Diary of an Avid Switcher – Part 1: Humble Beginnings

Learning Avid Media Composer 6.5

I bought Avid over Christmas, making the most of Videoguys crossgrade deal, and finally installed Avid Media Composer 6.5.2 in the new year. The download and install process from the Avid site was very easy. I had scoured the net to see if anyone else had installed AMC 6.5 on Snow Leopard (10.6.8) and so far I’ve not had any problems, so that’s my first tip.

Learning AvidIn preparing to invest the time and determination it takes to learn (anything!) a new piece of software – made all the more challenging when you’re coming from 10 years of using FCP to be fast, comfortable and customised to the teeth to be that fast and comfortable – I tried to keep reminding myself to:

EXPECT THAT IT WILL ALL BE UNFAMILIAR.

EXPECT THAT IT WILL BE DIFFERENT.

EXPECT THAT LEARNING TAKES TIME.

But still given all that – this gif is how I feel when I open Avid.

A Few Shocks and Surprises

One thing that came as a nice surprise was that Sorenson Squeeze 8 comes with Avid, which somehow had evaded my eagle eyes (am I blind?), so that was nice. Avid’s DVD program only comes on Windows so that was a non-starter. The Videoguys crossgrade comes with a free Class on Demand training series – an excellent combination. Both Videoguys and Class on Demand’s customer service was exceptional and I would highly recommend them to anyone.

Steve Hullfish’s Complete Training Series for Avid Media Composer 6 & Symphony 6 is the tutorial series that I went for and it is excellent, well structured and very useful to have along side you, when you’re just starting out. I would recommend getting this one over the ‘Media Composer for Final Cut Pro editors’ series which is less in depth.

Learning Avid Media Composer

Shocks

My overriding thought about the journey so far is that for the past 10 years I heard nothing but how great Avid was and it was the only thing real professional editors used. Which I never really believed to be true and now I own it, and I’m starting to embark on the long road to learning it properly, I feel like I’ve moved out from under the shadow of the mighty Avid.

Learning Avid Media Composer 6.5.2

Furthermore, now that I’m paying attention to the movements of the Avid ecosystem, when I see ‘big new features’ added to Avid that FCP had for ages I can’t believe it – I’m totally bewildered. I thought Avid was ‘better’? Audio keyframes spring to mind. Anyway I guess I had high expectations, that I’m sure may well be met when I know what I’m doing, but at the moment there are a few things that I still can’t believe its so hard to get my head around from the get go.

1. I’m not sure if I’ve got stuff set up right?

In FCP7 its pretty straightforward to make sure you’ve got your sequence settings matching your footage. It’s easy to check if they match and relatively easy to discover where to make the necessary adjustments if they don’t. Even if you don’t know what you’re doing technically, when you drag the first clip into the sequence it will match them for you. In Avid I’ve got next to no idea if things are set up correctly – How do I do that? (Answers in the comments please!)

Learning Avid Media Composer 6.5.2

2. AMA is not native.

Avid’s AMA is supposed to allow me to work with non Avid friendly MXF/DNxHD footage. AMA is not native, its plugin based so you have to install plugins for each codec and flavour that AMA supports. But how do I check if I have them installed?

3. Transcode, Tran-slowed

Having to transcode footage into Avid’s DNxHD format (and wrapped in MXF) is a problem for me as most of the projects that I cut the footage comes to me transcoded as ProRes QT’s (all my previous clients are FCP – so I’m learning/using Avid for personal projects only at moment). Now I know you’re supposed to be able to use them in Avid with AMA but I tried and I tried and I tried to get some Avid AMA ProRes files to reconnect to a sequence of sync’d footage from FCP but it would never work. I was doing that because I was trying to get Pluraleyes to sync three separate sources in Avid, which I couldn’t get to work either, so I did it in FCP hoping to relink, but no.

Learning Avid

4. Epic fail on keyboard customisation

I find it pretty shocking that the keyboard shortcuts can only be customised to the keys and the keys + shift. This is a BIG loss – why only the shift key? Why not allow me, the editor, to map functions to any key I want, not any key YOU will allow me. It’s adding a layer of friction that simply doesn’t need to be there.

Leraning Avid Media Composer

5. Clunky User Manual and Help Files

Avid needs to take a leaf out of Blackmagic Design’s book (literally) and make its user manual much better presented and far easier to use. DaVinci Resolve 9’s user manual is beautifully laid out and makes it very easy to learn how to do stuff in Resolve.

Ending Thought

Ultimately ‘its not about the bike’ – but about the story and the final product. After all, no one on the planet will know what your film was cut on when they watch it. But Avid really need to change their attitude if they’re going to survive in the splintered NLE market. The tools should be doing their utmost to be as flexible and adaptable to the user, not the other way around. But that said, I will be persevering because people know it, love it and use it on big projects. I’m sure once I figure out what I’m doing I’ll be singing Avid’s praises just as much as the next post-geek, but for now that is yet to come.

Learning Avid Media Composer

Solutions to common Avid for FCP Editor Problems

OK, so I really didn’t want this post to just be a blow by blow series of moans and whimpers and I do have a long list of helpful tips for the workarounds/learnings that I’ve discovered while trying to learn Avid. But this post is already too long so I’ll do those in a separate post and add a link here when I do. Happy editing!

About Jonny

Jonny Elwyn - A freelance film editor, living and working in London.
This entry was posted in AVID, Editing, Editor's Tools, Final Cut Pro, Review, Workflow and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Diary of an Avid Switcher – Part 1: Humble Beginnings

  1. NDG says:

    Project setup is easy. You pick the settings that reflect what your final output should be. Just like FCP’s Easy Setups.

    AMA isnt native because every camera maker is required to maintain their own, therefore they supply the plugins, not Avid. If this was left up to Avid, there would be more delays on keeping them up to date.

    ProRes, as of 6.5 is a native codec now. No need to transcode. Just Fast Import or AMA.

    The keyboard is that way because unlike FCP, option/control are already in use for alot of other native key commands. Once you learn the way around Avids’ keyboard, I doubt you’ll complain.

    5. No argument there.

  2. jonny says:

    I guess a lot of my questions are ”I want to do X, and in FCP you do it like this, so how do I do that in Avid?” Which at the minute leads to lots of frantic googling and a few ‘oh, ok’ moments. I will be sitting down with a top-notch Avid editing friend soonish and berating him with questions/complaints and hopefully taking away many new learnings.

    With the keyboard I still think that it should be that I can map anything to anything ‘if I really want to’ whether or not the default mapping is better. So it just seems like bad User Interface Experience to me.

    Anyway – thanks for taking the time to read and comment – much appreciated!

    • Jeff Kaufer says:

      You can map any function to any key. Go to settings, and choose keyboard. Go to tools and select command pallet. Now drag the function from the command pallet to the place on the keyboard that you want it to be. Done. Check the HELP as well. You can map many other functions to the keyboard as well.

      • jonny says:

        Thanks for posting Jeff. The point I was trying to make was that you can’t map any keys in Avid to Alt+ __ or Cmd + __ Its the keys as they are, or shift and the keys as the only modifier. In FCP (as an example) you have 11 modifier options. The keys, cmd, alt, ctrl, shift, shift-cmd, shift-alt, cmd-alt, cmd-ctrl, ctrl-shift, ctrl-alt. Avid just seems a little restrictive in comparison!

  3. Bas says:

    They way I see ‘setting up’ projects in both applications is that in FCP it resolves around the material you’ve got imported, and in AVID it’s the actual project you create. What I love in AVID is that you just have to worry about setting up the project’s frame rate correctly and after that always being able to switch between HD/SD or corresponding framerates (like 25 of 50 frames here in PAL-country). Want to export your timeline in SD? no problem, want to export the same timeline as HD, no problem. You’re not really ‘setting up’ that much, because every option is still (and always) on the table.

    • jonny says:

      Ah ok – now that makes sense! Thanks for posting…

      • Bas says:

        Hope my English was clear enough. It’s not my first language :)

        I agree partly with your keyboard shortcuts point as well. Although, I have the feeling that in AVID you actually have to use less of them. When I browse the FCP button list I see so so so so so many commands that are done differently in AVID and don’t have their own command to map to a key anyways. (Like FCP’s ‘match frame’ and ‘match frame multiclip’. In AVID, you hit match frame on a groupclip, and the groupclip is matched. Match frame again, and you match the frame of the current camera angle of that group. 1 key shortcut, different uses. That’s one of the things I really like about AVID, being ‘simpler’ in a way.

  4. Greg says:

    I learned on Avid, then mastered FCP, now I know Premiere and FCPX. Here’s what I can tell you about Avid from having used the most recent versions of all of them…

    Avid is HORRIBLY antiquated. Here’s the truth. AMA DOES NOT WORK. Even Avid themselves admit “it’s not ideal”. What that means is, IT DOESN’T WORK. This is instantly verifiable – just go to the Creative Cow Avid forum, and every expert’s first response to any problem is “You’re not using AMA, are you?”

    What does this mean? It means, in short, if you’re using ProRes sources, you’re hosed. The only way to use Media Composer to edit ProRes is to convert every file to DnxHD, Avid’s proprietary format. Here’s the fatal problem… transcoding TAKES LONGER THAN THE RUNNING TIME OF THE CLIP ITSELF. I work in TV. We use hour-long episodes as our source. On a top-of-the-line Mac Pro, a 42-minute clip took 1 hour and 10 minutes to transcode. And unlike FCPX or Premiere, YOU CAN’T WORK WHILE IT’S TRANSCODING. You’re dead in the water.

    What does this mean? Unfortunately, your first reactions are correct. Avid is the best nonlinear editor, if it’s 1998. In 2013, unfortunately, you’re better off editing on your iPhone. As an Avid veteran, it’s tough to admit, but it’s true. Sorry…

  5. Strypes says:

    Setting up a project is easy. Unlike FCP where you have a whole bunch of codec settings, in Avid it is just format and frame rate. Frame rate is the most important one. Because you can’t change it afterwards. But Avid does away with the hundreds of codec presets for a sequence by being codec agnostic. All you need to do after creating a new project, is setup the media creation settings once you’re in Avid. Make sure you set up rendering and importing to the right drive.

    I wrote an article about editing functions between the different NLEs here.

    http://strypesinpost.com/2012/12/across-the-lines-editing-in-the-different-nles/

  6. Strypes says:

    For the keyboard customization, yes, it’s shift only, because it’s mapping system is decades old. But there are things you can do like map menu items to buttons and shortcuts. So like many, this is one of the areas where my love/hate relationship with Avid begins.

    Avid is a very old software, and it is also very deep. Before you get into AMA, understand that Avid was traditionally designed around the offline/online tape workflows. It’s very robust with that and has a solid media management. AMA was added much later. Think about it as a response to FCP’s log and transfer but that you can start some editing and previewing your rushes before getting things into avid media. Avid likes things in Avid Media and many things work faster and Avid is more robust and reliable with it. Think about Avid Media like FCP and Quicktime. In FCP you need to get footage into Quicktime, and in most cases ProRes. And you use log and transfer so FCP is able to manage the metadata to allow you to re-link or re-ingest more easily. The same concept applies with getting things into Avid media, which is really nothing more than supported codecs in Avid’s op atom MXF format and that Avid keeps a database of the files in the Avid MediaFiles directory.

  7. jonny says:

    Thanks for the thoughts and comments guys – all good stuff to know. I’m also very aware that all of my experiences are likely to be ‘teething problems’ at first, and then later, when I get to understand what and why Avid is doing things, it will be a smoother ride. Cheers for taking the time to comment!

  8. Larry says:

    I forced myself to learn Avid about 3 years ago, coming from FCP7. When the FCP user group in L.A. tells you to learn both, if you want to work, you listen to them… They were definitely right. Avid editors who know FCP are often a hot commodity, especially in L.A.

    The thing to keep in mind with Avid, is that it’s been pretty much the same interface (with much needed additions) since the 1990’s. They have not really done a radical change for that reason. The familiarity is at their core, and after the FCPX pushback (initially) that was commendable.

    At first, it’s daunting. That said, I have moved completely away from FCP7 (unless absolutely necessary) and LOVE Avid. Once you get used to it (should you stay with it long enough, the program is deep) It’s really cool. It definitely took some getting used to. I was there when they first introduced FCPX, and was glad I had recently switched. I am on Symphony 6.5 thanks to Videoguys upgrade, and do a national show with it. The media management, and organization of it is definitely suited for this kind of work.

    If you just want to switch away from FCP7, Premiere is the easiest switch, as it’s a very similar operational program. I am learning CS6 right now, and love how simple it is coming from FCP7.

    I wrote about my experience as well, back in 2010. A long read, and based on an older version of Avid, but you might like it. http://larrywheeler.wordpress.com/2010/04/21/the-trial-of-avid-media-composer/

    Hang in there with Avid, there’s a lot to love if you do this everyday for a living, and its a great tool, if for nothing more than bragging rights on a resume.

    • jonny says:

      Brilliant, thanks for the encouragement Larry and I’ll definitely check out your post – thanks for taking the time to comment!

  9. Mel Feliciano says:

    Avid Media Composer/Symphony 6.0 and later can edit ProRes natively. You need to rewrap (fast import) the quick time files to MXF. There is no need to transcode to DNAXHD if you don’t want to.

    Link to AMA works great with quick time files even on Media Composer 5.5. Where it fails miserably is when the source files are avchd with .MTS extension, as is the case with Panasonic camcorders and my beloved haked GH2. It just freezes on the same hardware (Mac Pro) my Premiere Pro CS6 flies, cutting and adding effects to the same native files. Avid really needs something like the Adobe Mercury Playback Engine.

    • jonny says:

      Thanks for posting! – I find “fast import” a bit of a misnomer though as its not really ‘fast’ to have wait for it to rewrap files (whilst duplicating them?) nor native when you have to process them to be able to use them. In PPro you can dump anything on the timeline and it just works – now that would bother me for tidiness and technical reasons, but it does just work.

      I guess I just had really high expectations of Avid that were maybe a little naive, and I’m fully expecting that I’ve yet to understand all the wise thinking that’s gone into the “Avid way”…

      The journey continues!

  10. Strypes says:

    A few things…

    Fast importing and consolidating are 2 ways to do a re-wrap to MXF. This is similar to FCP’s log and transfer to QT, where supported formats do not need to be transcoded but merely re-wrapped. Avchd requires a re-wrap in FCPX as well.

    If you work with RED, you can transcode to MXF directly with RC-X and you can pop that into Avid MediaFiles and import an ALE.

    The benefits of working with media managed files is in long form work, where you can re-name the rushes and still have the software link back to the source rushes, so you are not held hostage to bad file naming conventions from camera manufacturers that are hazardous to an eventless workflow.

    Premiere for all it’s strengths, is poor with media management, and all eyes are on Adobe to see if and how they solve this offline/online conundrum. But both softwares have considerable development history that IMO affects the way the software operates. Adobe unlike Apple or Avid, has never owned a media architecture or a format suitable for post production, so it had wide format support for a long time. Hence it is lightning fast with native support. Avid started from the tape and film days, and they own a bunch of post production codecs and MXF (or at least they develop it heavily) so it has a very robust offline/online mechanism for a very long time. Apple started FCP7 being quite similar to Premiere in design, but it was fundamentally a Quicktime editor, and they eventually started storing metadat both in their file container and within FCP7 itself to facilitate media management.

    I don’t suggest using AMA to edit because it is processor and RAM intensive. Many of us have tried and while it may seem to work when you are testing it, you run into caveats. And I don’t think you want to spend time troubleshooting AMA issues before you get a hang of Avid.

    Get media into MXF- ProRes or DNxHD. Whatever. Re-link back to the source rushes for online if you need to. That’s fine.

    Yes, you can’t map beyond shift. There are quite a few opt key commands that are hard wired to a few functions and those are very useful.

    • jonny says:

      Thanks for sharing the great thoughts about Avid and beyond! I think a lot of my ‘complaints’ are actually birthed out of a desire for one Uber-NLE to rule them all. One in which everything is native (doesn’t need to be transcoded or re-wrapped) has excellent database/metadata management and is just beautifully simple to use with a strong bent towards being flexible to the human using it. (So basically I want it all and I want it now.) Maybe BMD can buy out Avid and create that for me…. Until then I just need to shut up, push on and learn every tool I can.

    • Gref says:

      yeah… opt key is king in Avid. once i figured that out it was a revelation.

  11. Pingback: Diary of an Avid Switcher – Solutions for FCP Editors | Jonny Elwyn - Film Editor

  12. Cliona says:

    Hey Jonny, to check what ama plugins you have installed:
    Select Tools > Console. In the command entry text box, type:
    AMA_ListPlugins Press Enter (Windows) or Return (Macintosh).
    AMA_ListPlugins displays a list of the plugins installed on your system.

    Good luck with it and I would say stick with it, avid is a different way of thinking to fcp but when you get used to it it’s great.

    • jonny says:

      Thanks for the AMA tip – I would never have worked that out. Yeah I’m planning on sticking with it till I’m as excited about it as the rest of the Avid world… Cheers for posting.

  13. Pingback: Diary of an Avid Switcher - Solutions for FCP Editors | Jonny Elwyn - Film Editor

  14. Pingback: Diary of An Avid Switcher - Part 2: Understanding The Basics | Jonny Elwyn - Film Editor

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