Multicam Editing

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(Ed Note: In last months issue Dr. Robert Nulph took us through Multicam Shooting.  We continue with the techniques of the multicam edit with Morgan Parr.) If you shoot the same event/scene with more than one camera and try to edit the multiple cameras' footage together, you are multicam editing.

Soap operas, reality TV, concert/theater videos and weddings often utilize multicam editing. Spike Lee used up to fifteen cameras in various scenes in Bamboozled (2000).
With Apple's Final Cut Pro, you can edit together up to 128 camera angles at once (do you own 128 cameras?). You can do a po' man's multicam edit without the "multicam" function, but it gets more difficult as you add more than two feeds. If you regularly work with more than one camera, you'll be happy these programmers came up with multicam editing.

Shoot Right, Edit Right

The multicam shooting article in the last issue covers most of the production side of the multicam process but I'm going to quickly cover the aspects of shooting that relate to the multicam edit.

The easiest time you could have in the edit bay is when your crew shoots with all of their cameras using synchronized timecode. Known as Jam Syncing, this writes the same timecode to each camcorder. You would need higher-end cameras, such as the Canon XL H1, which have a timecode in/out connector.

The next best method is to have a sound and/or visual sync point. Clapboards will give you both a visual and an audible single-frame reference for syncing multiple clips. Otherwise, have someone clap hands in view of all the cameras as they are rolling, for a visual and audible point.

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Next best, though only visual, is a still camera flash. If your crew forgets to tape a sync point, good luck finding one. If it's a wedding or Bar/Bat Mitzvah, there is a good chance you could use the flash from someone else's camera. Otherwise, you'll have to get creative with a visual and/or audible cue that all cameras have recorded.

One other strong suggestion: if you are not Jam Syncing, do not stop recording from any of the cameras until the tape or the event is finished. Otherwise, you will need to re-sync after every point where the camera was turned off.

One last production consideration which will have great consequences in the edit bay: most of the higher-end programs ($500 and up) that will allow you to mulitcam edit will require you to have all of your cameras recording the same codec, image dimensions and frame rate. If all of your cameras are the same make and model and set up the same way, you should be all right. Avid Xpress Pro claims to be the only consumer program on the market that allows "mixed resolution clip groups" with no transcoding required.

Ready to Get Ready

With your project correctly shot, it's time to get down to the business of editing all these "feeds." Multicam editing is not intuitive, at least in the set-up. You may need to perform a task that ranks up there with getting dental work done or filing taxes: reading your software's instruction manual. Each program handles a multicam edit a bit differently, so read up. Multicam editing is also extremely CPU intensive, so if you anticipate using the multicam option often, make sure you are using a powerful computer.

Capturing is usually the same process you are used to. One difference is that some programs will let you enter the angle number/name upon capture for easier organization. You can also add angle numbers after capture in most programs, so it is not necessary at the capture stage.

Log and capture your footage, and bring the clips into your editing program. Here is where you need to detour from your usual workflow. With your clips imported into your editing program, you will now need to group your clips into what some programs call a 'Multiclip' or nest your clips into a new sequence and enable them for multicam. If you jam synced your source footage, you can sync your clips by timecode. Otherwise, you will need to find a frame to sync to as described above.

multicam5With your group of clips combined into "one multiclip," double-click on your new clip and see your grouped shots appear in your viewer window. Hit the play button and watch all of your clips play back simultaneously and in sync. With most of these programs, you can use your playhead to scrub through your multiclip, as well as your J, K and L keys to navigate through the clips.

You are able to insert new angles or delete angles from your multiclip after this process. You can also change the order of the clips in your viewer window. In most programs, you can also display individual camera information for each clip, such as timecode and angle number/name, as an overlay.

Let's Get Active

While you edit, you will be picking your selects "live" in real time, as the playhead moves along the multiclip. You will be making selects in the way a director of a live event, such as Saturday Night Live or a sporting event, puts a show together, switching between video and/or audio clips on the fly. You, of course, have an advantage over a live producer, in that you can pause, stop, rewind and undo decisions.

Move your mouse to position your selection arrow over the feed you want and click on it as the playhead moves in real multicam10time. All of your source clips are playing, remember; you may take some time to get used to this. Many editors find it quicker to allocate a certain key on the keyboard to an angle. Find which way works best for you.

You do not have to make your cuts in real time. You can scrub along the multiclip or even move frame by frame to find the right point to cut and make your edit or angle change. Standard trimming tools, such as the rolling edit, slipping and sliding, will also work with most programs in the multicam mode.

Audio

Audio is a big consideration in multicam editing, as you will have as many audio feeds as video feeds, if not more. It's common to have more, as many producers will tap into the sound board, if there is one present, with an audio recording device such as a DAT (digital audio tape) or maybe with one of the cameras. You can set this "house mix" audio clip as your main audio track for your multiclip. You can also have the audio follow your video selects, meaning whichever video clip you click on, that is the audio that will be heard. It is also possible, with some programs, to have more than one active audio angle.

Finalize

Finalizing your process will be beneficial in some programs. Once you are finished with your cuts, you want to "collapse" your clip, returning each clip on the timeline to single angle clips. This is not a one-way road, as you can return to the multicam edit with the click of a button. You can still trim and edit these clips as well.

That is the simple overview on how to multicam edit. Remember, each program accomplishes this in a slightly different way, so go find where you purposely lost your instruction manuals and read the multicam edit chapter. And as we said in the beginning of this article, this is not the most intuitive process, so you may want to consider investing in a tutorial.

Contributing editor Morgan Paar is a nomadic producer, shooter and editor, making documentaries worldwide.