In Part One of my behind the scenes look into the production of “PIMP in the SERP,” I exposed how we prepped and shot the video with no budget and only 69 minutes of access to a downtown Los Angeles skyscraper.
In Part Two, I want to walk you through the post-production workflow of how I cut, colored and accomplished the sound mix in 4 days.I would like to share 5 Adobe CS6 editing tips that will save you time, energy and hopefully a couple brain cells as we all know how strenuous and taxing low budget productions can be! I’ve been using Adobe Creative Suite almost exclusively for the past several years and will focus on how I use Adobe Premiere, After Effects and Audition to speed up my workflow and get high quality results in the shortest time possible. I don’t want to be cooped up in my edit cave too long…there is a world out there that I would like to see while the sun is still up! The project will still be there when you come back…have no fear.
TIP #1 – BINS, BINS and MORE BINS.
The best way to have an effective workflow is to organize your project. The time you spend up front will be paid back tenfold once you are buried deep in the edit. Bins are your friend. Make a lot them. Make a few more. Try not to float assets in the project window, as it will bite you in the ass. One of the biggest time-sucks is hunting down one rogue file that is hidden amongst dozens, if not hundreds of multi media files with different extensions and version numbers. Your eyes will bleed and your brain will turn mushy after one too many “needle-in-the-haystack” endless searches.
Make bins. Stuff files in appropriate bins. Repeat. Maintain sanity.
Here is a link to my Adobe CS6 Premiere Pro Template (below) that I use every time I start a new project. It’s very simple, clean and numbered. The 7 Master Bins cover the basic categories needed to organize any project while editing in Adobe CS6.Things are no doubt about to get clutter crazy…so why not give yourself a fighting chance early. I number the bins for two reasons. First, if I share the project with assistants, it’s easier to confirm the right bin or location is being used. Every clip, sequence, cut, file has a number attached to it so that keeps things consistent. Second, and more importantly, you can rearrange the bins in the order of your preference without relying on alphabetical order. Set them up anyway you want. Boom. Done.
TIP #2 – THUMBNAIL YOUR FOOTAGE
We are visual creatures. We can process symbols, images and colors faster than words. Our brain makes the leap for us without needing to decipher letters or text. A bin full of similarly named text-based shots will overload your coconut almost immediately. It has to take in the whole phrase before deciding which is the right one. Scanning a full bin of text upon text will fatigue you if not in minutes, than most assuredly by lunchtime. Mmmm…lunch.
Editing is a marathon, not a sprint (expect when the deadline is looming) so use the CPU in your head efficiently. Staying sharp over long periods of time is a trait of the most successful editors. I choose Icon view over List view every time. In Premiere, you can resize the thumbnails to fit the bin relative to your screen size. Smaller for laptop edits (ARG! I hate thee!) and larger for desktop systems and dual monitor set-ups. You can also use the “Hover Scrub” feature to pick the Icon frame that you want. “Right Click” on the clip and choose “Set poster frame”. Usually the default image will give you enough visual reference to see what you need…but it’s nice to have the capability to be more specific if needed.
The biggest reasons I use Icon/Thumbnail mode is speed. I edited the feature film, “An American Carol”, for director David Zucker (Airplane!). I learned more about editing comedy in the first week from him than anyone could imagine. His energy level is off the charts and his brain worked at hyper-speed during the 5-month post run. I had to match his tempo as he called out specific takes that he wanted to explore. He wanted to see them right away…from the last take of a scene, back to the first. With Thumbnail mode, I could easily spot the scene and series of shots he requested and jump on the last one for playback. I had previously been in List mode and I would have to playback a shot to make sure it was the right one. This was happening on a huge plasma TV above my edit station (mirroring my source/program panel) that David was viewing. He would assume if it was up there…it’s the shot he called for. Nope. I’m just hunting for the shot. He would say, “That’s not it.” I would reply, “I know…just looking for it.” Once that dialog loop of pain played out for 8 hours, something had to give. By switching to Thumbnail mode, I could visually spot the take on my monitor without previewing it on the big screen. Day 2 of the edit was all of a sudden smoother than butter…he got his shots instantly and we had more time to talk about his hero, Davy Crockett…and Woodford Reserve Bourbon. Bonus Trivia! If you pay attention…there is some form (actor or image) of Davy Crockett in every one of David Zucker’s films.
TIP #3 – THE PANCAKE TIMELINE
This is a technique I use for dramatically speeding up my initial rough cut. With tighter schedules and deadlines kicking on your door…every little bit helps. I recently was excited as shit to watch Oscar Winners: Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall utilize the same method. I call it…The Pancake Timeline.
On projects with gargantuan amounts of footage…the editor (or assistant) must plow through hundreds of hours and pluck out the selects. Selects can be any shot or take the editor deems worthy to contribute to the story. It can be a great read of dialog or a sideways glance in-between takes. Whatever works. Specific selects are usually called star or circle takes (“good” takes as noted by the script supervisor) and all these shots together are used to build the rough cut. As an example…“The Social Network” had 324 hours of footage and 281 hours of selects. “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” had 483 hours of footage with 443 hours of selects. Holy shitballs. If the Pancake Timeline helped Kirk and Angus…it can surely help you. Here it is…
As is often the case…simplicity allows for quantum leaps in productivity. By stacking 2 timelines on top of each other…an editor can now access an entire reel of selects in chronological order (or whatever order desired) and instantly drop them into the active timeline below. To accomplish this layout…first open both timelines by clicking on them in the Project Panel. Drag the Selects timeline tab and hover over the top quarter of the Master timeline. Once it turns a purple color, release the tab and you’re in Pancake Land! By not having to bounce between tabbed timelines and using copy/paste…the process of analyzing and deciding which shot makes it into the cut is streamlined and intuitive. You can playback the Selects timeline in the program panel or hit the “match frame” keyboard shortcut and play it back in the source panel. Then just insert edit or drag-and-drop the shots you want into the Main timeline. Another very nice feature of this edit workflow is that the shots you pull from the Selects (top) timeline remain in their original position and are duplicated into the Main (bottom) timeline. Big Boom!
As soon as I tried this method…I realized I was cutting faster, smarter and always had a bird’s eye view of the project. By keeping the selects timeline (top) zoomed out…I could keep track of how much footage I had seen and what was left to preview. Mentally, for an editor, this allows you to keep a frame of reference to the sheer volume of footage. You can now, with a glance, know you’ve seen 50% of all the selects…and step outside for an Irish coffee and an e-cig. (Don’t give up all your vices at once!) Give The Pancake Timeline a shot and let me know how it works for you…
Before I jump into Tip 4…I wanted to quickly touch on the actual color grade before the VFX was added. In my article on Shane Hurlbut’s Blog (and the most viewed article of all time on his site!), I go into depth of how I color correct inside Premiere. I applied all those tips here as time was of the essence. I prefer to do critical color correction in Davinci Resolve but because of the time constraints and the ample options in Premiere…I stayed all Adobe on this. Using Fast Color Corrector…levels and saturation were the only effects I needed to primary color grade my cut and get it ready for the VFX. The only other manipulation of the original footage was the blowing up several shots by 50%. This is usually more than h.264 8-bit can handle…but when used on close-ups and short edits it held up fine to my eyes.
TIP #4 – DYNAMIC LINK THE VFX
With the addition of Dynamic Link in Adobe CS5…my days of rendering out a quicktime, importing into After Effects, rendering out another quicktime and finally importing back into Premiere…were gone forever. Praise (insert your deity of choice)!!! So much time was wasted along with the degradation of video footage. This feature alone propels my workflow into overdrive with maximum time-saving and harnessing of the powerful entity that is After Effects. I know there are a lot of options for visual FX…but every post house and student utilizes After Effects before anything else. It is the common ground that allows you to even share projects between PC and Mac platforms with no problem. I spoke about my experience with After Effects in the 20th anniversary event last month and my article can be found here(if I’m not boring you yet!). After Effects is a very stable platform and the option for both its built-in effects and 3rd party options are staggering. Because I only had 4 days to cut/color/sound design the music video…I choose to spice up my visuals with these plug-ins on “PIMP in the SERP!”
Some of the BEST After Effects Plug-Ins:
My workflow in Premiere was to send the entire locked sequence to After Effects using Dynamic Link. I always copy and paste the entire edit onto a higher video level in Premiere before I dynamic link. This allows me to keep the initial shots separate and as reference, if I need to revisit or make adjustments later. Premiere is powerful and responsive and allows me to cut almost any format on the planet in real-time thanks to the Mercury playback engine and the appropriate CUDA card…but After Effects gives me even more options as it is specifically designed for VFX and complicated compositions.
Inside After Effects, I used Luca Visual FX to help move the cut along and emphasize visual moments in the cut based on the music and my edits. I only had 38 minutes of total raw footage between the 2 cameras during our 69 minutes of security guard escorted shooting (see Part 1). Due to this fact…I choose to manipulate the footage and give it an active visual palette of streaks, flares, sprocket slips and light strobes. I went with a hyper-saturated color grade before I overlaid the Luca Visual FX…and I found that it blended together nicely and felt like it lived in the same world.
VideoCopilot Twitch has some very nice colored-strobe light presets that I used during the chorus and at the end of the song. I had the sun backlighting the rappers, so it appeared as if the sun itself was flashing and changing colors. Not too hi-tech but effective!
Lastly, I leaned on FilmConvert Pro to give the footage a film stock emulation that would further blend all my footage and VFX into one cohesive visual world. I created an adjustment layer over the cut in After Effects and applied the plug-in. Whatever is happening under the hood with FilmConvert Pro is fabulously insane! It treats the skin-tones wonderfully and gets rid of the Canon h.264 red color that is often too harsh. Inside FilmConvert, I opted for the Canon 5Dmkii Prolost camera source, FJ8563RL stock preset and 35mm full frame grain size. I dialed both the film color and grain settings to 50%. This setting, for me, added the right amount of texture to the footage without going overboard. Yes…rappers are flashing their platinum, “Boo-T” hair picks and I’m worried about going overboard. What can I do!
With all the color and VFX done, I saved my project in After Effects and all my work was updated and reflected immediately in Premiere. There is no more off-line…it is all on-line at the highest resolution and quality. The tools available to us really are amazing!
TIP #5 – SONIC SECRET SAUCE – ADOBE AUDITION TIPS AND TRICKS
Back inside Premiere…My scratch track audio from the Canon 5Dmkii were already in my timeline. I then dropped in the ADR vocals that both Peter and AnnMarie recorded in my studio the day before. I had busted out my ancient and indestructible Shure SM58 vocal microphone and recorded onto my Tascam DR40 (portable digital recorder). The rappers listened to the final music track through Sony MDR-7506 headphones and recorded the lyrics line by line until I was happy with their rap-ostitude and performances. To hear the diabolical internet-themed rap lyrics in my quiet studio, as they focused on nailing the vibe, was a treat all by itself. Absolute commitment and fun was had by all!
I then laid down the music track under the production audio and final ADR vocals. Because I had slid and slipped the video to match audio earlier…mouths and lips were all in sync and my rappers were locked into the beat. The next step was to go again use dynamic link and this time open all the audio inside Adobe Audition. I am usually dealing with a dozen or more audio tracks in most projects…so it was a real treat to look down at the timeline and see only 3 tracks. Production audio, ADR vocals and music were represented with nice, tall waveforms.
I double checked the sync between the production and ADR vocals and was able to use the big waveforms and the sampling power to make micro adjustments to timing and make it spot on. Inside Premiere you can switch to “Audio Time Units” which is more precise than video frame rates…just as inside Audition you can trim and adjust up to 1/48,000th of a second. I sincerely hope I never have to make that fine of an adjustment! But I know…somewhere out there…one day a producer will ask for that. As long as it’s on a full rate gig…go ahead producer person…ask for the moon! I will deliver it. To process the vocals, I used 4 effects in this specific order. 1. Izotope RX – noise reduction 2. Audition 20-band graphic equalizer 3. Audition hard limiter 4. Izotope Ozone 5 – masteringFirst, I used the Izotope RX plug-in to denoise the vocals. I’ve used this plug-in on 4 feature films and on every project with dialog. Due to the quick turnaround of 4 days…I chose Izotope RX even though Audition CS6 has equally impressive and thorough noise reduction capabilities. The latest incarnation is leaps and bounds better and has a cleaner interface than the previous version. I will have to run them head to head at some point…but I was more familiar with Izotope RX and cranked it out in short order.
Once the vocals were clean, I applied the Audition 20-band Graphic Equalizer to run a high and low pass cut. I cut everything under 100Hz (rumbles) and everything over 10,000KHz (sizzles). That’s a conservative range and usually gets rid of any objectionable frequencies while not affecting the human voice. I then slid the 5.6K slider up by +5db to give the midrange more legibility and pop. I felt that was all the vocal frequencies needed, to be heard clearly above the music.
Next up for the vocals was the Audition Hard Limiter. I prefer the limiter to a compressor, which can squash the voice if over-applied and make it sound unnatural. Now that I had clean, sparkling dialog…the Hard Limiter was employed to automatically set a chosen peak volume while bringing up the volume of the quieter passages. There was no danger of noise being amplified as Izotope RX had eradicated it earlier. I used the Audition preset “limit to -6db”. This ensured no vocals would go higher than -6db. The default input boost of +3db brought up the quieter passages and made the vocals live in a more defined sonic space. What this accomplished was strong, clear vocals with no discernable noise.
The next to last step was to master the audio. Just like the final video footage was crafted to feel as if it existed in one world…the same strategy was used on the audio. I called upon the Izotope Ozone plug-in to put the icing on this shimmering Rap Cake. I am not ashamed to say, that I dug into one of the numerous Izotope Ozone presets and chose…the Hip Hop Master setting. Thank you technology! This preset emulates the EQ settings of popular rap songs and raises the overall perceived volume while not allowing any clipping. It produced a tight, full, loud, crisp mix. This Adobe Audition audio mix had just been boom-nastied!
I saved my work in Audition and using the Export option, chose Multitrack Mixdown, Entire Session and picked the Wave PCM 48KHz, Stereo, 32-bit option…uncompressed and floating point.
The final step was to marry the final audio mix with the picture in Premiere. Because the audio file was the same length (thanks to dynamic link) it was as easy as plopping the track under the existing audio and then muting the temp dialog and unmixed music track.
I exported the master using the Adobe Media Encoder preset of Vimeo 1080p 23.976 (h.264) and bumped up the bitrate to 10 and the audio to 48Hz. This is my preferred setting for web delivery.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read my ramblings and I hope this article was able to open your eyes up to some helpful tips and techniques. Please feel free to share any tips you have used or experiences with the software that I utilized in “PIMP in the SERP!” Leave me a comment below!
Until next time!