be oriented like a drafting table. Would you want to be looking down all the time? And would you want to move your arms over a 24 or 30″ space all day when you could be moving a mouse just a couple of inches?

I suspect that in the end we’re going to come up with some kind of hybrid model, where you’d use the multi-touch interface augmented by a mouse or pen. And your screen might be moveable so you could work with it vertically or horizontally.

Somebody ought to be setting up a lab right now to figure out how best to use this technology in the editing room. If it works, it could be a game changer, making the whole process of editing more organic and intuitive. The Times article ends with the following quote: “A lot of people don’t realize they want it until they use it.” Sometimes letting the customer tell you what they want is a good idea. But sometimes it guarantees that you’ll be late to the party.

What do you iPhone users think? Would you want a giant iPhone interface for editing?

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Quicktime Native?

August 7, 2008

Should Avid make the Media Composer “Quicktime Native”? It’s a big question (and not a new one, of course) so let me focus on just two key issues: first, the ability to open and edit any Quicktime file without conversion, and second, the ability to put material in a bin without actually copying them to a centralized media folder. These are separate, of course, but in FCP, they work together to make the program seem more accessible to newbies. And they can be helpful for more sophisticated users, too, given the right circumstances.

The subject came up for me recently because I’ve got a box of home videos that I need to digitize. They should be on a big hard drive if I ever want to do anything with them. But what format to choose? Avid would encode DV as MXF files, Final Cut as Quicktimes. Which is safer? Which will be usable ten or twenty years from now?

In the early ’90s I telecined an old student project I’d shot on film to the best tape source we had then — one inch. Right now, that tape is almost useless. A few years ago, I found somebody to transfer it for me (and not well, unfortunately), so today I’ve got a DV, a DVD and a Digi-Beta. I figured I had covered my butt. But times change. Today, I’d like to have HD, and the best way to make that is to do another transfer — from film.

These are exactly the kinds of questions every producer will soon have to answer about every piece of media they produce.

And that brings me back to the MC and Quicktime. What format do I trust to have the longest life? MXF is an open standard, not owned by Avid. But will it be readable down the line? Right now Quicktime can be played on just about any computer. But its future is entirely dependent on Apple.

In general, and it may surprise you, but I think Avid might do well making the Media Composer operate on Quicktime files directly. Depending on your point of view, that could arguably make the MC the best QT editing application available.

It’s a big question, and maybe not the most important one for Avid, especially given how much work it might take. But it needs to be asked. I’m curious to hear your thoughts.

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4K for Avid, Apple and Adobe

July 28, 2008

Following up on the last post, if we’re really looking at a future where resolution goes away as an issue for picture editing, as it has for sound, what does that mean for the designers of the software we use?

This is why so many people are now talking about “workflow.” What do we do with all this digital stuff? How does it move through the post production process?

But, frankly, I’m getting pretty tired of that word. Because it all too often means more work for the editing room. We end up shouldering more of the dailies burden and more responsibility for finishing, we work harder and longer and somehow, somebody else pockets the difference.

And I dislike the word for another reason. Because it’s become an excuse for editing equipment manufacturers to ignore the needs of editors. They start thinking that they’ll win the game if only they can cut Red material directly, or P2 or XDCam. And yes, of course, that’s important. But focusing on it tends to help you forget that there’s a creative person doing the work and that his or her imagination has to be nurtured.

So my wish for the manufacturers is that they forget about workflow and think about work. Start focusing on how human beings do all this and let that notion balance your interest in materials and process.

There is one workflow issue that does matter to me, however, and that’s how the equipment can better support collaboration among the small teams that end up making a film. We have a tower of Babel right now — incompatible file formats, resolutions, sample rates; applications that live in their own little worlds, unable to share much of anything with each other; and especially, no good way for a work-in-progress to evolve while all participants keep working on it. How much extra work do we all go through to keep sound, visual effects, music and color correction up to date with picture?

Yes, Apple has a lead over Avid in putting a complete post production studio in a box. They’ve empowered individuals to work as one-man-bands. But nobody has really figured out how to do workgroup collaboration yet. The winner of the NLE wars has to do both. And has to inspire editors to do their best work at the same time.

It’s a tall order. But it seems to me that because digital file formats have changed everything, the playing field is now much more level than many of us acknowledge.

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Autosave Blues

May 10, 2008

First, let me apologize to those of you who’ve gotten used to regular posts here. I’ve been working hard finishing a pilot and time has been short. But I’ve been thinking a lot about the Media Composer and will have plenty to say once the dust settles a bit.

In the meantime, I want to talk about one of my least favorite Avid features — autosave. I keep all the reels (or acts) of a show in a single bin. That makes it very easy to move from scene to scene and also, incidentally, makes it trivial to measure the show. But my bins tend to get pretty big, growing to 20 megabytes or more. Twenty megabytes ain’t much these days — you can copy a twenty megabyte file in a second or two. But saving or opening a twenty megabyte bin seems to take forever.

Since saving big bins is so slow, and bin performance, especially in frame view, slows to a crawl (try selecting all sequences and watch them high…light…ever…so…slow…ly), I’ll start over with a new bin after a bin gets bigger than about 20 megs. That means I’ve got a bunch of 25 MB bins that become archives of past versions. I need to be able to open them quickly, check something, close them and move on.

No can do.

Why? Because the MC wants to save every bin that you close, for almost no reason. Nothing in the bin need change for the MC to insist on saving it. Nor can I force a bin to close without saving. And every time you open a bin every clip frame in every open bin is refreshed — which also takes forever. (See the post “Legacy Bugs” for more.)

It used to be that you’d know a bin needed saving when a little diamond appeared in the bin’s title bar. That’s still true, but bins can now perversely save even when the diamond is missing.

Yesterday I noticed a new way this can happen. Open a few bins. Don’t change anything. Then, move one clip in one bin so that the diamond appears. Now click in the timeline or project and hit command-s. All open bins will be saved, including the ones that you did absolutely nothing to and which do not show the diamond.

The result is way too many saves and way too much time spent opening and saving.

Of course, what I really want are background saves that don’t interrupt work. But baring that, it really would be great if Avid could address some of these issues. They don’t represent fundamental work, but they sure would save time in my cutting room.

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