Non-linear editing has been around for quite some time (if you measure in digital years anyway), and there is not a lot that distinguishes one system from another. Lightworks, Avid, Media 100, Premiere, Softimage|DS and fire* all do the same thing at different levels. What you are paying for
is the ability to edit offline or online or real-time or compressed or uncompressed. So, when looking for a non-linear editing package, you should be looking for the best results for the least amount of money.
I am here to run an overview one particular non-linear editing system, that will, I feel, be a welcome addition to the array of platforms that already exist- edit* 4.5 from Discreet.
Edit* is the child of a program that used to be known as D-Vision. It wasn’t as big as Avid or Media100, but it had features that its users enjoyed and felt were productive. Discreet Logic saw the product’s potential and purchased the software to be developed under its wing and incorporated into its newly arising New Media set of production tools. D-Vision became edit*, and took its place next to paint* and effect* (a.k.a. Illuminaire Paint and Composite) and light* (Lightscape). In its new position, with a company known for high-end compositing (flame* and inferno*), edit* received an overhaul, treatment that Discreet hoped would bring it to the level of its competitors. When Autodesk purchased Discreet, the last piece of the production puzzle was put into place-3D animation. The Discreet package had become a full production bundle-Editing (edit*,) Compositing (effect*,) Rotoscoping and Paint (paint*,) 3D Animation (3DSMAX) and Radiosity rendering (light*.) This team support is what helps launch edit* to a position equal to, if not above, the rest.
Edit* arrives in one of five options depending on the hardware that is running the system. For the Matrox Digisuite systems, there is option 1 (DigisuiteLE) and option 2 (Digisuite) and for the Truevision cards, there are options 1, 2, and 3. The different options provide different levels of playback capability. Max Ink CafÈ has a Digisuite Option 1 package from IDM systems in New York. The system has the DigisuiteLE with dual monitor support and a custom 36GB RAID for media playback. We’ve been offlining the short film “Only Hope” as a test bed for edit* and, really, the entire Discreet Suite. I’ll step through the edit* features that helped us get the film cut.
Originally, before edit* arrived at the studio, we had decided to offline the film with Adobe Premiere and our DPS Perception Card. The budget for the film did not have an allowance for weeks of Avid time-even if we didn’t need an operator. So, we spent our creative time on Premiere and once we were satisfied with the cut, we rented an Avid Film Composer for two days and put the film back together with an EDL. So, now we had locked picture but we were dissatisfied with the playback quality of the AVR9 that the Avid was outputting. Since this was going to clients, friends and festivals, we wanted the quality to be optimal, so we decided to utilize the Digisuite and edit to recompile the film at Beta quality for presentation purposes (until negative was cut anyway).
Grabbing the Avid’s EDL, we found that edit* took an instant liking to the format. The EDL selection is robust enough to import from most systems (ASCII, CMX, Grass Valley, Sony 900-9100 and United Media) so translation is pretty painless. The Capture module in edit* took in the EDL and through AutoMASTER, it created its capture list and asked for the first tape. The Beta deck, controlled through the Sony RS-422 protocol, clipped through the footage and digitized the necessary takes while edit* grabbed both audio and video. I was able to tell edit* to allow for a one-second handle on head and tail, just in case there was some discrepancy in the EDL and I hand to go in and tweak.
Once the digitizing was complete, edit* had already compiled a duplicate cut that we had created on Premiere and the Avid. We have the DigisuiteLE, so we were able to get a very high quality-but not quite uncompressed. The result was a gorgeous picture that were we not used to seeing because we were either watching a Perception playback with offline level compression (1.5MB/sec) or an Avid playback with AVR9.
This procedure doesn’t really give you, as the reader, a chance to peruse the editing features of edit* because we had done all of our work previous to coming into the edit* environment, so I will go over a rundown of the features that may be unique to edit* or ones that make it comparable to competing systems.
The bin module of edit* is more than a container to hold your media. Its really a sophisticated database whose foundation lies in Mircosoft’s FoxPro (which is installed during the edit* installation.) The setup is similar to Discreet’s other products like flame*, paint*, etc., where you can view the media files by Picons (Discreet’s term for its picture icons). The Picon holds a low-rez image from the clip as well as data about the clip. The information is duplicated in a spread to the right of the picon area. One thing about the picons in edit* is that you can’t interactively scrub them like you can in the flame*. I’m looking forward to future iterations of edit* that this will be implemented. Double-clicking to open up a window with the media is great, but I feel is less efficient than clicking and sliding to view the clip.
The second job that the bin has is to make your job in organizing and finding media easier. The database structure allows for high-end queries about the media to find specific clips or types of clip and have them presented to you.
The software’s editing functions are complete with over-record and insert edit capabilities. Cut, copy, paste-all the essentials. You can drag and drop clips to the timeline from your source monitor, the bin, or from other timelines-or you may utilize the keyboard quick-keys, which I would recommend for any program. IDM provided a custom keyboard with the quick-key strokes printed on it (which lessened the angle of the learning curve). Edit* will snap the footage you are moving around to the nearest cut point or where your timeline cursor is parked.
The editor can do three- and four-point editing as well as a style called Pro Style Editing -which is a carryover from D-Vision. In Pro Style, both the source and record viewers are “interlocked”, meaning that when you scrub one, the other moves as well. This allows you to view what is going to be placed and where it is going to be placed at the same time, as adjustments can be made before committing the edit.
The interface itself is extremely pliable. The bins, source and record monitors, timeline-every-thing-can be places exactly where you want it. And on a dual monitor system, there is a lot of space. In a system like the Avid, the structure is pretty well established and is great for most editors who have learned on and gotten used to the system. Edit*, however, gives you the luxury of moving the windows to wherever you feel comfortable.
The audio capabilities in edit* are also versatile. In “Only Hope”, we took the rough audio mix and dropped it into the sequence, but we had other sounds and music that we wanted to cut in. Edit* allows for this with its 500 tracks of audio and 48 tracks that can be monitored simultaneously (depending on audio hardware limitations), as opposed to the two tracks available in most systems. With this kind of latitude, we were able to cut in additional audio that had not yet been prepared before our most recent audio cut.
Mixing the audio was easy and interactive. The playback of the scene is started and as it plays, you modify the audio levels. With each modification a keyframe is created. After the sequence is stopped, the key-frames can be turned on in the timeline and then manipulated (or rubberbanded). Through moving, deleting and creating, you can tweak the audio levels to pan, fade, change levels, etc. Edit* also provides an audio meter for you to gauge the levels with more precision.
Edit* comes packaged with a huge array of transitions, effects and DVE animation-far too many to go into in this article. But, editors and post production can be rest assured that they will have their main staples and fades, x-dissolves, wipes, etc.
All the effects are key-framable, and once animated, the user can go into the function curve of the animation to fine tune with either preset ease-ins and outs to custom Bezier curves. And furthermore, to supplement the internal FX, BorisFX is bundled with edit* to expand the palette for the editor. Each of the effects render surprisingly fast which, as all editors and animators know, is a key consideration for the software you look into.
Along with the effects, graphics and logos can be imported and viewed in realtime (depending on the edit* option.) In case you want to watermark the program, you can throw the graphic on top and run it out to tape without pre-rendering. We used this function to create a 1.85 matte for our film. It provided for us, in realtime, a mask that we could assess our compositions with and make adjustments if we needed to. Adjusts were quick and easy with the transform effect, and again, it is in realtime. I was able click and move my mouse and the picture on the NTSC playback monitor would move into place-underneath the black matte.
Overall, I feel that edit* compares with its competitors from a production standpoint. All the necessary tools are there, with a few extra benefits. However, with edit*’s reasonable price tag of $7,995 and the support hardware, you can put together a system for as low as $50,000, which is significantly less that an Avid or Softimage|DS system.
Ben Clay Technology Consultant
Todd Perry is the CG and Animation Director of Max Ink CafÈ which is working on the visual FX for the upcoming series, “Black Scorpion” and the animation and design for a five-minute short called “Players.”