To After Effects and Back Again by Aidan Ryan

The DYI Filmmaker’s Guide to an Avid Media Composer to Adobe After Effects Workflow

If you are serious about filmmaking, you have to consider that no matter how nice (or awful) the camera you use is, how good (or awful) your actors are, editing can make or break your production. From fixing bad acting to perfecting the otherwise imperfect shot, the perfect editing software is required. Since the advent of computers in video editing in the 1990s, Non-Linear Editing Software (NLEs) have become a necessary tool for the use of a filmmaker.

Used by Hollywood and DIY-ers alike, Avid Media Composer (MC) is the most powerful of all the NLEs that are available on the market. Why? Avid started in the 1988 by creating a workstation called the Avid, which was the first of the NLE workstations to be used by professional editors in the film industry (for the sake of friendly conversation, we will define them collectively as Hollywood). Today, Avid has grown, with its cross-platform editing software still in use as the major NLE in Hollywood. Avid is the most powerful option for video editing, and the best part is that you can own it on either a permanent license OR a subscription! With Adobe no longer offering a permanent license for anything except an up-marked CS6 ($800 for the outdated version of Premiere), Avid is the most cost effective option on the market. Avid also boasts the most powerful NLE on the market. Media Composer is designed for dealing with massive amounts of data simultaneously, and not crashing under the load (something Adobe has struggled with). With Media Composer’s most notable effects-and-data-heavy film of late, Gravity, this has never been made clearer. The massive file sizes used in editing an effect-heavy 4K terror ride through space could only have been edited with Media Composer. MC also boasts Avid Media Access (AMA), which is an Avid exclusive feature, allowing image files to be read right into MC without transcoding, which saves time before editing begins by not requiring that entire shots be transcoded into an AVID DNxHD codec, and allowing you to only have to transcode the segments of the scenes that you need for export.

All this is wonderful, but what happens when you need to composite effects? MC, though powerful, is not designed for effects compositing. Now we move into the territory of the brand upon which I was bashing earlier: Adobe. While there are other options for effects compositing, such as Nuke, which retails from around $1000 to $3500 depending on the 3rd party reseller, Adobe After Effects is one of the simplest to use. However, Avid and Adobe are rival companies, and their software, though compatible, is not meant to play nicely together without some magic occurring on your, the computer operator’s, end of the screen.

I will now delve into the mysterious world known as workflow, which can be daunting to a DIY filmmaker. Essentially, what must occur in order for a layer of a scene to be exported from Media Composer to After Effects is very simple. This can be done, for $299, using the Boris Transfer AE plugin, but now I will tell you how to accomplish the same result for free. All that needs to be done is an export of the individual clip from the timeline or bin of MC and an import of that export file into After Effects. Once in After Effects, you composite your effects. Do not render any fades or transitions in After Effects, as these will be done later in MC. When you are ready to export, click File/Export/Add to Adobe Media Encoder Queue. This requires that you have Adobe Media Encoder installed on your computer (After Effects CS6, simply open Media Encoder and add It manually by dragging your project's comp file to the render queue in Media Encoder). Once you click Add to Adobe Media Encoder Queue, Adobe Media Encoder will open with your composition and an output folder specified, as well as a bunch of settings. The settings are what we will be tweaking in order to re-import the files into Media Composer. To get your file compatible with Media Composer, first create a new Preset by clicking the “+” icon in the Preset Browser. Give a name to your new preset (I set mine for this task to “Avid”). Once this is set, click on the drop-down menu for Format. Choose “DNxHD MXF OP1a”, or for CS6 set it as "QuickTime" a file type that we can then AMA Link (for OP1a) or import (for QuickTime) back into Media Composer. Under the Video Tab, the Video Codec should read “DNxHD," or "Avid DNxHD.” Next to Resolution, click the drop-down menu and select “1080p/24 DNxHD 175 10-bit”. This is for a 24 FPS project, in 1920 X 1080 resolution, progressive scan, and returns the truest and least compressed file size. If you are working at a different frame rate, look for that frame rate among the options available. I always recommend working in 10-bit for your projects when exporting, as it returns the ‘truest’ file for later usage. Once that is set, click on “Use Maximum Render Quality”, as this will export the best final image. Click OK. In the Queue, you should see your composition ready for export. Underneath the comp name, make sure that the first yellow text reads “DNxHD MXF OP1a," or "QuickTime", depending on if you followed the CC or CS6 instructions. Make sure that the second bit of yellow text reads “Avid,” or whatever you decided to name your preset. Change the preset if it does not display the correct text by clicking on the second bit of yellow text and selecting the name of the preset you just made. Once this is set, click on the third bit of yellow text from the left and set the file directory and name for your exported composition to be saved. If you AMA linked the original clip into Media Composer, you can double click on that file to overwrite the AMA Linked clip and change the file in MC without having to re-link. Once the clip is done rendering, it is ready to be imported (QuickTime), or AMA Linked into MC (MXF cannot be imported due to the MXF file type). In order to AMA Link your CC export, open Media Composer. Click File, then on AMA Link. Navigate to your file. Before clicking OK, change the Types of Files menu to “MXF (.MXF)”. Click OK. Your composition from After Effects has now been composited and re-imported into your Avid Timeline! Edit the clip back into the timeline and, once you are ready to export your MC project, right click on your sequence in your bin, then on Consolidate/Transcode, and then on “Transcode” once the window opens. Set up your sequence to transcode with a Target Resolution of “1:1 10b MXF”, then double click on “Windows (C:)”, or whatever drive you want the transcoded files to save at, on the left hand side of the window. Alter any other settings you wish, but make sure the audio is set to transcode as well, otherwise your sequence will be only video. Click Transcode. The sequence then is made into a new sequence, which you can then export. If you followed the CS6 instructions, then simply import the file.

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© 2014 Aidan Ryan