|Creativecow.net Training Product Review
©2006Alex Alexzander and Creativecow.net. All rights are reserved.
In this article, Creativecow's Alex Alexzander takes a thorough look at Inside Avid Xpress Pro hosted by Steve Bayes and published by Digital Media Training Series.
What's included on the DVD-ROM
Magnet Media has finally entered the Avid tutorial market. I've reviewed many Magnet Media trainers in the past, and I have watched how Magnet Media has strived to better itself over time. Their interfaces have become the best in the industry, and I mean that quite seriously. The instructors have always been top notch. It has quite literally been my pleasure to watch so many of the training materials they produce.
For the last decade I have used well over 150 training materials to learn applications from Quark 3.3 and Illustrator 6 all the way up to Adobe Photoshop CS, and Quark 6.5. I have read well over 500 instructional books, and at one point, carried as many as 39 vendor certifications.
About a year ago I watched several trainers from Avid, and I noted how well made they were. The lessons seemed better to me than the lessons I had watched in the past. It takes a special person to really drive a point home, because it is very difficult just to teach the software, and the use of the tools that software provides, let alone teach someone how and why to think about a tool's use in a certain way. Yet, that's exactly what these Avid lessons were doing. Color correction wasn't some purposefully ruined image shown for the sake of then correcting what was artificially damaged. Instead it was real-world, and the lesson was real-world. Soon I found myself recommending these lessons to friends, and others, as I am often asked if there are good color correction tutorials out there, and if so, which do I recommend?
It's not easy to tell someone that this book of 700 pages and this lesson of 8 hours are the two tools that will take them from zero to expert. Even a little scarier is the thought of making such recommendation on a larger scale, as I do with Creative Cow. Because of this, I always define what I will review. I'm asked to review books, DVDs, and software constantly, but rather than accepting these, I spend most of my review time begging certain companies for a reviewer's copy because I believe the products these companies have can make a difference. I want to review only what I believe will make a difference. If it is a poor product, and one that has little chance of making a difference, why spend the time it takes to write a review? That has never made sense to me.
Magnet Media had a lot to compete with in this trainer. My expectations were set to the highest of quality standards, as Avid themselves offer their own video-based lessons, and I rank those as the highest in quality in the industry. So how well did Magnet Media do on their first entry into the Avid market? Well, that's what you're about to find out.
What's included on the DVD-ROM
In the trainer's introduction you are taken through each of the many areas of the DVD-ROM. Of particular note is the use of thumbnails to display what the major sections cover in a visual way. The section headings and the sub-topics are quickly shown, giving you both an audio / visual representation of what each of these major sections covers. I think of this introduction as a visual card-catalog of the entire DVD. You will be able to quickly decide which area is most interesting to you, and then direct your attention to that specific area.
I often find myself flipping through manuals, looking for a visual representation of the information I am looking for. If that fails, I then use the index. In this case, Steve Bayes has included the visual cues needed for quick visual inspection into what areas exist, so that I may find what I am looking for, without skipping all over the DVD.
Steve Bayes gives an excellent fifty-thousand-foot view of the interface, starting a project, creating bins, and definition of the editing process. This is like someone taking you aside and explaining to you what the scope of the editing process entails. It's preparation for all the sections that will follow.
Also included in the Introduction is a quick overview of the Avid Mojo. You'll understand exactly what this hardware accelerator adds to the Avid Xpress Pro software. You'll understand the use of FireWire, Analog, and Component Inputs, as well as the formats each of these input types will offer.
Orientation and Basic Functions
One of the features of the Avid is the use of both private and shared projects. The first time you use the Avid this might confuse you as to what the differences really are. All the basics from the Project window to the use of bins, media, and sequences are covered.
The very first time you edit, you will learn the difference between the splicing, and overwriting in the timeline. As you learn these differences, Steve Bayes expands into the areas of sync, which is a good topic at this time because it also shows you how to work with just audio, or just video, and how these two modes can affect sync. For beginners, this is likely the very first problem they encounter, and understanding sync, splice, and overwrite will empower the new user to edit with ease and with the knowledge to translate their ideas into the edited timeline reality.
The basic function areas also cover how to restore a project from the Attic. This is a feature many remain unaware of until they really need it, and then this simple feature becomes a source of confusion in your time of need. Watching this section will give even experienced users a walk-through in project restoration.
One of the hallmarks of the Avid is of course the ability to customize just about anything in the interface. While this might not be important as you are beginning to learn the Avid, keep this section in mind as tasks become repetitive, and you begin to refine your workflow. Pretty soon, you'll look for ways to assign functions to keystrokes, and the answers are right here in the basic functions section.
Working with the timeline shows off some great tips for how to quickly and precisely move clips within the timeline. If you are used to other editing systems, this is likely a confusing area for you. This section is simple, fast, and very effective in what you learn. Though the strokes are broad, the lesson learned is universal. You'll find these simple techniques are useful for all kinds of editing tasks you'll use later on.
You will learn how to drag and drop a clip exactly where you want it in the timeline. How to move it, shift it, select it, delete it, and keep things in sync the entire time. Learn how to get the best of both worlds with Snap to functions, which allow you to snap to edit points, and the timeline, either by default, or by keystroke for greater flexibility and control over your timeline editing.
Trimming is perhaps the feature that separates the novice from the experienced user. Perhaps it's only my opinion, but I feel that trimming is the feature that truly shows the experience of the editor. As you refine the editing for both efficiency and flow, you will find that there is a real use for a rough cut, and that trimming is the vehicle that transforms the rough cut into the final cut.
Subtracting from a clip, and shifting a clip's in and out point takes precision control, and Avid provides those controls. The best way to learn the how and the why of these controls is to see them in action and to use them yourself in practical example. Watch when a certain tool is used, and why it was used, and what results that tool is capable of providing. Then use them yourself with the supplied footage, and drive the lesson home so that it is added to both your knowledge and your experience. You'll recognize when you need these tools later on and will be able to use these tools to attain exactly the edit you know is there, but isn't exactly obvious.
In the Advanced Basics section, you begin to learn about some of the less obvious tools you will need to both enhance your edits and create better workflows. The quick transitions here are outstanding. As Steve Bayes shows off how to quickly place and remove a transition, he also takes the time to show off some of the variant ways to use these tools. The film dissolve explanation was an especially nice touch. Equally thoughtful is the description of the Match Frame tool, and how to modify it with the Command Palette.
For anyone still capturing one clip at a time, it's time to look into sub-clips. Here you will learn about sub-clips, how to map a key for sub-clips, and how to consolidate your sub-clips, which will free up hard drive space and yield the same benefit as capturing smaller clips, but without the hassle of forethought.
Rounding out this section is a great overview of using the locators, and the clipboard. I had started using locators combined with meta tracks to define chapters in DVD projects, but I can see a few more uses for locators after watching this section now.
Customizing the Timeline
This section is a must watch for everyone. Avid is famous for allowing you to customize almost everything. One place where customizing really makes a tremendous difference is the timeline itself. I have modes that show the sample plot, and modes that do not. One displays the timeline more quickly than the other. But it makes a difference to the type of editing you happen to be doing. I have an entire array of buttons to the left side of my timeline, and without them, I feel a little lost. At some point in time, you start to decide what would be convenient for you given a certain situation, and that's where customization comes into the mix.
Watch and see what is possible with the timeline. If you're new to this application, let this information sink in. Before you know it, you'll be customizing Avid to your liking, and finding it better and faster than the defaults provided.
Audio is perhaps the area most neglected. There is plenty the average person can do with audio right inside the editor. One of the features easily missed without formal training is how to set a global level across cuts in the timeline in any given track. You will learn this technique here, and many others. You will learn how to pan your audio quickly, use filters, and solo, multi-solo, and view sample levels.
One of the areas covered here is something I have seen asked on many forums, which is how to change the audio sample rate. As you capture footage from various sources, at some point you will run into a situation where some audio needs to change to the project sample rate. Again, you're covered here. There are six sub-lessons just for audio in this section, and all of them are worth watching.
The capture section starts with how to consider the names of the bins, and what role in terms of organization these bins will play in a well-organized structure. As capture is likely one of the most often used tools, this section is likely one you are familiar with already. There are, however, some great tips here. And for those new to Avid, the capture tool is loaded with features that are very easily missed when you don't take the time to see what this panel has to offer. The one panel for example can be used to batch, or just start recording. You also have batch capture features, and Mojo users have even more options.
One area many people could use extra help with is the decompose tool. This capture section is actually seven lessons, broken down into every basic strategy and workflow needed to master the capture tool.
If you're like me, you likely started with Adobe Photoshop many years ago, and everything else is alien gibberish to you. That was my feeling the first time I used the Avid title tool. It really helps to have someone walk you through the features and explain exactly how this little application actually works.
There are two title tools with newer Avid Xpress Pro systems: the older tool, which is simply called the title tool, and then the newer tool, called Marquee. The Digital Media Training tutorials do not cover Marquee at all. Instead, it's a separate training DVD-ROM from Artfxual, which I'll review soon.
While there are an incredible number of ways to add titles to your timeline, all of them offering strengths and weaknesses, the title tool is perhaps the fastest of them all. It's highly available, simple to use, and basic in its process. It's worth knowing this tool, and it can produce some very good results with a little attention to detail.
Do you consider yourself an advanced user? This section and those that follow it are for you. The basic effects section alone is seven lessons long, and close to an hour of effects, key-framing instruction, nesting, rendering, using 3D effects, and even motion effects.
The effects editor is both powerful and a little on the complex side until you understand its method. Avid has an entire book devoted to this subject, which is also part of your online library that came with your Avid.
Watching this section will give you a huge jump-start into understanding Avid effects editing.
The art of color correction is perhaps the hardest single feature to use effectively. In order to truly benefit from this section, you'll need a calibrated studio monitor. In addition to that, you'll find so many terms you likely have heard of, but do not truly understand. Ask anyone editing with low-cost editors what the definition of luminance is, and when you would need to use it for color correction, and they'll likely guess or give you a questionable response. This section is basic and general, but very good. There are entire books devoted to this topic, but I have often found that almost every single source of learning color correction doesn't dive deeply enough to bridging the gap between the controls offered, and the deficiency of the color in the image you are trying to correct.
Steve Bayes to date has the best instruction I have seen yet in this area. It is easy to follow and you begin to see the effects color correction can have on the clip. It may even help to write down on a sheet paper the definitions of each of the words associated with color correction to set in your mind a deeper understanding of which tool to use in which situation. I recommend using Google as a tool to find these definitions. Then go back to the lessons, and watch how shifting the properties of hue, saturation, brightness and contrast, as well as using the curves Avid is known for, can correct, stylize, and set the mood to the clips you're working with. Watch the effects on the scopes to see how your changes affect the scopes, because at that point, you start to understand how to truly read these scopes.
This is an excellent section, and though it could have more depth, it does cover the tools quite well. The examples are well chosen. You see how different, but similar clips need to be dealt with in different ways, and why this is true. It's a real-world example, and well chosen.
Bins and Organizing Your Project
If it has to do with bins, super bins, bin views, or even finding the bin then this section is for you. New users should explore this section as often as needed, because bins are the interface in which we find our media.
Of special note is the Find Bin feature. If you love Match Frame, and never heard of Find Bin, it's basically a way to find the bin the clip is located in; of course, when the option key is used. Those are the kinds of tips you will find in this section. There are good items of note here, which you should be aware of as you expand beyond the novice level.
Avid's media management has been called best in the industry by pretty much everyone. Understanding this media management system is a huge advantage to you. Managing media will help you better manage your hard drives, your projects, your sharing of projects, and your ability to archive and make changes later on.
This is quite simply a required section. You'll understand where the media goes, how to find it, and how to maximize the space you have to capture, edit, and store, as well as solve basic problems that might arise as a result of poor media management. It's broken down into four simple sections, each giving you expert overview of the features you need to know about.
Importing and Exporting
A simple, and yet often confused topic with Avid editors is how to import graphics. This section deals with this topic, as well as exporting for the web, and for DVD authoring. Steve Bayes gives a detailed explanation for each of the import settings and when to use them and in what combinations. This really takes the guesswork out of bringing in graphics from applications such as Adobe Photoshop.
The exporting to web and DVD tutorial delivers a solid foundation into which templates to use, and why, and what many of the options mean and when to select RGB vs. 601. This entire section is a good idea for anyone involved in electronic media distribution.
Output to Tape
Here you will learn to create color bars, generate tone, and set up a digital cut. A digital cut is Avid's nick-name for laying off to tape. This is yet another feature that isn't always obvious to the novice. The instruction here will save you time and show you the right way to handle this task.
Steve Bayes has over ten years of teaching experience. I have watched a few of his training DVDs over the last year, and one of the things that impresses me most is his ability to teach you to think like an editor. While many tutorials are happy to show off the tools, and how to use them, Steve Bayes is a cut above, as his attention to detail really shows. The lessons do not feel rushed. He could have focused less than he did in a few areas, but instead he decided to show you everything.
There are so many sections here, and I strongly considered cutting this review in half. I often write a review once, and then cut out more than 50% of it in the interest of saving space, and keeping it short and sweet, so as not to lose the reader in a very long review. But in this case, the lessons are all so well thought through, that I didn't want to miss comments to any of these sections. There is simply no wasted energy in this DVD-ROM. I can say that every single section and every tutorial in every section is well worth your time.
I can't think of a better value in terms of Avid training. I have been quite happy to pay $99 for 2 hours of Avid training from the Avid store because each and every time I have invested in such lessons, I have always felt that they go beyond the lessons I have used in the past for various applications. Avid lessons have always been more than a software feature overview. They have been about how to think about your cut. When I saw that Steve Bayes was scheduled to do an Avid tutorial for Magnet Media, I felt my eyebrows hike up. I decided I had to watch this, and had to review it, and I had high expectations for it, which is a bad way to walk into a review. It sets a bar often too high for the instructor to hit, let alone clear as easily as Steve Bayes has done.
With over seven and half hours of instruction, and every novice and many advanced features explored, this is without a doubt the DVD-ROM that goes above and beyond expectation. If you're starting out with Avid Xpress Pro for the first time, consider this required viewing.
5 extremely happy cows.
Copyright 2006 Alex Alexzander and the Creative Cow.
All Rights Reserved.