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New Year’s Resolution List

Things to pledge to do - and NOT to do - next year!

By Steve Hullfish | December 21, 2008


So the grand poobahs at ProVideoCoalition wanted all of us gurus to write a few year end lists. There are all kinds of things that are important to editors and video professionals that could be turned into lists: plug-ins, equipment, innovative productions.

My list is of none of these things. But hopefully, it will be even more helpful and valuable. Oftentimes I get called in to fix projects that have been started by other editors, so I see a lot of other people's work. There are a few common mistakes that I see over and over again. So welcome to "My New Year's Resolution List of Mistakes That You Should Avoid Next Year." Some are technical. Some are creative. And some are business mistakes or client relationship mistakes. There are also a few positive "to dos" to add to your New Year's Resolution list.

1) Overextended supers: Oftentimes when I'm working on another editor's sequence, I spot this error. A name super of other graphic keyed over video extends one frame beyond the shot for which it was intended. Sometimes this is very difficult to spot. The most common reason for this error is command or control-dragging to find the end of a given segment. If you do this, the outpoint you mark is actually one frame PAST the end of the segment. There are a few ways to prevent this error. On an Avid, if you option-control drag, it actually marks the last frame of the segment instead of the first frame of the segment. You can also use the Mark Clip button and then change your Mark In. On Final Cut Pro, using Superimpose while parked on a segment will spare you from this error. But Final Cut Pro works the same was as Avid when it comes to locating and editing around a transition between two segments. Both systems have Mark In points that are INCLUSIVE of the frame on which you are parked. That means if you mark an in point, it is at the BEGINNING of the frame on which you are parked, but if you mark an out point, it is marked at the END of the frame on which you are parked. This is the most common reason for this error. So be cognizant of the exact frame that your keys are ending. If you have to, zoom in all the way to the end point of the transition to make sure that the two tracks are ending at the same frame.

2) Multiple levels of matching dissolves. If you have a stack of effects and you want to transition to or from another stack of effects or to fade the stack to black, you should NOT simply do dissolves on all layers of the transition. This looks terrible and can cause nasty looking transitions. You should create submasters or subsequences of the stacked effect first and then use a single transition effect to transition to the next part of the sequence. For those that have any experience with a video switcher, the analogy is cutting or dissolving from a mix effect bank to another mix effect bank. You'd never try to do this effect by using one fader to dissolve away the CG and another layer to dissolve away the background video while at the same time dissolving in another CG on top of the new background video, but that is essentially what you are doing when you put multiple levels of dissolves or other transition effects on multiple layers. On a switcher, you transition from one mix effect bank to another and in a non-linear editor, you collapse (an Avid term) the entire stack of effects down to a single layer and then transition from that single layer to another single layer. This includes taking a multi-layer effect to black. Although, on an Avid one trick that I think escapes many editors is that there is a special transition effect that can be placed on just the top-most layer of a stack to take ALL of the clips in the stack to black. That is the Fade to Color effect. There is also a Fade from Color effect that can be used when fading up to a stack of effects at the beginning of a sequence. The default color for this effect - thankfully - is black, but it can also be used to transition to any other color. If you think that the effect of multiple dissolves is really the same as using a single dissolve, the problem is that while the background video (v1) is fading to black, the layers above it are actually getting less opaque instead, so the effect is very messy. This is very evident if one of the layers is supposed to be covering something up. Consider if you were re-tagging a TV spot that had an old phone number on it. You place some kind of effect above the phone number to cover it up and add the new phone number on top of it. If you do a dissolve on all layers, as the video is fading to black, the old phone number will be visible as the effect that covers it dissolves away! This is simply poor craftsmanship. Make a New Year's Resolution to avoid doing this.

3) This is a fairly "rookie" mistake, but I have seen it MANY times from editors that I thought should know better. I also have to admit that I've done it once or twice by mistake when I was rushed at the end of the project. The mistake is to cut in both (or maybe ALL) tracks of audio from a shoot tape. This may be less damaging if the mixer only used a single mic and simply mixed the left channel a little lower than the right, but generally the two audio tracks are from two different mics, like a book and a lav. Or in the WORST case scenario, the two mics are the camera mic and a lav. Having both of these tracks cut into your timeline means that the beautiful audio that the location mixer recorded now sounds horrible or creates a bizarre stereo mix with different sounding audio coming from each speaker. As early as possible - hopefully before you even cut the audio into the sequence - you should select the best possible microphone and only cut that microphone into the sequence. The sole exception that I've found to this is that sometimes one mic sounds better at the beginning but later has an issue, like it begins to break up due to a bad cable or a dying battery. Then you are forced to switch from one mic to another in mid-program. In that case, unless you can mask the change in audio in some way, you need to go with the mic that has no problems, which can sometimes mean re-cutting the audio from that channel. Because of this, I sometimes wait to pick the best mic track until I've cut together the rough cut. Then I know that my favorite mic is available throughout the entire production. However, that has bit my occasionally if I'm working very fast and don't have time to choose and delete the other channel.

4) While we're discussing audio, another New Year's Resolution is to have a little discipline when laying down audio AND video tracks in a sequence. Try to keep all of your voice overs on one track and all of your sound effects on specific tracks and all of your music on specific tracks. This will make it easier to do specialized audio layoffs, like M&E layoffs, without narration or dialog. (M&E mixes are commonly used to create international versions of productions that can be re-recorded with native languages. Many editing applications, like the Avid, have the ability to actually LABEL your audio tracks instead of just numbering them. This is a GREAT idea to help you establish and maintain discipline about track use because it's easier to remember to put your narration on the "voice over track" than "A1." This also makes it significantly easier for another editor or a sound mixer to step in and edit and mix stuff, even if you THINK you're going to be the only editor that ever touches the project. ALSO, it is great for projects that get archived and then, two years later you have to edit again, because if you have track discipline and label your tracks, then if you bring that project back later, it's easier to see how the project is laid out and if you're missing any media, you can easily see what part you're missing, like maybe all of the audio on the "voice over" track is missing. If it's scattered throughout the project, you might not know that it's all from the same file. But if it's all on the same track, then trouble shooting your sequence becomes MUCH easier.

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Ra-ey Saleh: | December, 22, 2008

Great idea for a thread, but I find myself, for the first time, completely disagreeing with you on something…
Item 3) about Audio.
Whilst I agree about laying up unnecessary tracks (i.e. it’s pointless putting 4 tracks of audio down on the timeline if 3&4;mirror 1&2;), which wastes valuable screen space and monitoring ability (and gets further complicated when you come to split audio edits etc…)  However, I feel you should always lay down two audio tracks for a clip (Mic and Camera Mic, for example) and just Mute the one you don’t want to use.  The chances are that 95% of the time, the Mixer will only use the Main Mic, but as you point out there are numerous occasions when something goes wrong on the Main Mic and they have to “steal” something from the Camera Mic because it will just sound better.
On the last project I worked on, we were working with a lot of inexperienced offliners who would strip out any audio that they felt wasn’t any good.  Now, this was when all four tracks represented different people.  Not only were they making these decisions on the 8k proxy audio of XDCam, but they were essentially doing the Mixers job for them.  I would then get a call from the Mixer asking me to give them missing tracks on certain sections, as Protools gets rid of Tape names and TCs once OMFed.  This meant that I had redidge a number of clips, cut them in and then OMF them for Audio and wasted hours of my time over thge duration on the series.  Drove me insane.  And having spoken to a number of Mixers they have always said that they preferred to have as much audio available to them so that they can make the call.
Funny how you see this as a ‘rookie’ mistake, and I think the opposite is ture.
Well, I guess it had to happen sometime - my disagreeing with you!
Steve, thanks for a great series this year, and I wish you all the best for the New Year.

Steve Hullfish: | December, 22, 2008

I certainly understand both of your points and they are well-considered. Delivering both tracks to a final mix and actually leaving them up full for a final mix are two very different things. The rookie mistake is in sending a boom and a lav or a lav and a camera mic to be used “full up” in a final mix because you don’t think about it. If you mix the two because you want some ambience or something, that makes sense. Leaving them in the mix, but one muted, also makes sense if you are sending it to an audio mix later. But I’d guess that maybe 1% of all video edits get an outside audio mix. Using both camera tracks is only a rookie mistake if you didn’t actually think it out. If there’s a reason for it, then it’s a good decision.

Your point about not wasting space on extraneous extra tracks is also valid, but I would favor my way because it results in a better mix actually in most cases. I just did a very complex show last week where the stereo music tracks needed to be “dissolved” together at edit points, but usually the incoming music needed a different fade up rate than the outgoing music edit, so the only way to do that is to put them on separate tracks.

I’m also not arguing that you should use the SAME track assignments on every production - thereby “wasting” some tracks. I am just saying that each type of audio should be on its own track. What you define as a “type” of audio is up to you. I just don’t think you should mix a dialog track onto a music track.

Thanks so much for adding to the discussion. I stand by my points, but I also agree with yours.

Ra-ey Saleh: | December, 22, 2008

Steve, I think I misunderstood your original point and that we’re in complete agreement.
It’s been a while since I needed to do a mix, but when I did I always: Mono-ed the best track (deleted the others); and separated the tracks in the manner you suggested.  Usually the first 2 being left for Sync, next 2 SFX, the next two Music, and the 7th VO.  This goes back to the old days of only 8 channels of monitoring!  Of course, this was always dependeant on the particular show, i.e. you often needed 4 tracks for Music.  Obviously, they’d be instances when you used different tracks on particularly complicated areas, but it generally worked well.
Leaving camera mics “open” used to drive me insane, and is indeed a ‘rookie’ mistake.
When you know you’re sending a sequence to a Mix, you want to give them as much as you can.  Often ‘rookies’ don’t - I recently worked on a show that whenever their was VO, the editor completely removed all sync, hoping that the VO and Music would be enough.  Took me hours replacing all the sync, so it could be ‘low’ in the bg.
Anyway, looks like I was wrong, I do agree with EVERYTHING you say!
Thanks for your comments, and once again, have a good holiday!

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