A Journey to Pro Tools 12.6

By in Audio Post, Music Creation, Pro Mixing, Tech Talk

Some Good Folks

There is one thing I really want to share before we start.

This process – the journey towards getting some of the features in 12.6 out into the world – as well as my time at Avid has reinforced my feeling that I’m lucky to be working with some of the most passionate audio professionals and skilled engineers I have ever had the good fortunate to meet.

Equally we have had a group of enthusiastic and professional users following us through every step, making sure we delivered.

It has been a long, but satisfying process, with an end result that I’m hugely proud to have played even a very small part in. Thus I want to share some insight into how we made our way towards some of the new features in 12.6.


The Beginning

Let’s rewind a few years.

While meeting with one of our largest broadcast users in the Asia Pacific region, as we do from time to time, to update and talk with them about where Avid is going development wise across storage, video, audio and media management, we began discussing what they were looking for their next DAW solution in Post Production Audio.

We discussed how Avid could help their engineers and assistants in the Audio Department work more easily and efficiently, without significantly disrupting their established workflows used with their current tools. Additionally they also wanted the support and services that only Avid can provide across all our solutions, almost all of which they were already using.

Their reply was clear. “We are very interested in seeing what Avid can do and want to work together”. Equally clear were the features they wanted to see.

To make sense of what was being requested we had to really look at how they were using Pro Tools, other DAWS, consoles and how these fit into a workflow.

New features are great, but it’s how they contribute to getting the job done that’s really important.

As the team started looking at these individual ideas and requests, we had to ask whether they line up with other plans and requests, and whether they would be useful to other users as well. Overwhelmingly the answer was yes. “Let’s get to work!”

I don’t think there was any doubt from anyone involved, that what we were looking to undertake was going to be a challenge, and may require some potentially significant changes to the previous Pro Tools edit models.

It was the beginning of many meetings, scribbled notes, whiteboard drawings, rough design documents. These turned into engineering documents, internal task assignments, alpha demos, presentations, feedback, redesign, internal testing, on site testing, and a great strengthening of working relationships between regional offices and departments within Avid.

The truth is, dealing across multiple languages and time zones as well as various departments both internally and externally, there were a few delays and the occasional misunderstanding. However, everyone’s commitment was absolute. Each time we persevered, made the effort to include and listen to the customer’s feedback, and with some patience on their part, the small issues became just that – small in comparison to the goal.


The Essence

Condensed down to a theme, the aim and idea from the customer was to allow assistants and dialog editors to prepare a session more quickly, with as few mouse clicks and button pushes as possible, in a way that didn’t interfere with the mixers’ (often another person) ability to control the overall tone and levels of the same session.

If you are involved in Audio Post you know how daunting and time consuming it can be to receive a sizable AAF with potentially thousands upon thousands of clips, all of which might need some attention; be it adjustments to timeline position, fades, EQ, and Dynamics, all of which must be completed before the narration and mix process can begin.

Now multiply this by, for this customer, more than 40 mix rooms and literally hundreds of audio operators. You can easily understand that even small improvements are as valuable to the users, as they are to the staff managing schedules and budgets.


Previous 12.x Features Highlight

A few of the features that partly came out of this adventure, you will have already seen in recent versions of Pro Tools.

12.3 introduced Clip Transparency. This seems simple, but once it’s turned on, you will wonder how you ever got by in the past moving a little yellow box around.
Now, aligning dialog and music is much easier. As you move a clip, they become transparent so you can see what’s “underneath” and what you are moving. This means less trimming and potentially less tracks to achieve the desired result.

->Enable Clip Transparency in the View Menu under -> Clip -> Transparency

Also in 12.3 was a new Batch Fade Window. This feature included presets, shortcuts and advanced options that allow you to, for example, choose to leave fades that already exist, or change just the shape but not duration.

Another example would be selecting all the clips after an AAF import and adding new short fade ins/outs to smooth out the transition into and out of clips, while preserving any fades the editors may have used during the edit process. This can be a significant time saver.

->Try batch fade! Simply select multiple clips on the timeline, then hit Command + F to open the new batch fade window. You can recall a few presets using control +1-5 while the batch fade window is open. If you have an Eucon enabled surface, you can control these functions directly without having to use a keyboard.

12.6 Features!

A page and a half and we aren’t even onto 12.6 yet! So lets now have a look at some of the new features and the reasoning behind them. Although, I think as there are so few “rules” in audio, how people come to use these features will be as unique and numerous as the range of Pro Tools users around the world.

Clip Effects – Real-time clip by clip, input gain, polarity, EQ, Filters, and Dynamics, complete with shortcuts and presets. All this with a design goal to make it quick to use.

Depending on how and when you found your way into Pro Tools, this will be either 1) a welcome return 2) similar to something else you have used or 3) a new tool. In any case, this feature is bound to have a massive and positive impact on the way you work – much like how it would be difficult for me to go back to a version of Pro Tools that didn’t have Clip Gain.

The idea is to have a real time effect allowing an assistant or dialog editor to help prepare the audio on a track for easier and more creative mixing. Previously, AudioSuite processing or automation could be used. However, this meant the need for extra steps if you ever wanted to revert an AudioSuite render, and automation should ideally be free for the mixer to use,.

Throughout the design process, the team made sure to stick to the ideals of easy and quick access. The feature includes shortcuts for showing/hiding the clip effects window, preset selection, and copy/paste. You can either work on an individual clip or multiple clips. When multiple clips are selected, adjustments to individual parameters are applied to all selected clips, but settings for the other parameters are preserved. The clip effects are based on the ChannelStrip plugin, and all HD users have control over the clip effect settings, while all Pro Tools users can playback, render or bypass without any compatibility concerns.

->The Clip Effects control is accessible by clicking the icon in the universe bar or by the shortcut option+6(num). Also try turning on the numeric shortcuts for the presets in Preferences to quickly apply your settings. Again, the functions are accessible with Eucon softkeys enabling fast operation.

Layered Editing

If you’re like me and have spent the large majority of your career in Pro Tools, then some of you might wonder what the fuss is about the current Pro Tools editing model.

Pro Tools has always dealt with the track on the time line as “flat”. So, “deleting” a clip off the timeline results in a “hole” or blank space. The clip will still available in the Clips list. This makes a fair amount of sense when there are no other clips near by.

However, issues arise when you take a small clip, be it a narration drop in or small sound effect, and place it within the boundaries of another clip. When the small clip is deleted, there will now be a hole in the timeline.

If I wanted to repair this hole in the underlying clip, I could either trim the ends, or use “heal separation”. But that’s a lot of extra work, and I still might not be able to restore it to how it was before. And don’t we all know for whatever reason, once you lose that first arrangement, things never quite sound the same.

In 12.6, you can enable “Layered Editing” from the tool bar. So long as the underlapped clip is not fully covered by another clip, you can either move the overlapped clip away by dragging or nudging, or delete the clip to restore the underlapped clip to its previous untouched state.

While I recommend having a try, we have kept the legacy editing model because there are some workflows that require it, and some people will be happy to work as they always have. The development team always tries to retain the ability to use legacy workflows if at all possible.

This all sounds great! But what happens if I do fully cover a clip, either by recording, copying and pasting, or dragging a minute long atmosphere from the workspace and accidentally covering a group of off the screen clips further down the timeline.

That brings us to Playlist Improvements.

Playlists have always been a powerful tool. Unfortunately they often weren’t used in post production, and the main reason was the lack of an easy way to see whether there were any playlists on a track or not. Using someone else’s session, or even your own after some time, could mean a frustrating time hunting through the tracks in your session to look for alternate takes. This has now been addressed by the addition of a simple indicator, in blue, to show that other playlists are available.

While playlists are great, switching to Playlist Track View, potentially means losing valuable screen real estate. This could also cause confusion about which tracks were routed where, especially when using an external console. There is now an extremely simple Shift + ↑ or Shift + ↓ shortcut that cycles among your playlists on the tracks with the edit insertion. Using this shortcut, you can then easily copy and paste between playlists, or quickly toggle takes for directors or producers without having to mute/unmute various tracks.

Furthermore, there are options to send a clip, or selection of clips, to a particular playlist. If you do a lot of narration recording using custom session templates, you could make a narration track with pre-prepared playlists that are named with take numbers or a rating scale. Pretty useful stuff!

However, we still haven’t addressed the clip overlap issue.

In 12.6 there are new options in the Preferences that will automatically send a clip that is fully overlapped, either by recording or editing, to the next available playlist. This again, is implemented as an option, so the legacy workflows that users have been taking advantage of, are still available.

What do these options do? If a clip, or clips are completely covered either by a new recording, or by another clip via copy/paste or drag and drop (from OS Finder, Workspace, or Clips list), they will be safely stored, intelligently, on another playlist.

Playlists created by this function will be named according to the clip name. If you record over a contiguous arrangement of clips they will be moved together to another playlist.

12.6 also adds great visual indicators about what’s going on in your session, improvements to latency domain control for “in the box dubbing” on HDX, as well as the long awaited direct fade manipulation in the timeline.

I think if you’ve been feeling hesitant about upgrading, now is the time. Pro Tools, and especially Pro Tools HD, has never been more accessible.

I want to finish up this post with a few shout outs. To the Executive Team at Avid who supported us through this. The Pro Tools Product team, who listened, took up the challenge and made this happen. The Avid and Beta testers who make us all go back and check what we were thinking. My co-workers in the Japan Office who tirelessly translated and championed for our users. And most of all, the customers who sought to make a positive difference, not just for them, but all Pro Tools users.

Please check out the fantastic Pro Tools 12.6 overview videos from the Audio Application Specialist team.

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I’m a Kiwi living in Tokyo, Japan. From Audio Post and now an Audio Application Specialist at Avid, while staying in touch in the industry with the occasional spot of mixing and sound design for TV. Sound, music and technology have been my career for the last 17 years and my passion for a lifetime.