Improving your FCP chops

It’s time for New Year’s resolutions. Hopefully one of yours will be to improve your editing efficiency. That can usually be accomplished by diving a little deeper to learn some of the tools that you might not use on a frequent basis. I’ll quickly cover a few highlights in Apple Final Cut Pro that might be useful to you.

Cover Flow – One of the advantages of FCP is to be able to use Mac OS as an extension of your editor. You can browse media clips in the OS and then simple drag or import selected movies into your project. Cover Flow is one of four ways to display folder contents, but it’s great for video clips, once the folder has buffered.

Source side color correction – FCP allows filters, such as color correction, to be applied to clips loaded into the Viewer. Once applied, a filter stays with the master clip unless removed. Every time you cut a clip with an embedded source effect into the sequence, the filter will have already been “pre-applied” to that clip in the timeline. It’s a great way to match camera angles in a multi-camera show, BEFORE grouping them into a multiclip.

QuickTime references as sources – QuickTime reference movies may be brought into an FCP project as a source. The QT reference contains no media, but is merely linked back to the media of other files. This is potentially dangerous in an FCP workflow, because the file location cannot be moved without disrupting the reference. Nevertheless, it can be useful if you are careful. For instance, I have used it with double-system-sound clips recorded using a Canon 5D and a Zoom H4n. I used PluralEyes to sync the dailies and then labeled the resulting sequences for the person on-camera. These newly synced sequences were then exported as reference files and re-imported into my project. These were now my source media for all on-camera dialogue clips – a process that worked well throughout the edit.

HD/SD Videoscopes – Be careful when you change between SD (NTSC/PAL) and HD sequences to make sure that your videoscopes change accordingly. The SD or HD designation will be displayed in the corner of the window. If it’s wrong – an SD scope for an HD timeline – the video levels displayed WILL NOT be correct. Usually FCP tracks this, but sometimes, you need to give it a jolt by first selecting the appropriate Easy Setup for what you want it to be, then exit and re-launch FCP.

Render all sequences – Here’s a quick short cut to rendering a batch of sequences. Close all open sequences first. Then highlight them in the FCP browser and choose the Sequence/Render All pulldown menu item.

Find Next / Find All – The timeline can be searched with the Cmd-F keystroke, which enables Find Next and Find All options with definable parameters. For example, depending on how you labeled your clips, it can be a great way to find all clips from a certain camera.

Batch Import – The FCP “batch import” function isn’t as obvious as in Avid Media Composer. It is primarily available for clips that were brought in via Log and Transfer, such as XDCAM, P2 or RED. If you have a number of P2 clips that are off-line and need to be re-ingested, simply select the clips and choose Batch Capture. The Log and Transfer window will open instead of Log and Capture. Mount the appropriate media and the rest takes care of itself.

Media manage to consolidate – Final Cut’s Media Manager is the much-maligned way to process your project at the end of the session. It can be used for both the transition from rough-cut to finishing, as well as to keep just the clips that were used in the final edit. The latter is equivalent to Media Composer’s “consolidate” feature. Select the sequence and right-click for Media Manager – choose Copy, define “handles” and create a new project. This will create a new FCP project with just the clips that were in the cut plus a bit of extra media (“handles”) on either side of each cut. In order for this to work properly, video clips must have reel and timecode information, otherwise the entire length of the clip will be copied.

Audio frame rates and speed – Final Cut deals with imported audio based on sample rates and it will adjust the imported audio sync based on the project frame rate. For example, if you change between a whole (24, 30, 60fps) and a fractional (23.98, 29.97, 59.94fps) frame rate project, FCP will get confused. Let’s say you typically work in NTSC (29.97), but now have a PAL (25) project. The same 48kHz AIFF file will be imported differently into an NTSC versus a PAL project. Typically it will be in sync and won’t require rendering in one, but not the other, of these two projects. That’s even though the AIFF has no embedded timecode and both sequences are set to an audio sampling rate of 48kHz. The trick to getting this right is to change your Easy Setup to the new target rate prior to importing the new audio. When changing from a fractional to a whole frame rate project, like NTSC to PAL, I follow this steps. Close all open projects. Pick a PAL-appropriate Easy Setup. Close FCP. Re-launch and start the new PAL project.

Timelapse – The HDSLR cameras like the Canon 5D and 7D have opened the door to new creative options, like in-camera, still photo timelapse and stop motion sequences. It’s best to deal with these outside of Final Cut, by converting them first to a QuickTime movie. After Effects, Compressor or QuickTime 7 are good options. I like QT7 because you can easily play around with various frame rates. Import an image sequence at a desired frame rate, such as 6fps; then export a rendered movie at 29.97 (or 23.98 or 25fps – depending on your project). Since you are using high-resolution stills, you have the added benefit of being able to add camera-style moves to the timelapse. I will often resize the images first to get them into a manageable size (such as 2500 pixels wide) before building the motion clip. It is possible to export a QuickTime reference file from QT7, import that into After Effects, Motion or Final Cut in order to add the camera moves. Then render and export the final clip, which now becomes the actual source for the edit session.

Speed Tool – Although some editors downplay the FCP7 release, it added a few features I constantly use. One of these is the revamped Speed Tool. The old way of working with speed ramps never made sense to me and I invariably edited these as successive variable-speed clips. The new Speed Tool makes in-timeline manipulation a pleasure. Simply open the Clip Keyframe bar (bottom left corner of the timeline window) to gain access to the Speed Tool controls. From there you can change the speed, add speed keyframes within the clip to vary the speed in segments, plus ramp the in and out points.

Track Tool – My FCP timelines are very much a scratch pad. The Track Tool is essential for moving later clips out of the way. Use the T key for a single track or Shift-T for all tracks past the cursor location. It’s a quick and easy way to move the back end of the sequence out of the way to create working space. Then close the gap when you are finished.

Attributes – The ability to copy, paste and/or remove clip attributes is one of the features than I enjoy most about Final Cut. I use it most with motion tab effects (size, position, crop, opacity, drop shadow) and filters. It’s an essential part of my workflow. I invariably use a lot of effects filters. This is the easiest way to set up a group of filters on a single clip and apply this “filter stack” to a series of subsequent clips without needing to go to a menu, bin or browser.

Playhead sync – FCP often invokes discussions about NLE modality. I happen to think that FCP actually is modal in some of its functions. One of these is playhead sync. When toggled to “open”, the timeline loads into the viewer, giving you direct access to sequence clip parameters like size, position, filters and color correction. As such, you can use it in much the same way as Media Composer’s Effects or Color Correction modes (or Toolsets). For example, if you wish to move along your timeline – adjusting color correction or filter settings as you go – simply switch the playhead sync to open and select the filters tab in the viewer. Now the parameters of each timeline clip are immediately available as you advance to that clip. No double-clicking required!

Extend – This is a fast trim function, which is designed much like Media Composer’s Extend. Simply highlight a cut (or the edge of a clip), move the cursor forward or backward to the frame you want the cut changed to and hit the E key. Voila – the cut has jumped to the cursor location and the clip ins/outs have changed accordingly.

Mix automation – If you are tired of rubber-banding keyframes, then why not use the mix automation? Click on the Record Audio Keyframes button in the Audio Mixer and then you will always be working in the “touch” automation mode. This means that if the timeline is playing, any move you make on a track fader is active and will write new audio level keyframes. The level will hold at the last keyframe written for the remainder of the track or clip; however, if there is an existing keyframe at the end, the level will gradually increase or decrease to match that point. Hardware control surfaces from Mackie, Avid/Euphonix, Frontier Designs, Presonus and others may be used to manipulate these virtual faders if you find mouse-mixing to be fatiguing.

Multiple transitions – The last cool FCP7 feature I’ll mention is the ability to add multiple transitions to a series of timeline clips in a single step. Select the range of clips to which you want to apply a common transition. Drag the transition from the Effects folder and hover over the selected clips, so that all (not just one) stay highlighted. Drop the transition and it will be applied to all the cuts surrounding this range of clips. I like to add small (:02 to :04) audio dissolves to all of my dialogue edits. This is a great way of doing that in a single step – saving a huge number of keystrokes.

As a reminder, the “What’s New” 2009 Ripple Training tutorials cover many of the new features added to Final Cut Studio and Final Cut Pro 7. Click here and here for some additional Final Cut Pro editing tips.

Hope this helps. Enjoy the New Year and happy cutting!

©2010 Oliver Peters

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Stocking Stuffers for Editors

Whether it’s the holiday season or just taxes, the end of the year is often a time when production and post folks add a few goodies to their toolkits. Here are just a few suggestions of things to put under the tree for that editor in your life.

Storage – You can never have enough and it’s cheaper than ever. In fact, adding more hard drive capacity will likely have a greater direct impact on your workflow and efficiency than other upgrades. Ironically, many editors buy a Mac Pro or PC tower and never bump up the internal storage. In the case of a Mac Pro, you have four internal drive slots and new drives couldn’t be easier to install. I bought my tower with two 640GB drives for applications, documents and studio software components (stock animation, graphics, sound effects, music, etc.). Later I dropped in two more 1TB drives to create an internal media RAID (striped as RAID-0) for a 2TB working pool.

I’m partial to Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB raw drives (3.5” eSATA 7200RPM), but Seagate and Hitachi also offer a number of great options. These typically go for around $100 – $130, but I picked up some for $60 each during the Black Friday sales at Best Buy. These are also great for archiving media from finished projects. I connect a Thermaltake drive dock, pop in the drive and copy what I need. Some adventurous souls have even moved their Mac’s boot drive into the space for a second optical drive and populated all four Mac Pro drive trays with 2TB drives – creating an internal 8TB RAID! That’s officially an unsupported configuration, but by all accounts, seems to work just fine.

Audio monitoring – As long as we are looking at hardware upgrades… What about audio? Many small edit bays are equipped with the cheapest audio monitoring available and it’s a good place to start bringing things up a notch. I recently dumped my Altec computer speakers for a pair of Avid M-Audio AV-40 powered speakers and a Mackie 402-VLZ3 desktop mixer. I also sprung for the Auralex MoPAD speaker isolation wedges to angle them properly and eliminate reverberation through the desk surface. Although the Mackie is really just a glorified volume knob, it really does help with how the room feels. My audio signal chain passes through an Avid Mbox2 Mini to the Mackie and then to the speakers. Other mixer and speaker options I would suggest include products from Behringer and KRK, respectively.

PHYXware – If you use Noise Industries FxFactory filters or Shake, then you’re probably aware of the PHYX plug-ins (Color, Keyer, Cleaner). I’ve reviewed PHYX Color, but I recently had a chance to use PHYX Keyer on a tough After Effects green-screen job. On the forums, editors are constantly asking about better keying tools – especially working with Final Cut Pro. PHYX Keyer is a very powerful set of tools, especially when combined with what’s already included in After Effects. Plus it works great with FCP and Motion.

Focusrite Scarlett Plug-in Suite – Plug-ins are audio, too! Most NLEs and suites includes some decent audio filters. That’s especially true with Apple’s Final Cut Studio and Soundtrack Pro. But sometimes you want more. One cool set of audio filters is the Scarlett suite from Focusrite. These come in VST, AU and RTAS formats, so they work in Avid Media Composer 5 and Pro Tools, as well as Soundtrack Pro. The filter GUIs mimic Focusrite’s Red series of analog products, complete with a classic port-hole VU meter. The sound is very clean and the filter set includes a compressor, EQ, gate and reverb plug-in.

Red Giant Software Magic Bullet Photolooks – If you’ve used Looks, then you know what it can do. Photolooks adds that power to Adobe Photoshop. The recently released 1.5 update extends the same functionality to Apple Aperture and Adobe Lightroom. The same installation covers all three apps, so no need to bounce out to Photoshop just to add some effects to your photographs.

Singular Software PluralEyes – This is as close to magic as any software gets. I’ve discussed it numerous times since it was first released for Final Cut. In that time, Singular has released versions for others NLEs, as well as the standalone DualEyes product. I had occasion to use it again this past week and was once again blown away by the work it saved me.

I had three hours worth of wild meeting footage taped on two Canon EOS 5D Mark II cameras (a total of six hours of raw footage). The audio was recorded as double-system sound on a Zoom H4n recorder. No matching timecode and almost no slates to speak of, as the crew was supposed to be unobtrusive. I was able to toss the whole thing at PluralEyes and have the entire collection of clips synced in about an hour!

Automatic Duck Media Copy – The various Pro Import and Pro Export programs set the gold standard for timeline translation, but an offshoot of this development is Media Copy. Automatic Duck has released a newly updated version that works well for both Avid Media Composer and Apple Final Cut Pro. It’s super-simple to operate. Simply toss it a sequence or bin and it will find and copy all the associated media. This is especially useful for Avid Media Composer editors, where the MXF-based Avid MediaFiles folder is a bit of a “black hole”. Media Copy is the ideal way to find and copy your files for archiving or moving the session to a remote location.

Cheers and Happy Holidays!

©2010 Oliver Peters

Post Trends for 2011

This has been a great year for technology innovation in the film and video industries and 2011 will continue that trend. Here are a few of the items and products to keep an eye on in the coming year.

Cameras

Post is driven by changes in production and cameras are a big factor in this equation. RED, ARRI and the continued push by HDSLRs of all types will mark 2011.

RED has lost some of its luster due to delays, but 2011 will see the first production models of the new Epic camera. This promises to be the highest-resolution, most advanced digital camera in active production. ARRI is currently picking up steam with its Alexa camcorder. Together, these two cameras will become the products to beat for mid-to-high budget film and television projects, meaning an even greater workflow impact on post. RED is still tied to its proprietary camera raw workflow, while ARRI offers both raw and direct-to-edit solutions, using on-board Apple ProRes recording.

HDSLR offerings from Canon and Nikon will see serious challenges from Sony and Panasonic. Both of these manufacturers are offering large sensor, interchangeable lens camcorders designed specifically for the video professional. So far, the first contender with real buzz is Panasonic’s AG-AF100, which has been built around the micro four thirds sensor format. Early showings of the camera have received positive reaction, although some editors aren’t thrilled about Panasonic’s choice to use the AVCHD codec. Nevertheless, I see plenty of interest among traditional videographers who have been less than thrilled with accessorizing a Canon 5D or 7D into a professional production rig.

Nonlinear editing

One market segment that is often described as “mature” has seen plenty of advances in 2010, with more to come in 2011. There’s a general push to lower the cost of high-end systems, address 64-bit processing and in some cases, change the business model entirely.

This started at the end of 2009 with Autodesk’s surprise introduction of Smoke for Mac OS X. That’s the first time a completely new editor has moved to the Mac platform in many years. 2010 picked up with the releases of Avid Media Composer 5 and Adobe Creative Suite 5. Both offered significant new features, but Adobe has pushed the performance envelope with 64-bit operation and an embrace of NVIDIA’s CUDA GPU processing technology. Other manufacturers, like Grass Valley and Sony, have also rolled out new versions of their popular EDIUS and Vegas Pro NLEs. Closing out the year’s tech shows at IBC, Avid announced a software-only version of its advanced Avid DS solution.

I’m sure 2011 will offer more advances in these mainstay products, but the two wild cards to watch out for are EditShare and The Foundry. EditShare acquired the venerable Lightworks editor and has decided to make it available to the open source development community. By making it an open source product, they are banking on out-of-the-box thinking to spawn innovation in this product. The Foundry has taken a different tack by developing a completely new editing application. STORM is a Mac-based finishing tool designed for RED media. It is scheduled to come out of beta in early 2011 and future versions will accommodate other camera formats.

All of this news from competitors leaves Apple Final Cut Pro users a bit antsy. I had originally felt that Apple would hold off until 2012, building a new Final Cut Studio around OS 10.7 (“Lion”), which was just previewed. If that comes out by the middle of 2011, then giving the Pro Apps team adequate QC time to develop a 10.7-optimized version of Final Cut Studio would put it into 2012. However, a number of posts that present some reasoned arguments for 2011 – coupled with the numerous Jobs’ e-mails proclaiming the awesomeness of the next version – have me believing in a 2011 release after all. Unfortunately, I don’t think that version will have the goodies everyone is hoping for.

I feel a 2011 release of Final Cut Studio will be a lot like the “new” Final Cut Studio release of 2009. Many consider that lackluster, but it in fact brought us a number of improvements that I personally have found quite useful on each and every FCP session I work. Since so many editors and small facilities have built their entire business model around FCP/FCS, I personally feel that Apple is gambling that some of the major new features in Avid MC 5 and Adobe CS5 will only appeal to a vocal minority who will make a switch. On the other hand, the majority of FCP users will welcome an evolutionary, rather than a revolutionary release. This is the approach they took with Aperture. We could very well see a two-step update, with a modest revision for 2011 and a 64-bit overhaul in 2012. As always, the Apple crystal ball is pretty blurry!

Apple ProRes

Apple has been working with many developers to adopt the ProRes codec family as a de facto standard. Free QuickTime components that decode QuickTime files using a ProRes codec have been available for the Windows and Mac platforms from Apple for some time now. That’s different for manufacturers, though, who must enter into a licensing agreement with Apple in order to write a ProRes codec file with a hardware product. It’s here that Apple has had some key successes, notably AJA (Ki Pro and Ki Pro Mini) and now the ARRI Alexa camera. I would expect to see more such agreements, as many manufacturers develop products that fit into the greater Apple ecosystem.

Stereo 3D

2010 was a year for stereo 3D at NAB. Avatar did well at the box office and many broadcasters are dipping their toe in the water. I still see stereo 3D as a niche product – albeit a very large niche. If you edit, then stereo 3D may become a huge budget variable when producers apply a “fix it in post” mentality. Well done stereo 3D must be properly planned from the beginning.

The good news is that many post tools are becoming available for stereo 3D projects. In fact, this past year Quantel announced that its 3D-capable systems are outselling the 2D-only units.  Avid Media Composer has had built-in stereo 3D features for a couple of versions. Cineform’s Neo3D, The Foundry’s Ocula and Dashwood Cinema Solutions’ Stereo3D Toolbox (part of Noise Industries’ FxFactory) are just some of the rich tools available to handle stereo 3D in a variety of editing and compositing products.

Finally, some hardware I/O manufacturers have introduced stereo 3D offerings. Any card that can handle dual-link data paths is capable of stereo 3D processing. AJA and Blackmagic Design have updated the firmware of some of their Kona and Decklink cards to make them stereo 3D-compatible.

Shared storage

As storage costs drop, facilities are for the first time entertaining the purchase of shared storage systems. Once thought to be out of reach, the ever lower cost of hard drives has made these solutions affordable. This is driven by the use of two technologies – Apple File-sharing Protocol over Ethernet and fibre channel configurations with integrated servers. The latter, so-called “SAN-in-a-can” systems, let small shops integrate shared storage solutions using a largely plug-and-play approach. No separate server installation is required to handle the system control. Volume-level permissions are easily handled through user-friendly software tools, like Command Soft’s FibreJet.

The Ethernet approach permits users to install shared systems using a basic Mac Pro as the “server” to which storage is locally attached. Then the “client” stations connect to that storage through the Mac Pro using Apple’s standard networking protocol and Gig-E wiring. Although technically not as robust as a fibre channel solution, these systems are ideal for small shops with two to six edit bays working in compressed HD media, like Apple ProRes or DVCPROHD. There are plenty of resellers specializing in such systems, but common vendors include EditShare, Facilis Technology, Maxx Entertainment Digital, ProMax, Small Tree, 1 Beyond, iStoragePro and CalDigit.

Disruptive but innovative

Blackmagic Design has made a business out of pushing new technology boundaries and driving down cost. They were the first I/O card manufacturer to offer 3Gb/s as well as Fiber Optic SDI connections. This year they introduced several products using USB 3.0 connections, such as the UltraStudio Pro. Unfortunately Apple, HP, Dell and others tend to lag behind, but look for more compatibility with USB 3.0 in the coming year.

The real Blackmagic Design shocker came from their acquisition of DaVinci. They have since released DaVinci Resolve for the Mac, bringing this industry-standard color grading tool to a whole new group of customers. Alternately received as either a monumental feat or the end of civilization as we know it, DaVinci Resolve (starting at $995) promises to democratize the world of color correction. It will do for colorists much the same as what FCP has done for editors. Although I don’t see a ton of FCP users suddenly dropping Color in favor of Resolve, I do see it as a way for small shops to offer new color grading services and promote themselves in ways not possible before. DaVinci Resolve is equally functional in a tape-based or a file-based world. Many of these shops will be Avid, EDIUS, Premiere Pro or Vegas Pro facilities that are interested in installing an affordable color grading room to augment their editing services. Equipped with a lower investment cost and the “name brand” product, they are bound to give the established color correction specialty facilities a run for their money, as long as they have the talent to back it up.

Click HERE for an additional look at Production Trends in 2011.

Written for Videography magazine (NewBay Media LLC).

©2010 Oliver Peters

When it absolutely has to be there

A lot of the productions we post these days are delivered electronically – either on the web or as DVDs (or Blu-rays). Bouncing a finished product to an FTP site is a pretty good method for getting short projects around the world, but often masters or longer DVDs still require shipping. For many of us, FedEx is a mainstay; however, if it has to get halfway around the world by the next day, then even FedEx falls short. This reminds me of a bumper sticker slogan for an imaginary Tardis Express: “When it absolutely, positively has to get there yesterday!” So, with apologies to Dr. Who, how do you make this happen?

I recently had to get an eight minute presentation to a client in Australia. This was to be presented from DVD. Due to last minute changes, there was no time for physical shipping – even if we could have gotten it there overnight (quite unlikely). I could, of course, post an MPEG2 and AC3 file or a disc image file, but the client at the other end would not have been savvy enough to take this into a DVD authoring program (like DVD Studio Pro or even Toast) and actually burn a final disc. The second wrinkle was that my master was edited in the NTSC world of 29.97fps. Although many Australians own multi-standard DVD players, there was no guarantee that this would be the case in our situation. After a bit of trial-and-error with the director, we settled on this approach and I pass it along. Take this as more of a helpful anecdote rather than a professional workflow, but in a pinch it can really save you.

Apple iDVD will take a QuickTime movie and automatically generate the necessary encoded DVD files. That’s not much of a surprise, but, of course FTP’ing a ProRes master wouldn’t have been feasible, as the file size would have still been too large. It turns out, though, that iDVD will also do this from other QuickTime formats including high-quality H.264 files. Our Australian client’s daughter understood how to use iDVD, so the director decided it would be a simple matter to talk her through downloading the file and burning the presentation disc.

The first step for me was to generate a 25fps master file from my 29.97 end product. Compressor can do this and I’ve discussed the process before in my posts about dealing with HDSLRs. First, I converted the 29.97 file to a 25fps ProRes file. Then I took the 25fps ProRes high-def video and converted it in Compressor to a 16×9 SD PAL file, using a high-quality H.264 setting (around 8Mbps). Bounce it up to my MobileMe account, “share” the file and let the daughter generate the DVD in Australia using iDVD on her MacBook. Voila! Halfway around the world and no shipping truck in sight!

A related situation happened to me in 2004 – the year several hurricanes crisscrossed through central Florida. The first of these was headed our way out of the Gulf in the middle of my editing a large corporate job. Initially the storm looked like Tampa would get a direct hit and then pass to the north of Orlando. It was Friday and everyone was battening down for the weekend, so I called my announcer to see what his plans were for getting voice-over tracks to me. “No problem. I am putting up friends from Tampa and once they get settled in, I’ll record the tracks and send them your way.” That seemed fine, since I didn’t need these until Monday.

Unfortunately the storm track changed – blowing in south of the Tampa area and straight through central Florida. The main local damage was power outages, due to many fallen trees throughout the city. Power returned relatively quickly at my house, but much of the area ultimately was without power for several weeks. However, the weekend progressed and I still hadn’t heard back from my announcer. By Sunday I finally got through to him on the cell phone.

“Were you able to record the tracks?” I asked.  “Oh yes,” he replied. “They are up on my FTP site.” What followed is a classic. “We lost power and, in fact, it’s still out. I waited until the neighbor’s generator was off for the evening and was able to record the tracks to my laptop using battery power. Then I drove around and found a Panera Bread location.” Panera Bread is a national restaurant/coffee shop chain that offers free wi-fi connectivity in most of its locations. He continued, “The restaurant was closed, but they must have had power as the wi-fi was still running. So, I sat in the parking lot and uploaded the files to my FTP site.”

So thanks to modern technology and the world of consumer connectivity, both of these clients were able to receive their products on schedule. That’s in spite of logistical difficulties that would have made this sort of thing impossible only a few short years ago. Time machine – or phone booth – anyone?

©2010 Oliver Peters