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Slugline. Simple, elegant screenwriting.

Red Giant Color Suite, with Magic Bullet Looks 2.5 and Colorista II

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  • The DV Rebel's Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap (Peachpit)
    The DV Rebel's Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap (Peachpit)
    by Stu Maschwitz
Wednesday
Oct012008

What Should Adobe Do With Premiere Pro?


Merge it with After Effects.

Why would I want to see one of my favorite applications bloat to encompass an program about which I am, at best, ambivalent? The answer lies with the post-production ruler of the roost, Autodesk’s “Advanced Systems,” AKA Flame, Smoke and Inferno.

“Do it in Flame” is the battle cry and of producers everywhere who want to get creative work done quickly and well, and leave with a finished product in their hand. “The Flame,” a term which colloquially encompasses Flame, Inferno, and to an increasing degree Smoke, has a reputation for interactive feedback, realtime operation, high quality, and seamless integration.

The interactive feedback comes from a combination of a dedicated disk array and hardware-accelerated compositing operations. “High quality” means up to 12 bits-per-channel color. Integration means that Flame can be used for onlining and mastering, interoperating with NLEs and other systems in the Autodesk family such as Smoke.

Flame has a great toolset. Many of its features are unique, or best-in-class. But many more of them are rather mundane and even behind the times. Still more of Flame’s features are simply odd, having developed within their own ecosystem instead of cross-pollinating with common entry points to digital compositing such as Photoshop and Shake. While a bit convoluted, Flame is a unique and accomplished tool that deserves its stellar reputation.

But some of the mystique that surrounds Flame is more perception than reality. Yes, you can play things back in real time—after you render them, a process which can sometimes be hardware accelerated, sometimes not, especially at high bit-depths. And those high bit-depths are not as high as the 16-bit integer color common to most inexpensive desktop solutions, such as After Effects and Fusion. Flame notoriously lacks pervasive floating-point color support, a feature ubiquitous at every level of compositing from Apple’s Motion to The Foundry’s Nuke. As integrated as a Flame might be into a facility’s post pipeline, that often simply means that it depends greatly on supporting players such as Avid, Smoke, or the kid in the back room with Photoshop, in order to appear as a complete solution to the client.

The other reason for Flame’s excellent reputation is that its high cost commands an equally high-value operator. The biggest perceived value of the flame is its speed and interactivity, but these qualities rest more on the artist’s shoulders than on the system itself. Flame and Smoke do need to render. Their many hardware-accelerated features do not often add up to to “real time.” Flame artists learn the same kind of client-management skills that colorists and offline editors master: They read the vibe in the room, tweak things when the attention is on them and disguise the subsequent rendering (which Autodesk brilliantly rebadges as “processing”) with well-timed chit-chat. “Where are you guys going to dinner tonight?” “Anyone want these Lakers tickets? I can’t use them. OK, here’s that new version…”

And once you render, you’ve got a new asset that you must decide to either build on destructively, which is tempting because of the speed but possibly disastrous if the client asks to dig back several layers for a change. Or you can work in “batch,” where you have the same kind of issues that every After Effects user faces, in that each tweak prompts a complete recalculation from square one. But for that price you maintain infinite flexibility. And incur the need for a render farm, which heavily-Flame-dependent shops do maintain, at great cost.

The inarguably great thing about Flame is that it is a responsive environment in which to be creative. While some VFX tasks require relentless hammering on a known set of assets (the domain of Shake and Nuke), some require more purely creative problem-solving. What should this effect look like? We need to add pizzaz! We really need something cool here and we didn’t shoot anything—what do you have lying around? Flame is a great tool to build, create, design, and experiment.

Does that sound familiar? It’s exactly what I love about After Effects.

After Effects is also a great creative environment. It’s got all kinds of fun tools and ways of making something out of nothing. It’s intuitive, especially for simple things, and plays nice with Photoshop and Illustrator. It wobbles under the pressure of high-end compositing, but it goes toe-to-toe with Flame for creative problem-solving.

What it lacks is Flame’s trademark interactivity. Not being able to enforce a specific graphics card, After Effects does very little with the GPU. Even on a system capable of realtime playback of, say, a 2K DPX sequence, After Effects requires you to RAM preview, and those RAM previews can be slow to build and fragile to view.

I recently visited an Orphanage artist who had temped together some effects shots for a feature film using After Effects. He had all the shots in one project, each shot a precomp conformed into one master comp that matched the cut from editorial. This is a very common thing to do in After Effects, something I do all the time: using the layered comp as an editorial timeline. It works, but it’s a hack. And in this case, it was a rather fruitless hack, as the guy’s machine didn’t have enough memory to hold a complete RAM preview of that lengthy comp. The artist had the right idea, to create a context in which to constantly check his animation, but it just didn’t work.

All day long he’s working in the individual shot precomps, at whatever resolution and quality settings he finds efficient. And every once in a while he wants to view his work in context. For that, he could be working compressed. He hardly needs uncompressed RGB for a quick little review of the cut. Instead, he tweaks one shot and returns to his timeline to find that he must re-render ten shots that he hasn’t touched. He might want to play with things editorially. For that as well, a true editorial timeline would be preferable to a stack of layers that aren’t really stacked.

That conform timeline should be NLE-style, with an implicit, user-selectable codec. The rendered previews should be cached to disk rather than held in RAM. In other words, that timeline should be Premiere Pro’s.

Adobe would suggest that you can do this now using Dynamic Link. You can indeed have a live connection between After Effects and Premiere. It’s a cool idea, but in practice it doesn’t work. It breaks when you do common things like iterate a project name. You wind up re-rendering in Premiere a lot, and when you do, you trigger expensive After Effects re-renders. Dynamic Link is an implementation of an obvious idea, not a bourne-of-need workflow enabler. You will only ever see it demoed with the very simplest of After Effects compositions, because with anything substantial, it becomes unbearable. As I’ve mentioned before, the only reason to use After Effects instead of cheaper, simpler options is to do something substantial.

We need seamless integration between the uncompressed, limitless-but-slow world of After Effects and the realtime environment of Premiere.

Rather than RAM preview an After Effects comp, you should process it to a clip, in the codec of your choosing. Every time you RAM preview you can either write over that clip or create a new one. A clip maintains a connection with the After Effects composition that created it, and knows if it is no longer current. It can display a little warning icon if changes have been made in the comp that have not yet been rendered.

Those clips are real media that you can use, re-use, edit with, and play back in realtime months later.

And they can be nested into a complex editorial timeline, where today they live as a DV temps and tomorrow they gets bumped up to uncompressed HD finals.

Because that codec of your choice could be anything from DV to uncompressed HD to 10-bit DPX.

The Premiere side of the equation would naturally adopt the complex but powerful color management features of After Effects. You’d be able to edit uncompressed DPX in a Premiere timeline and preview with a Kodak Vision 2383 film stock emulation. Heck, preview it with 2393, more commonly known as Kodak Vision Premiere!

This arrangement would let you work the way a Flame artist does, constantly able to weigh the benefits of power and speed. Just need to retouch a frame? Go ahead and paint on your last render. Need to dig back to the very bottom layer? Do so knowing that you can re-render everything above it and get the same results as before, plus the fix. And know that every time you process a clip and update it in your timeline, you’re building a realtime HD program that you can blast out to a client monitor, or a deck, or to Adobe Media Encoder. Combine this with speculative background rendering (ala Nucleo Pro), and you have a very powerful system. And this system would run just as well on a laptop as on an eight-core Mac Pro—the only difference would be the codec you’d chose.

Now maybe all of this doesn’t require the After Effects dogs and the Premiere cats to live together. Maybe Adobe doesn’t need to make the two programs into one. But there’s not a single After Effects user who couldn’t benefit from a realtime editorial timeline. Nor is there a single Premiere user who hasn’t wished for a feature that already exists in After Effects. In other words, whether After Effects and Premiere literally merge into one product SKU is not important—what is important is that, to someone with both applications installed, the option exists to use them together in such a way that the distinction between them blurs away completely.

If only there was some kind of application that existed specifically to “bridge” the Adobe Creative Suite apps together… Hey, what’s this thing taking up 400MB on my hard drive?


Maybe it’s through Bridge, maybe something else, but what we need is an Über Project that can contain both Premiere and After Effects assets and show how they are connected. I imagine it looking much like Flame’s “Desktop,” which is a sort of media home-base in Flame that serves as everything from a clip browser to a reference library to a convenient place to scratch your chin and ponder your next move. You wouldn’t be the only ones looking at this. Have you seen Eyeon’s Generation? Have you seen how much they’re charging for it?


However you do it Adobe, you gotta do it. Sure it will be hard, but only for reasons that would be wrong to base important decisions on. If you do it and do it right, you put a Flame in the lap of every one of your Production Premium customers. You can stop wasting precious development efforts (so much more precious now that your development cycles are shorter) duplicating functionality between your two flagship moving media applications. You’ll force Autodesk off their laurels and get them innovating and competing again. You’ll finally make it possible to host a client-supervised compositing/finishing session with Adobe software. You will put one and one together and the result will be three.

Visit the ProLost Amazon Store for After Effects CS4 or Adobe CS4 Production Premium and support ProLost.

UPDATE 2: Agree? Disagree? Visit the Adobe Feature Request form and make your voice heard. I hear a lot of people say that “Adobe doesn’t listen.” Well they can’t hear you if you don’t step up to the mic.

UPDATE: Some of the lovely reactions to this post on Twitter:

Reader Comments (64)

Absolutley spot on, Stu. I never used Bridge as much more than an Adobe version of ACDSee, but this would be awesome. My Flame experience is limited to watching Mike Seymour demo stuff in fxPhd, so the cult of mystery surrounding it is pretty huge for me. Thanks for a good bit of debunking for the uninitiated: I had no idea there were that many shortcuts & that much rendering involved.

I've been skeptical of Premiere Pro, but with all of the exciting new stuff in CS4, as well as the focus on workflow enhancements in AE, I'm excited. You should make this your next grass roots project after Canon adopts 24p!

October 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterWillRyan

Hey Stu,
Thanks for that detailed post. You were one of the guys who got me to dive deeper into After Effects in the first place, and you've been able to articulate some of my frustrations with the Premiere/After Effects setup in a way that I could only vaguely groan about.

October 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterNick Savides

Great post...and something I've talked about with a lot of people. There's such a misconception about flame and it's power - lots of producers come in thinking flame will solve all of their problems. The reality is it's not all that different than other compositing apps in terms of what it can do (well...) - its real strength is interactivity and the fact that it is designed to work WITH clients, to show them what you are working on as you are doing it and to give them choices between versions. Most other apps aren't. Even though bringing the two tools together (AE and Premier) would do a lot for the apps, I wonder if it really would address those two advantages the flame has.

There's so much to talk about here! Thanks for bringing this up.

October 1, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterguanoboy

Some very good points. Have you looked at the edit operator in Combustion 2008? While I haven't used it, this seems like a very good way to implement editing into a compositor. Although I would prefer Adobe to figure out a better way to work in 2.5D (maybe like Motion?).

Also, while we are on the topic of the future of Flame, I think Autodesk needs to make a cheaper version of Smoke to fill out their product line. With the low prices of FCP, Adobe's Suite, and now the lower Avid prices the next generation is not going to get trained on Autodesk equipment unless they drop the prices. I mean imagine running Smoke Lite on your MacPro and having your assistant rotoing and painting on Combustion and passing you elements. Throw in a Burn station, and it's a whole new scalable desktop based workflow.

October 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSam

It reminds me a bit of what Imagineer was showing with Mogul Review and Mogul Edit (was that the name?).

October 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterFrank

This is what I have been wanting for years...you are right on Stu. How do we push Adobe for this?

October 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDevin Cremeans

Article of the Year?

October 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMike

Completely agree.
I'm a big user of AE, and I do a lot of NLE stuff in there cause I can't be buggered flipping over to Premier.

I've seen some interesting stuff that the company Gridiron is doing with speeding up AE previews and such like.
This might make NLE type stuff in AE easier?

Hummm, I'm thinking that Gridiron's experience with the new Flow app could place them ideally in a position to build the app that you are desiring?

October 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSpoon Tangle

I also think that Adobe should do some more work on a 'multipass renderer' for AE and Premier.
Have you seen the way the 3D app Modo works?
Very fluid.

October 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSpoon Tangle

Fantastic post. I've been reading this blog for a long, long time now, but have never posted before. This summarizes exactly what I would l love AE to be able to do. It would be nice if there was kind of a Premiere "light" that shipped with AE, enabling the features resembling the Flame's desktop and player modules, without having the huge overhead of a full featured editor.

Cheers for this blog, Stu. It's great, insightful reading, beyond everything that it's actually taught me.

October 1, 2008 | Unregistered Commentergreg

"After Effects is also a great creative environment. It's got all kinds of fun tools and ways of making something out of nothing. It's intuitive."

*spits out soda*

did you say "intuitive" and "after effects" in the same sentence? as a non-compositor i've tried opening ae a couple of times (but not since v6). it was the single most unfriendly app i'd ever tried to teach myself.

October 1, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterdeepstructure

I started off as that kid in the back room on Photoshop. How things have changed... Now you have to run the session on Flame and run the Mac so you can do your titles and touch up work without the client knowing it.

I've set up two separate Flame suites, and they both had a principle design consideration of "don't let the client see what you're doing on that Mac" (it wasn't porn).

I would love the system you have mentioned and spent a year or two designing one, but wonder if the new kids (agency creatives, etc.) who have grown up in an IM/ftp world will even care about supervised sessions any more.

October 1, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterforrestmaready

Right on Stu. This is where I've been hoping things would be going. And maybe this new Media Manager is the key to it. Really, it's the way I'd hoped Dynamic Link would've worked in the first place. I don't know about merging apps, but this kind of integration would be great.

Imagine a workflow like:

I add a clip to my PPro timeline and enable it for cross-app integration. An AE comp and Soundbooth project are now created. I go into AE and apply my CC/transitions/effects/whatever. Click save and Media Manager renders a proxy in the background(at whatever codec and res I've set) that is displayed in my PPro time line in place of the original clip. Same kind of thing with SB.

The edits and renders occur and are updated in the background transparently to the user. It's that kind of thing that I'd love to see, because Creative Suite is really becoming a great all-round tool and its scope and integration are its strong points. Tighten that up and you've got a real contender.

October 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterChris Durham

Ok, had my lunch and have been pondering your post.

Let's use the example of the Puppet filter that Adobe released with CS3.
It's a filter that places control icons in the tool bar.

Get Gridiron to produce a plugin that provides some NLE tools such as ripple edits etc, and places icons in the tool bar. Things like auto splitting and tracking of audio in the timeline, transitions, etc.
Hook in Gridirons fast background preview generation and turn AE into a NLE.

???

October 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSpoon Tangle

That's why I use Motion 3.

Ed

October 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterEdward Glasheen

Sounds like a reasonable focus for big chunk of Adobe's research efforts. It might mean that Adobe take some of the emphasis off Photoshop as the only stop for new tools, and develop so that any of the apps could adapt a module.

Maybe you're thinking of a quicker fix, which I thought AE disc caching was supposed to solve, and some improvements to Dynamic Link.

The bigger project seems like a good way to focus development of newer color UI, roto and paint tools, and node schematics. Many app teams could benefit and common UI approaches (like nodes and Flash events and Pixel Bender filters) would make switching easier for users.

Anyway, nice post and good timing.

October 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRich

As a Fusion user, I'm very interested in Generation, what it will be able to do, and how it might fit into a pipeline.

And so as an After Effects and Premiere Pro user, I agree with almost everything you said.

Except Adobe doesn't care all that much about the pro/sub-pro film post market, I don't think.

They're much too busy trying to shoehorn as much Flash-related-gizmoism into their products as possible. ("Mobile device authoring"? "Faster, customizable SWF output"? And poor Audition we hardly knew ye.)

October 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKT

Great post Stu.
I am sure you know this, and the only reason I point this out, is because I think you glossed over a very powerful tool that would do most of the things you are talking about. The Autodesk screen cap on the post is not a Flame desktop, but a Smoke edit desk. I know this because I am a smoke user, with a bit of flame background. Autodesk tools are pricey, too much so sometimes, but there is little else out there that lets a client walk into a room in the morning, load footage, conform and editorial , do serious color work, high-end effects, title design, versions and (god forbid) pro level sound mixing, wrap it all up and output a broadcast ready master. In one box.
Sorry for the evangelizing. I just really like going to work in the morning. And I was an AE guy before I was let loose on the smoke.
But I think your point is right on. AE is missing, if not the editing chops at least access to an I/O and some sort of clip cacheing.
I also agree that it would be good to see Autodesk get a little freaked out by some good old fashioned competition. Our life and our work is better when our tools sharper.

October 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMark

I really appreciate your post. I realize that's a Smoke Editdesk (I know this because it says "Smoke" on it!), but that's all I could find as a screenshot, and it makes the point well enough.

In reflection, the one-two punch of AE+Premiere is probably more akin to Smoke than to Flame.

I hope that my suggesting that Adobe is sitting on a nascent mini-Flame doesn't read as a denigration of Autodesk's amazing products. Everyone seems to want to simplify an opinion down to "sucks" or "rules," but my feelings on Flame are more nuanced than that. "Rules," no doubt, but for as many mysterious as obvious ones.

It is awesome that you really like going to work in the morning—that's what it's all about. Let me ask you this. Do you have a laptop? Would you like to have a Smoke on your laptop? Or something very similar?

October 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterStu

I'd really like to see that, as I do my rough cut in Pro and the rest in AE. Would be nice to skip the first step and do the snd. in a better, cutter-friendlier way :-)

George

October 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge P.Schnyder

I really hope Adobe is reading this and taking careful notes. This is exactly the direction After Effects should go. And it sure would be great to see Autodesk get off its laurels! Excellent post. Your blog is fantastic.

October 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMatt Nava

I have used Premiere and AE since 3.0 and have no doubt that Adobe will keep integrating their products. After the success of FCP they made a commitment to make the product better and be the production suite of choice.

If the Speech Search in CS4 works I’ll be in frackn heaven.

October 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterZona0x

I'm holding my breath for this, literally. I've been holding it for 1.5 years so far and it's not getting easier.

October 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJonas Hummelstrand

Hmmm, I would like this if they put it in a different app that works in between AE and Premiere maybe. I wouldn't want to see AE get all bloated and even slower than it already is.

At the moment I work in FCP from which I will render a movie to AE (by using the in and out markers in the timeline) and then from AE will render new preview versions for editing in FCP which I will forcefully reconnect to the movie (so reconnect "movie 1" to "movie 1 after AE").

This way I can always show the client the latest versions in context. But I would love to see a faster workflow.

I was thinking about starting to use Premiere Pro and Dynamic Link for this, but I am still not really getting Premiere Pro and if what you say about Dynamic Link is right in CS4 than it probably wont be any help.

For me just Apple realising that some people really like AE over Motion (man is that some frustrating program if you want to be in control over your footage) and adding a "send to" command for AE just like they have for Shake and Motion would be great.

October 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterFreespirit

Is the underlying architecture of AE possibly too old, and needs a full rewrite? Each new version adds some cool new features, but it seems to have stalled in development of the main program. They really just add new plugins each release, and make minor tweaks to the base program. This version of AE biggest upgrade is the Mocha inclusion, but is that really anything new?

October 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterArt

Thanks for saying in your blog what so many have been thinking for 5 years. Didn't we all think Apple was going to do this with the GPU-accelerated Phenomenon?

I've veered away from AE in the last 2 years towards Nuke, but would be using them hand in hand if this functionality was added. Obviously Nuke is a far superior compositor and I think it's more creative and "art directable" than you give it credit, but it is as anathema to any temporal functionality as AE is at showing you exactly how your comp is put together.

I do think Adobe listen but it's often "too little too late". I remember requesting the precomp navigation button, the persistent caching etc back in 2003 and they are now there more or less. I think for the mini-smoke tag to really work we would need to see some sort of node comping module in AE as well, purely because precomping should be an organisational tool and not a workaround that ends up fragmenting a more complex composite into disparate parts.

A final comment about how this would enable client supervised sessions. To be honest, I don't care about that, but I would really appreciate the additional interactivity. If you're using it on your laptop, it's more likely just because you're sketching out the creative aspects and want to work as fluidly as possible.

October 2, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermichaeldotg

Stu,

As much as I agree with your requests for software and camera companies, it's only fair you answer for a request: Update the Rebel's Guide with some PDFs, for free or download sale. Plenty of us are still lost- are the pathways in the book still valid for 24P HDV? How do you work with it?

I appreciate the ideas of Rebel's Guide- those are timeless. However, the technology has changed. HDV, program updates, 32 bit on all apps, even using MB Looks to color correct. Given that the DV Rebel is shooting, editing, and compositing, we have all these new options but all those gotchas you pointed out in the book haven't been answered for.

So what's the best practice for working with 24P HV20/HV30 footage? Do you ingest as HDV, and reverse interlace in Compressor (which leads to big files and render times before cutting), or do you trim down a rough HDV edit in FCP, send off to AE using a script like Popcorn Island or Auto Duck and reverse interlace using Interpret Footage? What about the gamma issues with QT? Solved, or still cause for concern with AE7/CS3/CS4, and FCP Studio 2/Motion 3?

At what point do you advocate using Looks? Is it okay in FCP Studio 2? What are best settings/renders?

How's about Motion 3? And a plug in like Conduit?

In short, is the Cold War over?

Rebel's Guide advocates AE finishing, which obviously was the best solution at time of publication. But this post brings out my problem with AE finishing- it's hard to view your work in context.

So please, when you find the time, write and post an addendum to the Rebels Guide. I thought you'd do it when the HV20 was released, HV30... New toys are great, but HDV isn't going away anytime soon, 24P HDV is amazing, 24P HDV wrapped in 60i is confounding, so help us out!

If putting it together would take more time than you have, allow me to conduct an interview or ichat and I'll put together a simple PDF.

With respect,
Anthony Torres
anthony (at) orlandont.com

October 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterOrlandont

I can't see any reason why Soundbooth shouldn't also be invited to join the party...

October 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDP

Stu,
I love these State of the Union posts. I also enjoyed your recent talk on Red Centray! Er, Center.

October 2, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterwjm1138

I work in a fast paced client supervised environment using After Effects to create political spots. I have also used Flame and this post is spot on.

The thing about After Effects is that it needs to handle proxies more intelligently in this day and age. The default for AE proxies are set up to use draft settings. It seems like it was designed back in the day to work on offline files to save disk space and only bring the online files in at the last second.

Flame seems faster because the rendering is split up into lots of small parts and it can be pushed into the background. While building up your project you are constantly rendering things out to the desktop and reimporting them back into action. Basically creating building blocks that never need to be re-rendered twice.

The reason After Effects seems slow is because you are constantly re-rendering the same things over and over again even when they don't change.

AE can be bent to work around this draw back but it kind of feels like you are dragging it kicking and screaming every step of the way. When I work I usually have a bunch of precomps feeding into a master comp. I will render these out using proxies at best settings and the apple animation codec with alpha using the BGrender script. You have to render out the entire length of the comp for the precomps but the black frames compress well using the quicktime animation codec. Using this method it is easy and fast to render out ram previews (with disk caching). The downside to all of this is that it takes waaay too much active management of the project. AE should have an option to do this automatically. After all automation is what computers do best.

October 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterWill Summers

Great post and great ideas.
I was actually expecting from CS4 something like an "After Effects DI" kind of product.. or maybe Lightroom DI :)
Don't they need to compete with Apple's Color and all of this DI trend?

October 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel Kutz

I think they do. Adobe could do a lot worse than to just put the Lightroom Develop Module into Premiere and After Effects—it's a great color correction tool.

October 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterStu

Awesome article, Stu. Nice to hear your thoughts on this after all those camera posts :)

I've been thinking for some time about how Bridge could be adapted to work a bit more like Flame's desktop. At the moment it's a bit clunky and slow. It should have a media database that keeps thumbnails, metadata, etc. for instant loading and searching. It would also be useful if it was integrated into the applications, rather than being a standalone app (although that's not a deal-breaker). Little things like being able to scrub video clips in-situ (as you can with stacked image sequences) would help keep things more consistent and would turn what is a reasonable app into a very useful app indeed.

As for After Effects, well I was a bit disappointed with the CS4 release. Don't get me wrong, AE is the app I use every single day at work, and I love it. I can quite happily live with working in layers (native nodal comping won't ever happen I don't think). But I get the impression that Adobe are more into the multimedia side of things (Flash integration, ultimately) than the film industry. Maybe I'm being cynical...

I agree with another poster's comment here that you could start a similar campaign to your ongoing Canon efforts to get Adobe on-board with yours, and many other's here thoughts on what they should do with the software in future. Next post: What's your After Effects wish list? I'd have a few suggestions!

Christian

October 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterChristianLett

It would be really nice if AE could turn into a finishing station like smoke etc, but I doubt Adobe would take it in that direction.

What I would really like is for a project like jahshaka.org to mature, and turn into a powerful, realtime (gpu accelerated), "client friendly" finishing solution.

And as a opensource software it would be easier to push them in the right direction than Adobe.

October 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterChristian

"Stu said...
I think they do. Adobe could do a lot worse than to just put the Lightroom Develop Module into Premiere and After Effects—it's a great color correction tool."

really just wanted to see this idea repeated, this could be yet another grassroots petition

love being able to just go back and forth between all those different adjustments and tweak all in one pane

you are on fire lately, keep it up, let it all out

October 2, 2008 | Unregistered Commenteragwah

I think Christian is right. Adobe won't do it.

I mean, is there a shortcut for Adjustment Layers in CS4 finally? This is something I wait for till... The implementation of Adjustment Layers?

I made an account at jahshaka.org to check it out and give them some Feedback. Maybe this will really help.

October 3, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge P.Schnyder

Great article Stu, but you you fail to mention the real killer aspects of flame that still allow it to be top of the pile, notably GUI, video i/o and technical support.

The gestural GUI of Discreet systems is still the best one out there. The GUI is built for pen and tablet operation. Buttons are bigger and easier to hit, every thing is laid out clearly, no hidden menus etc. This allows you to ping around the system at very high speed, bish-bash-bosh, as we would say.

Adding a wacom to a desktop PC or Mac does not make it a gestural system. None of the desktop comp apps were built for pen and tablet use, AE is just too finicky, Combustion too, Shake is just about usable, but less so on higher resolution monitors. Too many right clicks, too many drop down menus. On flame I always rip out the rocker button on the wacom pen, you don't need it. Flame's GUI gives it a clear speed advantage.

Secondly video i/o. I worked on flame for over six years before I sarted dabbling in desktop comp stuff. All of a sudden that dirty word 'Codec' came into use more often. Codec? What the hell is a codec? Why as a compositing artist should I have to worry about such things. Codecs and Quicktime have been the bane of my life since doing a bit of shake. Not so on flame. I want something off tape, throw it in a deck, go to input clip, input the clip and voila, right there on your desktop ready to work with. Getting clips into supposed 'editing' programs like FCP and Premiere Pro is actually a lot more complicated. Don't get me started about trying to get footage into shake, AE and combustion, nightmare.

Finally, support. Yes it does cost an arm and leg but discreet support is awesome. I actually enjoy giving the guys in Montreal a call. None of the support offered by desktop app companies comes close. FFI are turnkey systems, AE, Premiere Pro are to Adobe just pieces of software in a box.

October 3, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

Excellent points all David! If you dig back in the ProLost archives you'll see a couple of posts about gestural interfaces.

October 3, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterStu

YES YES YES!! I just spend 3 Weeks Onlining a Commercial in AE. We blew our whole budget on the shoot. The boss cut the spots in FCP and then I had to rebuild, eye match and thank god for the CA 10 waiting period on handguns! I told him he should have cut it in Premiere Pro so we could have finished this better! He laughed at me. I was like what is wrong with Premiere? AE could benefit hugely from having more Editing type tools! If adobe made it a module type system you could load and unload the editor side when needed. Well I hope they listen to you Stu! I guess CS5 is going to be a complete reWrite of the application so hopefully they listen! I just don't get Adobe. They add all the wrong things to AE and give Flash tool AE could use.

October 3, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterdirty_bytes

Some time ago, i worked with the velocityQ system from DPS which was bought by Leitch which was bought by Harris which was than... just a minor important product in a very big company in my opinion.

The velocityQ is an nonlinear editor with uncompressed sdi hardware i/o and, here comes the important part, a direct connection to Eyeon Fusion.

The workflow is like this:
- capture your video
- edit in the timeline in realtime with video output to a class a monitor
- rightclick on a clip and send it to fusion
- fusion opens with a loader and saver created, no need to search files on the harddisk
- in fusion you can check your image on a video monitor, too
- adding compositing effects and hit render
- after rendering fusion closes and the clip is replaced in the timeline

This is a very nice workflow whith video i/o all the time which is rare in most compositing software.

If you ever dealt with lots of clips in compositing with different in/out points you learn to appreciate a real timeline.

As far as i know nuke doesn´t have a timeline yet, you must edit in/out points with entering frame numbers.

I´m looking forward to adobe software and hope, that they improve the interface of After Effects, to make it more fun to use.

October 5, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMartin Kulig

Hey Stu

I don't know if you've seen Smoke 2009 Ext1 yet, but I'd argue that Autodesk is doing with Smoke and Flame what you suggest Adobe do, that is bring in all the features of the compositing app into the editor. Batch and action in Smoke in my opinion makes Flame redundant, apart from its obvious brand-name recognition in London, New York and the West Coast. Funny how in Tokyo Inferno claimed that position and Autodesk had to package up a Linux "Inferno" after they killed the product when SGI went the way of the wind.

Anyhoo, I reckon that Autodesk is planning at some point to the bring the two products together completely, even if at the moment Smoke now has everything Flame has and more. It would make sense for them to develop a single stream.

And Mark, I'm right with you, Smoke is a deeply satisfying system to use.

October 5, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Shannon

My film "intermezzo dualis reloaded" ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R5ApAoWA27A ) is actually one large after-effects project which renders the final movie directly from the sources in one huge mega-comp.

True, editing in AE is only for machochists, but it's doable.

In other cases, I've done a quick edit in Premiere first, only to import it for finalizing in AE.

/Z

October 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMaster Zap

Zap, of course you realize that I literally wrote a book encouraging filmmakers to do exactly that. But that's not editing, that's _onlining_ or _finishing,_ a part of the process that NLEs are not well-suited for, Smoke is aimed squarely at, and After Effects could positively own.

October 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterStu

great article stu - as a long time flame artist i found it very interesting and very accurate, except for a few small details. There is a very aggressive dev team at the helm in montreal, they have been "off their laurels" now since sometime in 2007. A lot of new tools and improvements have been delivered at an impressive pace not the least of which is a rewrite of the application in 16bits. As someone else mentioned earlier, yes, autodesk tech Support is the best around and although i don't work for autodesk, i think there is little chance smoke and flame will be combined. The inclusion of the TimeLine in Flame and batch in Smoke was done to remove any compatibility issues between the 2 products (eg - open a Flame Job in Smoke and vice versa, no fuss, no muss) Flame still has several high end compositing tools smoke will never have: new 3D camera & object tracking system, 3D particles, Modular Keyer and many others. Is flame still lacking in several areas, sure. i don't think there is a package out there that can "do it all" yet but flame sure is closer to that than others....

keep up the great work

tim

October 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterTim

Thanks for the comment Tim, I apreciate it because it allows me to clarify my "laurels" remark. I don't mean to suggest that the Smoke/Flame development teams are slacking. Quite the contrary, they do amazing work. The quibble I have with Autodesk, and it's a big one that surely merits its own ProLost post, is that they are waiting for the market to tell them what to do with their bizarrely overlapping collection of compositing solutions. If they have a grand vision for how Flame, Smoke, Toxik and Combustion make sense and move forward as a product line, they certainly have not made it clear.

October 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterStu

great post Stu.

October 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRyan

I love that idea! I wonder if Adobe shouldn't give it a new name, that doesn't have the baggage that Premiere and AE carry. At the same time, what I have been wishing for is a re-write of AE with float integrated, rather than added on. Switching to float shouldn't break your existing work.

Also, Stu, I wrote an article that you might be interested in.

"A Frequency-Based Custom Channel Separations workflow"
http://www.vfxconnection.com/DavidAughenbaugh/blog/35/

I would love to get your feedback.

October 6, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterfoggybog

Stu, have you messed with the new Dynamic Link in CS4? It says on Adobe that now changes in Premiere are reflected in After Effects...does this actually work or does everything move at a glacial pace as usual once you start working on a large project?

October 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBenji

Excellent post Stu, thanks very much. I have tried to implement this kind of client session strategy using an FCP/AE workflow (i'm sure many have) - its not quite as easy as working in Flame or Smoke, but comparable. The workflow starts to struggle as the render times get longer and longer, so i often leave off the most time-expensive effects like film grain until the client has approved everything else. At the moment it works like this:

1. Before clients arrival, Create an FCP timeline (ProResHQ) with rushes/animatics/placeholders/music.
2. Create AE comps of animation / composites.
3. Make changes with client and Render tests of AE comps using ProResHQ (at 1/2 resolution if pressed for time, or full res if given a bit more time, or if the comp is fairly quick to render). During rendering, open your Render folder and get ready for dragging files into FCP bin. Chatter to client....
4. As renders arrive in the folder, drag them into the FCP bin. And then onto timeline. (Maintaining continual distracting chatter, or commentary on the quality of the coffee.)
5. Once clips are in place in FCP, they can seen in context of the edit, then altered in AE, re-rendered and the new renders can be quickly reconnected in FCP. (Right click on existing clip/placeholder/test-render -> reconnect media). Using ProResHQ ensures no render time in FCP.
6. Once this process has begun, some work can be done in FCP while AE is rendering the latest versions. For example, one shot can be color-corrected or have other effects added using FCP for testing purposes - the changes can be seen/approved, and then swiftly implemented back in AE when the next render is done. Depending on the effect and your Blackmagic or Kona card, the FCP effects may not even require rendering. This allows you to keep working pretty much all the time, even during AE rendering.

While this is not as smooth as keeping all the work within one program like Smoke, it does allow you to "keep your renders", which is the main downside of attempting to edit in AE. Ideally most of the setup is done before the clients arrival, so the FCP timeline is already in place with clips ready to be reconnected to changed versions.

I would love to see this integrated into a single more streamlined system, and it could be that Apple's phenomenon/FCP pipeline will be just what's needed to create a Mac equivalent of Flame (whenever Phenomenon comes out). I don't really rate Premiere as an NLE, but I would love to see Adobe integrate an editing option into AE. That would not give us the very useful ability to be working on one thing while rendering something else though.

What do you reckon?

greg
www.photonshepherds.com

October 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterGreg

It has been great to read everyones comments. Thank you Mr. Stu, it good to share this info. I have to share my thoughts on this matter because I used to be primarily Flame a artist, who had to learn AE in order to remain marketable. I still work on the newer flames running on Red Hat Lynux. This happens only once in a while, when the Post Houses in town have too much work and have to bring in some help.

To me it is simply a privilege whenever I get an opportunity to operate on a flame. It really is a joy and I have a great time. I totally agree with the post by David in regards to Flame's interface being developed for pen a tablet.

I love working with AE, but when it comes to doing magic for the client and having them be right there, I'm more than happy with how elegant my solutions and work can flow.

I know that the tracking and the motion tracking ( for camera calculation ) have proven the best in any of the various programs that I have worked with.

Thanks again!

October 7, 2008 | Unregistered Commenteropossumfx
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