Monday, August 26th, 2019

Using Video with Pro Tools

By Nick LucasFebruary 3, 2013


nick_lucas_bio2Nick Lucas
Hi, I’m Nick and I’m a Pro Tools columnist at Audio Times.  I started out producing music when I was 15, and now work under the pseudonym ‘Veranova’.  Having released various records, produced for up and coming artists such as Lewis Mokler, and composed for companies such as Morphsuits; I took an interest in teaching.  So I started Production Bytes, a source of video tutorials and products for music production; now my main business.  Thanks to the success of this I also took an interest in writing and have settled into a columnist role with Audio Times.  Which brings us to now.  Enjoy!

Working with video is one of Pro Tools’ most popular uses, with much of the film/broadcast industry working on the audio for video inside the platform.  However there are some quirks to get used to, and some good tips for first time users.  Which is this months subject!

I’ll keep this simple. I have a short film scene to add sound effects and music for, as-well as editing the on set dialogue and audio.  All the on set audio from the microphone is contained within the video file, so all I need to do is make any edits to that; and then add the music and sound effects.

First though I need to get my project set up and import my video.  I’m going to set it up for 24bit 48khz audio. Although not definitive (DVD audio can also be 24bit 96khz for instance), this is a popular standard for video audio.  Make sure you check with the video editor what he needs, of course!

1 project

Next up is to import your video and it’s audio.  Pro Tools supports a limited number of Video formats:

  • On Mac you are limited to Quicktime formats, usually ‘.Mov’ files.
  • On PC you also have the option of Windows Media formats, usually ‘.Wmv’ files.  For Quicktime support you will also need to install Quicktime player from Apple’s website.

It’s a good idea to request a supported format from the video editor, however if you are given an unsupported format you can use a free video converter like ‘Handbrake‘ to convert the file.

To import, simply use ‘File>Import>Video’. You can also press Ctrl+Alt+Shift+I (Cmd+Opt+Shift+I on Mac).  When importing video Pro Tools does not consolidate the file into the project folder, which is great when the file is large so you don’t end up with two copies.  But not so good if you’ve saved it somewhere like your desktop, or want the project to be easily portable. So before you import the video make sure it’s saved somewhere suitable, or maybe move it into the project folder yourself?

Once you have selected your video file, you’ll be presented with a further dialog.  Here you have 2 options. The Location which the video will be inserted at, and the option to import the video’s audio.

The ‘Location’ menu is a useful tool if you want the video to start at a point you know, and presents you with 4 options:

1. Session Start – Inserts the video at the very start of the project.

2. Song Start – Inserts the video at the ‘Song Start’ which can be moved via ‘Event>Time Operations>Move Song Start’, or by dragging the first Tempo marker along the timeline.

3. Selection – Inserts the video at your cursor or start of your selection.

4. Spot – Will present you with a further dialog to tell Pro Tools exactly where in any available Timecode (Timecode/Beats/Seconds/Etc) to insert the video from.

‘Session Start’ is probably the most commonly used, and I’m going to use that here. In this case I’ll also tick the ‘Import Audio from File’ option as the dialogue for the video is included in it’s audio. 

3 vid options

I’m next prompted for a folder to store the audio extracted from the video.  The dialog box defaults to the projects’ audio folder, so in most cases all you need to do is confirm this location. Now I’m presented with the following image.

There are a few useful controls on the Video track:

  • The Blue ‘o’ shows that the video is ‘online’, and clicking it will deactivate the video entirely.  Great if using video makes your editing performance sluggish on a slow computer.
  • Changing ‘Frames’ to ‘Blocks’ can also save you some processing power while you’re moving around the project. ‘Frames’ renders regular images from the video along the timeline Clip, and the closer in you zoom in the more frames you will see.  This is really useful for locating specific scenes, but takes CPU overhead because Pro Tools has to render these previews live. ‘Blocks’ effectively switches this off, so the clip just displays as a block.

The video viewer is resizeable and close-able, and to get it back once you’ve closed it you will need to use ‘Window>Video’ or Ctrl+Num9 (Cmd+Num9 on Mac)

With Pro Tools not being designed for video editing, that’s all you really get (as-well as being able to drag the clip around the timeline) for manipulating the video.  However there are some limited video editing functions in Pro Tools HD and the Complete Production Toolkit.

You also get the benefit from using one of these expansions of being able to import multiple video files into the same project.  However Pro Tools HD requires Avid Pro Tools HD hardware, and the Complete Production Toolkit comes in at quite a dear price for the average user.  So I won’t talk about those here.

4 imported

So now I’m ready to start adding sound effects and mix changes, right?

Well yes I could start working now, however currently my grid is set to ‘Bars & Beats’.  Great if I want to write a song, but video doesn’t divide into bars and beats. Video is broken into divisions of ‘frames’. Therefore positioning audio perfectly to a event in the video could be tricky at times.  But Pro Tools is accommodating of this.

Click the drop down menu to the left of the grid selection (Shown below), and select ‘Timecode’; then then select the ‘Timecode’ row which will appear below. This will divide your timeline into Hours, Minutes, Seconds, and importantly, Frames.  Meaning I can now align audio clips perfectly with frames where events occur in the video.

5 Timecode

I can now go about editing my audio and inserting sound effects like I would with any other project.  I can set my ‘Grid’ resolution to ‘1 Frame’ and then nudge audio clips one frame at a time using the + & – keys on the numpad, and the video viewer will show me the exact frame the clip start is aligned to.  Such a simple tip but it makes life much easier when aligning sounds like the cricket bat hitting our protagonist at the end of this scene.

In my case after several days of editing, composing, and recording foley. I ended up with this.

6 Final project small
Click Image to enlarge


The example video/project used in this article is called ‘Tadpole’ and is a short horror scene, available here:

Thanks to Alex Venn for letting me use the project as an example.

Nick Lucas
February 2013

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