Cooking With Premiere Pro CC on PBS's America's Test Kitchen
COW Library : Adobe Premiere Pro : Herb Sevush : Cooking With Premiere Pro CC on PBS's America's Test Kitchen
I've just finished my first cut of ATK 1501, the first episode of the 15th season of America's Test Kitchen, the most watched cooking show on Public Television. I've been with this series as both director and post production supervisor since it started back in 2000. Originally shot in Betacam and posted with Discrete edit*, the show has grown and changed with the times. This year we've moved our workflow from Final Cut Pro 7 (FCP), which we had switched to starting Season 7, to Adobe's Premiere Pro CC (Ppro). I thought it might be interesting to report on how that shift is going, with special emphasis on how Ppro handles multicam editing.
America's Test Kitchen is a studio-based cooking show shot in the outskirts of Boston, recorded in the test kitchens of Cook's Illustrated magazine. The show is hosted by Chris Kimball, editor-in-chief of the magazine who is abetted by a core group of the magazine's test cooks and product testers. We use 3 to 5 cameras for most set-ups, this year switching over to Sony F55s after many years using Panasonic Varicams. We record at 1080p30 ProRes 422 to a bank of timecode locked AJA Ki-Pro video recorders, where all clips are named by camera, episode, and segment using the control software AJA created to run the Ki-Pros.
Generating those file names at the time of production is extremely helpful when dealing with the 14 TB of material spanning over 2000 clips that we generate during our 3 week shooting schedule. These clips are turned into 26 half hour episodes and the prospect of dealing with clips randomly labeled 07QR98Z459X312 as opposed to A1524R_102 (camera A, episode 1524, Recipe segment, clip #102) is what sold us on Ki Pro. As far as I know, AJA is the only company to offer this service.
Each day the Ki-Pros are off-loaded to two sets of G-tech drives. At the end of the shoot, a safety set remains in Boston while the other travels back to my office on the outskirts of NYC, where it takes about a week to transfer the files to my system and then organize the folders for each show. A hard drive with an episodes worth of files (around 500 GB), along with continuity notes, is then Fed Exed to one of my "remote" editors, who rough the shows out and email me Ppro project files to review. After a few passes, I take over and refine the edit before sending a preview file to the show's producers back in Boston. A few more back and forths and then a hard drive with the finished ProRes 1080 master is sent out for distribution.
It was with some trepidation that we decided to switch our post workflow to Adobe CC, but FCP7 was no longer up to the task. We started using some 4K elements this year and it seemed the time was right for a change. I played around with Premiere Pro when it first came out in 2003 and was attracted by its similarity to FCP and the ability to link with Photoshop, AE and Audition. My biggest concerns were how it would handle my style of working with remote editors and also its multicam capabilities.
On the set of America's Test Kitchen, the first day of Season 15. Photo credit: Jeremy Bond.
So far, media management is a breeze. Ppro, unlike FCP, can only open one project at a time, but it has a feature that allows you to import the contents of another project into the current project. What makes this really sing is that you have the option of bringing in only those project elements you're interested in; perfect for importing only the latest timeline under review without cluttering up project files. I have found out the hard way that I don't want to open a remote editor's project file on my computer because the settings for the default location of preview and autosave files are stored in each project's settings - open up a few remote project files and you'll find your computer littered with preview and autosave files in all sorts of strange places. With the import feature this is not an issue. Re-linking media from the remote editors project files has worked well so far.
Ppro revamped its multicam feature about 2 years ago when they released version 6.0., adding a host of multicam features, the most significant being the ability to use an unlimited number of camera angles, as they tried to capitalize on the demise of FCP. After playing with it for over a month, and then after getting some help (more on that later) directly from Adobe, I feel I can now fairly evaluate it.
Ppro uses the "nested sequence" paradigm with multicam, as opposed to the FCP7 paradigm of creating special multicam clips. This means Ppro creates a multicam source timeline that is used as a "source nest" for editing into a final "editing timeline" (discreet edit* used this same approach.) The advantages of the nested sequence paradigm are:
After naming your multicam, and there are a bunch of options for how to do this, you get to the good stuff - syncing. You have options of syncing by timecode, by in-point or out-point, by marker, or by audio waveform. I have been told that the sync by audio waveform feature is adequate but not as good as the results you can get using Plural Eyes.
Personally, I always want my sources to be linked by timecode. If I need to use something like Plural Eyes my practice is to change the actual timecode on the original clips after syncing so that the clips always maintain their proper sync relationship. After doing multicam editing for 20 years I find this to always be worth the time and effort. Both FCP and Ppro make changing timecode on a clip very easy.
I should note here that unlike FCP there is no "angle" metadata in Ppro, so when creating a multicam, the sources are placed in the multicam matrix strictly in the order they are selected from the browser. This is important because when cutting in multicam mode you always want the same camera sources located in the same place in the matrix - otherwise confusion abounds. Ppro does have a number of methods to help organize your media: while it doesn't have a specific "angle" column you can enter the camera angle for a clip in the comment column or you can sort clips alphanumerically if your clips were named appropriately. A lot of this has to do with clip naming conventions, but as long as you can identify which clips are associated with each angle, then one of these methods will work, and if you can't do that you're in a bit of trouble no matter what software you're using.
A very nifty feature in the syncing part of the menu is a checkbox called "Create Single Multicam Source Sequence." If you leave this un-checked and you've sorted your clips by angle in the browser, Ppro can take all of your clips at once and spit out all the multiclips in one step, instead of creating them one at a time. The caveat here is that you can't have overlapping timecode between different groups; if you did Ppro will combine the clips so that instead of two 5 camera groups, you will have one 10 camera group. For my workflow I simply have to isolate the segments that have overlapping timecode and handle them separately, but this has still been a big time saver.
Even if you have no clue about organizing your clips Ppro gives you a tool to review and adjust the matrix of each multicam after they are created. The tool, called "Edit Cameras", resides in the source or program monitor. The workflow I've used is to create the multicams and then load them, one by one, into the source monitor to review. If the matrix is wrong I call up the "Edit Cameras" function to revise the matrix.
I will say that "Edit Cameras" is a poor naming choice for a multicam tool; the first time I went to look for it I knew the tool existed but couldn't remember what it was called and it took me most of an hour to find it. Request #1 - please put the word "multicam" somewhere in the tool's name.
Back in the "Create Multi-Camera Source Sequence" menu there are options for setting up the multicamera nest sequence (use automatic) and a handy checkbox that moves all the original source clips to a "Processed Clips" bin. And then we get serious - the "audio" section of the menu.
There are three options for handling audio:
Cutting between multicam sources in Ppro is the same as in most NLEs: lay the multicam nest in a timeline, then play it back and change angles by hitting specific keys - one set of keys will create a new cut with the chosen angle, add a modifier key and you can replace angles. Unique to Ppro is the multicam matrix and output display. Adobe provides a feature called the "Multi-Camera Preview Monitor" that creates a split-screen in the program monitor, with the multicam matrix on the left side and the timeline output on the right. You will still need a monitor for matching back to the source, which means you are effectively using 3 monitors, instead of the 2 monitor system most NLEs use by alternating the matrix with the source monitor.
Since I have two 23" displays I put the source monitor on the upper right of display #1 and the program "preview" monitor, split into its 2 screens, occupying the whole top half of display #2. This effectively gives me 3 screens across the top - source, matrix, and output.
Click on image for larger view.
I've been pleasantly surprised to find that this layout is an improvement over the traditional 2 screen mode as long as you can afford the screen space. I would worry about trying to do this on the limited screen of a laptop, but then again I avoid cutting multicam on a laptop whenever possible, no matter the software. I'm too old too blind and too spoiled to be squinting at a twelve inch screen for eight hours a day. Ppro, like most NLEs allows you to save multiple dedicated workspaces so I can call up this layout with a keyboard shortcut.
One of the things you have to get used to with Ppro is that a lot of timeline behavior is determined by which tracks are targeted. Along with copy, paste, and delete functions the track targets also effect what shows up in the multicam matrix. The rule is the matrix is tied to the lowest targeted track. If you want to use track 2 for a multicam clip you have to make sure it's targeted and then un-target track 1 . However one of the neat things about Ppro is that you can save multiple timeline track settings to shortcut keys, so making these type of track adjustments are fairly painless. Ppro has timeline timecode information available in the program monitor (not as good as FCP7's version), and sync indicators in the timeline (better than FCP7's version) that enable you to slip back into sync at the click of a mouse. I find both of these functions indispensable when cutting multicam.
In addition Ppro has a "Flattening" feature, whereby the multicam clips are replaced in the timeline by the original source clips. In FCP7 this is an excellent and fully reversible feature helpful in creating EDLs and XMLs for export, media consolidation, dealing with overworked CPUs, and exporting to AE, which can get a little screwy with multicam clips. However Adobe chose to use the Photoshop method of flattening, a one time only, irreversible, destructive flattening that greatly limits the times I would be willing to use it.
To sum up, I'd have to say I'm pleased with Ppro so far - I want an audio only insert mode, I want an audio-follow-video indicator, I would like them to re-name "Edit Cameras." But like the band said, you can't always get what you want, and even so I'm happily committed to finishing the season using an Adobe workflow. However…
The original draft of this article was quite different. I had been struggling with a number of issues for weeks and was getting nowhere and it was that struggle that got me started on this article.
I showed an earlier draft to Dennis Radeke, an Adobe guy, and he gave me some good initial feedback and then passed on my draft to Al Mooney, product manager for Premiere Pro, who put me in touch with Mike Hogan who spent a bunch of time explaining how things really worked. And they did work. Some of my problems were solved in the upgrade to version CC 2014 (I strongly recommend upgrading if you're going to be doing any multicam editing). But some of my problems were caused by the Ppro documentation, which is meager when it isn't downright wrong.
Multicam editing can be very complex but the various tutorials and documentation only cover the most superficial elements. The problem is not everyone gets the pleasure of speaking to Mike Hogan and I don't know if I would have ever figured out some of my workflow issues left to my own devices. My best suggestion is to post questions on the COW and on the Adobe Ppro forums and hope that Mike or one of his fellow Adobe-ites notices. End of rant.
I've sent the first show up to Boston for review, my change notes came back and, good news, they haven't fired me yet. I will learn more about Ppro's strengths and weaknesses as I color correct, do a final mix, and send my first shows out for delivery. Ppro has many fine things going for it; the Audio Track Mixer and the Spectrum Analyzer in Audition are the first to come to mind, and hopefully I'll be able to report back on the total editing experience with Ppro next spring.