Avid Media Composer is a 1080p program that can work with higher-resolution files under certain constraints.
Red cameras shoot 4K and above (though you can shoot low-rez footage too), and the typical challenge is in dealing with R3D files in their RAW format until the last possible moment. Some applications like Adobe Premiere Pro can deal with Red files natively, and create projects that match those specifications. Avid Media Composer cannot create a project greater than 1080p.
In this article, we’ll look at how Red R3D files can be edited with Avid Media Composer.
A tale of two workflows
What makes R3D different from ‘normal’ 1080p files? There are two things:
- Debayering (R3D is a RAW format, lossy compressed)
- Metadata (Red cameras save your settings, color information and many other kinds of metadata; and this information is critical to most workflow)
The goal of any Avid-Red workflow is to make sure the advantages of the above two are maintained and exploited. For the sake of simplicity, we can break down the Avid-Red workflow into two broad groups:
- 5K or 4K finishing – you want to preserve the resolution of what you’ve shot.
- 1080p finishing.
There are two ways to go about editing R3D files in Avid Media Composer:
- Transcode to proxies (DNxHD 36 or similar) or intermediaries (DNxHD 220x or similar) for the editing.
- Edit native via AMA.
I will outline both ways, and you can be the judge as to which method suits your needs better.
Previous versions of Avid Media Composer were somewhat limited in its scope, but as of version 7, you can edit higher resolution media (within a 1080p project, of course) via a technology called FrameFlex. Furthermore, version 7 also manages AMA media, including R3D media. We’ll see if these additions have changed the Avid-Red workflow pattern or not.
Transcode to Proxies (DNxHD) Workflow
Red RAW files (R3D) can be opened and played around with in many kinds of software. However, for the purposes of the Avid-Red workflow, the two most popular contenders (if not the strongest ones) are:
- Redcine-X Pro
- Avid MetaFuze
I have no hesitation in recommending Redcine-X Pro for any debayering, transcoding and on-set grading work, and it’s free. You can download it from here.
When you import your R3D clips into Redcine-X Pro, you will have the choice to add looks to it, either pre-defined or custom-made. The choices are endless, and more than enough for 99% of workflows. However, the choices you make here must be saved for later use – otherwise what’s the point?
In Redcine-X Pro, go to Preferences… > General tab > and check Automatically Save RMD Files. This will ensure your custom presets are retained in the RMD sidecar files.
Once you are satisfied with the looks you have created, and have your clips sorted in your Project Bin, it is time to export it for editing. You go to File > Export…:
If you’ve just dumped clips into your Project Bin, you can choose which clips to export, and the preset to be used for all of them.
Under Format, select Avid AAF & MXF.
Click on Setup… and you’ll get a popup for Avid Settings (shown above). Select the necessary Avid Codec. For proxies, I recommend DNxHD 36 or 145 (29.97 fps, choose the appropriate equivalent for the frame rate you’re working with), while for intermediaries, I recommend DNxHD 220X or any other 10-bit equivalent.
You can choose Audio Only or ALE Only* based on the exact requirements of each clip (E.g., if only the audio is important, why waste time rendering the video?). For regular clips you leave them both unchecked. Click Ok when you’re done.
As you can see, Output Resolution is limited to 1080p (or the equivalent DNxHD resolution selected). Click on Debayer Settings:
Ideally, you’d want it at ‘Full‘, however, it is best to select the option you really need. E.g., if you’re going to edit on a 1080p monitor, and if you’ve shot 4K or 5K, it might be better to select 1/2 Good because that will give you 2K-ish resolution (the best you can see on your monitor anyway). In the case of Avid Media Composer, you can’t go over 1080p anyway, so it is best to choose 1/2 Good (8-bit) or 1/2 Premium (10-bit) for 4K and 3K, and Full or 1/2 Good for 2K.
If you’re creating high-quality intermediaries for a 1080p finish, then I strongly recommend Full Debayer. Click Ok.
Finally, you choose your Output Location. Click on Settings… and you’ll be able to choose the path to your Dynamic Media Folder (DMF) or another folder. You have the option to create a sub-folder for each clip. Choose ‘Unique Filename’ under File Creation Mode. Click Ok.
Once you’re done, click Export. The structure of the export is as follows:
- AAF Folder – contains the AAF files
- ALE file*
- MXF Folder – contains the transcoded DNxHD footage in MXF containers.
*ALE – Avid Log Exchange, is a text file that carries the metadata from the clip. In this case, it’s the information in the RMD files that are written along with the R3D files, in a tabular form.
If you hadn’t selected sub-folders, and have more than one clip in your bin, the structure is as follows:
- Empty AAF Folder
- Empty MXF Folder
- ALE File
- Clip Folders containing MXF, AAF and XML** file (And an empty folder called Creating)
**The XML file only references the newly created MXF file, and the specific codec used.
We’re done with Redcine-X Pro. Once you have all your clips transcoded to a proxy or intermediary, it’s time to go to Avid.
In Avid Media Composer, create a new project that matches the frame rate you shot in.
Create a bin, and import the ALE file. It will automatically bring in the media files into the bin, but they will be offline. You will need to copy the MXF files created by Redcine-X Pro into the Avid MediaFiles folder. Based on what you have created earlier, the MediaFiles folder will have the following structure: Media Drive: Avid MediaFiles/MXF/1 (2, 3, and so on). Create a folder with a number and copy the MXF files into it. I didn’t have to do this next step, but you could also try File > Refresh Media Directories.
Wait a minute, if you have been reading carefully, you might be asking: Why the hell do we have to manually copy MXF files into the Avid MediaFiles directory? The answer is not simple, but the fact is that the Avid Media structure is ‘rigid’ so that it is easy to scale. For single edit stations, it is a pain, while if you’re in a multi-million dollar VFX movie, it is a blessing. This complicated but unflappable structure is its core strength, and one of the hidden reasons (hidden to newcomers anyway) why Avid is still a powerhouse in the cinema and broadcast industries. You don’t have to be a fan of its implementation, but you can at least respect its utility.
Once you do that, select all the offline clips in the bin. right-click and choose Relink…. Uncheck Relink only to media from current project. Choose the media drive (where the Avid MediaFiles folder exists), and click Ok.
Your files should become online now. Even though they show as *.R3D files they are in fact proxy or intermediary files. To verify, right-click on a clip and choose Get Info.
Here’s a quick video that outlines this process:
In Part Two we’ll see how you round-trip back to Redcine-X Pro for finishing. We’ll also look at the AMA workflow for Red files.