Guided Tour: Adobe Creative Suite 3 Production Premium
Posted Jun 29, 2007

In early May I was treated, along with other trainers, to a fabulous introduction to Adobe Creative Suite 3 Production Premium, held at Adobe’s headquarters in San Jose, California. I left greatly impressed by the Production Premium suite (one of three new CS3 bundles, the other two focused on graphics and web), which is due to ship this month. Of course, I had been working with the beta software since before NAB, but to see how the components of the suite worked together, with precise control and integration, was a rewarding experience.

It’s no secret to anyone that I have always been fond of Adobe products, especially when Premiere Pro 2.0 came to market with its multicamera interface; as an event videographer, I’ve never been so excited over software!

Premiere Pro 2.0 shipped in early 2006 as part of Adobe Production Studio, which delivered greatly enhanced integration among the products in the bundle thanks to Dynamic Link, which allowed editors to open project files in different applications without having to render.

This release, however, brings us to a different level of integration. Not only will Adobe include apps included in Production Studio—Premiere Pro, Encore, After Effects, Photoshop, and Illustrator—but they have added several more applications to this suite: Flash, Soundbooth (a task-based tool that replaces Audition), OnLocation (née DV Rack, which turns your laptop into a direct-disk recorder and video-signal diagnostic tool), and Ultra CS3, a compositing and virtual set application that many of us have used in the past. Both of these last two applications come to Adobe production suite users by way of Adobe’s late 2006 acquisition of Serious Magic.

For this overview of Production Premium and the features most relevant to us as videographers, I'll follow the order in which Adobe presented the applications to us: Flash, Encore, Ultra, Premiere Pro, OnLocation, Soundbooth, After Effects, Photoshop, and Adobe Media Encoder.

figure 1Flash
One of the most exciting aspects of the Production Premium edition is the inclusion of Flash CS3. Of course, it’s not just the application itself that’s a boon to videographers—even more beneficial to us are the new Flash capabilities found in the other apps in the bundle. I was very happy to discover that we can now export a Flash DVD (menus and navigation included) directly from Encore by simply choosing Flash from your three output options (the other two being DVD and Blu-ray—more on that later). For those of you who don’t know Flash, it is an application designed for (among many other things) delivery of content through the web, or even interactive (computer-play only) DVDs. Flash has a market penetration of more than 96% on desktops that are used to browse the internet, and what that means to us is that almost every computer on the planet is capable of playing Flash files.

You can also export Flash video from After Effects and Premiere Pro, with markers that can convert to cue points—in other words, you can have a specific event occur when your Flash video is playing. Imagine you have a demo video and you encode it with cue points. At that moment in the video an event will be triggered—it could be the opening of a graphic, subtitles, another video, etc. What this means is that you can easily update your web information by just updating that other file and not the whole video. You can also copy and paste from Photoshop and Illustrator directly into Flash (left), and if you created your layered image in either Photoshop or Illustrator, you can import them directly to the stage and retain the layer styles. You no longer need to flatten the layer style before importing into Flash.

Of course, if you are like most of the videographers that I know, you don’t know how to work with Flash, although you’d like to learn so that you can show your videos on the internet to your existing or potential clients. Fortunately, you don’t have to learn the Flash application itself to work with the format, because Adobe has included the ability to create a Flash DVD from within Encore.

figure 1Encore CS3
Encore lets you author your DVD the same way that you always have—you can create it, link your chapters and buttons as you desire, and burn. After you are done with this, all you have to do is burn to a Flash disc (left), and you will have created a fully interactive Flash file that you can place in your website for clients to see.

This Flash file will look and act like the DVD you authored except that it will be embedded in an HTML file. This afternoon I burned a Flash demo for my own website, and the whole process took less than five minutes.

Another really cool feature is that you can now burn Blu-ray Discs directly from Encore DVD. Blu-ray is becoming increasingly popular, the prices of the burners are coming down, and anyone with a Sony PlayStation 3 can play a commercial Blu-ray movie or burned disc. For more detail on creating Blu-ray Discs in Encore CS3, see Chris Randall’s tutorial.

It’s also worth noting for users who plan on purchasing some of the applications in Production Premium without springing for the entire bundle that Encore will no longer be available by itself. Because Adobe has removed the built-in DVD authoring functionality from Premiere Pro 2.0 (Adobe says the DVD authoring functionality in Premiere Pro got "lost" during the process of porting the application to the Mac OS, and they haven't ruled out restoring it in future editions), they are now shipping Encore and Premiere Pro in the same box.

figure 1Ultra CS3 (Windows only)
Ultra CS3 (left) is the same application as Ultra 2, formerly owned buy Serious Magic, used for easy and accurate chromakeying and virtual-set compositing. This release, available for Windows only, doesn’t change much from the Serious Magic version, but it brings some great new functionality to the Production Premium suite.

For those of you who do not know Ultra, this product lets you key backgrounds, even those encumbered with wrinkles and uneven lighting. Of course, Ultra supports all standard DV and HDV resolutions. The clip that I used to test in writing this article is one that I often use for my After Effects classes—very difficult to key. Using Ultra, I found I could accomplish in four or five clicks what in After Effects usually takes me four or five minutes. And the keys are excellent.

figure 1Premiere Pro CS3 Adobe Premiere Pro CS3 has not gone through any major changes, other than that it is now available for the Mac. Given that Premiere Pro—which debuted after Adobe left the Mac platform in 2003—was built on entirely new code, the company basically had to start from scratch in porting the application to the Mac, and this is clearly where the Premiere Pro team has spent the bulk of their development time since the launch of Premiere Pro 2.0 in early 2006.

But there are some cool new features here. One of the things that the Adobe team obviously worked on is the handling of HDV files—the HDV workflow is smooth and accurate.

Another thing I’m happy to see is the introduction of time remapping (left) within Premiere Pro. The new time remapping feature creates variable-rate time stretches directly in the Adobe Premiere Pro timeline; you can now see the clip getting longer or shorter, depending on the clip speed that you choose.

Time remapping is a feature that we have seen available in After Effects for a while, and it lets us do speed changes that are keyframeable. You can ease in or out your speed changes so things could get slower or faster over time (you can see examples of this in ESPN's Monday Night Football).

The feature comes directly from After Effects, but in a way that is better—I like how it works in Premiere better than how it works in After Effects. In Premiere Pro, your clip gets longer or shorter to demonstrate the change in speed. In fact, if I play a clip at half its original speed, then logic dictates that it will play for twice as long. Premiere Pro now elongates the clip in a visible manner so that you can see it getting longer or shorter as you play around with the speed.

Another cool thing that Adobe has added to Premiere Pro is the ability to open different bins at the same time, which means it's now really easy to move around in the bins and to copy and paste between bins.

You can also use the tilde (~) key to maximize an active panel, so that it becomes prominent in the display. This was another feature that existed in After Effects, but not in Premiere Pro. I should also add that you can make this adjustment while the video in the sequence is playing—in other words, when you maximize a panel, your playback does not stop.

A little bit hidden, but cool nonetheless, is the ability to enable or disable previews. If you have lots of clips that are rendered or that need rendering and you do not want to waste time waiting for Premiere to update all of these files on the timeline, you can click on this icon and Premiere will no longer look for these clips; it will disable previews.

figure 1Adobe OnLocation CS3
Formerly known as Serious Magic’s DV Rack, OnLocation lets us record DV and HDV content directly from a FireWire-equipped camera to a laptop hard drive. Using OnLocation for direct-to-disk recording you can log clips and write scene names, descriptions, and the like.

OnLocation uses your laptop's screen to display valuable diagnostic information about your video clips, including Zebra displays and help with White Balance, Safe Zones, Scopes, Audio levels, camera calibration, and more (left).

You can also use OnLocation to help match shots from one location to another or one day to a different day. Even if you have no need for direct-to-disk capture, I would recommend using OnLocation for certain jobs. It will make post (especially color correction and audio) much easier.

figure 1Adobe Soundbooth CS3
Previous Adobe video bundles, including 2006’s Production Studio Premium, included Audition, Adobe’s professional audio-editing application (formerly known as Cool Edit Pro when it was owned by Syntrillium). Soundbooth is a simpler, more-to-the-point, almost click-and-you-are-done version of this software. While I consider it to be a bit too simplistic at times, and wish that they had left Audition in the bundle, Soundbooth is really easy to use, and very powerful.

With Soundbooth, Adobe’s new task-based audio editing application for video producers, trim, fade, and volume control are a piece of cake, and so are the audio cleanup features. Soundbooth has some functions that are tabbed on the left side of the screen—you simply choose the function that you would like to perform (audio cleanup, score creator, etc.). The Spectral view (left) is a great help for cleaning up frequency-specific unwanted noises from your audio clip (cough, cell phone, etc.).

Adobe has also created Resource Central, an online resource that will let you choose sound effects and the like from an online database, thereby freeing lots of space in your local hard drive from having to store discs of pre-recorded content.

Needless to say, you can access Soundbooth from within Premiere Pro, by right-clicking an audio clip and choosing Edit in Adobe Soundbooth > Render and Replace. This will open a copy of the clip in Soundbooth, which you can process in whatever way you desire while leaving the original untouched.

Soundbooth is audio processing software well-designed for video editors that have little or no experience with audio, often using video terms instead of audio terms (e.g., “louder” instead of “normalizing”). While the application is powerful, the interface is very graphical and uncomplicated.

figure 1After Effects CS3
After Effects is where Adobe really went all out in the new CS3 version. Shape Layers, Brainstorm, the Puppet Tool, and more make AE CS3 the crowning achievement of this release of Production Studio Premium.

Let’s start with Shape Layers (left). New in After Effects is the ability to animate and replicate vector graphics in order to create cool backgrounds and graphic elements that can be included in the final rendition of a composition. Having used After Effects in conjunction with Illustrator extensively, I found this particularly exciting. Animating these Shape Layers is similar to how we animate text in AE: by adding animators to the layer and then animating the individual parameters that each property offers.

figure 1Using After Effects’ new Puppet Tool (left) is hands-down the most fun I have had with a graphics tool. The Puppet Tool enables you to add “pins” or points to a still layer that you can use to animate different parts of the layer. On several occasions, I have seen Adobe’s Dave Helmly demonstrate this tool by animating the letter K, and decided I had to try it at home. The result was a dancing letter K, and the whole animation was done in less than 15 seconds! This is how you do it: Grab the Puppet Tool and set pins on the K. Then, while holding the Control key, animate these points one at a time by dragging the pins. Then play your animation, and you’re done.

Brainstorm is a new tool that you can use so that you can get new ideas. Basically, Brainstorm adds a certain degree of randomness to the chosen parameters, and you get new ideas that you can use, or combine with others to make the experimenting phase of your work a little less taxing. This is how it works: Select properties of keyframes, and then click on the Brainstorm icon located in the timeline panel. This will open a new panel that will give you suggestions that you can preview. You can then maximize a selected tile, keep a particular version for the next Brainstorm, create a new composition based on the selected tile, and, finally, apply it to the current composition.

figure 1Another great new feature is support for Photoshop layer styles from within After Effects (left)
After Effects CS3 also supports the new video layers in Photoshop CS3 Extended (more on that later), which makes rotoscoping inside of Photoshop and re-importing into After Effects easy and intuitive.

figure 1
The last new feature I’d like to discuss in After Effects is Vanishing Point. This lets you work with Photoshop to create planes on a still image that will be imported into After Effects so that they can be animated in 3D. Here’s how it works: In Photoshop you use the Vanishing Point Filter and you determine what the planes of the 2D still photo will be. You then export for After Effects CS3 and import into After Effects, and you will see a fully 3D composition of your still, ready to be animated (null parent and all!). An animation of the Commerce Building in Washington, D.C. (left), took me about three minutes to do.

figure 1Photoshop CS3 Extended
Because Photoshop has been out for a couple of months, I will not go into too much detail on what is new in here, except with what concerns the rest of the applications in CS3 Production Premium. In addition to the new integration features already discussed (Vanishing Point in After Effects, Photoshop layer styles in After Effects and Flash, copy and paste between Photoshop and Flash), one exciting new feature is Photoshop’s Movie support (left). Using this application, you can now retouch movies one frame at a time. Photoshop supports editing on every frame of a video file (awesome for rotoscoping work!), including onion skins, with a familiar After Effects-like interface. There’s also lots and lots of support for video and compositing applications (like After Effects, as discussed earlier).

Photoshop is at the heart of all of the enhanced integration features in Adobe CS3 Production Premium. Regardless of the primary editing or composition application used by the artist, Photoshop remains a constant in the video/print/web world. Improving on Dynamic Link (available only if you buy the full Production Premium bundle)—which is work that hasn’t been rendered with elements in multiple applications—After Effects can now render a Premiere Pro Dynamic Linked segment for smooth playback. Photoshop imports video, After Effects reads this video. Send a DVD menu directly into Photoshop or After Effects for animation or editing, and bring back into Encore DVD for authoring. Again, no rendering!

figure 1Output: Adobe Media Encoder and Device Central CS3
You can now use Adobe Media Encoder (Premiere Pro, After Effects, Soundbooth, and Encore DVD) to export your work to a variety of audiences, with newly included support for 3GPP and H.264 content. To preview how these videos will look in selected media, you can use Adobe Device Central CS3 (left) to preview your exported video and Flash content. This gives you a realistic preview of how your particular file will look in a specific cell phone (or iPod, or whatever).

If a bride asks you to encode video for her cell phone, you can get her exact model and make sure that the video is optimized for her device. This has the potential of generating extra income for event videographers everywhere.

Final Thoughts
Production Premium CS3 is one of the most important software releases in years for Adobe. The purchases of Macromedia and Serious Magic has enabled Adobe to include several key ingredients in its suite. While a lot of effort was applied in making sure that we could use this bundle in the Mac, I can see that the company also spent plenty of time making sure that we could have different output formats as easily as possible.

Integration was also very prominent in the minds of Adobe engineers. They’ve greatly improved Dynamic Link, copy and paste capabilities, and support for Photoshop layer styles in other applications. In the time that I have had to work with this release, I can honestly say that I have had fun.

Luisa Winters has been in the professional videography industry for more than 15 years. A multiple-year, multiple-award winning videographer, Luisa has conducted training sessions and master classes for Adobe Premiere, After Effects, Photoshop, and Encore DVD.