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A LITTLE MORE EDGE

I got a request for more information on our workflow for the HARDCORE EDGE commercial in a forum, so here is a modified version of my answer.

The sequence settings inside FCP were the NTSC 24p setting. We shot on the Canon 7D but the spot was going to be an SD spot so we originally had the comp as Widescreen Anamorphic 720×480 24p. The main network it was airing on wanted it in 4:3 so we switched. This caused a little issue with the graphics.

Here’s the process:

First, we shot on the 7D so everything was tapeless. We shot the spot in less than one day. We had to extend out our greenscreen from 20 ft long to over 30 ft long in order for the actress to be able to walk the distance the ad agency wanted in each environment. On set we used AE CS5 & Premiere CS5 to check out the perspective and see how the effects were coming out. We did not transcode to a different format. We simply used the h.264 files straight out of the camera.

This proved valuable, as we would be able to put together a rough composite and see how the effects were turning out all without wasting time transcoding.

We dedicated approximately 30 minutes between each of the 4 setups to test the takes that we got. That was more than enough time because of the “speediness” that the CS5 suite provided us. Also, to put it in perspective, the actors hit MASSIVE traffic (there was a HUGE accident) and they arrived approximately 2.5 hours late, still needing to change and do makeup, we still broke for lunch for an hour, and we still finished just 30 minutes behind our NORMAL schedule. We work quickly and efficiently, so having the CS5 suite in our edit suite in the back fit right in with our quick work ethic. We hate waiting. I feel it is true – waiting kills creativity.

So when we went into post, we used Adobe Media Encoder to transcode the h.264 Quicktimes into ProRes files. This was so much faster (even without a CUDA card) than doing it in Compressor or FCP. Next, I brought everything into AE CS5 and started on the FX and just building the piece. The AE comp was 720×480 Anamorphic Widescreen. The footage was Square Pixel, 1920×1080 24p.

Once the FX were done, I brought the final rendered piece (rendered out at 23.976, 720×480 Anamorphic Widescreen – more on this later – codec was ProRes4444) into FCP. The timeline settings in FCP were NTSC 24p Anamorphic Widescreen). Here’s where some trouble started. The default codec for rendered files in this sequence is NTSC DV 24p. We did a little bit of basic text animation at the beginning and end inside FCP, as well as adding the music and voiceover. Now, because the sequence settings in FCP were NTSC DV, Final Cut used the DV codec for the timeline preview files. FCP seems to use the preview files to output your final export. This caused a huge degradation in the quality of the text phrases that come up. Even without using the preview files, it still didn’t stretch the 720×480 Anamorphic image with as good a quality as Premiere. We still saw lots of artifacting and jaggies in the text. I switched the sequence codec to ProRes but still got jagged edges on the text.

I tried Premiere CS5 with better results. A lot more acceptable, but we were still looking for better quality. So what I ended up doing was going back to After Effects, creating a new 720×480 4:3 comp and nesting the 720×480 Anamorphic comp inside that one (FIT TO COMP WIDTH- which auto-letterboxed). This provided us with beautiful lettering, no jaggies, etc. After Effects handled it perfectly, while Premiere was a good second, and FCP a horrible 3rd. This makes me wonder about what’s going on inside FCP and the “stretching” algorithm or quality. It also makes me wonder what other bad things are going on under the hood.

So once I had the 4:3 version, I imported that into Premiere and finished the spot in Premiere CS5. The majority of the work was done in FCP, but the final finishing with great quality was done in Premiere (with the help of AE for the 4:3 conversion.)

That’s basically it. If I forgot anything or anyone has any questions, I’d be glad to answer them!

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