Notes from using Premiere Pro in a real-world, client-in-the-room edit
Premiere Pro has come a long way and is a real alternative for FCP users looking for a quick switch.
By Scott Simmons | July 26, 2011
Adobe Premiere Pro has been back in the post-production public consciousness for quite a while. Now at version 5.5 it feels like Adobe began really pushing it when the Mercury Playback Engine was added in 5. I've been toying with it off and on for quite a while now but with the recent release of Final Cut Pro X I wanted to give it a real-world, client in the room test. In the end it was both very good, kinda bad â¦ and a little bit ugly.
Before we discuss how Premiere Pro performed there's a number of questions that I've been asked about finally using PPro in a "real world" edit.
First is the question I've been asked most often: Why now?
With the arrival of FCPX came the end of future development of Final Cut Pro 7. In my opinion and my workflows, FCPX isn't ready. Besides missing "pro" features like I/O and 3rd party hardware support I think the basic editorial tools are a step backwards from Final Cut Pro (but that's a different discussion for a different day). Many say "FCP7 didn't stop working when FCPX arrived" but personally I don't want to keep using a end-of-life NLE as I want my tools to continue to evolve and get better in both functionality and performance. Hearing that argument we'd be expected to continue to use FCP7 forever or at least until FCPX gained needed features. That may be years from now ... if ever as I doubt some of the basic editorial tools in FCPX will ever change. I want to give my time and energy to tools that I know have a future and sadly FCP7 doesn't have a future beyond where it sits now.
The second most common question is why not edit with Avid Media Composer?
That's an easy answer in that I do work in Avid ... all the time. But I like to have multiple editors available for different tasks. This job happened to be a more flashy promo-type piece that required some After Effects work as well as mixing of the audio. I often feel these types of things are easier achieved in a studio suite of applications like Adobe Creative Suite (or what would've been Final Cut Studio). Plus I've found it easier for me to do some of the more flashy stuff with the PPro/FCP way of working with effects.
The final question has been this: what's the learning curve from Final Cut Pro to Premiere Pro?
There are some pointed differences as they are different applications but overall they are VERY similar. They are nearly identical in a lot of general tasks and operations. The major editorial differences come mainly in where a certain task or button is located. The origins of FCP and PPro come from the same people so it's no wonder they are so similar. Unless you have a deathly fear of change moving to PPro shouldn't be a fear that keeps you awake at night.
This edit was a mix of Sony F3, XDCAM EX and Canon 7D. It was refreshing to have a camera like the F3 selected for the main interviews as that meant sound was recorded directly to camera so no dealing with double-system sound for DSLR. PPro 5.5 introduced a new Merge Clips command to make this easier but even easier still is not having to worry about it at all.
7D media was converted to ProRes LT before we began but the Sony media was imported natively. PPro relies on the Mercury Playback Engine for it's amazing performance and this MacPro was running an NVIDIA Quadro FX 4800 for Mac.
The other thing that made this move possible was the release of AJA Kona drivers for CS5.5. This was absolutely critical in a client focused environment as I often had the client in the room as we worked the edit and without display on the client monitor he would have had nothing to look at. Yet another reason this missing feature from Final Cut Pro X is so baffling.
Matrox actually beat AJA in availability of their CS5.5 drivers but testing both an AJA Kona LHe and Matrox MXO2 Mini revealed better performance on my system from the Kona card (or so I thought). Premiere is interesting in its monitoring in that to use 3rd party hardware you choose a dedicated sequence preset for the hardware you want to use. And just looking at the playback settings for each reveals a big difference.
The AJA player settings in PPro offer a lot of choices of formats and monitoring.
The Matrox player settings in PPro are rather ... simple in comparison.
UPDATE 7-27: Andy made a great point in the comments below that the Matrox video settings that parallel the AJA settings are located in the System Preferences under the Matrox MXO2 Mini tab. This is where you would change your video monitoring options like output resolutions and downconverts. Matrox uses the same system preference between PPro and Avid Media Composer (and I'm guessing Final Cut Pro as well) but when you check the video output preferences in Avid it actually launches the Matrox System Preference. It might be worth Matrox adding a button in their PPro setting that launches the Matrox system preference right from within PPro.
Options for Matrox hardware are handled within the Mac System Preferences.
This article isn't intended to be a "how to" switch article nor is it intended to teach an editor how to use Premiere as there are many resources for just that. Instead this article is intended to convey the good, bad and the ugly when working with PPro for the first time in a real world post house with a client in the room. With that I'll break this into three sections with bullet points and notes in each. Some of these comments are on big issues, some on small things I noticed as I worked. And the ugly was definitely ugly though that's really no fault of Premiere Pro itself.
The Very Good
â¢ A short learning curve from Final Cut Pro
Premiere Pro is very much like Final Cut Pro (that's FCP7 and above, not FCPX) in that it all beings with a project. That project files contains bins of media, sequences, imported graphics, audio and all the stuff that goes into making up an edit. In fact, IMHO, it will be easier overall for an editor to move from FCP7 to Adobe Premiere than it will be to move to FCPX.
PPro uses the familiar Viewer/Canvas 2-up layout (in PPro it's called Source monitor and Program monitor) for editing. The Project window is like the FCP Browser and that's where you'll organize things like bins, sequences and pretty much anything you import into a project. Keyframing of effects and motion parameters takes place in the Source/Viewer in a timeline just like FCP7.
It'll be an instantly familiar environment to FCP users since they are so similar. Window layouts can be arranged and saved, bins have columns of different metadata, there's an audio mixer and level meters and a toolbar. If you realize that conceptually they are very similar but recognize things will be in different places (and steps to achieve a goal will be different steps) then that will go a long way toward making an FCP to PPro transition easier.
â¢ Mercury Playback Engine
We had mixed codecs and a few mixed frame rates in this job so the Mercury Playback Engine performed well. The only things I had to render were two sequences that I Dynamic Linked over to After Effects to do some beauty work on one of the subjects. Sometimes they felt like they wanted to play realtime but other times they did not. Other than that no render was required on things like titles and transitions that were built out of several layers of video and blend modes.
With a supported NVIDIA GPU the Premiere Pro performance screams.
There's been some discussion on whether Mercury playback is enabled when using 3rd party hardware like the Kona card but I can confirm that it does work. I tried the usual picture-in-picture, stacked clips with filters test and the Mercury acceleration does work in conjunction with hardware i/o. I didn't get as many realtime streams playback on the PPro monitor only but certainly enough for most of what I encounter in day to day editing.
I had been skeptical at first about the PPro single-window style interface (as in all the PPro windows are gathered into one large, resizable window) as it seemed too structured when compared to FCP's free-floating windows. Once I really got into PPro I made two large windows for my two 24 inch monitors and it actually works really well. Workspaces can easily be saved and accessed by keyboard shortcuts.
Different window layouts are easily saved and recalled, ala Final Cut Pro.
Each window has a pop-out menu that lets you undock, close or maximize the frame. Once you figure out just where to dock a window to get the desired result when you move it then it's easy to build just the workspace you want. FCPX could learn a thing or two.
All PPro windows have this panel menu for docking and organizing windows.
â¢ Per track audio adjustments
PPro is quite strong in the audio mixing category. Things like separate gain and volume controls are great but PPro moves a step beyond with per track (not just per clip) levels, effects and automation control. You can turn on rubber banding for either individual clips or an entire track. When using automation via the audio mixer there's Read, Latch, Touch options that will be familiar to anyone who has worked in audio editing applications. You can also assign audio filters to an entire track. This was very handy when applying a compressor to the interview subject's audio.
It's nice to have both per clip and per track audio adjustments in Premiere Pro.
â¢Â History menu
If you want to see an undo menu the way it should be done look no further than PPRo's History menu. It's a step-by-step listing of the actions that have been performed. Adobe says you can "undo as many as 32 recent changes made to the project in any Premiere Pro panel" and while that's not unlimited it's very usable thanks to the History panel. The History panel gives a count of how many Undos you have left available. Now if we could just get it higher than 32!
Seeing your last 32 actions in a list form makes for easy undos and redos.
â¢Â Subframe audio editing in the timeline
If you want to edit audio at a subframe level it's as easy as selecting Show Audio Time Units from the Timeline, Audio Mixer or Program monitor panel menu. With that the timecode display changes to subframe units. If you remember how difficult subframe editing was in FCP then this will be welcome.
No shift+dragging to subframe audio edit in Premiere Pro, it's just a menu item away.
â¢ Best in class title tool
PPro's title tool beats its competitors hands down. Once created in WYSIWYG form over a frame of the video a title is then saved into a bin to it can be loaded and edited into a sequence. I once asked WTF Title Tools ?!?! which declared that PPro beat FCP and Avid when it comes to simple titling. It still does.
That's a nice title tool.
â¢ Project Manager
PPro uses a Project Manager to do a lot of what FCP's Media Manager does. It works on an entire project basis as opposed to being able to use it on a per sequence basis. But if you look at the image below you can see that all edit sequences in a project show up so you can choose how many or how few of your cuts you want to manage. It's a pretty nice way to archive at the end of a project and it worked well archiving this edit when we were done.
There's quite a few archiving options available using the PPro Project Manager.
Next Up: The Kinda Bad and the Little Bit Ugly
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