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  • Writer's pictureMarcelo Lewin

Avid Media Composer First Impressions

Yesterday was my first class for the Fall quarter at UCLA Extension, Intro to Avid Media Composer, taught by Whitney Dunn. It was my first real prolonged exposure to Avid Media Composer beyond looking at it for 5 minutes and thinking, what do I do now, and then quitting the app.

We spent almost 2 hours going through the first 2 chapters of the "MC101 2022 Media Composer Fundamentals I" book and at times I have to admit I was a bit lost. To be fair though, part of the reason I was lost at the beginning was because I had some issues with Avid giving me permission errors which took a lot of Googling to figure out. I finally got it to work by following the instructions in this post. But I digress, focus Marcelo.

So here are my observations about Avid Media Composer, grant you, with just 2 hours of usage during the class and then an entire day, the next day, working on my homework with it. These are not criticisms, but just observations from a guy used to working with Adobe Premiere Pro.

My first reaction was about the interface. It feels non-conventional (at least for the Mac). It doesn't use the UI from the OS. I expect that's because it's trying to be cross system (Mac and Windows) and maybe uses a proprietary UI library. Not sure. On the other hand, Adobe Premiere Pro feels like it was built for the Mac (even though it's also available in Windows and uses the Windows UI there).

Adobe Premiere Pro vs. Avid Media Composer UI

The interface took some getting used to, but I'll be honest, after using it for an entire day, I do like that it's different. So now, let's talk about floating and docking windows. Docking windows is confusing. When you move floating windows around, you will get these green bars where you can dock your window (attach it to the interface). Sometimes it puts it in the incorrect place (at least where I think it should go). It does take a while to get used to that and a lot of experimenting. Once I figured it out, then it's easy to manage. But it was not as intuitive as it is in Premiere Pro.

Floating vs. Docked Windows in Avid Media Composer

In Avid, it seems that "bins" are central to everything. In fact "bins" have their own files in the hard drive. One for each bin. Speaking of that, Avid has lots of files for it's project. Premiere Pro has one file. At first I thought, why so many files? But then I remembered how, as your project file grows in APP, it tends to load really slow and/or crash. So it seems that separating the files are a good thing to do. Another thing I learned is that you can share bins across projects and even import bins from other users. Very cool.

Files for an "Avid Project"

Projects can be stored anywhere you like, but Avid prefers, by default, to store them in the /users/username/documents/avid projects/ for private projects or /users/shared/avidmediacomposer/sharedavidprojects/ for shared projects (projects multiple users will work with).

The other thing Avid prefers is that you work with Avid native media. That means, importing the footage from your camera (or whatever source you have) and transcoding it to their media type (.mxf). This can be time consuming, but it is automatic. Avid does support "linking" to files (just like Adobe Premiere Pro) without any transcoding, but supposedly, native Avid media files makes the app much more responsive.

When importing (not linking), it automatically places all your new transcoded files in a folder named "Avid MediaFiles" in your internal drive. In my Mac, it places these transcoded files in /users/shared/AvidMediaComposer/Avid MediaFiles/MXF/ but you can also choose to store it in an external drive, however, the "Avid MediaFiles" has to be at the root level of the drive. It can not be inside any folders. There is not way (that I know of and I asked in Facebook groups) to change it.

Avid MediaFiles located at root level of external drive.

This only applies to "importing" footage. Meaning you are not linking to the original footage, but transcoding it and making a new file stored in the Avid MediaFiles. You can "link" to footage without importing it and it can be located anywhere.

Coming from the Adobe Premiere Pro world, I'm used to having everything in one folder, my project, my media, any transcoded media, images, etc.

Adobe Premiere Pro Projects

But that's because I usually work on a project on my own. In the world of "Avid", you are dealing with multiple editors (sometimes as many as 10 to 15) and they share the media, bins, etc. So I can understand why Avid chose to do it this way. The only thing I do hate is having to put the "Avid MediaFiles" folder at the root level of an external drive. I would love to put it inside a folder of my choosing. But that's my OCD I have to deal with.

There are some quirks that make me ask why did they do it this way. For example, if you hit CMD+3, it brings up the Command Palette which let's you map a button to a key or to a menu item or to the interface, just like you can in Adobe Premiere Pro by clicking on the "button editor". But in Premiere Pro, if you add a button to the interface and then change your mind, you can just drag that button out of the interface and it goes away. In Avid, you have to pick the "blank" button and put it on top of your other button. I know, it's a minor thing, but also not intuitive. Most apps (and even OSs), whenever you don't want something, you just drag it out and throw it away.

To remove a button you placed, you must use another button called "blank".

Settings are another thing I had to get used to in Avid. At first I found it confusing, but the more I worked with it, the easier it got. The nice thing about Settings is that you can have "user profiles" that store all your settings at the user level. You can have as many users as you want and just switch between them. As far as I know, you can't do that in Premiere Pro.

Settings can be stored at the user level.

Avid has workspaces that work just like it does in Premiere Pro. You can arrange windows however you like and save it as your own custom workspace. It comes with the standard "Edit", "Color", "Effects" and "Audio" workspaces. When you create a custom one, it will appear on the side navigation bar.

Workspaces in Avid

The last thing I learned so far is how to use the "Select Project" window, which is very similar to Adobe Premiere Pro's welcome window. However, I find Avid's select project window to be better organized and easier to understand.

Avid's "Select Project" Window

Adobe Premiere Pro's Welcome Window

There you have it, my first impressions of Avid Media Composer.

I know I have a lot more to learn about Avid, but, like anything you are not familiar with; at first, you are afraid of it, confused by it and pre-judge it too quickly. Then you get to know it, work with it and realize it's not as hard as it seems, it's not as bad as I though it would be, and actually, in some respects, it's better then other NLEs.

Finally, there is a feeling I got using Avid these past 2 days that I don't get when using the other NLEs. There is history there, and I don't mean that in a negative way. It feels like I'm editing using a tool that the greats have used in the past and are still using today to create amazing cinematic experiences.

And that's a good feeling to have when you are editing.

Until the next article!

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