In this article, we’ll explain what timecode is, and how to add it in Adobe Premiere Pro.
In 1967, a pioneering company called EECO was the first to devise a system of reference for widely-broadcast media. The novel solution that it came up with? Timecode.
If you’ve ever watched a behind-the-scenes featurette about one of your favorite movies, you’ve probably noticed a string of seemingly-random numbers wracking wildly at the bottom of the blooper reel. What exactly are these numbers used for, and how do you add them to your own film?
What Is SMPTE Timecode?
SMPTE timecode, the specification outlined in SMPTE 12M-1 and SMPTE 12M-2, is the standard that the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers adheres to when synchronizing for exhibition or broadcast.
Originally, EECO used timecode when filming stage productions using more than one camera. Each camera would begin on the same timecode frame number, running on this established standard throughout the entirety of the shoot.
This eliminated the need to synchronize each feed of footage with the others manually, allowing those in post-production to bring each source of coverage together quickly, coherently, and without error.
In Premiere Pro, timecode is an on-screen account of how far from the beginning of the sequence or the beginning of the source clip the frame in question is. It can help you quickly identify a shot in your sequence should the need to revisit it arise later on.
SMPTE format: hour:minute:second:frame. Each value is generated continuously and in sequence.
How to Create a Timecode Burn-In with Premiere Pro
From the Effects panel, you can apply a Timecode effect to your footage. This will display your source timecode over the video; you can nest your entire sequence before doing this if you would like one single continuous run. You can choose whether it’s displayed in SMPTE format, frames, or feet and frames, which is useful if you’ve shot your project on film stock.
This is only one way of creating a timecode burn-in, however. Another way is to wait until you’re ready to export the entire project.
In the Export Settings menu, hop over to the Effects tab. Scroll down until you hit the Timecode Overlay option. You can enable it with the checkbox.
From here, you can decide where you want to put it and if you want the timecode to refer to the media file or the sequence itself. Send it off to Media Encoder and you’ll be on your way.
Adding Timecode to Your Dailies
Finally, we come to probably the most powerful way to use timecode burn-ins in Premiere Pro: using them to identify dailies as you work your way through post.
If you’re editing with proxies, you can modify the Preset that you apply to them in Media Encoder to include a timecode burn-in that corresponds to the source material’s native timecode. Then, when you bring your newly-rendered proxies into Premiere, you will be able to keep track of things, like choice takes and important days on set, as you edit the project.
Select your Preset of choice in Media Encoder and pull up the Preset Settings. Under Effects, scroll down until you find the same Timecode Overlay option.
Save a copy of the Preset with your desired settings included, proceeding as usual. This workflow is especially useful if you are working in a documentary setting or with few on-set notes from the shoot itself.
Timecode in Premiere Pro: Burn, Baby, Burn
Is there anything that makes a DIY filmmaking project feel cooler and more authentic than a timecode burn-in? If there is, we haven’t seen it.
If you’ve carried your timecode burn-in with you throughout the entire project pipeline, even more satisfying will be the moment that you pull it off of your final version like a band-aid. Now, suddenly, you’re watching a real movie.
Premiere Pro is packed with an array of powerful video editing tools, but these are some of the most useful.
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