The Need for Dedicated Frame Counts

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In addition to VFX workflows using DPX, sequential TIFF or otherwise, many digital cinema cameras also acquire frame based sequential files. Two examples would be the line of Blackmagic Cinema Cameras using CinemaDNG and ARRI with ARRIRaw. GlueTools is in beta with an ARRIRaw AMA Plug-in for Avid Media Composer support and Adobe Premiere Pro CC now supports CinemaDNG natively. But frame counts are used differently depending on which files are being used where you are in the workflow; camera originals or VFX?

There is also the challenge of long file names. Versioning with VFX can get quite long, and the BNC cameras in their initial state allowed nearly unlimited file naming. Tracking these files through a post workflow involves managing both the file name, the frame count of the file, and the timecode. The advantage of frame counts is that they do not need to adhere to a frame rate - they are whatever the rate is imposed on the clip itself which is useful in high frame rate workflows. SMPTE only recognizes 24, 25, 29.97/30 (DF/NDF). But neither of these NLE’s support a dedicated frame counter that is managed according to the workflow.

Media Composer gets close with DPX, VFX and Transfer column which support up to 32 character prefix and a 7 digit count separated by a dash “-”. But those columns were added several years ago before frame-based cameras and are limited in flexibility of file naming. It also has a frame count that can be displayed above the viewers, but no way to set its preference and has no timecode to frame conversion. The MetaCheater application from many had this feature in it when creating ALE files from VFX .mov proxy files which is quite useful, but can be so easily integrated into the NLE itself.

Adobe also gets close and offers preferences for frame-based counts to start 0 or 1, as well as timecode to frame conversion. But it is an “or” tracking system and not a separate field where one can track both timecode and frame counts visually.

What is needed is a mashup of the two NLE solutions and offer a dedicated Frame Count column allowing for:

  • Start count as 0
  • Start count as 1
  • Parse frame count from file name
  • Convert timecode (from clip metadata any timecode source) to frames
  • Track folder name containing sequential files in its own field
  • Sequence side preference for 0 or 1 frame count

A minimum of 7 digits is needed to cover the full 24 hours of timecode, but there is no real need to limit the actual frame count. Once frame counting is properly managed, it can be concatenated with any column for asset management tracking, automated pulls as part of a reporting solution as simple as:

  • <start><filename><frame_count><sequence frame count>
  • <end><filename><frame_count> <sequence frame count>

By tracking frame counts and file names separately, the NLE can offer the most flexibility in metadata management of the sources as well as the sequence/compositions. Reporting can be man-readable print-outs or XML for automating pipeline processes.

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