Photo Phun 2014


I’m back again this year with another post about stylizing photography. Thanks to Adobe’s Creative Cloud subscription model, the interest in alternatives to Photoshop has increased.

One application I ran across this year was Pixlr, which has been picked up by Autodesk. Free PC and Mac versions are available at their website and through the Mac App Store. You may then opt to extend it with a subscription. However, there’s plenty of power in the free version if your main interest is basic image correction (color adjustments, cropping, reframing). Of course, given the interest in stylizing photos with filters – the “Instagram” look – Pixlr features a number of menu options for effects, overlays and image styles. These are based on in-app downloads, so as you pick a category, the necessary files are downloaded and installed in the background to populate the selection, thus creating a library of elements to work with.

Below are a set of images processed with the free version of Pixlr. I’ve used many of these photo examples before, so if you check out the previous Photo Phun posts, you’ll be able to compare some of the same photos, but with different looks and styles. Click on any image below for a slideshow.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! See you in the new year!

©2014 Oliver Peters

The FCP X – RED – Resolve Dance


I recently worked on a short 10 minute teaser video for a potential longer film project. It was shot with a RED One camera, so it was a great test for the RED workflow and roundtrips using Apple Final Cut Pro 10.1.2/10.1.3 and DaVinci Resolve 11.

Starting the edit

As with any production, the first step is to properly back up and verify the data from the camera and sound cards. These files should go to redundant drives that are parked on the shelf for safe keeping. After this has been done, now you can copy the media to the editorial drives. In this case, I was using a LaCie RAID-5 array. Each day’s media was placed in a folder and divided into subfolders for RED, audio and other cameras, like a few 5D shots.

df_fcpx-red-resolve_4Since I was using FCP X and its RED and proxy workflows, I opted not to use REDCINE-X Pro as part of this process. In fact, the Mac Pro also didn’t have any RED Rocket accelerator card installed either, as I’ve seen conflicts with FCP X and RED transcodes when the RED Rocket card was installed. After the files were copied to the editorial drives, they were imported into an FCP X event, with media left in its original location. In the import setting, the option to transcode proxy media was enabled, which continues in the background while you start to work with the RED files directly. The camera files are 4K 16×9 .r3d files, so FCP X transcodes these to half-sized ProRes Proxy media.

df_fcpx-red-resolve_1Audio was recorded as double-system sound using a Sound Devices recorder. The audio files were 2-channel broadcast WAV files using slates for syncing. There was no in-camera audio and no common timecode. I was working with a couple of assistant editors, so I had them sync each clip manually. Instead of using FCP X’s synchronized clips, I had them alter each master clip using the “open in timeline” command. This lets you edit the audio directly to the video as a connected clip within the master clip. Once done, your master clip contains synced audio and video.  It functions just like a master clip with in-camera audio – almost (more on that later).df_fcpx-red-resolve_9

All synced clips were relabeled with a camera, scene and take designation, as well as adding this info to the camera, scene and take columns. Lastly, script notes were added to the notes column based on the script supervisor’s reports.


df_fcpx-red-resolve_6Since the post schedule wasn’t super-tight, I was able to let the transcodes finish overnight, as needed. Once this is done, you can switch FCP X to working with proxies and all the media will be there. The toggle between proxy and/or optimized-original media is seamless and FCP X takes care of properly changing all sizing information. For example, the project is 4K media in a 1080p timeline. FCP X’s spatial conform downscales the 4K media, but then when you toggle to proxy, it has to make the corresponding adjustments to media that is now half-sized. Likewise any blow-ups or reframing that you do also have to match in both modes.

df_fcpx-red-resolve_2The built-in proxy/optimized-original workflow provides you with offline/online editing phases right within the same system. Proxies for fast and efficient editing. Original or high-resolution transcodes for finishing. To keep the process fast and initially true to color decisions made on set, no adjustments were made to the RED files. FCP X does let you alter the camera raw color metadata from inside the application, but there’s no real reason to do this for offline editing files. That can be deferred until it’s time to do color correction. So during the edit, you see what the DoP shot as you view the RED files or the transcoded proxies.

df_fcpx-red-resolve_3We did hit one bad camera load. This might have been due to either a bad RED drive or possibly excessive humidity at that location. No matter what the reason, the result was a set of corrupt RED clips. We didn’t initially realize this in FCP X, and so, hit clips that caused frequent crashes. Once I narrowed it down to the load from that one location, I decided to delete these clips. For that group of shots, I used REDCINE-X Pro to transcode the files. I adjusted the color for a flatter, neutral profile (for later color correction) and transcoded full-resolution debayered 1080p ProRes 4444 files. We considered these as the new camera masters for those clips. Even there, REDCINE-X Pro crashed on a few of the clips, but I still had enough to make a scene out of it.


The first editing step is culling down the footage in FCP X. I do a first pass rejecting all bogus shots, like short clips of the floor, a bad slate, etc. Set the event browser to “hide rejected”. Next I review the footage based on script notes, looking at the “circle takes” first, plus picking a few alternates if I have a different opinion. I will mark these as Favorites. As I do this, I’ll select the whole take and not just a portion, since I want to see the whole take.

Once I start editing, I switch the event browser to “show favorites”. In the list view, I’ll sort the event by the scene column, which now gives me a quick roadmap of all possible good clips in the order of the script. During editing, I cut mainly using the primary storyline to build up the piece. This includes all overlapping audio, composites, titles and so on. Cutting proceeds until the picture is locked. Once I’m ready to move on to color correction, I export a project XML in the FCPXML format.


df_fcpx-red-resolve_7I used the first release version (not beta) of DaVinci Resolve 11 Lite to do this grade. My intention was to roundtrip it back to FCP X and not to use Resolve as a finishing tool, since I had a number of keys and composites that were easier done in FCP X than Resolve. Furthermore, when I brought the project into Resolve, the picture was right, but all of the audio was bogus – wrong takes, wrong syncing, etc. I traced this down to my initial “open in timeline” syncing, which I’ll explaining in a bit. Anyway, my focus in Resolve was only grading and so audio wasn’t important for what I was doing. I simply disabled it.

Importing the FCPXML file into a fresh Resolve 11 project couldn’t have been easier. It instantly linked the RED, 5D and transcoded ProRes 4444 files and established an accurate timeline for my picture cut. All resizing was accurately translated. This means that in my FCP X timeline, when I blew up a shot to 120% (which is a blow-up of the 1080p image that was downscaled from the 4K source), Resolve knew to take the corresponding crop from the full 4K image to equal this framing of the shot without losing resolution.

The one video gotcha I hit was with the FCP X timeline layout. FCP X is one of the only NLEs that lets you place video BELOW what any other software would consider to be the V1 track – that’s the primary storyline. Some of my green screen composite shots were of a simulated newscast inserted on a TV set hanging on a wall in the primary scene. I decided to place the 5 or 6 layers that made up this composite underneath the primary storyline. All fine inside FCP X, however, in Resolve, it has to interpret the lowest video element as V1, thus shifting everything else up accordingly. As a result the, bulk of the video was on V6 or V7 and audio was equally shifted in the other direction. This results in a lot of vertical timeline scrolling, since Resolve’s smallest track height is still larger than most.

df_fcpx-red-resolve_8Resolve, of course, is a killer grading tool that handles RED media well. My grading approach is to balance out the RED shots in the first node. Resolve lets you adjust the camera raw metadata settings for each individual clip, if you need to. Then in node 2, I’ll do most of my primary grading. After that, I’ll add nodes for selective color adjustments, masks, vignettes and so on. Resolve’s playback settings can be adjusted to throttle back the debayer resolution on playback for closer-to-real-time performance with RED media. This is especially important, when you aren’t running the fastest drives, fastest GPU cards nor using a RED Rocket card.

To output the result, I switched over to Resolve’s Deliver tab and selected the FCP X easy set-up. Select handle length, browse for a target folder and run. Resolve is a very fast renderer, even with GPU-based RED debayering, so output wasn’t long for the 130 clips that made up this short. The resulting media was 1080p ProResHQ with an additional 3 seconds per clip on either side of the timeline cut – all with baked in color correction. The target folder also contains a new FCPXML that corresponds to the Resolve timeline with proper links to the new media files.

Roundtrip back into FCP X

Back in FCP X, I make sure I’ve turned off the import preference to transcode proxy media and that my toggle is set back to original/optimized media. Find the new FCPXML file from Resolve and import it. This will create a new event containing a new FCP X project (edited sequence), but with media linked to the Resolve render files. Audio is still an issue, for now.

There is one interesting picture glitch, which I believe is a bug in the FCPXML metadata. In the offline edit, using RED or proxy media, spatial conform is enabled and set to “fit”. That scales the 4K file to a 1080p timeline. In the sequence back from Resolve, I noticed the timeline still had yellow render bars. When I switched the spatial conform setting on a clip to “none”, the render bar over it went away, but the clip blew up much larger, as if it was trying to show a native 4K image at 1:1. Except, that this was now 1080 media and NOT 4K. Apparently this resizing metadata is incorrectly held in the FCPXML file and there doesn’t appear to be any way to correct this. The workaround is to simply let it render, which didn’t seem to hurt the image quality as far as I could tell.


Now to an explanation of the audio issue. FCP X master clips are NOT like any other master clips in other NLEs, including FCP 7. X’s master clips are simply containers for audio and video essence and, in that way, are not unlike compound clips. Therefore, you can edit, add and/or alter – even destructively – any material inside a master clip when you use the “open in timeline” function. You have to be careful. That appears to be the root of the XML translation issue and the audio. Of course, it all works fine WITHIN the closed FCP X environment!

Here’s the workaround. Start in FCP X. In the offline edited sequence (locked rough cut) and the sequence from Resolve, detach all audio. Delete audio from the Resolve sequence. Copy and paste the audio from the rough cut to the Resolve sequence. If you’ve done this correctly it will all be properly synced. Next, you have to get around the container issue in order to access the correct WAV files. This is done simply by highlighting the connected audio clip(s) and using the “break apart clip items” command. That’s the same command used to break apart compound clips into their component source clips. Now you’ll have the original WAV file audio and not the master clip from the camera.

df_fcpx-red-resolve_11At this stage I still encountered export issues. If your audio mixing engineer wants an OMF for an older Pro Tools unit, then you have to go through FCP 7 (via an Xto7 translation) to create the OMF file. I’ve done this tons of time before, but for whatever reason on this project, the result was not useable. An alternative approach is to use Resolve to convert the FCPXML into XML, which can then be imported into FCP 7. This worked for an accurate translation, except that the Resolve export altered all stereo and multi-channel audio tracks into a single mono track. Therefore, a Resolve translation was also a fail. At this point in time, I have to say that a proper OMF export from FCP X-edited material is no longer an option or at least unreliable at best.

df_fcpx-red-resolve_10This leaves you with two options. If your mixing engineer uses Apple Logic Pro X, then that appears to correctly import and convert the native FCPXML file. If your mixer uses Pro Tools (a more likely scenario) then newer versions will read AAF files. That’s the approach I took. To create an AAF, you have to export an FCPXML from the project file. Then using the X2Pro Audio Convert application, generate an AAF file with embedded and trimmed audio content. This goes to the mixer who in turn can ingest the file into Pro Tools.

Once the mix has been completed, the exported AIF or WAV file of the mix is imported into FCP X. Strip off all audio from the final version of the FCP X project and connect the clip of the final mix to the beginning of the timeline. Now you are done and ready to export deliverables.

For more on RED and FCP X workflows, check out this series of posts by Sam Mestman at MovieMaker.

Part 1   Part 2   Part 3

©2014 Oliver Peters

24p HD Restoration


There’s a lot of good film content that only lives on 4×3 SD 29.97 interlaced videotape masters. Certainly in many cases you can go back and retransfer the film to give it new life, but for many small filmmakers, the associated costs put that out of reach. In general, I’m referring to projects with $0 budgets. Is there a way to get an acceptable HD product from an old Digibeta master without breaking the bank? A recent project of mine would say, yes.

How we got here

I had a rather storied history with this film. It was originally shot on 35mm negative, framed for 1.85:1, with the intent to end up with a cut negative and release prints for theatrical distribution. It was being posted around 2001 at a facility where I worked and I was involved with some of the post production, although not the original edit. At the time, synced dailies were transferred to Beta-SP with burn-in data on the top and bottom of the frame for offline editing purposes. As was common practice back then, the 24fps film negative was transferred to the interlaced video standard of 29.97fps with added 2:3 pulldown – a process that duplicates additional fields from the film frames, such that 24 film frames evenly add up to 60 video fields in the NTSC world. This is loaded into an Avid, where – depending on the system – the redundant fields are removed, or the list that goes to the negative cutter compensates for the adjustments back to a frame-accurate 24fps film cut.

df_24psdhd_5For the purpose of festival screenings, the project file was loaded into our Avid Symphony and I conformed the film at uncompressed SD resolution from the Beta-SP dailies and handled color correction. I applied a mask to hide the burn-in and ended up with a letter-boxed sequence, which was then output to Digibeta for previews and sales pitches to potential distributors. The negative went off to the negative cutter, but for a variety of reasons, that cut was never fully completed. In the two years before a distribution deal was secured, additional minor video changes were made throughout the film to end up with a revised cut, which no longer matched the negative cut.

Ultimately the distribution deal that was struck was only for international video release and nothing theatrical, which meant that rather than finishing/revising the negative cut, the most cost-effective process was to deliver a clean video master. Except, that all video source material had burn-in and the distributor required a full-height 4×3 master. Therefore, letter-boxing was out. To meet the delivery requirements, the filmmaker would have to go back to the original negative and retransfer it in a 4×3 SD format and master that to Digital Betacam. Since the negative was only partially cut and additional shots were added or changed, I went through a process of supervising the color-corrected transfer of all required 35mm film footage. Then I rebuilt the new edit timeline largely by eye-matching the new, clean footage to the old sequence. Once done and synced with the mix, a Digibeta master was created and off it went for distribution.

What goes around comes around

After a few years in distribution, the filmmaker retrieved his master and rights to the film, with the hope of breathing a little life into it through self-distribution – DVDs, Blu-rays, Internet, etc. With the masters back in-hand, it was now a question of how best to create a new product. One thought was simply to letter-box the film (to be in the director’s desired aspect) and call it a day. Of course, that still wouldn’t be in HD, which is where I stepped back in to create a restored master that would work for HD distribution.

Obviously, if there was any budget to retransfer the film negative to HD and repeat the same conforming operation that I’d done a few years ago – except now in HD – that would have been preferable. Naturally, if you have some budget, that path will give you better results, so shop around. Unfortunately, while desktop tools for editors and color correction have become dirt-cheap in the intervening years, film-to-tape transfer and film scanning services have not – and these retain a high price tag. So if I was to create a new HD master, it had to be from the existing 4×3 NTSC interlaced Digibeta master as the starting point.

In my experience, I know that if you are going to blow-up SD to HD frame sizes, it’s best to start with a progressive and not interlaced source. That’s even more true when working with software, rather than hardware up-convertors, like Teranex. Step one was to reconstruct a correct 23.98p SD master from the 29.97i source. To do this, I captured the Digibeta master as a ProResHQ file.

Avid Media Composer to the rescue


When you talk about software tools that are commonly available to most producers, then there are a number of applications that can correctly apply a “reverse telecine” process. There are, of course, hardware solutions from Snell and Teranex (Blackmagic Design) that do an excellent job, but I’m focusing on a DIY solution in this post. That involves deconstructing the 2:3 pulldown (also called “3:2 pulldown”) cadence of whole and split-field frames back into only whole frames, without any interlaced tearing (split-field frames). After Effects and Cinema Tools offer this feature, but they really only work well when the entire source clip is of a consistent and unbroken cadence. This film had been completed in NTSC 29.97 TV-land, so frequently at cuts, the cadence would change. In addition, there had been some digital noise reduction applied to the final master after the Avid output to tape, which further altered the cadence at some cuts. Therefore, to reconstruct the proper cadence, changes had to be made at every few cuts and, in some scenes, at every shot change. This meant slicing the master file at every required point and applying a different setting to each clip. The only software that I know of to effectively do this with is Avid Media Composer.

Start in Media Composer by creating a 29.97 NTSC 4×3 project for the original source. Import the film file there. Next, create a second 23.98 NTSC 4×3 project. Open the bin from the 29.97 project into the 23.98 project and edit the 29.97 film clip to a new 23.98 sequence. Media Composer will apply a default motion adapter to the clip (which is the entire film) in order to reconcile the 29.97 interlaced frame rate into a 23.98 progressive timeline.

Now comes the hard part. Open the Motion Effect Editor window and “promote” the effect to gain access to the advanced controls. Set the Type to “Both Fields”, Source to “Film with 2:3 Pulldown” and Output to “Progressive”. Although you can hit “Detect” and let Media Composer try to decide the right cadence, it will likely guess incorrectly on a complex file like this. Instead, under the 2:3 Pulldown tab, toggle through the cadence options until you only see whole frames when you step through the shot frame-by-frame. Move forward to the next shot(s) until you see the cadence change and you see split-field frames again. Split the video track (place an “add edit”) at that cut and step through the cadence choices again to find the right combination. Rinse and repeat for the whole film.

Due to the nature of the process, you might have a cut that itself occurs within a split-field frame. That’s usually because this was a cut in the negative and was transferred as a split-field video frame. In that situation, you will have to remove the entire frame across both audio and video. These tiny 1-frame adjustments throughout the film will slightly shorten the duration, but usually it’s not a big deal. However, the audio edit may or may not be noticeable. If it can’t simply be fixed by a short 2-frame dissolve, then usually it’s possible to shift the audio edit a little into a pause between words, where it will sound fine.

Once the entire film is done, export a new self-contained master file. Depending on codecs and options, this might require a mixdown within Avid, especially if AMA linking was used. That was the case for this project, because I started out in ProResHQ. After export, you’ll have a clean, reconstructed 23.98p 4×3 NTSC-sized (720×486) master file. Now for the blow-up to HD.

DaVinci Resolve

df_24psdhd_1_smThere are many applications and filters that can blow-up SD to HD footage, but often the results end up soft. I’ve found DaVinci Resolve to offer some of the cleanest resizing, along with very fast rendering for the final output. Resolve offers three scaling algorithms, with “Sharper” providing the crispest blow-up. The second issue is that since I wanted to restore the wider aspect, which is inherent in going from 4×3 to 16×9, this meant blowing up more than normal – enough to fit the image width and crop the top and bottom of the frame. Since Resolve has the editing tools to split clips at cuts, you have the option to change the vertical position of a frame using the tilt control. Plus, you can do this creatively on a shot-by-shot basis if you want to. This way you can optimize the shot to best fit into the 16×9 frame, rather than arbitrarily lopping off a preset amount from the top and bottom.

df_24psdhd_3_smYou actually have two options. The first is to blow up the film to a large 4×3 frame out of Resolve and then do the slicing and vertical reframing in yet another application, like FCP 7. That’s what I did originally with this project, because back then, the available version of Resolve did not offer what I felt were solid editing tools. Today, I would use the second option, which would be to do all of the reframing strictly within Resolve 11.

As always, there are some uncontrollable issues in this process. The original transfer of the film to Digibeta was done on a Rank Cintel Mark III, which is a telecine unit that used a CRT (literally an oscilloscope tube) as a light source. The images from these tubes get softer as they age and, therefore, they require periodic scheduled replacement. During the course of the transfer of the film, the lab replaced the tube, which resulted in a noticeable difference in crispness between shots done before and after the replacement. In the SD world, this didn’t appear to be a huge deal. Once I started blowing up that footage, however, it really made a difference. The crisper footage (after the tube replacement) held up to more of a blow-up than the earlier footage. In the end, I opted to only take the film to 720p (1280×720) rather than a full 1080p (1920×1080), just because I didn’t feel that the majority of the film held up well enough at 1080. Not just for the softness, but also in the level of film grain. Not ideal, but the best that can be expected under the circumstances. At 720p, it’s still quite good on Blu-ray, standard DVD or for HD over the web.

df_24psdhd_4_smTo finish the process, I dust-busted the film to fix places with obvious negative dirt (white specs in the frame) caused by the initial handling of the film negative. I used FCP X and CoreMelt’s SliceX to hide and cover negative dirt, but other options to do this include built in functions within Avid Media Composer. While 35mm film still holds a certain intangible visual charm – even in such a “manipulated” state – the process certainly makes you appreciate modern digital cameras like the ARRI ALEXA!

As an aside, I’ve done two other complete films this way, but in those cases, I was fortunate to work from 1080i masters, so no blow-up was required. One was a film transferred in its entirety from a low-contrast print, broken into reels. The second was assembled digitally and output to intermediate HDCAM-SR 23.98 masters for each reel. These were then assembled to a 1080i composite master. Aside from being in HD to start with, cadence changes only occurred at the edits between reels. This meant that it only required 5 or 6 cadence corrections to fix the entire film.

©2014 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.


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