One of the most talked-about features of the new Avid Media Composer 3.0 is its ability to create real-time timecode burn-ins with no rendering necessary. For those of you still dealing with outrageous render times on an ancient Meridien system, I feel your pain. One of my fellow assistants recently introduced me to a nifty way to create a real-time timecode effect that takes a little while to set up but can save you countless hours of time down the road. It is most useful for tracking the running time of a sequence (as opposed to source timecode), since it relies on re-using the same timecode each time. As my example, I will be working in a 30i NTSC project with drop-frame timecode, but the steps can be modified easily based on the needs of your project. Ready? Here we go.

  1. Create a sequence of whatever length you want your timecode source to be. You want to make sure you will always have enough timecode to cover all of your material, so overestimate a little bit, but keep in mind that the longer the effect is, the more resources it will consume (your disk space and your precious spare time). I always start my outputs at hour one (01;00;00;00), with a slate and some black beforehand, so I will start my timecode at 00;59;30;00. I’m working on an hour-long show (42:50 of content), so I shouldn’t have any outputs that pass hour two (02;00;00;00).
  2. Drop a timecode effect into V1 and set it to start at 00;59;30;00. Position it wherever you want using the “X” and “Y” coordinates; if you use the following coordinates (in an NTSC project), it will be placed in the center of the frame horizontally, at the bottom of the standard title safe boundary: (-190, 335). You can move it around later, but might as well set it to where you will usually want it, for simplicity’s sake.
  3. Export a Quicktime movie of your sequence, using whatever settings you desire. You can decrease the frame size or increase the compression of your movie to save time and disk space, or you can export “Same as source” for the highest possible quality. (Alternatively, you can output to tape if you are short on disk space.)
  4. Make yourself a sandwich, do your laundry, or go for a jog.
  5. Once your movie file has been created (anywhere from 5 minutes to 5 hours later), import it back into Media Composer as its own master clip. (If you made a tape instead, simply capture it as you would a normal source tape.)
  6. Create a new sequence consisting of the entire imported clip. Now add a Picture-in-Picture effect onto the clip, and set the parameters to crop the image to the region containing the timecode.
  7. You can now lay this track (including both the timecode master clip and its overlying PIP effect) into the topmost layer of any sequence to superimpose the timecode effect, and you won’t have to render a thing! You can even move the window around the screen at will, using the PIP effect parameters. I like to move the timecode to the top of the title safe boundary every time there’s a lower-third that’s obstructed. It’s as simple as adding an edit and changing the PIP parameters (“V Pos” under the “Position” heading).

While you may not be able to create a real-time timecode burn-in with the ease and flexibility of the newest version of Media Composer, this handy shortcut could save you a boatload of time and make that finicky little Horita box sitting on your desk obsolete.