Well, I guess I’ve gotten vain enough to assume that I might know a thing or two about Avids and editing. So perhaps the world would be a better place if I shared my seemingly limitless knowledge (?). Occasional tips that relate to offline and online editing, Photoshop (my right hand), After Effects (my third hand) and managing media and other files. Throw in the occasional rant to let off some steam and you get the gist . Thanks for reading.

Friday, July 23, 2010


021 - From time to time here on the program I like to address some reader mail that comes my way. Here’s one from Stephan. Stephan writes, “[Hey, Editing God]. What do you think of the Avid’s new smart tool?”

Well, first I’d like to say that it’s always great to get feedback (always better to get the positive kind). I love my fans especially you; the one reading this right now. Love you the most – I really, really mean it.

Smart tool, eh? Well Stephan, that’s a darn good question. However this is a TIPS and TRICKS blog so I don’t have to answer that one. Bye!

“What!” you say? You DEMAND an opinion?!? Well, it’s not like I have an opinion for everything, y’know. Wait a minute. In fact I DO! Okay…lemme try this one.

Avid’s new smart tool: on the surface it is a fundamental change to the long cherished way of handling media in the Avid timeline. It’s is always a dangerous thing to tamper with the universally understood mechanisms in any system (witness OSX changing command N to mean new-Window instead of new-Folder –wow, what anger Apple received over that one!). Despite this Avid bravely dove in and tried to fix a long-standing issue with dragging, trimming and rubberbanding. Namely the issue of too many freak’n mouse clicks to perform the operation.

Truth is I’m still getting used to it. And I will say that I find myself occasionally suppressing the need to punch something when the timeline is fighting my finger-memory. But I ask myself – what if it was this way from the very beginning? Would it still be annoying or would I have adapted to that and resisted any change to deviate? I have to admit it would be the latter. So I think the new smart tool is welcome addition.

Lest anyone think that I’d paid by Avid to kiss their royal behinds allow me to retort. The tool is very clever and well conceived. However, I think when implementing it they should have included an optional preference setting. There’s another example that comes to mind: Superbins. Personally I don’t like ‘em. And I have two huge/wide monitors with loads of real estate which I take up with multiple open bins on top of other open bins. So I don’t need Superbins. I don’t want Superbins. But if I had to edit on a laptop I think I’d gain a whole new appreciation for their existence. Avid wisely made them an OPTION. Like my clients I’m a big fan of options. So the Smart tool loses a star for not being an optional implementation (unless I missed a preference somewhere).

It also loses a ½ star for not allowing me to have settings I can quick-key. Imagine if I could hit shift-F4 and get the combination of the smart tool I want. Or being able to map that to a button. I’d really love to have that because right now I find myself CONSTANTLY turning the individual buttons on & off. Wasn’t the point to avoid that? Minus another ½ star for the fact that the Smart tool resets itself seemingly all the time. That annoys the crap out of me. And why does it have those icons? And why won’t they name an edit suite after me?!? And why don’t they make planes out of the same stuff that the black box is made out of!!! Wait, I think I lost track.

The overreaching point of today’s blog is --- a bunch of points. I do find issues with my Media Composer that I wish they would fix. I’m not a fan of any software to the point that I think its perfect the way it is. I like change. And I don’t use this platform to bitch about the Media Composer (much) but to hopefully share some of the things I’ve learned as an editor.

But I have been trying to think of a way that I could “suggest” a few alterations to the software and at the same time point a few fans of this blog toward an appropriate venue for my rants (of which this blog is not). So for next while, until I run out of rants, at the end of each blog I’ll include a link that points straight through the suggestions forum on the Avid site to latest suggestions for the Media Composer. I’d appreciate it if you’d weigh in and tell me if I’m right, wrong or (more than likely) misinformed. I figure the more voices the more likely the change…hopefully for the better.

Thank you Stephan and every other listener out there. Rock on. Fish-out.


Wish like a Fish: an explanation

Wish like a Fish: Effects- Part 1

Thursday, July 15, 2010


020 - Recently I took a short trip and on the plane I carried along my favourite drug to get me through my semi-mild fear of flying – my iPhone. In “Airplane Mode” I use it to watch movies. I don’t know about you but I find watching movies teleports me to another world where I swear the plane could be on fire and on rapid decent and I’d be more excited about the car chase in front of me.

And what was on the bill today? A movie I had wanted to see for a while but was never quite in the mood for at the video store: Sideways. Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church are a brilliant, fresh duo. I really loved the character study of these two. And Kevin Tent was phenomenal. I mean truly magnificent.

Who is Kevin Tent? (sigh) The editor of course! Duh!?! Kevin cut the movie. Or, to put it another way, Kevin dissolved the movie. Kevin and I think exactly along the same lines as to what dissolves are for.

Back in film school we were taught, “Dissolve: a transitionary device in film where two scenes blend, via opacity, from one to the next communicating to the viewer a change of time or place”. Well, like Robin Williams quoting a textbook definition of poetry in The Dead Poet’s Society I say to my film prof, “Excrement!”.

Yes, dissolves can be used that way. But frequently it’s due to a lack of imagination on the director’s part. In short, it fixes a time/place change problem that should have been solved in pre-production. When I was an assistant, I learned from my mentor, Andy, that dissolves are really a paintbrush. If carefully woven they are poetry in light leading the eye smoothly from one place to another while at the same time invoking a unique, emotional tone.

In Sideways Kevin almost always uses dissolves in artistically. There is the transition of Giamatti’s face to a beautiful sunset just when he’s happy for the first time in the movie. Or the dissolve between the actors walking away in close up to a wide shot with no passage of time at all. Or the multiple overlays of imagery while the fou
r characters enjoy wine and conversation at the dinner table. Look closely and you’ll see Kevin works very hard to ensure no face slams into another face, no recognizable form competes with another during the dissolve. Instead things, people, or places dissolve into a “pocket” or a non-cluttered area of the frame, smoothly leading the eye around the frame from point to point. Is time passing? Maybe. But that’s not what Kevin’s trying to do here. He’s carefully sewing the visuals together in a poetic dance.

Senior editors with premature gray, such as this blog writer, would refer to this last example from Sideways as “bi-packing”; the film optical term used to describe superimposing one image over another - often between dissolves. It’s an art form. If you want to see this in action for a few minutes solid watch the opening toy sequence in Rob Reiner’s often forgot film North. Toy trains dissolve seamlessly into hills, which pan over and dissolve perfectly with dolls. Cheers to you Robert Leighton.

That’s not to say things can’t be shaped into a director’s mind. There are some awesomely preconceived dissolves in Highlander along with a few funky but calculated wipes for good measure. In fact I find the measure of a good director is often when they don’t use dissolves. They know what I know - which is dissolves are not strictly speaking “needed”to craft the story.

And so with this, my 20th blog, I impart upon you the sage words of Andy, my mentor. “Fishy”, he’d say, “A good dissolve is a long dissolve.” Long, I learned was much more than two seconds. By making it long you’re forcing the brain to resolve one image going into the other – slowly. You’re trying to create poetry. And if it’s long and it’s not working you know you need to try something else.

Like maybe a cut.

Friday, July 9, 2010


019 - I rarely leave my chair. Other than the occasional request to supervise a colour correction session or an audio mix there’s isn’t much call for me to actually use my legs. This can result, if left untreated, in a chronic case of “editor’s butt”. Trust me, it ain’t pretty. I really should get out more to see other people at work. Watching them work demonstrates individual methodology (the good and the bad) and provides insight into how I can improve my own day-to-day workflow. And isn’t that the underlying theme of my blogs?

On one occasion a spot I worked on was being re-composited at a 3D animation studio in (on?) a system I had never seen before. The interface was akin to tearing open an Avid timeline, letting the clips spill out, in a seemly in a random fashion, over a large gray table and having thin strings connect them together in some kind of order that escaped me. I thought it was a stupid interface.

But as I watched the animator work I noticed he always had access to my original media, his effected clips, and his trials and errors and his final composite -all in the same project and all in the same “space”. So when I went back to the shop I looked at my timeline in a very different way.

Let me back up for a moment. Have you ever worked on a Media 100 circa 1997 to 2001? If you have you know my pain. After working on an Avid for 5 years I was forced to use this system exclusively for four consecutive years (or was it decades, I can’t tell). Other than one single independent graphics layer it was strictly A-B roll editing. Some editors rock to this. But if you use an Avid (or Final Cut, or Premiere) I’m guessing you agree that while it is a very fast way to put together a cut it is a tragically inept way to keep up with the demands placed on post facilities. Adding layers upon layers of titles and graphics and tweak them with relative ease is a must today.

But there’s more to it than adding graphics . You might decide a single layer will only be your dialogue edit. The next layer only your b-roll. And more b-roll above that on the next. It can save a fair bit of trimming and sliding knowing your dialogue isn’t pushing or pulling everything else around the cut. It’s not appropriate for every project but when it is it is blindingly fast. So when we bought a brand new edit suite to work with in our brand new company, Avid it was (again). I swear to God I actually hugged the box the day I arrived.

But my experience with this animator and his system showed me that layers was offering me another amazing opportunity I never, ever considered- the ability to stack multiple versions of the same clips into the same timeline. Why on earth would I want to do this overly complicated thing? Well, since I frequently export material to be composited or colour corrected in After Effects, when it comes back it does so without any of the corresponding metadata that Avid needs to keep track of what it is and where it came from. And all the careful labeling in the world doesn’t allow me to see, in an instant, what I had done before.

So now, for my needs, the composited version of a clip is laid ON TOP of the original. And/or the colour corrected version of a clip is laid ON TOP of the original. When I hit Play all I see is the effected media but if I need to I can peek at the others. If I want to I can trim the original and export it for colour correction again. More importantly if I consolidate and backup this timeline the original rough-cut media and the final media are kept together. If a client needs changes I have everything I need to do them in one place. No messing with re-digitizing or re-importing. No sorting through older cuts to figure out what I did or backing up multiple timelines for safety.

Ten years ago this would have created a bloated media folder too large to handle, but today with cheap hard drive space a-plenty there’s really no reason not to. In short, I can have my cake and eat it too.