DaVinci Resolve Workflows

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Blackmagic Design’s purchase of DaVinci Systems put a world class color grading solution into the hands of every video professional. With Resolve 9, DaVinci sports a better user interface that makes it easy to run, regardless of whether you are an editor, colorist or DIT working on set.  DaVinci Resolve 9 comes in two basic Mac or Windows software versions, the $995 paid and the free Lite version. The new Blackmagic Cinema Camera software bundle also includes the full (paid) version, plus a copy of Ultrascope. For facilities seeking to add comprehensive color grading services, there’s also a version with Blackmagic’s dedicated control surface, as well as Linux systems configurations.

Both paid and free versions of Resolve (currently at version 9.1) work the same way, except that the paid version offers larger-than-HD output, noise reduction and the ability to tap into more than one extra GPU card for hardware acceleration. Resolve runs fine with a single display card (I’ve done testing with the Nvidia GT120, the Nvidia Quadro 4000 and the ATI 5870), but requires a Blackmagic video output card if you want to see the image on a broadcast monitor.

Work in Resolve 9 generally flows left-to-right, through the tabbed pages, which you select at the bottom of the interface screen. These are broken into Media (where you access the media files that you’ll be working with), Conform (importing/exporting EDL, XML and AAF files), Color (where you do color correction), Gallery (the place to store and recall preset looks) and Deliver (rendering and/or output to tape).

Many casual users employ Resolve in these two ways: a) correcting camera files to send on to editorial, and b) color correction roundtrips with NLE software. This tutorial is intended to highlight some of the basic workflow steps associated with these tasks. Resolve is deep and powerful, so spend time with the excellent manual to learn its color correction tools, which would be impossible to cover here.

Creating edit-ready dailies – BMCC (CinemaDNG media)

The Blackmagic Cinema Camera can record images as camera raw, CinemaDNG image sequences. Resolve 9 can be used to turn these into QuickTime or MXF media for editing. Files may be graded for the desired final look at this point, or the operator can choose to apply the BMD Film preset. This log preset generates files with a flat look comparable to ARRI Log-C. You may prefer this if you intend to use a Log-to-Rec709 LUT (look up table) in another grading application or a filter like the Pomfort Log-to-Video effect, which is available for Final Cut Pro 7/X.df_resolve_1_sm

Step 1 – Media: Drag clip folders into the Media Pool section.

Step 2 – Conform: Skip this tab, since the clips are already on a single timeline.

df_resolve_3_smStep 3 – Color: Make sure the camera setting (camera icon) for the clips on the timeline are set to Project. Open the project settings (gear icon). Change and apply these values: 1) Camera raw – CinemaDNG; 2) White Balance – as shot; 3) Color Space and Gamma – BMD Film.

Step 4 – Deliver: Set it to render each clip individually, assign the target destination and frame rate and the naming options. Then choose Add Job and Start Render.

The free version of Resolve will downscale the BMCC’s 2.5K-wide images to 1920×1080. The paid version of Resolve will permit output at the larger, native size. Rendered ProRes files may now be directly imported into FCP 7, FCP X or Premiere Pro. Correct the images to a proper video appearance by using the available color correction tools or filters within the NLE that you are using.

Creating edit-ready dailies – ARRI Alexa / BMCC (ProRes, DNxHD media)

df_resolve_2_smBoth the ARRI Alexa and the Blackmagic Cinema Camera can record Apple ProRes and Avid DNxHD media files to onboard storage. Each offers a similar log gamma profile that may be applied during recording in order to preserve dynamic range. Log-C for the Alexa and BMD Film for Blackmagic. These profiles facilitate high-quality grading later. Resolve may be used to properly grade these images to the final look as dailies are generated, or it may simply be used to apply a viewing LUT for a more pleasing appearance during the edit.

Step 1 – Media: Drag clip folders into the Media Pool section.

Step 2 – Conform: Skip this tab, since the clips are already on a single timeline.

Step 3 – Color: Make sure the camera setting for the clips on the timeline are set to Project. Open the project settings and set these values: 3D Input LUT – ARRI Alexa Log-C or BMD Film to Rec 709.

df_resolve_4_smStep 4 – Deliver: Set it to render each clip individually, assign the target destination and frame rate and the naming options. Check whether or not to render with audio. Then choose Add Job and Start Render.

The result will be new, color corrected media files, ready for editing. To render Avid-compatible MXF media for Avid Media Composer, select the Avid AAF Roundtrip from the Easy Setup presets. After rendering, return to the Conform page to export an AAF file.

Roundtrips – using Resolve together with editing applications

DaVinci Resolve supports roundtrips from and back to NLEs based on EDL, XML and AAF lists. You can use Resolve for roundtrips with Apple Final Cut Pro 7/X, Adobe Premiere Pro and Avid Media Composer/Symphony. You may also use it to go between systems. For example, you could edit in FCP X, color correct in Resolve and then finish in Premiere Pro or Autodesk Smoke 2013. Media should have valid timecode and reel IDs to enable the process to work properly.

df_resolve_5_smIn addition to accessing the camera files and generating new media with baked-in corrections, these roundtrips require an interchange of edit lists. Resolve imports an XML and/or AAF file to link to the original camera media and places those clips on a timeline that matches the edited sequence. When the corrected (and trimmed) media is rendered, Resolve must generate new XML and/or AAF files, which the NLE uses to link to these new media files. AAF files are used with Avid systems and MXF media, while standard XML files and QuickTime media is used with Final Cut Pro 7 and Premiere Pro. FCP X uses a new XML format that is incompatible with FCP 7 or Premiere Pro without translation by Resolve or another utility.

Step 1 – Avid/Premiere Pro/Final Cut Pro: Export a list file that is linked to the camera media (AAF, XML or FCPXML).

Step 2- Conform (skip Media tab): Import the XML or AAF file. Make sure you have set the options to automatically add these clips to the Media Pool.

Step 3 – Color: Grade your shots as desired.df_resolve_6_sm

Step 4 – Deliver: Easy Setup preset – select Final Cut Pro XML or Avid AAF roundtrip. Verify QuickTime or MXF rendering, depending on the target application. Change handle lengths if desired. Check whether or not to render with audio. Then choose Add Job and Start Render.

df_resolve_9_smStep 5 – Conform: Export a new XML (FCP7, Premiere Pro), FCPXML (FCP X) or AAF (Avid) list.

The roundtrip back

The reason you want to go back into your NLE is for the final finishing process, such as adding titles and effects or mixing sound. If you rendered QuickTime media and generated one of the XML formats, you’ll be able to import these new lists into FCP7/X or Premiere Pro and those applications will reconnect to the files in their current location. FCP X offers the option to import/copy the media into its own managed Events folders.

df_resolve_7_smIf you export MXF media and a corresponding AAF list with the intent of returning to Avid Media Composer/Symphony, then follow these additional steps.

Step 1 – Copy or move the folder of rendered MXF media files into an Avid MediaFiles/MXF subfolder. Rename this copied folder of rendered Resolve files with a number.

Step 2 – Launch Media Composer or Symphony and return to your project or create a new project.df_resolve_8_sm

Step 3 – Open a new, blank bin and import the AAF file that was exported from Resolve. This list will populate the bin with master clips and a sequence, which will be linked to the new MXF media rendered in Resolve and copied into the Avid MediaFiles/MXF subfolder.

Originally written for DV magazine / Creative Planet Network

©2013 Oliver Peters

The NLE that wouldn’t die

It’s been 18 months since Apple launched Final Cut Pro X and the debate over it continues to rage without let-up. Apple likely has good sales numbers to deem it a success, but if you look around the professional world, with a few exceptions, there has been little or no adoption. Yes, some editors are dabbling with it to see where Apple is headed with it – and yes, some independent editors are using it for demanding projects, including commercials, corporate videos and TV shows. By comparison, though, look at what facilities and broadcasters are using – or what skills are required for job openings – and you’ll see a general scarceness of FCP X.

Let’s compare this to the launch of the original Final Cut Pro (or “legacy”) over 12 years ago. In a similar fashion, FCP was the stealth tool that attracted individual users. The obvious benefit was price. At that time a fully decked out Avid Media Composer was a turnkey system costing over $100K. FCP was available as software for only $999. Of course, what gets lost in that measure, is the Avid price included computer, monitors, wiring, broadcast i/o hardware and storage. All of this would have to be added to the FCP side and in some cases, wasn’t even possible with FCP. In the beginning it was limited to DV and FireWire only. But there were some key advantages it introduced at the start, over Avid systems. These included blend modes, easy in-timeline editing, After Effects-style effects and a media architecture built upon the open, extensible and ubiquitous QuickTime foundation. Over the years, a lot was added to make FCP a powerful system, but at its core, all the building blocks were in place from the beginning.

When uncompressed SD and next HD became the must-have items, Avid was slow to respond. Apple’s partners were able to take advantage of the hardware abstraction layer to add codecs and drivers, which expanded FCP’s capabilities. Vendors like Digital Voodoo, Aurora Video Systems and Pinnacle made it possible to edit something other than DV. Users have them to thank – more so than Apple – for growing FCP into a professional tool. When FCP 5 and 6 rolled around, the Final Cut world was pretty set, with major markets set to shift to FCP as the dominant NLE. HD, color correction and XML interchange had all been added and the package was expanded with an ecosystem of surrounding applications. By the time of the launch of the last Final Cut Studio (FCP 7) in 2009, Apple’s NLE seemed unstoppable. Unfortunately FCP 7 wasn’t as feature-packed as many had expected. Along with reticence to chuck recently purchased PowerMac G5 computers, a number of owners simply stayed with FCP 5 and/or FCP 6.

When Apple discusses the number of licensees, you have to parse how they define the actual purchases. While there are undoubtedly plenty of FCP X owners, the interpretation of sales is that more seats of FCP X have been sold than of FCP 7. Unfortunately it’s hard to know what that really means. Since it’s a comparison to FCP 7 – and not every FCP 1-6 owner upgraded to 7 – it could very well be that the X number isn’t all that large. Even though Apple EOL’ed (end of life) Final Cut Studio with the launch of FCP X, it continued to sell new seats of the software through its direct sales and reseller channels. In fact, Apple seems to still have it available if you call the correct 800 line. When Apple says it has sold more of X than of 7, is it counting the total sales (including those made after the launch) or only before? An interesting statistic would be the number of seats of Final Cut Studio (FCP 7) sold since the launch of FCP X as compared to before. We’ll never know, but it might actually be a larger number. All I know is that the system integrators I personally know, who have a long history of selling and servicing FCP-based editing suites, continue to install NEW FCP 7 rooms!

Like most drastic product changes, once you get over the shock of the new version, you quickly realize that your old version didn’t instantly stop working the day the new version launched. In the case of FCP 7, it continues to be a workhorse, albeit the 32-bit architecture is pretty creaky. Toss a lot of ProRes 4444 at it and you are in for a painful experience. There has been a lot of dissatisfaction with FCP X among facility owners, because it simply changes much of the existing workflows. There are additional apps and utilities to fill the gap, but many of these constitute workarounds compared to what could be done inside FCP 7.

Many owners have looked at alternatives. These include Adobe Premiere Pro, Avid Media Composer/Symphony, Media 100 and Autodesk Smoke 2013. If they are so irritated at Apple as to move over to Windows hardware, then the possibilities expand to include Avid DS, Grass Valley Edius and Sony Vegas. Several of these manufacturers have introduced cross-grade promotional deals to entice FCP “legacy” owners to make the switch. Avid and Adobe have benefited the most in this transition. Editors who were happy with Avid in the past – or work in a market where Avid dominates – have migrated back to Media Composer. Editors who were hoping for the hypothetical FCP 8 are often making Adobe Premiere (and the Production Premium bundle) their next NLE of choice. But ironically, many owners and users are simply doing nothing and continuing with FCP 7 or even upgrading from FCP 6 to FCP 7.

Why is it that FCP 7 isn’t already long gone or on the way out by now? Obviously the fact that change comes slowly is one answer, but I believe it’s more than that. When FCP 1.0 came on the scene, its interface and operational methodology fit into the existing NLE designs. It was like a “baby Avid” with parts of Media 100 and After Effects dropped in. If you cut on a Media Composer, the transition to FCP was pretty simple. Working with QuickTime made it easy to run on most personal machines without extra hardware.  Because of its relatively open nature and reliance in industry-standard interchange formats (many of which were added over time), FCP could easily swap data with other applications using EDLs, OMFs, text-based log files and XML. Facilities built workflows around these capabilities.

FCP X, on the other hand, introduced a completely new editing paradigm that not only changed how you work, but even the accepted nomenclature of editing. Furthermore, the UI design even did things like reverse the behavior of some keystrokes from how similar functions had been triggered in FCP 7. In short, forget everything you know about editing or using other editing software if you want to become proficient with FCP X. That’s a viable concept for students who may be the professional editors of the future. Or, for non-fulltime editors who occasionally have to edit and finish professional-level productions as one small part of their job. Unfortunately, it’s not a good approach if you want to make FCP X the ubiquitous NLE in established professional video environments, like post houses, broadcasters and large enterprise users.

After all, if I’m a facility manager and you can’t show me a compelling reason why this is better and why it won’t require a complete internal upheaval, then why should I change? In most shops, overall workflow is far more important than the specific features of any individual application. Gone are the differences in cost, so it’s difficult to make a compelling argument based on ROI. You can no longer make the (false) argument of 1999 that FCP will only cost you 1% of the cost of an Avid. Or use the bogus $50K edit suite ad that followed a few years later.

Which brings us to the present. I started on Avid systems as the first NLE where I was in the driver’s seat. I’ve literally cut on dozens of edit systems, but for me, Final Cut Pro “legacy” fit my style and preferences best. I would have loved a 64-bit version with a cleaned-up user interface, but that’s not what FCP X delivers. It’s also not exactly where Premiere Pro CS6 is today. I deal with projects from the outside – either sent to me or at shops where I freelance. Apple FCP 7 and Avid Media Composer continue to be what I run into and what is requested.

Over the past few months I’ve done quite a few complex jobs on FCP X, when I’ve had the ability to control the decision. Yet, I cannot get through any complex workflow without touching parts of Final Cut Studio (“legacy”) to get the job done. FCP X seems to excel at small projects where speed trumps precision and interoperability. It’s also great for individual owner-operators who intend to do everything inside FCP X. But for complex projects with integrated workflows, FCP 7 is still decidedly better.

As was the case with early FCP, where most of the editing design was there at the start, I now feel that with the FCP X 10.0.6 update, most of its editing design is also in place. It may never become the tool that marches on to dominate the market. FCP “legacy” had that chance and Apple walked away from it. It’s dubious that lightning will strike twice, but 18 months is simply too short of a timeframe in which to say anything that definitive. All I know is that for now, FCP 7 continues as the preferred NLE for many, with Media Composer a close second. Most editors, like old dogs, aren’t too eager to learn new tricks. At least that’s what I conclude, based on my own ear-to-the-ground analysis. Check back this time next year to see if that’s still the case. For now, I see the industry continuing to live in a very fractured, multi-NLE environment.

©2012 Oliver Peters

Hemingway & Gellhorn

Director Philip Kaufman has a talent for telling a good story against the backdrop of history. The Right Stuff (covering the start of the United States’ race into space) and The Unbearable Lightness of Being (the 1968 Soviet invasion of Prague) made their marks, but now the latest, Hemingway & Gellhorn continues that streak.

Originally intended as a theatrical film, but ultimately completed as a made-for-HBO feature, Hemingway & Gellhorn chronicles the short and tempestuous relationship between Ernest Hemingway (Clive Owen) and his third wife, Martha Gellhorn (Nicole Kidman). The two met in 1936 in Key West, traveled to Spain to cover the Spanish Civil War and were married in 1940. They lived in Havana and after four years of a difficult relationship were divorced in 1945. During her 60-year career as a journalist, Gellhorn was recognized as being one of the best war correspondents of the last century. She covered nearly every conflict up until and including the U. S. invasion of Panama in 1989.

The film also paired another team – that of Kaufman and film editor Walter Murch – both of whom had last teamed up for The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I recently spoke with Walter Murch upon his return from the screening of Hemingway & Gellhorn at the Cannes Film Festival. Murch commented on the similarities of these projects, “I’ve always been attracted to the intersection of history and drama. I hadn’t worked with Phil since the 1980s, so I enjoyed tackling another film together, but I was also really interested in the subject matter. When we started, I really didn’t know that much about Martha Gellhorn. I had heard the name, but that was about it. Like most folks, I knew the legend and myth of Hemingway, but not really many of the details of him as a person.”

This has been Murch’s first project destined for TV, rather than theaters. He continued, “Although it’s an HBO film, we never treated it as anything other than a feature film, except that our total schedule, including shooting, was about six months long, instead of ten or more months. In fact, seeing the film in Cannes with an audience of 2,500 was very rewarding. It was the first time we had actually screened in front of a theatrical audience that large. During post, we had a few ‘friends and family’ screenings, but never anything with a formal preview audience. That’s, of course, standard procedure with the film studios. I’m not sure what HBO’s plans are for Hemingway & Gellhorn beyond the HBO channels. Often some of their films make it into theatrical distribution in countries where HBO doesn’t have a cable TV presence.”

Hemingway & Gellhorn was produced entirely in the San Francisco Bay area, even though it was a period film and none of the story takes place there. All visual effects were done by Tippett Studio, supervised by Christopher Morley, which included placing the actors into scenes using real archival footage. Murch explained, “We had done something similar in The Unbearable Lightness of Being. The technology has greatly improved since then, and we were able to do things that would have been impossible in 1986. The archival film footage quality was vastly different from the ARRI ALEXA footage used for principal photography. The screenplay was conceived as alternating between grainless color and grainy monochrome scenes to juxtapose the intimate events in the lives of Hemingway and Gellhorn with their presence on the world stage at historical events. So it was always intended for effect, rather than trying to convince the audience that there was a completely continuous reality. As we got into editing, Phil started to play with color, using different tinting for the various locations. One place might be more yellow and another cool or green and so on. We were trying to be true to the reality of these people, but the film also has to be dramatic. Plus, Phil likes to have fun with the characters. There must be balance, so you have to find the right proportion for these elements.”

The task of finding the archival footage fell to Rob Bonz, who started a year before shooting. Murch explained, “An advantage you have today that we didn’t have in the ‘80s is YouTube. A lot of these clips exist on-line, so it’s easier to research what options you might have. Of course, then you have to find the highest quality version of what you’ve seen on-line. In the case of the events in Hemingway & Gellhorn, these took place all over the world, so Rob and his researchers were calling all kinds of sources, including film labs in Cuba, Spain and Russia that might still have some of these original nitrate materials.”

This was Walter Murch’s first experience working on a film recorded using an ARRI ALEXA. The production recorded 3K ARRIRAW files using the Codex recorder and then it was the editorial team’s responsibility to convert these files for various destinations, including ProResLT (1280 x 720) for the edit, H.264 for HBO review and DPX sequences for DI. Murch was quite happy with the ALEXA’s image. He said, “Since these were 3K frames we were able to really take advantage of the size for repositioning. I got so used to doing that with digital images, starting with Youth Without Youth, that it’s now just second nature. The ALEXA has great dynamic range and the image held up well to subtle zooms and frame divisions. Most repositionings and enlargements were on the order of 125% to 145%, but there’s one blow-up at 350% of normal.”

In addition to Bonz, the editorial team included Murch’s son Walter (first assistant editor) and David Cerf (apprentice). Walter Murch is a big proponent of using FileMaker Pro for his film editor’s code book and explained some of the changes on this film. “Dave really handled most of the FileMaker jiu-jitsu. It works well with XML, so we were able go back and forth between FileMaker Pro and Final Cut Pro 7 using XML. This time our script supervisor, Virginia McCarthy, was using ScriptE, which also does a handshake with FileMaker, so that her notes could be instantly integrated into our database. Then we could use this information to drive an action in Final Cut Pro – for instance, the assembly of dailies reels. FileMaker would organize the information about yesterday’s shooting, and then an XML out of that data would trigger an assembly in Final Cut, inserting graphics and text as needed in between shots. In the other direction, we would create visibility-disabled slugs on a dedicated video track, tagged with scene information about the clips in the video tracks below. Outputting XML from Final Cut would create an instantaneous continuity list with time markers in FileMaker.”

The way Walter Murch organizes his work is a good fit for Final Cut Pro 7, which he used on Hemingway & Gellhorn and continues to use on a current documentary project. In fact, at a Boston FCP user gathering, Murch showed one of the most elaborate screen grabs of an FCP timeline that you can imagine. He takes full advantage of the track structure to incorporate temporary sound effects and music cues, as well as updated final music and effects.

Another trick he mentioned to me was something he referred to as a QuickTime skin. Murch continued, “I edit with the complete movie on the timeline, not in reels, so I always have the full cut in front of me. I started using this simple QuickTime skin technique with Tetro. First, I export the timeline as a self-contained QuickTime file and then re-import the visual. This is placed on the upper-most video track, effectively hiding everything below. As such, it’s like a ‘skin’ that wraps the clips below it, so the computer doesn’t ‘see’ them when you scroll back and forth. The visual information is now all at one location on a hard drive, so the system isn’t bogged down with unrendered files and other clutter. When you make changes, then you ‘razor-blade’ through the QuickTime and pull back the skin, revealing the ‘internal organs’ (the clips that you want to revise) below – thus making the changes like a surgeon. Working this way also gives a quick visual overview of where you’ve made changes. You can instantly see where the skin has been ‘broken’ and how extensive the changes were. It’s the visual equivalent of a change list. After a couple of weeks of cutting, on average, I make a new QuickTime and start the process over.”

Walter Murch is currently working on a feature documentary about the Large Hadron Collider. Murch, in his many presentations and discussions on editing, considers the art part plumbing (knowing the workflow), part performance (instinctively feeling the rhythm and knowing, in a musical sense, when to cut) and part writing (building and then modifying the story through different combinations of picture and sound). Editing a documentary is certainly a great example of the editor as writer. His starting point is 300 hours of material following three theorists and three experimentalists over a four-year period, including the catastrophic failure of the accelerator nine days after it was turned on for the first time. Murch, who has always held a love and fascination for the sciences, is once again at that intersection of history and drama.

Click here to watch the trailer.

(And here’s a nice additional article from the New York Times.)

Originally written for Digital Video magazine (NewBay Media, LLC).

©2012 Oliver Peters

Into the fire with FCP X

As most of you know in following this blog, I’ve challenged the wisdom of what Apple has done with Final Cut Pro X. You may have also sensed, however, that I have warmed a bit to the application over the months. I’ve been working with FCP X since its launch nearly a year ago, mostly on smaller, unsupervised commercials and web videos that I could do on my home system. A couple of my freelance clients have been looking at a possible move to Final Cut Pro X, so I could see it as an option in  my future.

Working on a small scale has been a good way to test the system and get my sea legs, but at some point you have to jump out of the frying pan and into the fire. Time to see how it really handled itself on a bigger job – with a client in the room – on a project that required working beyond the simple confines of the FCP X environment. The ideal project came along at a facility where I often hang out and edit. It’s a four-suite SAN-connected facility. I was confident enough with the software and its ability to get the job done that we deployed FCP X on a few of the workstations for this inaugural project.

Creative concept and production

This project was a series of employee-oriented TV commercials for a Midwest grocery retailer. In the commercials, real employees deliver variations on the company slogan. On-camera delivery included the full line and portions of the phrase, so that in edit, I would mix and match different employees saying all or part of the line. The style is based on the cadence created by juxtaposing different speakers. Of course, each spot needed the right blend of departments, ages, gender, etc. representing the client’s diverse workforce. It’s precisely because this concept would mesh with FCP X’s organizational abilities and the magnetic timeline that I felt X was the ideal editorial tool for these spots.

Past productions for this client have included 35mm film, ARRI ALEXA and Canon 5D. This time the primary camera was the new Canon C300, with a little bit of slomo B-roll footage recorded on the Canon 5D Mark III. An extra element in the mix was a Sound Devices PIX240 to be used as the prime recorder, taking the SDI feed (audio, video and timecode) out of the C300 camera. Footage was recorded to the on-board CF cards as a back-up, but the point of using the PIX240 was the ability to record a high-quality signal as ProResHQ in the PIX. Since the camera triggered the PIX240’s recording function, there would be matching clip numbers and timecode on each.

One issue in this configuration was the preferred format of 24p (1920×1080 @ 23.976fps progressive). The C300 adds 3:2 pulldown to the SDI stream to output 29.97. Fortunately, the PIX240 has built-in conversion capabilities, which includes pulldown removal. After some brief testing, I was comfortable enough with how the PIX240 handled this and in its ability to record an artifact-free 24p signal to its hard drive.

Pre-edit preparation

I’m a big believer in first preparing your footage in a proper manner before editing. I’m not a big fan of mixing a lot of native formats. This is especially true when it’s footage I know I will need to get back to and decipher in the future. Plus this footage had to go out-of-house for additional post work. In this case, the end product would be color graded on a Baselight system, so I wanted to make sure the post house would have all the media in the ProRes format, with EDL-compatible reel IDs and timecode.

The PIX240 recorded ProResHQ clips with a matching number scheme to the native Canon XF recordings, but the PIX assigned an arbitrary reel number of 001 as the default for recordings made on that hard drive. I prefer to have reel numbers correlate in some fashion to the date and location of the production. The reason is that this is metadata embedded into the file. If I simply read the file again a few years down the road, the reel number by itself will give me some idea what that file belongs to. The beauty of QuickTime files is that they can be modified in various valuable ways if you have the right software. In the case of the PIX240 recordings, I decided to alter the names and the reel ID information.

Changing the file name is relatively easy. I use Better Renamer, a batch renaming utility, to strip off the part of the name I don’t want and to add character strings that I do. The production took place in four cities and the C300 onboard recordings took several cards (which we referred to as rolls). Using Better Renamer, I would strip off PIX_ from a default name like PIX_355 and add back the prefix of KC_R4_ to change the name to KC_R4_355. This would designate Kansas City, roll 4, clip 355.

Changing the reel ID is trickier and technically a “destructive” process, because you are altering native file information. The easiest place to make such batch changes is Final Cut Pro 7. Yes, it’s hard at this point to get through a complex project like these spots and do it all within FCP X.

In FCP 7 you can batch-rename reel IDs in the browser, which alters the embedded information of the media file itself. Highlight the selected clips, make the change in the correct column and ignore the warning. I altered the default 001 to an 8-digit alphanumeric name (all caps) that matches EDL specs. I also wanted something that would make sense in the future for identification purposes. So clips shot on May 31 by the A-camera would become HV0531A1. Client – date – A camera – roll 1.

To convert the 5D files, I followed my standard method (outlined numerous times in this blog):

a) MPEG Streamclip to convert the files to ProRes

b) Cinema Tools to conform the speed to 23.98

c) QtChange to add/alter reel ID names and timecode

d) Better Renamer to change the file names.

Some of you will read this and wonder why I didn’t use Final Cut Pro X’s “Import from Camera” (like FCP 7’s Log & Transfer) or to simply edit natively. Part of the answer is that I first wanted to alter the media files themselves. This is important if you intend to hand off portions of the project to another system. FCP X changes internal database information, but not the media file. If you choose to import and copy the media into your event, then the new media file is named with a date/time UID stamp that’s pretty meaningless to someone just reading the file name.

FCP X also works with optimized media. One of the formats it considers optimized is the Canon XF codec, so you can’t have it convert this to ProRes even if you have that option selected. For this project, it made more sense to prep the files prior to entering into the FCP X world. That might not be the case on a different production.

Organizing your media for the edit

My biggest rationale for Final Cut Pro X were the internal organization features. The production included 720 Canon C300 clips (6 ½ hours) and 15 5D slomo clips (about 15 minutes). A total of 660GB of media (ProResHQ and ProRes). My current approach – and what I used on this session – is to import all the files into a single Event and leave the media linked to its original location on the hard drive – a folder on the SAN volume. If you do this, DO NOT move or alter the media files once you start editing in FCP X or you’ll run the risk of losing connection to the media files.

If you work with a lot of different FCP X jobs, you quickly learn that there is no internal way to manage different clients’ work. You either have to move these files manually from the Final Cut Events and Final Cut Projects folders to an “inactive” folder(s) – or you have to use a utility like Event Manager X. Doing this often and manually can add some confusion, so I recommend the following solution. Assign all productions a job number and add Media and Edits to the naming convention.

As an example, an Event might be labeled 2040_clientname_title_Media. You can create folders in the Project Library. At the top level create a new folder that will contains all of the Projects (sequences) for that production. It would be called 2040_clientname_title_Edits. Now when you have to manually move folders, there is only one top-level folder for each and it’s clear which one goes back into an Events or Projects folder.

Since I had placed all media clips into a single Event, Keyword Collections became the primary method of organizing the clips. Think of these as bins. There were 132 employees, 4 cities and 12 categories (pharmacy, managers, deli, etc.). I used keywords for each employee’s name and their category. Next, I created a folder for Keyword Collections to group people according to their city. Keywords can be assigned to hotkeys and you can apply keywords to a group of clips at once. Multiple keywords may be added to any clip.

The beauty is that anything you do in one area is applied to all. For example, applying the keyword Joe Smith to a clip sends that clip to the Keyword Collection for Joe Smith. Now, if you are in the Joe Smith Collection (think of it as a bin) and apply another keyword for Manager, the clip will also be added to the Manager Collection. All of the keywords (and ratings – like Favorite or Reject) that you have assigned to this clip, will appear in all instances for the clip. In this example, that would be in three places: the Event, the Joe Smith and the Manager Collections.

The next handy feature is ratings for Favorites and Rejects. With modern file-based cameras, you typically end up with a lot of short clips. In addition to false starts and bogus clips, these may also include short bursts for the slates preceding the actual clips. Using the Reject rating on any of these clips – and then setting the Event browser to “Hide Rejected” – will remove these clips from view. They are still there if you change the setting to “All Clips”. Obviously, you could use this for any completely bad takes, as well. After I culled the clips down to those with actual content using this method, the 720 employee clips was filtered down to 408 clips (6 hrs. 12 min. of content).

I set my Event browser to a  list (not thumbnail) view, which displays the selected clip as a filmstrip at the top of this pane of the UI. Since it shows video and audio in this filmstrip view, you can quite easily identify the spikes in the audio waveform every time the person delivers their line. It’s a simple matter to skim through each clip and add a marker for every successful line delivery. When it comes time to review the footage with the client, simply skip ahead to each marker to review that section.

The actual session

Working with the client in the room is a charm with Final Cut Pro X if you’ve done this level of organization. When clips from a certain person are requested, finding the right choice only takes a few moments. The best way to note client selects for the possible takes is to use FCP X’s system of range-based Favorites. Simply mark in-out points and hit “F” for favorite. A subclip is created for that portion of the longer clip. FCP X allows multiple, overlapping range-based selections within a clip.

Another trick is to use Smart Collections. For example, in this session, I created a Smart Collection for Favorites from each city. Once the proper filtering was defined, if I chose a range-based Favorite (subclip) for Joe Smith in Kansas City, then that section would appear in the Kansas City Smart Collection. Going forward, if the client or I wanted to review only the best options from those that had already been selected, I only needed to review the clips populated into these various Smart Collections.

The magnetic timeline design of Final Cut Pro X has been hotly debated, but it was the ideal approach for this set of spots, because we frequently re-arranged the order of the people in the spots. I did use Auditions once, but that didn’t prove too useful, due to the general slowness of setting up Audition clips. I used most of the editing tools X has to offer, excluding the various “automatics”, which aren’t too useful for this type of production. Since I varied the speed of some of the slomo shots, as well as slowed some of the standard shots, I was happy to have X’s Optical Flow for cleaner slomos.

Although I didn’t do the final color grading, I did have to use the built-in tools for review copies. The footage shot with the C300 used the Canon Log profile, resulting in a flatter, darker image. I was able to edit just fine this way, as the client understood, but then I quickly graded the completed rough cuts using the Color Board tool for a close-to-final look. This was needed in order to show execs for approval of the rough cuts.

Sending out

The final mix and color correction was done out-of-house, which required timeline translation with Xto7 for Final Cut Pro. Export an FCP X XML, import that into Xto7, which in turn opens it as an FCP 7 project and sequence.

Now for some glitches. Audio was all recorded with two mics, so FCP X defaults to stereo. I had changed these to dual mono in the Project and disabled (unchecked) the mic channel I wasn’t using on a clip-by-clip basis. The corresponding XML resulted in having no audio on the FCP 7 timeline. The fix seemed to be to restore my FCP X Project clips back to stereo, remove all level changes and then send to FCP 7 again. Now all the audio was there, except for one or two clips. These seem to have been affected by the slomo clips in the timeline, which also didn’t show up. In both cases, it was easy to manually add these clips back to the FCP 7 timeline and fix the issue.

From there, I exported an OMF  file with embedded audio for our Pro Tools mixer. Next, I needed to send full QuickTimes and a matching EDL to the colorist who was working on a Baselight system. I like to consolidate the media first and my favorite application is Automatic Duck Media Copy. It takes the FCP 7 XML and copies all the media used in that sequence. There is no conversion done in that process, so I feel it’s a safer approach than FCP 7’s Media Manager. Once copied, I take the new XML and open it back into FCP 7 and make sure that all media is reconnected to the copied files. This sequence is used to generate an EDL needed by the Baselight system. 94 clips were used in the string of six :30 commercials, requiring only 134GB of media instead of the full 660GB.

The roundtrip back

Now to conform the final commercials. Audio was no problem. Simply line up the AIFF files containing the mix and the stems (separate dialogue, sound effects and music) at the head and you have all you need for mixed and a split-track masters. Due to the “rubbery-ness” of the magnetic timeline, it did appear that removing transitions at the beginning and end of spots and removing the slomo clips caused some shifting of the spots within this string of six spots on a single Project timeline. No sync issues, but definitely not as locked into position as with an FCP 7 timeline. I did use the Audio Roles functions to export a multi-channel QuickTime file as a split-track submaster, which worked well.

Replacing the “dailies” footage with the rendered files from the Baselight system proved to be a bit trickier. Most color correction systems that render individual clips with handles will append unique IDs to the end of the file names for the rendered files. That’s because you might have used several clips from a single, longer camera file. Unfortunately, this complicates reconnecting the new media files. It’s completely impossible with FCP X, because everything about the file is seen by the software as different.

FCP 7 and Premiere Pro can relink, but require you to do this one clip at a time, as they can’t match the file names. Not ideal for 94 clips. I have done this in the past with Color, but for some reason, this time Color simply wouldn’t do it. In the future I will get a new XML from the transfer house that matches their baked files, which should eliminate these issues.

The workaround was to use Better Renamer and strip off the added suffix from the file name. Only a couple of clips were from a common source, so the application adds its own suffix (a, b, c, etc.) to these clips with the same name. Back in FCP 7, reconnect this media, manually reconnect the few clips with modified names and voila – you have the correct timeline linked to the new, graded shots. The last step was to export a new XML and use 7toX for Final Cut Pro to bring that sequence back into Final Cut Pro X. Marry it to the audio, make sure everything still lines up, add final graphics and Bob’s your uncle!

The final masters are HD, but broadcast distribution is still largely standard definition, 4×3 letterboxed files. After Effects continues to be my favored conversion method due to its clean scaling and correct 29.97fps interlaced files with the proper 3:2 pulldown cadence. All files were distributed electronically rather than on videotape. The finished spots may be viewed here.

Impressions

By and large this first big project went reasonably well. Editing in Final Cut Pro X is an acquired taste. If you stick with it and learn it, there’s a lot to like. I found that learning a few simple keystrokes and short cuts made things go faster and muscle memory kicked in for the new commands pretty quickly. I can’t say it was faster than with FCP 7. We got more done in the allotted schedule than was anticipated, but I believe (based on what I’ve done before with the same client) that the same would have been true with FCP 7, Media Composer or Premiere Pro.

There were some hiccups. The first was the SAN. This is a volume-level SAN, where each room has its own write volume plus read access to all the others. This doesn’t seem to work with FCP X’s “Add SAN Location” function, which was probably designed for a file-level SAN, like Apple Xsan. That doesn’t seem very important though, since multiple editors can still share the same media on the SAN drives.

I started with the Final Cut Events and Projects folders on the SAN volume, but experienced a lot of beachballs with nearly every second or third task. Sometimes a fraction of a second long and at other times, a couple of seconds. I experienced a couple of crashes and/or force quits a day. To FCP X’s credit, nothing was ever lost. Towards the end of the production, I moved the Events and Projects folder to the local drive (media still linked on the SAN volume) and all of these issues went away. So maybe network traffic creates some conflicts. The moral of the story is to keep your Events and Projects (renders, too, unfortunately) on a fast local drive and performance should be OK.

There are a lot of editing enhancements and software optimization that I hope will come soon. Editing/mixing audio is pretty weak in my opinion. (In fact, I found it refreshing to do some quick audio fixes on an existing commercial using FCP 7 again, after working in X for a while.) Simple titles are all Motion templates, so performance is VERY challenged. Stack two basic text lines over each other (no animation) and even a fast machine drops frames quickly unless you render.

After final delivery, I had to make a few quick changes, which required swapping clips on one spot and some color correction tweaks on three others. I had to match both the out-of-house color correction and the mix for these new clips. I could come close on the color correction using the Color Board, but needed the Broadcast Safe filter to clip white levels. This only works when you apply it to a compound clip, so you can’t see how your corrections are affected by the filter as you adjust the colors. Plus, it does more of a soft clip, thus changing the levels close to the ends rather than simply clipping. This filter has almost no adjustment control, making it of limited value. The same is true for audio, where compression and limiting does not work correctly when you try to apply it at the end of the audio chain. It is very hard to adjust your audio levels interactively between the compressor and the volume slider and get the correct limit.

Lastly, some of these fixes required that I use a few of the free plug-ins that various users have developed. You get what you pay for, as I found one that had a huge mistake in it. Applying the filter arbitrarily scaled the image up 150%. Fortunately these are all Motion templates, so it was a relatively easy matter to edit the filter in Motion and correct the mistake.

In the end, none of my concerns or complaints were deal-breakers. Editing was fast and generally fun, though you have to be very, very, very careful in what you do, when precision is important. Given the experience, I’ve moved onto another large corporate video project and will use Final Cut Pro X again on this one. Hey – I’m in the fire now!

©2012 Oliver Peters

RED post for My Fair Lidy

I’ve work on various RED projects, but a recent interesting example is My Fair Lidy, an independent film produced through the Valencia College Film Production Technology program. This was a full-blown feature shot entirely with RED One cameras. In this program, professional filmmakers with real projects in hand partner with a class of eager students seeking to learn the craft of film production. I’ve edited two of these films produced through the program and assisted in various aspects of post on many others. My Fair Lidy – a quirky comedy directed by program director Ralph Clemente – was shot in 17 days this summer at various central Florida locations. Two RED Ones were used – one handled by director of photography Ricardo Galé and the second by student cinematographers. My Fair Lidy was produced by SandWoman Films and stars Christopher Backus and Leigh Shannon.

There are many ways to handle the post production of native RED media and I’ve covered a number of them in these earlier posts. There is no single “best way” to handle these files, because each production is often best-served by a custom solution. Originally, I felt the way to tackle the dailies was to convert the .r3d camera files into ProRes 4444 files using the RedLogFilm profile. This gives you a very flat look, and a starting point very similar to ARRI ALEXA files shot with the Log-C profile. My intension would have been to finish and grade straight from the QuickTimes and never return to the .r3d files, unless I needed to fix some problems. Neutral images with a RedLogFilm gamma setting are very easy to grade and they let the colorist swing the image for different looks with ease. However, after my initial discussions with Ricardo, it was decided to do the final grade from the native camera raw files, so that we had the most control over the image, plus the ability to zoom in and reframe using the native 4K files as a source.

The dailies and editorial flow

My Fair Lidy was lensed with a 16 x 9 aspect ratio, with the REDs set to record 4096 x 2304 (at 23.98fps). In addition to a RED One and a healthy complement of grip, lighting and electrical gear, Valencia College owns several Final Cut Pro post systems and a Red Rocket accelerator card. With two REDs rolling most of the time, the latter was a godsend on this production.  We had two workstations set up – one as the editor’s station with a large Maxx Digital storage array and the other as the assistant’s station. That system housed the Red Rocket card. My two assistants (Kyle Prince and Frank Gould) handled all data back-up and conversion of 4K RED files to 1920 x 1080 ProResHQ for editorial media. Using ProResHQ was probably overkill for cutting the film (any of the lower ProRes codecs would have been fine for editorial decisions) but this gave us the best possible image for an potential screenings, trailers, etc.

Redcine-X was our tool for .r3d media organization and conversion. All in-camera settings were left alone, except the gamma adjustment. The Red Rocket card handles the full-resolution debayering of the raw files, so conversion time is close to real time. The two stations were networked via AFP (Apple’s file-sharing protocol), which permitted the assistant to handle his tasks without slowing down the editor. In addition, the assistant would sync and merge audio from the double-system sound, multi-track audio recordings and enter basic scene/take descriptions. Each shoot day had its own FCP project, so when done, project files and media (.r3d, ProRes and audio) were copied over to the editor’s Maxx array. Master clips from these daily FCP projects were then copied-and-pasted (and media relinked) into a single “master edit” FCP project.

For reasons of schedule and availability, I split the editing responsibilities with a second film editor, Patrick Tyler. My initial role was to bring the film to its first cut and then Patrick handled revisions with the producer and director. Once the picture was locked, I rejoined the project to cover final finishing and color grading. My Fair Lidy was on a very accelerated schedule, with sound design and music scoring running on a parallel track. In total, post took about 15 weeks from start to finish.

Finishing and grading

Since we didn’t use FCP’s Log and Transfer function nor the in-camera QuickTime reference files as edit proxies, there was no easy way to get Apple Color to automatically relink clips to the original .r3d files. You can manually redirect Color to link to RED files, but this must be done one shot at a time – not exactly desirable for the 1300 or so shots in the film.

The recommended workflow is to export an XML from FCP 7, which is then opened in Redcine-X. It will correctly reconnect to the .r3d files in place of the QuickTime movies. From there you export a new XML, which can be imported into Color. Voila! A Color timeline that matches the edit using the native camera files. Unfortunately for us, this is where reality came crashing in – literally. No matter what we did, using both  XMLs and EDLs, everything that we attempted to import into Color crashed the application. We also tried ClipFinder, another free application designed for RED media. It didn’t crash Color, but a significant number of shots were incorrectly linked. I suspect some internal confusion because of the A and B camera situation.

On to Plan B. Since Redcine-X correctly links to the media and includes not only controls for the raw settings, but also a healthy toolset for primary color correction, then why not use it for part of the grading process? Follow that up with a pass through Color to establish the stylistic “look”. This ended up working extremely well for us. Here are the basic steps I followed.

Step 1. We broke the film into ten reels and exported an XML file for each reel from FCP 7.

Step 2. Each reel’s XML was imported into Redcine-X as a timeline. I changed all the camera color metadata for each shot to create a neutral look and to match shots to each other. I used RedColor (slightly more saturated than RedColor2) and RedGamma2 (not quite as flat as RedLogFilm), plus adjusted the color temp, tint and ISO values to get a neutral white balance and match the A and B camera angles. The intent was to bring the image “within the goalposts” of the histogram. Occasionally I would make minor exposure and contrast adjustments, but for the most part, I didn’t touch any of the other color controls.

My objective was to end up with a timeline that looked consistent but preserved dynamic range. Essentially that’s the same thing I would do as the first step using the primary tab within Color. The nice part about this is that once I matched the settings of the shots, the A and B cameras looked very consistent.

Step 3. Each timeline was exported from Redcine-X as a single ProResHQ file with these new settings baked in. We had moved the Red Rocket card into the primary workstation, so these 1920 x 1080 clips were rendered with full resolution debayering. As with the dailies, rendering time was largely real-time or somewhat slower. In this case, approximately 10-20 minutes per reel.

Step 4. I imported each rendered clip back into FCP and placed it onto video track two over the corresponding clips for that reel to check the conforming accuracy and sync. Using the “next edit” keystroke, I quickly stepped through the timeline and “razored” each edit point on the clip from Redcine-X. This may sound cumbersome, but only took a couple of minutes for each reel. Now I had an FCP sequence from a single media clip, but with each cut split as an edit point. Doing this creates “notches” that are used by the color correction software for cuts between corrections. That’s been the basis for all “tape-to-tape” color correction since DaVinci started doing it and the new Resolve software still includes a similar automatic scene detection function today.

Step 5. I sent my newly “notched” timeline to Color and graded as I normally would. By using the Redcine-X step as a “pre-grade”, I had done the same thing to the image as I would have done using the RED tab within Color, thus keeping with the plan to grade from the native camera raw files. I do believe the approach I took was faster and better than trying to do it all inside Color, because of the inefficiency of bouncing in and out of the RED tab in Color for each clip. Not to mention that Color really bogs down when working with 4K files, even with a Red Rocket card in place.

Step 6. The exception to this process was any shot that required a blow-up or repositioning. For these, I sent the ProRes file from dailies in place of the rendered shot from Redcine-X. In Color, I would then manually reconnect to the .r3d file and resize the shot in Color’s geometry room, thus using the file’s full 4K size to preserve resolution at 1080 for the blow-up.

Step 7. The last step was to render in Color and then “Send to FCP” to complete the roundtrip. In FCP, the reel were assembled for the full movie and then married to the mixed soundtrack for a finished film.

© 2011 Oliver Peters