Premiere Creative Cloud User Interface on an HP Monitor

A look under the hood of video editing software can be daunting. There are a lot of parts that can be tweaked to customize how everything runs. A video editor doesn't need to be a certified engineer to optimize their software, but it sure helps if they're a little bit of a shade tree mechanic. With a little fine tuning and some basic maintenance a video editor can get their video editing software to run like a fine tuned sports car.

A video editor is usually concerned with what they can do with their video editing software, not what they can do to their video editing software. 

After Effects Preferences
Avid Media Composer Settings
For this reason there are many video editors who never take the time to figure out how their system can be optimized and instead keep everything running using the default presets. Fortunately, video editing software publishers, such as Adobe, Avid, Sony Creative, and Autodesk make it pretty easy for the average video editor to pop the hood and harmlessly monkey around with their system's settings. 

The Basics

There are some simple adjustments a video editor can make to their video editing system to help it run at optimal performance levels. These adjustments are all based on the assumption that a video editor's computer hardware is up to date and is able to handle the latest video editing software. Having the minimum amount of RAM required by the software doesn't always cut it when an editor is trying to get creative. Hard drive space can be an issue as well. Even though system architectures have changed over the years, it's still a good idea to have video editing software installed and running off of the system drive. Source media, on the other hand, should be stored on a separate drive that is fast and has the throughput to be able to play the media in real time.  When it comes to running the system, a video editor should do a clean boot up of their machine. A fresh start often takes care of little glitches from a machine that's been running for awhile. The video editing software should be the only program open at the time of operation, this helps insure that all available system resources are being poured into the task of video editing and not slowing things down. 


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Optimizing Adobe After Effects

Adobe After Effects is a standard piece of video effects software that is widely used by video editors. Part of what makes Adobe After Effects so powerful is not only its robust tool set, but the ways it can be optimized to help speed up the video editing workflow. It serves a great example of how to optimize software, as it is highly integrated with computer hardware and is commonly used in a video editor's workflow, regardless of which editing platform they work with.

The first place a video editor should go to optimize Adobe After Effects is the Preferences menu.

After Effects Preferences
After Effects Preferences
You can access this menu under the Adobe After Effects menu on a Mac, or in the edit menu on a PC. Finding and experimenting with the preferences menu in most video editing software can result in enhanced system performance. In Adobe After Effects, under the display tab in the Preferences menu, a video editor should check the box to Hardware Accelerate, Composition, Layer and Footage Panels. By default After Effects uses software processes to render everything. With this check box clicked After Effects will take full advantage of the system's hardware.

The hardware components of a video editing system play into how the video editing software performs. Hard drive usage plays a factor in system performance. Under the Media and Disk Cache tab of the Preferences menu, a user should make sure that Enable Disk Cache is selected and then choose a folder for the disk cache location. The folder should be on a fast drive that is always accessible to the system. An SSD is optimal, as there are no moving parts or mechanical systems to depend on.

Just as hard drive usage is an important part of hardware and software integration, so is RAM allocation. The more RAM made available for video editing software, the faster the overall system will perform, but there is a catch. If the computer itself doesn't have enough RAM to perform properly, it will weigh down on the video editing software. The trick is to allocate the maximum amount of RAM possible to the video editing software in use, while still making enough RAM available for the computer to operate. As stated earlier, it helps to only have the video editing software open when working on a project. After Effects helps the user allocate RAM under the 'Memory and Multiprocessing' tab of the Preferences menu.

With a little fine tuning and some basic maintenance a video editor can get their editing software to run like a fine tuned sports car.

A video editing software's working environment can be adjusted to optimize its performance. Adobe After Effects has no shortage of environmental adjustments. The composition window of After Effects is where a video editor does much of their work and where they are able to view a project in progress. The video editor doesn't always need to view their project at full resolution. The system will run faster if the resolution of the preview in the composition window is decreased, because it uses fewer system resources. There is an adaptive resolution icon at the bottom of the composition window, when clicked it gives the video editor the following options: Off (Final Quality), Adaptive Resolution, Draft, Fast Draft and Wireframe. Off (Final Quality) uses the most system resources and is the slowest. It helps a video editor to be precise in their work and to see the highest quality image they'll be able to output. Adaptive Resolution is a great option for working fast because the resolution of the composition window is contingent on what the video editor is doing. If there is nothing happening, the window will display a full resolution image. If the video editor is working, such as adjusting a parameter, the system will give a fast draft preview at a lower resolution. Once the adjustment is made the window will return to full resolution. The wireframe view is ideal for working fast when blocking multiple high resolution assets or 3D content. It shows the video editor a wireframe bounding box of the assets without rendering any of the image.

There are some simple workflow tips that will change a system's speed. If a project needs to be finished in 32-bit color, it's okay to do the initial work at an 8-bit color depth and then switch over once the set-up of the project is completed. The thing to remember here is that some effects will work at an 8-bit depth but are not able to perform correctly at 32-bit. Performing an offline edit of high-resolution video files, such R3D 4k, will be less taxing on system resources. The user can turn off effects when working on a project to speed things up. The project will hold up as long as the effects are turned back on for the render

Life in the Fast Lane

The road to success for a video editor is a long one, but it's wide open and the only speed limits are technical ones. A video editor is best served by being their own mechanic. By getting their hands dirty, a video editor can maximize the performance of their video editing software. All it takes is familiarity with the video editing software and what options for optimization are available. The best way to learn how to customize video editing software is to talk shop. There are plenty of people who use the same editing software and work on similar computer systems. Taking the time to chat about what's going on under the hood doesn't just build camaraderie, it's a great way to gain knowledge and share advice. A little tinkering can soup up the most stock video editing system and turn it into a hot rod editing bay that cruises in the fast lane. 


Adobe After Effects Secret Menu

After Effects Secret Menu
Just like In-and-Out Burger, Adobe After Effects has a secret menu.  Video editors can't place an order for a 4×4 or an Animal Style burger off the secret menu, but they can disable their layer cache to optimize Adobe After Effects for big renders. It's a menu that doesn't normally show up in After Effects and can only be found if the video editor knows how to call it up. This is more of a leftover artifact from the early days of After Effects, but it still comes in handy from time to time, and better yet, it's a fun fact to know. If a video editor is having problems rendering out of Adobe After Effects and continually gets an "out of memory" error, the secret menu is the way to go. In order to get to the secret menu, the user needs to hold down the 'Shift' key, navigate to the Adobe After Effects menu and select Preferences>General (On a PC, it’s in the edit menu). Once the 'Preferences' window opens the user can let go of the shift key. The navigation menu on the left hand side of the window should have 'Secret' as the bottom option in the menu. Inside the 'Secret' menu, the user can check the 'Disable Layer Cache' button and set the number of frames at which Adobe After Effects will purge the layer cache while rendering. It works best to purge every 0 or 1 frames. This will increase render time, but it will take care of those pesky "out of memory" errors.

Chris “Ace” Gates is a four time Emmy Award-winning writer and video producer.