How Premiere Pro Will Change the Way You Work
COW Library : Adobe Premiere Pro : Matthew Lincoln : How Premiere Pro Will Change the Way You Work
It is the curse of our trade that tired industry standards seem to set more rules than the actual merits of products. I only ever use Final Cut Pro when clients request it specifically, and that is about 90% of the time even if I attempt to patiently explain that their project will cost less, be turned around more quickly, and arguably be delivered in better quality if I use a different platform. Despite the fact that it is essentially built around an inherently flawed lossy codec which was never a great solution to what is now becoming an obsolete problem, Final Cut is what people know and therefore what they want to use (FCPX claims to be moving away from this structure, but I'm one of the many who are convinced that it hasn't moved too far even if it were fully featured enough to be adopted into pro edit suites). As we enter an age where our raw footage is either so compressed that recompression for an online edit seems like a very silly option, or so beautifully flexible that we shouldn't be binding it with the permanence many budgets and minds associate with a transcode to ProRes, the stage is being set for raw workflows based in metadata.
This is where Adobe Premiere Pro CS5 shines.
Prior to CS3 (and really CS4 and CS5 as far as the arguments in this article are concerned), Premiere was generally not great. It has an understandable marketing hurdle to overcome given the bad reputation it rightfully garnered, but if you haven't looked at it recently, Premiere deserves your attention. It edits almost everything natively. This can save you time on small projects where a transcode constitutes a good deal of a rush schedule, as well as larger projects where many different voices may make re-transcoding necessary. Since raw footage remains intact until your final export, generational loss is also essentially non-existent depending on your delivery format.
Let me make an example of everyone's favorite ugly duckling (now turned beautiful swan by the glory of metadata based workflows): the R3D file. Many editors I speak to are convinced that FCP is the best way to edit RED footage. A little while into each such conversation, I find it is the only way they know of. The solution in their minds is the solution that's been there since the beginning: launch their favorite RED interpretation software, and bake their interpretation of the raw data into a ProRes file to import into Final Cut.
These images demonstrate the process of opening R3D raw settings directly from the bin.
This transcode takes a good deal of time, and an unnecessary amount of hard drive space. Not to mention you are throwing away a generation you don't have to lose by transcoding from one lossy codec to another. And if someone down the pipeline has a problem with the interpretation of the footage or the grade you applied for the transcode (be it a client, a creative, or a finishing house), you lose a day. Or worse depending on the size of your project and the speed of your system. Or even worse, a colorist down the river tries to stretch the latitude of the transcoded file to the breaking point in order to repair what they perceive as an unfixable thing (or what actually is an unfixable thing if another transcode just isn't in a post budget that was optimistic to begin with).
The number of editors I meet who still don't know that Premiere can edit raw RED footage boggles my mind. It would almost be annoying if I didn't distinctly remember the awe that was inspired in me the first time I saw someone do it. All you need to do is import the R3D file as you would any other file. No transcoding necessary. It happens very quickly. Once this is done, it plays the file in real time, interpreting the raw file based on the metadata the DP selected when shooting the footage. This is already impressive, but there is more. Right click on the footage in your project panel, and you will see a "source settings" option that will let you grade and interpret directly from the raw file. It behaves much like the interface you would see in Photoshop when importing a camera raw file. You don't have to worry about whether this grade is perfect yet, because it is entirely based in metadata which will follow your file all the way to your project's final export; this interpretation NEVER needs to be baked into your footage and you can change it as many times as you want during the editing process with no risk or finality. Sure, you might want to tweak your "from-raw" grade with your favorite color plugin, but the point is that you've gotten it extremely close without really losing any latitude or making any commitments. And if you keep it in the suite, fine color is also completely non-destructive and requires no baking. After Effects has the same native support for the R3D format. Replace any clip on your Premiere timeline with a nested After Effects comp via dynamic link, and your interpretations here will follow the file right into AE and will remain editable via metadata throughout the entire compositing process (and editing process since any changes made in AE will automatically update right in your timeline, but dynamic link is another article altogether).
What this means to you: depending on the size of your project, by the time your FCP based competition has fussed over interpretation, transcoded, and binned everything up, you could be presenting your client a rough cut. Better yet, a rough cut without having had to worry about committing resources to baking in interpretations of footage before a creative executive's whim at the eleventh hour sends the color palate spiraling off in a direction no one expected. And yes, something similar has happened to me in a situation where a client had insisted we use Final Cut against my recommendation.
In keeping with the beginning of the article, the amusing thing was that even after converting the project to Premiere saved the day (in less time than a second transcode would have taken), made our colorist incredibly happy for the increased potential for speed and flexibility, and produced a master with virtually no generational loss, people on the creative end were still mumbling under their breath that they weren't convinced Premiere was a better solution. But I digress: some post pros groan about fickle people up the chain, but I say more power to them for having inconvenient whims, color related and otherwise. It's what they are paid for. Part of our job in the post world is to enable them as much as increasingly thin budgets will allow. At the end of the day, developments like this make our lives easier and the lives of the creatives we work with less encumbered by technical concerns they shouldn't need to know exist.
Advantages in Premiere don't stop at native R3D editing. Many codecs slip seamlessly right into the NLE. The widest known and probably most talked about are the H264 files spewed forth by the DSLR cameras we know and love or love to hate. Premiere will edit these natively with a direct, nearly instantaneous import. Final Cut requires a transcode. Transcoding footage that is already so compressed to another lossy codec is simply a silly concept. Alarmingly common talk in the Final Cut community is that transcoding these files to ProRes LT is just dandy since they are about the same bitrate. This is untrue. It is almost like saying you should eat a doughnut for lunch instead of a salad because they have the same number of calories. Generational loss is experienced even when transcoding these codecs to ProRes 422 HQ. If you must use Final Cut and you really want the footage to hold up in the color process, use 4444. But honestly: why spend the hard drive space or time? You're never going to get more information that is of any use into the transcoded file than exists in the raw form. This general principle applies to quite a few codecs that Premiere also handles natively. And if Premiere's development patterns are any indication, native format support is going to continue to expand with the needs of the market as new codecs are developed and embraced. In my experience, Adobe is comprised of very good listeners.
With the release of FCPX, many are abandoning ship on Final Cut. I applaud Apple for doing a "ground-up" rewrite of software that really needed it, but even though it plays at native support for many codecs, its performance in this arena in my experience is still shaky at best; ProRes still feels like its bread and butter. At least until FCPX's infancy ends and we start seeing missing professional features come back in (and likely even afterward), I sincerely believe Premiere Pro deserves a turn in the "Industry Standard" seat alongside Avid. It will make us all happier.