Working with multiple codecs and ProRes

Video production with Arri Alexa

Apple ProRes: The codec for the Future

With a plethora of video codecs, and many of which have been introduced in the past couple of years without sufficient support from device manufacturers or editing platforms, there seems to be a lot of confusion abound and unnecessary errors that extend post productions exponentially. We recently did a shoot using several different Super 8mm films and telecined to ProRes4:4:4:4 with near flawless results on the post side. The great thing about analog-to-digital is that when everything is ingested it will?should be all uniform as far as codecs are concerned (not to mention the breathtaking visual fidelity of the image). Compare this to another edit we did for a webseries that used a mixture of consumer pocket video cameras, specialized wide-angle waterproof video cameras and still images, all different and proprietary codecs, resolutions, pixel aspect ratios and visual fidelity. Ingesting 14 hours of footage into most machines is a load bearing task and having a good idea of your post-production workflow is a good idea (not to mention a time saver). This is where the beauty of ProRes comes in. With several levels the codec should have a codec that fits in your budget and time. ProRes 422 (LT) is suitable for most laptops and small drives, can be edited on-the-go and looks great. ProRes 422 is the next step up from (LT) holds more info and suitable for broadcast output. Moving on u the ladder ProRes 422(HQ) is becoming a standard codec to master files on. I recently consulted on a feature film that was shot on two Canon 5D Mark II that was mastered on ProRes 422 (HQ) and submitted to Sundance 2010 (Good luck Conrad!). ProRes 4:4:4:4 has the same spacial quality as ProRes 422 (HQ) but adds the alpha channel for any effects work needed. Basically, there’s an entire family of codecs, developed by Apple and made to run efficiently on their machines, that look great and are very computer and graphic card friendly.
Back to the webseries, The Chronicles of McGonigle, that we are currently in post-production on, we received hours of footage from several sources and decided to edit using ProRes 422. Using compressor to easily manage our clips we batched exported the entire library of raw footage. One thing to note here, if you use Apple’s standard preset make sure to note the audio export settings. Often times these consumer cameras will export audio into a 32-bit floating point audio codec that doesn’t run too well in FCP. Drop the audio settings to 16-bit (CD quality) and save yourself the trouble of endless renders during your edit. Not only will this save you time and time again during the editing process, your computer will not spin out of control using the graphics card or processors (depending on which codec/clip your asking it to decode) bottlenecking your computer in the process.
A majority of our shoots over the last two-years have been on a Sony PMW-EX1 and while the XDCAM codec looks great, and is lighter than ProRes422 we almost always transcode using compressor to ProRes 422 (or HQ). We have over 10 TB of local data storage and using it to the max. Even our Winner’s Tennis commercial was shot on the RED ONE was transcoded to ProRes for post.

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