Inside Adobe Production Studio (FEATURING VIDEO TUTORIAL)
Posted Mar 6, 2006

When Adobe updates their products, they generally serve two agendas, one usually playing feature catch-up with competitors, the other increasing the integration story that is the company's unique strength with many videographers. With the Production Studio Premium bundle, Adobe delivers on both fronts, providing relative feature parity with most relevant competitors and new integration features that will streamline the workflow for Photoshop, Illustrator, and After Effects users. Throw in the more unified and streamlined interfaces, and you've got a powerful, comprehensible, and relatively affordable product offering for most event videographers.
        (Click here to see a video tutorial for the new multicam feature in Premiere Pro 2.0. You'll need Windows Media 9+.)

As before, there are two versions of the suite: Premium, which costs $1,699; and Standard, which lists for $1,199. The Premium Suite includes Premiere Pro 2.0 for video editing, After Effects 7.0 Professional for compositing and special effects, Adobe Photoshop CS2 for image editing and menu creation, Audition 2.0 for audio editing, Encore DVD 2.0 for DVD authoring, and Illustrator CS2 for vector design.

The Standard edition includes After Effects Standard, Premiere Pro 2.0, and Photoshop CS2, but not Encore DVD, Audition, or Illustrator. Both suites include Adobe Dynamic Link, which allows Encore DVD and Premiere Pro to import and edit unrendered After Effects projects, and Adobe Bridge, which provides integrated file management and a browser for viewing the Adobe Stock Photos library.

Adobe removed Encore DVD from the Standard edition because they added DVD-authoring capabilities to Premiere Pro. As we'll see, these features are fairly basic, so serious DVD producers will have to buy the Premium version and get Encore, buy Encore separately, or use another authoring program. The company added Adobe Illustrator to the Premium version to support developers producing vector-based Flash animations, newly important due to Adobe's recent acquisition of Macromedia.

This article focuses primarily on the integration story and the new features in Premiere Pro, Encore, and to a much lesser degree, Audition. (We'll review After Effects 7 and provide some handy AE tutorials in upcoming issues.) Before jumping in, let's take a moment to analyze what comprises the ideal integrated suite.

Finding the Suite Spot
Intuitively, there are at least four potential levels of integration to consider.

Interoperability. This defines how smoothly the individual products in the suite work together, which can take many forms. For example, you would expect Encore and After Effects to load Photoshop files while preserving the layered structure (and they do), and to enable roundtrip editing back in Photoshop with any changes automatically flowed through to the other applications (and they do, with a gotcha discussed below).

You might also expect to access filters from one program in another, like the ability to apply Audition's noise removal filter to an audio file in Premiere Pro (which you can't). Failing that, you'd settle for "roundtrip editing," or the ability to send the audio file to Audition, apply the filter, and have the changes update automatically in Premiere Pro (which you can).

To save rendering time, you'd love Encore to be able to import unrendered After Effects and Premiere Pro projects (the answers are yes and no, respectively), with roundtrip editing (After Effects, yes; Premiere Pro, no). These are just examples; as we move through the suite in this article, we'll note how each program interoperates with the others.

Premiere Pro, in its newly tabbed glory. Sigh...wish I had framed more tightly with that HDV camera in the back (but the HDR-FX1 from the left looks grand!).

Common look and feel. When programs look and act alike, they're easier to learn and use. Early suites simply bundled disparate products—often from different vendors—together, creating a user interface nightmare of similar features working in completely different ways on suitemate products.

With this version of the Production Studio bundle, Adobe made great strides in interface design, not only introducing a high level of consistency, but also reducing the endemic clutter in After Effects, Premiere Pro, and especially Encore. Rather than using separate palettes, all applications now share dockable, scalable workspace panels with preset and customizable workspace views.

In most instances, the windows themselves haven't changed, just their location and appearance, so the time it will take you to reorient yourself to the new look will be minimal. However, if you're an experienced user with strong views on how the interface should look, you can customize all interfaces to your liking in seconds. Overall, Adobe's redesign to a common look and feel is a complete win/win, and one of the most impressive aspects of the upgrade.

Workgroup functions. One of the strengths of higher-end Avid systems is the ability for multiple editors to intelligently share common captured footage, allowing them to efficiently parcel out the editing tasks. Apple's Final Cut Studio shares this capability via Xsan. While this may seem like overkill for smaller production shops, viewed through the lens of a wedding-day edit, it's easy to see where the ability for two editors to work together to complete the same project would be very desirable.

In this version of the Production Studio, Adobe decided not to tackle this problem, so each user is a discrete application with no provision for shared use of common assets. Adobe also didn't ship Version Cue, their project/file/workgroup tracking program, though Adobe Bridge, discussed below, is compatible with Version Cue. If shared workgroup functionality is high on your wish list, you're going to be disappointed.

Interestingly, this is the first version of the Production Studio with an integrated installation with one serial number, which most suite owners will appreciate, simply because it simplifies installation. On the other hand, while this may not prevent users from installing the separate apps on different machines, which you could easily do using the different serial numbers in previous versions, it certainly complicates it and illustrates Adobe's expectation that each user should or will install the entire suite. According to Adobe, this means that you can only install suite components on a very limited number of computers. With previous versions, you could buy the suite, and install each program on a different computer. Now, if you're seeking to share the suite components over more than one or two users, you should buy them separately.

Network rendering. Most production shops have multiple computers, and the ideal integrated suite would allow you to harvest CPU cycles from these computers to speed the computationally intensive rendering tasks from After Effects, Premiere Pro, and Encore. While After Effects can set up shared rendering over a network, Premiere Pro and Encore can't.

Note that Compressor, the encoding engine of Apple's Final Cut Studio, can access multiple computers on a network, as can Apple's high-end effects program Shake. Vegas, from Sony Media Software, can also distribute encoding over multiple computers (see David Michael Drenk's article, "Network Rendering in Sony Vegas," pp. 38-44), leaving Adobe slightly behind in this regard.

With this as background, let's analyze the individual components of the suite.

Premiere Pro 2.0
Producing with multiple cameras is one of the easiest ways to boost the creativity, watchability, and production value of any video project, be it wedding, stage-event, concept, or training video. For this reason, multicamera capabilities that allow you to capture and synchronize multiple streams, then easily switch between them while editing, have become a critical feature of most editors.

As expected, Adobe added multicam editing to this version of Premiere Pro, but it can only handle a maximum of four cameras, which may be a show-stopper for some producers, although probably not too many in the event space. Fortunately, Premiere Pro can mix different types of footage in a single multicam project, which worked well in our three-camera HDV/DV test production.

figure 3

HDV camera on the left shooting the whole stage, DV camera on the right, shooting closeups.

Operation is straightforward. After capture, you place the multiple streams in the same sequence (which I'll call the Original multicam sequence), then choose whether to synchronize via in-point, out-point, timecode, or clip markers. In default mode, Premiere places audio from Track 1 of the Original multicam sequence in the edited sequence, so if you have a main audio track, place it on Track 1. Or, you can choose to have the audio switch with the camera angles, in which case track location doesn't matter.

Once your sequence is properly inserted and synchronized, drag the multicam sequence into a new sequence (Target multicam sequence), and enable the multicam monitor and multicam editing via right-click commands.

Click the red Record button on the lower-right, then Play, and Premiere will play the clip in real time, allowing you to click the desired camera angle with your cursor or use hot keys to switch between them. Click Stop, and the changes show up in the timeline. If you're in a hurry, you can skip the real-time playback and simply drag the current time indicator to the desired spot and change camera views.

When you've finished, you can use normal edit tools to adjust the switch points on the timeline, or apply any new edits for that matter. In addition, any edits that you make to the Original multicam sequence flow through to the Target sequence. In our production, for example, after we started editing, we noticed that framing on the HDV clip was unnecessarily loose. To fix this, we used 2D software controls to zoom into the HDV clip in the Original sequence, and the change flowed through to all instances of the HDV clip in the Target sequence, which was a real time saver. From there, we could adjust the zoom for any single clip as desired. Overall, it's a solid, straightforward implementation that should meet the needs of most event videographers.

(Click here to see a video tutorial on using the new multicam feature in Premiere Pro. You'll need Windows Media 9+.)

It's also worth noting that Premiere Pro now edits HDV natively, without first converting to Cineform or other format. This worked perfectly in our trials, and we also noticed that the new version downsampled the HDV to DVD very clearly, without the blurriness that we experienced in version 1.5.

DVD Authoring
In Premiere Pro 1.5, you could burn your timeline to a DVD in one click, creating a menu-less title that would autoplay the video when inserted into a player. In Premiere Pro 2.0, Adobe has added the authoring functionality included with Adobe Premiere Elements, Premiere Pro's consumer sibling.

At one level, this makes it incredibly simple to add chapter points to a project, and quickly create an attractive DVD with a customized background, music, or video file. Premiere Pro will add as many menus as necessary to accommodate the chapter points, and create all links between the main menus and submenus.

There are some notable limitations, however, like the inability to create menu-to-menu links, so you can't create titles with branching. All main menus contain both Play Movie and Scene Selection buttons that you can't delete; though you can delete the text descriptors, the buttons still show up when the viewer flows through the arrow keys on the remote. Since our single-menu ballet DVD didn't have a scene-selection menu, we had to author in Encore. It's all good if you're buying the Premium suite, of course, since you get Encore anyway. Producers considering buying the Standard version should also count on having to purchase Encore or a third-party program like Sonic DVDit to meet their authoring needs.

Other noteworthy additions include secondary color correction, and a fast color corrector with color wheels and a split-screen display. You can now export in Flash Video format, though only single-pass constant bit-rate encoding is possible, which is the same capability you get with the Macromedia Flash 8 Video encoder. Encoding controls have also been simplified, so deinterlacing and outputting streaming media files no longer requires an advanced course in Premiere Nooks and Crannies.

Integration Features
Adobe has added a number of integration features, again, virtually all for the better. Using the new Dynamic Link, for example, we imported an After Effects composition into Premiere Pro, which allowed us to delay the lengthy rendering cycle until the project was complete. As you would expect, you can then edit the original file in After Effects, with changes immediately appearing in Premiere Pro. We'd still prefer to access certain After Effects filters like the Keylight chromakey plug-in or motion-tracking filter from within Premiere, but Dynamic Link is a great improvement.

We also appreciate roundtrip editing with Premiere Pro with Adobe Audition and Photoshop and the continued ability to insert chapter points into timelines for use in authoring with Encore. Probably the most glaring remaining weakness is the inability to insert Premiere projects into Encore, especially since you can now insert unrendered After Effects projects into Encore. Ah, well, more grist for the upgrade mill.

The most heralded integration addition to Premiere Pro is Clip Notes, which provides a simple, Acrobat-based review function for client approvals. At any point during production, you can export your entire timeline or a selected work area in either QuickTime or Windows Media format, using one of three quality presets. You can elect to embed the video into a PDF file, and email or send it via FTP, or create a Web page the client can access via streaming.

figure 4
Adobe's new Clip Notes lets your customer add comments that get inserted directly onto the Premiere timeline.

Either way, the client plays the video within Acrobat, adding notes as desired. Then they export a small, text-based Acrobat XFDF file, which you can import back into Premiere Pro. The comments show up as markers on the timeline right where the client made them. If you can work around the obvious filesize issues (a six-second test clip produced at high resolution was 2.6MB in size), Clip Notes could prove truly useful in a distributed production environment. These are the highlights in Premiere Pro; now let's move to the authoring component of the suite, Encore DVD.

Encore is the newest member of the Production Suite and up until now has been its ugly duckling, both literally and from a features perspective. In the current release, Adobe addressed both deficits, dramatically improving usability and utility.

Gone are the nonsensical floating windows, and the tabbed style finally lets the user keep track of all relevant windows and functions. Adobe has also added a slideshow editor, complete with transitions, (random) pan and zoom, manual advance, and the ability to fit slide transition to match the background music track.

Adobe also addressed a severe template deficit problem, adding 21 wedding templates and dozens more in eight other categories. Each comes in a two-menu set, one for the main menu and the other for submenus, and Encore can now automatically create and link the extra submenus when necessary to display all chapter points.

You can also create menu templates with replacement layers that you can later customize in future projects by dragging in a different image, creating a unique look in seconds. Adobe also beefed up Encore's Play List function, so you can now exit a playlist on a chapter point, and create a playlist containing multiple segments of a production on a single timeline. In Encore 1.5, you couldn't exit at a chapter point, so you had to cut your project into multiple timelines to create many useful playlists.

figure 5
Adobe has addressed a number of Encore DVD's aesthetic and usability limitations in the new version; here's Encore's new tabbed look and slideshow feature.

As mentioned above, you can now use Dynamic Link to import unrendered After Effects projects into Encore, with roundtrip access back to After Effects and instant integration of any changes. Ditto for Photoshop. The only fly in the ointment is that when you edit the original Photoshop file from within Encore, Encore creates a temporary file that replaces the original, rather than simply updating it.

If you based an After Effects project on the original Photoshop file, say to create a motion menu or first-play video that ends in the menu, the After Effects project doesn't automatically update when you edit the Photoshop file from within Encore, since the file updates were made to the temporary, not the original, file. You can work around this, of course, by updating the original Photoshop file manually outside of Encore, but you lose the round trip functionality from within Encore.

figure 6
Playlists now exit at the next chapter point, making it simple to create a useful playlist from a single timeline.

Audition and Bridge
While audio is a critical component to virtually all the videos that I shoot, my use of the audio editor is typically limited to noise removal and occasional multi-band adjustments, say, to highlight a female vocalist or lower the thumping noise of the bass fiddle. I've also been known to pop in some reverb to make the tiny Rex Theater in Galax sound more like Carnegie Hall, but that's about it.

All this is a long way of saying that most of the updates to Audition won't rock my little audio-challenged world. But easy roundtrip editing with Premiere and After Effects is a definite plus, as is the new multiband compressor, though I still like Apple Soundtrack Pro's presets better.

On the other hand, if you do tend to build your soundtracks from scratch, or like to capture up to 80 live inputs during a single recording session, Audition is now more capable than ever. The new version also offers ASIO driver support and recordable parameter automation, so you can capture your adjustments as you play through the mix.

Note that you can't import Audition Sessions into Premiere Pro, just the final mixed-down file. From an integration standpoint, this puts Audition on the same level as any other multitrack audio editor; you have to render to produce your file, and there is no round trip editing. Adobe Bridge is a file-management application that lets you store projects assets used in multiple programs in one central location. You can send files from all Adobe applications into Bridge, add metadata, and then access them later, inserting them into new projects via drag and drop.

If you have After Effects or Photoshop installed, you can also view RAW images in Bridge, and save them in PSD and other formats. You can also use Bridge to browse through Adobe's collection of stock photos.

Overall, the Production Studio suite is impressive, especially in the Premium configuration. Functionality of all key programs has been increased to relevant parity with most major competitors, and program look and feel are more uniform than any other suite, extending Adobe's lead in the race for greater application integration. The new integration features will benefit virtually all video producers, though heavy users of Photoshop and After Effects will obviously benefit the most.

There's very little to dislike and a whole lot to like about Adobe's new Production Studio. Whether you're considering it for upgrade or as a new purchase, it's powerful and affordable, and offers the best inter-product integration of any suite on the market.

Application Premium ($1,699) Standard ($1,199)
Premiere Pro 2.0 Yes Yes
Encore DVD 2.0 Yes


After Effects Pro 7.0 Yes No
After Effects Standard 7.0 No Yes
Audition 2.0 Yes No
Photoshop CS2 Yes Yes
Illustrator CS2 Yes No
Dynamic Link Yes Yes
Bridge Yes Yes