The Adobe Premiere Pro to Autodesk Smoke Guide

There are few scenarios where one might want to move from Adobe Premiere Pro to Autodesk Smoke, and the strongest reason might be to take advantage of the native editing ability of Premiere Pro and the node-based compositing ability of Smoke.

This article looks at how you can move a project from Premiere Pro to Smoke for effects and finishing. It builds on the following articles so you might want to go through them before reading:

 

How Adobe Premiere Pro exports projects

Every NLE deals with conforming a bit differently. When you import clips whose frame rates don’t match a Premiere Pro sequence, you get the following choice:

PP FPS Mismatch Question

Sometimes, you can’t avoid working with clips with varying frame rates. It’s a common workflow. Therefore, it is important to understand how Premiere Pro handles such a scenario at the basic level.

How Adobe Premiere Pro handles frame rates

Let’s start with an example. I have a 1080p25 H.264 MOV file that has a duration of 26.19 (seconds.frames). This means the video has a total of 669 frames.

When you import this clip into projects with different frame rates, you get this:

PP Sequence FPS Changes

Original footage Duration Frames
H.264/MOV/1080p25 26.19 669
23.976 26.17 640.376
24 26.18 642
25 26.19 669
29.97 26.21 800.22
30 26.22 802
50 26.38 1338
59.94 26.43 1601.44
60 26.45 1605

25p to 25p is fine, as it should be. But look what happens in the first two cases and compare that to the last five cases:

  • In the first two cases, Premiere Pro tries to keep the duration of the sequence the same. This forces the frame rate to change. Even so, it can’t exactly match 23.976 or 24 (the math can’t either).
  • In the last five cases, Premiere Pro tries to keep the duration the same, but then is forced to interpolate (create new frames) to fill in the gaps. Even so, the duration still changes!

 
Other than 25p, Premiere Pro does not retain the same duration in any scenario. So, you have ‘split-personality’ problem in Premiere Pro:

  • A media file that still is its original duration and frame rate (26.19, 25p), and
  • A sequence in which that clip has now changed both duration and frame rate (all the other scenarios above).

 
In addition to this, there is another problem: What happens when you try to import a clip whose frame rate doesn’t match your Sequence settings, and you get the Clip Mismatch Warning shown above? What if you select ‘Change Sequence Settings’?

I created a sequence at 23.976, and tried to import one 25p clip. It warned me, and I chose to change the sequence settings to match my clip. Adobe Premiere Pro changed the sequence to 25p, and the clip was imported. Look at the list of sequences in the above image, and you’ll notice one that says ’25to23976change’. Its duration is 26.18 and not 26.19 as it should be! Oh oh…Gurgaon, we have a problem.

Extremely important warning: Do not change your sequence settings after you have imported your clips, because that might not give you the same result as starting out with the right sequence settings in the first place. This might wreck havoc on your workflow.

Export options from Premiere Pro that Autodesk Smoke will accept

Smoke supports the following document types:

  • AAF
  • XML

 
FCP 7 XML from Premiere Pro (XMEML) isn’t supported. Smoke supports FCPXML (from FCP-X) though. From Premiere Pro go to File > Export > AAF… (or EDL…):

Premiere Pro Export EDL AAF

When you choose AAF, you will get the following options:

Premiere Pro AAF Options

Make sure you leave both boxes unchecked. Click OK. If you have effects that are not supported by the AAF format, you’ll get an error message like this:

Premiere Pro AAF Error

This is normal, since most effects cannot be transferred this way. The file will still be written. Make sure the AAF/EDL file rests in the same folder as your clips (or at least the same root folder). This makes it easier for Smoke to find the clips.

Please read Adobe’s instructions on how AAF is written by Premiere Pro, and which effects are supported on export. Here are some important notes from that link:

The AAF files exported by Premiere Pro are compatible with the Avid Media Composer family of editing products. These AAF files have not been tested with other AAF importers.

AAF files exported from Premiere Pro and imported into Avid Media Composer do not automatically relink to the source footage. To relink the footage, use the Batch Import option in Avid Media Composer.

Merged clips are not supported when exporting an AAF file.

Why did I link to these notes? We’ll see very soon.

How Autodesk Smoke handles imports

Ensure your project matches the sequence settings in Premiere Pro. You can still have different sequence settings, but why give Smoke more trouble than it deserves?

Importing AAF sequences

Go to the Conform tab in Smoke, right click and choose Load New FCP XML/AAF… (for AAF):

Smoke Import AAF EDL

Choose the AAF file you have saved and double click it. You’ll get details regarding what it contains (notice Smoke recognizes the AAF came from Premiere Pro):

importing AAF into Smoke

Sequences with multiple tracks will still only show ‘1 track(s)’ but don’t worry, it will import all the tracks and audio files. Note the duration (669) tells us our 25p file is being imported correctly.

Click Import and the sequence is imported into Smoke. That’s all there is. You will have issues sometimes with having to manually link a few clips, but nothing that is out of the ordinary in such a workflow.

VERY IMPORTANT: Smoke only imports AAF files from Adobe Premiere Pro CS6, and NOT from Adobe Premiere Pro CC. When I try to open the folders containing AAF files exported from the CC version, Smoke crashes. I have sent bug reports to Autodesk and maybe they can figure out why this is so.

As soon as I open the folder containing the AAF file, regardless of what is or isn’t in that folder, Smoke hangs with the ‘beach ball’, and crashes. Even after it ‘crashes’, I still have to Force-Quit it. Strangely, the AAF files written by both software vary in their sizes:

  • AAF from CS6 – 375 kB
  • AAF from CC – 249 kB

 
This is the same 25p clip in a 25p sequence exported as AAF from both software. As you can clearly see, the AAF files are not the same in CS6 and CC. I hope Autodesk can correct this. As of now, due to this behavior, I cannot recommend Premiere Pro CC with Smoke, unless you like EDL workflows.

Relinking Clips

Let’s say you import and a few clips are visible on the timeline, but don’t ‘show up’. This is one of the crazy aspects of Smoke’s workflow. You’ll need to first right click on the clip in the timeline and select Media > Unlink. This unlinks the clip from any associations it has. Smoke gives you a warning, click Ok.

Then, if the clip is correctly ported over, you’ll see a green tick against its name:
Smoke Conform Clips
Right click and select the clip you want to relink to.

Sometimes, you can’t relink because the clip isn’t available as part of your conform media library. In that case, you’ll need to right click the clip and select Match > Content. Smoke finds potential matches that you can then choose.

I know, it’s not easy for a newcomer. The easier way is probably to import the clips new and bring them into the timeline manually. It’s tedious, but at least it’s doable and won’t melt your brain.

The EDL Workflow

To import an EDL, select Load New EDL. You’ll get a different settings box:

Smoke EDL Import Settings

By default Smoke assumes the frame rate of your project, but you can change that. EDLs don’t offer much flexibility anyway (as far as settings are concerned), so you click Load and hope for the best. This is by far the simplest workflow between Premiere Pro and Smoke, and the one I recommend if AAF is giving you problems (what choice do you have?).

These are two competing applications, and trying to find a way for them to work in harmony is really asking for too much. The solution, as always, is to keep things simple. The CS6 AAF workflow works surprisingly well, but I can’t say the same about CC, which is a nightmare. If you’re on Adobe Premiere Pro CC, I recommend flattening your timeline and exporting an EDL.

Obviously, if you want to work with VFX tools within Smoke, you’ll need handles and some leeway. But, like I said, that’s asking too much. You must be prepared to coax them into working, which I don’t recommend. In fact, I have no hesitation in recommending (unless you are absolutely desparate and somebody has thrust this responsibility on you) that if you want to finish in Smoke, edit in Smoke.

 

One reply on “The Adobe Premiere Pro to Autodesk Smoke Guide”

  1. It’d be REALLY useful to see if articles like this were published last week or 5 years ago…

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