Videoguys' User Spotlight - Alex Alexzander

Videoguys' User Spotlight - Alex Alexzander

Alex Alexzander CUSTOM Computer System Specification

Computer Hardware:
• SuperMicro X6DAE-G2 Dual XEON
• two XEON Nocona 2.8 GHz
• Quadro FX 1300 PCI-e Video card
• 4 SATAII 250GB RAID array
• Pyro PCI FireWire card
• SoundBlaster Audigy 2 ZS audio card
• Avid Mojo DNA
• Yamaha Mixer
• 2 KRK RP5 Rokit Studio Monitors (near-field)
• DigiDesign MBOX2

Computer Software:
• Avid Xpress Pro
• Avid Studio Toolkit 5.6
• Avid ProTools LE 7.1

Alex AlexzanderAlex Alexzander, a member of the Avid Community Forums, shares his experiences with the new Avid Studio Toolkit 5.6

Based in San Francisco, Alex Alexzander is a former analyst and technology consultant turned creative by the industries he has watched throughout his life. Alex, no stranger to lithography, desktop publishing, typography, video editing and DVD authoring, works with many filmmakers both technically and creatively. Alex has worked with non-linear editing software since 1996, and specifically with Avid for the last 3 years. He has published many how-to articles, primarily on the Creative Cow, and published his first book covering menu design with DVD Studio Pro in 2005 for CMPBooks. He is the co-founder of two Avid user groups, based in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Avid Studio Toolkit v5.6 is compatible with:

  • Avid Media Composer v2.6
  • Avid Xpress Pro v5.6
  • Avid Newscutter XP v6.6

Avid Studio Toolkit is a PC-only application.
It is not offered as a Macintosh product.

I started using Premiere when it was a version 4.2 application in 1996. In the year 2000, I started with Final Cut Pro, and later purchased many of the applications in that suite as stand-alone products, including Cinema Tools for $999, and DVD Studio Pro also for $999. At that time, Premiere Pro didn't yet exist, and Apple wasn't thinking too hard about integration. By the time 2005 was upon us, the landscape had realized much of the integration customers need. Premiere changed into Premiere Pro, and Adobe licensed technology from Sonic to build their own DVD authoring application. Adobe bought a software audio product and just like that, Premiere Pro, After Effects, Encore DVD, and Audition were married to Adobe's flagship Photoshop application to create a formidable production suite.

Alex AlexzanderAs this was in process, Apple was developing a technique known as "roundtrip." With roundtrip, the editor could create a composition using Apple's Motion application and then save it as its native MOTN project file. That asset could be imported into the FCP asset bin and then dropped into the timeline just as a video clip from any bin would be. If editors wanted to make a change to that composition, they had only to double-click it, and thus Motion, in this example, would open, and allow for modification. Once done, the editor saved the Motion project exactly where it was in the file system. Back in the Final Cut Pro timeline, the project file, which acts like a clip from within the bin, was automatically updated inside of the Final Cut Pro timeline to reflect the changes made within Motion.

A lot of people might tell you that Avid, unlike Adobe and Apple, doesn't have the tight integration that Adobe and Apple enjoy with their editing suites. I don't believe that is true. Avid does indeed have a suite-type product, and it comes in two forms. There is the Studio Toolkit, which is an add-on to Avid Media Composer, Newscutter, and Xpress Pro. Then there are two versions of the Avid Xpress Studio suite. These come in two flavors: one being the Studio Essentials package, and the other being the Studio Complete package. The Studio Toolkit is a subset of the Studio Essentials and Studio Complete package. This is its overwhelming strength. It is because of this that Avid Media Composer, Avid Newscutter, and Avid Xpress Pro customers each have the option to fundamentally change their editing experience into an editing suite experience. This is because the Studio Toolkit suite of applications provides the very type of integration advantage customers are looking for when comparing Avid to the Adobe and Apple suites and capabilities mentioned above.

The Avid Studio Toolkit v5.6 includes AvidFX 5.6, AvidDVD 5.6, and Avid 3D 5.6. Each of these is designed to work together with Avid Xpress Pro 5.6, Avid Newscutter 6.6, or Avid Media Composer 2.6.

Alex AlexzanderThe Integrated Approach
More and more the editor's job is expanding. Editing is certainly becoming a mix of editing and compositing, and back in the day when the two were vastly different applications it was clear that one did the editing and another did the compositing. But today, more editors need to do at least a little compositing with text effects, lower-thirds, titles, and even a few special effects.

What's needed is a compositing application that is powerful, and yet not such a 180 degree difference from the tools the editor already knows and uses daily. The closer the tool is to the timeline, the faster the editor has access to its feature-set. But that advantage is lost if the tools are not simple to use, modify, and reuse. What good is it if the tools are so difficult to use that the effect you create ends up being a one-time effect you can't remember how to repeat?

The question isn't just about good integration. It's also about reusing what you have created so that your project has a smooth, uniform, and professional feel to it. It should look as if the person doing the compositing is a full-time compositor.

All three of these integrated applications in the Avid Studio Toolkit share this philosophy. When you create a text effect, such as a special appearance applied to a font, and a well-designed lower-third, you can reuse that over and over throughout the project, ensuring that all the titles look the same, present the same, and appear the same way.

When I use Avid FX to design a menu for a DVD, it is stored as an effect that is integrated right in the Avid timeline. It can be applied to any number of timelines, and reused, creating a uniform look and feel.

Avid FX 5.6
Avid FX 5.6 is multi-layer compositing integrated into the Avid editor's timeline. The benefit here is that you never need to export a single clip to work with Avid FX as you will in a stand-alone compositor. Instead, Avid FX works with the effects palette and as a go-between into the Avid FX application.

You first apply one of the Avid FX Plug-in effects, such as Avid FX 1 Input plug-in, into a selected clip in the timeline. Then open the Avid Effects Palette and click on the option button. This will load the Avid FX application with the clip you have added the effect to. Once inside this Avid FX application you have a full-blown compositing suite loaded with features at your fingertips.

From within the Avid FX timeline, you can add many more layers of effects to the loaded clip. Color correction, titles, picture-in-picture effects, and even graphics, illustrations, and video from outside sources can be composited together. Once completed, simply hit the Apply button, and your composite is added to the clip in the timeline.

Alex AlexzanderOnce you have added a compositing effect, making changes to it in the future is a snap. All the parameters and effects you have applied are easily modified just by placing the timeline indicator over the clip with the Avid FX effect, and then reopening the Effects Palette. Click on the option button once again, and all your parameters for this clip are reloaded and ready to edit.

Compositing for Advanced Effects
Avid FX can work with multiple layers of the Avid timeline as well as a single layer. If you have two, three, four, or even more layers of video in the timeline, simply use the 2, 4, or 6 Input FX plug-in. All of the timeline layers are then brought into the Avid FX interface and are ready for compositing features such as blend modes, picture-in-picture (PIP), advanced masks and travel mattes; all from a single integrated interface.

You could for example use a video background with two PIP effects over the background video. In this case, the background is a nice view of a road in the fall season. I want to spice it up a bit so I will add leaves in front of the picture-in-picture effects. I decided to cast a shadow from the leaves on top of the picture-in-picture, thus adding some depth to the scene.

This composite can become a DVD menu, or perhaps an even more complex intro to a show. The PIPs could scroll, and the leaves could be animated either separately or as part of a 3D container so that the leaves appear to interact with the PIPs as they scroll by.

The choices are yours. Avid FX integrates perfectly in the timeline and has a 3D space that can be used to interact with your 2D timeline layers. A full set of filters are available so you can spice things up, or simply fix footage so it is more to your liking. Because it is so well integrated, you can easily use it to create other assets, such as menus used in DVD authoring for example, without exporting or leaving the timeline. Making changes is simple, and you can even store your creations as effects for later reuse, which is handy for keeping things looking in a uniform way.

Alex AlexzanderAvid DVD 5.6
This latest version of Avid DVD, which is based on Sonic DVDit 6 Pro, now features Blu Ray DVD capabilities. Those with either the current Sony or the Pioneer Blu Ray DVD burner will find that they can author DVDs in full HD quality, all the way up to 1920 x 1080p.

As for integration, there are now two ways of authoring a DVD within the suite. The first of these is a brand-new Send To option, which goes directly from the Avid timeline sequence straight to a DVD, without the assistance of any other application. Now sending a daily is as easy as a right-mouse click on the sequence of your choice and then choosing Send To > DVD > DVD One Step. A simple dialog box opens, and you choose the type of DVD, and that sequence is immediately burned to DVD Video.

For those looking for a more refined DVD with menus and other options, Avid DVD is a stand-alone application with the added benefit of being able to utilize QuickTime Reference movie files as assets. There is no need for third-party applications such as Sorenson Squeeze to get the benefit of authoring multiple tracks with added menus and various other options. Just use the Send To > DVD > DVD Authoring, and the Avid timeline sequence is coded as a QuickTime Reference file which is automatically pre-loaded into Avid DVD. Avid DVD by Sonic contains SD encoding capabilities, as well as an all-new HD encoding capability. So whether you're working in SD or HD, you can now author the DVD without down-converting to SD if your recorder supports Blu Ray burning.

Avid FX and Avid DVD Working Together
Once I have sent my Avid FX menu to DVD Authoring, I can simply drag my movie file into the menu space, and further refine it as a motion menu by adding text buttons.

I can even set up my DVD button highlights to appear a little after the menu starts. This makes it possible to create an effect where the leaves on the left blow away, thus exposing the brown rectangle around the left thumbnail. Once that is completed, the highlight around the box could appear and allow my future viewer to select that thumbnail and see the movie I have linked to it.

Speaking of menus, Avid DVD now supports Wide Screen menus. There are many preset menus waiting for you, or you may assemble menus on your own either with the built-in menu assets or by creating your own from scratch as I prefer to do with the Avid editor and Avid FX.

Alex AlexzanderAvid 3D 5.6
Avid 3D 5.6 adds quite a few models and text effects for you to choose from. I have always found 3D applications to be mostly out of my range. They often require quite a bit of learning, and most editors would agree that 3D applications in general are not too intuitive. However, if you are interested in basic 3D with a lot of room to grow, then Avid 3D is great place to get started.

First, the application is integrated into the suite. The most impressive part of the integration is that a clip from the timeline can be brought directly into the 3D environment. By using simple text or object presets, you can add a little life to your project fairly quickly. Once completed, the finished work is waiting for you back in your Avid bin in the Avid editor. There is a little bit of setting up in the bins needed to get this working well, but it is quite impressive to see such integration between Avid 3D and the Avid editor.

Avid 3D is designed for the editor. That doesn't mean it is so simple that the manual is not needed. But it does mean that with minimal reading, you can enjoy a lot of the creative benefits of integrated 3D software.

Many of the effects will look fantastic if you combine them with scenes. There are rain drops, flames, comets and exhaust. Even space worm-hole type effects, which are pre-made and complex. However, you can render them, and import the finished movie into Avid FX and then add text or some other more stationary object such as a space ship flying through the worm hole in the first-person perspective.

If you'd rather simply drop a 3D object into your project, there are cars, motorcycles, lamps, and what looks to be more than a hundred other objects to choose from.

I found a rather nice intro which looks a lot like the intro of one of my favorite studios. And just looking at the simple objects and text extrudes, it looks as if I might have an intro such as this for myself in less time than I previously thought possible.

Conclusion
After years of using various applications, I have come to know the benefits of integrated software: the time it can save you, and the headaches it can save you. Sometimes integration can get in the way or does not work as advertised. The integration between the Avid editor and Avid FX is in my opinion the best integration in the industry. What could be better than being right in the timeline, and yet not being bound by the sometimes limiting controls of the effects editor?

I have personally been asked more times than I care to count how to make a simple DVD of a daily. No menu needed, the editor simply wants to record the timeline to DVD-R to show it off to a client. Well, not only is this feature finally here, it’s in both SD and HD. I have personally been waiting for wide screen menu support, and of course HD support in the DVD authoring application. We now have both, and I don't know of a single other suite that can say that.

I think 3D is as easy as it can be with Avid 3D. If you just want the benefits of 3D with minimal time invested, this is it. Not as easy or as fast as a 2D application, but it's still the fastest way to get into 3D at this time. Full-motion clip import into the 3D space, and your finished work is waiting for you in the bin back in the editor.

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