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Senior Year Post Workflow

The long, boring, nerdy ass article I’ve been waiting a year to write : )

I’ve already written far too much about shooting my Take a Little Time and Lilly AdamsPulling Daisies back-to-back all within the month of October 2020, as well as the multitude of creative decisions involved in each film’s respective post processes. What I want to do here, though, is outline the workflow that blossomed concurrently for both films as they progressed from footage to final cuts— how files and timelines flowed from drive to drive, person to person, NLE to NLE. This was a workflow both adjusted by the minute as issues arose, and built upon years of executing these tasks in smaller doses on individual projects. I’m thrilled with how it all went, I’ve got some notes for next time, and if you find yourself embarking on editing cohesively with Premiere, After Effects, Logic X, and Davinci Resolve, definitely check it out and let me know your thoughts!

My final backup folder of all the project files I’m about to write too much about.

Platform & Setup

To set the stage clearly: we shot in 4K RAW on a Canon C200, writing CRM files to 2, 64GB CFAST cards. Shotgun (Sennheiser 416) mic audio was recorded as WAVs into a ZOOM H6 on a standard SD card. Besides directing post workflow, I ultimately handled scoring, sound design / editing / mixing, and After Effects work for both films. Both had their own editors (Jared Knorr on TaLT; Abby George on Daisies), and both were colored by Bryan Stanley.

I utilized Premiere, After Effects, Logic X, and Resolve on my MacBook Pro, while Jared and Abby had Premiere on PC, just as Bryan ran Resolve on his extravagant editing PC (ya know, with the multicolored LEDs inside?). While the Logic department had to happen on Mac, my After Effects duties could’ve been handled by someone else on either platform in this workflow. Regardless, weeks ahead of shooting either film, the need for simple cross-platform file sharing became apparent.

Risking it all for a re-created screenshot of a cross-platform (exFAT) drive wipe.

Lilly and I purchased 2, 5TB external hard drives, one for each film. I wiped their default configurations using Disk Utility, formatting them in exFAT for compatibility with both Mac and PC. I additionally purchased a 4TB desktop external hard drive that I kept formatted for Mac. As outlined with Take a Little Time, while shooting with one CFAST card, we copied the files on the other to two external hard drives for redundancy before wiping the second card, swapping them out, and repeating. We kept it all straight using the chart below, and that brings us up through wrapping: hundreds of massive CRM files stored in at least two locations for each film.

Both films were due by the end of the semester in December 2020. I structured the workflow, initially, to arrive at a functional cut by that point in time. Following a month spent screening that cut to accumulate notes from friends and faculty (as well as SLEEPING), the last few steps comprise a loopable process to ingest new tweaks, keep everything in sync across all timelines, and re-render in 4K UHD.

All the steps below were essentially mirrored for both films. To keep things streamlined I’ll primarily discuss them through the lens of Take a Little Time!

Anyway.

Proxies & Initial Timelines

The first step was generating 1080p proxies of the 4K UHD CRM files, so mine and Jared’s laptops could stand a chance working on the film in Premiere.

Davinci Resolve— This was done in Davinci, so everything could be reattached here at the last second to render in 4K. Working off my central external drive, I imported all the CRM clips to one consecutive timeline, applied a generic LUT across the board for aesthetic during assembly (this wouldn’t affect Bryan’s coloring down the line), and exported the timeline as individual 1080 clips, careful to specify for original source names even as they became MOV files.

Adobe Premiere Pro— All these MOVs were imported to Premiere, where I used our AD sheets to enter shot# and take# metadata via the media browser. After adding all the clips to one timeline consecutively, I imported all the ZOOM H6 WAV files and, once again referencing our AD sheets, aligned each audio file underneath its corresponding clip.

I copied the folder of proxies, the ZOOM recordings, and this infantile Premiere project to the exFAT drive and handed it off to Jared. Already armed with my lined script (with shot #s corresponding to the proxy clips in Premiere) he now had the audio untangled in that timeline and a blueprint to start assembling.

Cut, Score, Cut

Adobe Premiere Pro— Jared worked through several passes before arriving at the true initial rough cut. He had all the time in the world, since I was shooting Daisies while he was at it (he was working on another set at the time, as well!), and the rough cut was very strong. I appreciated this mental distance from Take a Little Time, as well as the strength of the cut, since I arrived at Thanksgiving break ready to dive into…

Logic Pro X— …where I composed the score. It was at this moment that timeline sync between software titles emerged onto the playing field; the Logic project I started composing in, through a seemingly infinite chain of “Save As,” would blossom into the ultimate mix project for the film. But for the time being, all that mattered was that I imported the rough cut MP4 into the Logic timeline starting at exactly 0. (Logic also typically automates this, but identical project FPS is key.)

Adobe Premiere Pro— I met with Jared after break, equipped to discuss notes I had on the cut, both as the director and the composer. Some sequence rearranging, some beat shifts by a matter of frames. We bounced feedback and cuts off each other several more times, always getting it tighter and tighter, to the point that I had almost nothing structural to say about the cuts. At Jared’s suggestion, I took the hard drive back, to make only minor tweaks and otherwise incorporate the Premiere timeline into the greater workflow. For the sync purposes of the film’s existence as a pre-winter-break assignment, this was the “final cut” for the time being.

Again, following the proxy business, this all went much the same way between Lilly and Abby on Pulling Daisies.

Adobe After Effects— Parallel to all of this, I was working in After Effects on the shots I knew would need it—Jared had been using the untouched proxy clips as placeholders in his cuts. But in After Effects, although it made my computer produce some ungodly mechanical sounds, I made sure to edit using the unmodified CRM files. Please reach out if there’s a better way to handle this (proxies? perhaps duh?), but I felt I had to get in there with the rotoscoping at the resolution I wanted the film screened at, and also didn’t want to compromise any color data when I rendered the finished comps back out, so Bryan could seamlessly work his color magic on the clips with completed effects. In addition to effect shots, there were the credits! I knew which three clips I was going to lay under my end credits, so I imported them to a comp so timings were flexible as the animation took form. As with the title cards from the beginning of the film, these were all rendered at 4K with an alpha channel, then laid back into Premiere.

Each section of the credits had its own motion and therefore its own comp, combined here with toggle-able back plates to check alignment before rendering as a single file with an alpha channel. The null object tracks camera motion at the end of the film’s final shot, and matches the first section’s comp to that until the visible split, where I ease the back plate into a freeze frame in Premiere.

Timelines on Timelines on Timelines

Logic Pro X— Now, I had a new MP4 rendered from Premiere of the “final” cut, and I had a Logic project full of complex MIDI score that was perfectly synced to…the ancient rough cut. So before I could move on to dialogue editing and sound design, I had to identify where time was lost or gained between the cuts, and adjust the score timing accordingly. Sometimes it was a matter of sliding MIDI events left or right, in others it made more sense to crank the project tempo way up or down for a measure or two in dead space. I had composed at various tempos across the film, so this was a careful dance of making one adjustment, then seeing how it affected everything before and after it in time. It would certainly be easier to compose the film in sections, as I had for The Fallen, but here I knew my end goal was one huge mix project where I could side chain between foley, dialogue, environment, sound design, and MIDI interchangeably…so I was committed to maintaining sync in one timeline. If you’re going down a similar path, I’ll just say that it’s much easier to finesse all this at this point when it’s just MIDI. It gets wild when audio files join the fray.

The Logic project as it stood after the first scoring pass on the rough cut…
…as compared to the final mix four months later. Notice the spike in tempo shifts (for re-sync), and the fraction of the total tracks the original MIDI strips at the bottom now represent.

Nevertheless, once the score was perfectly adapted to the final cut, I took a quick trip back into Premiere—

Adobe Premiere Pro— and exported the timeline as an OMF file. I definitely recommend including the front/back ends of the original audio files, beyond what’s used in the timeline, for smoothing over dialogue and room tone in Logic. More on that in a second…but at this point I also duplicated the timeline (the “final” cut, now complete with After Effects shots, title cards and credits overlaid in the right places), flattened it, deleted all audio and exported it as an XML file for Davinci.

Premiere timeline in its natural habitat, as compared to…
…the flattened, Davinci-friendly version. The second video layer is only used for title MOVs rendered from After Effects with alpha channels, and all sound files are replaced with the final mix WAV from Logic.

Davinci Resolve— I’ve got all that Logic action living on my desktop external drive. The exFAT drive still has the original CRMs, and now that XML timeline from Premiere, as well as all renders from After Effects. Plugged into Bryan’s PC, this is all that’s needed to open the final cut in Davinci, in 4K Raw and ready to color. We gave Bryan both films on both exFAT drives at this point when the editors were hands off and I was consumed with sound work, so he wouldn’t waste time coloring shots that ended up cut later, while still getting a head start so we could link everything up at the last second before the films were due (classic).

When importing the XML timeline into Davinci, specifying to ignore file extensions re-links the MOVs referenced by Premiere to their CRM parents.

Logic Pro X— Importing the OMF file in on top of the score gave me one big timeline with all the film’s sound as it existed so far: the unmixed MIDI score, and disjointed ZOOM WAV files that were synced to picture, but not much else. From here, I lived in Logic for a quick eternity creating sound design, fixing dialogue and swapping in alternate takes, incorporating foley, and finally, mixing everything together. That mix almost broke my brain (and we’re at the same point with Daisies, too!), but it was truly fun as hell having such minute control over every little detail of the film’s sound.

A picture containing computer, electronics Description automatically generated
That same final Logic mix from above, but with tracks tucked back inside stacks and automation on display.

Davinci Resolve— Now. Bryan’s colored everything (his first pass!). Everything in his Davinci timeline (C200 clips, GoPro clips, After Effects clips) is present in 4K. The imported XML timeline from Premiere references the singular WAV file comprising the film’s entire sound, bounced from Logic. And we render!

That brings us through the December 2020 iterations of the films. Sync was only in jeopardy when adjusting the score to match the “final” cut from Premiere, but at that point the Logic project only contained MIDI. Everything from there forward respected the timings of that “final” cut, including the ridiculously elaborate sound work that sprung up around the MIDI in Logic post-resync (so the WAV from Logic matches the XML timeline from Premiere when combined in Davinci). But what happens when these December cuts need to get torn to shreds following feedback?

The following steps can be looped for each round of notes:

Revision, Revision

Adobe After Effects— I addressed notes on the effects shots and credits first, since their only relationship to sync appears further down the chain within…

Adobe Premiere Pro— Then in Premiere, I addressed all notes related to cuts, shot choice, timing, takes, etc. This is what ultimately derails the Logic project, so each time a modification changed the position of the clips following it, I wrote down where, and by how many frames. With revised After Effects clips implemented, I could again duplicate the timeline, flatten it down, and export the XML file for Davinci.

A Pulling Daisies example here— the exact shift in cut timings or entire sequence shifts, marked down to the frame.

But first…

Logic Pro X— Re-importing a new OMF file from Premiere was off the table, because those clips (“regions” in Logic) wouldn’t have any of the plugins, side chains, busses, or automations that their old-cut counterparts accumulated during the first mixing pass. The priority here was the audio files, because they’re timestamped in Logic to miniscule fractions of frames, and their sync to picture is imperative. After importing the new MP4 from Premiere, I first went into Preferences to make sure that automations would be moved with regions.

(this is sometimes the opposite of what you want when editing, but it’s got to be on for this maneuver)

Then at each point that I’d written down a shift in timing, I dragged to select EVERYTHING after that point. The key combination CTRL+Home snapped the playhead to the very beginning of the earliest region in the selection. In the timecode display (set to SMPTE), I dragged the “Frame” position forward or backward the appropriate amount for the shift at hand. This moved the playhead a specific number of frames from the in point of the selection…and pressing the semicolon key shifted the entire selection (and the automations of those regions!) accordingly. Repeating this delicate procedure for every timing change from Premiere re-synced the audio regions. What it didn’t address is automation on Aux tracks, which had no regions to snap to (temporarily creating blank MIDI regions on those tracks before the shift could possibly take care of that?), and tempo/score adjustments necessitated by the new cuts. It took a while to untangle (and it got UGLY before it got better, so backing up project files ahead of time was a must), but eventually, I had the mix project as it existed before, except now synced to the latest cut from Premiere. Only at that point did I start to incorporate sound notes and revisit sound design, etc. But! Eventually, I got the whole film’s sound bounced down to that one single WAV file again.

Davinci Resolve— All this time, Bryan had been working color on his PC off of the exFAT drives. By saving all his color grade work to a Remote Version for all clips, that work could be directly applied to the corresponding clips even after re-importing the new XML from Premiere. So once again, new Premiere edits met CRM files, revised After Effects files, and the new Logic WAV bounce in Davinci, where everything could be rendered in 4K. Rinse, and repeat…

All that…for a drop of blood.

Conclusion

Are you still reading this? Please reach out if you are, because we should talk lmao. Anway—

This was so much fun. As mentioned above, I’d done all of this in bits and pieces for smaller projects throughout college, but never on such a scale, with so many collaborators and moving pieces involved, times two films at once! Watching it all come together slowly was immensely fulfilling, and simultaneously enthralling as I look ahead to my nascent career.

One thing I’ll stress is BACKUPS. Pretty much any time I was ready to transplant one timeline into another, I branched the entire project file into a new save. This is great for security both in the moment, and going forward— I had to pull data from old versions at times because I irreparably derailed sync, but also out of creative changes of heart. It also let me go find intermediate versions of these projects to take retro screenshots of, which has been a weird trip through memory lane of the last year!

Again, if you’ve got questions or ways to improve on this process (there absolutely have to be both) feel free to reach out!

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