Sunday, January 2, 2011

Lossless DSLR Workflow In Depth

I've had a few questions regarding my post workflow using DSLRs with Final Cut/Premiere & After Effects so I thought I'd post a detailed breakdown. Here goes...

Shoot for Post

Start by shooting flat. There's plenty of info on other sites about this so I won't go into detail here. Just know that you can give a flat image it's balls in post way better than in-camera.

I immediately make DVDr backups of everything on the CF card(s) for data safety and archiving. Once I have my raw footage in several locations at once I then feel comfortable erasing the card(s).

"I will f@#king cut you!" - Editing

If I'm working in Final Cut I'll transcode to Prores Proxy for editing. Making sure to keep the original file names intact as they'll be needed for reconnecting to the H.264 files when I've locked my cut. I'll only be using the Prores Proxy files to make my cuts. When I'm ready to send my project to AE, I'll want to select the proxy files and reconnect to the H.264 original files before outputting to XML. That way I'll be working with the cleanest version available in AE. More on that in a bit.

If I'm using Premiere I'll just bring the original files straight in and start cutting (gotta love Premiere for that).

When I've locked my cut and I'm ready to move on to color grading I've found it's best to organize my timeline before sending it to AE. This applies when working in FCP or Premiere. The best way to get a nice, clean, cascading composition in AE from my timeline is to cut the unused parts of clips off and move everything down to one track. Otherwise you end up with layers all over the place in AE that you have to hunt down. This will save much time and aggravation.

I like to duplicate my FCP/Premiere timeline before making these changes, appending the sequence name with "for AE".

There are a number of ways to get your timeline into After Effects. If you're using Final Cut then all you have to do is export your timeline to a FCP XML file, import the XML with Premire, select everything in the new Premiere timeline, right-click and choose "Replace With After Effects Composition".

If you don't have Premiere you can also use FCPtoAE to get my Final Cut timeline After Effected. It works almost as well as going through Premiere.

Stu Maschwitz has some great AE scripts for adding adjustment layers to fit your clips and much more in The DV Rebel's Guide. A full breakdown of the AE mastering workflow can be found in The Guide. While it was designed with DV/HDV sources in mind, the DV Rebel workflow applies wonderfully to DSLR footage. David Fincher used a similar workflow on The Social Network. Seriously, get that book!

I cannot stress enough the importance of noise reduction on my DSLR footage. Neat Video Reduce Noise is what I use. Magic Bullet De-Noiser is another one. There's a lot of information out there regarding both options. A little goes a long way and I've made some of the best looking footage I've seen from these cameras with just a touch of noise reduction. See the links below for more info.


Audio mastering is fairly simple. I usually delete the audio from my simplified "for AE" timeline and export an AIFF from the original timeline instead. This file can be imported and attached to the TIFF master in AE during a later step.

The Devil is My Master

Once I'm satisfied with my AE color grade I output to a TIFF sequence as my master. The reasons for this are many and are better laid out by Mr. Maschwitz in The Guide.

While this workflow is as close to lossless as I've seen, it is a product of it's flawed human creator(s). I've always had difficulty getting consistent results compressing directly from the TIFF master. The resulting output ends up with a gamma shift so I output a Prores HQ file for use in compression. You can do this by importing the TIFF sequence & the AIFF master in AE, add them both to a new comp and render to Quicktime.

I have observed no noticeable loss in using Prores HQ for a compression master. If anyone has any suggestions on how best to compress from the TIFF sequence please let me know.


Hopefully this post will be useful to people who, like me, wish to master their movie outside their NLE. After Effects is where I live in my computer and since I was introduced to this way of working I haven't looked back.

Happy 2011.

1 comment:

  1. I'm a rookie at Editing, but I get you. I'll do the research that you suggest.
    Thanks for sharing.