Linear to Non-Linear storytelling

I recently had the opportunity to demonstrate what I feel is the overwhelming power of Virtual Katy on a project very similar to the first show that I used VK on. 

That first show was “Vantage Point” and when it first landed with us it was a linear telling of the story of a presidential assassination. It was a short 5 reel movie and far removed from the final released version. it had however had a lot of sound editorial work done on it already and parts of that was hoped to be saved. The next version we received was a non-linear telling of the story with each reel being from a different characters perspective culminating in a linear ending post-reveal.

Change notes on this type of conform would have been a nightmare and so we decided to give this new program, Virtual Katy a go. After a couple of failed attempts and some marvellous help from Craig Tomlinson with EDL evaluation and guidance we were able to reconform the linear version of the film into a non-linear version. 

Flash-forward to 5 weeks ago when I was approached by the mixer/sound editor on an independent feature to do this exact same process. We took the linear final mix sessions and we were able to reconform the full movie (tracklay, automation etc) into the non-linear directors cut in 40-60 minutes. The look on the directors face as he watched the linear guide QT’s being cut into the new non linear version and matching frame for frame was priceless to see. 

Obviously that wasn’t the end of the story and the sound editor then spent a few days going through and filling in the new scenes and smoothing some automation jumps but it widely accepted that this process would have taken a couple of weeks to have fixed without VK and it’s shot tracking, full project view.

Picture Editorial: Final Cut Pro, 24p project format
Sound Editorial : Avid Pro Tools 8
Conform materials: FCP Video EDLs
Virtual Katy: 3.0.2, 23.976 fps project

Conforming - Part 2 - Reconform

In part one we covered the process of assembling location sound recordings according to the picture editors EDL’s (Edit Decision List). In this part we will investigate what happens when they change their mind and do another turnover.

Before you say “but the picture is locked” realise that this is not the case…ever.

In this case you will need at least one of two things. Either the Video EDL’s from both versions of the picture or a change note (also referred to as change list) between versions.

Change notes can be great for doing the change conform by hand, if a little confusing at first. Trim head by x frames at this footage, trim tail by x frames at this footage. The great thing about change notes is that with a little work they can be whittled down from the 122 events that it lists originally to something a bit more manageable by combining the events that occur at the same footage for an overall change. 

The downside of change notes is that they are susceptible to pollution by VFX updates and unless the picture assistants are very focussed in their naming/tracking puling these VFX shots out becomes not only a chore but an impossibility. Recently I’ve seen change lists 24 A4 pages long for the addition of 35 frames due to the VFX shots being listed individually as delete x frames, insert x frames. Not very helpful.

This is where the Video EDLs come in. 

Over the course of the last 10-12 years video EDLs have become more prevalent for change management than change notes are. This is for a number of reasons:


  1. They are easy to produce
  2. They are easy to manage
  3. They provide more information than change notes


The downside is that they are more difficult to read for a human due largely to the split line format, maybe that’s just me though.

Many programs have been developed to compare versions of an EDL and compile a change scheme from this comparison. The three main contenders in this space are: Conformalizer, EdiTrace and Virtual Katy.

Each of these applications compares one or more EDL’s from a previous version with one or more EDL’s from the current version and creates it’s own change plan from it, which it will then carry out on some DAW’s. The differences come in the feature sets available and this is where opinions become wildly different. 

EdiTrace by SoundsInSync

As you will know from looking through my previous posts I really like Mark Franken’s work on a number of bases EdiCue is superb and EdiLoad is without a doubt my favourite tool for doing anything with an EDL. Editrace is a little different in it’s approach to the comparison problem.

Basically you subscribe to the Editrace web site and from there add Projects and EDL’s via upload. When you need to do a conform you select the source EDL’s and a single Destination EDL and the web site does a comparison for you and creates a Change EDL for you to download. 

The resulting EDL is very clean and does a great job of weeding out VFX inserts and other extraneous information which makes for a pretty clean conform. This EDL is then loaded into the EdiTrace desktop application for auto-conforming in Pro Tools.

Conformalizer by Maggot Software

I have really wanted to like this application. It does some great things: QuickTime comparison to edit changes is a superb feature. I always felt it was limited in it’s project based features though and for me that was enough to break my interest in the application. For the odd one off conform it could be the tool for you though. Go to the web site and check it out. Justin is a very active member on the DUC too and answers questions and feature requests very quickly.

Virtual Katy by Virtual Katy

The feature set of VK scares me. That’s what I love about it though, if you work on shows with multiple versions then don’t buy anything else. It’s major strength is that it keeps track of all your EDL’s across an entire project. By loading all the EDL’s for all reels into a generation you can then compare across all reels/generations for any new cut that comes your way. 

This is great for: rebalancing, old material going back in much later on and when it goes wrong (through human error) cutting awesome trailers ;).

As of the latest version it has gained a RegEx (Regular Expression) engine too. RegEx is a method of matching text strings against a set of rules in order to replace/remove those strings. Why is that good for conforming? Well if you have a show with lots of VFX then you be familiar with EDLs that contain strings such as: “76-5 V_dNeg_72638”. What RegEx can do is strip out the data that is likely to change in the next versions EDL ie 72638 might become 72647 and leave you with the slate and take info. So instead of matching “76-5 V_dNeg_72638” across versions the comparison engine is now looking to match 76-5 across versions. 

This feature allows more material to be saved and in the process fewer cuts are made and your sessions look less like they’ve been through a shredder. 

You want material from Temp 1 to go back into Temp 5? Easy just choose Temp 1’s generation from the list and compare it with Temp 5’s generation and in seconds VK will compare all the shots listed in all the EDLs across all reels of both versions. From this list you might only want material from 02:10:15:23-02:12:57:13 to be retrieved. Easy, just select those Timecodes from the comparison list and hit conform selected. 

The problem that I’ve most frequently come across is getting picture assistants to provide all Video Layers to me as EDLs. When I haven’t had these is when the trailer cutting comes into play. Suddenly material from reel 5 will slot itself into reel 2’s boat chase. If the picture assistant still won’t give you the EDL’s you have asked for, just export the QuickTime you’ve just cut together from the timeline and they’ll have them to you very quickly after that. 

Conforming - Part 1 - Assembly

Sound post production is a confusing field at the best of times with the pull-up and pull-downs, sample and frame rates and all other sort of things that have their own names. Then over the years someone decided that calling two entirely different processes by the same name was the best idea since the NLE.

So what do these two terms mean and what tools are around to help with these processes?

Conforming - Stage 1

The first process that is named conforming is also referred to as the Assembly. I think I am right in suggesting that in the US they use assembly more than conform for this process but I’d imagine it varies between companies even then. 

This process involves the construction of traditionally split channel audio from the mix downs that were used by picture editors to edit with. Why is this necessary?

On set the Floor Mixer who is often referred to as the Sound Mixer (different from re-recording mixer) on credit rolls and the like will take the various channels that are being recorded (for the sake of argument lets say 8 discrete channels) and create a rough mix of these channels. All recordings on set contain a timecode reference that is linked with the cameras on set. Once the shoot has finished all of the footage is loaded into the picture editing system together with the sound recordings (sound rolls) and either auto-synced or manually synced by the picture assistants. 

The mix track created by the sound mixer will be used on track A1 and A2 of the editing system as track limitations exist in all of the picture editing platforms. (they have increased in recent years but they still have limits)

Once a picture has been finished to a decided milestone then the picture editor will turn this picture over to their assistant to provide to the sound crew. 

A standard turnover for a feature project will contain: Picture, Audio Guide Tracks, OMF/AAF (Open Media Framework/Advanced Authoring Format) which presents the picture editors sound tracklay and EDL’s (Edit Decision List) both audio and video versions.

(It should be noted that while change lists are often provided to help with the second version of the conforming name they have become less reliable with the dawn of visual fx drop ins etc and are often so polluted that they are unusable)

After all that we reach the conforming (meaning 1) or the Assembly. A sound assistant will take the Audio EDL that was provided and either by hand (very rare) or using an automated program construct an expanded version of the OMF/AAF for use by Dialogue editors (primarily). 

The EDL contains references to the Tape used (sound roll) and the Timecode start and end. 

Traditionally this process would have involved recording the relevant audio into the edit system from DAT tapes etc, but this has now mostly changed with the advent of hard drive based recorders. More often than not the assistant will be referring to a list of folders on a drive. In order to perform this process manually they would refer to the sound report sheets for the start/end TC’s of the files. 

Thankfully programs exist that do this leg work for you. The most frequently used is Titan by Synchro Arts, as of version 4 this is now capable of writing/reading to and from Pro Tools version 7 format files as well as to the AES31 format.

Useful Programs to help

Ediload - Great application for tidying up EDL’s. Discipline in naming of sound rolls appears to be becoming a thing of the past but this really helps sort those issues. Batch editing of sound roll names etc.

Titan - The only application to consider for large scale assembly projects

Alternative/Up and coming methods

As of version 7.2 of Pro Tools, Avid have been including a feature set labelled “Field Recorder Workflows”. The feature set is now getting quite deep and significant improvements have been made to the way in which Pro Tools selects alternate channels etc. On projects with up to 15 sound rolls then you should give it a look. There a some prerequisites that are all listed within the documentation as to the best practices that should be observed but as long as sufficient metadata is being kept then you should have some degree of success. Unfortunately as your sound roll count increases you may find it difficult to maintain performance levels with this path.

Part two will cover the other process referred to as Conforming.

Any questions/comments please add them in the comments or drop me an email via the link on the left.