OMF Is My Ham

There’s an old story about grandma’s ham. It seems before she put it in the oven she’d saw off part of the bone. Her daughter followed this tradition in hopes of making a ham that tasted just as good as her mom’s.

Finally, the third generation cook paused before getting ready to continue the cut-off tradition. She couldn’t understand why her grandmother would do this. Conveniently, Grammy was holding court in the living room.

Daughter interrupted her to ask why cutting off part of the bone made the ham taste better. “Taste better? I just did it to get it to fit in the pan!”

I’m convinced that story was actually created in reverse—that someone wanted to make a point about the importance of always asking questions. Yet another fable about blindly trusting what you’ve been told.

In any event, I get to use it. Finally.

I was reminded of it as I investigated some of my current workflows from edit to audio. These days, I receive more and more diverse audio elements from shoots. Sometimes all I get is camera audio—on 2 tracks, 4 tracks or 8 tracks. Often, only some of those tracks contain actual audio.

In other cases, I get separate audio tracks, recorded on a separate audio recorder and engineered. Or, sometimes I get a combination of both. And even with separate audio recordings, the actual tracks might be mono or stereo. The variability makes setting up projects interesting.

But back to the ham.

I got into a conversation with an audio engineer about best practices for moving my edits into audio sessions. We compared notes about what kind of source files I was dealing with. And we talked about the usual options—OMF (Open Media Framework) and AAF (Advanced Authoring Format)—for moving projects into the audio suite.

I’ve talked about this process before.

OMF is my ham. It works and has been working for years. I also deliver AAF and that works too. But OMF has been comfortable, so I use it. However, with access to a patient audio mixer, I decided to test my assumptions. I started asking questions about the difference and pros and cons as I went through all of the various situations, both on the source track side and on the OMF/AAF export side. I confirmed a lot of assumptions but also learned some new things about how metadata is handled during the transfer.

And that’s how I learned that being “comfortable” can lead to loss of metadata. I had assumed that an AAF would contain a few more bits of metadata than OMF, but I didn’t realize there were metadata issues among the different methods of exporting AAFs.

If you export an AAF with the “Separate Audio” option, as opposed to “Embedded,” then you get accurate timestamps on all the audio source files. And by accurate, I mean you get the timestamps the field audio engineer wanted to put on the files.

Now, whether that metadata is important depends on the situation. Maybe for 99% of the cases, it isn’t helpful. But now I know and can decide whether to use AAF versus OMF and embedded versus separate.

Instead of assuming what works and why, putting it to the test allows you to make better decisions on your workflow—and your ham.