Mastering in the NLE

As I expected, the most controversial tenet of the DV Rebel approach has been my suggestion that you master your film in After Effects rather than in your NLE. From the very first public interview, to comments here and threads on the Rebel Café, I’ve repeatedly been asked variations on the question: “Really? Seriously? But what about [my situation], how about then?”

So I thought I’d try to clarify a couple of things. First of all, I stand by the answer I gave to Mike’s “Really? Seriously?” question, so I’ll paraphrase it here:

At its simplest, the issue is this: Your NLE re-compresses every time it renders. As soon as you move to a codec where this re-compression becomes negligible, you’re talking special hardware. The DV Rebel approach, on the other hand, can be implemented on a three-year-old laptop.
When editing, my rule-of-thumb is to avoid anything that makes the process no longer real-time. When onlining, the rule is the polar opposite: no amount of render time is too much to endure in the name of increased image quality. If you’re careful, by onlining in After Effects you can actually achieve better results than you could in an expensive real-time suite. After Effects is the poor man’s Smoke, but it only falls short of a Smoke in that it requires a little staring at a progress bar now and then.

Having said that, I do recognize that there will come a time where this policy will be rendered obsolete. Better integration between After Effects and Premiere Pro could, for example, make the distinction between work done in one or the other of the two applications so blurred as to be irrelevant. It’s pretty obvious that Production Studio’s Dynamic Link feature is still in version 1.0. Apple would appear to be working on their own integration between high-power compositing and editing.

There’s nothing wrong with the rendering or image processing in either Premiere or Final Cut. Both have many effects that work in native YUV, and both have high-bit-depth rendering options. Both lack some specific effects that you need for the DV Rebel process, like noise reduction and sharpening, but you can shore up that limitation with third-party plug-ins.

The issues lie not in the processing, but the codec that you are rendering to. If you’re working in HDV, all the floating-point YUV processing in the world won’t rescue you from the fact that you’re recompressing back to a highly destructive codec. Even if you are working uncompressed, you may still be using a 4:2:2 codec (as is the case with the Apple Uncompressed workflow discussed in the comments), in which case you are still degrading the image by re-rendering it (even if you are using effects that are realtime, because although they require no rendering for preview, they still must be converted to the codec for playback).

Meanwhile, in After Effects, you get impeccable 32-bit floating-point RGB processing, the ability to overlay “look” adjustment layers over entire sequences to make them cohesive (which you can’t even do in a Da Vinci!), the ability to create thumbnail comps (automatically, thanks to DV Rebel Tools) to keep track of color continuity, best-in-class de-noise and sharpening algorithms, and a full-fledged compositing environment to tackle everything from painting out an errant boom mic, to replacing skies, to adding the occasional helicopter.

The foundation of the DV Rebel approach is that you can make your film look great with the right off-the-shelf tools. But remember, you are starting from a huge deficit. Your camera, your wardrobe, your locations, your actors all cost a tiny fraction of those in the movies you want yours to look like. The one leg up you have is that you can match or beat the big boys in post. Don’t compromise your one advantage—treat onlining as the part of the process where you can craft your Rebel production into something beautiful and expensive looking, and avail yourself to the best (but cheapest!) tool for the job.