By Mike McCarthy
It has been a little over a year since Loupedeck first announced support for Adobe’s Premiere Pro and After Effects thanks to its Loupedeck+ hardware interface panel. As you might know, Loupedeck was originally designed for Adobe Lightroom users. When Loupedeck was first introduced, I found myself wishing there was something similar for Premiere, so I was clearly pleased when that became a reality.
I was eager to test it and got one before starting editorial on a large feature film back in January. While I was knee-deep in the film, postPerspective’s Brady Betzel wrote a thorough review of the panel and how to use it in Premiere and Lightroom. My focus has been a bit different, working to find a way to make it a bit more user-friendly and looking for ways to take advantage of the tool’s immense array of possible functions.
I was looking forward to using the panel on a daily basis while editing the film (which I can’t name yet, sorry) because I would have three months of consistent time in Premiere to become familiar with it. The assistant editor on the film ordered a Loupedeck+ when he heard I had one. To our surprise, both of the panels sat idle for most of the duration of that project, even though we were using Premiere for 12 to 16 hours a day. There are a few reasons fo that from my own experience and perspective:
1) Using Premiere Pro 12 involved a delay — which made the controls, especially the dials, much less interactive — but that has been solved in Premiere 13. Unfortunately, we were stuck in version 12 on the film for larger reasons.
2) That said, even in Premiere 13, every time you rotate the dials, it sends a series of individual commands to Premiere that fills up your actions history with one or two adjustments. Pressing a dial resets its value to the default, which alleviates the need to undo that adjustment, but what about the other edit I just made before that? Long gone by that point. If you are just color correcting, this limitation isn’t an issue, but if you are alternating between making color adjustments and other fixes as you work through a sequence, this is a potential problem.
A solution? Limit each adjustment so that it’s seen as a single action until another value is adjusted or until a second or two go by — similar in principle to linear keyframe thinning, when you use sliders to make audio level adjustments.
3) Lastly, there was the issue of knowing what each button and dial would do, since there are a lot of them (40 buttons and 14 dials), and they are only marked for their functionality in Lightroom. I also couldn’t figure out how to map it to the functions I wanted to use the most. (The intrinsic motion effect values.)
The first issue will solve itself as I phase out Premiere 12 once this project is complete. The second could be resolved by some programming work by Loupedeck or Adobe, depending on where the limitations lie. Also, adding direct access to more functions in the Loupedeck utility would make it more useful to my workflows — specifically, the access to the motion effect values. But all of that hinges on me being able to remember the functions associated with each control, and those functions being more efficient than doing it with my mouse and keyboard.=
Dedicated Interface v. Mouse/Keyboard
The Loupedeck has led to a number of interesting debates about the utility of a dedicated interface for editing compared to a mouse and/or keyboard. I think this is a very interesting topic, as the interface between the system and the user is the heart of what we do. The monitor(s) and speakers are the flip side of that interface, completing the feedback loop. While I have little opinion on speakers because most of my work is visual, I have always been very into having the “best” monitorsolutions and figuring out exactly what “best” means.
It used to mean two 24-inch WUXGA panels, and then it meant a 30-inch LCD. Then I discovered that two 30-inch LCDs were too much for me to use effectively. Similarly, 4K had too many pixels for a 27-inch screen in Windows 7. An ultrawide 34-inch 3440×1440 is my current favorite, although my 32-inch 8K display is starting to grow on me now that Windows 10 can usually scale content on it smoothly.
Our monitor is how our computer communicates with us, and the mouse and keyboard are how we communicate with it. The QWERTY keyboard is a relic from the typewriter era, designed to be inefficient, to prevent jamming the keys. Other arrangements have been introduced but have not gained widespread popularity. The mouse is a much more flexible analog input device for giving more nuanced feedback. (Keys are only on or off, no in-between.) But it is not as efficient at discrete tasks as a keyboard shortcut, provided that you can remember it.
This conundrum has led to debates about the best or most efficient way of controlling applications on the system, and editors have some pretty strong opinions on the matter. I am not going to settle it once and for all, but I am going to attempt to step back and look at the bigger picture. Many full-time operators who have become accustomed to their applications are very fast using their keyboard shortcuts, and Avid didn’t even support mouse editing on the timeline until a few years ago. This leads many of those operators to think that keyboard shortcuts are the most efficient possible method of operating, dismissing the possibility that there might be better solutions. But I am confident that for people starting from scratch, they could be at least as efficient, if not more so, using an interface that was actually designed for what they are doing.
Loupedeck is by no means the first or only option in that regard. I have had a Contour Shuttle Pro 2 for many years and have used it on rare occasions for certain highly repetitive tasks. Blackmagic sells a number of physical interface options for Resolve, including its new editing keyboard, and there have been many others for color correction, which is the focus of the Loupedeck’s design as well.
Many people also use tablets or trackballs as a replacement for the mouse, but that usually is more about ergonomics and doesn’t compete with keyboard functionality. These other dedicated interfaces are designed to replace some of the keyboard and mouse functionality, but none of them totally replace the QWERTY keyboard, as we will still have to be able to type, to name files, insert titles, etc. But that is what a keyboard is designed to do, compared to pressing spacebar for playback or CTRL+K to add a layer slice. These functions are tasks that have been assigned to the keyboard for convenience, but they are not intrinsically connected with them.
There is no denying the keyboard is a fairly flexible digital input tool, consistently available on nearly all systems and designed to give your fingers lots of easily accessible options. Editors are hardly the only people repurposing it or attempting to use it to maximize efficiency in ways it wasn’t originally designed for. Gamers wear out their WASD keys because their functionality has nothing to do with their letter values and is entirely based on their position on the board. And while other interfaces have been marketed, most gamers are still using a QWERTY keyboard and mouse as their primary physical interface. People are taught the QWERTY keyboard from an early age to develop unconscious muscle memory and, ideally, to allow them to type as they think.
Once those unconscious links are developed, it is relatively easy to repurpose them for other uses. You think “T” and you press it without thinking about where it is. This is why the keyboard is so efficient as an input device, even outside of the tasks it was originally designed for. But what is preventing people from becoming as efficient with their other physical interfaces? Time with the device and good design are required. Controls have to be able to be identified by touch, without looking, to make that unconscious link possible, which is the reason for the bumps on your F and J keys. But those mental finger mappings may compete with your QWERTY muscle memory, which you are still going to need to be an effective operator, so certain people might be better off sticking with that.
If you are super-efficient with your keyboard shortcuts, and they do practically everything you need, then you are probably not in the target market for the Loupedeck or other dedicated interfaces. If you aren’t that efficient on your keyboard, or you do more analog tasks (color correction) that don’t take place with the discrete steps provided by a keyboard, then a dedicated interface might be more attractive to you. Ironically, my primary temp color tool on my recent film was Lumetri curves, which aren’t necessarily controlled by the Loupedeck.
That was more about contrast because “color” isn’t really my thing, but for someone who uses those tools that the Loupedeck is mapped to, I have no doubt the Loupedeck would be much faster than using mouse and keyboard for those functions. Mapping the dials to the position, scale and opacity values would improve my workflow, and that currently works great in After Effects, especially in 3D, but not in Premiere Pro (yet). Other functions like slipping and sliding clips are mapped to the Loupedeck dials, but they are not marked, making them very hard to learn. My solution to that is to label them.
Labeling the Loupedeck
I like the Loupedeck, but I have trouble keeping track of the huge variety of functions available, with four possible tasks assigned to each dial per application. Obviously, it would help if the functions were fairly consistent across applications, but currently, by default, they are not. There are some simple improvements that can be made, but not all of the same functions are available, even between Premiere and After Effects. Labeling the controls would be helpful, even just in the process of learning them, but they change between apps, so I don’t want to take a sharpie to the console itself.
The solution I devised was to make cutouts, which can be dropped over the controls, with the various functions labeled with color-coded text. There are 14 dials, 40 buttons and four lights that I had to account for in the cutout. I did separate label patterns for Premiere, After Effects and Photoshop. They were initially based on the Loupedeck’s default settings for those applications, but I have created custom cutouts that have more consistent functionality when switching between the various apps.
Loupedeck recently introduced the new Loupedeck CT (Creative Tool), which is selling for $550. At more than twice the price, it is half the size and labels the buttons and dials with LCD screens that change to reflect the functions available for whatever application and workspace you might be in. This offers a similar but static capability to the much larger set of controls available on the cheaper Loupedeck+.
Mike McCarthy is an online editor/workflow consultant with over 10 years of experience on feature films and commercials. He has been involved in pioneering new solutions for tapeless workflows, DSLR filmmaking and multi-screen and surround video experiences. Check out his site.