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[Pr] First Steps with Automation Blocks

Wow! So you've decided to take your workflows in Premiere Pro to the next level - great to have you on board! As with any tool that gives you superhero powers, Automation Blocks comes with a learning curve. But don't worry, this quick tutorial will teach you all the basics. Along the way, we'll also create a useful script that imports all your footage from a certain folder and inserts it into a new sequence. Time to get your superhero cape out of the closet!

The User Interface

First, open the Automation Blocks user interface with the menu command Window->Extensions->Automation Blocks.

comment example

Ignore the Automation Blocks Launcher for now. The launcher offers a quick way to just execute scripts, whereas the Automation Blocks main panel gives you the full editor. The editor looks like this:

comment example
  • Toolbar: Here you can run the currently open script, and load and save scripts. On the far right side of the toolbar, you'll find the "Help" button, which opens the online help.
  • Script Panel: This is where you can see and change the currently open block script. By default, it just contains a comment block and an open web page block. These are special blocks which have no influence on the script at all - they are just used for documentation. If you click on the play button of the open web page block, for example, it opens the Automation Blocks documentation. We'll take a look at some more exciting blocks in a second.
  • Block Library: Here you'll find all the blocks that are included in Automation Blocks. Since there are quite a few block types, they are grouped into categories. Just click on a category to see all the blocks included in it. To add a block to your script, just drag & drop it from the block library to the script panel.
  • Script Library: This is where you'll find all the example scripts that come with Automation Blocks. Once you've started creating your own scripts, they will show up here, too (in the User Library section).
  • Console: After you execute a script, the console shows if it was executed successfully, or if it failed (in which case you'll find an error message with more details, too). Scripts can also produce status output to explain what they are currently doing. All this output will show up in the console, too.

Your First Script

Adding a Block

Let's first get rid of the default blocks in the script panel by clicking the "New" button of the toolbar. Now, in the block library, we open the category Pr Project and drag the Sync Folder block into the script panel (click on the image to play the screen recording):

This block can import an entire folder on your hard-drive into the currently open Premiere Pro project. If the folder contains subfolders, it will create subbins into the project, too. Even better: before importing anything, the block checks if the project bin already contains any of the files and if so, it won't import those a second time. So this block is like an intern that you can ask "Hey, could you please take a look at this folder and check if all of it is imported properly into that project bin?"

Now I've told you what this block is doing, but in general, how do you figure out exactly what a block does? Just right-click on any block and choose "help" to get an in-depth documentation of what it does.

Now let's adjust the block to our needs! All we need to do is choose the folder that you want to import. Just click on the folder icon at the top right of the block and then choose a folder in the "Open Folder" dialog that pops up. Make sure that the folder actually contains some footage, so we have something we can import.

Run the Script

Now it's time to run your script! Just click the Run Script button and see what happens!

As you can see, in the project a bin "bin" appeared with another bin "subbin" inside - and this includes all the footage from the folder we chose! These bins have been created because we set the parameter project bin of the block to bin\subbin. Of course, you can enter a more meaningful name like footage here. If you work with subbins, make sure to use a "\" and not a "/"!

Backslash vs Slash

For the path of a project item (i.e. a bin, sequence, footage etc. inside your project), Automation blocks always uses a backslash \ whereas for file or folder paths (which represent a location on your hard-drive and not inside your project), you can use both / or \ (the latter is usually used on Windows).

slash vs backslash

The Console

Please run the script again (or watch the animated gif above again) and focus on what happens in Automation Block's console. At the top of the console, you'll first see a blue ...still running... message indicating that the script is still busy importing the footage. When you run the script for the first time, it can take a while - depending on how much footage you have in that folder. If you run the script a second time, the message will disappear very fast (since there is no new footage to import). When the green DONE message appears, you know that the script has finished its job without any errors.

console done

The other text that shows up in the console is created by the blocks while they do their job. What exactly you see there depends on the block - our sync folder block, for example, prints a check file message whenever it checks if a particular file has been imported before. In case it found new files which need to be imported, it also prints an import file message for each of those files. Some other blocks don't write anything to the console, or only if they run into any issues.

These detailed outputs can be a lifesaver for troubleshooting, since they give you a good overview of what exactly a block is doing - it's like a logbook of the script execution. But as long as your script does what you want, you can ignore them.

Now, let's provoke an error: we'll replace the folder path of the block with another text saying whatever. Assuming that you don't have a folder with that name in the root folder of your file system, the block should have trouble importing footage from that location. And as you can see, this time the console shows a red ERROR message with a helpful description:

Saving Your Script

Great work - you've just written your very first script! So let's save it by clicking on the Save button of the toolbar. After you've saved the script, it also shows up in the script library panel:

Note that scripts are just simple, self-contained xml files. If you want to restructure your library, or delete or rename scripts, just open the library folder with Windows Explorer or Mac OS Finder and move/delete/rename the files to your liking.

User Library Location

By default, you'll find your user library in a folder Automation Blocks Library inside your documents folder. If you prefer to keep your scripts in some other location, you can change that in the Automation Blocks preferences. In the preferences, you'll also find a button to open the library folder in Windows Exploder or Mac OS Finder.

preferences

Adding Clips to a New Sequence

Ok, the sync block is amazing, but if a single block alone can be so useful, imagine what you can do if you combine two blocks! So far, our example script just imports some footage. Wouldn't it be great if it could also put those clips into a new sequence?

Since we want to create a new sequence, let's take a look at what the block category "Pr Sequence" has to offer (you'll find an overview of all block categories in the next tutorial). If you browse through the blocks in that category, three of them seem to be related to creating new sequences and adding clips to them:

blocks for creating sequences

The first two are both about creating a new sequence, so which one are we going to use? To understand exactly what these blocks do, drag each of them into your script panel, right click on them and choose "help" to see their documentation. There you'll find the info that you can simply give the "new sequence from clips" block a bin and it will take all the footage items in that bin and insert them into a new sequence. Cool - exactly what we want!

The other block, "new sequence from preset file", is useful if you need more control over the format of the sequence. Say you have HD footage, but want to insert it into a 4K comp. You could first create a 4K comp with the "new sequence from preset file" block and then insert your HD footage items using the "add project item(s) to track of sequence" block. Bottom line: sometimes you can achieve the same thing in different ways - and often one way is simpler, but the other way gives you more control or flexibility.

So let's go for the "new sequence from clips" block and add it to our script. We drag it into our awesome importer script and make sure it uses the same project bin as our sync folder block:

Adding a User Interface

Now our script is already pretty useful - whenever you start a new project, it imports your footage and creates a sequence in no time! But the folder from which you want to import the footage is probably different for each project you create, right? So wouldn't it be cool if the script asked you for the folder you want to import?

In the block category "User Interface & Comments", you'll find the Select Folder Dialog block. Just drag it into your script and replace the hard-coded folder block with it. Now, instead of using the same folder each time you run the script, a dialog pops up and asks you for the folder you want to use. In the Open Folder dialog, you can even preselect a folder. These are the little details that can save you so much time and allow you to focus on the creative part of your work!

Thanks to the Open Folder Dialog, you don't need to modify the script itself anymore whenever you want to choose a new folder to import. This might seem like a minor difference - whether you enter a new file path right inside the block script, or use this kind of dialog instead - but imagine if you want to share your blocks with your colleagues. You won't need to explain to them anymore where exactly in your block code the folder path needs to be adjusted - the dialog just pops up whenever they run the script, so they won't have to touch your code at all. If you don't need to touch the code anymore, you can also execute your script with the Automation Blocks Launcher.

The Launcher Panel

The launcher panel can be opened with the Premiere Pro menu command

Window->Extensions->Automation Blocks Launcher.

This is like a compact version of the Automation Blocks panel, which allows you to execute any script in your library very quickly. Just double-click on any of the scripts to execute it (we made this a double-click to avoid you execute anything accidentally). Since the launcher panel does not show you the block code of the scripts, it's much more compact than the full Automation Blocks panel. This also has the advantage that you cannot change the scripts accidentally.

Summary

Congratulations - you just finished your first lesson on your path to becoming a true automation hero! By now, you've developed a good intuition for where to find the right block for your task, and gained some hands-on experience by writing your first script. Most likely you don't have a good understanding of concepts like loops or variables yet, so let's go a little deeper in the next tutorial where we implement a useful Search & Replace function for your project panel.