Software Worth Knowing About: OmniOutliner and OmniGraffle

There are two powerful software applications that every Post Producer should know about: OmniOutliner and OmniGraffle. Both of these apps can help you communicate your ideas with more clarity and help you manage the creative process more effectively.

OmniOutliner

OmniOutliner is for writing with structure. What it brings to the table are a unique set of tools for organizing, visualizing, and styling your text with ease. Writing with structure is especially important when you are trying to communicate complex ideas that multiple parties need to ‘buy into’; like your show’s post production workflow.

Here is an example outline I created for a heritage XDCAM workflow:

What I like about outlining is that it imposes a structure on my writing. In my example above the process forced me to consider the entire workflow. In effect it influenced my thinking and made sure I was covering all aspects. The advantage of using OmniOutliner is that it enables the user to move things around quickly and create more readable documents.

OmniGraffle

If a picture is worth a thousand words then a good diagram is worth two or three thousand at least! OmniGraffle is a tool for creating diagrams.

One of a Post Producer’s most important responsibilities is communicating problems clearly. In my experience teams default to wordy emails too often. When things get challenging you’re often better served by turning to high bandwidth form of communication like in-person or phone calls. If you have to send an update via email, a good illustration can often explain things much more clearly then a dozen paragraphs.

Earlier in my career one of my shows had a dubbing problem. After uncovering the problem with the Posthouse’s Tech, I had to explain the cause of the problem to the EIC. I spent hours agonizing the best way to explain why the audio and video didn’t match on the DVD dubs. It seems obvious in retrospect, but explaining what specific wiring issue transpired proved to be challenging, until I remembered ‘the Graffle‘.

Coda

The creative process is messy by design. Creating something new isn’t a linear exercise. It’s filled with false starts and wasteful explorations. Managing the chaos is a Post Producer’s job and the best way to do that is through more effective communication.

Learning Python

I’m finally teaching myself Python! I’ve wanted to re-learn computer programing almost since I stopped learning C in high school.

I’m using Ali Sweigart’s excellent book Automate the Boring Stuff with Python. I can’t recommend it enough!

There are two things that have made this the book for me. First, Automate starts at the beginning and building a solid foundation. For example: most of the other resources I’ve tried (and I’ve tried many in the past) don’t explain the difference between the Interactive Shell and the Launcher. Or how to even check that you’re running the most current version of Python in the Command Line. Maybe it’s so basic that most resources just assume that the reader will know how to do this. But this starting from the beginning approach has made the world of difference for me.

I also like the practical aspect of the book. It’s not working towards abstract computer theory, it’s building towards enabling you to use a computer as the most powerful tool mankind has even invented. In other words: how to stop wasting your time repeating unnecessary tasks.

I’ve supplemented my learning with two additional online resources: “The Hitchhikers Guide to Python” and “Think Python“. These two resources fill out and expand upon the knowledge I’m learning in Sweigart’s book.

Notes for Online Editing

Writer’s note: My final show as an Online Editor was the Swedish Sauna episode of ‘Indoor Out’ for HGTV in 2009. Looking back there are a lot of things I miss about being an Editor. I remember opening up a timeline and being able to tell who had edited it just by looking at the organization of the video tracks. I remember feeling a ‘oneness with the machine’ and losing myself for hours in the flow of my work. (But I digress) Before I left I wrote the following letter and checklist for the Assistant Editor who had been training to takeover my role. My notes below have stood the test of time and I hope they can be helpful to you.

Notes for Online Editing

It is my goal that these notes can provide a rough idea of: 1) what you are trying to accomplish during each stage of an online edit, and 2) what you need to do at each stage.

Overall Idea

Online Editing is the last stage of the post production process. The goal of the online editor is to create a show master according to the network’s unique specifications. Very often the online editor inherits a show from an offline editor, or team of editors. I like to say, “the offline editor gets the show 90% ready for broadcast and the online edit takes it the final 10 percent.” The tasks an online editor performs from time of assumed responsibility until delivery can be divided into 3 broad categories: 1) video work, 2) audio work, and 3) archiving.

Before you get started

Questions to ask yourself:

Do I have the network’s Tech Specs or Exhibit Sheet?

Before you go on a trip, you need to know where you are going. In a very real sense, the network’s specifications instruct you on how they expect the show to be delivered. Every network is different. Scripps has different channel assignments and slate requirements than A&E or Discovery.  Also, specifications change all of the time! Bravo is notorious for changing specs every few months. Even within a network a one-hour special may have different requirements than a thirty-minute show. Therefore, always make sure you are working with a network’s most recent spec sheet.

Am I working with the correct project file?  And sequence?

Always ask the producer (good), assistant editor (better), or offline editor (best), which sequence is the most up-to-date. Best of all is to have the offline editor come into the online suite and confirm that you are working on the correct cut. The situation you are trying to avoid is working on a sequence that doesn’t have the latest round of changes.

Is my show to time?

Not only is it prudent to make sure that you are working with the current sequence, but it is also a good idea to make sure that your show is to time (refer to your network’s “clock”). The best way to make sure your show is timed correctly is to build your sequence according to the tech specs. If a sequence is not ‘to time’ that could be an indicator that you’re working with the wrong sequence.

Make sure the first segment begins at the one-hour mark (01:00:00:00) and make sure the exact amount of black is in between segments. Make sure the show’s last frame ends where it should as well. I’ve found that the best way to make sure all this stuff is correct is by filling in the required timing sheet. Since you will be required to create one anyway, why not get it over with and ensure that your show is ready for online.

Does my show have any major problems that will affect delivery?

Most online editors will dive right in and start their work and I think that is a huge mistake. Before I get started, I like to watch the show beginning to end in order to assess the condition of the whole show. Is there an issue that could cause additional work or delay delivery? It’s better to know these things in advance so plans can be made beforehand.

Each pass should have a specific purpose.

Finally, I like to work in passes, where each pass has a specific purpose. For example; on my first pass I’ll focus on matching shots within a scene. On a later pass I’ll focus on blurs. On my final pass I’ll look at the text elements like credits, lower thirds, and subtitles. Breaking the work up like this allows you to remain hyper focused on one specific action at a time and to be completely dialed-in to the NLE’s specific controls for that aspect of correction.

Project and Sequence Checklist:

Avid Interview with A.E. Ryan Axe

Avid has posted an excellent interview with Assistant Editor Ryan Axe. A few miscellaneous thoughts:

  • Axe’s advice about networking and resuming writing in part 5 is solid. If you’re looking for work I’d highly recommend that you pay particular attention to what he says about timing.
  • For all of my enthusiasm about artificial intelligence in the edit suite, Axe’s interview is a sobering reminder that we have a long way to go. Just read his detailed description of his organizational tasks:

If there’s dialogue for a scene we’d make a “line string”, where we take each individual line of dialogue from every take and cut them back to back in a sequence. This allows the editor and director to quickly review alternates for each line with uninterrupted playback, rather than scrolling through all the takes manually.

We’d add a marker for each line and write out the dialogue in the comments column, and have each setup on a different labelled track in the timeline. Then we can see at a glance what dialogue each setup covers. For example, while looking for a close up for a particular line you can jump straight to the marker for that line, scroll to the close-up, and play the readings back-to-back to find the best one. Think of it like ScriptSync but timeline-based.
  • The “algorithm” is there. You just read it. But the execution is just awfully complex.

DaVinci Resolve (an awkward review part 1) DRAFT

Note: Blackmagic Design was kind enough to send me a copy of their training book “The Definitive Guide to DaVinci Resolve 14“ back in February. Although Resolve 15 was released in April, none of the information below is affected by differences between versions 14 and 15.

In addition, since I’ve clearly been working on this review for a looong time, I thought I’d share with you, my loyal readers, the current draft of my review, as well as my notes here.


There is SO much good and free information (here is just 1 example) about Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve, that it is difficult to think of ways to contribute to the conversation. However, here is my attempt to cover some of the philosophical questions introduced by such a comprehensive software program. My point of view is as a producer and a teacher, and less as a day-to-day user; so let’s see where this goes!

Age of the NLE virtuoso?

The most interesting question posed by DaVinci Resolve is: who is this software for? By incorporating NLE editing, Audio Mixing, industry leading Color Correction, and node-based Compositing; you’d logically think that Resolve’s ideal user is the one man band. However, unlike a plugin such as Colorista or Adobe incorporating Machine Learning to automatically match shots in Premiere, Resolve does nothing to hide the inherent complexity of each discipline.

Resolve Color
Mastering this one interface could take an entire career.

People often ask me which program they should use if they want to edit digital content for the web, and without hesitation I almost always say, “Adobe Premiere”. Let’s not mince words here. I understand that the question could be interpreted with nuance and subtlety. But the question doesn’t warrant the effort.

Media Composer is built around the heritage offline/online workflow model. Avid can bolt-on and bulk-up AMA all they want, but MC wants to manage your media for you. The interface is practically begging you to let it.

When your digital content is a few dozen clips hastily copied off of a camera card onto the desktop; the ability to drag a file from the Finder into a Timeline is undeniably superior.  Not from a media management point-of-view, but from a just creating an edited video to share with the world is huge accomplishment point of view.

If you have to ask “which program I should use,” then you’re using Premiere. The people and projects inclined to use Avid Media Composer already know that they’re sending their audio to be mixed in ProTools etc.

Which leads us to this: The Resolve interface is so sweet I want to lick it!

Resolve interface details
Look at those track selectors! And the beautiful rounded corners of those clips!
Resolve trim details
Trimming so smooth it could double as a slip-and-slide.

I know that it sounds like I’m conflating interface and task complexity, and I kinda am. But as I’ve observed before, I think there is a relationship between the complexity of an task and the complexity of a program’s interface to achieve it. Clearly Blackmagic’s designers have been working on overdrive, but who can truly master DaVinci anymore? As a producer should I feel dubious of an Resolve 15 expert? Who is the virtuoso who’s mastered Editing, Compositing, Color Correction, and Audio Mixing; and interfacing with software at its most sophisticated level?

The Definitive Guide to Visual Literacy?

I think Blackmagic’s guide to Resolve 14 is very well written. There is so much to like here. Paul Saccone’s writing style embodies the best of Strunk & White’s rule about clarity. Complex concepts like trimming and handles are explained (and illustrated) in a straightforward way that make it easy for a novice editor to understand.

IMG_1047
IMG_1048

Saccone’s writing is so clear that when you stumble upon something obtuse, you realize the inherent complexity of nonlinear editing. A good example of this are the JKL scrubbing instructions on pages 56 – 59. You can only learn so much about surfing from books; eventually you have to get out there and get thrashed by the waves.

Although written with pristine clarity, here again we have to consider this question of: who is this software for?

Saccone will remind the reader that: “It is also important to understand that the clips are not copied, moved, or transcoded when you import them. DaVinci Resolve is completely non-destructive; it simple links to the unaltered files in their current locations on your hard drive.”

Or: “Don’t worry, changing the Display Name does not change the filename on your hard disk.”

And yet he never explicitly explains the difference between media files and the representation of them in the NLE. Something you’d assume would need to be taught to someone who doesn’t understand the non-consequences of changing a clip name.

The Left-brain Right-brain Problem

Perhaps my favorite insight so far has been Saccone’s description of the effect of the auto select button: “Keeping audio and video in sync is always a concern (and chore) for editors.” I know that the terms left-brain and right-brain are incorrect, but editing is a unique blend of the technical and creative, and here we have a perfectly succinct description of an editor’s cognitive load.

Editors can be a curmudgeonly lot of people when it comes to their tools. Who can blame them? On one hand you have the computer, a rigidly logical device with a very low bandwidth interface. On the other hand, you have the task of creatively juxtaposing motion pictures in a mentally taxing work environment. Then, much like a chef that can only make a meal as good as his ingredients, editors can only work with footage given to them from “the field”.

It is no wonder an editor will clutch their favorite (or only) NLE so tightly. Their hard won muscle memory reduces the cognitive load of interfacing with the software. A skilled editor can be equally creative in Media Composer, Premiere, Resolve, or Lightworks; but they won’t be as effective stumbling over unfamiliar keystrokes.

work1
If only xkcd would consider the NLE.

To be continued…