FCP X tools, Part 2 – useful effects

Sometimes you just need effects to do the mundane functions that make life easier. Nothing for glitz or glamour – just effects that help you get through a session with fewer editorial gymnastic. I’d like to showcase just some of these effects for Final Cut Pro X.

When you look at the effects palette in FCP X, it’s clear that there are some glaring omissions. One of these is the fact that there is no way to add a drop shadow to a video clip, which had been a basic FCP “legacy” tool. Several users have created and published their own versions, which are available at various forums. One example is Octo, a masking tool. A good go-to site for such items is FCP Effects. They offer a Basic Drop Shadow effect as a free plug-in, as well as a number of other filters that are available for purchase. In addition to adding a shadow, the same Drop Shadow filter includes other image manipulation controls including position and rotation. Other plug-ins on their site include split screens, 3D perspectives, masks and more.

I work a lot with ARRI ALEXA footage, so the ability to convert the log-C camera profile video into standard Rec. 709 is important. I routinely use both the Nick Shaw Antler Post (FCP 7 only) and the Pomfort (FCP 7 and X) filters. Pomfort’s Alexa Look2Video filter applies a look-up table derived from the ALEXA log-C gamma curve to convert the flat camera files into full range, vibrant video. In addition to applying a default curve, the Pomfort filter also includes CDL-style grading controls to balance out power/slope/offset and printer light values of an image. So, for example, if the LUT-adjusted image still has a slightly green cast to it, you can tweak the sliders to your liking for a touch of subjective grading or to create custom looks. In addition to a LUT for ALEXA files, Pomfort also offers LUT filters for Technicolor’s CineStyle and Sony’s SLog gamma profiles.

Ever try to juggle the scale, position and crop values in FCP for a combined effect designed to highlight a portion within the image? You can often never get the results you want. Enter Digital Heaven’s DH_BoxX filter, which has been an FCP “legacy” staple for many years, but now updated for X. This straightforward filter eliminates the juggling act for basic picture-in-picture effects by combining scale, position and crop controls into one plug-in, as well as basing parameters on source and target space. Another useful filter is the DH_ReincarnationX filter. It’s the first FxPlug pixel correction filter for X. This tool enables you to “heal” bad sensor pixels from digital cameras, like HDSLRs. Simply highlight the bad pixel and DH_ReincarnationX fills in the defect from the surrounding pixels. Don’t forget DH_WideSafeX and DH_GridX – two free FCP effects updated for X. As their name implies, these are generators used for design layout and safe action/title checking, which are not covered by FCP X’s normal tools (such as the 14:9 area).

There are various split screen filters available for FCP X. One of the best is CrumplePop’s SplitScreen X, available now through Noise Industries’ FxFactory. It’s a set of FCP X generator effects giving you numerous combinations of split screen design layouts covering from two to nine images. Layouts can be in a grid pattern or with diagonal splits. Since the generator filter uses image wells for the clips, only a single clip appears on your timeline. Each image within the well can be adjusted for size, position and opacity. Images can be rotated as a group and the border/edge thickness between can be adjusted to taste.

Lastly, don’t forget that the FxFaxtory Pro package itself includes numerous effects that would fall into this category, including blurs, perspective effects and more.

©2012 Oliver Peters

FCP X tools, Part 1 – Transitions

For the next few blog posts, I’m going to discuss some of the options you have to pimp out Final Cut Pro X on your system. Although Apple threw a monkey wrench into the business model of most FCP developers last year, many have stepped up to the plate with innovative new offerings. The effects in FCP X and Motion 5 are based on FxPlug. Any effects inside FCP X are actually Motion 5 templates. Because FCP X optimization is required, not all FxPlug filters work in either application. In some cases, installed FxPlug filters will show up in the FCP X and Motion 5 browsers, but not work. In other cases, they may work in Motion 5, but not FCP X. This means developers have to create updated versions to have them work in FCP X.

Make sure if you purchase third-party plug-ins for FCP X that they do, in fact, actually work with FCP X. The good news is that many that do, have been designed to install and work in a range of hosts, including FCP 7, FCP X, Motion 5, After Effects and even Premiere Pro. Although I am writing these posts with FCP X in mind, remember that for many of these products, the same pointers apply to using them inside After Effects, unless otherwise stated.

Due to the nature of how effects in Motion 5 and FCP X work, there’s also a burgeoning crop of free effects designed by curious editors. This is a similar situation to many of the free FxScript filters created in the early days of Final Cut. Motion 5 effects can be tweaked and exported as an FCP X effect, so a number of developers have taken to creating and offering custom effects that fill in some of the gaps. These aren’t new filters, but rather modified versions and combinations of existing Motion 5 filters that come with the software. As these are built upon the underpinnings of the software, most are reasonably lightweight and will play in real-time or render quickly.

I’ve decided to write these next few FCP X posts based on types of tools, rather than individual products. So, you’ll see a company mentioned in more than one post, depending on whether I’m talking about transitions (as in this post), effects, grading, etc. Of course, I haven’t and won’t cover them all, as this is just meant to give you a sampling of the growing FCP X ecosystem.

Digital Heaven

Digital Heaven has long been known as a developer of Final Cut-related tools. Not just effects, but a range of productivity applications designed to improve the editing experience. With that in mind, their effects packages aren’t the all-encompassing set of effects offered by the bigger developers. Instead, they design individual effects to meet the common needs that editors face every day. Think of their effects and software as affordable, handy items to have in your toolkit. For FCP X they’ve created the Transitions Pack (FCP X only) – a set of six filters covering commonly used transitions. These include Flare, FrameRoll, LightFlash, LightRays, StretchPan and Shutter.

To apply an effect, simply drag-and-drop it on a cut. To make adjustments, highlight the transition and open the Inspector pane. There, a limited number parameters can be altered, such as angle, direction or whether a lens flare has a warm or cool color temperature. These effects have a nice, organic quality and play well in real-time (unrendered) as well as are easily skimmable on the timeline. It’s not a huge collection, but for a small investment, you get a nice set of transitions to bail you out of that spot when the client wants something other than a dissolve.

FxFactory

Noise Industries was the first developer to leverage the power of Apple’s Quartz Composer technology. The collection of partners under the FxFactory umbrella represents a truly eclectic set of tools, effects and transitions, ranging for basic filters to stereo 3D. Most of these effects run in all versions of FCP, Motion and After Effects, although you have control over that in the FxFactory application, which functions as a common platform for control and installation. Along with its partners, Noise Industries develops its own effects, which includes a useful set of transitions. The usual blur dissolves and flashes are all there, but for something a bit more unique, try some of the geometry-based transitions, like Accordion or Origami. Thanks to their tight FxPlug integration, most of the FxFactory transitions play well on most computers.

Boinx – FxTiles

The next few paragraphs will cover effects offered by some of Noise Industries’ partner developers. Their effects can be purchased and then serialized through the FxFactory application. The Boinx FxTiles transitions are two simple 3D shatter effects. The outgoing image shatters and then rebuilds as the next incoming image. Although that’s a very simple description, given their complexity, image particle effects has never been so smooth in the past as Boinx has been able to achieve.

idustrial revolution – Volumetrix, ParticleMetrix

idustrial revolution (also through Noise Industries) offers a series of volumetric lighting effects that perform as wipes. They can be applied to video, masks and titles. Volumetrix is a light-based package with settings for color, direction, glow parameters and more. ParticleMetrix uses a similar technique, except that particle effects are used. This can take the form of certain shapes (like text) that become a wipe element. Or the image can be broken up in a pixie dust effect. Each filter offers plenty of customizable parameters to create effects that don’t all look like a preset transition.

XEffects Tech Transitions

A different set of transitions, also developed by idustrial revolution is Tech Transitions. This is a set of transitions based on grids, wipes, repeated images and image zooms. The general feeling of these effects is more high-tech and offers a style somewhat reminiscent of the TV show 24.  Like others that are part of the FxFactory filter products, these play well in real-time.

Nattress Film Transitions

Noise Industries has been on a roll adding new partners. One is Nattress, who has ported a number of its popular effects to FxPlug and the FxFactory platform. These include a set of film transitions, including frame slip effects, film burns and film dissolves.

SUGARfx Punchline

Possibly the coolest new transition package from FxFactory is Punchline from SUGARfx. These effects employ montage-style transitions that use wipes and sliding colorized images. Some take the form of grids with multiple images pulled from the outgoing and incoming clips. These all have a very unique look, that would normally take a considerable amount of compositing to duplicate in any other fashion.

Luca Visual FX – Grunge Collection

The last set of transitions I’ll mention that are available via Noise Industries and FxFactory are part of the Grunge Collection from Luca Visual FX. The Collection includes filters, generators and transitions with light leaks, sprocket slips, film leaders and more. Sprocket Slip and Light Kit are the two packs available as FCP X transitions. Each package has a tons of options, with plenty of parameters that can be customized.

The Spocket Slip transitions play better when rendered, because most include some motion blur settings. There are various perf sizes and speed variations. Most of the effects involve seeing the perf  holes on the edge of the frame during the transition, which is a nice touch. The Light Kit transitions are based on simulated film burns with an accompanying wipe between images. I’ll cover some of the other Grunge Collection products in other posts. Although many packages offer similar effects, it’s hard to find one that offers such a range in this single genre, as does Luca’s Grunge Collection.

GenArts Sapphire Edge

Rounding out this entry is Sapphire Edge available from GenArts. Long held as the “gold standard” of effects, GenArts has sought to broaden its appeal through the lower cost Sapphire Edge package. It’s a preset-based effects tool that combines several of GenArts’ filters. The presets you own can be expanded via a subscription to their FxCentral website (first year included) and installation of Edge adds both the filter and transition effects. The latter includes a set of 14 basic transition styles, including flares, glow dissolves, TV channel changes, wipes and more.

Apply the effect in the same manner as the others. In the Inspector, certain parameters can be tweaked. If you want more options, click on the “load preset” button, which launches the external GenArts Preset Brower application. Different options are listed by genres, so you can search by type. For example, holiday-themed looks. The browser thumbnails will be populated with your images at the cut, so you can quickly see how each preset transition will actually look with your video. Load the one you like and exit back to FCP X. The timeline transition will automatically be updated to the preset you have chosen.

Sapphire Edge offers tons of options. If you like to quickly browse presets without having to fine-tune the effect yourself, Edge is the only browser-based tool available for transition effects in FCP X at this time. It doesn’t play quite as well in real-time as some of the others mentioned, so render for best results.

More on “utility effects” in the next post.

©2012 Oliver Peters

Rethinking NLE design II

Many experienced editors look at the interface design of Final Cut Pro X and seemingly freak out at the radical change in front of them. The truth is that if you dig a bit deeper, many of the underlying concepts aren’t that different from Media Composer, Premiere Pro or FCP “legacy” after all. Different nomenclature and a modified way of working, but still built upon familiar foundations – IF you look for them.

Events and Projects

I think Apple needlessly confused the issue by the labels it chose, but in a broad sense, FCP X Events = FCP 7 Bins and FCP X Projects = FCP 7 Sequences. Once you grasp that, things become a bit more familiar. In FCP 1-7 a project file contained all the metadata (clips, timecodes, edit decisions, notes, etc.) for a given program you were editing. The actual media was ingested to a project folder within the Capture Scratch folder or linked from other folders on your hard drives. With FCP X, the metadata that was contained within a single project file in the past, has been distributed among FCP X’s Events and Project folders on your hard drives.

This is actually similar to the approach Avid takes, where each bin within a project is actually a self-contained data file on your hard drive. In the case of Avid, media can be stored in a common (separate) Avid MediaFiles folder or linked via AMA to other locations on your drives. The FCP X approach is somewhat similar, in that imported media can be stored in an Events folder or it can be linked to other locations. In the case of the latter, aliases are stored in the Events folder, which point to the location of the actual media.

Most editors tend to create bins within their projects to store edited sequences, but the software doesn’t really require this. FCP “legacy” and Media Composer sequences can be inside any bin in the project. In the case of FCP X, edited sequences can be started and stored in either an Event or the Project browser. Think of the latter as being exactly the same as using a dedicated Bin to hold your edited sequences. It’s a separate folder on the hard drive and it’s a dedicated portion of the FCP X interface designed to create, duplicate and export your edits.

Collections

Editors each have routines for how to organize media and to filter selections from a mass of footage down to manageable smaller chunks of media that you finally want to work with. All the major editing applications have ways to sort and label clips based on editor review and selection. Media Composer has a “custom sift” function that will show/hide clips in a bin based on editor criteria. This concept – along with similar concepts used in Apple Aperture, Adobe Lightroom and Bridge – were built into FCP X. By using metadata tags, you have the functional equivalent of routines you’d follow in other NLEs, such as subclipping, “custom sift” or manually dragging selections into bins.

The timeline construct

Changes in the timeline have done the most to set the forum discussions blazing.  In a traditional, track-based interface, the editor has to manage track-patching, target track selection, snapping and a/v clip linking. For new users, these can be very confounding concepts. Apple has sought to simplify or eliminate these issues in the way timelines have been designed in FCP X.

The basic timeline unit in FCP X is the Primary Storyline, which forms the “spine” of a piece.  If you are familiar with editing soundbite-driven projects, like documentaries or news stories, then you are probably already working the way FCP X “thinks”. For example, many editors cut these pieces by building up the story with a string of soundbites – pictures on V1 and corresponding audio on A1/A2. This is commonly called building a “radio cut” or the “A-roll” first. To this, they’ll add “B-roll” cutaway shots onto V2.

With FCP X, the soundbites are edited together as the Primary Storyline and audio and video stay interleaved as part of the same clip. This is their way of keeping clips in sync. Cutaway shots are edited as Connected Clips that appear above the Primary Storyline. If they have audio (“nat sound”) then that normally stays with the clip (also interleaved) instead of being patched to A3/A4, as would be the case in other NLEs. By using this structure – accompanied by specific edit command key strokes – Apple has eliminated the need for separately toggling track settings as you edit. In theory, this means faster editing with less encumbrance introduced by the interface itself.

Not all editing styles match this simplified structure, so a deviation is the Secondary Storyline. Any Connected Clips that need to be grouped together – for example, a series of shots with transitions in between – can be converted into a Secondary Storyline. This permits editors to work in a track-like fashion, when it’s appropriate for a selection of shots.

Lastly, FCP X seems to rely heavily on Compound Clips to reduce complexity in the Project window. FCP “legacy” has always let you nest clips or sequences inside other sequences. Compound Clips are similar, although in practice, function a bit more like a Container in Avid DS or a Collapse in Avid Media Composer. Compound Clips can be created from scratch inside an Event or combined from shots within a Project (sequence or timeline) to organize a set of shots or an entire edited sequence.

Magnetism

FCP X editors find the Magnetic timeline either a boon or a hindrance. Think of the Magnetic timeline as working with Snapping and Linked Selections always on in FCP “legacy”. Or maybe a lot like working with Sync-locks on in Media Composer. Ironically, re-arranging clips in a timeline “magnetically” stems back to early NLE design – notably Avid Media Composer’s Heads and Heads/Tails timeline view. This is a feature that’s still there today, which allows you to re-order basic timelines, like a series of shots in a storyboard (no “connected clips”, of course).

When you move a clip around, all the attached Connected Clips stay slaved to it and move with it. Trimming a clip on the Primary Storyline expands or contracts the timeline duration as in any other NLE, except that all Connected Clips also move, maintaining their relationship to the clips to which they are attached. Think of this as the same as an asymmetrical trim in FCP 7 or placing an “add edit” across all tracks in Media Composer and trimming. The results are effectively the same.

Working with the Magnetic timeline enabled isn’t right in all situations, so there’s the Position tool. With it selected, “magnetism” is disabled and moving clips around on the timeline will either overwrite adjacent clips or leave gaps (“slugs” or “filler” media) between clips. Working in this mode is best when you like to use the timeline as a working scratch pad to develop your editing ideas.

Views, viewers and layouts

Media Composer and Final Cut (up until X), let the editor store custom views and interface layouts. That’s missing in X, though not completely gone. First, there’s no standard source/record, 2-up editing view (Viewer/Canvas), but if you work with two displays and place your Events on the left in the List view, then effectively the single remaining clip filmstrip becomes that second viewer for clip sources. Furthermore, we have now seen that a second viewer can be opened (such as the Angle Viewer for multicam editing). So, it’s not out of the question that Apple could add this in a future update. Although you can’t store custom display states, it is pretty easy to toggle tools on and off as needed, including scopes, the Inspector pane, effects palettes and so on.

If you have two displays, there are actually several working layouts you can use during your work day. My standard layout places Events on the left and Viewer/Project on the right; however, there are times when it makes sense to change this. If I’m fine-tuning shots and effects on the timeline and don’t need a lot of access to events, I’ll place a full-screen Viewer on the left and the Events/Project windows on the right. This let’s me stretch the Project window higher to take over most of the screen, while still keeping a large Viewer in front of me. I’d still like a second viewer and the ability to save custom window configurations, but for now this covers a lot of my needs.

Apple’s Final Cut Pro X is a work-in-progress that will likely improve over time. As you look deeper under the skin, you’ll find that it’s not as foreign as many seem to think. Once you understand these similarities, you’ll find a shorter learning curve ahead of you.

Click here for Part I.

©2012 Oliver Peters

The FCP X update

Apple launched into February with an eagerly awaited free update to Final Cut Pro X. Apple uses the Mac OS X numbering scheme, so the official update is 10.0.3, which would be equivalent to a version 1.3 release in other products. Don’t let the numbers fool you, though, as this is a huge release that adds major features, as well as some enhancements. The FCP X update was accompanied by corresponding free updates to Compressor 4 and Motion 5.

Multicam editing

The addition of multicam editing and broadcast monitoring fulfills an earlier promise to restore a number of features needed by professional users. The multicam editor is fully-featured and an improvement over FCP 7. You can cut with up to 64 camera angles of mixed formats and frame rates. Simply select the desired sources in the Event and combine these into a multicam clip. When you do this, a dialogue box opens to select a synchronization method. The options include timecode and markers, but also a sophisticated method to sync by audio waveforms, like that used by PluralEyes. You can open this multicam clip in its own timeline and make adjustments to the order of cameras, add effects and add more cameras.

Simply edit the multicam clip to your Project (edited sequence) and pick the angle to use for audio and video. To cut between camera angles, Apple has added a new Angle Viewer to display a matrix of camera angles ganged in sync with the Project timeline and viewer. The Angle Viewer can display up to 16 angles per bank. If you have more that 16 cameras, then switch the Angle Viewer between banks as needed. Angles are mapped by default to the number row on the keyboard, so cutting cameras is as easy as playing and switching “live” between angles by hitting the appropriate number key.

I tested this with two cameras and a 4-channel audio file with matching timecode. The audio file consisted of four iso mics – a separate track for each person in the group on camera. Cutting camera images was easy and fun, but not the audio. FCP X has a very convoluted method for working with multichannel audio from a single source, thanks to the trackless timeline. The usual menu options to “detach the audio” or “break apart items” appear to be disabled for multicam editing; therefore, it’s impossible to edit or mix the four individual mics within the Project timeline. This could be done by separately editing the audio to the timeline again as a connected clip or doing that work in the original multicam source clip. Multicam is nicely implemented for picture, but until the audio side is fixed, it’s unusable for some projects, like reality TV shows.

Broadcast monitoring

FCP X 10.0.3 adds the ability to properly monitor the audio/video signals through a range of PCIe cards and Thunderbolt units from vendors like AJA, Blackmagic Design and Matrox. It’s obvious why Apple considers this feature as still in beta development. I tested this with a Decklink HD Extreme 3D card and new, beta drivers from Blackmagic Design. The video quality was accurate, but the card tended to momentarily drop to black as I moved between sources and timeline playback within FCP X. In fact, it was hard to keep the signal up on the external monitor all the time when I wasn’t playing the timeline. However, when I did get it to stay, then it tracked the images during skimming without issue.

There are no controls to change viewing format as in FCP 7. You have to set the card’s default format using the System Preference pane to match the Project you are working on. This requires that you to quit FCP X and relaunch every time you make a change in settings. There is no pulldown insertion, so if you are working on a 23.98fps project, you will need a broadcast monitor that supports 24fps viewing. I found that the playback intermittently dropped frames, which was most obvious on pans and tilts. Colleagues testing AJA KONA cards reported similar issues.

Since the various card manufacturers are still in the process of releasing updated beta drivers, some of these issues may have been fixed or changed by the time you read this. It is clear, however, that this new broadcast monitoring capability is just that – for monitoring. Apple does not intend to add any VTR ingest or output-to-tape functionality (using the cards) back into FCP X as part of this feature.

Other marquee features

Motion 5 introduced a very powerful green/blue-screen keyer with both “one-step” and advanced controls. The simple version of that keyer was in FCP X. With this update, the full range of advanced controls has been exposed inside the FCP X interface and new features, like light wrap have been added. This gives FCP X one of the nicest keyers in any NLE and certainly on par with Avid’s Spectramatte or Adobe’s Ultra. Whether are not you think it’s comparable to Keylight or some keyer is a matter of taste and difficulty of your shot, since not all keyers will yield equal results.

The best new feature for me is Relink, which enables viable offline-to-online workflows within FCP X. Simply highlight the clips in a Project and relink the media in these clips. FCP X will also import those new clips into an Event. For example, in a ALEXA or RED project, you may opt to cut with low-resolution dailies generated by the lab or the DIT on set. When the cut is locked, create a new Event, duplicate the Project and associate it with that new Event. Now relink to the original high-resolution, camera files (or ProRes conversions in the case of RED) and your Project will show up with the corresponding clips ready for color grading and finishing.

A number of other changes have been made throughout, including a change to the way Photoshop files are imported. In the first version, files were imported and flattened. Now layered Photoshop files are imported as a Compound clip with the layers in tact, allowing you to adjust the elements within the FCP X timeline. Any Photoshop layer effects, like drop shadows or embossing, have to be merged and text or shapes rasterized first in Photoshop to show up correctly in FCP X. Some users have noted issues with Photoshop files. These include the inability to save modifications and have links maintains. Also layer scale and position value may or may not be correctly represented in FCP X, so assume that you will need to reposition layers once inside FCP X. (Click here for Apple’s “best practices” paper.)

Expanding the ecosystem

The depth of vendors surrounding Final Cut Pro X has been quickly rebuilding, adding effects and filters, but also filling in workflow gaps. The biggest news with this update is the release by Intelligent Assistance of the 7toX application (available at the Mac App Store), which I mentioned in the post on FCP X roundtrips. You can finally migrate Final Cut Pro 7 projects and/or sequences into Final Cut Pro X. Check their site for the list of what works and doesn’t, but in its first iteration, a rich amount of data is brought over from FCP 7 to FCP X. The big caveat is that you must have media connected to the FCP 7 project when you export that XML, in order for the translation and linking to work properly.

FCP X 10.0.3 changed the XML format slightly, so if you’ve been using DaVinci Resolve for grading roundtrips, make sure you update Resolve, as well. Other new workflow applications that are compatible with FCP X include Boris Soundbite and Singular Software’s PluralEyes. Soundbite uses speech analysis as a search tool to locate words or phrases by phonetic matches and the results can be imported into FCP X. Although FCP X offers audio synchronization and multicam, another option is PluralEyes. It may be used as an alternate method to synchronize multiple cameras and/or sync camera audio audio tracks in double-system productions.

Filters galore

Most of the effects/plug-in vendors have been getting up to speed with new tools for FCP X. These now include popular packages from Noise Industries (FxFactory), MotionVFX, CHV, Crumplepop and CoreMelt. Recent additions to the party have included Pomfort, Digieffects, Digital Heaven and Nattress. The biggest plug-in news is the compatibility with Red Giant’s Magic Bullet Looks 2 and GenArts’ Sapphire Edge. Changes in this update (and corresponding updated versions for Looks 2 and Edge) make it possible to use them with FCP X. If you are familiar with Magic Bullet Looks 2 and Sapphire Edge from other host applications, then the functionality will be the same.

One thing to bear in mind, is that filters inside FCP X are Motion 5 templates. Individual users can easily create their own custom filters in Motion 5 and then “publish” those to FCP X, where they show up as an effect, transition or generator. A number of enterprising editors have developed their own and offer them for free on the web. Several prolific developers include Simon Ubsdell, Alex Gollner and Brendan Gibbons.

This growth offers new visual styles and techniques, but heavy-duty filters impact performance. The built-in FCP X filters seem very efficient and some of the lighter-weight plug-ins, like those from Digital Heaven or Nattress play smoothly without rendering. Others, like Magic Bullet Looks 2 or Sapphire Edge require a bit more horsepower and ultimately have to be rendered for smooth playback. In spite of other improvements in this FCP X update, overall rendering performance for the application seems slow to me, even with 64-bit and OpenCL optimization. In fact, when I ran direct render tests comparing FCP X, FCP 7, Premiere Pro and Media Composer with the same MB Looks preset, as well as comparable built-in filters (presumably optimized for each NLE), FCP X was consistently the slowest to render.

Over the next few weeks, I will post a series of articles taking a deeper look into some of the third-party software options available to users to enhance their FCP X effects capabilities and workflows.

FCP X 10.0.3 isn’t going to change many minds in the ongoing heated discussions that surround this product. I believe 10.0.3 represents the version that Apple had originally intended to release last year, but some features simply weren’t stable or ready at that time. Multicam may sway a few that have been on the edge, but those who were hoping that updates would make FCP X more like the “legacy” versions of Final Cut aren’t going to be happy. It’s pretty clear that FCP X, with its new approach to editing, is Apple’s intended direction. For some, this is a freeing experience. Those users make up the segment that will test the waters professionally with FCP X and continue to be excited in how it evolves.

Written for DV magazine (NewBay Media, LLC). Updated for this blog entry.

©2012 Oliver Peters

Final Cut Pro X roundtrips

XML (eXtensible Markup Language) has become a common method of data interchange between post production applications. Standard XML variations are like Romance languages – one version is as different from another, as German is from French; thus, translation software is required. Apple’s Final Cut Pro X was updated to include XML interchange, but this new version of XML (labeled FCP XML) is completely different from the XML format used in FCP 7. Stretching the language analogy, FCP 7’s XML is as different from FCP X’s XML as English is from Russian.

The underlying editing structure of Final Cut Pro 7 is based on the relationship of clips against time and tracks. FCP X links one object to another in a trackless parent-child connection, so there is no easy and direct translation of complex projects between the two versions. Some interchange between Final Cut Pro X and 7 has been achieved by CatDV, DaVinci Resolve and Assisted Editing’s Xto7 for Final Cut Pro and 7toX for Final Cut Pro . These offer migration of edited sequences when you stay within the parameters that FCP XML currently exposes to developers. I’ll concentrate on Resolve, Xto7 and 7toX – as these have the most direct application for editors.

Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve

DaVinci Resolve offers an exchange in both directions between Resolve and Final Cut Pro 7 or X. (It also allows Avid roundtrips using AAF and MXF media.) This is intended as a color-correction roundtrip, so you can go from FCP 7 or FCP X to Resolve and back; but, you can also go from X to Resolve to 7 and the other way around. (Note: With the FCP X 10.0.3 update, you will also need to update your version of Resolve, as the XML format was also enhanced with this release.)  For this article, let’s stick with Resolve’s position as a professional grading tool that can augment FCP X.

1. Start by cutting your project in FCP X. Avoid compound clips and speed ramps and remember that effects are not passed through FCP XML at this time. Highlight the project in the project browser and export an FCP XML file.

2. Launch DaVinci Resolve and make sure Media Storage includes the location of your source media files. Import the FCP XML file, which will link to these clips. Check your configuration settings to make sure the frame rate matches. I have noticed that 23.98 sequences are often identified as 24fps. Reset these to 23.98. Proceed to color grade the timeline.

3. Open the Render module and select FCP XML roundtrip from the Easy Set-up pulldown menu and assign the handle length. Individual new clips with modified file names will be rendered to an assigned folder, using Resolve’s source-mode rendering. These correspond to the timeline.

4. From the Conform tab, export an FCP X XML file.

5. Return to Final Cut Pro X and import the FCP XML file from Resolve. The graded clips will automatically be imported into a new Event and this will complete the roundtrip. The new, imported project will be video-only. As a safe step, I recommend that you copy-and-paste all of the clips from this project (the “from Resolve” timeline) into a new, fresh project.

6. Take the audio mix from the original (before Resolve) project – using either a mixdown or a compound clip – and edit it as a connected clip to the new timeline containing the graded clips. Lastly, re-apply any effects, such as transforms, crops, filters, speed ramps or stabilization.


Assisted Editing Xto7 for Final Cut  Pro / 7toX for Final Cut Pro

When Final Cut Pro X was launched, the biggest shock was the fact that you couldn’t migrate sequences from previous versions into the new application. Intelligent Assistance / Assisted Editing developed two translation apps as conduits between the two formats of XML. Xto7 for Final Cut Pro translates sequences (Projects) from FCP X to FCP 7, whereas 7toX for Final Cut Pro translates complete projects, bins and/or sequences from FCP 7 to FCP X. Both are available on the Mac App Store, but check the info on the Intelligent Assistance website for limitations and restrictions in what comes across in these translations.

First, let’s look at Xto7. At first blush, one might ask, “What good is going from FCP X to FCP 7?”  In reality, it’s a very useful tool, because it empowers FCP X users with a whole range of post production solutions. FCP X is a closed application that as yet offers none of the versatility of Final Cut Studio (FCP 7) or Adobe Creative Suite. With Xto7, an editor can perform the creative cut in FCP X and then use Color, Soundtrack Pro, After Effects, Premiere Pro, Audition, ProTools, Smoke and other applications for finishing. In fact, since Automatic Duck has made its plug-ins available for free, this path also enables an editor to move from FCP X to Avid Media Composer by way of FCP 7 and Automatic Duck Pro Export FCP.

1. Start in FCP X. Cut your project, but avoid a few known issues, like speed ramps and compound clips. (Check with Assisted Editing for more specifics.) Also, don’t apply effects, as they won’t translate. Highlight the project in the project browser and export an FCP XML file.

2. Launch Xto7 and navigate to the FCP XML file.

3. You have two choices: Send to Final Cut Pro 7 or Save Sequence XML. The first option opens the timeline as a new FCP 7 project. The second saves an XML file that can later be imported into FCP 7, but also Adobe Premiere Pro or Autodesk Smoke.

4. Once inside FCP 7, you have access to all the usual effect filters and roundtrip tools. This includes creating an EDL for grading or an OMF file for a Pro Tools mixer. Or sending to Color for a grading roundtrip or to Soundtrack Pro for a mix. Likewise, if you opened the XML into Premiere Pro, you could send the audio to Audition for a mix or to After Effects for effects, grading and compositing using Dynamic Link.

If you want to got in the other direction, from legacy Final Cut projects or sequences to Final Cut Pro X, then 7toX for Final Cut Pro is the tool to use. Again, check the website for translation limitations.

1. Open your project in FCP 7 and make sure your media all properly connects.

2. Highlight the project, bin or sequence you’d like to export. Then export an XML file.

3. Launch 7toX and select the exported XML file to open. Then choose the option to “open in FCP X”.

FCP X will launch, import the items into a new Event and relink to the media. Edited FCP 7 sequences will show up in the Event as a Compound clip and will be located in a Keyword Collection labeled FCP 7 Sequences.

None of these processes is perfect yet, but these are just some examples of how a new ecosystem is growing up around Apple Final Cut Pro X. This controversial editing tool may not be right for everyone, but solutions like DaVinci Resolve and Xto7 / 7toX for Final Cut Pro mean you aren’t stranded on an island.

Written for DV magazine (NewBay Media LLC)

©2012 Oliver Peters

Improving FCP X

A short while ago I started a thread at Creative COW entitled, “What would it take?” My premise is that Final Cut Pro X has enough tantalizing advantages that many “pro users” (whatever that means) would adopt it, if only it had a few extra features. I’m not talking about turning it into FCP 8. I think that’s pretty unrealistic and I believe Apple is going in a different direction. The point is that there are a number of elements that could be added and stay within the FCP X paradigm, which would quell some of the complaints. The thread sparked some interesting suggestions, but here are a few of mine in no particular order of priority.

1. Make audio trimming and transitions as easy as and comparable to video trimming. Currently audio seems to take a back seat to video editing when it comes to trims and transitions.

2. Add “open in Motion” or “send to Motion” functions for clips. Motion 5 is quite powerful and it fills in many gaps that exist in FCP X. For example, drawing mattes. A “send to” roundtrip function would help.

3. Either add track-based mixing or add a “send to Logic” function. I feel audio without tracks is a pretty tough way to mix. Assuming the next version of Logic isn’t as drastic of a change as FCP 7 to FCP X, then it would be nice to offer the option of sending your FCP X project audio to Logic for mixing.

4. Add modifiers to give you some user-defined control over the magnetic timeline. More than just the position tool. Time to tame the magnetic timeline.

5. Add user-defined controls for more track-like behavior. Such as expanded use/behavior of additional storylines. I’m not sure what form this would take, but the desire is to get the best of both worlds.

6. Add a “save as” function.

7. Add event/project management to open/hide projects and media. This exists in Assisted Editing’s Event Manager X, but it should be a direct function within FCP X.

8. Add a choice to not see the event thumbnail/filmstrip when you click on it. Even in list view, when you click on an event clip it is refreshed in the single visible filmstrip at the top. This slows down the response of the system. I’d like to see a true list-only view for faster response when I’m entering data.

9. Remember clip in/out points.

10. Add some user control over window layouts. FCP 7’s workspace customization was great and it’s a shame we lost it.

11. Add some way to see a second window as a source/record (2-up) view.

12. Bring back copy/paste/remove attributes.

13. Bring back the equivalent to the Track Tool.

14. Import legacy FCP sequences. I realize some third-party developer will likely create an XML to FCP XML translator, but it sure would make sense if Apple solved this issue. Even if it means only a simple sequence without effects, speed ramps or audio levels.

©2011 Oliver Peters

FCP X alternatives

Final Cut Pro X has been out in the wild for over a month. Some of the hysteria has died down, but professional editors – those working in film, broadcast and at post facilities – have started to make some decisions regarding their next move. As a 1.0 application, FCP X doesn’t fulfill the needs required in many established workflows.

FCP X is a love-hate relationship. The people who are drawn to it feel that it’s the next revolution in editing technology. The folks ready to switch to something else point to the lack of advanced features, a radical redesign of the editing metaphor and the loss of compatibility with legacy projects. So, what do YOU do?

Click image for an enlarged view of the GUI.

Option 1: Adopt FCP X

I certainly don’t feel that Final Cut Pro X is either “junk” or “useless”. Clearly, if you like it and feel that it works for you, then the answer is to dive in, learn it and develop workflows that utilize it to your advantage. If you don’t like it, that doesn’t mean that it can’t be helpful for some jobs. Even if you don’t want to use it as your primary NLE – or if you just want to hang on and wait to see what improvements Apple has in store – it can be an asset in your current toolkit.

I see several areas where FCP X can augment other NLEs. For example, HDSLR-based projects shot on a Canon 1D/5D/7D. FCP X handles H.264 files extremely well, so use it as a “pre-edit” tool. Ingest the native H.264 camera files, align double-system sound (such as from a Zoom H4n) using built-in synchronization and color-correct/stabilize shots. Once you’ve done that, assemble a loose string of selects (with handles) and export a self-contained ProRes QuickTime file for further editing in the NLE of your choice.

Another type of project where FCP X would shine is one made up entirely of moves on high-res still photos. The built-in Ken Burns effect – coupled with the ability to access iPhoto or Aperture library files – makes FCP X the easiest tool for these projects. Unlike previous versions of Final Cut, start and end key frames are automatically adjusted when transitions are added. Do you shoot with RED and want to edit in 4K? FCP X is well-suited for 4K projects. Simply export 4K ProRes HQ or ProRes 4444 files from Redcine-X and do your cutting and grading on a 4K timeline in FCP X.

Option 2: Staying with FCP 7

Many ask, “Why the rush to abandon FCP 7?” After all, it’s working as well today as it did before the release of “X”, so simply continue editing in FCP 7, until FCP X issues are addressed by Apple. That’s true, but, of course, all development has now stopped on previous versions of Final Cut and related developer product sales have tanked. Apple abruptly pulled FCP 7 off the market, although they did subsequently allow resellers a limited extension to purchase additional licenses for their customers. The unknown is what happens to FCP 7 compatibility with future OS versions (beyond this release of Lion) and Mac hardware.

Many users have been waiting over four years for significant development in the Final Cut Studio suite (discounting the incremental advances in the 2009 version). Receiving an unwanted answer in the form of Final Cut Pro X, they’ve decided to switch solutions. I think that’s quite a reasonable attitude for most facility users, but the truth is that you can certainly “freeze” your current installation in its present state (hardware, software, OS) and be just fine. After all, there are plenty of users working with FCP 6 running on G5 PowerMacs.

The Shake experience is the closest analog we have. It, too, was EOL’ed by Apple, but has continued to work with newer OS versions and Mac hardware and is still a reliable compositor and effects tool for many. My guess is that the current Final Cut Studio suite has at least 1-3 more years of viability. In fact, some elements of the suite, like DVD Studio Pro, Color or Soundtrack Pro will continue to be user favorites, long after those same users have finally moved to FCP X or another choice as their main NLE.

Option 3: Adobe Creative Suite / Production Premium / Premiere Pro

Adobe’s Premiere Pro CS 5.5 is the NLE closest to what many FCP users would have wanted. A hypothetical 64-bit FCP 8 may have been a lot like Premiere Pro, so it’s natural that many disgruntled FCP users have found a new home with Adobe. The commands, workflows and working styles are familiar to Final Cut Pro editors.

If you own a third party capture card (AJA, Blackmagic Design, MOTO, Matrox), then having the right set of drivers means that the same hardware will work with Premiere Pro. Not to mention that basic FCP 7 projects can be imported into Premiere Pro CS 5.5 via XML.

Many FCP editors have realized they already own Premiere Pro if they bought one of Adobe’s bundles to acquire Photoshop or After Effects. Moving to Premiere Pro for many is as simple as clicking that square, purple “Pr” icon that’s been sitting in the Dock all along.

The move to Premiere Pro isn’t going to be flawless. Like any software, there will be quirks and differences. Yet, I can attest to the fact that there has been tangible improvement in Premiere Pro from CS4 to CS5 and to CS5.5. In this present version, Premiere Pro is a 64-bit, cross-platform application that handles more native codecs than FCP X and offers plenty of real-time performance via the Mercury Playback Engine technology. If you are RED user, Premiere Pro is the only NLE is this price range to allow native cutting with the REDCODE codec and frame sizes at up to RED Epic’s 5K format. Of course, integration with After Effects is a huge selling point, but buyers may also be attracted by Adobe’s aggressive cross-grade promotion for users coming from either Apple Final Cut Pro or Avid Media Composer.

Option 4: Avid Media Composer

Many older Final Cut editors started their nonlinear editing careers with Avid Media Composer. Some gravitated to FCP by version 3.0 and, therefore, perceptions of Media Composer are based on the application in 2002 or 2003. Some had less than flattering impressions of the company based on sales interaction during that time, as well.

Time marches on and those who have maintained a knowledge of the software and a relationship with Avid know that both the company and the Media Composer software are vastly different than those of eight or more years ago. Although not quite as cheap as Final Cut Studio or Final Cut Pro X, Media Composer is still extremely affordable in a software-only form. There’s a 30-day trial for tire-kickers, one of the most aggressive pricing policies for students and it’s now doubly attractive to FCP owners with a summertime cross-grade promotion.

Avid Media Composer offers many advanced tools simply not found within other NLEs. These include stereo 3D, AMA for native camera support, optional script/speech-based tools (ScriptScync and PhraseFind) and more. Ironically Avid added many features that are said to be more “FCP-like”, such as in-context timeline editing (Smart Tool) and AMA, which allows users to edit with existing files in place without first transcoding media files. Conversely, Apple adopted many Media Composer traits in its development of FCP X. Of course, earlier FCP projects can be imported into Media Composer using tools from Automatic Duck or Boris FX.

The Media Composer image I posted is of the prototype user interface presented at recent Avid user events, which showcased a technology preview of the next version. Although no specific feature nor even the design is locked in yet (and there is no announced release date), some of the bullet points include 64-bit operation and the ability to integrate an expanded range of third-party hardware.

Interestingly enough, this suggested UI drew some online comments that it copied FCP X. I would offer that those comments are generally uninformed. Enlarge the image and you’ll see most of the familiar Media Composer tools designed into a modern, darker, dockable and tabbed layout. If anything, this UI design resembles Premiere Pro more than FCP X and includes come interesting clues, like tabbed sequences and a mixer panel akin to Pro Tools.

Option 5: Other

I’ve concentrated on these four options, because they are in a similar price range, keep the user on the Mac and are all viable industry leaders. But there are other options, as well. The two Mac solutions I didn’t mention are Autodesk’s Smoke for Mac OS X and Media 100. I doubt most FCP switchers would move to Smoke, because that’s a completely different business model and price structure. However, those needing more advanced finishing tools designed to be integrated with FCP 7 and Media Composer workflows would be happy with Smoke. Media 100 is a step in a different direction. Still one of the easiest NLEs to use, Media 100 has continued to advance with moderate development under Boris FX. It’s a viable editor with good integration for After Effects, Boris Red and even native RED raw files.

Apple’s handling of the FCP X product launch has turned off some users so completely that they are also contemplating a move to Windows. Adobe’s and Avid’s tools are all cross-platform and Windows 7 Professional 64-bit is a very good OS. Other NLE choices are opened with such a move. These include Sony Vegas, EditShare Lightworks, Grass Valley EDIUS and Avid DS.

Whether or not you decide to switch or wait it out, it’s clear that Apple’s launch of Final Cut Pro X has shaken up the landscape. More options – more tools – and no clear market dominance – that’s what the next year seems to hold.

©2011 Oliver Peters