x264 encoder and final export

My last bit of concern was with exporting to a delivery codec (H264 being the most popular one, in a widely international MP4 container) of the highest possible quality. After multiple test exports from Premiere I noticed serve cases of banding and other artefacts, even when set at an incredibly high bitrate. I did some research and found people complaining about the same thing too, issue being Premiere’s poor implementation of MainConcept AVC (Premiere’s H264 encoder).

BandingExamples of quality loss in the export tests

The best H264 encoder in the world is the open source x264. But how would I export directly from Premiere using x264? I could go from Premiere to Intermediate to x264 encode but I would rather skip the middle part because it’s pointless, wastes time and resources and ‘could’ result in quality loss. It takes about 8 hours to export 15mins of 4k footage into 1080p (has to downsize, crop the shot, crop to aspect ratio, sharpen, any other effects, etc). The answer was either X264PRO or Sorenson Squeeze. The former attached a watermark under trial usage so the latter proved far more superior – you configure the preset in Squeeze itself and then it appears in the Premiere export window, which very neat and user-friendly. X264 offers far more advanced finely tuned profiles (film, grain, etc, based on content), presets for encoding (ultrafast to placebo, the slower the encode the better the quality) and AVC profiles. To obtain the best possible export (and bearing in mind that it takes 8 hours already to process 4k) I learned that:

  • Selecting the placebo (slowest) preset will add on an extra 4-5 hours. This allows the encoder to utilise every single tool it has to compress and retain every single amount of detail. This makes the redcode raw footage to be almost indistinguishable with this x264 export.
  • Tuned for a ‘film’ look to retain grain and colour with the best possible compression & quality AVC profile (high) and a level of 5.1 to support it all the advanced settings the placebo preset supports.
  • Making each frame a keyframe ensures each frame is of the highest possible quality – no need for reference frames.
  • A high bitrate of 35000Kbps is merely a bonus to ensure quality is upheld throughout; based on all these settings the encoder will handle the rest. A bitrate of 12000Kbps is suitable for delivery (1.2GB).
  • I am cropping the resolution to 1920×816 in this program; every important setting should be set in this program because I will not have a chance to do it on Premiere.
  • A nice and subtle sharpen filter to make everything ‘pop’

SqueezeThe final export settings on Sorenson Squeeze

PremiereExport…and the preset available on Premiere (middle right)

This gives me a total file size of only 3.7GB, which is decent. At this stage I do not need to compress it further because this is suitable for the web as well as film festivals. I am a quality freak and I have discovered the secret recipe of insane and efficient quality. I have visually tested this x264 export against DNxHD/Cineform HD/ProRes 4444 and it is to the eye, identical. Don’t get me wrong though, intermediate codecs are used to preserve the data the eye doesn’t see for post work. x264 actually holds its own at an incredibly low file size in comparison. This is the reason why the encoder has won many awards in recent years, it is simply the best.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X264

No bandingFinal H264 export – minimal quality loss

Creating the poster

I was tasked to create the poster thanks to my knowledge in Photoshop. I wanted a really unique design and avoid mainstream poster clichés. The writer really wanted to include the male and female symbols in the poster so I came up with a clever idea to incorporate that. The male symbol is split with Ted and Levis to imply that they are fighting over a woman; Grace who is within the crossing female symbol which implies the winner will take her home. All of this amongst a nightclub inspired background. “Assert Your Dominance” the tagline reads, the whole premise of the film. The one who dominates, is the one who wins.

End-of-Nights-posterPoster design

Conclusion

Post-production on this project was fantastic. I wanted to push myself to the limits by working with a Red for the first time and that I did. It was a whole new experience; I had never in my life used a 4K camera, let alone a Red. The professional post-production program from Red was incredible to use and gave me some really important experience that I can put onto my CV. I was also able to bring life to this film and increase my editing skills a tenfold. I spent many sleepless nights fine-tuning every single edit, crop and adjustment to absolute perfection. Each 15 min film that I do gives me much more knowledge and experience than I can imagine. I love every minute of it and I just want to make more films.

Screenshot (43)Film on the timeline, graded, sound design complete and ready for final export

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