When & Why You Should Edit Video With Proxy Footage
Be less frustrated and more creative with this one weird trick
This is a problem we all face at one point or another: You’re working with some large video files that play back fine on the timeline on their own, but as soon as you start adding effects and layering things, the computer can’t keep up.
Playback is stuttery and irratic, the timeline gets stuck, you can’t clearly see how effects are being rendered either. Some effects just crash the whole session.
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Time to buy a $10,000 God mode machine? Maybe, if you want. I like fast computers as much as anybody, but this is the brute force option.
You also might be able to get around the problem by clicking a few buttons with the computer you already have.
You need to setup Proxy footage. This is just lower resolution footage you render out that’s a lighter computational lift which is linked to your original full resolution footage.
The editing timeline shows you the proxy footage as you work so you can see what is going on, then when you hit Export, it replaces that proxy footage with the full resolution footage you originally linked to and you’re good to go.
Why Low Resolution Files Can be Exciting
This will speed up your editing time!
Maybe not so much if you’re just using clips cut together, but as soon as you start adding effects, transitions, or just want to use high resolution footage on a slower machine, this will keep your computer from dragging and getting too clunky.
Adobe Premiere, After Effects, and Resolve all have this capability and is one of those “pro” features that really will make your life easier, especially if you work on an older computer or need to edit footage with a laptop then want to switch back to the full resolution stuff when you’re back at the desktop machine.
This is probably the only time ever you are going to really excited about low resolution files so soak it up.
How To Do It
This is a highly Googlable thing, but I’ll walk you through it in Premiere since that’s where I’m living a lot these days (coming off a huge project that took over most of my life in June..but $$ so no complaints)
There are basically 3 simple steps.
Telling Premiere what you want to proxify
Rendering it out
Checking to make sure the footage is linked correctly
There’s also a toggle button that lets you flip between the regular footage and your proxies. If you have a lot of very high resolution footage, rendering it out might take a while so I’d allow some time for step 2.
Steps 1 & 2
First, go to your Project panel. If you can’t see it, you can add it from the menus
Window > Projects > yourprojectname
Now select all the footage you’ve added to the project and want to create proxies for and right click. Navigate to Proxy in the menu and hit Create Proxies.
This opens a dialog box with some codec options.
There are a couple codec options you can experiment with, but I get the best results using ProRes Medium or Low resolution formats. If you’re on a Mac this is almost certainly going to be the best option.
I don’t recommend using H.264 but if you want to try it just to see, no harm in doing so.
For the Destination, select the 2nd option to manually set it. Then hit Browse, make a new folder in the root domain of your project called “proxies” or whatever you want and hit OK.
Adobe Media Encoder will automatically render your proxies and link them to your project. This is the part that can take a while if you’re rendering out lots of footage.
How to check if your proxies are linked
Go back to the Project pane in Premiere. Each column has a bit of data about your footage like frame rate, duration, etc.
Right click on one of the columns and pick Metadata Display.
This opens another window. In the search bar of the Metaday Display window, search “proxy” and make sure the Proxy option is checked.
Back in the Project Pane, scroll over to the Proxy column and everything should say Attached that you proxified.
Also you can toggle the proxies on an off with this button (see giant red arrow below) in the video output pane. You will see a clear difference in the quality of the video, especially when zoomed in to a piece of the frame.
Once you get to this step, you should be good to go. Throw in some hungrier effects like Turbulent Displace and you will see a smoother, improved playback experience at the expense of some hard drive space and the time to render the Proxies for all your files.
Even if you don’t shoot video yourself in 4K, increasingly stock footage sites and video asset stores provide you video assets in higher resolutions whether you want it that way or not so it will help you to know how to set this up. No need to suffer through a stuttery edit.
Personally, I also prefer to download assets one time in the larger resolution rather than have to maintain duplicate copies of 4K and 1080 footage.
Why This Is Actually An Upgrade In Quality, Not Speed
The biggest complaint I hear about video editing is that it is very time consuming.
While true, workflow and setup optimizations like this help reduce the amount of time you spend fighting the machine and trying to get it to take orders like it’s supposed to. This will make you a bit faster for sure. An upgrade all of us will happily take.
While the increase in turnaround efficiency is always welcome, this is not the biggest benefit. You can optimize but at the end of the day only kick out edits so far.
The bigger win here is after a while the computer becomes like an extension of your body. Your fingers just start moving the mouse and keys without thinking. This does more than make the final file fall out the back of your computer in a shorter time interval.
This helps you access a truly creative flow state much easier. You become a lot less focused on technical crap and much more focused on what you want to happen on the screen.
Aside from flow states being tremendously beneficial to the body and mind, this opens up mental bandwidth.
You’re thinking more about the big picture of how your video is going to be recieved by the intended audience and since you’re generally moving more quickly, pursuing a spur of the moment idea has a lower time and energy cost. So what happens? You can try more shit and see if it sticks. You’re improvising more. This is a big part of developing some originality and style to your work.
Until next time.