Getting to know Direct Link
SpeedGrade CC 7.1 introduced Direct Link, a new type of integration which connects the editing and color grading workflows. We wanted to explain what Direct Link is, how it works, and how to get the most out of this cool new feature.
Direct Link vs. Dynamic Link
With Direct Link, the whole Premiere Pro project (.pproj) can be opened in SpeedGrade. No file conversions or XML-based translations are involved; you get the complete native Premiere Pro timeline, except that it’s in SpeedGrade.
Dynamic Link works between two applications running in parallel on the same machine (and sharing the same memory). Dynamic Link is great for doing work on specific clips. You get immediate feedback and can make changes on the fly moving back and forth between After Effects and Premiere Pro while you perfect a composition within your editing project.
Color grading is rarely done this way. Although you may do several color grading passes over the course of your postproduction workflow, color work is generally done on a whole project, for example to match shots to each other or apply creative looks across scenes or an entire project.
Unlike Dynamic Link, Direct Link can run between two different machines (and at different times). For a project-based workflow, this is more effective. Since Direct Link only works in one application at a time, all of your computer’s resources are available to that application.
Working with Direct Link
The most obvious advantage of Direct Link is the ability to save to a common project language. With Direct Link a .pproj file can now hold both editing and grading information. When you Direct Link to SpeedGrade, you’re presented with a rich timeline showing your video tracks, color-coded clips, adjustment layers, and dissolves. On the monitor, you see the footage represented exactly the way it looks in Premiere Pro, even including sophisticated effects such as Warp Stabilizer. Grading is applied to individual clips or adjustment layers. In Direct Link, all color grading tools in SpeedGrade, including the new features such as multiple masks, linked mask layers, and SpeedLooks are available.
When you go back to Premiere Pro, your grading is applied via the Lumetri Effect – you can easily turn looks (grades) on and off. But that’s not all it can do: when you change the length of a clip, the look will still work across the entire shot, not just the frames you saw in SpeedGrade. If you move a clip to a different position on the Premiere Pro timeline, the look travels with it. Change a wipe to a film dissolve, for example and there is no need to make any further color adjustments, the Lumetri Effect works its magic and the looks are correctly re-applied to each clip. The same is true if you add dissolves, or change the length of a dissolve.
If you use nested sequences to build a master sequence, Direct Link will serve you well: you can grade every nested sequence and every clip within it – as well as the resulting track in a master sequence. In SpeedGrade you can move interactively between these by using the new sequence selector button as you apply your color adjustments.
Things to be aware of when you’re using Direct Link
If you like working with grading tracks in SpeedGrade, create a cheat sheet of your typical grading setup in Premiere Pro. In other words, add your adjustment layers before you send to SpeedGrade: it is not currently not possible to add new grading tracks (aka adjustment layers) in SpeedGrade.
Performance in Direct Link isn’t fully optimized yet. While we hope you will have a lot of fun and a fluid grading experience on less complex jobs, Direct Link may not be the first choice for a client session right now. Multiple masks are pretty demanding, and even on an excellent workstation you might see a performance hit. If in doubt on a big project, run a quick test with the kind of material you plan to grade before switching from a classic workflow to Direct Link. Classic EDL workflows are fully supported in SpeedGrade.
On the subject of formats: one of the great benefits of Direct Link is that you can now bring so many more formats into SpeedGrade. However, there are some exceptions (please check the release notes for details), and some formats perform better than others. As noted above, run a quick test before beginning a new project.
Some of the shortcuts in SpeedGrade are different from those in Premiere Pro – such as how you move from from clip to clip: In SpeedGrade, use CMD + SHIFT + arrow keys (CTRL + SHIFT + arrow keys on windows). We’re working on a full list of shortcuts is coming – stay tuned!
There are some greyed-out tabs in SpeedGrade when using Direct Link. This is done for different reasons:
- The Media Browser is not available. This is because editing operations are confined to Premiere Pro in the Direct Link workflow, so you can’t add new clips to the timeline (or do any editing in Direct Link).
- The timeline tab is another area you currently can’t access. For changes to basic parameters such as frames per second, return to Premiere Pro and apply any changes there.
Helpful tips for Direct Link
If you need to change color space defaults on formats such as RED R3D or ARRI RAW, please do that in Premiere Pro using the source settings for the clips in your sequence. There’s currently no way to manipulate that in SpeedGrade itself.
Turning adjustment layers on and off is currently only possible in Premiere Pro. Before you send a project to SpeedGrade, be sure to enable all the layers you want to work with.
If you’re opening a Premiere Pro project in SpeedGrade and you see the media offline notification please open the project in Premiere Pro first, relink your media, then use Direct Link move to SpeedGrade.
This is just the beginning
Direct Link is still very new. In terms of engineering, the heavy lifting in implementing this new feature is complete. But there is still work to do in optimizing performance and fine-tuning some of the details of the workflow. If you have requests or suggestions, please let us know.