This article will cover the basics of Avid Media Composer. To learn how to start a new project from scratch, see our other guide "Starting a Project in Avid." Avid is available in almost all of our labs in the DFL (6th Floor Ansin) and DPL (8th Floor Ansin), so come on by to get some hands on experience with the program.
You may hear strong mixed opinions about Avid - some people love it, and some people hate it - but if you understand why the program operates the way it does, it's an invaluable addition to your toolkit as an editor. Avid is designed to be used with a keyboard, so those familiar with the drag-and-drop functionality of Adobe Premiere may find the workflow challenging at first. Our advice? Practice. Learn Avid when you actually have a project that needs to be cut. Doing so will force you to become familiar with the program, and repeating the most common Avid shortcuts while you edit will cement them into your memory.
Importing Your Media
- Create a bin for your media, right-click inside it, and go to File > “AMA Link.”
- Navigate to your media folder (on your hard drive, not your card) and select it and click “Open.”
- All your clips will appear in your bin.
Transcoding Your Media
- The AMA Linked clips are linked to the original camera files. In order for smooth editing within Media Composer, you must transcode these clips to an editing-friendly Avid codec.
- Select all your AMA Linked clips, right-click and select "Consolidate/Transcode."
- Check the bubble beside "Transcode."
- Select your hard drive in the "Target Drives" box. It should be the same drive you selected in Media Creation.
- Select the appropriate video resolution. It should be the same resolution as when you created the project.
- Click "Transcode."
- Depending on the amount of footage that you’re bringing into the program, this step may take a while.
- New clips will show up in your bin with the file suffix “.new.01.”
- It’s good practice to separate your AMA source footage and your new Avid video files into separate bins.
User Interface and Editing
The project window contains a lot of important content, but most notably, it's where your bins, setting, and effects are displayed. Navigate between the tabs at the top of this window to switch between the different options. The effects tab is indicated by a pink icon.
The below icons are labeled as what they are. Sequences are where your cuts are saved, video clips and audio clips reference your MXF media, and custom effects can be saved from the effect editor. Subclips do not create new MXF files, but rather are created from master clips. Subclips are created when syncing video and audio clips or by setting in and out points in the source monitor, holding down ALT, and clicking and dragging from the source monitor to your bin.
Source/Record and Timeline
This is Avid's main interface. The top left window is your source monitor. It previews the clip you currently have selected in the bin. To the right is the record monitor, which previews your sequence based on the location of your playhead. In the example bellow, the source monitor displays the original clip as it appears in the bin, while the record monitor displays the same clip with an effect that has been added in the sequence.
Beneath your two monitors is the timeline. When a sequence is open, it will display here. For more information on the timeline, click here. Bellow the timeline, you'll find a series of menus. In the screenshot below, notice that the third option is bright green. This indicates that the timeline is in source mode and will display the clip currently selected in the bin. This option can be useful for setting in/out points while syncing, but make sure that it is deactivated when you are cutting.
To the right of the Toggle Source/Record in Timeline button, you'll find the Video Quality Menu. Right clicking on it will give you a list of options to control the preview resolution of your video. "Best Performance", for example, will lower the preview resolution, but might enable you to preview your video more seamlessly if you have applied many effects. For most applications, you can leave it on "Full Quality" or "Draft Quality".
On the far left is the Fast Menu. Clicking on it will bring up a number of options. Notably, "Audio Data" will allow you to display a waveform for your audio, and "Track Color" will allow you to color-cody your tracks.
Placing and Removing Clips
There are four tools that dictate how a clip is placed or removed to/from a sequence. For any of these tools to work, in and out points must be set by hitting I and O respectively. Clear in and out points with the G key.
- Extract - The yellow-upwards facing arrow. This tool will remove a selection from a sequence and close the resulting gap.
- Lift - The red upwards-facing arrow. This tool will remove a selection from a sequence and leave filler in its place.
- Splice-in - The yellow right-facing arrow. This tool will insert a selection from a source clip, pushing other clips to the right to make room.
- Overwrite - The red right-racing arrow. This tool will insert a selection from a source clip on top of other clips that are in the way.
Smart Tools and Edit Modes
To the left of the timeline window are your smart tools and edit modes. The smart tools are the most-used tools in Avid and include:
- Segment Mode (Lift/Overwrite) - Allows you to move clips of video or audio over others, replacing them.
- Segment Mode (Extract/Splice-in) - Allows you to move clips of video or audio in-between others, pushing other clips to the right.
- Overwrite Trim - Allows you to extend or shorten a clip without affecting other clips.
- Ripple Trim - Allows you to extend or shorten a clip, pushing or pulling other clips in its wake.
- Transition Manipulation - Allows you to adjust the length of video and audio transitions. This tool tool is largely irrelevant, but there's no reason not to leave it on.
These tools are the most difficult piece of the Avid learning curve for most users, but they're actually fairly easy to get a handle on. Simply remember that the red tools don't move other clips, while the yellow tools do. These tools are referred to as the Smart Tools because they can all be toggled on and still function separately. The red tools become accessible when hovering your cursor over the top half of a clip, and the yellow tools become accessible when hovering your cursor over the bottom half. Similarly, the arrow tools only appear when hovering over the middle of a clip, and the trim tools only appear when hovering over the edge of a clip.
Beneath the Smart Tools are the edit modes. Generally, you'll want to be in Source/Record mode, but other modes may be useful for more specific applications. For more information, click here.
In the timeline window, video and audio clips are displayed on tracks, much like in Premiere. To add an audio track, hit CMD + U. To add an audio track, hit CMD + Y. To the left of the tracks are options that allow you to solo, mute, enable, or disable individual tracks.
You may notice that many of these icons are repeated. That's because the icons to the left affect the clip loaded in the source monitor, while the icons on the left affect all clips on that track. The small "S" icons will solo an audio track, meaning that all other audio tracks will be muted. The small "M" icon mutes an individual track. Enabling or disabling a source track (i.e. by clicking on V1) will affect which tracks of the clip in the source monitor are added to the sequence. Enabling or disabling a record track will affect which tracks in the sequence a new clip gets added to. For more information, click here.
White numbers on a clip indicate that it has fallen out of sync with other tracks of the same clip. This may be the result of inadvertently leaving a track disabled and then moving other clips in the sequence.
Zooming and Focusing in the Timeline
- You can use the scale bar (bottom of the screen, next to the scroll bar) to stretch and contract the timeline area centered around the playhead. This lets you either zoom in to focus on a specific area of your sequence or zoom out to display your whole sequence.
- You can use the Zoom In command in the timeline fast menu to select a portion of the timeline of any size to instantly expand to fill the window, and the Zoom Back command to instantly restore the timeline to its former size. These commands do not depend on the placement of the playhead.
- You can use the Focus button (circular icon in the bottom left) to quickly change your view of the timeline so that you focus on a few seconds of material on either side of the playhead. The focus button centers the playhead and scales the timeline so each second of time in the sequence fills 90 pixels in the display.
Backing Up Your Project
- When you have finished editing for the day, save and quit Avid.
- Open the “Shared Avid Projects” folder and find your project. Copy the entire folder to your hard drive (or isilon space).
- You may want to create a”older versions” folder where you keep each day’s project folder as a backup before overwriting the folder with the most recent version of your project. These folders take up very little space and this will make your life much easier if something goes wrong with your project in the future.
- At the beginning of your next editing session, copy this folder into the Shared Avid Projects folder and open this version in Avid. You are less likely to run into problems if you work from the Shared folder than an external drive.
- Note: If you rename your project, Avid will no longer be able to find it. Be sure to keep the name of your project folder consistent.