Exporting/Compression Applications

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Exporting your edit out of your NLE is one of the many important processes of post production. In the tape-based days of exporting, it could be a very tedious and time consuming process that required a lot of quality assurance. With the digital era of video and web based content taking charge, exporting your videos isn’t as hard as it use to be. As a video producer, it is my job to know what specifications are necessary to deliver to my broadcast and web vendors to ensure that my commercials get aired properly. That is why I need to know all the available media compression applications on the market. I’m going to highlight three applications that I’ve used for the last five years to get the job done.

Adobe Media Encoder

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My go to compression/exporting application for the last four years has been Adobe Media Encoder. In times of fast turnarounds and very specific video types, Media Encoder has been clutch more times than I can count. Since I’ve been using the Creative Suite/Creative Cloud, Media Encoder has been apart of the bundle. Long before Premiere Pro had the ability to export media from the application itself, you had to queue in Media Encoder to get the final render you needed. The latest iteration of Media Encoder is a stable and reliable application that is able to meet vendor specifications much easier than anything I’ve used previously. Whether I need Quicktime files or mp4 files, it gets the job done. Below are a few abilities of Media Encoder:

  • Match Source presets
  • Exporting Closed Caption data
  • Import and export of Avid DNxHD assets
  • Support for new formats such as Sony 4K AVC-Intra (XAVC), Panasonic AVCI-200, DNxHD in an MXF container, XDCAMHD in a QuickTime (.mov) container, and more

Apple Compressor

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The next compression/exporting application I used quite often is Apple’s Compressor. Compressor has been apart of the Final Cut suite for the last decade, and the latest installment is much stronger and efficient than before. I’ll be honest about my use of Compressor. I used it mostly when I needed to make DVDs or seldom used file types. It got the job done until I shifted to an Adobe workflow. It could be that the computer I had previously wasn’t strong enough to harness its true power. Overall, I found Compressor to be a backup in case Media Encoder failed to deliver what I needed. I have found that the latest version of Compressor works great when I edit with Final Cut Pro X. It creates great master files and web ready H.264 files very efficiently and clean. It even creates video files for iTunes app display. In my opinion, it is one of the best compression/exporting applications on the market and shouldn’t be overlooked. Below are a few features of Apple Compressor:

  • Intuitive interface
  • Streamlined workflow
  • Share Final Cut Pro settings
  • Encoding available for Apple devices
  • Broad format support and more

MPEG Streamclip

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MPEG Streamclip is a free application available for Mac and Windows which can open a variety of file types, as well as transcode to a variety of formats. In my opinion, this application was at its peak when most NLEs couldn’t take raw formats like H.264 from DSLRs. With most NLEs now supporting raw format editing in real time, this application has become more of a last resort compression application when you have no other choice. When I edited with Final Cut Pro 7 and Premiere Pro CS5, using this application to transcode footage was a common part of my workflow. These days, I help new  filmmakers learn to use it when they don’t have access to the aforementioned applications above. Overall, MPEG Streamclip is still a versatile application and I believe you should have it in your arsenal just in case. Below are a few features of MPEG Streamclip:

  • Lets you play and edit QuickTime, DV, AVI, MPEG-4, MPEG-1, MPEG-2 or VOB files. Transport streams with MPEG, PCM, or AC3 audio (MPEG-2 playback component required), DivX (with DivX 6) and WMV (with Flip4Mac WMV Player).
  • Saves edited movies as MOV files, and (when possible) as AVI or MP4 files.
  • Handles files and streams larger than 4 GB, split in any number of segments, or with multiple audio tracks, and can also optionally handle timecode breaks. It is compatible with MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 video, MPEG layer 1/2 (MP1/MP2) audio, AC3/A52 audio, and PCM audio.
  • Supports batch processing: just drag some files in the batch list, choose a conversion and a folder, click the Go button, and MPEG Streamclip will automatically convert all your files.

As you can see, these three applications are very capable of creating deliverables necessary to get your project out. While there are other applications like Sorenson Squeeze, Red Giant Offload, and camera based conversion programs, these programs have shown that they can perform at the top level. Feel free to try them out and find out what works best for you.

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Using PNG Images in Visual Effects and Motion Graphics

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Learning to search and utilize PNG image files can speed up any visual effects artist and motion graphics editor’s workflow. Whether it’s a quick pre visualization mock-up for a client, or the final render, PNG image files are a great tool to add to any visual editor’s skill set. First, let’s go through a quick run down on what exactly a PNG image file is:

PNG is an acronym for Portable Network Graphics. It is a type of image compression format just like JPEGs and GIFs. One of the great things about using PNG images is that they support lossless data compression. Even though it results in a larger file size, it also allows a perfect reconstruction from the original data file. JPEGs, on the other hand, are considered lossy data compression, which results in a much smaller file size, but the data reconstruction is only a approximation and not nearly as accurate. PNGs were developed to replace and improve upon GIFs, and are currently the most widely used lossless compression format on the internet today.

Now that you have the basics, let’s talk about where to find them and how to make them. The key behind PNG images is that you can save the image with or without an alpha channel. This means that if you search for, lets say, SCISSORS PNG on your favorite search engine, you would be able to get an image of scissors WITHOUT any background to worry about needing to key out later. WITH an alpha channel means there is a background, WITHOUT an alpha channel means no background.

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This can be extraordinarily useful for motion graphics editors who need to animate various objects, and who are working on a tight deadline. Even so, visual effects editors who specialize in matte painting and digital retouching can easily utilize PNG images to add quick layers of depth and realism to their work. For example, Maxx Burman, a VFX artist who worked on AMCs The Walking Dead, used multiple layers of images to build up over the zombie actor’s face to add gruesome textures of torn flesh, exposed bones, and rotting organs.

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The same goes for matte painting when the artist can use images of people, cars, and even buildings to blend it into a landscape scene to create a photorealistic image.

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If you do not find the PNG image you are looking for, you can always create one yourself in Photoshop CC. I’ll show you you how you can do it in two simple steps:

  • Isolate your subject
  • Save as a PNG

 ISOLATE YOUR SUBJECT

Once you import your image into Photoshop, use the QUICK SELECTION tool to highlight everything around your subject, and then hit DELETE on your keyboard.

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SAVE AS PNG

Once your image is isolated, you now can go to FILE >> SAVE AS, and choose PNG as your FORMAT.

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This will present you with a dialogue box about Compression and Interlace. Set Interlace to NONE to make sure there is no alpha channel added to your image. And that’s it. You’re all set!

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Compression Apps Pro and Cons

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If you are a seasoned editor or new to video editing, one of the many things that will frustrate you off the bat is dealing with exporting and compression. Sometimes, it can be straightforward if your client gives you requirements for the format they need their outputs in. Other times, you will find yourself playing a game of compression roulette, trying to get good quality in a small file size only to find the format you chose was not compatible with your client’s needs. Thankfully there are many applications such as Apple’s Compressor, Adobe Media Encoder and MPEG Streamclip that are designed to help alleviate your potential exporting nightmare. In my years as an editor, I’ve managed to use all these apps to facilitate deliverables for my clients.

In this article, I will discuss the pros and cons of each application, to provide a better understanding of which app may fare better in different situations. As a disclaimer, the pros and cons are based on my personal experience using them, and may not be exactly the same as your experience will be.

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Apple Compressor (sold as part of Final Cut Studio 3: $999, as a separate app: $50)

Pros

  • Great to use when you need to encode your finished file for a DVD
  • Encoding can be automated by creating droplets
  • Greater and more detailed customization than what is allowed in Final Cut Pro 7 or X
  • Has better conversion for slowing down footage using optical flow

Cons

  • Roundtripping from FCP 7 tends to yield poor results and can cause crashes
  • Encoding to h.264 can be really slow at times
  • It’s not a fully 64 bit application
  • Interface hasn’t changed in version 4 and is still a bit confusing for new users
  • Doesn’t take advantage of all cores on a multi-core Mac

Overall, I would use Compressor if I needed to encode a project for DVD or needed specific customization for a client deliverable. Otherwise, it’s the least used encoding application in my toolbox.

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MPEG Streamclip (free app from squared5.com)

Pros

  • Can convert to Quicktime, DV, .avi, .mp4 and more
  • Has the ability to open DVD Video TS folders
  • You can batch encode multiple files into one format
  • Preferred app for DSLR users with h.264 footage
  • Works on PC and Mac
  • Can trim, cut and join other movies together

Cons

  • Only converts audio to .aiff which can result in larger audio file size
  • Doesn’t support AVCHD or MXF file conversion
  • Parameters can be confusing for people who aren’t video savvy

Overall, I believe MPEG Streamclip is a must have in your toolkit if you need quick and dirty conversion. It is a highly recommended application among the DSLR community and best part of all is that it is free.

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Adobe Media Encoder ($50 a month as part of the Creative Cloud)

Pros

  • Can encode to formats of Quicktime, .wav, .mxf and many more
  • Comes equipped with presets for many multimedia needs such web, DVD, broadcast, iOS, Android and more
  • Can be queued from Premiere and After Effects
  • Two pass encoding is available for higher quality output

Cons

  • Learning curve for usage is not as beginner friendly
  • Two pass encoding can be slow if you aren’t using a reasonably powerful computer

Overall, I’ve always found Media Encoder to be my encoding application of choice. The amount of headaches its relieved are second to none. With the next iteration on the horizon with CC, it will only grow stronger and more dependable with time.

That’s my assessment of the popular encoding applications used by video editors. They each possess their pros and cons but I’m a firm believer in using what gets the job done best and gives you the least headaches. There are many other encoding apps on the market but these three tend to be the most used and reliable for the various post production tasks that may arise.

I’m the NLE Ninja with AudioMicro asking you to stay creative.

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