Eyematching by syncing audio

I recently edited a project that featured interviews with people in Zimbabwe speaking their native language. I don’t know what language they were speaking, but to facilitate our editing we were provided ProRes exports with English translations burned into the picture.


We also received camera original media, and after the cut was mostly locked-down I worked to replace the burned-in translation clips with clean camera clips so we could apply a translation that we had more stylistic control over.

The challenge: The translation-burned clips were edited compilations of all the interviews from that day. There was no timecode reference back to the camera originals, I was left to eyematch the shots.

There were about a dozen clips that needed replacing, and some were pretty easy to accomplish. I would find a frame where a hand came up, or they looked off to the side in a way that I could visually locate in the camera originals. But after a while I found some challenging clips where I couldn’t easily locate a visual match and since I didn’t speak the language it didn’t help me to listen to the camera files.

Then I had a brainstorm: The computer could listen for me! What if I could get PluralEyes to use its audio waveform-syncing capabilities to link up the camera originals to the placeholder media I had been editing with.

I fired up PluralEyes, added the interview compilation clip and the camera originals, then I clicked Synchronize. It didn’t work!

Of course there’s no way it could work. The compilation clip was a long edited stringout of many interview answers, when considered as a whole it is not the same as any piece of camera media. So no sync. But also no problem. I just needed to export the small section of an interview I needed to locate in the camera clips. I parked on the interview clip in my timeline and did a Match Frame to load the source clip (the interview compilation) into the source monitor marked with an In and an Out. I exported this clip In-Out range to a H.264 file.

Now, armed with the small export from the compilation and the camera original media, I tried PluralEyes again. This time it worked great!


I exported this synced sequence to XML for Premiere Pro. After importing and relinking the media I was able to get the timecode I needed in the camera source then do a replace edit in my timeline. BTW, I was doing a replace edit on a clip that was a copy of the clip from the compilation, added on a track above. With the two clips stacked vertically I put the top clip in Difference Mode and that helped me make sure I was dead-on with the camera media. If it was off, I slipped the camera original until it was perfectly aligned and the composite of the two shots went black. Difference Mode is very helpful when matching shots.

After posting my success to Twitter, @adkimery asked why I used “PE instead of PPro’s own synch by waveform function?” It never occurred to me!

So I tried it, and it worked too!


For this task it ended up being easier to use Premiere Pro’s built-in syncing. I created a Multicamera Source Sequence using the short compilation excerpt export and the camera original media. Next I opened the multicam clip in the timeline and found where in the camera clip was the section I needed.

Even though this isn’t the intended purpose of the technology, using audio syncing to match up placeholder media with camera originals was a big help to me in this project.

Syncing Premiere Pro keyboard settings

With the CC releases, Adobe introduced a settings syncing feature allowing users to upload and download keyboard settings, output modules and other preferences. This can be pretty useful if you work between multiple systems and want your personalized settings to follow you. I’m old enough to remember when we freelance editors would arrive to a facility with a floppy disc containing our Avid keyboard settings. Plus, leaving your settings on a system was a fun “I was here” marketing strategy.  If you had “Wes Plate” in your list of users on your Avid, you were something special <grin>.



But this isn’t your father’s floppy disc, this is the Cloud!


If  it were up to me, the Adobe Apps would remember my Sync Settings password longer. In my experience I have to enter my password after every application launch. After you’re signed in and you choose to sync your settings you are presented with this dialog.




Do you want to take the settings stored on your local machine and upload them to Creative Cloud (overwriting what is there)? Or do you want to overwrite your local settings with the version stored in Creative Cloud?

What I don’t like about these two options is I can’t say for sure which version is newer. Many kinds of preferences are set once and then left alone, but in my experience keyboard shortcuts are evolving. When I last used my Mac Pro I may have set a keyboard shortcut for a newly-learned command, but did I remember to upload my changes to Creative Cloud? Did the change I made to my MacBook Pro’s settings based on settings downloaded from the Cloud or did I forget to download before I started making changes here?

I have no idea which of my two systems or the Creative Cloud has the most up-to-date settings for my keyboard. I really want Premiere Pro to just “sync” the settings. Do it Dropbox-style. All settings are synced all the time. And if I make a change on my laptop it is immediately stored in the cloud and my Mac Pro automatically receives the update. It should be invisible to me. I want whatever changes I make on one machine to be available wherever else I sign in and to always be up-to-date.

I have an idea for how you can do this today.

I mentioned Dropbox. I wondered if the keyboard settings file that gets updated locally could be synced by Dropbox even though it isn’t inside the Dropbox folder. I’ll bet some enterprising editor can make that work, but I was not successful. Plus, even if it had worked for me it was complicated. I wanted an easy solution I could easily explain to others. Also I don’t really want to go installing my enormous Dropbox on someone else’s machine when I’m only looking to sync one file.

The following screenshot shows the file that gets updated whenever I change my Premiere Pro CC 2014 keyboard settings. The settings files are in a folder called “Profile-CreativeCloud-” and the keyboard settings are stored in a platform-specific folder.



How to keep two arbitrary folders synced between multiple systems? I decided to try BitTorrent Sync.

BTSync is a peer-to-peer folder syncing application that runs on both Mac and Windows. I have used it to sync files between me and other production companies while editing remotely. Like Dropbox the synced folders stay automatically up-to-date, but there is not a cloud server and in my experience the transfer speeds for BTSync are much better than Dropbox.

Here’s how I synced the keyboard settings between my MacBook Pro and my Mac Pro using BitTorrent Sync.

Install and launch BitTorrent Sync. Click the Add folder button then navigate to the folder that contains the keyboard settings and click Open.



Next you’re asked to assign some settings. Should the “peers” that you’re syncing with have Read-only or Read & Write access to the folder? Choose Read & Write so that your syncing and setting updated and happen no matter which system you’re on. You might want to turn off the peer approval security feature, you’ll see why later.



Then you click on one of the sharing buttons along the bottom. You’ll receive a very long URL that you can open on the other system that you want to stay in sync with. Just open that link and you’ll have the chance to download BitTorrent Sync if you don’t already have it.


If the peer system already has BTSync, you can paste the URL into the Enter a key… dialog found from the gear button in the top right.




Click Next and BTSync will ask you where on the peer system you will store the synced files. Click the Change… button and then navigate to the Profile-CreativeCloud- folder on that computer.



After you click Open, click the Connect button at the bottom of the window to complete the connection. BTSync will probably warn you that the Mac folder already exists, you want to proceed.


When I set up this share I left on the default option to require peers to be approved. So next I need to return to the first computer and accept the request. This could be bad if I didn’t have access to that other computer when setting up the peer. So you may want to turn off the security option.


That’s it! Now, any change I make to my Premiere Pro keyboard settings on my laptop automatically appear on my tower and visa versa.

There is an obvious downside to this: both computers need to be turned on and connected to the internet.

Otherwise this idea seems to have some merit, though I hope in a future update Adobe improves the Sync Settings feature to have this kind of behavior by default.

What do you think? Do you have other ideas for syncing settings between systems?


BTW, you will want to know how to turn this off if you’re working on someone else’s system. Open BTSync and from the far-right menu button choose Disconnect. Syncing will no longer occur.





Here’s a video demonstrating how I set this up. It is not a perfect solution, but it is an idea for now.


Open Sequence In Timeline new in 2014.1

I was reading Scott Simmons’ new feature roundup of the new Premiere Pro CC 2014.1 and was excited to learn about the Open Sequence In Timeline command.


This is a feature I have requested in the past along with many other editors, so it was with excitement I put down Scott’s article to try it out. If you are similarly interested in this feature, I want to point out to you that the command is hidden away a bit.


Click the “Settings…” wrench button in the lower-right of the Source Monitor to access a menu with Open Sequence in Timeline near the top.


If you’re like me and find this command’s location a bit out-of-the-way, you might be happy to know you can map the command to a keyboard shortcut.

Screen Shot 2014-10-30 at 5.04.28 PM


Another happy outcome of this is that I learned Premiere Pro had a Gang Source and Program command. I didn’t know! Both of these commands deserve easy-to-find buttons in the source monitor panel, but I’m glad I found them in the meantime.

Happy editing.


Logging magic with Adobe Prelude

During my time at Adobe I worked as the Product Manager on Prelude for about 18 months. I traveled the world talking with customers who used or needed to use Prelude as an ingest and logging tool. Prelude is used a lot in large broadcast environments where assistants, producers or journalists are preparing material for an editor. However in my own editing, I didn’t have much reason to use it. Like many one-man-band editors I usually find myself jumping into the cutting before I do too much logging. And Prelude really wants to be used before using Premiere Pro, so if I’m logging and organizing as I’m editing then it usually makes sense to just stay in Premiere Pro.

I recently worked on a project featuring some doctors talking to camera about the facility where they work and the patients they treat. I wanted the ability to easily find different answers as well as different version of the answers given. This meant I really needed to log this material, and this was a perfect chance to employ Prelude. I used Prelude to log this project because because of the powerful way it creates subclips and comment markers. I was able to invest some time in Prelude that paid off nicely in Premiere Pro.


You can enter text into the description field while Prelude is playing. If you would like to pause (K) or jump the cursor back (H) you can use the transport controls from the keyboard by adding the Option/Alt key.

With each clip I watched and listened creating comment markers that started with when the subject started answering and ended with the thought. Prelude makes it much easier to create markers with durations than it is in Premiere Pro. While playing, I was able to type quickly and summarize the answer provided by the interviewee, this text went into the comment marker’s description field.

Prelude also makes it easy to adjust the beginning and end of the comment in case that was important to me.

Next came a special step that helped me a great deal in Premiere, and this step can only be done in Prelude. I moved the CTI to the start of the first marker then selected all the markers and copied them to my clipboard.

Next, in the Marker Inspector I changed the selected markers’ type from Comment to Subclip.



Check it out: all of the Comment markers are turned into Subclips!

Then, back in the Timeline panel, I pasted the comment markers.

Now you can see in Prelude I have two sets of markers, comment and subclip markers. This may seem weird, but you’ll see in Premiere Pro why this was useful to me.

Next, send the clips from Prelude to Premiere Pro. You can also simply import the media files into Premiere Pro, and since Prelude stores the marker metadata inside the media files, Premiere Pro will read the clips and markers during import.


If your Premiere Pro bin isn’t showing the Description bin column, change your bin’s Metadata Display settings to show this field.

This makes it easy to find clips based on the content of the answer by looking at the notes I entered in Prelude. I can also use Premiere Pro’s search field to help me locate clips about a certain topic. This is cool, but there’s even more I like about working this way.

When I work with the sub clips, and even the master clip representing the media file, I get to see the comment markers in the source viewer and in the timeline as well. This helps me see even in the context of the timeline which clip is being used and what they’re talking about. And with Overlays enabled in the Program Monitor I can even see the source clips’ marker text front and center.




I found this method of working very helpful on this project. It pays to get organized at the start of your project and Prelude’s powerful marker editing features were key to my workflow.

my first go with Indie Essentials

When I heard* about That Studio acquiring the Rampant Design Tools‘ library and making it available as an inexpensive package called Indie Essentials, I was excited. I’ve heard great thing about these elements and now they were available at an incredible price along with sound effects and music. Walter Biscardi has a great review, and Scott Simmons interviewed Kanen Flowers and Sean Mullen about the partnership.

About the same time I started downloading Indie Essentials, a friend of mine working for AudiencePoint asked me to help create a screen recording video to introduce their service.

I wanted some kind of transition device to get from the logo/slides at the beginning into the screen recording, and similarly out of the screen recording back to the logo at the end.

I thought one of the light bloom effects in Indie Essentials might be perfect, and I was right! There is a lot of choose from too. I auditioned the clips in the Aggressive Lights section.

I chose Aggressive Lights_16.mov, edited it in above the cut point and put the clip into the Screen blend mode.



It was perfect!

Next my friend asked if we could have music under the voice over. Amazingly, Indie Essentials comes with stock music too! I went into the Corporate Music folder and tried out Corporate A Beautiful Day.wav. It played really nicely against the edit. I needed to adjust the duration, but that’s easy sauce, and in no time I had the perfect music bed.

I was really happy with how quickly Indie Essentials gave me exactly what I needed for this project. The price of Indie Essentials is crazy good and I encourage everyone to check it out.


* That Studio founder Kanen Flowers and I are friends, and I am also one of his advisors for That Studio. So I am biased in favor of Indie Essentials’ success.

Promo in Stop Motion

I recently worked with Alarming Pictures on this video promoting Bill Gates’ Feb 10 2014 appearance on Reddit’s Ask Me Anything.

The paper craft artwork was shot using a Canon 5D Mark III recording raw files to a tethered Mac laptop. The style was meant to be analog and papercrafty, so no specialized stop motion animation software was used, just the Canon EOS Utility.

GatesRedditAMAProduction1 GatesRedditAMAProduction2

Production was fairly straightforward with the team shooting the planned scenes generally in the order they were going to be included in the final piece. Shoot, nudge, shoot, nudge, etc. No attempt was made at attempting lip sync with the audio recording, the mouths were just cycled through and would be augmented in post.

When I received the CR2 files from production my first step was to import them into Lightroom 5. This gave me a chance to find obviously-bogus frames that wouldn’t ever be used, then I exported everything out as full-size 5760×3840 JPEG files.

The JPGs were imported as a sequence into After Effects CC and interpreted as 10fps. Then the image sequence was placed into a 1920×1080 comp running at 23.976, the same size and frame rate we would finish in. These HD comps, as well as nearly-full-size 5760×3240 23.976 comps were rendered out to ProRes 422.

With the prep work of turning the raw frames into QuickTime movies completed, I proceeded to edit just like I had any other footage. Because After Effects would be integral later on and because it was flexible in dealing with multiple frame sizes, Premiere Pro CC was selected as the editing tool. I created subclips for different scenes and starting building the structure of my sequence. Some clips were sped up for action, some slightly slowed down. On set, shots were not meticulously timed out, so I had a lot of freedom to just make it work.

I also had the ability to choose when we would cut to a closer shot, and I had plenty of resolution as well. At first I just scaled up the 1920×1080 “wide shot” then later the full-frame 5760×3240 ProRes clips were edited in and scaled down. Overkill? Yes, and it caused problems later.

As the edit became more refined I also turned my attention to refining the mouth movements– at least somewhat. The mouth opening and closing randomly while the character spoke was fine, but during pauses of voice the moving mouth was distracting. In Premiere Pro I would composite a freeze frame of the “resting mouth”, which was his smile. I used the crop effect to make a rough box around the mouth so that any animation in the rest of the frame could still be seen. It was rough, indeed, but it helped me quickly place the mouth rests in the realtime NLE environment.

This is about the time the crashing started.

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 3.48.38 PM

Over the course of the afternoon I crashed Premiere several times. With some help from Twitter I discovered my use of the very large 5760×3240 frames in Premiere was causing it to crash, and my cropping of one 5760 frame over another probably wasn’t helping.

I didn’t really need that many pixels, so I replaced the 5760×3240 renders with 4K versions and then I had no crashing problems at all.

After the timing was finalized in Premiere Pro I moved into After Effects to do for-real the adding of the mouth pauses. The freeze frame clips from Premiere helped me find where the pauses were to go, but I also ran the audio file containing the spoken answers through Prelude and along with a text transcript performed Speech to Text analysis which placed markers for each word that I was able to see in After Effects.

Screen Shot 2014-02-09 at 9.45.28 PM

When the character’s mouth pauses, it is actually his whole head that I replaced. It was easier to mask the head and place it on top than to try to replace just the mouth. In a few shots there was some flicker in the moving main shot and so the frozen head would not completely match, so I used the GenArts Sapphire FlickerMatch plug-in to make the head have the same flicker as the rest of the shot.

When I was done I rendered a QuickTime movie and edited it into my sequence on top of the dynamically linked comp/clip. If a change was needed to the After Effects comp I could easily choose Edit Original to reopen the comp. Then when done in AE I would rerender the comp and Premiere would immediately see the new render file.

The last thing to do was deal with the flicker that I mentioned before. I recently sent my friend Pete Litwinowicz from RE:Vision Effects a timelapse shot I took at Machu Picchu in Peru, he wanted to test their DE:Flicker plug-in with it. Because of that interaction I had it in my head that maybe DE:Flicker could Deflicker my stop motion movie. With the default settings I wasn’t getting the result I was after so based on a recommendation from the excellent AE-List listserve I tried Digital Anarchy’s Flicker Free plug-in. With the defaults I was able to have the flickering gone immediately. However, I ended up using the DE:Noise plug-in from RE:Vision with some settings Pete provided, because it was a little smoother. It is worth noting, however, that DA’s Flicker Free got about 90% of the way there with just the defaults.

Here’s a screenshot of the final timeline in Premiere Pro.

Screen Shot 2014-02-09 at 9.49.20 PM

It was a fun project and everyone involved was happy. I learned a lot too!

Semi-automatic title and menu creation


These days I don’t get much time for real video production and editing, except for a couple of times a year I put my skills to use and produce recital DVDs for the parents of my daughter’s dance studio.  I’m just finishing up one of these projects and I’d like to share a few ideas that might help you in your future projects.

A cornucopia of software

When I was editing full time in the late 90s I would often impress my clients with my effortless orchestration of many pieces of software.  My mission wasn’t to be showy but rather to combine the powers of the different tools to better complete my project.  These days this way of working is a matter of course, today’s editors are required to juggle a lot of applications and skills.

For this project the key applications I used were

Don’t redo work already done

When I produce these dance recital DVDs I need to be super efficient.  I need to get the project done very quickly while still providing the kind of quality I can be proud of.  For this project the “deliverable” is a set of two DVDs, each disc approximately 90 minutes in duration with 35 performances in one, 34 in the other.  Each performance has a lower third identifying the song the kids are dancing to, the class they’re in, who their teacher is and who the dancers are.  Each DVD also has a menu system so viewers can choose individual performances to watch.  That’s a lot to do, and if I had to type all the data into the computer it would have added significant time and annoyance to the process.

So my first rule was to get the recital program as either a PDF or a Word doc.  Someone at the dance studio already went to the trouble to type it all into a computer for the program, so I wanted to leverage that effort.  This seemingly simple request made possible a lot of workflow improvements.

Specialist tools

Once I had the Word doc I was on my way.  I copy and pasted the text into a super-powerful text editor called BBEdit (if you’re looking for a good free text editor check out TextWrangler from the same developer).  In BBEdit I was able to change line endings into tabs allowing me to quickly create a tab-delineated text file.  The tabs separated the individual data fields of each performance (performance number, performance name, class name, instructor name, dancer names) and each performance was separated by a new line.

Next I spent some quality time in Motion 4– the motion graphics and compositing component of Final Cut Studio– creating the look of my lower-third graphics.  I’m not a designer, but I can create graphics that are appropriate enough to impress dance moms.  But doing this in Motion and not Adobe After Effects is key, because Motion has a secret.  Motion’s project files, which can be played back in any QuickTime savvy application (on a machine with Motion installed), are actually XML files which makes possible some interesting workflows.

One app that fantastically leverages Motion’s openness is Automotion from Digital Heaven.  Automotion combines a Motion template with a tab-delineated text file to quickly (very quickly) create many variations of a title with the text file’s data.  It is really fantastic, and afterward you can update your template with a new idea then within seconds reproduce all of the graphics with the new look.

A few tips for using Automotion:

  • to include quotes ( ” ) in your titles replace them with double quotes in your text file ( “” )
  • you can create a box of paragraph text in Motion so lines of varying length will wrap
  • include a forward slash character ( \ ) in your text to force a new line

Motion is a great companion to MC too?

The output of Automotion is many Motion project files (.motn extension) which you can open up in QuickTime Player or edit directly into your Final Cut Pro timeline. What may surprised you is that Media Composer can also import .motn files just like any other QuickTime movie!

It isn’t entirely smiles and rainbows, though.  If you have ever seen Motion demoed you know that it does a lot of coolness in real time, harnessing the power of your video card.  But if other applications want to incorporate the Motion project the .motn must be rendered in software.  What is nice is that the rendering happens automatically, but what isn’t nice is it can be rather slow.  In other words if you import the .motn file into Media Composer part of the import time is consumed by rendering each frame of the .motn file.

In my case the titles were rather simple, just an animating blur as the characters faded up and each took approx 1 minute 15 seconds to import into Media Composer.  I had 69 titles to import, so that time added up quick.

I admit that I didn’t do it exactly this way because I don’t entirely trust Media Composer with importing .motn files directly.  Instead I ran my Motion projects through Compressor to make QuickTime movies with an alpha channel, then these movies I imported into MC.  It was slower to do it this way, but I have more faith in Media Composer doing a straightforward .mov import.  I have no reason or experience to justify mistrust, mind you, so try it both ways and decide what works best in your situation.

Either way, this is a good time to give yourself a break.  Your computer is going to be tied up for a while, so go for a walk or a drink or lunch or run some errands.  You’ve earned it.

Title revisions

Revising graphics is inevitable, but Automotion makes it a breeze.  Change your data or tweak your template then re-run Automotion and in no time at all your .motn files will be brought up to date.

Though not as immediate as if you were using the .motns in a Final Cut Pro timeline, it is still very easy to make the adjustments and then update your sequence with the new Automotion output.  You can delete the media for the imported clips then use Media Composer’s Batch Import command to reimport all of the Motion projects or QuickTime movies.  Even if your titles are edited and cut up throughout your timeline the sequence will relink to the new versions of the media files.

It is easy, but will be as time consuming as it was to bring the files in the first time, so be ready for a snooze or a bubble bath or whatever.

Bottom line: Automotion is fantastically useful, and while it is primarily marketed to Final Cut Pro users it should also be considered by more Avid editors.  Definitely check out the trial version, tell them I sent you.

Just a note to those of you wondering why I haven’t brought up AMA.  I couldn’t bring in my movies via AMA because they had an alpha channel.  If they had been full-screen and lacking transparency I could have saved a lot of time by relinking via AMA.

Smart DVD menu creation from text file

Eventually I had my edit finalized and I was ready for DVD authoring. As the time came to create the DVD menu systems, it occurred to me to again leverage the already-typed-in state of the text.  I would have a set of chapter selection screens, and the name of each performance would be onscreen along with an animated thumbnail of the dance. I didn’t want to start typing all those names in now!

I used After Effects to create the animations that would become my menus, and my hope was that I could put together an expression to read from a text file each of the song names.  As I was working on it I decided I would go a step further and tie together all of the layers of the menu comp with expressions, so that every element that needed to change for each menu screen could all change together automagically via one control.

If you’re scared of Expressions I completely sympathize.  I don’t know much about coding myself, but thankfully there are loads of expressions and threads about them on the interwebs.  I managed to find a few threads that talked about reading a text file and putting the data into a text layer, and the trickiest part was that I needed to format my text file as javascript.  Dan Ebberts is the main genius behind this magical code, and you’ll quickly find as you search the web for After Effects expressions that Dan is one of the foremost authorities.  I again used BBEdit to do some text replacement and I had a javascript-flavored text file that After Effects could read and the text layers sprang to life.

The following expression was put into my text layers’ Source Text control:

x = comp("130 Chapter LOOPing").layer("CONTROL LAYER").effect("NUMBER OF FIRST SONG")("Slider"); //number of first song on page (1, 7, 13, 20 etc)
y = x + 0; // increment the number for songs 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 etc. per page
if (y < 10) {"" + "0" + y}else{y}; //add leading zero to single digit
myPath = "/Volumes/G-SPEED Q_1/PACWEST JAN 2011/DVD MENUS/WINTER SHOWCASE list of songs.txt";
$.evalFile (myPath);
song = y;
}catch (err){
"file not found"

I used similar expressions to change the chapter number for each performance. The thumbnail was controlled by layers in a nested comp setting their opacity based on the song number.  It was pretty neat to change one slider in the control layer and have all of the elements update accordingly.

There was one significant downside: Because of my use of precomps and the control layer being in the main parent comp I couldn’t set up six different menu arrangements and render them all together (I had six pages of chapter selection menus, each page pointing to six chapters).  I had to render the comp once, change the slider value, render again, change the slider value, render again, etc.  Not the end of the world, but it made me wish I’d planned better.

Avid locators to chapters

In the past I have decided to start and complete an edit in Final Cut Pro because the output was DVD and it is so nice to have FCP sequence markers exported as chapter markers for DVD Studio Pro.  When I made the decision to cut this project in Media Composer I knew that I was setting myself up for hassle when DVD chapter time came, but I decided to deal with that problem when the time came.

Apparently I’m not the only one who has considered this challenge and I’m thrilled to see that the solution I arrived at was also innovated by the fantastic editor Steve Cohen.

From the Avid’s Tools menu choose Locators, and this opens up a window displaying a list of the sequence’s locators. You’ll see in my screenshot I have my locators in the M1 track, I put them there for my own mental convenience to differentiate from any locators I used for editorial purposes on any other track. With the Locators window open choose Export Locators from the File menu and the result is a nice tab delineated text file. Open in OpenOffice or Excel or such thing and remove the columns other than timecode and comment. Now you can import the text file into DVD Studio Pro.

The end

That’s it this time. I am really pleased with how well these techniques worked for me on this project, I was really able to save myself a lot of time.

Some writing for Post Magazine

Last month I was in Amsterdam for the annual IBC trade show, a large and important expo for people in the broadcast and film industries. I have been going to IBC since 2003, my company Automatic Duck would exhibit with other plug-in companies in the Plug-in Pavilion.  But 2010 was the first year where Automatic Duck did not exhibit.  There are still a lot of good reasons to be at IBC, so I still traveled to Amsterdam for a few days.

When my friend Randy Altman, the editor of Post Magazine heard that I wasn’t tied to a booth and was instead “wandering around” the show floor she asked me if I would like to blog for the magazine’s web site.

I didn’t immediately jump at the chance.  Sometimes I think I’m not a terrible writer, but I know that I’m a slow writer and I wasn’t sure I would be able to find anything interesting to write about.  But it would be a new experience no matter how it turned out, so I figured I’d give it a shot.

I ended up writing five posts for the Post Blog.

Thank you Randy and Post Magazine for inviting me to participate in your blog, I enjoyed the experience.

Real radio on my computer

For many of us young technophiles, terrestrial radio has lost its relevance. Radio stations’ ratings are down and the industry is struggling. Even while driving in the car you might listen to music or podcasts from your iPod, or stream satellite radio’s many offerings.  My crappy Jeep Wrangler doesn’t give me many modern options so I usually listen to FM radio, getting some NPR news and some local talk radio.

For example I really like the Dave Ross Show on Seattle radio station KIRO. He’s on from 9:00 until Noon, which means I wouldn’t listen since I wasn’t in my car very much for those three hours. I recently started listening to the Dave Ross Show through its web stream, and this worked well.  I would also play music from iTunes in the background, so I could turn the web stream’s volume down during commercials and still have something entertaining my ears.

But the problem with this system was the web stream sounds like crap.

RadioShark interface

Then I remembered  a nifty device I bought a few years ago: RadioShark from Griffin Technology. The RadioShark is a USB-connected radio antenna that feeds software for tuning and controlling.  The RadioShark software also allows for recording, even scheduled recording, and it even has Tivo-like functionality, allowing you to pause what you’re listening to.

Even better, it sounds great. Listening to KIRO radio on the RadioShark sounds way better than KIRO’s web stream.

I love the ability to pause the radio program and pick it up later.  I can run to the toilet, go get more coffee, go consult with coworkers, then come back and unpause the show.  I actually like getting a bit behind real time, because commercial radio loves its commercials, so I can just skip forward past them.

One thing that surprised me about the software was that Griffin took the time to make it scriptable via AppleScript. I wrote a couple of super-simple scripts and used QuickSilver to tie them to keyboard shortcuts, making RadioShark controllable from the keyboard no matter what application I’m using.

RadioShark in action

The scheduling feature is nifty, too, and I surprised myself by using it the other day.  I heard a promo for a show coming up on KUOW in the evening, during a time I would definitely not be listening live, so I scheduled RadioShark to record it in my absence.  It worked great!

If you find yourself needing to listen to AM or FM radio while you work I highly recommend Griffin Technology’s RadioShark.  I love mine.

Nirvana through Motion and FileMaker Pro

If you’ve only known me since I helped start Automatic Duck in late 2000, you might not know that in a previous life I was an editor in the Seattle-area.  I was pretty good at what I did, but in addition to my creative chops and ability to handily talk through a render I used to dazzle clients with my prowess for combining the wonder powers of several different pieces of software.  I cut on Media Composer, but I would do a lot of stuff in After Effects, plus create elements in Photoshop, maybe even create an animated matte in Elastic Reality or Commotion and then use Cleaner to compress a web copy for client approval– all this back in 1997-2000, a while before this is what everyone did.

Anyway, I’m used to combining the strengths of different tools, and the work we do at Automatic Duck is a ten-year extension of this approach.

I don’t get to edit professionally anymore, but I like to dip my toes back in once in a while.  Recent projects have included a video promoting a local 50+ condo building plus visuals for a Helios house concert.  And since last year I have become the defacto video guy for my daughter’s dance studio, a mostly thankless job selling recital DVDs for way too cheap.

It is the recital videos that have presented some interesting challenges in balancing the Good-Fast-Cheap conundrum.  It has to be cheap, there’s no way around that.  I need to get it done fast, too, because I’m doing it in my spare time which I don’t have a lot of.  And it has to be good, that’s how I roll.  So I shot 720P60 using a Panasonic HPX-170 camera, sending HD-SDI out to a Kona 3 inside a Mac Pro.  Plus I have a consumery Canon HF20 that I used as a wide locked-down safety.  This year there were two shows, each well over two hours and between the two there are nearly 130 performances.  The goal: to finish with one DVD for each show, with DVD menus and chapters and lower third titles identifying each song, dance group/class as well as teacher and choreographer.

You can tell I love my daughter, there ain’t no other way a sane person would agree to do all this.

Enough preamble, let’s get down to it

Of the various tasks involved in producing a four hour DVD set, probably the most daunting was creation of 129 animated lower third titles.  These titles included a lot of information: the name of the performance, the name of the dance class or group, if it was a solo, duo or trio the names of the performers, and finally the name of the instructor.  This is a lot data, the typing alone would have taken me forever.

Lucky for me I was able to get the showcase program as a PDF, something I could get the text out of quite easily.  Ok, so I might not have to perform a bunch of data entry, but I’d still have to spend a day copy and pasting to create the titles, right?  Thankfully not.

I edited the Pacific West Performing Arts Spring Showcase 2010 in Final Cut Pro, and it turns out that Final Cut comes with an excellent titling and graphics application called Motion.  Motion is good for more than just titles, but when it comes to banging out a lot of lower thirds that share a look, Motion just can’t be beat.  And not just for FCP users, Motion can also be quite a good tool for you Avid users too.  I can hear a few of you in the back snickering because you think Motion is no match for After Effects.  I grant you that, you’re right, After Effects is the power tool, but in this particular situation even After Effects can not do what Motion makes possible.

You see, Motion’s project files are written as XML, meaning they are text files that can be read, edited and written by any application.  The ramifications of this are huge:  You can create a template Motion project file, open it in a text editor and make some changes and when you reopen the project in Motion– or better yet, switch back to your Final Cut Pro sequence containing that Motion project clip– your changes are reflected immediately.  See where this is going?  What if I could somehow combine the text from the PDFs with a template Motion project and make my title creation easy?

There’s an App for that

I could tell some of your eyes glazed over  during that last paragraph when I mentioned XML. It is like your creative antibodies started screaming, “I’m an artist, not a programmer!”

Lucky for you there’s a very user-friendly application called AutoMotion from Digital Heaven that leverages Motion’s openness and allows you to combine a Motion template with data you had your assistant type in– don’t worry I totally get you’re an artist and don’t do “data entry”– creating many many titles in just seconds.

AutoMotion’s interface is easy to use.  First you import your data into a simple column view, next import a Motion project file to be used as a template, then finally assign which of your data fields link to which of your text objects in the Motion project.  That’s all there is to it.

When you’re ready you tell it to do its thing and process through them all.  It takes no time at all to create many many animated titles.  Better yet you can update your design in the Motion template project then have AutoMotion update all of your titles, again in just seconds.

The Road Less Traveled

But I, I took another route.  I first faced this challenge of the avalanche of animated titles last year, when I produced the first DVD for my daughter’s recital.  I was aware of AutoMotion but I was also very curious in achieving a similar result DIY style.  Plus, I’m quite a closet nerd, so I decided if Motion was the key to the castle I could pick the lock using FileMaker Pro (that’s right, the database application).

A bit dramatic, maybe, but I embarked on some cool shit.  Turns out this cool shit was a lot easier in the spring of 2009 when I first tried it, at the time I had Motion 3 installed and it was more forgiving of the XML my scripts produced.  When I decided to reprise my FileMaker Pro/Motion “solution” I was now using Motion 4 and it was a lot harder to pull off because it required some elements to be present in the XML that Motion 3 didn’t care about. But I persevered.

Here’s a summary:

  • Copy and pasted text from program PDF into text file
  • Used some Find and Replace routines to convert line endings to tab markers so that in the end I had a tab delineated list of all of the performances and associated credits.
  • Imported the text list into a FileMaker Pro database
  • Created a Motion project that had the look I was after, then replaced the FPO text with unique placeholders
  • In FileMaker pasted the .motn project XML into a global field then created a series of calculated fields that replaced the text from my template with the record fields of the database
  • Created a script that would write the new calculated Motion project into a file
  • Edited all my new Motion .motn titles into my Final Cut Pro sequence

Later realized I needed to tweak my title position and font size, so I adjusted the template then re-ran my FileMaker Pro script.  Switched back to Final Cut Pro and just like magic the sequence updated with the new look.

Doing it the hard way had some advantages, too, I was able to customize my solution to my exact needs.  Like: make the font size controlled by a calculated field that, based on a count of the characters in a line, would cause lines with more characters to slim down the font size to allow more characters on screen.  I could also populate the database with all of the data from the program but then choose which fields I would actually “publish”.  I also had more control over the file names of the generated .motn files.  My solution was far from elegant, far from general purpose, but it worked great.

Motion is XML, and also QuickTime

There’s another secret that Motion is hiding, another remarkable feature that may entice you to try using it even in conjunction with a non-FCP NLE.  A Motion project file may be just an XML file, but QuickTime can read those .motn files too.  In fact, if you change a motion project’s extension from .motn to .mov just about any QuickTime-savvy application is able to use the files too.  So you could import the .mov-named version of the .motn file into your Media Composer.  You could also drop a list of .motn files into Compressor and have it run a batch to render out proper QuickTimes with alpha channels.

I encourage you to play with it yourself.  Animate a video layer around in Motion in some fun way, then save the project and open it in a good text editor.  Search for <pathurl> to find where the media file is described.  Replace that file path with a similarly formatted path to another media file (note that spaces are represented by %20), save and open the project again in Motion.  Pretty cool, eh?

Maybe this will give you some thoughts the next time you find yourself needing a systematic approach to a motion graphics or titling problem, it could be that by building a template in Motion then running it through AutoMotion or your own processing system you could achieve this kind of nirvana.