Adobe Premiere CC: Discreet Edit Reborn?

Discreet Edit
The grand-daddy of all Non Linear Edit systems.

I’ve been using computers to edit video since the Amiga days, when Danish programmers brought Scala to the world. I was deploying content over dialup modems to digital signage outlets across the province for the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Commission back in the late 90’s. It was the wild, wild west of media and whether I was in a truck delivering new video via CD to doctor’s waiting rooms or demoing non-linear edit systems in Las Vegas, I was often on the bleeding edge of technology.

Probably the one piece of tech that I remember the most was a software/hardware system built by a very resourceful crew in Chicago. It was capable of storing hours of footage captured from broadcast gear.  They could add dissolves and wipes, and mix camera audio with music and sound effects. It ran on DOS and talked to a RAID controller that cost over $10, 000. They called their edit system DVision and it was the holy grail of the nascent field of non-linear editing.

DVision was quickly bought up by some Canadian developers in Montreal called Discreet Logic. Discreet as it came to be known was looking for a way to enter the desktop. Their proprietary systems like Smoke, Fire and Inferno, were well known in the high end visual effects world. DVision, or Edit as it was renamed, was just the ticket. It offered unprecedented power and speed and stability that was unheard of in the world of video editing.

Anyone that worked on Discreet Edit (branded for a while as Edit*) realized quickly they were working on something designed for speed. A few of the features haven’t existed since, maybe because they were  under an onerous patent control, or maybe because in the race to get to ‘real time playback of 8 video streams’ someone, somewhere, forgot that video editors don’t like to wait. And they’re willing to pay a premium for features that get them out the door at the end of the day.

Discreet Edit delivered.

Then it was End Of Lifed.

End of Life

There were two things going against it. For starters, as a feeder workstation, working alongside million dollar workstations, it was kinda pricey. And the days of the million dollar Inferno suites were numbered too. The technology just makes things cheaper and cheaper. Edit became a middle of the road player, with upstarts like Adobe Premiere and Final Cut Pro nipping at the heels.

The other problem was Edit was a SD suite from the get go, never designed to work in HD. HD took over 20 years to come into production, but it was definitely in the intake and hardware manufacturers were in a race to the bottom in terms of cost and functionality.

Colour correction was a dog at best, and there never was a proper tool for anything but basic HSV tweaking.

Somewhere around 2004, after Discreet was bought by Autodesk, Edit was terminated. Wake parties were thrown across the globe (I hosted 2 myself) and we went our ways to Final Cut Pro and Avid.

I’ll flash forward past the next 10 years of post production. They are uneventful. Storage became cheap and a non-issue. Cameras became cheap. Monitors became very cheap. The role of the professional video editor disappeared, replaced by videographer, producer, or just editor (expected to do graphics, audio and script writing). And nothing really changed in NLE technology. With buckets or RAM and faster processors, it seemed like things were getting better, but the core of the process didn’t change. You could bang your head against the wall faster and in HD.

Adobe Creative Cloud (CC) Premiere

Then last week I bit the bullet and signed up for Adobe Creative Cloud. I do some part time teaching and qualify for the academic price of $19USD/month. I had been working with my academic Premiere 5.5 with my students and found it to be functional, but very, very clunky. Many of the workflow processes were taken from Premiere 1.0 back in the 90’s. I remember trying to use it real, real hard, and failing miserably. I was a Discreet reseller at the time and was 100% in sync with Edit.

But, the 2013 CC version of Adobe Premiere is a total game changer for me.

Scrubbable Picons

I don’t know what they call this feature, but Discreet Edit users rejoice! It’s exactly, no, better than the Picture Icon feature present in Discreet Edit. Now, you can over your mouse over any icon in the bin, and it plays. No clicking at all. If you do click an icon, then you have the ability to mark in and out points. The selected clip has a yellow horizontal bar to indicate In and Out has been selected. A tear came to my eye. Edit also used a yellow horizontal line.  (even better, you don’t even have to have a clip selected. You can mark an in and out and it remembers your selection!)

Large Waveforms

With a + or – you could enlarge the size of the waveforms making them easy to read. Now, technically Premiere doesn’t do this exactly, but with their new Rectified Waveform display, it’s a joy to work with audio again. Plus with the keyboard shortcuts Alt +/- we’re almost there.

EDL/Legacy Support

Premiere’s support for both EDLs and tape decks in a welcome addition to a digital world. Yes, I know I deliver mostly online or on DVD now, but it’s nice to know it’s there if I need it.

Intelligent Copy and Paste

One of the best features of Edit was the copy and paste. You could paste from one track to another, using the soft patch bay. Imagine my surprise to see a soft patch bay on the Premiere CC timeline! No surprises when it came to determining where a clip was going to end up. You can set your patch bay once, then edit using keyboard shortcuts like crazy, it just works.

Add to these features the Adobe CC Media Encoder (that lets me work while a sequence is rendering), the dare I say Inscriber calibre Titler, and the robust Mercury Engine support for real-time performance with my Quadro card, makes things fun again.

What’s Missing

I still miss the Paste from Out. You could copy a clip, then Paste From Out and it pasted backwards. Amazing how often I used that.

We have 2 point editing, 3 point editing, 4 point ‘fit to fill’ editing, but no one has ever figured out no-point editing which would always clinch any Discreet Edit demo I was giving. It was like a paint brush for video. Just find a point on your timeline to start laying in video, scrub to a clip you want to use and rest it (don’t mark an in point) on the start of video. Right click and drag on the timeline and the video was inserted.

The Future

But I’m not complaining. The fact that I can have a conversation about scrubbale picons in a modern, HD edit system is reason enough to celebrate. I wanted to document the work Adobe has been doing, thank them for listening to a few grey-beards like myself, and creating a valuable product that even an old curmudgeon like myself can enjoy using.

Bikini Party Massacre: Indie Horror Film from 2001

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=54PjxXlOXyY[/tube]

Preface

I’m fortunate in that I don’t have a very long bucket list. I’m pretty passionate about things that I like, and tend to just go for it first and think about it later. This strategy doesn’t necessarily make me a popular ’employee’ or ‘team player’ most of the time, but on the other hand I’m never short of collaborators or business partners looking for a breakout idea, in particular in the world of indie horror film.

Rick Dolishny
Here’s me in 2001 happy to see my name on a DVD box at Blockbuster.

Way back in 2001, there really wasn’t any internet. There wasn’t really digital filmmaking. And there definitely wasn’t a way to get your film seen without a distributor. Interestingly though, I owned and operated a very popular film festival, was doing some work demoing cutting-edge new Non Linear Editing Solutions for Autodesk (Discreet Edit), and I developed an app for Palm for film festival promoters and attendees. It was in many ways the best summer of my life, where everyone was lighting up to the opportunity that computers and the internet could offer to indie film-makers.

At that time, the seminal book ‘Rebel Without A Crew‘ by Robert Rodrigues was embedded into every film student’s must-read list (and shunned by old-school film vanguards), and the notion of shooting a film in a weekend just started to pop up. Could it be possible to have a small crew and digital gear capture and edit an entire movie? It’s hard to imagine these days, but just the idea that you could shoot a feature in a weekend caught the imagination of absolutely everyone.

But it’s one thing to think about doing something crazy like that, and quite another to assemble a crew and actually do it. Remember, there really wasn’t any semblance of the internet that we know today, and certainly no way to see examples of what a film shot in a weekend actually looked like. YouTube wouldn’t happen for another two years (imagine!).  Still, with my film festival connections and by working with some very talented people as an Autodesk reseller,  the idea that a film could be shot in a weekend quickly germinated among a handful of creative artists including myself.

joseph_axThe director/writer/star Joseph Clark was the greatest visionary of us all. A skilled actor but novice director, Joseph was unencumbered with the reality that even proposing a film like this was ‘impossible’ by any authority on the subject. He had a great can-do attitude that I admire to this day.

graham_composingI was recently contacted by Doug Tilley, a writer with www.dailygrindhouse.com, who shares my enthusiasm for low-budget horror films, which prompted me to dig into the archive at dolish.com and pull the original content I created to promote the film. Interestingly enough, this website was the first web site I ever worked on. I now recall the drudgery of using Photoshop to convert the 1M digital stills into 32 colour .gif files because they loaded faster on dialup.

Watching the film again I will say it doesn’t age very well. One of the biggest criticisms I’ve heard or read is that the first half is a bit slow, and I cannot disagree. But believe it or not, back then you absolutely needed a distributor to get the film in front of any eyeballs, and you HAD to have at least 90 minutes of content. Interesting to note, my first cut of the film was only 39 minutes. We did a reshoot and let a shot go for about five minutes that would have made a great 5 second flashback, but we were working under a difficult deliverable constraint.

So, without much editing, I present the original articles and pictures from 2001. Enjoy!

– Rick Dolishny, March 2013


bpm_logo

Bikini Party Massacre

firescarboro_girlsGet a couple of guys, some hot girls, a Betacam, a few bikinis … and you’ve got one of the greatest low-budget horror films ever made! Shot over the course of a long weekend July 2001, the feature film Bikini Party Massacre (US: Joseph Clark’s Massacre) is the realization of the dreams of the cast and crew. I was the Editor and Visual Effects Supervisor for the feature.

The Story

Take a group of three hunky guys, three girls in bikinis, and a hot weekend up north and what do you get – Bikini Party Massacre!

As the story unfolds, we find our young campers making their way up to Upstate New York for “a weekend we’ll never forget”. The long trip into the wilderness allows the audience to learn more about the characters and very quickly we determine they they all carry some pretty heavy emotional baggage.

That’s me on the boom (right).

The music is a very enjoyable mix of 70’s Classic Rock and modern ambient electronic music. Much of the music was created for exclusive use in the film, or was commissioned from Paije’s (Phil Jacob) prior CD releases.

Stories with “twists” are pretty common these days, and BPM is no exception. The ending is satisfying and enjoyable. Plus, watch out for some pretty funny bloopers and deleted scenes on the DVD.

Production

The biggest problem in making a film in a weekend is getting everyone together and managing the inevitable cancellations and changes that come with paying everyone next-to-nothing. Our adventure began at the Scarborough Town Centre and surprisingly everyone showed up! 

Shooting was to take place at a snowmobile camp in northern Ontario, near Pembroke, about an hour west of Ottawa. That meant about a four hour drive from Toronto through some of the most beautiful wilderness we’ve ever seen.

Here, the guys ham it up in front of a spectacular rock bluff just north of downtown.

Our days comprised of waking up at 6AM and shooting until 1AM. We shot for three days in one of the most brutal heat waves ever seen in this neck of the woods. Temperatures quickly rose above 30ºC … and let’s not talk about the black flies!

I was the on-set Visual Effects Supervisor (which was good, because when we got back to Toronto I was the Visual Effects Everything). My ass was on the line! But when we were shooting non-effect shots I was the boom operator. There is nothing more torturous then holding a boom for a three minute take while black flies gnaw away at your legs. Graham the DOP didn’t do much better holding his camera. Remarkably very few shots were locked-off, and they look amazing!

BTW, we used a regular old analogue BetacamSP camera with an exceptionally nice Fuji lens. I prefer working with analogue video rather than DV for effects work because of the better keys I can pull. Plus, the film was destined for film-look and we were going for a nice organic quality. PLUG: You can hear more about the art-direction of the shots by picking up the DVD and selecting “Director’s Commentary.”

The hunting camp was our source of power, food, and shelter for the cast and crew who weren’t sleeping at a small hotel 30 minutes away. There was a wonderful clearing where we shot into the forest. Virtually all of the shots were set up within 100 feet of each other. Some great hand-held chase vis was shot just a few hundred yards into the forest (as the flies ate us alive).


The red rental van (left) served many purposes. Not only did it transport us to the camp, but it served as the van that transported the characters in the film plus it was a great jib for the beautiful shot that pulls to the title sequence … just don’t tell the rental guys!

Some shots took place far from the camp … Joseph’s dad (at the helm, that’s Joseph on the left) motored the cast and crew for one of the last shots of Day 1 on a private, secluded beach on Golden Lake.

Look at Joseph – shooting a film in a long weekend. Wonder what’s going through his head right now!

This was one of the fastest setups I’ve ever worked on in my life. We all motored out to this lovely beach, shot the beach shots, shot some water play, and even got coverage from the boat towards the shore. Within 40 minutes we were all done and heading back for night shooting!

Post-Production

The film itself was shot in a long weekend (plus a weekend of pickups). The editing was another story: taking up the entire summer of 2001.

Rick in Post on another project. Note the little CGI dog. There are no CGI dogs in Bikini Party Massacre but the shot of me and a Director (Scott Dobson) is cool.

We cut the entire project on Graham’s Discreet Edit system which performed flawlessly. I’m a big advocate of (the now defunct) Edit system and it handled everything we threw at it. Plus, for a feature film with some elaborate effects, its integration into Paint, Effect and Combustion was crucial to the success of the entire film. 3D animation was done in Lightwave and Animation Master.

For the most part the film was a one-take wonder, but even then we logged over 6 hours of footage.

Still, 6 hours of footage for a feature film is ridiculously low, but it’s what we shot. Graham brought to the production a career’s-worth of experience shooting news for CNN and other in Russia, Lebanon and the Middle East, so he knows a few things about getting the shot right the first time. His footage was amazing. 

Near the end of editing I used a feature in Edit that pulls all unused sources, and when I executed the command the bin came up completely empty. I used every setup!

Sound was a lot of fun. As a freelance editor I have a small library of sounds I always have on-hand, and I massaged and looped and generally mixed everything I had in the category of Horror, Gore, and Special Effects. I’m particularly proud of the sound of an ax chopping off the head of the police officer near the end of the film. Listen for it and let me know what you think!

9-11

Probably the most interesting little twist happened in the fall after spending two months editing the feature. It was the weekend of September 8th 2001 and I just finished a critical matte painting of New York City that opens the film. I set the move to render in Combustion (there were a few layers) and took off to the cottage for a couple of days to unwind. With this matte painting I would be almost done.

When I returned to civilization on Tuesday September 11 you can imagine my surprise listening to the WTC attacks on a static laden AM radio station broadcasting out of Peterborough, Ontario. I turned the car around and spend another day with my wife and kids in the woods before returning to the city. Who knew what would happen in the coming days?

My Combustion render finished almost the same time the towers fell. I called Joseph and we discussed what to do, and we decided to re-render the shot without the Towers. A bit of Photoshopping and the comp was re-rendered in time for the final picture lock. No one recognized the skyline.

Once the picture was locked the process of film-looking the feature began. It turns out very few people have tried to film-look an entire feature (it’s used all the time for commercials or music videos).

I can see why after completing the film I got calls from people asking how I did it. Honestly, it was a combination of off-the-shelf film-look software, some custom filter writing, and a network render farm of over 20 computers rendering full time for over 10 days.

Don’t tell the boss but used his laptop to render, too! 🙂

All tolled, it was 144,000 frames rendered at over 20 seconds per frame.

I mastered the project to DVCPRO and Shon at www.imcvideo.com in Toronto handled the conversion from 16:9 to letterboxed 4:3. The DVD Director’s Commentary track was mastered at Avtel Media, Pickering Ontario, and the DVD authoring was done in Los Angeles by the Distributor.

eDiscovery

This 15 minute video kept my crew and I busy for a few weeks this summer. Produced in association with the Canadian law firm McCarthy Tétrault, this hybrid video/kinetic type animation explains in simple terms the reasoning behind proper record keeping in the modern age.

It also serves to introduce best practices as defined by The Sedona Canada Principles, Working Group 7, and practicing lawyers and judges in the field.

Software used included Lightwave, 3D Studio Max, After Effects and Sony Vegas. Hosting is provided by the new Vimeo Pro service.

Voice: Andrew Hanna, PNA
Written by: Kyla Schmidt, Thomas NT Sutton
Animation: Rick Dolishny, Todd Morgan
Camera: Adrian Parks
Directed/Edited by: Rick Dolishny
Produced by: Thomas NT Sutton, Partner, Litigation, McCarthy Tétrault