Solutions to Improve FCP’s Media Management II

Back in May, I wrote about FcpReconnect as one answer to Apple Final Cut Pro’s less-than-robust media management. In this entry, I’ll cover Matchback Magic, a handy application developed by Philip Hodgetts and Dr. Gregory Clarke of Intelligent Assistance to make FCP media bullet-proof. Through the Assisted Editing product line, they’ve developed a number of workflow tools that leverage the power of XML for Final Cut Pro users.

The essential media management differences between Avid Media Composer and Apple Final Cut Pro stem from the fact that Avid cross-references media files with bin clips through a media database. You can rename clips, but not media and the database files keep everything straight. Matchback Magic was developed out of the need to make FCP media “operator safe” and in effect, to behave more like Avid media.

Offline/Online

Matchback Magic is designed for an offline/online editing workflow. The creative editing phase uses proxy media and the final project is relinked to full-quality media for finishing and output. FCP handles this fairly well, but the process is prone to operator error, which can result in files not properly relinking at the end. The main reason for offline/online editing is so that you don’t have to deal with a lot of high-resolution files during the rough cut phase of the project. For instance, it might be an HD job, but cutting with DV25 media makes it possible to cut on a laptop without taxing the system.

Matchback Magic “protects” files against human error by “injecting” metadata from the full-quality master files into the proxy media files. Once that’s done, no matter what happens to the proxy media – change timecode, reel numbers, files names, etc. – Matchback Magic can conform an edit so that the final sequence frame-accurately matches the rough cut and media is properly relinked.

Real world test

I tested this out with the same Cheese Shop project as before. My master files are 1920×1080 ProResLT conversions from H.264 camera files that originated in a Canon EOS 5D Mark II. Reel and timecode information was added using QtChange. These files were further encoded to a second set of anamorphic DV25 files to be used for offline editing. This is my starting point. All media handling at this stage has been outside of FCP, which is typical of a lot of file-based workflows, not just with HDSLR cameras. For example, if you used an AJA KiPro recorder or were supplied converted QuickTime camera masters from a videographer or a film lab, then this would follow the same methodology.

I originally ran into one small, but puzzling issue. Matchback Magic didn’t work correctly until I removed the file extensions (.mov) from both sets of media files. That’s easy to do with the R-Name batch utility, but it wasn’t the way it should work. It turns out that this was related to which metadata from the XML was used to determine file names. After some testing and discussions with the developers, they were able to make a quick modification to the application to correct this issue. An automatic online update to the application and everything was working as expected. No need to worry about the presence or absence of file extensions. One of the beauties of working with a small, but responsive software development company!

Here are the basic steps to follow.

Step 1 – Start a new FCP project and import the folder of full-quality files. Highlight that folder and export an XML file.

Step 2 – Open Matchback Magic. Import the XML file and the folder of matching proxy media. Press Add Matchback Protection. This will insert metadata from the full-quality files into the proxy files. When this step is done, there will be a new FCP project labeled Matchback Magic containing the folder of proxy clips. You may delete this project or rename the project and continue from there as your rough cut starting point. One way to verify that the proxy media has actually been altered is that the modification date will now read as the current date and time.

Step 3 – Edit as you normally would using the proxy media. At this point you may safely change not only the master clip names, but also the media file names. This could potentially be disastrous under normal FCP operations; hence, the beauty of Matchback Magic.

Step 4 – When the cut is locked, create a new, blank sequence with a preset that matches your final quality output. (This isn’t essential, but will save some steps.) Highlight both this blank sequence and the sequence representing the approved cut and export an XML file.

Step 5 – Open Matchback Magic, click the Conform tab, then Read Matchback Information. Open the XML file from Step 4. The information will be displayed in the spreadsheet-style window.

Step 6 – Click Conform Sequence, which takes you back to FCP and an Import XML dialogue window. Select Create New Project (from the pulldown) as the target for the conformed sequence. A new, single sequence will be linked to the full quality media files. As an added touch, the offline media will be on higher tracks of the same timeline. You may compare tracks to verify frame-accuracy between the rough cut and the conformed cut. Sequence clips will display the names (as added or changed during offline editing), while the actual media file names of the full-quality media will remain unchanged.

This is a very simplified workflow test that demonstrates the power of Matchback Magic. One of the beauties of FCP is how XML can be used to augment the application beyond its inherent design. Other features include the ability to track double-system audio and exporting ALE and Excel files. More of this can be seen in their demo video. The process is bullet proof and actually simpler than FCP’s own Media Manager.

The demo version of Matchback Magic can be used to inject protection information. Even if you don’t think you’ll need it, you can use the demo to protect the files. If it turns out later that you need Matchback Magic to “save” you after all, simply buy and activate the software to enable the other steps.

©2010 Oliver Peters