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Put Down the Clapper and Ditch the Timecode?

Sony Vegas Pro, before Singular Software PluralEyes

Sony Vegas Pro, before Singular Software PluralEyes

One of the most prominent productivity plug-ins to surface during the past year is Singular Software's PluralEyes, which released for Apple Final Cut Pro in May 2009 and for Sony Vegas Pro in November of last year. Over the years, NLE packages have incorporated features to complete tasks that used to require specialized plug-ins for their execution. Plug-ins that perform basic editing operations dwindle as NLE feature sets grow.

PluralEyes is the rare exception to that rule. The $149 plug-in automatically syncs an audio track to multiple video tracks, without the need for any unified timecode or a traditional clapper slate. Bruce Sharpe, founder of Singular Software, claims that you don't even need to start out with particularly clean audio. "The power of PluralEyes is that it can sync recordings across a wide range of audio quality. This includes differing sound levels, ambient noise, directors talking, varying mic placement, etc," he says.

Sony Vegas Pro, during Singular Software PluralEyes

Sony Vegas Pro, during Singular Software PluralEyes

Feedback from users, as culled from the wilds of Twitter, has been generally very positive. Most users I corresponded with were using DSLRs such as the Canon EOS 5D, a camera that truly benefits from separate audio capture from a device such as a Samson Zoom H4N. They typically had few problems using PluralEyes to synch their captured video to their separately captured audio in Final Cut Pro.

Ross Gerbasi, director and editor with Popcorn Island in Chicago, has used PluralEyes to edit documentary footage shot with a Canon 5D. He described some initial challenges getting FCP set up to match the footage—making sure the sequence is the right frame rate, for instance. "Once you have a good understanding of how it is supposed to work [PluralEyes] is pretty easy," he says. "Right now a couple of our guys are in South Africa shooting a documentary with a [Panasonic AG-HVX200], a 5D, and the Zoom, so it will really get put to the test after the three weeks of footage they will be gathering up."

Sony Vegas Pro, during Singular Software PluralEyes

Sony Vegas Pro, during Singular Software PluralEyes

One common problem that Sharpe has addressed is the fact that HDSLRs capture at 30p, while NTSC runs at 29.97. "When you work with 30fps material, you might expect that ensuring that the sequence frame rate is 30 (and not 29.97) would be enough to make things work," he writes. "But what happens is that when you add an audio track to the timeline, Final Cut retains some memory of the NTSC settings and applies an NTSC adjustment to the playback speed of the audio." In that blog post, he offers a couple ways to solve this problem.

Sony Vegas Pro, after Singular Software PluralEyes

Sony Vegas Pro, after Singular Software PluralEyes

Jon Rawlinson, a Vancouver-based filmmaker, took his Canon 5D to French Polynesia to shoot a project for the Intercontinental Hotel in Bora Bora. Using PluralEyes to sync a longer clip, he found that sync drifted. The culprit was, again, that the timeline settings didn't match his clip settings exactly. "I needed the timeline settings to be exactly 30[fps] and 44.1kHz," Rawlinson says.

DSLR shooter Philip Bloom has a review/tutorial of PluralEyes on his site. One more caveat: Record audio with all the cameras that you're using, so PluralEyes has something to sync to.

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