Tutorial: A Dynamic Look at Adobe Dynamic Link

Adobe Dynamic Link is a fantastic feature that allows live interaction between different software applications. It is a really valuable tool that I really can’t imagine being without.

Although there are already several really excellent demos on Adobe TV about Dynamic Link, a steady trickle of questions about the finer points of Dynamic Link functionality that have been posted on DVi tell us that there is much more to Dynamic Link than an introductory video can cover. So DV Info Net asked me to dig a little deeper to give you a dynamic look at Adobe Dynamic Link.

Sure enough, even though I use Dynamic Link all the time, I learned some good stuff that I wasn’t aware of yet as I researched and then tried different things. And I’d guess that unless you’re a pretty sage Creative Suite editor, you’re likely to pick up a tip or two in this article as well.

We’ll discuss:

  • What Adobe Dynamic Link does for you and how it goes beyond import / copy-and-paste, and how it differs from “Edit Original…”;
  • The basic data paths and work flows;
  • Some additional tips and caveats, including a particular circumstance when Dynamic Link may NOT be the right tool for the job.

What is Adobe Dynamic Link?

There’s a lot to cover and I’m eager to get to the really cool stuff, but the beginning is usually a good place to start.

Import and Copy/Paste

As long as a program like Adobe Premiere Pro is coded to work with a particular file type, you can import, or copy and paste, a source file into the application. Once that file is in Premiere Pro you can use traditional copy-and-paste, or “duplicate” commands, as well as apply effects and so forth to bring your creative vision to life.

However, if you want to make changes to the source file itself, you need to open it in its native editing software, say Adobe Photoshop for a .PSD file, and save the file there before proceeding. If you decide later to make changes to that file, well, back to Photoshop you go to modify, save, and re-import to Premiere Pro. If you use that same source file in After Effects or Encore without the benefit of Dynamic Link, you’ll have to repeat the import in those applications as well. This process unquestionably gets the job done, but could become a bit tedious in complex projects and might just limit your willingness to experiment.

Edit Original

The next step up in convenience is to use the “Edit Original…” command. This command checks with the OS to determine what program is associated with the file type, then opens your source file in that native software. It is very much a handy time-saver, but still requires that you save your changes in that native program, and again re-import or replace the file.

Dynamic Link

But this article is about the current state of the art, which is Dynamic Link. It enables the render-free sharing of information by programs at the Premiere Pro sequence or After Effects composition level rather than just handling individual media files. In Dynamic Link, there’s a “giver” and a “receiver” program, or as I like to term them, a “lender” and a “borrower,” of open, live Sequences or Compositions, not just individual source files.

In other words, instead of using a static on-disk file, your borrower Application uses Dynamic Link to tie in to the current state of a Sequence or Comp in another software application. For example, rather than importing the saved video file from a rendered After Effects comp into Premiere Pro, you “Import After Effects Composition.” Not a file, but the whole composition – or more technically speaking, a reference or pointer, to the Comp gets placed in Premiere Pro.

Then, if not already done, you need only name and save the lender project a first time (in this case the After Effects file containing the composition) so that the borrower (in this case, Premiere Pro) knows where it is, just as it would need to know where any other asset is located. To use the analogy of your car’s navigation system, you need to enter the full address into your GPS for it to guide you to a new location. Just the same, Premiere Pro needs to know the folder location, After Effects project name, and name of the Composition within After Effects.

Once linked, Adobe Premiere Pro will treat that composition just as it would any regular media file. There is no rendering and no particular need to save the After Effects file again as far as Dynamic Link is concerned. What’s happening in the background is that even if the lender application is not open, Dynamic Link will ensure the processes needed to display the linked asset in the borrower will be running.

To make live changes, simply open the lender application if it isn’t already open, and make the changes there. Those updates will be visible in the borrower’s timeline as well, even if you haven’t saved those changes in the lender. Don’t like the last change? Simply Undo, and everything returns to the previous state in both applications.

Where can I use Dynamic Link and where not?

Adobe Dynamic Link is an integral feature of Adobe Premiere Pro and can be used to send sequences on a one way trip to either or both of its bundled brethren, Adobe Media Encoder and Encore, even if you purchased Adobe Premiere Pro as a standalone product rather than as part of a Creative Suite bundle. This functionality is fairly automatic and transparent to the end user when using Adobe Media Encoder.

To enjoy the huge benefits of Dynamic Linking between After Effects and Premiere Pro, however, you do need to have either Adobe Creative Suite 5.5 Production Premium or Master Collection installed, and NOT just copies of the individual applications.

Let’s take a look at the Premiere Pro – After Effects interaction. You can initiate a Dynamic Link in either direction, but it is important to keep in mind that each individual link goes in only one direction. One program is the lender and the other is the borrower. Up to whatever load your computer can handle, you can also have multiple links between any number of After Effects compositions and Premiere Pro sequences, but a lender composition or sequence cannot refer back to itself in any way, even if it is nested in another composition or sequence. Whether you call it recursive, circular, or an endless loop, the laws of the universe do not allow it.

Dynamic Link is a program-to-program interaction. Software like Adobe Photoshop that works directly on individual files and has no “compositions” or “sequences” does not support Dynamic Link functionality. You use import, copy/paste or edit-original functionality for those files. Also, if you’re using Adobe Audition CS5.5, it does not support Dynamic Link so you’ll be using “Edit Original…” in Premiere Pro, making sure to use the option to embed Edit-Original Link Data in the session files.

You can create a link in the following ways:

  • Import an existing asset;
  • Create a new project to which to link;
  • Use “Replace with After Effects Composition” to send one or more clips, even if not adjacent or on the same track, from a Premiere Pro sequence to a new After Effects Project. The sequence will be seen as a footage item within a composition.

Unlike import or copy/paste where some features of one program won’t transfer to the other, with very few exceptions, everything in the lender sequence or composition will be seen through Dynamic Link even if it is not a feature of the borrower program. It’s essentially a portal to the other program. If you like outer space stuff, think of it as a wormhole that sends the lender composition or sequence to the borrower. What you see in the borrower is what you’d see in the preview or program window of the lender program.

Premiere Pro – After Effects tips and caveats:

The color space of After Effects is RGB, whereas Premiere Pro works in YUV. To preserve the 16 or 32 bit float color you may be using in After Effects, enable Premiere Pro’s “Maximum Bit Depth” and “Maximum Render Quality” features. Obviously, that will result in more intense processing and depending on the situation might put a noticeable load on your computer.

One of the very few things that doesn’t pass unscathed through the wormhole is the Premiere Pro Multicam sequence. This will appear flattened and show only the top-most camera. I don’t know the technical reason, but I’m guessing that cuts done in multicam are somehow coded differently from normal cuts on the timeline.

After Effects Increment and Save

I mentioned a moment ago that it is important for the borrower program to know the location and name of the lender program’s file. Normally, only the exact composition or sequence name within the exact filename within the exact folder location will be recognized by the link. Computers are known to be particular about such things; at least mine are.

But there’s an exception to be aware of. Adobe After Effects has a feature called Increment and Save, which will save a copy of the file with a number appended to the file name. Each time you use the Increment and Save feature, the number at the end will be increased, or incremented, by one. After Effects is programmed so that among compositions in a folder with the same name except different ending numbers, the file with the highest number appended is treated as the latest, greatest version. Dynamic Link makes use of this feature by automatically pointing to the newest file.

I find this really handy. I can make changes all day long in my linked composition and have a full range of choices with just a mouse click or two. If there’s absolutely no chance that I might later want the original version of the After Effects file, I can just save the After Effects project file and I’m done. Since the file names haven’t changed, both After Effects and Premiere Pro will use the latest saved version next time. If I’m NOT so sure I’ll remain happy with my latest changes, I can use Increment and Save to update the link to the latest version, while knowing that the original After Effects composition remains untouched in the previous version of the After Effects Project file.

The caveat to be aware of is that the re-link to the latest After Effects file will still happen even if you manually create file names ending in numbers. If you need to create additional copies within the same folder and don’t want Dynamic Link to honor the new file, use some other file name convention such as ending with letters.

About Handles

Handles, or extra frames that exist in the source clip beyond the IN and OUT points we set for them on the Adobe Premiere Pro timeline, give us much greater freedom in performing everyday tasks like rolling and slip edits and smooth clip-to-clip transitions.

When you “Replace with After Effects Composition” the source clip is served to After Effects only from IN to OUT points to create the After Effects composition that will be linked back to replace it. The process doesn’t account for handles. So what to do if you want the linked After Effects composition to have handles in the Premiere Pro sequence?

A good practice is to copy the clip to a higher, spare track and drag both ends to create handles of whatever length you want – or are available in the source clip. Do the “Replace with After Effects Composition” on that expanded copy of the clip. After turning the composition into a masterpiece, drag the original clip out of the way for safe keeping, trim it to fit, and drop the linked composition into place. Now your linked composition has handles within the Premiere Pro sequence.

Encore Transcoding

Dynamic Link serves only full sequences to Encore

Because Dynamic Link works at the Sequence level, both the Premiere Pro “Send to Encore” and the equivalent Encore “Import from Premiere Pro…” ignore the Work Area Bar and reference the whole sequence. If you want to send only a portion of a sequence to Encore, nest that portion in a new parent sequence and send the parent.

Revert to Original

Once you transcode a dynamically-linked Premiere Pro sequence, Encore looks at the transcoded version of the sequence instead of the linked sequence. Of course, the moral of that story is to not transcode until you’re pretty sure you’re done editing your sequence. But for that one last essential tweak you overlooked, you can get Dynamic Link working for you again by selecting the asset in Encore’s Project Panel (Premiere Pro sequence or After Effects composition) and go to File | Revert to Original.

Closed Captions

Closed Captions are attached third party data files and thus not treated as part of the sequence by Dynamic Link. As a result, Dynamic Link will not preserve closed captioning data when sending a sequence to Encore. So it is probably best to save your Closed Caption work for the Encore timeline itself.

When Dynamic Link Isn’t the Right Tool for the Job

One of the great advantages of Adobe Dynamic Link is the ability to share information between Adobe CS applications without rendering. When editing a Premiere Pro Sequence that contains linked After Effects comps, there are few if any situations where rendered After Effects output is more efficient to work with because even if a Composition is complex enough to bog your system down, you can just place it offline in Premiere Pro as needed.

It is also usually quicker and easier to just export your linked compositions along with the rest of a Premiere Pro sequence, but there is an exception. For Premiere Pro files that use multiple, complex After Effects compositions, export may be faster to go “old fashioned” by rendering in After Effects and placing the resulting file in place of the Dynamic Link of it that composition you used for editing.

Here’s why: While both Premiere Pro and After Effects use multi-threading to spread the processing of a single frame across multiple CPUs, the After Effects render queue is coded to take advantage of a multiprocessing capability called Render Multiple Frames Simultaneously. It’s an option in the preferences menu. By spawning multiple instances of its render engine, Adobe After Effects can work on multiple frames at the same time to chew through a render several times faster than a single instance of the render engine could.

Because Dynamic Link is a portal to After Effects, Adobe Media Encoder which is really a part of the Premiere Pro bundle, does not render a linked composition. Instead, the composition is served to one instance of the After Effects render engine, gaining neither the speed of CUDA in Premiere Pro nor the multi-frame capability of the After Effects Render Queue. So if you have enough volume and complexity of linked compositions, it may turn out that the combined time spent rendering in After Effects, importing to Premiere Pro, and then exporting out of Adobe Media Encoder again without Dynamic Link may still be less than the time to export the same sequence if it contains the Dynamic Links of the compositions.

The break-even point is something you’ll have to experiment with yourself, as each computer and each project are unique.


That’s a lot of detail for one session! Let’s refresh the main points:

The Basic Workflow:

  1. Dynamic Link is a communication between programs in which one lends information to the other.
  2. The information loaned is an After Effects composition or Premiere Pro sequence.
  3. The lender file must be saved once to set its name and location.

After Effects – Premiere Pro Interaction:

  1. “Replace with After Effects Composition” just reads the clip from the Premiere Pro sequence and created a composition of that length, without handles. It is easy to duplicate a clip first and give it handles.
  2. After Effects Increment and Save will re-link to a file with the same name except a higher number at the end, giving you the flexibility to make changes to a dynamically linked file while keeping the original After Effects source file, should you want to revert to it or reuse it in the future.

Adobe Dynamic Link to Encore

  1. Because it shares data at the sequence level, Dynamic Link brings whole sequences to Encore. You can’t directly import only a portion of a sequence. Just nest into a new sequence to get the part you want.
  2. Once a sequence has been transcoded, Encore looks at the transcoded file, not the Dynamic Linked sequence. To re-enable the Dynamic Link capability, “Revert to Original.”
  3. Closed Captions are separate data files that Premiere Pro reads. Dynamic Link will not transfer them.

And your final exam question:

Q: When might Dynamic Link not be faster than render and import?

A: At export time in Premiere Pro, if you have large amounts of complex After Effects composition work in the sequence. All other times, Dynamic Link is faster.

Just as I learned a lot from writing this article, I hope that while reading it you picked up a helpful tip or two as well. Happy editing with Adobe Create Suite and with Dynamic Link!

About the Author

Pete Bauer at the Soyuz TMA-17 rollout, Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, prior to its mission to the International Space Station in Dec. 2009.

As he grew up along the Great Snowy Northern border of Minnesota, Pete Bauer’s innate passion for filmmaking and photography was evident very early. Well before Pete was ten years old, his grandfather frequently found his Bell & Howell 8mm film camera unavailable for his own use because it was on loan to his eldest grandson.

Although life took his professional pursuits in other directions, Pete never lost that passion. Since his retirement from the U.S. Air Force as a flight surgeon, his civilian practice of Aerospace Medicine in the Houston area has afforded him greater time and opportunities to re-ignite that old flame.

Starting as a DV Info Net lurker in 2002, Pete quickly became a daily presence on the forum and has been one of the site’s stable of Wranglers and a DVi Contributing Editor since early 2004.


About The Author

As he grew up along the Great Snowy Northern border of Minnesota, Pete Bauer’s innate passion for filmmaking and photography was evident very early. Although life took his professional pursuits in other directions, Pete never lost that passion. Since his retirement from the U.S. Air Force as a flight surgeon, his civilian practice of Aerospace Medicine in the Houston area has afforded him greater time and opportunities to re-ignite that old flame. Starting as a DV Info Net lurker in 2002, Pete quickly became a daily presence on the forum and has been one of the site’s stable of Wranglers and a DVi Contributing Editor since early 2004.

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