4K – it’s all the rage these days. A lot of production people are moving more and more towards it. Whether it’ll be accepted by the broadcast community or not (they may be waiting for 8K), one thing is certain – 4K is here, and we’re even able to shoot it on our phones now! That being the case, this was the year that we at 100 ACRE FILMS made the leap. Going forward, we now can shoot and edit projects in 4K. But this transition didn’t come without a learning curve – a few bumps on the road. Hopefully, this blog post series will give you some insight into what we went through as a small production shop in working with 4K. And this by no means is to imply that we have it all figured out…we’re still learning as we go. But we want to share our experience and hope it’ll help you with your transition.
Late last year, we agreed to do post on a local PBS show. The director of photography (a good friend) on the show asked us to handle all the editing, and oh by the way – they’re shooting it all in 4K UHD with Panasonic GH4 cameras. While that sounded exciting, there was concern since we hadn’t done anything in 4K quite at that level. First thing we wanted to do was get some test footage to see how our HP Z800 workstation would handle the footage from that camera. Which brings us to our first point:
GET TEST FOOTAGE – LOTS OF IT!
We were given a small amount of footage – maybe 10-12 shots. The footage came into Premiere without issue. We didn’t transcode it as we wanted to see how our system would handle the native footage. Transcoding can provide smoother playback, but it would add extra time to transcode all the footage not to mention all the extra hard drive space it would take.
The footage all played back fine on our timeline – we didn’t even have to knock down the playback resolution in Premiere…it played it all at full res. When effects were added (like color correction) that did cause drop frames to occur on playback, but going to ½ res playback solved that issue. Our Blackmagic Design card didn’t play back footage to our HD monitor (more on that in a future post), but the plan was to edit in an HD timeline for HD delivery. This would allow for re-framing if needed. We talked about 4K delivery, but the station wanted it in HD, so working at HD resolution seemed to be the best move.
This is a good place to mention that one of the first things you should do when starting a project is find out what your deliverable needs to be, and work backwards when developing a workflow. This is one of those rules you should always live by, and for us it definitely came in handy. Knowing what resolution and format we need to deliver to the local PBS station ended up helping us in more ways then one. While it allowed us to edit at HD resolution for re-framing of shots, it also aided in faster exporting later upon final encode. But more on that later.
Now, that small amount of footage we used was a fine test if we were doing a small project, but remember- when cutting a 30 minute cooking show, you’re going to have a LOT of footage…like over 300 shots in a project. And that’s something we didn’t test for.
100 ACRE FILMS is an Adobe Premiere Pro shop – everything we edit is done in Premiere Pro. And if you edit in Premiere, you’re probably like us and like to use the thumbnail view in your bins to quickly identify clips. What we quickly learned was that when you have almost 150-200 UHD clips in a bin, creating those thumbnails takes a LONG time. Premiere would take upwards of 3-4 minutes (or more sometimes) just creating the thumbnails for the clips currently on screen in the bin – not the ones off screen, just the ones on screen. Once the ones on screen had loaded up, we’d scroll the bin down to reveal more clips and wait again for the rest of the clips to load up.
We broke the clips up into smaller bins, and while that helped in loading up the thumbnails more quickly, we found that it was still slower than we’d like. And if we needed to ping back and forth from bin to bin, the slow down due to the drawing of thumbnails was a huge drag on our edit time. So we decided to have multiple bins open at once. First thing we had to do before working was let Premiere draw all the thumbnails for all the clips in each bin, and then things went pretty smooth. Leave one of those bins and come back to it and you’d have to wait for the re-draw. Needless to say, that slowed editing down…like REALLY slowed it down. Trying to find b-roll shots took much longer then expected.
We looked into many different theories as to why this was happening – drive access speed, graphics card issue, or footage issue. We talked to a lot of people out there who were seeing the same thing. Turns out, it’s a combination of Premiere and the footage type. As we’ll talk about later, when we transcoded the footage to ProRes, the thumbnails loaded up quicker than the native GH4 files.
So, while we had done our homework, we hadn’t done it quite enough. Dealing with a small number of clips was easy – dealing with 30-40 times that amount…that’s another story. And as you’ll see in part two of this series, having a large number of clips provided struggles in other areas as well. We’ll talk about that in the part 2.