Part 2: Thinking of Adding Adobe Premiere Pro to your Students’ Toolbox?

Posted on September 2, 2012

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In my previous post on this subject, I described the benefits and costs of upgrading from a “legacy version” of Final Cut Pro to FCPX. Here I’ll describe my experiences adding Adobe Premiere Pro into my classroom workflow–it’s immediate benefits and more persistent challenges, how students responded, and its current place in our work.

For print journalism classes looking to make the switch to video, Adobe Premiere Pro might be a good option: many of the menus and keyboard shortcuts are consistent across Adobe applications, and you can share assets seamlessly. Plus, if you’re like me, your district may already have a license for it–you just need to ask for it.

How I Got Adobe Premiere Pro

Like many school districts, mine has enormous licensing agreements with various software providers. Our print journalism and yearbook classes use InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, and Bridge. Our graphic design classes use Illustrator and Photoshop. Web design classes use Dreamweaver and Flash. And if they ask for it, teachers can have Acrobat Pro installed on their computers. You get the idea: lots of Adobe software floating around. So one day I asked: in addition to these applications, does the district also have licenses for the Production Premium applications (Premiere Pro, After Effects, Audition, etc.)? Turns out, yes they do. But nobody had asked for them. So I asked for them, and a week later, my Broadcast 2 students were editing with Premiere Pro CS5.5. Last year was successful enough to warrant an upgrade to CS6. So here’s the rundown of what this change has meant for me and my students.

Quick note about the difference between CS5.5 and CS6.

In talking with my print journalism colleagues, I’ve noticed a persistent belief that not much has changed between CS5.5 and CS6. And while it may be that the changes in CS6 to Photoshop or InDesign won’t drastically alter a newspaper or yearbook workflow, the improvements made to the video applications are staggering in their scope and utility. Premiere Pro CS6 has a number of features (adjustment layers, scrubbable media, context-adaptive trim tools, open format tracks, Prelude) that make it vastly superior to version CS5.5, so if you’re going to try Adobe for video, and you have CS5.5 or earlier, do yourself a favor and at least try a free 30-day trial of Premiere Pro CS6 to see how things have changed.

The Immediate Benefits

Premiere Pro features both source and program monitors, akin to the viewer and canvas in legacy versions of FCP.

  • Familiar-looking interface. There is a reason that people use “Final Cut Pro 8” as praise for Premiere Pro CS6: it’s has the functionality many people wanted from an FCP upgrade without losing the core interface and editing paradigm. You can detach windows, move them around, expand them, arrange them in any way you like and save it as a preset. You can organize using bins and subclips and nested sequences. You have tracks. You can move stuff around in the timeline without getting a bunch of gap clips. If you like the way legacy FCP works, you’ll feel immediately at home in Premiere Pro.
  • True native editing.While Final Cut Pro X performs flawlessly with most formats and codecs, there are a few important exceptions–among them .mts and .mpeg files. For most people, not a dealbreaker, but every now and then it’s nice to be able to have an application that can truly edit ANY format, which allows us to simply import the .mts files (or whatever format) and start working. Trust me: there will be situations when FCPX simply will not take what your students are trying to feed it. You can, of course, transcode using Compressor, MPEG Streamclip, Handbrake, or whatever, but it’s nice not to need to do that.
  • Less Rendering. Depending on the power of your computer, Premiere Pro can play video back without needing render files (or, in Adobe-speak, “preview files”). If you’re used to FCP color-code render indicator, you’ll be disoriented at first, but yellow does not mean that you necessarily need to render your timeline. Handy.
  • Dynamic Link. If you’re a legacy Final Cut Pro user, you’ll remember the “Send to Motion” command, which allowed you to send a clip from the timeline into Motion for compositing, a lower third, a title, whatever. It was handy, and in FCPX it’s gone. Dynamic Link allows you to send a clip to After Effects, fiddle with it, and then have those changes updated in your Premiere Pro timeline. If you want to make changes to that After Effects project, you simply switch over and make those changes, and they’ll update in your timeline. I cannot overstate the usefulness of this feature

My students occasionally do “client work,” where they’ll work with a client (maybe in the community, maybe within the school) toward a video product of some type. As anyone who has worked with clients–or even worked freelance–knows, empathetic interpretation of client requests is an important part of this sort of work. For instance, let’s say a client asks for a “cool animated graphic title” for a video. As you know, a 17-year-old’s idea of “cool” may miss the mark. No biggie: that’s part of the learning process. In those instances, it’s very very handy to be able to tweak a title (or lower third, or whatever) without having to recreate it completely. Very handy.

  • Precision. In my experience, students gravitate toward Premiere Pro when they need to produce a very precise edit–say a school-spirit montage or a music video, or anything where edits need to be precisely timed to coordinate with audio or music. In Premiere Pro, you can switch the timeline units from timecode (minutes:seconds:frames) to audio time units, which is far more precise.
  • Cross Platform. Adobe applications operate the same in Windows or Mac OS environments. ‘Nuff said.

The Lingering Challenges

  • Media management. This could go under either good or bad. Unlike Final Cut Pro X, which by default keeps assets organized in the Events folder, Premiere Pro has no such luxury (or confines, depending on your perspective). Your students can simply import footage from wherever it is (an SD card, an external HDD, the desktop), and start working without any sort of dialog prompting them to move, transcode, or consolidate project files.

While I actually appreciate the freedom afforded by this (I can organize my project files using Finder, and then import and retain folder names as bins), for many students this is a recipe for missing media–the dreaded “media offline” screen. So far this year, I’ve had to help students reconnect media on nearly every Premiere or After Effects project, and in some cases they’ve mistakenly trashed things. Truth be told: I think it’s vitally important that students learn how to manage media (especially in a file-based, rather than tape-based, work environment), and it only takes one time for a student to learn this lesson the hard way. I’m just saying, if your students use Premiere, expect to make media management lesson #1.

  • The “Export Media” dialog that utilizes Adobe Media Encoder.

    Exporting/Compressing Media. It boils down to this: in our experience, Adobe Media Encoder is super slow. That’s the biggest gripe. There is no doubt that AME has a number of really top-notch features, but the “Share” menu in FCPX is simply faster, especially in combination with Compressor. Now, that said, Media Encoder seems a little easier for students to figure out. It’s easy to create custom presets and set up a render queue and share those features between applications (like After Effects). And it’s great if you’ve got the night to let your queue render, but on a deadline, we’ve often found ourselves frustrated by the time spent waiting on a render and export from Adobe Media Encoder.

  • Complexity. One of the best features of FCPX for newcomers is its approachability. It’s a powerful NLE, but it doesn’t seem complicated; with very little coaching, students can start editing in a flash. Premiere Pro isn’t quite so approachable. A series of settings menus stand between launch and editing, and for many of my students, trepidation about these menus can cause unwarranted paralysis. The menus aren’t difficult: for each project, you’re prompted to choose a save location, a capture scratch location, sequence settings–all nice features…if you know what they mean. So student perception is that it’s “harder” or “more complicated” in some ways.

The New Sequence prompt may seem daunting to students, but they can easily change settings later.

The upside of this complexity is an abundance of teachable moments–having to do with video capture codecs, formats, frame size, frame rate, output formats. These are concepts I expect my students to negotiate regardless of their preferred editing platform, so I welcome having this opportunity to discuss the finer points of technical know-how without having to lead a stand-alone lesson that distracts them from their storytelling.

So that’s about it. Very general, I know. But if you have additional questions about adding Premiere Pro to your students’ tools, please post a comment or question below.

Next time I’ll speak generally about the importance of teaching your students to use editing principles, not editing platforms.

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