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Peter Wiggins reviews Multicam Lite

Peter Wiggins reviews Multicam Lite
Creativecow.net Product Review

Peter Wiggins reviews Multicam Lite

Peter Wiggins, United Kingdom
www.peterwiggins.com
Flick Pictures Ltd



Article Focus:
What is one of the most frequently asked questions on the Final Cut Pro forum here on Creative Cow? “What’s the best way to cut multi camera material on FCP?” Well up until now there have only been workarounds, like shrinking pictures so all are visible or even just guessing at edits using the razor blade tool to slice through multiple video tracks! In this article, Peter Wiggins reviews Multicam Lite, a custom designed realtime multicamera editing tool for use in conjunction with Final Cut Pro. This exclusive first review should give you an insight into the powerful and time saving features of Multicam Lite, along with the amazing creative freedom and effortless handling of multicamera material. We will also have a quick look at Livecut.


First a bit of condensed multi camera editing history:-

Traditionally the way any multi camera editing was done was to start with a cut from the live event or recording. This would have then been ‘polished’ by dropping in a few extra shots to cover any mistakes from a couple of cameras or a sub cut that were recorded at the same time. As VT machines became cheaper, directors started to isolate every camera to a separate VT to give them flexibility in post production.

Maybe too much flexibility as the poor old editor in a tape suite would end up spooling down tapes just to see what an event looked like from a different camera angle



Many companies have tried multicamera editing, including, in 1983, a quite bizarre machine called Ediflex that was an array of 10+ domestic VCR players all cued up to different camea angles or takes of a shot. As odd as such a machine seems now, it was built to service one market, soaps. The demand didn’t stop there though, music and sport were obvious contenders for a solution as these both go through heavy post production. Some music concerts get covered by anything up to 40 cameras so you can imagine the timesaving if disks are used as opposed to tape.


We are all familiar with the Avid and Lightworks evolution. This was an editing client landgrab; riding on the wave of technology and certainly wasn’t cheap even for single camera work. The first Avid 500mb media drives cost £9,500 each!

Although Lightworks had the first low resolution solution, Avid really cracked multicamera editing back in 1995. By digitising in “M” or multicamera resolution, four quarter sized pictures could be displayed in the source window at a time. This could then be rolled and a ‘live cut’ performed between all the camera angles. The downside was that the pictures were quite small and compressed and the show would have to be conformed at full resolution later. Avid won an Emmy in 1998 for multicamera editing.

Enter Lightworks with “Heavyworks” which was essentially a turbocharged non linear system that let you switch up to four full sized clips in realtime. It also won an Emmy for multicamera editing. Lightworks operation benefited from a using a “Steenbeck” type shuttle control and proved very popular in the film and drama market. Although Lightworks lost the nonlinear war, it did do multicamera editing very well and is still in use today. However a respected editor friend of mine who still cuts high profile music concerts using Heavyworks phoned me yesterday and asked, “It’s about time I got my head round Final Cut Pro, any ideas?”


Multicamera editing in Final Cut Pro

Up until recently, it didn’t. OK, as suggested there have been many ‘workarounds’ but that’s exactly what they were. The whole key to the problem is being able to see more than one source play at a time, the idea being never to miss a ‘good moment’ from any camera angle. Even now there are still editors who will run their edit master in sync with all the Iso (isolated) recordings one by one just to make sure nothing has been missed before the job goes out the door. Avid can now play up to 9 camera angles at once, FCP can only manage a measley one.

In November I was walking around MacExpo in London when I happened to stumble upon Digital Heaven’s stand. You might already be aware of their plugin set for Final Cut, but this wasn’t what they were exhibiting. Running in the corner was Multicam Lite, the first multicamera editing software for use with Final Cut Pro.

I used to work with Martin Baker, the Digital Heaven MD when I freelanced at TV Centre for the BBC. He knows that I’m not that easily impressed, but this is what I saw.


Footage © BBC Worldwide. All Rights Reserved. Click Graphic for larger version.

A custom realtime multicamera app with a cool GUI that interfaces with FCP via XML.

I was well impressed and so were the Apple guys who immediately got on their mobile phones to summon every other demonstrator off the Apple stand to have a look! The story doesn’t end there though, a few days after seeing Multicam Lite, another product called Livecut appeared in beta format. I’ll take a look at that later.

Exporting to Multicam Lite

There are three stages of cutting material using Multicam. The first is to get your footage into the app. Multicam Lite supports up to three camera angles, there is a plan to release Multicam Pro with more camera angles, but again more about that later.

A Final Cut Pro timeline is constructed with the three camera angles being V1, V2 and V3. Here we’ve got three angles from a performance on BBC’s Top Of The Pops.


Footage © BBC Worldwide. All Rights Reserved. Click Graphic for larger version.


The easiest way I found to sync up all the clips was to activate the timecode overlay in the canvas window, then just slip each clip accordingly. If your timecode is out, looking at the audio waveforms in detail helps sync things up nicely. Multicam supports just A1 & A2 on export, so make sure that’s where you have your main audio track or “TX audio”.


Footage © BBC Worldwide. All Rights Reserved..

The clips don’t have to be the same length but they do have to be continuous. The codecs supported in Multicam Lite are DV, DVCPRO25 and OfflineRT. You might ask why not make it codec independent? Well, just remember that you will have 3 streams playing at once; that will put 3 times the load on your storage disks. My preference would have been able to switch Multicam Lite out of ‘restricted codecs’ so that I can use 10bit uncompressed from my XserveRAID without having to recompress the footage. I do a lot of sports and haven’t got the time to transcode clips. Multicam Pro will be free from these restrictions. Digital Heaven are looking into cutting multi angle HD with the pro version, it will require a fast RAID though!

The clips don’t need to be the same length or start and finish at the same point


Footage © BBC Sport/TWI. All Rights Reserved Click Graphic for larger version.


Having synced everything up, we can now export an XML file out of Multicam Lite.



That’s all the preparation you have to do, you are now ready to run Multicam Lite!


Using Multicam Lite

Multicam Lite is a fairly ‘small’ app of about 4 meg that you can download from www.digital-heaven.co.uk The demo is a fully functioning copy except the save has been disabled. One note here is if you think a sequence that you have ‘switched’ will change the future of television coverage, you can actually ‘authorise’ Multicam Lite from within the application, so all those award winning cuts can be saved!

The beauty of Multicam Lite is its simplicity, it’s been designed to do one job and do that well. It also has probably the smallest number of items in the menu bar of any OSX application I’ve seen!

To access our clips, just open the XML file.




Multicam Lite will then load all three clips into the GUI all synced up and ready to start cutting with.


Footage © BBC Sport/TWI. All Rights Reserved Click Graphic for larger version.

The fun starts here. Press play, listen to the soundtrack and hit the 1,2 or 3 keys or click on the clips to cut between cameras; it’s as easy as that. Who said television was difficult eh? (Me at some stage of my career probably!) Joking aside, it is really that simple, something that would have taken hours in FCP now happens in realtime in Multicam Lite. You can even undo a camera cut and the timeline continues playing.

We will go into a little more operational detail though:

The GUI is split up into three main areas. The three screens at the bottom represent each track exported from FCP, V1 being on left, V2 in the middle and V3 on the right. The clip names are displayed underneath the windows. The green bar above one of the windows shows which clip is currently live, just like a monitor stack in the gallery of a TV studio or OB van. If you have clips with different start points, you may get a window that will display “No Media’ - the clip will appear in that window when the first available frame appears. Multicam Lite reads the aspect ratio data of the sequence in FCP and will automatically display the clips correctly when working in 16:9. The screen does look a bit fuller with 4:3 ‘monitors’ but I always prefer to look at material in its correct format.


Footage © BBC Sport/TWI. All Rights Reserved. Click Graphic for larger version.

At the top of the screen is the sequence area. The large image is like the canvas in FCP and will show the camera cuts in realtime in sync with the imported audio. The two smaller pictures either side of this are the headframes from the point where the cameras were switched. Although these don’t update or ripple when the sequence is playing, they are visible once the sequence is paused. They will update if you hop either way up and down, similar to finding the next edit in FCP. This is very handy as it’s always helpful ‘to know where you’re going next” to quote an old well worn television phrase.

Underneath this are the transport controls



The two buttons furthest apart jump to the head of the clips if the left is selected and the end if the right is clicked. The usual keys on a FCP keyboard to the right of the help button also perform this task. The next two slightly larger buttons hop forward and backward to the next edit, the shortcut utilising the up and down keys. The two smaller buttons next increment the timeline forward and backwards by one frame, as do the left and right keys on the keyboard. Shift-Left/Right Arrow will also move the timeline by a second just like FCP.


I know it’s obvious to say the middle button is play and that is mirrored with the space bar, what is less obvious is that clicking and dragging in the main viewer will also scroll backwards and forwards down the timeline. It is also nice to see full JKL support with Multicam Lite, you can actually flick between the cameras at off play speed; so could this be the first faster than realtime multicamera editing? It’s a shame my brain only works in realtime!

You might have wondered what the multicolour triangles are? These are the cut locators between cameras on the timeline that scroll when played. The colours refer to the colour inserts in between the headframes of the exisiting cuts so at anytime it’s easy to see where four cuts are on the timeline. We will look at this in more detail when we trim.

To the left of these controls is a bank of five buttons.



The first one toggles the audio scrubbing on/off, the second enables full screen mode. Multicam Lite does not output a switched signal to a capture card or firewire, but should you want to sit back and watch your cut without exporting back into FCP, the fullscreen mode is fairly impressive.


Footage © BBC Worldwide. All Rights Reserved. Click Graphic for larger version.

This is for viewing only so the cameras won’t cut if you try to press the number keys.
The next key ‘prerolls’ back five seconds to give you a bit of a run up, or if you come from a tape editing background, just enough time to lean over and pickup your tea!

The next two buttons are a bit more complicated; the reversed ‘square C’ replaces the current shot with the previous camera. The button with the arrow on top of the triangle extends the last shot until the place where the timeline is parked. The orange scrub bar to the right of that enables you to quickly scrub through to any point in your sequence.



On the other side, the first two buttons on the right of the scrub bar do exactly the same functions, but with the ‘incoming’ media or cuts. Lastly, the three triangles let you alter the time range that Multicam Lite views and the counter is the FCP timelime time. I would have liked to have seen some burn-in source timecode on the camera windows, but maybe this could be a feature of Multicam Pro.

One more thing to know about the GUI before we export the sequence, and that’s trimming. You can use the buttons to extend or shorten cuts as indicated above, but it would be better to see the cut being trimmed dynamically whilst playing. The trim mode is activated by clicking on any of the four colour inserts in between the viewer and preview pictures. If you scroll back to the first screen grab in the article you will see I’ve clicked on the yellow insert in between the wide shot and the close-up of the performer.


Footage © BBC Worldwide. All Rights Reserved. Click Graphic for larger version.

Look familiar? Well the trim works in exactly the same way as FCP, except that it will only slide the edit point rather than a one sided trim. This is fairly obvious as all the clips are locked in sync! You can move the cut whilst Multicam ‘plays around’ the edit point, the audio loops and stays in sync too; vital for music work. In the above example I’ve shifted the edit point back by 7 frames. There is a preference value for multiframe trims. Hitting the escape key or clicking on the orange divider returns the GUI back to the switching mode. It doesn’t stop playing when it returns to the standard layout either so you can keep cutting.

To use an old gameshow host’s catchphrase “That’s all there is to it.” Simple, quick and easy to learn. Or as my girlfriend said after spending a quarter of an hour ‘honing’ Top Of The Pops, “You guys in broadcast TV earn so much money; anyone could do this!”

Exporting back into Final Cut Pro.
When you are happy with your cut, you can either save as XML, for working on later, or send the cut list straight into FCP.

If you haven’t got FCP running, the export and generation of a new timeline will start it up. Final Cut Express does not support XML import/export so you won’t be able to use Multicam Lite.


Footage © BBC Worldwide. All Rights Reserved

The dialogue box is fairly straight forward and depends whether you want to create a new project or dump the new timeline in an existing project. You can also open the timeline up in a different resolution should you want to batch capture clips in to conform the timeline at a higher resolution. The sequences get tagged with “MCL” so not to get confused with the ‘donor’ timeline.


Footage © BBC Worldwide. All Rights Reserved. Click Graphic for larger version.

Multicamera Lite creates a new timeline but drops the cut on a new layer on top of the stack of clips. This is very handy as all the clips are available should you want to make any changes. Lets face it, find me a director who is happy with cut one of anything! An option I’d like to see would be to export the cuts back onto their original tracks, again maybe this is a feature for Multicam Pro.


Summary

Digital Heaven have written an amazing piece of software that is going to make multicamera editing with FCP a lot easier and quicker. You can tell a lot of time and effort has been put into refining the application and the GUI. This review was written using various beta versions and I didn't have a single crash; it is very stable.

There are features that I’d like to be added, some simple: such as codec independence and burnt-in timecode on the source monitors for example. There are also some more complicated enhancements: like being able to accept an XML file made up of back to back clips or being able to set a default transition other than a cut. This is Multicam Lite version 1 after all! At MacExpo London, Digital Heaven also announced there will be Multicam Pro (due Q1 2005) that will have more cameras and more features. I’m sure both versions will be very successful.

Now just as I thought Martin was going to head off for early retirement and a yacht on the South of France, an interesting website was pointed out to me:-

http://livecut.sourceforge.net/

A four clip multicamera editing application for free? It had to be unreal, but it’s not, take a look.


Footage © BBC Sport/TWI. All Rights Reserved. Click Graphic for larger version.

On initial inspection they both look similar, however in operation they are different and take a completely different approach to loading clips in. I can’t go any further though without showing you the difference in real estate utilisation. Livecut is locked to a 1024 by 768 resolution where as Multicam Lite will fill the available space. I’ve superimposed Livecut onto Multicam Lite to give you an idea of the difference.


Footage © BBC Sport/TWI. All Rights Reserved. Click Graphic for larger version.

I know which one I’d rather look at to cut on! Livecut does support 4 clips/cameras though; one up for Livecut.

To get the clips into Livecut, they have to be imported one by one and then synced manually to the main angle, or the first clip. There are no audio waveforms to help, it all seems a bit hit or miss. The biggest disappointment was when I hit play, dropped frames city! Before you point the finger at my storage, all media came off an XserveRAID by fibre channel. I also couldn’t get quick cuts any closer together than 20 frames, Multicam Lite managed 2. Sometimes Livecut ignored cuts completely.

What I do like is the “swiss cheese” display on the timeline, it helps to give an accurate graphical representation of the cuts between tracks. This split display can be exported into FCP. One thing that did puzzle me though was the accuracy of the edits, scrubbing forward frame by frame gave a different cut point to scrubbing backwards over the edit!

I also liked the fact Livecut is codec independent, so no recompressing of SD material for me. One real negative though is the bad support for 16:9 material. Yes, it can display the pictures in the correct aspect ratio in the GUI, but that’s not the problem. Should you export back to FCP, no 16:9 flags are included in the XML. This means having to go through the sequence and toggle every clip to the right aspect.

The most amazing thing about Livecut though is it’s free. To compare the two products therefore would be slightly unfair! So let me try and explain the difference with examples.

If you were shooting an event in DV with multiple cameras and wanted to kick out a quick cut of a friend’s wedding, then Livecut is fine. You will have to live with a few workarounds, it will take you longer and maybe be prepared for a few false starts, but it will do the job. It is a bit sloppy though, like advancing a few frames when it felt like it!

If you have a professionally paying multicamera shoot, then Multicam Lite is the tool.
It is precise and quick and feels a lot more robust than Livecut. Simple things such as keyboard shortcuts or snapping to cuts doesn’t seem a huge loss, but added up together they are the difference between a pro app and a prosumer app. Speed is everything in television.

But hey why take my word for it? Download the demo of Multicam Lite and Livecut for free. That’s not the end of the story though. As multicamera editing has been requested many times to Apple, who’s to know whether FCP5 will be enabled to cut multiple sources from within the app. Maybe MacWorld Expo or NAB will reveal all?

I give Multicam Lite 4 COWs out of 5, if it was codec independent I would have given it 5!



Peter Wiggins
www.peterwiggins.com

Copyright © Peter Wiggins 2005


Many thanks to the BBC for being able to use their footage.
All screen grabs by Snap Pro X











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