Adobe Speedgrade CC Crash Course for Beginners (Part Three): Importing Footage

In Part One we looked at what Speedgrade does. In Part Two we understood the layout and GUI.

In this part we’ll deal with what seems to be the most complicated part of Speedgrade – the workflow. I’ll reiterate what I stated in Part One – if your workflow is non-cinema based, it is counter productive to use Speedgrade. You could use it, but I strongly recommend Adobe After Effects instead.

Speedgrade Logo

Supported file formats

Speedgrade works best with image sequences (called frame sequences). It also supports some RAW formats, and a couple of video formats:

  • Image sequence formats – TIFF, Cineon, JPEG, TGA, DPX, OpenEXR, most 3D software formats, and the new star, CinemaDNG, among others.
  • Video Formats – AVI (windows only), and MOV (Mac and Windows) (Not all codecs are supported in the MOV wrapper, but H.264 is supported)
  • Raw formats – ARI, CINE, R3D, SIV (No support for Canon or Sony RAW)

 
As mentioned in Part One, the Speedgrade way to deal with unsupported footage is to use another software to first convert it into one of the supported image sequence formats, preferably DPX. More on this later.

If you want to import edit sequences from another NLE, the only way to do it is via EDL. No XML. Since Premiere Pro exports to most formats (AAF, OMF, FCP-XML, etc.), one can expect integration in future versions of Speedgrade.

Supported EDL formats:

  • Sony CMX 3600
  • 16-bit extended EDL (only for Arriraw and R3D as a special case)

 
The only EDL format that we need be concerned with is CMX, which is an ancient format that is only good for simple edits. This tells us, in no uncertain terms, how the Speedgrade workflow is to be treated:

  • It is not a finishing application, like After Effects, Smoke, etc.
  • It expects that you work in formats that support uncompressed images, like DPX, TIFF, OpenEXR, etc.
  • It only claims to do one thing well: Color Correction and Grading.

 
We must base our workflows along these lines. This is the quickest way to assess whether Speedgrade can help us with our workflows or not.

There are two fundamental uses for Speedgrade:

  • Creating Dailies, Proxies or Intermediary files
  • Importing Sequences for Color Correction or Grading

 
We’ll look at them in detail, but first we need to know how to get footage into Speedgrade.

Importing Footage

The first use of Speedgrade is transcoding to another file format, preferably for editing, VFX, etc. There is no need for Speedgrade to interface with any other application.

The simple workflow for this is:

  • Import your footage.
  • Drag and drop your footage into the timeline.
  • Add a gamma curve if you must.
  • Color grade if you must.
  • Crop, retime, etc. (I don’t recommend this step), if you must.
  • Export proxies (for offline editing), dailies (for viewing, not Speedgrade’s strongest point) or intermediaries (DPX, TIFF, etc.).

 
The basic steps to import are extremely simple:

  • Open the folder in Desktop view.
  • Double click the footage. Every subsequent footage will be added on to the end of the same track in the timeline. To add all of them, click Add All (lower right corner of the Desktop view)
  • If you want, you can create a separate timeline.
  • The footage thumbnail must show up without error under Timeline tab>Reels.
  • Check settings to see if footage has been imported correctly, with the right settings, under Setup and View.
  • Go to Format Defaults.

 
In addition to the above steps, each format has its own options. Let’s look at how to import a few basic file formats (I won’t be repeating the above-mentioned steps):

R3D

To be honest, I feel it is better to use Redcine-X Pro for dailies, proxies or intermediary creation, but Speedgrade can do that too. However, Redcine-X will always have the most options.

  • Select R3D under Format.
  • In the next tab, select ‘Use the settings below’ if you want to make changes to the original footage.
  • Choose your ISO and Exposure compensation.
  • Choose your Gamma curve and Color Space – you have all the Red options available.
  • Don’t change the Color Space Defaults ‘Input Curve’ or you’ll be adding a curve over a curve. Only use this feature if you don’t have controls under Format. It sets the overall Default Color Space, and not just for a single clip.

 
CinemaDNG

Since Adobe Premiere Pro doesn’t support CinemaDNG natively, it might be a good idea to use Speedgrade to create intermediary codecs or proxies. I feel it is a faster workflow when compared to After Effects.

  • Under Format, you cannot change any value, even if you select ‘Use the settings below’. You can, but they have no effect.
  • Under Color Space Defaults, you can select CinemaDNG options for the file format, and vary settings.
  • There are three presets available, but all three are from ikonoskop cameras. No Blackmagic Camera yet, but that is understandable.

 
For Blackmagic Camera CinemaDNG files, I strongly advise and recommend Davinci Resolve – but you don’t need me to tell you that!

ARI

  • Under Format Defaults, you can change the ISO but not the color temperature (it changes, but there’s no effect on the footage).
  • Under Color Space Defaults, you choose Alexa.
  • Under presets you can select Arri 709 (HDTV) or P3 (Cinema projector) color spaces.
  • If you choose a preset, you will then have the choice of several LUTs.

 
DPX and TIFF

Choose SMPTE DPX under Color Space Defaults, but your options end there. The best you can do is add a gamma curve.

MOV/AVI (H.264)

Mov files tend to have their color space and gamma baked in, unlike RAW formats. Other than a straight import (like DPX above) there is hardly anything you can do to prep your footage.

Audio

Follow the same steps to drag the audio to the timeline. You can slide the audio to position it correctly. Go to Settings > Sound to set the right bit depth (called output quality) and sampling frequency (called mixing frequency).

Importing Sequences

An EDL file (.EDL) is usually created in an NLE once the sequence of clips have been edited and locked. Speedgrade only supports CMX 3600 formatted EDLs, and no others. The major flaw of the CMX3600 format is that it is limited to 999 events (rows). But all this is out of your control, so let’s not dwell over it.

The first thing you need to check is that your timeline playback and base frame rate is the same as the project you are importing. If you screw this up, it will throw up an ugly red-boxed error code, and no amount of crying will help.

Speedgrade further divides EDL workflows into two major groups:

  • Master-clip
  • Multiple-clip

 
We are mostly concerned with the latter, but for the sake of completeness, a master-clip workflow assumes one large video with edits already baked in. You also have an EDL which holds information about the edits. You import the large clip, and then the EDL over that, and the edits are done for you – once again.

The second workflow is what we care for; which is the importing of a locked edit sequence from an NLE, or any application capable of exporting EDLs. The problem with EDLs is that, you can’t export effects and filters, so you need to keep things simple. Sometimes, Speedgrade is just used as a color grading app, and the finished grade is re-imported into the NLE for finishing.

The supported EDL features are as follows:

  • Reel ID – the most important identifying element of a reel/clip
  • Clip Name – the second identifier
  • Replacements
  • Flip Flops – vertical/horizontal flips
  • M2 – time warp and reverse playback
  • Dissolves

 
The basic sequence of events to import an EDL is as follows:

  • You locate the EDL in the Desktop view and double click it.
  • Blank placeholders appear on the timeline, and blank thumbnails appear in the timeline-tab under Reels.
  • Your job is to relink these clips (reels) by going back to the Desktop view, and selecting the folder in which they reside. Ideally, you should have all the media in the same folder as the EDL. But sometimes, this isn’t possible.
  • Once you locate the clip, click Load from desktop, and the clip should find its place in the timeline.
  • Do this for all clips, if they are located in different corners of your hard drive. Make sure the ‘Don’t replace loaded reels’ is checked.
  • What if for some reason Speedgrade can’t load reels into its place in the timeline? You can drag those files into the timeline to manually link them.

 
If this sounds tedious, it is. Don’t think of Speedgrade as a finishing app, and things might be a bit simpler.

In Part Four we’ll look at how to round-trip from Adobe Premiere Pro, and exporting footage for dailies, proxies and intermediaries.