Over the past several years, the TIFF Sequence file format as become my Holy Grail for Rendering & Archiving. Not only has it saved my ass more than once when I had to render/export last minute updates, but it also is my Go To Method for Green Screen (Chroma Key), that is, if your value time and your computer’s storage. What I’m about to explain applies more to individual/freelancer work and small teams (well I haven’t had the chance to test it out in a full blown production team, so if you are part of a bigger team and this works for you, feel free to share your thoughts).
Advantages & Disadvantages
Before I dig too deep into this Workflow, I want to go over some of the ups and downs of using TIFF Sequence.
Smoother playback: In Premiere Pro and After Effects, your video will have better playback. This is even more significant when you compare Keyed Footage vs Footage containing stacked Effects that hasn’t been yet rendered.
Final project takes less time to export: This doesn’t only apply to TIFF Seq, but anytime you have pre-rendered footage in your Composition/Sequence. For example, with Green Screen, if I key out the background, apply all the necessary effects and export the footage right away (yes this export is an extra step that can take hours), it will decrease the final render time of the project and speed up the workflow as After Effects won’t have to always apply/calculate the keying effects. So if we take that logic, say your keyed footage takes 4 hours to export and your main project takes 2 hours, we are looking a total of 6 hours. Now on the other side, if we work with the stacked keyed effects without pre-rendering them, the main project will take 6 hours to export. At this point, there is no difference, but if you have to make changes and re-export, you are looking at another 6 hours instead of 2 hours (plus all the extra work you are putting on your CPU while working in the project). Understand where I am going with this!? You are saving time…over time!
Audio Channel is in a separate file: This, in my opinion, is an advantage as you can focus on Mastering and Mixing the audio in Adobe Audition. Some may find that this an extra step, but remember that audio only takes a couple of seconds to export.
Multi-Machine Export: Now this is where things get interesting. If you have more than one computer, you can utilize the available processing power to speed up renders.
Crash safe: Rendering a composition that takes several hours to export, in a video format, can be extremely frustrating when your computer starts acting funny, freezes or shuts down. With TIFF Seq you can continue rendering where you left off…. with video renders, you have to restart from scratch.
Export only a specific part: Say you rendered your entire project as a TIFF Seq and created an MP4 for a client to review, and your client requests a change that only impacts 30 seconds of the entire video. Well with TIFF Seq you can only re-render that part and compile the final video in a fraction of the time it would take you to render/re-export the entire project. Huge time saver!
Great for Archiving: If you plan on zipping your entire project, you will notice that with video, you don’t save a lot of space. That is because video doesn’t get compressed in a Zip. On the other hand, TIFF is a picture format and can be compressed in a Zip. So if you only keep your TIFF files instead of the video source files, you will save an insane amount of space on your hard drive. In my test, the uncompressed folder was 256 GB, but once zipped with 7zip, the total space used was only 30 GB. This is a great space saver once you decide to archive your projects.
File size is bigger: The TIFF Sequence might take more hard drive space. This can get problematic if you have limited storage. In my test, my original uncompressed QuickTime file was 23.7GB vs 32.6GB for the TIFF Sequence.
Initial Export is an extra step and takes time: As noted above, exporting a TIFF Seq is an extra step in your workflow. Not only do you use up more storage, but you also have to take in consideration the extra time it will take to export the sequence before things get beneficial.
TIFF Sequence with Alpha only available in After Effects: This is important if you work with keyed footage or motion graphics that require transparency. TIFF Seq can be exported via AME (Adobe Media Encoder) with AE or Premiere, but without Alpha/Transparency. In other words, you need to leave your After Effects open to export TIFF Seq with Alpha. You can batch multiple projects into one project via Dynamic Link, but once you hit that render button, your After Effects gets “locked” and you can’t use it anymore (unless you use a plugin that allows you to run multiple instances of AE).
Extra step to compile final clip for viewing out of your editing software: This has be the one that irritates me the most. As I explained above, TIFF Seq is great if you need to simply update a certain part of your project as you only need to render that specific part. But, as TIFF is an image format with no audio, you need to import your TIFF Seq and audio into a new composition to export to a video format. The final export is pretty fast, but still, having to do these extra steps can get frustrating…especially during a rush (setting up a reminder so that you compile the video and export it). I did manage to do some research on the subject and I might have a couple of solutions to this, but it invokes the usage of 3rd party plug-ins.
Step 1: Get Started
First thing first, determine on what exactly you plan on using a TIFF Sequence. As mentioned above, it can be used for keyed out footage or motion graphics elements that you don’t plan on editing. It could also be used to prep source files for archiving (think of transcoding your RAW footage to TIFF). For me, the workflow I have adopted for Green Screen footage is simple. I do my initial cuts in Premiere, import that footage in After Effects via Dinamic Link and apply the keying effects (plus color correction, sharpening and noise removal). Once I am satisfied with the result (a simple preview of a couple of seconds can take a couple of minutes to generate on my overclocked i7 running at 4.6GHz with 64GB of RAM and a bunch of SSDS!), I add the compositions to the Render Queue and let it render over night. At morning, I can import my footage and work with it in almost real time (as real time as AE can get!).
Step 2: Render Queue
Time to add the composition to the Render Queue. Select your Comp and in the top menu select Composition > Add to Render Queue (or CTRL+M) . In the Render Queue, leave the Render Settings to Best Settings and change the Output Module to TIFF Sequence with Alpha. For the Output, click on Not yet specified to select the destination folder where you want you the TIFF Seq to be saved. In the Windows Dialogue Box, leave the _[#####] for the file name (this will be the file name increment) and leave the checkbox Save in subfolder checked if you want AE to create a folder automatically. If your footage has audio, don’t forget to export it. You can simply do that by hitting the “+” sign next to the “Output To:” and selecting WAV as your Output Module. Once ready, hit that Render button.
Once your Render is done, it’s time to import your sequence. But first, you need to double check your Import Settings in AE. To do so, go to Edit > Preferences > Import… In dialogue box, set the Sequence Footage frames per second to match the one of your exported footage. This is important, as if you have the wrong Import frame rate, it can screw up your workflow/timings.
Now, time to import the sequence. You can do so by going to File > Import > File… or by doing CTRL + I. In the dialogue box, go to your TIFF Sequence folder that you just exported and select the first image. In the Sequence Options, make sure TIF Sequence is checked. Now click Import.
A dialog box will open in AE to validate how to interpret the Alpha channel (transparency). If you didn’t use any alpha channel, you can simply click OK. If your footage does have transparency, click on Guess. AE will guess the best setting. You can always edit these options (simply right click the imported footage and go to Interpret Footage > Main…). You will now see your TIFF Sequence as one element (footage) in AE. If you select it, you will see its properties.
Once you are done with your project and it has been exported in TIFF Sequence, you need to import it so you can create a video file format (for example MOV/MP4). You can do so by following Step 3 and exporting the clip in the video format of your choice. If you have the Creative Cloud license, I strongly suggest to use Premiere Pro to export your TIFF Seq to your video format of choice. Because of the Mercury Engine, the export is way faster.
Step 5: Edit & Update
If you need to make some edits and simply re-export parts of your project, you can easily do this with TIFF Seq. Follow Steps 1 & 2. In the Render Queue, click on Best Settings. In the dialogue box, click on Custom… (bottom right corner). In the dialogue box Custom Time Span, select your Start and End (this should be the timing of the footage you have edited). Please note that your File Name should be the same as the original you have exported. I also suggest exporting to a different folder, in case something goes wrong.
Once the render is done, you can simply copy & past those frames onto your folder containing your entire TIFF Seq. this will replace the old frames. This will dynamically update your TIFF Footage.
As always, if you have comments and questions, don’t hesitate to leave some below.
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