From mobile phones to drones and GoPros, almost every digital camera that has been released in the last few years is capable of shooting 4K video. But there’s one drawback to filming everything in cinema quality: the files themselves.
Ultra-high definition footage, especially from higher-end cameras, means huge files, and unlike our old 1080p HD files, they put a massive strain on your computer when it comes time to edit. If you’re like me, you’ve come back from a recent dive trip and dropped all your files into your editing software only to discover that playback moves at about three frames per second. Nothing like editing with files that will barely play back to throw off your cutting rhythm! Luckily, there’s a solution and it comes in the form of proxy files.
Proxy files are just duplicates of our original 4K files but at a lower resolution. Acting as placeholders for our original 4K files, these proxy files are what we are going to be editing with—also known as “offline” editing—which provides us with a much smoother editing experience. Once we are done with editing, we swap the low-resolution proxy files for our shiny 4K files for the final touches. But before we get to all of that, there are a couple of things we need to do first.
Workflow with Adobe Premiere
There’s a wide range of different editing software programs to choose from, but arguably the most widely used and most user-friendly is Adobe Premiere Pro CC, which is what I will be working with in this tutorial, along with Adobe Media Encoder CC.
Something to note about this process is that there are several different ways of going about editing with proxy files, including the Ingest feature built into Premiere. The workflow I’ll be taking you through below does the same as the Ingest option, but it provides the user with a bit more control over the files and creates a somewhat more streamlined process—at least in my experience.
Import and Organize
Rather than import directly to my computer’s hard disk, I’ll be using an external hard disk. For this project, entitled Komodo & Beyond, I used three cameras—a Panasonic Lumix GH5, GoPro, and a drone—and I’ll be organizing my 4K files using a separate folder within my project folder for the footage from each camera. I wouldn’t recommend taking the organization of your 4K footage any further than that. The more folders and subfolders you have, the more time-consuming it will be when it comes time to swap the proxy footage for the 4K footage.
With my 4K project folder created and organized, I will now create the project folder for my proxy footage in a separate location, preferably on a separate hard disk. This gives me one project folder called “Komodo & Beyond_4K” with the footage organized by camera, and another folder called “Komodo & Beyond_Proxy”—which is currently empty.
Organizing your 4K files by camera saves a lot of effort once it’s time to replace the proxy files. Create a project folder in a separate location where all your proxy files will be kept and organized
Create Your Proxy Files
Next, we need to import our 4K footage for the encoding process using Adobe Media Encoder, but first we have to tell Media Encoder where we want our proxy footage to go—in your newly created proxy project folder. Using Preferences from the top dropdown menu, we can specify this, along with various other options. Afterwards, bring your 4K footage into Media Encoder by selecting the files and dropping them into the blank window.
Before you import your 4K footage into Media Encoder, it’s important to choose an output file destination—or else it will default to the same folder as it came from, which can be very confusing
Drag and drop your 4K files into Media Encoder
Now select all the files you’ve just dropped into Media Encoder and click the small dropdown arrow under the filename in the Format column. This will provide you with a list of file formats to choose from—my choice is H.264, as it’s an easy and diverse file format to work with.
Next, select the dropdown arrow in the Preset column, just to the right. This will provide you with a list of preset options for your media to be downscaled to. Here, I will choose the High Quality 720p HD option. You don’t need to worry about selecting frame rates, as the frame rate will be matched with the source file’s frame rate.
Select the lower resolution quality you wish to use for your proxy files
If you’re curious about the specs of each output preset, you can browse through them in the column in the left-hand window of Media Encoder
At this point, you should have your 4K files loaded into Media Encoder, all with the same output specifications and destination. If this is the case, then go ahead and click the little green play button on the top right of the screen, and the encoding process will proceed, one file at a time.
Now is a good time for a beverage of your choice, because this could take anywhere from minutes to hours, depending on how many files you’ve loaded into Media Encoder and your computer’s speed.
Before starting the encoding process, double-check to make sure all the files are going to the same correct location with the proper format
Organize, Import, and (Offline) Edit
If you’ve done everything correctly up to this point, your proxy project folder should now be full of the files you’ve just duplicated and downscaled.
Your proxy files should now all be in your recently created proxy project folder
These will now be the files you will edit with. Before we import them into Premiere though, I like to organize them, and for this particular example, I’m going to do so by dive site. Unlike our 4K files, which we only organized by camera, we can be as intricate as we want with the filing of our proxy files.
You can organize your proxy files as you wish—just make sure to keep them in your proxy project folder
Now we just grab all the folders containing our proxy files and drop them into Adobe Premiere
Even though we will ultimately be creating a lovely 4K video, we are going to set up our first sequence as if we were just creating a 720p HD video. Now you can edit—or edit “offline,” as it’s called—as you would any other project. Apply all your text and any other effects you normally would—with the exception of color correction.
With our low-resolution project finished, though not exported, we now need to start the process of replacing the proxy footage with the 4K footage. The first thing to do is select the entire project you’ve just edited in the timeline, copy it, and paste it into a newly created sequence with the same specs as your 4K footage.
Once you’re done editing, copy the entire proxy project in the timeline and paste it into a newly created sequence with the same specs as your 4K footage
You will be prompted with the following Clip Mismatch Warning: “This clip does not match the sequence’s settings. Change sequence to match the clip’s settings?” Make sure to select the “Keep existing settings” option or else you’ll end up with another 720p sequence.
You should now have one 720p sequence with your edited project, and one 4K sequence with your edited project—which at this point does not match because they are still the proxy files. That’s about to change.
You’ll notice that the frame sizes of the proxy footage don’t match with the new 4K frame—which is how it should be at this point
In your newly created 4K sequence, we need to select all of the footage in the timeline with the exception of any text files you’ve introduced and any audio tracks not attached to the media. With the proxy video clips selected, we just need to right-click on any one of the files to bring up the a menu with a list of options. Select “Make Offline” and then choose the option that says “Media Files Remain on Disk” and hit “OK.”
“Make Offline” unlinks our video clips from their source proxy files, so that we can then relink them to the correct 4K files—a crucial step in the process
Now when you scrub through your footage, in either of our sequences, we only see a red box showing “Media Offline” in various languages. By creating so-called “offline clips,” Premiere has unlinked each clip from its source—our proxy files—in order to allow us to relink it to the correct source, which will be the corresponding 4K file. To achieve this, we need to once again select all the files in our timeline (excluding text and audio files not connected to the video files), right-click on a file, and select the “Link Media” option.
When relinking media, make sure not to select any text or audio files
A list of all our offline files will be displayed. By default, the boxes should already be selected as shown below, but double-check to make sure they are—otherwise you could run into some complications.
By only checking these boxes, I find the relinking process is much less time-consuming
Hit the “Locate” button and then navigate to the 4K file of the one selected, and click “Open” to complete the relinking process. Handily, the remaining 4K files within that particular folder—in this case, all the 4K files from my mirrorless camera—will all be automatically relinked. Premiere will then move on to the next file it can’t find and repeat the process—in my case, until all the files from my drone and GoPro have been found. Since I have my 4K files organized in three folders, one for each camera, I only have to repeat this process three times. Had I organized my 4K files by dive site or something more refined, this process would go on for some time.
Once Premiere has linked all the 4K files, you should now have successfully replaced all your proxy footage with your 4K footage. To double-check everything is correct, look at the “Properties” of a few of the newly linked files in the timeline to make sure they are the 4K files and not the low-resolution proxy files from before.
Always double-check the properties of a few files in the timeline to make sure you’ve relinked everything correctly
Polish and Export
The only thing that’s left to do now is color-correct your clips, render as you normally would, and export your final project using one of the preset 4K settings Premiere offers, or one you have customized yourself. Your computer, which has been enjoying its light editing tasks with your HD proxy files, can finally start putting in some effort: Exporting a 4K project, even a three-minute one like mine, will take a while. Time to pour yourself another beverage!
Have a well-deserved break to give your PC time to export your finished 4K project
Offline editing isn’t a one-click process, but once you get the hang of the workflow, it’s really quite intuitive and straightforward. In the long run, working with manageably-sized proxy files will save you a huge amount of time and frustration, and ensure that your laptop doesn’t melt down in the process of creating your masterpiece. Ultimately, the extra effort you put in sensibly organizing your files and going through these steps carefully will be forgotten when it’s finally time to snap on your UHD TV and admire your handiwork.
The completed 4K video, “Komodo & Beyond,” created using the offline editing technique
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