One of the new features in Media Composer 8.4 is the ability to create custom project sizes allowing users to match the aspect ratio of their sources to a timeline. I was excited to try this out on a museum piece I worked on with Producer/Director Sandra Luzzi Sneezby; “The Women Who Loved Poe”. It consisted of a conversation between five women shot portrait mode and them five monitors were then placed around a table in a period piece setting. Each woman was dedicated to a single monitor and playback was timed as though they were having a conversation. I mentioned the need for portrait style interface in this blog that I wrote two years ago at the time I was working on the project.
The shooting was straightforward - every character was framed the same way - only difference was the reshoots were shot counterclockwise while the original shoot was clockwise. Something that is bound to happen. The editing at the time was not that much fun. Syncing dailies on sources that are rotated is more difficult than one might think. Then I had to apply a rotate with the 3D Warp in the timeline reducing my overall “resolution” to the height of a landscape aspect ratio.
With this release, I unarchived some shots from that project to see how it would be with the new custom sizes with the Media Composer 8.4 release. I made a 1080×1920 project and away I went. The first recommendation is to make a new user setting dedicated to “portrait”. Then a feature request is to be able to apply a user setting to a project to make things easier. One issue I found is a conflict with the new “dual/single monitor” setting in the “special” menu. Closing a project and coming back in does not remember that setting. When coming back into the project, it does not remember source/record size and position, even if that view was saved as a layout and re-selected. Same thing for moving between source/record editing and color correction, even with saved layout views. So that needs to be set up whenever a the user settings is changed (as when opening another non-portrait type project). You will want a higher resolution monitor as the portrait style GUI takes up a lot of vertical real estate and the monitors have a limit as to how small they can go. Here is an example of a layout for portrait style editing:
(click image for full resolution)
Once I got the GUI to settle down, I linked to the source .mov clips. In 8.4 it is no longer called “AMA link”, but just “link”This is where things start to get challenging again, but in a different way. The source clips are still treated as landscape, and it does not observe the QuickTime display property of rotate clockwise or counterclockwise if set. The other issue is that Link Source Settings (AMA) does not offer any of these controls either - other often requested source transforms are flip, flop, and flip-flop for steadicam shooting, etc. So as you can see in the screenshot above, the “AMA Linked” bin shows landscape image squeezed into a letterbox view. Not very convenient at all and provides a picture that is even smaller than the first time I edited this project. So now, the workaround is to apply a 3D Warp effect to either the clips in the timeline or on a top track that is applied to all. The problem with the latter and encountered in my project is that some shots needed clockwise, and other needed counter-clockwise. Once applied though, I now had all the pixels active in the monitor which was a better editing experience. But the real problem now is that using the 3D Warp involves a 178 resize to make it reach full height to fill the frame. And this really brings out the mediocre scaling quality of the resizer when compared to other systems or the original file when viewed in MoviePlayer portrait mode. This alone would prevent me from finishing the project in Media Composer at this time. A simple rotate would solve this on the source side as no resize would be needed.
But I did notice that linking to a still or sequential (still only DPX) did not have these source side issues, and is one of the workarounds available to edit portrait style in Media Composer 8.4. I used Resolve to make “portrait” dailies and create DNxHR (resolution independent) media which then behaved properly in Media Composer with the added benefit that the quality was so much better after the rotate. Here is an example of the same frame exported from Resolve and Media Composer with the same parameters applied:
(Click image for full screen view)
So making Avid native media in Resolve solved both my rotate issues on the source and provided a much better picture quality that would allow me to finish in Media Composer/Symphony option if I so desired.
As with many new features in Media Composer, they come in “phases”. I am looking forward to phase 2 that would provide more source side transforms making this a more complete solution to these types of projects along with any scaling quality improvements which would benefit not only for this, but any scaling operation within the system, including FrameFlex.
Update 2/27/2016: Media Composer 8.5 added a rotate function to FrameFlex. Unfortunately it does nothing to help portrait editing as it does not recognize the fact that the project is 9:16, so you get a very cropped image in the viewers. Rotate in this release is geared more towards leveling of horizons and another step towards not having to use pan & zoom for stills.