It is pretty frustrating when you feel you spend so much more time getting the program to work and actually do what you want, than focusing on the creative aspect, isn’t it? Well, been there, done that. Here is what I could gather through reading and watching a bunch of forums, websites, blogs, YouTube tutorials, and more… This works for me, it might not work for you, every human is different. If it doesn’t suit you, don’t stress, keep trying different approaches.
Context: I have a very standard Windows 10 laptop (ASUS X441UV), 2Gb Nvidia Card, Core i7 7th gen. Ok, so no supercomputer with high-grade GPU or anything. Despite the fact, I managed to edit, color, mix and master 6 videos recorded in 4K (pain in the ass for my poor laptop), with different cameras. EDIT: They are premiering on Colombia’s local TV soon! Yay!
Before jumping into the workflow, in brief, my conclusions are:
- An essential, fundamental part of video editing is organization. Folders, Names, file names. This will improve your productivity dramatically.
- DaVinci Resolve 16 is the best for editing, fantastic coloring, great for subtitling, kinda not there yet for sound, and the export/rendering page can be less customizable than Premiere’s, and honestly pretty laggy/buggy sometimes for my system.
- Premiere Pro is pretty good for editing too, color meh, the sound is slightly better (allows VST3), it is great for final assembly and… the coolest thing; dynamic link (basically allows you to work on the same project with different Adobe suite programs), with for example Audition! Add to it Adobe Media Encoder and voilá. Perfection. Or close.
- Out of all DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations), I have tried and use (I am also a sound producer), surprisingly most do not support frame-by-frame playback except Auditon, which allows a very intuitive and functional workflow for video/sound editing. You can also use ProTools, it is the industry standard. I just prefer the easier compatibility between audition/premiere/media encoder.
- Adobe Media Encoder is precious when you need to export several versions of multiple episodes in different formats, with different codecs, or with/without subtitles. Add them to the queue! I highly recommended to know your CODECS, containers, and file extensions!
- For exporting Master, almost uncompressed versions, I used a DNxHR 444 codec inside a Quicktime .mov container, with 10 bits. This is basically like Apple ProRes but without the Apple. This worked pretty well for this project. For the YouTube versions, I used H.264 codec on an .MP4 container with 16000–18000 kbps bitrate.
Ok, here is the Workflow. I highly recommend you read the manuals of all the programs you are using. It is worth the while and maybe you’ll find even better ways to do the work (If so, please tell me!:))
- Setup: Organize every video and audio file you get! This is crucial. What I did is create a global project folder “BEST_VIDEO_SERIES”, inside I created a folder for each season or series. Then one folder for every individual episode, for example, for season 2 episodes I use an S2 prefix in this way: “S2E1” for episode 1, “S2E2” for episode 2, and so on. Inside every individual episode folder, I created 2 additional folders “IN” and “OUT”, you’ve probably guessed, IN for the input media and OUT for all the renders and exports.
- Filter: Throw all the media files into the “IN” folder of the episode you are working on. Then, before importing your clips and audio files into Resolve, first I suggest you watch every clip and filter out everything you will not use. DO NOT DELETE ANYTHING. These could be shots or takes that are bad, out of focus, overexposed, or just not the best out of many. Put the unwanted clips in an “unwanted” folder. That is kinda a ground-rule unless you are completely certain it is better not to delete any files related to the project.
- Project Management: First I open DaVinci Resolve 16, which shows the Project Manager window first. There I create the same folder structure as in the previous step: “VIDEO_PROJECT_NAME” > “EACH_SEASON” > “EACH_INDIVIDUAL_EPISODE”.
- Project Settings: Check at DaVinci’s general settings and also your project settings (lower right corner, the gear button), do all the necessary adjustments to optimize and improve performance specific to your system. Carefully revise and adjust if needed the Media Storage location in the General Preferences. Now check that for your project settings, so that everything seems in order and you know where everything is going to be stored.
- Import: Now we are in our nice Resolve “Cut” panel by default (right?), which I never use, so go to the “Edit” panel. There, you can drag and drop all the media files that passed through the filter.
- Optimize Media: Because I assume you are also working on a low-end computer like me, we need to optimize our media files for smooth playback, — or more like playback at all — , and actually edit! I think regardless of your computer, it is a good idea to optimize; it improves performance. Be aware that it takes a lot of disc-space, if your video files take 80 Gb, expect at least the same size for optimized media because it is making a copy for every video file in a different codec and in a lower resolution but with the same editing capabilities. This means that these optimized media will have similar sizes to your video clip files, so big. Another important thing is to check your DaVinci Resolve general settings and project settings, be aware and take note and change the locations if needed of every project folder, CacheFiles folder (this is where the optimized media will be stored), it is very important! Ok, now, if you are sure, then, select all your video files, right-click on “generate optimized media” and go watch a movie or a Netflix show (I’m watching Better Call Saul), the process takes a few hours. It is absolutely worth it. I couldn’t edit otherwise.
- Sync: If it’s dialogues, and you have an external mic and multiple channels audio files, it can be very tedious to sync audio and video. Lucky for us, and that is one of the reasons I love Resolve, this program comes with an auto-sync feature that works just fantastically. Just select all your audio and video files, right-click and click auto-sync. Be aware that depending on the option you choose, it may replace the original sound of the video files. So, because I think it is better to preserve as much information as possible, I choose the option “Auto-Sync Audio Based on Waveform and Append Tracks.” Here Resolve will compare the waveforms of both the embedded video audio (if any) and the audio files, and just add them together as additional channels for your video file (that’s the “append tracks” part). Sweet.
- Pre-edit Organization: Organize again, create Bins (which are basically folders inside video editors). What I did is create one for video files called “Video”, then inside one for every different camera: “Sony”, “DJI”, “GoPro”, and so on; and inside these, one for every type of shot. Because these videos are mainly one presenter speaking in front of the camera, they alternate with 3 different shots: medium closeup, medium, and lateral. So those are the names. Depending on your specific situation you may find better more efficient folder structures. Whatever suits you, just be organized! Finally, create an extra bin for sound if you have dedicated externally recorded sound (and here you could have different types). Create another Bin for your timelines, this is a must. Timelines are precious and can save your life, trust me. Add any other Bins you may find useful, for example, if you are going to have graphics or other VFXs, titles, texts, animations, whatever. Ok, now this is how my project folder inside DaVinci looks like (The symbol > refers to “inside the folder on the left”)
“Video” > “Camera 1”, “Camera 2”….. > “MediumCloseUp”, “CloseUp”
- Rename your video files: if your video is mostly a presenter speaking from a script, like mine, it really helped me to name files with the beginning of the phrase the presenter is saying in that shot. For example, he says, “I am going to make him an offer he can’t refuse…”, and it’s a medium closeup shot, so I would name the file: “MedClos_IamGoingToMakeHimAnOffer1”. If they are multiple takes of that same phrase and shot, I just add numbers at the end. This saved me so much time while arranging. For faster browsing through your video clips, use the hotkeys “J”: play backward, “K”: pause, and “L”: play forward. If you press either J or L more than once, you speed up playback in that direction.
- Edit: Now go on and enjoy the beauty and pleasure of visual storytelling. Don’t mind color or sound for now, really don’t. This is just the storyline and deciding the shots. No FX, Visuals, or anything yet. This part is the art, and here everyone does it differently. I choose DaVinci Resolve for editing because of the ease of use, you just need to memorize like 3 or 4 keyboard shortcuts, and you are in for a super productive and efficient workflow. Remember, in DaVinci there are two types of delete inside the timeline: with “Backspace” you normal-delete an object from your timeline, and with “Delete” you ripple-delete, which means you delete an object but push everything that’s on the right to the left so it kinda “fills” the gap left by the deleted object. “Press “A” for the normal mode, you can move clips around, drag them, etc. Press “T” for using the ripple edit, this is awesome, here if you go to the edge of a clip and drag it, it will move all the rest of the timeline that’s on the right accordingly; you can also move clips over other clips (like a sheet of paper gliding over another one), stretch clips, move the cuts, etc. Press “Y” to choose all clips from the right of the playback cursor. And save (Ctrl + S) every time you can! I would save every two or three edits. If you are working with a client, it is good that before changing your finished timeline, you duplicate it, and work on the copy, call them “Version1”, “V1”, etc. Just preserve the state of your original timeline before making any changes. For sending samples to the client I exported it in 10 Mbps bitrate with H.264 codec. Once approved, duplicate the approved timeline and name the copy “Color” or “colorCorrection” or whatever you feel, just so you can tell that this one is going to be color corrected.
- Coloring: In your edited timeline copy, properly renamed, start color-correcting. Mine, for episode 1 of the 3 series, was called “S3E1_ApprovedEdit_Color”. I will not deepen into the details of how to do it, what to do best, or not, this goes beyond the scope of this article. There are plenty of tutorials and guides on coloring, and I am honestly not the best at it yet. I first grouped clips with the same shots, same camera, and same lighting, then I started basic corrections: Contrast, Gain, Gamma, Lift, and Saturation on the post-group nodes, now all clips of the same kind are automatically corrected at the same time! Then I did some particular, special needs corrections for just a few individual clips on the clip nodes. Then I added an Adjustment Layer over all the clips to add a unified tone and style to the video. Once done with color correction, same as for edits, make different timeline copies for every new color corrected version you make.
- Master, “Assembly video” and audio export: First I exported the approved color corrected timeline in DNxHR 444 codec, 10 bits (all my original footage was 10 bits, so I used 10 bits for rendering as well) with a Quicktime .mov container and no sound. This is my “assembly video” “Master Video”, which I am going to use for preserving purposes and for throwing it into Premiere Pro for exporting all the final versions. After exporting that, now export only the sound in .xml format with the “Premiere XML” preset on the delivery page, choose a dedicated folder for the output files. This is going to export every audio clip in separate .wav files along with a .xml file that contains the instructions on how to arrange them. Now finally, make a low-res, H.264, 720p, low-bitrate render of the timeline to use as preview in Adobe Audition as our video reference for sound and syncing. I call it “NAME_OF_YOUR_EPISODE_ForSound”
- Sound: Open Adobe Audition, create a properly named new project, click File > Open and browse to the .xml file inside the folder we created in the previous step. Audition should import all the audio files automatically and arrange them in the timeline perfectly. Now just throw in the low res video clip we made and drop it in the timeline. Save every few edits. First Normalize all dialogues with True Peak to -6 or -5 dB. Then, I create tracks for every speaker, around 3–5 tracks for Sound Effects (SFX) and 2–4 tracks for music. After adding all the SFX and music, keep all dialogue levels under -6 dB, SFX to around -12 dB, and music to around -18 → -23 dB when dialogues occur, and -6 → -10 dB when music dominates. This is relative, can vary depending on the project, client, destination. Check all the requirements carefully. Besides levels and meters, which are extremely helpful, trust your ears above all! I use bus tracks to redirect all SFXs. -Plugins I use: FabFilter plugins: Compressor, Equalizer, De-Esser; Izotope RX 7 Vocal denoise, de-reverb; and Adobe Hard Limiter to keep things under control. I usually add a hard limiter to the Master track to -4 dB just in case. Now after doing your stuff, export the mixdown with proper names! I recommend you keep the naming of the timelines and rendered video files, for episode 1 of the 3 Series I used “S3E1_Mixdown.wav”.
- Final Assembly: Here we put all the parts together: The DNxHR almost uncompressed render, the mixdown from Auditon, the Graphics if applicable, Titles, intros, subtitles, credits, and everything else. Go ahead and drop them into a new Premiere Pro Project, carefully named! — Yes names are crucial I am not going to stop insisting on it — . Put every part in place, and make the last tweaks, double-check sound-levels, look for any mistake, gap, abnormal/undesired volume. Take a magnifying glass and look for anything you might have let slip through. It is ok, mistakes happen.
- Final Render: Ok, the moment of truth. The “Finally!” moment, so longed. Now alongside Premiere Pro, you are going to open Adobe Media Encoder. Go back to your Premiere Assembly project, click on export or just “CTRL + M” and choose, for Social Media and YouTube, the H.264 with MP4 format, and select the YouTube Full HD 1080p format. It is basically a 16 Mbps bit rate H.264 .mp4 video. Add it to the queue, it will be passed to Adobe Media Encoder. For TV, the channel I worked with required video to be exported in XDCAMHD, NTSC, 30 fps codec inside an MXF OP1a container. Check the number of audio-channel requirements and specifications. Read the damn requirements file carefully. Add them to the queue too. Now do this for every episode and you got yourself a pretty big queue, perfect for leaving over-night and wake up to — hopefully — perfectly rendered final video files ready to be delivered and streamed.
- Rest: Seriously, it is important to rest as these video projects can be very demanding and exhausting.