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AGENT MX-Z3RO—Making an Independent Movie (Part 9)

Only published comments... Dec 07 2011, 12:00 AM by Thomas Graham

Is it December already? This year has seemingly flown by and with the Fall season has come two big software version releases that help filmmakers: Media Composer 6 and Pro Tools 10. Both separately are key apps in the filmmaking process, but together form a powerhouse, integrated workflow… and it just got a lot more integrated and more useful to all of us.


Editor, Eddie Hamilton presenting on the Avid main stage at IBC 2011 Amsterdam.


In The Big Leagues


I was very inspired and awed by hearing Eddie Hamilton (editor of Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class) and John Refoua (editor of Avatar) speak and demonstrate at various Avid shows and events. They showed several in depth scenes from Kick-Ass and Avatar respectively and the matching Media Composer Sequences/Timelines which were filled to the brim: maximum video and audio track count. They use every aspect of the program to show his director and producers the biggest potential that their movie can be. Their audio skills and attention to detail in the program are top notch, so it makes sense that you would want to keep as much of that good work as possible in the audio post process. I’ll come back to that in more detail later….


On bigger films, it is now common to have an audio suite right down the hall from the video edit bay. The advantages of having a sound person on board early and helping sound design and shape the soundtrack simultaneously with the picture editing makes so much sense to me. It becomes a stronger, more collaborative result and each screening grows more towards the ‘final’ with each and every passing day. Two such films that have functioned this way are Avatar and Water For Elephants. Here’s a quote from the Sound Supervisor for Water for Elephants:


“We have this system that we’ve been working within for several movies… we’re been able to come on early enough to have a real contribution during the editing period in terms of design, but also we can get ready for temps and screenings as well as maintaining everything that had been done (in Media Composer). And In the old days, everything happened in the last two weeks (for sound). The music came together, the sound effects, everything all arrived together at the stage for the first time, at the craziest part of the post-production process. And this is really a gigantic advance. It has to do with being able to gradually create the soundtrack over a longer period of time. And we could not do it if we did not have workstations that were compatible and also workstations that we can edit and mix on in the same process.” -Skip Lievsay Sound Supervisor, Editor and Re-Recording Mixer


I think there is great wisdom here in the idea of being able to ‘gradually create the soundtrack over a longer period of time’. It gives you time to live with, experiment with and become part of the movie sound and spaces. You are not as rushed to just get it done. I truly respect and enjoy Skip’s soundtracks, to name a couple favorites: I Am Legend and No Country For Old Men. For me, they have air, great sonic depth and room to breathe – the sound plays such an incredible role in the storytelling of those movies.


In The Indie Leagues


For our movie Agent MX-Z3RO, we followed the model of Skip and his teams, and I was waiting in the wings with my Pro Tools rig. Files were exchanged in both directions: Media Composer to Pro Tools and vice versa. It started with the first AAF interchange of audio files from Media Composer (5.5) to Pro Tools (9) and a 720P Photo JPEG QuickTime version of the Movie (which is smaller, still looks good and doesn’t take a lot of bandwidth in Pro Tools). At this point, I used Pro Tools to enhance or ‘sweeten’ most of what Greg (our film editor) had done (in his Media Composer cut) like building bigger gunshots, replacing some other backgrounds, fixing dialogue bumps, replacing some dialogue lines and adding some lines in my home studio (to be replaced later in the real ADR session). I also began temping the music from classic action/spy movies like “The Bourne Identity” and “La Femme Nikita” and then sending those back to Greg in the Video Suite as I finished each cue. Much care was given to (temp) mixing as well (as I went along) in order to screen the film for various people/executives who needed to see it. Much of this work was carried forward...


Once we had locked picture, another AAF export was done from Media Composer and into my existing Pro Tools session. This time, it was mainly used as a guide/map to conform all the work that had been done previously. Anything that was new, was pulled down and edited, mixed and added to the work in progress. We later made sub mixes of the dialogue, temp music and effects to use as guide or reference sync tracks for any ADR, Foley, Music Composition, SFX or Dialogue editing sub sessions and distributed those to the various team members contributing. The 720P Photo JPEG QuickTime version of the movie was used throughout editorial for size (ease of transport and ease of playback in Pro Tools. For final dubbing on Scott’s ICON stage, we did end up using the much nicer and larger 1080P DNxHD QuickTime HD version (DNx36), which was exported from Media Composer. It looks amazing projected on a 40 foot screen and really doesn’t tax your Pro Tools system (a 22 GB file for a 19 minute movie!)


Media Composer 6 and Pro Tools 10 Enhancements


Back to my statement above about picture editors: they spend the most amount of time with the director, interpreting his or her intentions and generally are the first point of contact for the audio person on what is intended for the story. So it makes great sense that their audio work is a solid starting point, where the audio team should be starting. The great news is that there are many improvements in the functionality and interchange of both apps, as I mentioned above, that allow the picture editor to create a crafted and convincing soundtrack inside of Media Composer and then carry that valuable work over into the Pro Tools sound suite.


Here is a bullet list of just some of the enhancements to the last few versions of Media Composer 5 & 6.


• Addition of the Avid Artist series tactile controllers for mixing and automation control, as well as macros for speeding up tedious tasks and mouse clicks.


• Support for 5.1 & 7.1 Surround Sound Tracks and Panning


• Support for RTAS (Real Time) Plug-ins like EQ’s, Dynamics, Delays and Reverbs


• Show or hide waveforms, volume, and pan displays on individual tracks or on all tracks


• All new audio mixer window and support for Pro Tools audio hardware (to share the same high quality audio ins and outs).


• Unified terminology between Pro Tools and Media Composer. This provides greater user experience consistency between the two Avid applications.



Here is a bullet list of just some of the enhancements to the last few versions of Pro Tools 9 & 10.


• Real-Time Fades (also with AAF and OMF Sequences)


• Waveform display improvements: Both the quality and detail of the waveform from 8 bit to 16 bit, a new outline view and a new overlap waveform display in the fades view. All of these may seem small, but when you spend 10 hours of your day looking at and editing in Pro Tools – this is a huge improvement.


• Export Selected Tracks as New Session or AAF


• Clip-Based Gain Automation (which comes over from Media Composer)


• Import RTAS plug-ins and settings from Media Composer AAF


• 24-Hour Timeline - useful for dailies, which are recorded to Time of Day or live broadcast situations recording to time of day Timecode.


• Disk Cache – Disk Engine improvements resulting in Pro Tools being able to play and record to Network Attached (shared) storage like Avid Unity ISIS (which is extremely common in post/film editing suites)


• Improvements to the Dialogue Field-Recorder Workflow: not only is it working better, but now you can search an external drive, as well as not need to import and split the poly files.


• EUCON Phase 2 enhancements for Artist and Pro Series Consoles


• Audiosuite Enhancements – for editing and processing files with handles and maintaining real-time fades.


• An included free down-mixer plug-in, to help easily create stereo from surround or monos from stereos, etc.


• Interleaved and Mixed File Format (like stereo or 5.1) real time support – no longer needed to create separated mono files, duplicate media


• ICON D-Command now supporting 2 Pro Tools machines in Multi-Mode. Opimal for a small dubbing room with a source machine and a stem recorder machine.


• Satellites expanded from 5 total to 10 total. This is great for big feature film dubbing.



Here’s a video of the demo we did at the IBC trade show which spoke to and showed some of the enhanced Media Composer to Pro Tools functionality.




At the time, both versions weren’t fully locked down and weren’t shipping, so hence the disclaimer about ‘a technology preview’.


Until next time, wishing you a very happy holidays.



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About Thomas Graham

Avid marketing manager for Post Audio and Pro Mixing, I am also a veteran engineer/recordist/editor. I've worked on music scores for dozens of feature films, including Ice Age, Collateral, and The Spirit.

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