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Digital Performer: Audio For Picture

MOTU Digital Performer: Tips & Techniques By Matt Lapoint
Published January 2024

Digital Performer has everything you need to work with audio for picture.

DP’s movie window provides all of the workflow features necessary for professional film scoring and post‑production audio editing. Let’s explore some of the technical aspects of the movie window before examining the settings and features.

A wide range of cross‑platform video formats for Macs and PCs is supported, and while MOTU recommend MOV MP4 and M4V files, other standard video stream formats like h.264 will also work. The movie window does not change the video resolution in any way, so standard‑definition and HD videos are both fully supported, as are standard and HD frame rates. DP will play back the stereo and multi‑channel audio embedded in the movie, as long as the sample rate matches the DP project and the proper bundles exist to route the audio to your audio interface outputs.

Movies can reside in your DP project folders or anywhere else on your local system. It’s important to keep track of the location of movie files used in DP projects (perhaps with a clipping or track comment), so that all of the assets can be easily collected when sending projects to clients and/or moving projects to other computers. If the directory changes, a DP prompt (when reopening the project or chunk) will let you choose the new location of the movie file.

When playing back very large, high‑resolution video files in a large DP film scoring template file, drive speed, RAM, graphics cards and monitor resolution will impact performance. With 4K videos (and above) it may be necessary to reduce the movie file resolution or obtain a lower‑resolution file. When doing so, be sure to maintain the original frame rate.

In The Frame

Screen 1: Choose the frame rate that matches the movie rate here.Screen 1: Choose the frame rate that matches the movie rate here.Digital Performer does not auto‑detect the frame rate of loaded movies. To determine the movie’s frame rate and audio channel format, open the movie file in QuickTime Player and use the Get Info command. On Windows, file properties will list this information.

In DP, the frame rate menu resides in the Control Panel to the right of the counter (Screen 1). Frame rate is a per‑project setting in Digital Performer, so you can create and save templates for a specific frame rate that you use often.

To open a movie, choose Project / Movie. The default keyboard shortcut is Shift+V. Navigate to the location of the movie file. As mentioned earlier, it can reside anywhere on your local system. The movie window can either float as a separate window or dock inside the Consolidated window sidebar. To specify the latter, choose Preferences / Consolidated Window Options (Screen 2). In the list, selected windows will dock into the Consolidated window when opened. De‑select Movie in the list to make it float as a separate window.

Screen 2: The movie window can either float as a separate window or be docked in the Consolidated Window sidebar.Screen 2: The movie window can either float as a separate window or be docked in the Consolidated Window sidebar.If the movie window is floating, drag the right‑bottom corner to resize it. If it is docked in the Consolidated window, resize the Movie window’s side bar to resize the movie.

Movie Window Settings

To access movie window settings, Control‑click or right‑click anywhere on the movie window. The Set Movie options let you select another movie file from a navigation dialogue. Use Same Movie for All Sequences relates to projects that use more than one chunk. In film scoring, it’s useful to use this option if cues are set up as separate chunks that use the same movie file. With this option unticked, each chunk in a project can use a different movie.

Import Movie Audio imports the movie audio into the DP timeline as an audio track with the same channel format as the movie. After importing the audio, Digital Performer automatically turns down the movie’s volume level (in its control panel). Pro tip: always set the movie and chunk start time before importing the movie audio (more on start times below).

Screen 3: If the movie has a timecode burn‑in, go to the first frame and set the movie start time to match it.Screen 3: If the movie has a timecode burn‑in, go to the first frame and set the movie start time to match it.The Lock and Chase options ensure that the movie window syncs, stops and scrubs correctly when rolling DP’s transport and editing data. Movie Floats On Top forces the movie window to stay above all other edit windows in DP. In general, it’s useful to drag the movie window to another monitor or connected TV to keep the movie window visible at all times while working. When doing so, you can go full screen on the separate monitor (more on this below).

Movie Start Time

Set Movie Start Time is an important setting when scoring to picture. If a timecode (TC) burn‑in exists in the movie file, use this option to match the movie start time with the first burn‑in frame listed (Screen 3). In this example, the movie starts at exactly zero hours.

Screen 4: The Set Chunk Start dialogue is accessed in the Chunks window mini‑menu. Here you can set the frame start time and the number of the first measure for the sequence.Screen 4: The Set Chunk Start dialogue is accessed in the Chunks window mini‑menu. Here you can set the frame start time and the number of the first measure for the sequence.If the movie file doesn’t have a TC burn‑in, set the movie start time to the same frame as DP’s Chunk Start Time (found in the Chunks window mini‑menu). The Chunk Start Time dialogue also lets you choose the desired measure number for the first measure of the chunk (Screen 4), which doesn’t have to be measure 1. For example, you might have several back‑to‑back sequences that are a continuation of each other, where you’d like the start measure of the next sequence to pick up after the last bar of the previous one.

Control Panel

At the bottom of the movie window, the control panel has additional settings. The volume slider controls the audio level. Elapsed and remaining time indicators frame the transport bar. By default, the movie’s Play, Stop, Rewind and Fast Forward transport buttons are linked to DP’s transport controls. Click the lock icon to unlock them and freely cue/play the movie window separately from DP’s transport. On the far right, click the diagonal arrows to go into full‑screen mode with the movie. Hit the Escape key to exit full‑screen mode. Additional custom key commands can be assigned to movie functions like toggling full screen mode.

The movie window can send its embedded audio directly to your audio interface on any output pair you select...

Audio Output

Screen 5: You can send movie audio directly to a physical output in your system, to an aux bus, or to a custom output bundle as shown here.Screen 5: You can send movie audio directly to a physical output in your system, to an aux bus, or to a custom output bundle as shown here.The movie window can send its embedded audio directly to your audio interface on any output pair you select (Screen 5). The output menu also provides custom routings created in the Bundles window. Notice how the movie audio output uses a stereo channel configuration.

You can set up custom bundles for the movie, for example to use separate buses for your dialogue and temp channels, by going to Studio / Bundles. Create a stereo bus and two additional mono buses using the configuration shown in Screen 6. In this example, the movie audio is being routed to the stereo bus pair ‘Dialog_Temp’ and the separate mono channels at the same time. This is useful when the movie audio puts the dialogue on the left channel of the stereo mix (panned hard left) and temp music on the right channel.

Next, create two new aux tracks in DP and assign the inputs to the mono buses and the outputs to the same hardware output. When the movie plays, the audio is routed to the aux tracks with the proper separation of dialogue and temp music. The aux tracks can then be renamed and rebalanced in the mixer. Use the aux track channel inserts to process the movie audio playback in real time with full automation of plug‑in settings, track mute/unmute, level, and so on. To print the dialogue and temp music audio separately, simply replace the mono aux tracks with two mono audio tracks. Assign the same mono bus inputs, arm the tracks, and print the audio in real time.

Screen 6: If the movie audio has temp music in one channel and dialogue in the other, use this bundle configuration to manage them separately when mixing and exporting.Screen 6: If the movie audio has temp music in one channel and dialogue in the other, use this bundle configuration to manage them separately when mixing and exporting.

Alternately, you can accomplish the same thing without aux tracks, by going to choose Studio / Audio Patch Thru and using the Input Only setting. Now, input‑monitored audio tracks provide monitoring and printing through the same tracks, without the need for separate aux tracks. Both methods work, and it comes down to personal preference.

Film Scoring Events

Digital Performer can add Film Scoring Events to overlay on top of the movie. Settings for these events are found in DP Preferences / Film Scoring Events (Screen 7). A Streamer is a vertical bar that sweeps across the movie from left to right to indicate an upcoming hit point or downbeat. Punches are single circular flashes used to indicate hit points. Flutters are a sequence of punched frames that are usually used to indicate downbeats. The Preferences page provides settings for all three types of events. Colour, duration and size are all customisable for each type of event. Film events can also be free‑standing events entered into the Event List. They can also be an attribute of markers placed in the timeline, giving you complete control over when and how they occur.

Screen 7: The Film Scoring Events menu lets you add visual cues to your video, such as Streamers (a bar of colour that sweeps across the video) and Punches (a coloured circle to indicate a hit point). The Click menu even lets you add a visual metronome.Screen 7: The Film Scoring Events menu lets you add visual cues to your video, such as Streamers (a bar of colour that sweeps across the video) and Punches (a coloured circle to indicate a hit point). The Click menu even lets you add a visual metronome.

In the Preferences / Click window, you’ll find the option to overlay metronome clicks as visual Punches in the movie window. This might be useful in a case where an audible click might be distracting, but a visual click would provide a sense of pulse. Colours and sizes are selectable for both Accented and Normal visual clicks. Visual clicks can be used on their own, or alongside audio and MIDI clicks.

Bouncing (Exporting) A Movie

If you’d like to include the movie audio in your bounced export, print or import the movie audio into the DP timeline beforehand. Then make sure those audio tracks are part of your bounce selection. After selecting the desired tracks and time range for export, choose File / Bounce to Disk. DP will bounce all selected and enabled audio tracks and virtual instruments in the project. The File Format menu provides a variety of compressed and uncompressed audio formats, but to export the movie, choose QuickTime Export: Movie. Select the output, file name and output folder. Once OK’ed, an option to include film scoring events will appear. When checked, Streamers, Punches and Flutters will be superimposed on top of the exported video (Screen 8). The video resolution will match the original file, and the audio will be a compressed AAC file.

Screen 8: When exporting a movie, you can choose to include DP’s visual Film Scoring Events.Screen 8: When exporting a movie, you can choose to include DP’s visual Film Scoring Events.

The movie window is an integral part of every aspect of Digital Performer, from chunks and songs to clips and QuickScribe, and many other workflows. Its flexibility and frame accuracy fully complement Digital Performer’s award‑winning scoring features.

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