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How to correctly export a feature film from Premiere Pro.

Exporting…. 85%, 86%, 87%, EXPORT FAILED. Oh, the joy. Nothing is better than spending 2+ hrs exporting a 90-minute video to have it fail right before the finish line. Everything that was successfully rendered is gone and you have to start again. But what if… you could render it out in sections… or even in individual frames? Say hello to intermediate codecs and reels. Today we are going to look at a couple of ways to prevent export failures from slowing down your delivery and enabling you to meet those tight deadlines.

Don’t render your deliverables from the source footage.

Now, this is an ostensibly counter-intuitive point. Re-rendering files result in quality loss correct? Mmm… not quite. Re-rendering an h.264 file multiple times will result in noticeable quality loss. However, other codecs were developed specifically for multiple rendering passes. These codecs, also known as “finishing” codecs, include DPX Sequence, Avid DNxHR 444, and Apple ProRes 4444. One of these three codecs is what you need to use to render your “master file.” This master file can then be re-rendered into a deliverable codec such as h.264, h.265, or DCP with zero noticeable quality loss. For this guide, we will be focusing on Apple ProRes and DPX. Avid DNxHR 444 is equivalent to ProRes 4444 in pretty much every way but I prefer ProRes as it is more widely used in Premiere/Resolve/FCPX workflows.

Why should you render from a master?

Simple, the chance of something going wrong is significantly less. When working with a master file, there are no adjustment layers, no lumetri grades, no effects, no text layers, no REDcode, and nothing to complicate (or corrupt) the render process. You simply drag and drop the master file into Adobe Media Encoder and choose what deliverable codec you want. Easy. Okay, but the real question is, “How do you create the master?”

Creating the master – Apple ProRes 4444.

Big projects mean large file sizes. Your master file will be in hundreds of gigabytes. There is no way around that. However, you will be able to break that master file into chunks called “reels.” A project can be broken down into 2-6 Reels (averaging 30-45min each) and exported individually only to be brought back into Premiere, combined with final audio, and then re-exported as a deliverable.

Though this might sound like additional steps and storage space, this is one of the better ways to export your project. If we were to render the entire project from start to finish and an error occurred toward the end of the project, all the hours spent rendering the frames before would be completely lost. With the reel method, only that particular reel would have failed and you would still have your other reels that were completed successfully. Additionally, restarting a 45-minute sequence is a lot less painful than restarting a 2.5hr sequence. Even better, if you have multiple computers connected to a shared storage server (like a NAS), each computer can render out a reel simultaneously thereby saving a boatload of time.

There are considerations to be made, however. Reels add a significant amount of other complications such as ensuring there are no crazy edits between reels, keeping your audio in sync, and ensuring your timecode is sequential between reels (no restarting).

To use a Reel workflow you need to:

  1. Organize where you want to start/finish your reels before editing
  2. Ensure your reels are timecode sequential before export
  3. Align each reel within a master sequence
  4. Ensure that you have a master sequence with all reels and audio tracks for your post-sound team

Reel workflows are great if you a limited on storage and might not have the fastest machine but they certainly add a host of complications. This is why I recommend DPX Sequences as your master for almost all circumstances.

Creating the master – DPX Sequence

DPX is the best way to export complicated projects with a high chance of export failures. Why? a DPX sequence is just a bunch of sequentially numbered images in a folder. If your export fails, all frames prior are completely safe and you can restart the render. Additionally, these are 100% lossless with absolutely zero compression which makes them perfect for sending to color.

With DPX, you will want to choose the “Full Range (Match Source)” preset and hit render! If an export fails, simply go to the export folder, find the last frame it successfully rendered and continue the process from there. Remember, a 90-minute film exported in 6k will be around 8TB so make sure you have space.

DPX does not export audio so you will want to export an AAF to send to your post-audio team.

Creating the “Texas Master” – Where final color and audio merge

Congrats! Creating the initial master for color grading is the most time-consuming part of the export with the highest chance of failure. Rendering a single file from the DPX Sequence color provided and the final audio mix sound provided should have an extremely low chance of failure. This “Texas Master”, as it is referred to in the industry, will be a ProRes 4444. From that file (which should only be around 300-400GB), all other deliverables will be rendered from it. This includes versions for the web, DCP for cinemas, Blu-Ray Files, and various other flavors you might need. All of these different deliverables you need can be rendered simultaneously from Adobe Media Encoder.

In Conclusion

To recap:

  1. Render a DPX Sequence at “Full Range (Match Source)” for color
  2. Export an AAF for the audio mix
  3. Combine the DPX from color with the final audio mix
  4. Export a “Texas Master” ProRes 4444 with the “Match source” preset.
  5. Render all deliverables from your Texas Master
  6. Share with the world!

And that’s it! This is the standard feature export workflow for most films you watch today. Granted, workflows vary from production to production so you might need to tweak this workflow to meet your needs. However, this is an excellent starting point for most projects.

As usual, if you have any questions please leave a comment in the comment section.

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