Post Pipeline for “The Long Drive Goodnight”

I was reading this and realized that I never did a followup of the post pipeline for The Long Drive Goodnight.

The Long Drive Goodnight was produced, directed, and edited by my colleague, Mike Gunter. He used a student cast and crew to shoot and help with the post and I supervised the visual effects and post pipeline.

Please read this before continuing.

Mike cut the film with Premiere Pro CC. The majority of the shots required greenscreen removal and replacement backgrounds (visual effects shots). Previously, I mentioned that I wanted to trim the clips to make it easier to distribute the shots to my students.

Making New Footage and Checking the Edit

The edit was exported as AAF and imported into Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve 10. In Resolve, I then rendered the entire timeline as new individual clips (ProRes 422 HQ) with unique names for each shot, 36 frame handles, and an XML (old FCP style). All was well until Resolve tried to do anything with the sound effects. It did not like the mp3s Mike used and it stopped the rendering process. It took a little while to realize that was what was happening so I finally deleted them and it finished the process. I needed it to finish so it would also create the XML based on the newly rendered footage. The XML was imported into the same PPro project as the original edit. I then copied and pasted the new version in an upper track of a copy of the original sequence. Next, I set the opacity of the upper track to 50% by copying and pasting attributes to all clips. Then, I went through each cut to make sure they all aligned. The only issues were in the shots that had speed changes – the in and out points and the speed was off. Resolve gives different options for dealing with speed changes on import and I probably could have figured out where it should be set for an AAF coming from PPro, but I was too far gone for that. Instead, I just fixed the I/O and speed %s.

With everything looking good, I then assigned the vfx shots to my students.

Visual Effects

My students did the lion’s share of the effects using After Effects, which generally needed; greenscreen extraction and some cleanup with masks, and spill suppression; comp a background plate and potentially some stabilization; and comp window grunge. The hardest and/or left-over shots were done by me, which ended up being about 7 or so. We did not do any color matching between foreground and background plates.

Instead, the students exported two clips. The first was the foreground combined with the window grunge with alpha exported as a ProRes 4444. The second was the background as a ProRes 422 HQ Quicktime. We all had to make sure that the final renders of the foregrounds had the exact same name as the greenscreen footage (shot clip rendered from Resolve and checked in PPro previously) so they would go back into the edit properly.

Final Compositing and Color Matching

Foreground + Background = Composite in Resolve

Foreground + Background = Composite in Resolve

I exported the checked edit from Premiere Pro via XML (worked fine since it had no merged clips) and imported it into a new Resolve project. Next, I brought in the background clips. I was hoping that the editing tools in Resolve would make it easy enough to add the background clips on a new track under the foreground clips. It was doable, but Resolve’s viewer panel had no keyboard shortcuts for making In and Out points that I could figure out in the time I had set aside. I needed to put I/O points at 36 frames from the head and tail of each clip.

So I went back to PPro and imported the background footage and went shot by shot, adding the background clips. Process = Double-click the clip from the project browser so it goes to the viewer > press “home” key > “+” > “36” > “I” > “end” > “-” > “36” > “O” > drag to sequence. Rinse and repeat for each clip. I also checked to make sure each foreground shot aligned with the original edit. In 3 cases, my students had changed the length of the clip because their AE work area was longer than the clip. I just changed I/O points rather than re-rendering.

Had there been any more shots, I would have automated that somehow via text editing an XML, or writing some tool.

BTW, I checked to make sure the composite was going to work while in PPro. Turns out that the alpha mode needed to be changed from premultiplied to straight (or the other way – can’t remember), but Premiere Pro does not have the option to change alpha type. The docs said they leave it up to the writer of the importer. I thought that was BS for sure.

Anyway, I exported to XML again and got the sequence into Resolve. Resolve has the tools to change alpha mode and all was well. Michael Xiques, one of our students, then took the project and color graded the foreground and background of each shot using the regular tools Resolve has to offer. All was well.

Final Post

Mike did his titles in PPro and exported them as footage to bring into Resolve. Tyler Hutchins, another one of our students, did the final audio mix. By this point everything seemed to be under control so I wasn’t involved much. Mike told me later that they got the mixed audio into Resolve and everything seemed fine in the interface, but when they rendered, the audio and video went out of sync. I never got a chance to see what could have caused that. They exported the picture from Resolve and married it with the audio in PPro and everything was fine when exported from there.

Conclusions

Learning curve

The edit was Mike’s first with Premiere Pro and the first for me to deal with in a post pipeline that involved multiple people. I ended up putting a lot of hours into how best to move it around between PPro, AE, and Resolve. Mike and Michael also had to learn Resolve essentially from scratch. The biggest issue they ran into was wrapping their head around the idea that there was no project file in the same way they have project files for PPro, AE, FCP7, etc. They couldn’t move their work to different computers at will like they were used to. We had to learn to export a project and re-import it on another computer.

We also learned that Resolve needs good hardware to run. Our newest lab of 27″ i7 iMacs ran everything just fine, but as we moved the project to other older hardware, Resolve became unusable.

RTFM Moments

When I prepared the project for Michael to pick up and work with from his own hard drive I had to learn Resolve’s version of re-connecting media. It does not do it like a typical NLE. Instead of just telling it where to look for footage in any arbitrary folder, it expects the folder/directory structure to never change. Once I figured out what it wanted, I was able to move the project to different drives as needed. I hope that v. 11 offers more than “change source folder” or whatever they call it now – they’ve changed the tool’s name a couple of times without actually changing the functionality.

Conforming a new version of an edit to an existing graded edit is not as easy as Apple’s Color IMHO. Once I really get my head around the options available to move the color grade from one version of an edit to a new version in Resolve then all will be well. Luckily, the only time we ran into the issue of work started on one edited sequence needing to be moved to another, only a few shots had actually been colored. We decided to just save stills on those shots and then re-apply the grade in the newer edited sequence.

Going Forward

I am really excited about the upcoming version 11 of Resolve. After watching some of the videos from Blackmagic’s website, I feel like most of the issues I had are now taken care of in the new version. It’s supposed to be available sometime this month (June ’14). For projects that several artists have their hands on, it makes a lot of sense to finish it with Resolve. Depending on the NLE features coming up, it may make a lot of sense to start with Resolve… Now if they will only let you turn off the clip thumbnails in the Edit tool.

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