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What is non-linear editing?

October, 29 2019

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James Varndell
Written By
James Varndell

If you’re new to editing, you might not know the different kinds of ways you can edit. While not the most well-known method, non-linear editing is one of them. Understanding the utility of non-linear editing, and how to make the most of this modern editing technique will be critical to your success.

If you wanted to edit a video in the past, you had to do so “linearly.” In effect, you had to work your way through a film sequentially, from start to finish, literally cutting parts of the film and splicing them together if you were using an old-fashioned reel. While it worked well, it always constrained editors, forcing them to make changes in a specific order, save copies of original sequences, and create complicated modification histories. 

Non-linear editing is different. Instead of having to make edits in a pre-defined sequence, this new kind of editing allows editors to make changes when and where they like. Non-linear editing uses digital tools to enable editors to avoid the need to store multiple copies and can even integrate with modern film software. 

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Non-linear editing vs. linear editing

Non-linear editing offers various pros over its predecessor. There are, however, some instances in which linear editing still excels. 

Pros of Non-Linear Editing

  • Flexibility — Non-linear editing allows you to move individual segments of recorded sequences around with drag and drop tools. 
  • View “work in progress” in real-time Non-linear editing allows you to view the effects of your editing immediately after performing the action without delay, letting you test your changes. 
  • Make changes without affecting the rest of the edit — Non-linear editing lets video editors make changes at any point in the video sequence without needing to lay down video in real-time. 
  • Generate fewer copies — Non-linear editing stores original sequences in a smart way, reducing the need for multiple copies, saving both time and storage costs. 

Pros Of Linear Editing

  • Simple and intuitive — Linear editing remains intuitive and straightforward. There are also fewer compatibility issues. 
  • Can be faster for some jobs — Linear editing can be faster when all you want to do is merge two segments of video. 
  • It’s easier to learn — Learning non-linear editing can be a challenge, even if it’s more useful. Linear editing, on the other hand, is simpler to understand. 

Common non-linear editing software

Practically all modern video editing software is non-linear. While early versions were treated with skepticism by those in the industry, newer varieties offered so many features that the benefits soon outweighed the costs. 

Common non-linear editing software includes Adobe Premiere Pro and Avid Media Composer, Final Cut Pro, Sony Vegas Pro, Grass Valley Edius, Apple iMovie, Windows Movie Maker, Adobe Premiere Elements and DaVinci Resolve which is gaining popularity. Furthermore, paid tools offer more features and support than those that are free. 

How to make the most out of a non-linear approach 

While the transition from linear to non-linear was undoubtedly a massive boon to the video editing industry, it threw up a new crop of problems. One of the most significant issues was the fact that it was becoming more and more challenging to track all of the metadata associated with video edits. It was hard to interpret native video edit histories and see a paper trail of what a specific editor had done, and what they hadn’t. 

How metadata can be used

It soon became apparent that editors needed some way of organizing and using the metadata associated with their editing. They needed software that would allow them to search, sort and label all the changes that they made. And, most importantly, they needed tools that would integrate with their existing non-linear video-editing solutions, such as Adobe Premiere Pro and Avid Media Composer.

This is why VAM or video asset management software is so beneficial. It helps editors manage their metadata and keep track of their footage. Instead of doing everything by hand, it plugs into leading video editing packages and automates the process, cutting down on admin time enormously and speeding up the entire process. 

What’s more, because VAM automatically generates an audit trail, other editors can access it through the cloud and work on projects in real-time. Since editing metadata is available to all editors, two or more editors can work on the same project independently, even if they are in remote locations. Thus, not only is VAM a tool that makes non-linear editing more manageable, but also more scalable. Multiple editors can all access the same project through the cloud and make alterations in real-time without interrupting the workflow of any other. 

Making the most of object recognition

The next phase in the development of VAM was in object recognition. With advances in neural nets, smart software is now able to trawl video segments for images and sounds and then assign them to known categories. It sounds complicated, but it isn’t. 

Suppose, for instance, you purchase a VAM software that has speech recognition. The software can create a transcript of the sounds in the video with high accuracy. An editor can then search that transcript to find the appropriate location in the video, massively cutting down on search time. 

A similar thing is happening with images. Suppose that the editor wants to search for a “tree” or “sunset.” Instead of rifling through the whole video (which could be hours long) looking for trees and sunsets, the editor can just search for the images that they want, as they might on Google, and up pops all instances that the computer recognizes. 

The knock-on benefits for metadata creation are enormous. Instead of an editor manually creating labels and tags, VAM does it for them, increasing visibility and utility, making repurposing much easier. 

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The future of modern video production

The transition from linear to non-linear editing at the end of the 1990s and beginning of the 2000s was seismic in the video production world. All of a sudden, editors had dramatically more freedom in their work. But what’s so interesting about non-linear editing is how it appears we’re only at the start of what’s possible for modern video production workflows. 

As artificial intelligence improves and gets better at recognizing and interpreting objects, it will shorten editing cycles and make them more efficient. The collaborative aspects of the cloud will also allow video editing to become more distributed without any additional administrative complexity. 

The future of more efficient video production workflows lies in non-linear editing and the increasing use of VAM which utilizes features like AI and object recognition. Are you ready to take advantage of this tech?

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