First VFX project coming from a Premiere Pro edit

I’ve done several VFX projects with my colleagues at UCA. Until now they were edited with FCP 7 and we had lots of cool options for getting clips to VFX artists. Mike Gunter just picture locked his latest film and he used Premiere Pro CC (latest update) to edit. The film is just under 6 minutes long and about 80% of the shots require greenscreen work. The shots are of characters in a car interior and my students will replace the greenscreen outside the car with some background footage that was shot specifically for the film.

It is my job to separate and assign each of the shots to my students. I also need to make sure the shots go back into the edit with no issues. I also do QC on the shots, but that’s another post.

Givens:

  • Footage is mostly QT ProRes recorded with a Blackmagic HyperDeck Shuttle external recorder. The film was shot with a Magic Lantern hacked Canon 5DIII that gave a clean 8-bit signal out of the hdmi port to the Shuttle.
  • Picture edit in Premiere Pro CC (PPro)
  • VFX work in After Effects (AE)
  • Color grade will be done with DaVinci Resolve 10
  • No decision made on which tool the online will happen in

Problem: Getting each shot to my students and returning their rendered work to the edit. Mike would like to have handles on the shots just in case he wants to tweak a frame here or there or add a transition.

Possible Workflows:

  • Premiere Pro to After Effects via Dynamic Link: Work is done in AE on original footage and saved, but not rendered. All work is rendered as online in PPro itself.
    • Pros
      • Creates an AE project with most settings done
      • References original footage – no new footage needed for VFX work
      • Maintains in and out points (I/O points) in that referenced footage
      • No need to store new copies (VFX finished) files until the end
    • Cons
      • Dynamic Link – it has burned me before by not properly rendering the AE project. Not with CC at this point though. Heard an AE developer, in an fxguide interview, mention that making DL rock solid was not a high-priority so I stay skeptical.
      • I have to manually make this happen for over 40 shots – yuk!
      • Related to DL issues – troubleshooting rendering problems will be a nightmare including making sure no AE assets get lost (hasn’t happened yet, but it is related to the QC job I mentioned above)
  • Import Premiere Pro project into After Effects: Work is done in AE on original footage and then rendered as new footage that is re-linked in PPro
    • Pros
      • More stable than Dynamic Link
      • No new footage is needed for VFX work
      • Maintains I/O points
      • Potentially online in AE (some people do it, but yuk!)
    • Cons
      • No native method to export layers as new project files with their own compositions, which means separating the jobs for the students would be a nightmare. I looked into scripting this, which seems very doable, but there are other cons mentioned next…
      • PPro merged clips are treated as compositions and are NOT(!) layers in the main Sequence. This means that merged clips aren’t in the edit anymore – deal breaker if you use merged clips, which Mike did (not his fault, it’s what you do when you record off-camera audio).
      • Must render complete clip (outside I/O points) so the clip can be properly re-linked back to the PPro Sequence/Project
  • Premiere Pro to DaVinci Resolve: Work is done in AE using new trimmed clips and then rendered as footage that is re-linked in Resolve.
    • Pros
      • Conforms sequence – removes everything not used by the sequence. More “industry-standard” practice
      • Export each edited clip as a new piece of footage with minimal handles (48 frames for instance). Side note: Mike and the DP confessed to forgetting to hit stop on the external recorder a few times during production. In extreme cases, about 4 seconds are used from a 3 minute clip. Creating a new 3-minute clip so it can properly link back to the original edit sucks for the VFX artists and me. Though making new clips takes up space, they will be smaller clips and the originals can be trashed from the working “hard drive.”
      • Can send the edit with new footage back to PPro via XML, OR, online in Resolve!
    • Cons
      • New footage – gotta make space until everything is run through Resolve, then remove old footage if space is needed on working drive (still have several backups)
      • XML export in PPro is worthless with merged clips (I’m seeing a trend). No matter what I try, it only exports one of the merged clips as a sequence rather than the actual sequence in the project (there is only one since I reduced the project to one sequence using the Project Manager).
      • AAF export to Resolve worked as long as you ignore all of the errors during export.
      • Not a Con, but something I read, but have not tried – it seems an EDL might work best with merged clips to Resolve. Should try this to see.
      • Audio edits are not supported in Resolve. Consider export audio separately, or don’t worry about them since your sound designer will tweak that anyway…
  • Premiere Pro to Final Cut Pro 7: XML to FCP 7 and then use my old batch export workflow and re-link. Not future-proof – won’t even try it, but it is more common than it should be.

Conclusions (for now).

Dynamic Link is for the occasional VFX shot and worth keeping in mind, but too cumbersome when most of the edit has to go through AE. Working outside the Adobe ecosystem is hard. People complain about limited capability in FCPX, but it is just as limited if the tools are there, but not robust enough to use (merged clips become comps in AE and with AAF).

For this project I will run all of the footage through Resolve to prep for the students. They will have to create their own AE projects, but that is easy and it is good practice. They will also render their own projects after they get feedback a couple of times.

The next miracle is doing this same thing, but with R3D footage with the graduate VFX class. Until I see the final list of shots needing VFX, I think we will Dynamic Link them if it’s possible with R3D footage. If the shot count is high enough then we may conform the edit in Red Cine X or Resolve and follow a similar workflow to Mike’s film.

I contemplated trying conforming in Smoke instead of Resolve, but for now I will stick with tools that are available in our computer labs.

Last, here’s a shot of the PPro sequence in AE. There should be a LOT more layers, but the merged clips were turned into comps that were not layered into the main comp based on the original sequence. Also see the long clips with only a few frames used in the actual edit – I prefer to trim those down.

PPRo In AE Fail

 

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