August 29, 2013

Perfect by Proxy: A Brief Look Into What 'Offline/Online' Means

It's not hard to get precious about pretty much everything in filmmaking. There's one thing coming off the set, though, that's more valuable than anything else -- the film. It has long been preferable to treat the camera negative like the delicate, precious amalgam that it is by editing a place-holder version in lieu of damaging the original. In some fashion or another, this concept has followed editors through post production for much of filmmaking history. Even in the digital realm, it may sometimes be preferable to edit "offline" before conforming to "online" for striking the "master print." Read a bit more into the fundamentals of the offline/online below.

Filming Editing with Workprints -- The "OG of O/O"

The core concept of offline editing has existed in filmmaking forever -- the process simply wasn't referred to as such until more recently. Back in the old days, editors made their physical cuts to roughly processed positives to avoid the risk of harming the original camera negatives. These workprints were the rough-and-ready versions that editors could dig into, enabling them to really get their hands dirty while assembling a cut. They wouldn't have to worry about ruining anything permanently while exercising what might otherwise be destructive trial-and-error.

The workprints were of a lesser quality than the full potential held within the negatives, but that didn't matter so much. As long as they were decent enough for the editor to judge a shot's usability, they didn't have to look amazing. And since they were struck from the original negatives, these "offline" prints -- or proxy versions -- directly corresponded to the originals, down to the frame address. (Note, these terms weren't in play until tape was brought into the picture, but I use the terms here to illustrate analogously.)

Once the edit was approved, the negative editor would duplicate the necessary splices to the original negatives (not a job I'd ever want,) conforming the edit decisions "online." Finally, the beautiful potential promised by the negatives could be carefully extracted for a master, with no time wasted on developing fodder for the cutting room floor.

Up to the Present

Between all that and today, pretty much every conceivably combination of offline/online processes has been used for various formats -- if in spirit and not in name. Film-for-film (as above,) tape-for-film (early Avid,) file-for-tape (proxy-based tape capture, see below,) file/film (digital telecine as proxy,) file/file (see below.)

kendricken_celluloid_film_fuji_fujifilm_production_manufacture_cancel

It's all been done, and the process can make quite a bit of sense depending on the challenges presented by a given format. Usually, the choice to edit offline stems from the prohibitive nature of working with original-quality material directly for one reason or another.

Here's a great example of more current offline/online workflows from CreativeCOW. Aside from making the basics pretty tangible, the tutorial also illustrates why major productions and post houses needn't be the only ones benefitting from such a process:

In Essence

Sometimes working offline is a necessity -- a proxy/conform workflow theoretically allows anyone to cut footage from any camera system freely, regardless of their computer's shortcomings, while still retaining the full quality potential for when the edit is complete. The machine that I've been using to play around with Magic Lantern RAW video, for instance, quivers in its boots when confronted with the task of real-time CinemaDNG debayering for playback. With an offline/online workflow, I can be light on my feet and cut the hell out of mountains of proxy files, but create a color grade with the robust flexibility of RAW originals. (More on this later.)

For those interested in more old-school offline/online tools of the decidedly hardware-based variety, go here.  And I thought trying to debayer in real-time was bad for my editing health -- in our file-based era, it's certainly much easier to accomplish this type of process than it used to be!

What formats have you traversed out of offline editing necessities? How have newer camera systems, computers, and media formats changed the way you workflow? Will future computer hardware make offline editing extinct?

Link: The Museum of Early Video Editing Equipment and Techniques -- fsinet

Your Comment

19 Comments

Years back, I was researching the heck out of different practical film terms being thrown around online--this was one of the hardest at the time for me to find a clear answer on. Cheers for seeing a breakdown on it today! I bet this'll be helpful for quite a few filmmakers starting out.

August 29, 2013 at 1:16PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Offline/Online were tape based video terms; "one light" or "slop print" were the film equivalents. Today, the "online" equivalent is the grading suite, with a projector or other large screen calibrated display, working in HD, 2k or 4k, etc.

I think that as 4k production comes into mainstream the "off-line" "On-line" process will be normal, till the computer and storage issues improve dramatically and then every editor will have again, a "finishing suite" where editing and output are done on the same system, this is most common for web delivery now.

Broadcast and theatrical distribution normally use a "on-line" process in the grading suite, it just make the most sense as the tools and talents needed are only used in the last step of post, why have all the capital tied up for editing?

August 29, 2013 at 1:48PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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MM

Dave, is there any chance you could elaborate on your magic lantern proxy workflow?

I am myself about to do a a raw magic lantern shoot and would love your insight into how to go into post.

Thanks

August 29, 2013 at 3:29PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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TJK

TJK, how soon is your shoot?

August 29, 2013 at 7:03PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Dave Kendricken
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leaving for spain in 2 weeks for 2 weeks :)

Any help would be appreciated

August 30, 2013 at 2:35AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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TJK

In that case, keep a lookout for my post on the matter, it'll be up before then for sure. We got you covered XD

August 30, 2013 at 7:13PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Dave Kendricken
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Legend!

August 30, 2013 at 8:03PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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TJK

And so, to sum up my impression, offline = using proxy files. :)

August 29, 2013 at 4:11PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Another aspect of Offline/Online terminology is about process and craft.

The offline editor is/was typically the person tasked with telling the story. Complexities line effects and colour correction are not important to that role. All that matters is the story.

The online editor is often then largely a technical role. Ensuring that the end product is as good as it can be. Effects are tidied up, colour grading completed, any fixes made. The offline editor is also responsible for ensuring the video meets all necessary technical standards.

While these specific distinctions are becoming less relevant there's still value in having different people tackle different stages of the post process. We can't all be experts and everything - jack of all trades, master of none and all that. Increasingly now that online role is boiling down to just a colourist, but even that's not all. If you're producing content intended for broadcast then there's a whole lot of technical standards that must be adhered to, and someone with experience doing that is very valuable.

So separate from the technical distinctions in the process, there is a distinction in purpose and role. Even if one editor is doing it all it's often good to approach it in an offline (story editing) then online (finishing) way.

August 29, 2013 at 6:24PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Great insight!

November 10, 2013 at 10:24PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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MrWhiteman

Can anyone suggest a good workflow for animators starting with still frames, rather than footage?

I guess this will also be a good workflow for people using Cinema DNG Raw files

At the moment I render out 32 bit exr files from 3DS max with multiple passes for lighting reflections etc These get comped together in After Effects and then I use the dynamic link feature in Premiere Pro to bring these in and edit the multiple clips together.

It works quite well, but is certainly not very interactive when scrubbing the timeline. The amount of editing I do is limited, as we only tend to render out the shots we need, rather than lots of footage, but it would be great to have simple workflow using some form of proxies to speed everything up.

I'm still very new to AE and Premiere having spent most of my career doing 3D modelling for still images, rather than animations, so keeping suggestion simple would be great. Thanks!

August 29, 2013 at 8:01PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Richard

This website needs more articles like this one. Thanks for writing it, Dave.

August 29, 2013 at 11:29PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Harry Pray IV

Can I assume this was from the conversation me and some people were having in the comment section in one of the articles? If so, thank you for clearing things up for us! It'd be great if conversations in comment sections could spark articles.

August 29, 2013 at 11:59PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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David

David -- absolutely, I'd meant to make a note of that in this one, actually. Harry, thanks for the appreciation, we're workin on it :)

August 30, 2013 at 12:17AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Dave Kendricken
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Freelancer

On-line & off-line were terms NEVER used by the film community. Editors edited work-print. With the introduction of NLEs (Avid,etc) the editor just edited a different kind of workprint.The negative was cut by a Negative Cutter and the Color Timer, using a Hazeltine called out the timing lights for printing http://archive.org/stream/bitsavers_hazeltineHalyzerBrochureSep69_284868...

On-line & off-line are terms that were used by video producers. Off-line editing was normally done using 3/4" tape, then the quad, betacam, whatever was conformed by an on-line editor. Many off-line editors were technicians who worked with the director and/or producers to create the edit.

If you are a creative editor, you are NOT doing of-line editing, just editing 8-) Life is complicated enough without making artificial distinctions 8-)

August 30, 2013 at 2:36PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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c.d.embrey

C.D., I sometimes edit creatively and find this distinction quite non-artificial :) I retroactively refer to the 'workprint' editing process the same way you refer to color correction in one of your previous comments -- as synonymous/analogous in principle, regardless of physical format(s) or the lingo of a given era:

Submitted on 2013/07/23 at 3:28 pm | In reply to fg.
What do you mean by “…no color correction… ” There was “color correction” before the age of digital (sighs and shakes head).

August 30, 2013 at 7:09PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Dave Kendricken
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Freelancer

Dave Kendricken said: "The machine that I’ve been using to play around with Magic Lantern RAW video, for instance, quivers in its boots when confronted with the task of real-time CinemaDNG debayering for playback."

So the obvious answer is to create a Digital Work Print to use for editing. And I don't consider a Digital Work Print off-line editing. Your background must be in television, while mine is Hollywood. A totally different mind set.

August 30, 2013 at 11:48PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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c.d.embrey

Ever since I started working with Red Epic raws, or r3d files, I would sometimes have difficulties editing online, even with premier in 1/4 or 1/8 playback, due to my ram, and even with the red rocket (through thunderbolt). I have tried successfully edited offline with transcoded prores 1080p, as offline, and would later save it as EDL and open it in redcine-x pro, and connect it to the original r3d raw files from there, and then save the timeline again as EDL and open on premier after color correcting/grading. Then basically copy the audio from the offline edit to the new online timeline, check it's synced, and export!
It's a different workflow for sure, but once I understood it and got the hang of it, it seems simple enough.

September 1, 2013 at 12:19AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Nawaf Alsabhan

After I originally commented I clicked the -Notify me when new feedback are added- checkbox and now each time a remark is added I get four emails with the same comment. Is there any way you may remove me from that service? Thanks!

September 27, 2013 at 3:39AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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