This is an introductory-level explanation of the two workflows that I use every week to get pictures from people's edit booths into my grading suite.
We'll start off with file naming etiquette and then we'll hone in on the details of the two workflow options below:
The ‘EDL Workflow’ or The ‘Scene Cut Workflow’.
I want to clarify that these options are my personal guidelines, not a strict set of rules. The best and only way to establish a smooth hand-off process is to initiate a dialogue with your colourist early (even before you start shooting your project).
So, if you're an editor who hasn't needed to hand-off files to a colourist before - you're in the right place. Let's rocket on into it!
When an editor provides me with files that are professional and consistent, my heart goes super warm and fuzzy.
As files and their purposes can vary wildly, it's useful to have a template to fall back on when you have to name your file.
The template structure below is a very useful to place to start - please feel free to tweak and customize it to your preference. The most beautiful thing about file naming (sorry, I'm a nerd) is a consistent format. Here is the template I use/adapt for literally every file I have to name:
Name of Project
Episode Number/Content Type
A low-quality approval file for an episode in a web series could be written:
WebSeriesTitle_EP#_approval_TCIP_H264_yyyymmdd.mov An XML of a timeline for a feature film could be written:
FilmTitle_feature_conform_yyyymmdd.xml A mute reference file for a documentary could be written: DocoTitle_doco_reference_mute_ProResLT_yyyymmdd.mov
As you can see, this naming convention provides flexibility for files that contain a lot of important information. Also, there's no room for confusion. Easy! Let's move onto our two workflow strategies.
THE EDL WORKFLOW
The EDL (XML/AAF) workflow is my preferred methodology but it can also can be the most time consuming.
An EDL is a file that contains no media - just metadata. It describes the project in a text-based format that is readable by humans and enables certain programs to recreate the timeline in different editing/colouring systems. XML's and AAF's are similar, more complex metadata files that cannot be read by humans but can contain more nuanced details - for example, X-Y transforms.
On smaller budget projects, rebuilding a timeline in Resolve with a metadata file like this can lead the colourist down a dark rabbit hole of struggle, compromise and time wasting. For quick turnaround projects, there are other (less painful) options.
But in this case, let's say the colourist is determined to grade from an EDL/XML/AAF. What assets does the editor need to give them to ensure a smooth conform process?
The colourist will obviously need an EDL. They'll also be expected to cross-check every shot in the timeline to a reference file that the editor will need to provide. This reference file needs to have source timecode, record timecode and file name burnt-in and should have any temp grades/adjustments included. This allows the colourist to fix any conform errors - trust me, there will be plenty of errors. EDLs/XMLs/AAFs are not perfect, bless them. If there is any major confusion, the colourist may want to open up the editor's NLE project file to dig around for the answer. Oh yeah, and can't forget that they'll need the raw camera files to link to.
Basic essentials checklist for an EDL/XML/AAF workflow conform.
Additionally, is the colourist is doing the final exports? If so, are there any graphics/titles that they will need? Try to think ahead and provide them with any assets that could be useful. Not sure if it's useful? Ask!
HOW TO CREATE A FLATTENED XML
How do we create a flattened XML in Premiere Pro?
Start by duplicating the timeline and flatten all video layers as applicable. If there are any stacked opaque layers and/or two-layer crossfades leave them as is. Finally delete all titles, graphics and audio.
Original timeline, Premiere Pro.
Duplicated, flattened timeline, Premiere Pro.
In Premiere Pro, right click on the tracks in the timeline to delete all empty video and audio tracks:
Delete Tracks menu, Premiere Pro.
This final step should eliminate any redundant track layers and render a timeline that looks something like this:
Finished timeline for an EDL/XML/AAF export, Premiere Pro.
Flattening the timeline gives the colourist a clean work space with no pesky audio tracks or video layers cluttering up their colouring timeline.
HOW TO CREATE A REFERENCE VIDEO
It is essential that this low-quality reference file has all speed ramps, sizing/position changes (i.e. 4K crop-ins during interviews), text elements, graphics and audio mix-down included. This file will not be used for grading purposes, so feel free to include burnt-in LUTs or temporary grades.
Speaking of burn-ins - the reference file will need to have source timecode, record timecode and clip/file name burnt-in to the picture. My recommended specifications for reference files are below:
Make sure to create this file from the original timeline, not the duplicated flattened sequence that the EDL/XML/AAF was exported from.
THE SCENE CUT WORKFLOW
There are a myriad of issues that can complicate/stop the EDL Workflow from running smoothly, ranging from renamed camera proxies to nested sequences. Sometimes there just isn't any time to solve these technical issues. Sometimes, you just need to get grading. Quickly!
Scene Cut Workflow to the rescue!
The Scene Cut Workflow can simplify the online/conform process with only one small compromise regarding image quality.
The editor is required to render an extremely high bit-rate, native resolution export of the full edit for grading purposes. This singular file is put through the ‘Scene Cut’ tool in Resolve and the edit points are added automatically and efficiently.
The obvious issue here is that the raw camera files have now been exported and compressed before the colour grade. Depending on the project, this can either make or break the decision to use this workflow. Generally though, it's fine.
Oh and don't forget, if there are camera proxies in the edit - the proxies will need to be re-linked to the high-quality camera raw files before exporting this Scene Cut file.
My recommended specifications for this Scene Cut file are below:
Hand off this file and let the colourist grade to their heart's content.
Hopefully that sheds some light on the assets that an editor will need to provide for the colourist's conform process. My last piece of advice would be to give your colourist a phone call! It's a lovely excuse to inquire about the technical as well as introducing yourself to a person you may not have worked with before.