At the start of the annual tradeshow for broadcasters, NAB 2013, Adobe is revealing the next generation of their professional video and audio products: Adobe Story, Prelude, Premiere Pro, Audition, After Effects, SpeedGrade and Media Encoder. The company is clearly embracing the market for video production and is ever more committed to delivering value to pros from pre to post - and then some. ReelSEO got a sneak peek at the new features.
Disclaimer: as a freelance cameraman & editor the author is a member of the Adobe PreRelease Program, which means getting access to versions of the programs prior to their official release date. Other than the ability to use the suite, neither the author nor this site are paid by Adobe to promote this software.
These are exciting times for filmmakers. What once used to be a conservative industry, has evolved into a dynamic marketplace where the only constant is that everything changes. Analogue film is slowly but surely dying and digital has taken over. New cameras are coming out faster than production companies (or rental houses) can write them off. Beyond any doubt, "4K" is the new buzzword at NAB 2013 in Las Vegas, where 90,000+ broadcast and film professionals will gather between 6 and 11 April. Although manufacturers stumble upon each other with new innovations and announcements, the shelf lives of individual products are being prolonged through firmware updates (RED, Sony, ARRI). Some hardware companies are even treading waters into a rent-as-you-need business models.
In the cloud
Software companies, meanwhile, are busy moving their business to the cloud. Adobe offers an anything-you-need access-model to their apps (the new name for programs) on its Creative Cloud (CC). Aside from getting access to the latest versions of all apps, Adobe is keen on adding value to this proposition. A good example is the December acquisition of Behance Network, now part of the Adobe Family of products and services. Full CC members get a free Behance ProSite, which constitutes an annual value of $100.
One common misconception with Creative Cloud is that all apps reside online and that you need to edit-with-your-browser. This is not true. The Adobe Suite programs (apps) continue to run locally, as does your media. You only need to connect to the Internet once a month so that the servers can check whether or not your CC subscription is still valid. One license allows you to install the apps on two computers, for example a laptop and a workstation. The added value of being part of the cloud is that you can more easily share/store/test your creations and/or co-operate with others online.
Next Pro Video Apps
In short, Adobe has made a firm commitment to those that create. From concept to delivery, the next versions of their suite apps - at least those used for video and film production - do deliver on that promise. Let's run through the major new features per program, in sequential order of a typical production, from Adobe Story to Adobe Speed Grade. My main focus in this article is on Premiere Pro, as this is the application that I rely on the most in my typical editing workflow.
Before we dive in, let's briefly touch upon an interesting development that will turn working in the cloud into a viable option for video and film professionals. Although not yet officially launched, Adobe Anywhere for Video promises to enable users with a collaborative workflow platform to work together, using centralized media, across virtually any network. All of the apps are ready for use with Adobe Anywhere when it launches.
Unlike many other screen writing applications (Final Draft, FadeIn) and somewhat like Celtx, Adobe Story is BOTH a script writing tool and a set of production scheduling/management tools, optimized for use with Creative Suite for Video apps. Even as Adobe continues to offer the Story Free edition, the true value of this program lies in its ability to take the script and its metadata all the way through a production pipeline: from shot lists to production reports & schedules, Adobe Story Plus provides everything needed for a collaborative effort, which most any broadcast or film production is.
As a script owner, you can assign different roles to people with Adobe Story, from co-authors to writers, reviewers and readers. Since everything syncs through Creative Cloud, everyone is - digitally - on the same page.
What's cool about the latest edition of Story Plus is that it allows for the use of tags. As an example, the line "Chris's apartment was a mess, but Jo found a place to perch" can be tagged for the word 'mess'. After all, the consequence of this line is that on the day of the shoot, the Props Department needs to arrange for the location to include stacks of loosely arranged papers and CDs, a pile of dirty laundry and a sink full of dirty dishes. Such items would be included in a separate breakdown report, which, through the tagging option is then associated to the right place inside the script.
The most recent changes can be followed on the Story blog. In terms of integration with the next versions of Prelude and Premiere Pro is the ability to open up a Story pane, which allows you to keep track of the script as you work your way through the production pipeline.
For now, the integration with mobile devices for Adobe Story is limited. As far as I know, Adobe only offers an app optimized for the iPhone, which is a waste of Retina High Density Pixels on the latest edition of the iPad. What I would still like to have, however, is the ability to write/edit scripts, edit production reports and adjust shot lists from mobile devices, such as FinalDraft (expensive) or FadeIn (affordable) already offers. My best guess, however, is that this will come soon.
For a typical production, I use multiple cameras of different makes. Once my shooting day is done, I usually end up in my office (or my hotel room) backing up files to multiple hard drives. Over time, due to a lack of tools, I have developed my own workflow, which involved either using Total Commander or Adobe Bridge for renaming the files, so they reflect the date and the camera shot on. For example, MVI_0001.Mov becomes 20130404_5D1_001.Mov. Although this is less prevalent with MXF cameras like the C300 (which uses a pretty unique file name), the C100 or DSLRs have a tendency to use identical file name structures. Trust me, the last thing you want happening in your workflow is having to relink multiple assets that all start with the same name, e.g. MVI_0001.Mov.
Starting with CS6, Adobe PreLude promised to be just that - a logging and transfer app for Adobe workflows. Although I did use it on a few projects, I did sorely miss the renaming-upon-ingest option when copying the assets to my various drives. Not having this renaming option, reduced the value of PreLude to a rough cutting app for me.
With the next version of PreLude, Adobe has - once again - listened to its users and fixed this problem. As you can see from the image, it's now easy to create unique file names for each media card that enters your project. And because you can save them as Presets, it speeds up things as well.
It is these and other new features that make PreLude an ideal companion for logging, transfer & rough cutting. Chances are it will be the default start of my next projects.
Other new features in PreLude include:
- Hover scrubbing thumbnails in the Project panel
- Creation of metadata templates which ensure that key information is always added.
- Export rough cuts directly through Adobe Media Encoder to share your cut with colleagues or the client.
- Collaborate in new ways with your team with new support for Adobe Anywhere and Adobe Story screenwriting and production scheduling software.
On a final note, it's also interesting to see what Red Giant Software is doing with their new program Bullet Proof, which will be shown first at NAB as well. It promises to do something similar like PreLude, although they also include first-pass color correction and seem to focus more on conforming footage to be transcoded to a single type of codec (e.g. Quicktime) for use further down the line.
Adobe Premiere Pro
My choice of NLE since CS4. Unlike other NLEs, Premiere Pro works with all sorts of codecs (from GoPro to RED/ARRI Alexa cameras and anything in between). And thanks to the power of the Mercury Playback Engine, there's hardly any need to transcode footage either - just import it and drag & drop it to the timeline. One exception applies for me, and that is the use of long running interviews recorded in .mts format (such as the Canon C100 records to). Short clips are OK, but long ones do impair responsiveness. So, those I transcode first.
For Mercury Playback Engine to really shine, fast systems with SSDs, lots of memory and nVidia cards (for its propietary CUDA technology) are preferred, although the next version of this engine is further optimized for its counterpart, OpenCL (which Mac users will appreciate).
The first thing that strikes you is that the interface of Premiere Pro has been cleaned up, streamlined if you will, even further. Uncluttered, just the way I like it.
One cool new feature I like a lot is the ability to Paste Attributes from one clip to the next. Once you've copied the settings from one clip into memory, you can choose Paste Attributes to apply to a different clip,
either from the right-click menu on the clip, or through the shortcut CTRL/CMD+ALT+V. Next, a pop-up window prompts you to determine which attributes you'd like to copy over, which may include video or audio effects. Very neat, indeed.
This Paste Attributes feature is part of what Adobe likes to call Editing Finesse, a range of improvements that are destined to improve the rhythm of editing and make the app get out of the way as much as possible.
Link & Locate
As mentioned above under the PreLude item, keeping track of your footage can be a daunting task if your workflow involves material exchanges on multiple computers and/or platforms. If you haven't adhered to the rules of proper housekeeping during log & transfer, the new Link & Locate feature in Premiere Pro may proof to be your get-out-of-jail card.
As soon as a clip inside the project has been moved outside of Premiere Pro, a pop-up appears that asks you to determine where the file might have gone to. If you don't know, just use the search function on any of your drives and Premiere Pro quickly scans and, if available, finds the file again.
Lumetri Deep Color Engine
The Lumetri Deep Color Engine Browser is a handy palette to quickly gauge and apply looks to your footage. My favourite color grading plugin still is Red Giant's Looks and this feature seems to be inspired by the simplicity of that approach (although I usually start from scratch and rarely use the baked-in looks). The main difference, of course, is that you use Adobe SpeedGrade to define and adjust those specific Looks. These looks can be added to individual clips or adjustment layers (which may span as many clips as you'd like). Also, you can stack them as effects, although I haven't found out how you can adjust their parameters in SpeedGrade or the level at which they are applied (strengths) in Premiere Pro.
Another interesting new feature is the support for Closed Captioning inside Premiere Pro. Either using the broadcast standards CEA-608 or Teletext, you can now easily create closed captions inside PPro. These can be baked in with the export, or saved out as a separate sidecar file. The export includes several formats (Scenarist .scc, MacCaption .mcc, W3C/SMPTE/EBU .xml and EBU N19 .stl).
For Closed Captions to be visible, you have to activate it first using the settings menu in the Source and/or Program monitor windows. It took me a while to figure this out (the PreRelease programs do not have Help Features).
Next, you can activate the Captions Pane from the Window Menu. At first everything appears to be greyed out, until you create a new Closed Caption file through the File Menu. Adobe could have included a Create New button inside the Captions Pane.
Being based in Europe with 25 fps as the standard for my shoots and edits, the Scenarist standard (.scc) does not work for me (29,97 fps only). Also, since I primarily produce content for use online, I am surprised that the popular SubRip (.srt) format is not supported. Luckily for me, YouTube now supports the import of several of the professional broadcast standards as well. Since the use of Closed Captions is one of the factors for video SEO on YouTube, this new feature is more than welcome. No more fiddling with the Titler inside PPro or meddling with external software (I used Subtitle Workshop or the Caption editor tab in YouTube). Furthermore, I'm curious to learn if this is also supported with the next version of Adobe Encore for the ocassional BluRay or DVD I burn for my clients.
Overall, lots of good things in the next version of Premiere Pro. Nonetheless, there are still a few notable things on my wish list:
- Project Manager
This tool can be used to archive your projects, either with trimmed footage (with handles) or copied in full to a desired location. One of the key benefits of using Premiere Pro is that you can dynamically link content from After Effects. However, these comps (and their associated files) are not included in the export. Any imported Photoshop or Illustrator files are included, but the After Effects .aep/.aepx files are not. So if you're not careful (it happened to me), this can easily lead to big holes in your project which you considered so safely archived. The Project Manager should be more intelligent and source and gather all associated content within a project.
- Background saving
When you get into the rhythm of editing, you do multiple things at once and the last thing on your mind is to frequently hit CTRL/CMD+S to regularly save your work. Sure, you can set Premiere Pro to automatically save your work, but the prompt kinda breaks the flow. Without a doubt, the stability of Premiere Pro has improved dramatically since CS4 (I guess the change from 32-bit to 64-bit and Mercury Playback Engine helped a lot), but the whole saving-thing should be a taken under the hood, as is the case with Avid. Come on now, Adobe, let us be up there on our little creative cloud in editing heaven and let the program worry about mundane tasks such as a proper background save. We still need those undo/redo's, but saving is a task we gladly leave up to you...
- Rulers & guidelines
Although Premiere Pro is not made for compositing (use After Effects instead), many Adobe Programs (e.g. Ae, Ps, Ai, Id) provide the possibility to show rulers (CTRL/CMD+R) in any given window, from which you can easily drag guidelines, to which you can 'snap' your footage/files. This is missing in Premiere Pro. In some edits, you like to create multiple layers of video, cropped/scaled to specific areas of the edit. Ever tried to position 9 scaled-down video layers as a transitional effect? It's a drag in Premiere Pro.
- Match footage when nesting
A great thing about Premiere Pro is its ability to use Warp Stabilizer as a native effect (instead of having to roundtrip to After Effects). However, if you set up a project with a non-standard size (I like to give some of my projects a cinematic feel by creating sequences with dimensions of 1920x816 pixels, adhering to the 2:35 to 1 film aspect ratio), when applied, Warp Stabilizer prompts that the footage needs to match the sequence. If you think about nesting the clip and applying Warp there, PPro does not actively ask you if you want to match the nested sequence to the original footage. Only when you drag & drop the clip to a new sequence (which automatically matches the sequence to the footage), you can apply Warp and then place the this sequence inside your edit.
Adobe continues to evolve this application into a serious alternative to industry standards such as Avid's ProTools. For me, this is my go-to app for editing audio. As I've mentioned before, I grew up with Adobe Audition (or: Cool Edit Pro as it was called then).
Somewhat to my surprise (read: disappointment), however, the next version of Audition still is not ready for full-fledged dynamically linked roundtrips with Premiere Pro, akin to the awesome method used between After Effects and Premiere Pro (which is super responsive and fully non-destructive). Instead, you still have to use the context-menu option "Edit Clip in Adobe Audition", which then renders out a new file and appends the suffix 'Audio Extracted' to the file name. This then opens the clip in the Single Waveform Editor in Audition, which means you cannot add additional layers of audio or apply effects non-destructively.
As long as you keep the audio file open in Audition when you're making changes to this single audio clip (i.e. no multi-track editing), they immediately commit in Premiere Pro, but as soon as you close out, the dynamic link is gone. Instead, if you decide afterwards that the clip needs a little more EQ or Reverb, you can only choose the "Edit Clip in Audition"-feature again, leading to exotic file names such as "MVI_0001 Audio Extracted Audio Extracted.wav" (and so on) in your project. Kinda messy.
Instead, you want to be able to open the clip inside Audition with a choice to open it either in the Waveform Editor or as a new Multitrack (akin to a Composition in After Effects). Choosing the latter, you can add multiple layers of sound and effects to them. The benefit of the Multitrack editor in Audition, of course, is that everything that happens there is non-destructive as you save changes inside the Audition Session, or .sesx file (as opposed to the Single Waveform editor).
You can export a Multitrack mix as individual stems from Audition to Premiere Pro (or instead send off a Premiere Project to Audition), but that's only partially useful, not full dynamic linking as we know and love it. If you accept Audition as your audio work horse, then you adjust your edits there. This is akin to adjusting Comps in After Effects: when you have a dynamically linked comp from After effects in your timeline, choosing Edit Original under the context menu will open the comp in Ae for additional adjustments. However, the Session files (.sesx) that Audition creates still cannot be imported into Premiere Pro. Truly dynamic linking means you can open it, close it and then some. So please, Adobe, fix this, once and for all.
Ok, enough criticism: on to what I do like about the next version of Audition.
Oh my, how I love this new feature!
When doing precision work in Audition, you frequently reach for the '+' or '-' keys on your keyboard or the OSD buttons with your mouse. Thanks to new Preview Editor split-screen pane, you can select from the top window and see details at the bottom. Also, before committing to an effect you instantly see the results in this new pane. Thank you, Adobe.
The new Sound Remover tool works somewhat like the Noise Reduction effect that we have come to know and love in Audition. Simply select a sample of the unwanted sound; Sound Remover will scan the entire clip and remove that element from the recording. Another tool to repair or restore dialogue and production audio.
The Pitch Bender effect has been revamped. It now works realtime and with the ease of the Preview Editor, you can immediately see & hear the results before committing to it.
The next Audition also includes a number of other features, some of which may be more or less important, depending on how you use the program:
- ITU loudness metering
The integrated ITU Loudness Radar, licensed from TC Electronics, allows you to check specific requirements of different countries
- Editable Actions in the Favorites panel
Much like you may be used to the Actions panel inside Photoshop, you can now easily change parameters inside recorded macros (or actions), without having to re-record.
- Enhanced multitrack editing
Through the use of color coding per track lane, the Multitrack Editor now makes it easier to distinguish tracks.
The de facto standard for visual effects, After Effects, also features some interesting improvements in its next installment. Although After Effects not a full 3D application, but "2.5D" as afficionados like to call it. You can achieve some amazing visual effects with the program but the environment still functions in 2D space.
Live 3D Pipeline
With the 3D-ish effects like Extruded Text and the 3D Camera Tracker that Adobe introduced with CS6, the program is opening up to 3D modelling applications with the next version. You can already use the terrific plugin Element from Video Copilot to animate 3D objects, but soon you'll have a live pipeline between After Effects and Maxon's Cinema 4D.
Somewhat like Element, you can adjust models in Cinema 4D Lite, which will ship with the next version of After Effects. The real power of this pipeline, however, opens up if you have both applications on your system, meaning you can do easy roundtrips between both programs. This means you can build (not just animate) 3D models in Cinema 4D and immediately see how they merge with your footage in After Effects! Genius, pure genius, my friends...
Refine Edge Tool
Another biggie is the Refine Edge Tool. After Effects already has made rotoscoping a lot less manual, but the fine edges typically remained a problem. Thanks to the Refine Edge Tool you can tell Ae how to handle difficult areas within your track, such as moving hair.
Warp Stabilizer VFX
Oh how this effect has managed to save shots in the edit ever since it was introduced by Adobe. Now an integrated effect in Premiere Pro, the Warp Stabilizer has been updated to Warp Stabilizer VFX in the next version of After Effects. This means you can now do much, much more refined stabilization, including the ability to select specific stabilization points, edit and delete them throughout time, and preserve scale to fix tricky shots such as aerial fly-throughs. Warp Stabilizer VFX also allows you to reverse stabilize, which means you can now select objects within a scene to stabilize while leaving others unstable.
Below is a quick test I did with the new Warp Stabilizer VFX effect, using my mother as a subject (thanks, Mom). I used a handheld camera to walk around her. Initially, I applied the regular Smooth Motion settings. Next I targeted the track towards her by deleting all track points around her. As you can see, this effect is really awesome!
This app still is a puzzle for me. Truth be told, I have not really gotten the chance to look and work with it in detail. Most of my projects do not have the budget for extensive color grading (with power windows, mask tracking, primaries, secondaries, etc.). You use what works for you and my weapon-of-choice for color correction and grading thus far has been the tools from Red Giant Software. I love the simplicity of Looks (as it mimics what happens in-camera) and the extensiveness of Colorista II (yes, I have used Negative Pop to smooth out wrinkles and eyelines on several women's faces).
The GUI of Speedgrade in CS6 was a major question mark to me. Perhaps this is because the application is made for professional color graders, but up until now, it's vastly different from anything we have grown accustomed to in Adobe apps.
The next version's UI has been revamped, yet I still miss Adobe-style menus or context-menus in Speedgrade. Maybe because graders use external control devices instead of their mouse, but not a single right-click menu option is to be found in this program.
Speedgrade typically follows at the very end of a production pipeline, when there's a definite, locked-off edit. I typically color correct and/or grade as I work my way through the edit, making extensive use of Adjustment layers to apply 'Looks' or effects that span one or multiple clips.
Interestingly, you can only directly 'Send to Speedgrade' from Premiere Pro, not After Effects (unless you export to DPX and then import in Speedgrade). Speedgrade works with 16-bit DPX sequences, so be prepared to have lots of hard drive space available before you send off that 30 minute interview. Each frame eats up between 6-8MB in FullHD resolution (!)
Here are a few of the new features I like (but haven't really tested out yet):
- Revamped UI
As discussed, it's vastly different, but I'm confident it will eventually get more of an Adobe look-n-feel.
- Auto-match Shots
A major part of what the art and practice of color timing involves, is color correction. Different cameras produce different results (as a result of user settings or sensor/processor differences) and for a film to feel consistent, shots need to match. This can be a tedious task and the next version of Speedgrade will make this a lot easier with a single button. Much like Warp Stabilizer was integrated in PPro after it was introduced in Ae, I really hope that we may see this technology inside Premiere Pro too. That would be awesome.
- Continuity checker
By using the 2-up or 3-up window, you can easily gauge if what you're doing is consistent from shot to shot.
Adobe for Video Reveal
So there you have it, a lot of new features in the next Adobe for Video apps. Are you excited by this reveal? What do you like and what features do you still miss? Please leave your comments below.
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