This probably isn’t the usual article on a piece of non-linear editing software. There will be no discussion of professional workflows and how it’s used to create broadcast television or feature films. But rather it’s a discussion of how a modest beginning, dabbling with a new piece of software and one of its signature features has grown into more than just a passing curiosity. It’s also about how that single feature drew me in to Premiere Pro CS5 and how that feature is helping keep the peace at home.
If you’re a working editor / post-production professional then you probably have a basic toolset that you use to make money. It may consist of just a single NLE or that single NLE and a composting / motion graphics application. There’s probably some plug-ins involved that help get the job done as well as an audio editor, color grading and compression or DVD authoring tool. That’s a basic suite of post tools that can get an entire edit done if you’re staying in the same box.
As editors we often get comfortable with our tools and don’t see a reason to change. Often upgrades aren’t installed or an entirely different, new and promising software package isn’t tried because it means learning something new and moving out of a comfort zone. There’s something to be said for the muscle memory that can only come from years working on the same tool and that muscle memory is often totally gone when working on a new NLE. Often upgrades and new versions might be a buggy mess causing the editor to have to revert to an earlier install to get things done. Some editors won’t upgrade until they are forced to.
I’m not one of those people. I love new tools and updates. I especially love major upgrades to my editing tools as more often than not, those upgrades add improved functionality, speed, bug fixes and workflow improvements that (hopefully) makes life easier and editing faster. I have no deep loyalty to a single company or software package as I want to use the best tool for me and for the job. My only loyalty comes in the form of a platform as I’m a Macintosh user. I’ll take the elegance and simplicity of the Mac os over a Windows offering any day. The higher cost is a price I’m willing to pay.
Now for Adobe Premiere Pro
That brings me to Adobe Premiere Pro. For years it was the premiere editing software for the Mac and I was a user back in the mid and late 90s. I specifically bought a Power Computing Mac clone with an AV rated hard drive, a Miro DC20 video capture card and a copy of Adobe Premiere 4.2 for editing a short film that was part of a scholarship application to film school. I remember upgrading to Premiere 5.0 a few years later when the interface got a drastic makeover to allow for more traditional 3-point editing that made it similar to Avid Media Composer. And then at some point after that Adobe Premiere left the Mac.
Years later it returned. I wanted to give Premiere another try so I began taking a look at Premiere Pro CS4, probably sometime in 2009. I remember liking a lot of what I saw but it was buggy and crashed a few too many times for my comfort. And there really weren’t enough compelling reasons to begin to use it on my personal projects over FCP or Media Composer. New software does have a learning curve and I choose to use personal projects as my playground for new software and to learn my way around.
So all that long-winded exposition above finally brings me to the topic at hand: Premiere Pro CS5 and how it’s helping keep the peace at home.
Fast, native editing means the videos get cut quicker
As I mentioned above, I use personal projects as a testing ground for new tools that I might want to move into my toolbox. They also provide a steady stream of footage and situations with which I can learn how to use these new tools. Some of these are more “professional” projects like an EPK or small multicam shoot where I have total control over workflow. But more often they are fun little pieces for the family. Since I have both a Canon 7D and an 18 month old the stream of footage is endless.
I know what you might be thinking: footage of your kid isn’t a proper way to test professional gear. I’ll disagree and argue it’s the perfect place to test professional gear. I can shoot any way and any where I please, dealing only with my own schedule and both the willingness and unwillingness of the toddler to be the star. These types of videos are also perfect testings grounds for workflow. I shot my wedding with 5 cameras that were randomly brought to the event be some friends. A recent retrospective combined 7D, 5D, HV20, Flip cam and footage from 3 different iPhones for one my family videos. That would be a challenge for any editing tool.
You may have noticed that in the above paragraph I didn’t mention deadlines. Your first thought (and indeed my first thought too) might be that there are no deadlines when you’re making videos of your family. Oh quite the contrary as family members want to see their loved ones as soon and often as possible (even more so if they don’t live close) and mom wants to send video links to her friends. Plus, as the video professional in the family I’m expected to make cool, fun videos of the kid, especially since I always have a camera out shooting. For those editors with children your experience may be similar. Not to mention that always steady stream of new footage so the further behind you get with one “shoot” the longer it takes to get caught up. Optimum workflow is important.
Another problem is that when working with this family footage I don’t want to have to do a lot of transcoding of media just to slap together a video. Transcoding presents two issues: One – It takes up extra hard drive space. While drives are cheap and plentiful I really don’t need extra, larger copies of everything I shoot cluttering hard drives (I’m aware of the importance of backup which we’ll get to in a moment). Two – Transcoding takes time and even an overnight batch means it’s the next day before any editing could get started.
So what’s the solution? Adobe Premiere Pro CS5 – it’s Mercury Playback engine and ease with which it can edit multiple, different formats.
It’s really the power of the Mercury Playback engine to handle native Canon 7D files that has really held my interest with PPro CS5.
The majority of what I’m shooting today is Canon 7D so PPro’s ability to handle the native H.264 footage in a usable manner means that after the footage is offloaded from CF card to media drive editing is ready to begin. I don’t miss the HDV tape capture from my Canon HV20 at all. (Anyone want to buy a used HV20 with a 35mm full film lens adapter kit?) Today I’m only slowed down by file copy time. Once that DSLR media is offloaded then editing can begin, fast and easy in PPro CS5. I don’t think I realized how much of a difference that this would make for me personally when it came to putting together a video for the family until I had the Mercury Playback engine in front of me for actual use.
The removal of that transcoding step means a shorter period of time from acquisition to edit. That means a shorter time from shooting the birthday party or weekend away to getting it uploaded to the web for family viewing. And in turn it also means a happier wife and mother (and in return a happier husband and father too) who can send a link to family and friends to see just what the baby boy has been up to.
With PPro CS5 and its ability to work independent of format and frame rate it’s easy to load up an entire day’s shooting on the Canon 7D into a project and cut right away. I do admit being lucky in that I’ve had access to NVIDIA hardware acceleration for the Mercury Playback engine in the form of the Quadro FX 4800 for Mac. The performance is staggering which I’ve detailed in a previous post on the Quadro and Premiere Pro CS5. But Mercury Playback does bring advantages without hardware acceleration so it’s still a more usable alternative for native H.264 editing than even the new Avid Media Composer 5.0 … and especially Final Cut Pro.
My kid videos tend to be music video style, fast cut to an appropriate tune (easy in, easy cutting, easy out) and then sent out to Apple Color or, more recently, DaVinci Resolve for Mac for a bit of color work before posting online. Yes, I realize how silly it might seem that a video of my kid gets finished for the web with multi-thousands of dollars worth of professional post gear but that’s what we all do right? I’ve tried to simplify things with multiple versions of iMovie and I can move a video through the pipe faster with my real gear than I’ve ever been able to with versions of that application. And as I mentioned above, the family videos are a great way to test workflows and hone post skills.
What about backup?
So what about backup you ask? It sounds like you have only a single copy of media so that’s asking for a disaster in the event of a drive crash you say? Not true as my system for personal video works like this:
Once the shoot is over I offload the CF card to my main media drive, an internal RAID in my MacPro. The H.264 video goes to its own designated folders via a manual file copy while still images are imported through Adobe Lightroom. Then that video is backed up to an external Firewire drive that keeps a mirror of the 7D H.264 movie folder. (I have a similar folder for iPhone movies) That entire 7D movie folder is then backed up to the cloud using CrashPlan. There’s currently around 250 gigs of 7D movies sitting in my CrashPlan backup. Their utility allows me to select specific folders for backup and the application keeps them in sync. Add to that a semi-monthly backup that’s made easy with an OWC dock, bare hard drives and SuperDuper and I feel pretty good about backup.
Since the camera original H.264 files are small the CrashPlan cloud backup is entirely feasible. Given that upload speeds aren’t on par with download speeds in the U.S. Internet world yet and Comcast’s monthly 250 gig limit I have no desire to backup a bunch of ProRes or DNxHD Quicktimes to the cloud.
It’s using these methods above that I feel confident that I’ll still have footage around to embarrass the boy with baby bath videos when he’s 18 and taking his date to the prom. That’s assuming there’s still hard drives, CrashPlan and the ability to even playback H.264 files. I guess that’s one advantage we video professionals have over our doctor / lawyer colleagues: we have to keep abreast of changing technology so we’ll know just what to do with our personal videos 5, 10, 20 years down the road to keep them playable with whatever changes come along. And maybe we can charge those doctors and lawyers to get their footage playable again.
All I know is right now, in 2010, Adobe Premiere Pro CS5’s Mercury Playback engine is providing a real time saver of a workflow for a lot of personal video that I’m shooting today with my Canon 7D. It’s working well in that capacity so the next step will be to get it a bit more integrated into the professional pipeline.