Final Cut Pro X Organizing Tips

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Every nonlinear editing application is a database; however, Apple took this concept to a higher level when it launched Final Cut Pro X. One of its true strengths is making the organization of a mountain of media easier than ever. To get the best experience, an editor should approach the session holistically and not simply rely on FCP X to do all the heavy lifting.

At the start of every new production, I set up and work within a specific folder structure. You can use an application like Post Haste to create a folder layout, pick up some templates online, like those from FDPTraining, or simply create your own template. No matter how you get there, the main folder for that production should include subfolders for camera files, audio, graphics, other media, production documents, and projects. This last folder would include your FCP X library, as well as others, like any After Effects or Motion projects. The objective is to end up with everything that you accrue for this production in a single master folder that you can archive upon completion.

FCP X Libraries

df1415_organize_5It helps to understand the Final Cut Pro X Library structure. The Library is what would otherwise be called a project file, but in FCP X terminology an edited sequence is referred to as a Project, while the main session/production file is the Library. Unlike previous versions and other NLEs, the Library is not a closed, binary data file. It is a package file that you can open and peruse, by right-clicking the Library icon and using the “show package contents” command. In there you will find various binary files (labeled CurrentVersion.fcpevent) along with a number of media folders. This structure is similar to the way Avid Media Composer project folders are organized on a hard drive. Since FCP X allows you to store imported, proxy, transcoded, and rendered media within the Library package, the media folders can be filled with actual media used for this production. When you pick this option your Library will grow quite large, but is completely under the application’s control, thus making the media management quite robust.

df1415_organize_4Another option is to leave media files in their place. When this is selected the Library package’s media folders will contain aliases or shortcut links to the actual media files. These media files are located in one or more folders on your hard drive. In this case, your Library file will stay small and is easier to transfer between systems, since the actual audio and video files are externally located. I suggest spreading things out. For example, I’ll create my Library on one drive, the location of the autosaved back-up files on another, and my media on a third. This has the advantage of no single point of failure. If the Library files are located on a drive that is backed up via Time Machine or some other system-wide “cloud” back-up utility, you have even more redundancy and protection.

Following this practice, I typically do not place the Library file in the projects folder for the production, unless this is a RAID-5 (or better) drive array. If I don’t save it there during actual editing, then it is imperative to copy the Library into the project folder for archiving. The rub is that the package contains aliases, which certain software – particular LTO back-up software – does not like. My recommendation is to create a compressed archive (.zip) file for every project file (FCP X Library, AE project, Premiere Pro project, etc.) prior to the final archiving of that production. This will prevent conflicts caused by these aliases.

If you have set up a method of organization that saves Libraries into different folders for each production, it is still possible to have a single folder, which shows you all the Libraries on your drives. To do this, create a Smart Folder in the Finder and set up the criteria to filter for FCP X Libraries. Any Library will automatically be filtered into this folder with a shortcut. Clicking on any of these files will launch FCP X and open to that Library.

Getting started

df1415_organize_2The first level of organization is getting everything into the appropriate folders on the hard drive. Camera files are usually organized by shoot date/location, camera, and card/reel/roll. Mac OS lets you label files with color-coded Finder tags, which enables another level of organization for the editor. As an example, you might have three different on-camera speakers in a production. You could label clips for each with a colored tag. Another example, might be to label all “circle takes” picked by the director in the field with a tag.

The next step is to create a new FCP X Library. This is the equivalent of the FCP 7 project file. Typically you would use a single Library for an entire production, however, FCP X permits you to work with multiple open Libraries, just like you could have multiple projects open in FCP 7. In order to set up all external folder locations within FCP X, highlight the Library name and then in the Inspector panel choose “modify settings” for the storage locations listed in the Library Properties panel. Here you can designate whether media goes directly into the internal folders of the Library package or to other target folders that you assign. This step is similar to setting the Capture Scratch locations in FCP 7.

How to organize clips within FCP X

df1415_organize_8Final Cut Pro X organizes master source clips on three levels – Events, Keyword Collections, and Smart Collections. These are an equivalent to Bins in other NLEs, but don’t completely work in the same fashion. When clips are imported, they will go into a specific Event, which is closest in function to a Bin. It’s best to keep the number of Events low, since Keyword Collections work within an Event and not across multiple Events. I normally create individual Events for edited sequences, camera footage, audio, graphics, and a few more categories. Clips within an Event can be grouped in the browser display in different ways, such as by import date. This can be useful when you want to quickly find the last few files imported in a production that spans many days. Most of the time I set grouping and sorting to “none”.

df1415_organize_7To organize clips within an Event, use Keywords. Setting a Keyword for a clip – or a range within a clip – is comparable to creating subclips in FCP 7. When you add a Keyword, that clip or range will automatically be sorted into a Keyword Collection with a matching name. Keywords can be assigned to keyboard hot keys, which creates a very quick way to go through every clip and assign it into a variety of Keyword Collections. Clips can be assigned to more than one Collection. Again, this is equivalent to creating subclips and placing them into separate Bins.

On one set of commercials featuring company employees, I created Keyword Collections for each person, department, shoot date, store location, employees, managers, and general b-roll footage. This made it easy to derive spots that featured a diverse range of speakers. It also made it easy to locate a specific clip that the director or client might ask for, based on “I think Mary said that” or “It was shot at the Kansas City store”. Keyword Collections can be placed into folders. Collections for people by name went into one folder, Collections by location into another, and so on.

df1415_organize_3The beauty of Final Cut Pro X is that it works in tandem with any organization you’ve done in the Finder. If you spent the time to move clips into specific folders or you assigned color-coded Finder tags, then this information can be used when importing clips into FCP X. The import dialogue gives you the option to “leave files in place” and to use Finder folders and tags to automatically create corresponding Keyword Collections. Camera files that were organized into camera/date/card folders will automatically be placed into Keyword Collections that are organized in the same fashion. If you assigned clips with Mary, John, and Joe to have red, blue, and green tags for each person, then you’ll end up with those clips automatically placed into Keyword Collections named red, blue, and green. Once imported, simply rename the red, blue, and green Collections to Mary, John, and Joe.

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The third level of clip organization is Smart Collections. Use these to automatically filter clips based on the criteria that you set. With the release of FCP X version 10.2, Smart Collections have been moved from the Event level (10.1.4 or earlier) to the Library level – meaning that filtering can occur across multiple Events within the Library. By default, new Libraries are created with several preset Smart Collections that can be used, deleted, or modified. Here’s an example of how to use these. When you sync double-system sound clips or multiple cameras, new grouped clips are created – Synchronized Clips and Multicam Clips. These will appear in the Event along with all the other source files, which can be unwieldy. To focus strictly on these new grouped clips, create a Smart Collection with the criteria set by type to include these two categories. Then, as new grouped clips are created, they will automatically be filtered into this Smart Collection, thus reducing clutter for the editor.

Playing nice with others

df1415_organize_9Final Cut Pro X was designed around a new paradigm, so it tends to live in its own world. Most professional editors have the need for a higher level of interoperability with other applications and with outside vendors. To aid in these functions, you’ll need to turn to third party applications from a handful of vendors that have focused on workflow productivity utilities for FCP X. These include Intelligent Assistance/Assisted Editing, XMiL, Spherico, Marquis Broadcast, and Thomas Szabo. Their utilities make it possible to go between FCP X and the outside world, through list formats like AAF, EDL, and XML.

df1415_organize_11Final Cut’s only form of decision list exchange is FCPXML, which is a distinctly different data format than other forms of XML. Apple Logic Pro X, Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve and Autodesk Smoke can read it. Everything else requires a translated file and that’s where these independent developers come in. Once you use an application like XtoCC (formerly Xto7) from Intelligent Assistance to convert FCPXML to XML for an edited sequence, other possibilities are opened up. The translated XML file can now be brought into Adobe Premiere Pro or FCP 7. Or you can use other tools designed for FCP 7. For instance, I needed to generate a print-out of markers with comments and thumbnail images from a film, in order to hand off notes to the visual effects company. By bringing a converted XML file into Digital Heaven’s Final Print – originally designed with only the older Final Cut in mind – this became a doable task.

df1415_organize_13Thomas Szabo has concentrated on some of the media functions that are still lacking with FCP X. Need to get to After Effects or Nuke? The ClipExporter and ClipExporter2 applications fit the bill. His newest tool is PrimariesExporter. This utility uses FCPXML to enable batch exports of clips from a timeline, a series of single-frame exports based on markers, or a list of clip metadata. Intelligent Assistance offers the widest set of tools for FCP X, including Producer’s Best Friend. This tool enables editors to create a range of reports needed on most major jobs. It delivers them in spreadsheet format.

Understanding the thought processes behind FCP X and learning to use its powerful relational database will get you through complex projects in record time. Better yet, it gives you the confidence to know that no editorial stone was left unturned. For more information on advanced workflows and organization with Final Cut Pro X, check out FCPworks, MacBreak Studio (hosted by Pixel Corps), Larry Jordan, Lynda.com and Ripple Training.

For those that want to know more about the nuts and bolts of the post production workflow for feature films, check out Mike Matzdorff’s “Final Cut Pro X: Pro Workflow”, an iBook that’s a step-by-step advanced guide based on the lessons learned on Focus.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / CreativePlanetNetwork.

©2015 Oliver Peters

A Deeper Dive into Lumetri Color

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With the introduction of Premiere Pro CC 2015, Adobe altered how color correction can be handled within its editing application. The addition of the Lumetri Color effect puts a very powerful and intuitive color correction tool at the editor’s fingertips. I touched on some of its capabilities with SpeedGrade look files in a previous post, but now I’d like to dive into a deeper explanation of the features of Lumetri Color.

Previously in Premiere Pro CC 2014, the Lumetri effect was the conduit between grades in SpeedGrade and Premiere Pro. When you sent a sequence to SpeedGrade CC via Direct Link, the correction done there would show up back in Premiere Pro CC as a self-contained Lumetri effect applied to the clip or an adjustment layer. You could add more effects to the clip, but not edit the Lumetri effect itself in Premiere Pro. If you bounced back into SpeedGrade, then you had further edit control to change the settings from the earlier SpeedGrade session.

Now in Premiere Pro CC 2015, that previous method has been altered. When a Lumetri Color effect is added in the Premiere Pro CC timeline, that is no longer editable when you send it to SpeedGrade CC via Direct Link. Any grading added in SpeedGrade is in addition to the Lumetri Color effect. When you go back to Premiere Pro, those corrections will show up as a SpeedGrade Custom group at the bottom of the Lumetri Color effect stack. It is a separate, self-contained, uneditable correction applied to the clip. It can only be disabled if desired. In other words, Lumetri Color adjustments made in Premiere Pro are separate and apart from any color corrections done in SpeedGrade.

You can apply a Lumetri Color effect in two ways. The first, traditional way is to drag-and-drop the filter from the Effects palette (Color Correction folder) onto the clip or adjustment layer. The new, CC 2015 way is to select the Color workspace, which automatically reveals the Lumetri Color panel and the new, real-time Lumetri scopes. If you change any setting in the panel, it immediately applies a Lumetri Color effect to that clip. Color corrections can be made either in the Lumetri panel or in the standard Effects Control panel. If you don’t like the Lumetri Color effect or panel, you can still use the other color correction filters, like the Three-Way Color Corrector, Luma Curve, etc. These options have not been removed. (Click on any image for an expanded view.)

Master Clip Effects

df2715_lumetri_2_smSince CC 2014, Premiere Pro has enabled Master Clip effects. These are source-side settings and any change made as a Master Clip effect will affect all instances of that clip throughout the timeline. This is important with camera raw files, like CinemaDNG or REDCODE raw, because there are color metadata adjustments that can be made at the point where the raw image is encoded into RGB video. This is in addition to any color corrections made in the Lumetri Color panel, another filter, or in SpeedGrade. Previously these controls were accessed as a right-click contextual menu option called Source Settings.

With CC 2015, source setting adjustments have been moved to the Effects Control panel. At the top of the panel you’ll see the clip name appear twice – once as the master clip (left) and once in the sequence (right). The sequence portion has all the usual controls, like motion, opacity, time remapping, and any applied filters. The master clip portion will show all the source color controls. In the case of RED files, you’ll find the full range of RED controls made available from their SDK. For CinemaDNG files, such as from Blackmagic cameras, the options are limited to exposure, temperature and tint. You should make any necessary camera raw adjustments to these clips here, before applying Lumetri Color effects.

In addition to raw adjustments, Lumetri Color effects can also be applied as Master Clip effects and/or as timeline effects. The Lumetri Color panel also displays the clip name twice – master clip (left) and sequence clip (right). Generally you are going to make your corrections to sequence clips, however, some common settings, like adding a Log-to-Rec709 LUT might be best done as a Master Clip effect. Just understand that adjustments in the Lumetri Color panel can be applied to either or both sides, but that Master Clip effects will automatically ripple to other instances of that same clip elsewhere on the timeline. When you make changes to the sequence side (right), you are only altering that one location on the timeline.

The Lumetri Color Panel

df2715_lumetri_8_smThe Lumetri Color panel is organized as a stack of five control groups – Basic Correction, Creative, Curves, Color Wheels and Vignette. The controls within each group are revealed when you click on that section. You can enable or disable a group, but you can’t change the order of the stack, which flows from Basic out through Vignette. This control method and the types of controls offered are very similar to Adobe Lightroom’s Develop page. Its control groups include Basic, Tone Curve, HSL/Color/B&W, Split Toning, Detail, Lens Corrections, Effects and Camera Calibration. There are more groups in Lightroom simply because there are more image attributes available to be adjusted within a still photo image.

Basic Correction 

df2715_lumetri_3_smThe Basic Correction group is where you’ll perform the majority of your primary color grading. It includes a pulldown for input LUTs (camera-specific color transforms), white balance, tone and saturation. White balance adjusts temperature and tint. When you move the temperature slider it increases or decreases red versus blue in an inverse relationship of one to the other, with minimal change of green. Sliding tint alters red and blue together versus green.

Tone gives you control over the luminance of the image with sliders for exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, whites and blacks. White and black controls move the top and bottom ends of the image up or down toward clip points, while the highlight and shadow sliders adjust the upper and lower portions of the image within the parameters set by the white and black sliders. The highlight and shadow sliders would be what you use to see more or less detail within the bright or dark areas of the image.

Creative 

df2715_lumetri_4_smThe Creative group is where stylistic adjustments are made, including the addition of creative “looks” (.look or .cube LUTs).  There are sliders for the intensity of the LUT, plus adjustment controls for a faded film effect, sharpening, vibrance and saturation. Finally, there are shadow and highlight tint controls with a balance slider to change the crossover threshold between them.

The faded film slider moves the black level you’ve established for the image higher for elevated blacks, but without opening any shadow detail. If you slide the control more to the right it will also compress the highlights, thus creating an overall flatter image. The sharpen slider blurs or enhanced detail in the image. Saturation uniformly increases the intensity of all chroma. Vibrance is a smart tool that increases the saturation of the more muted colors and has less change on the already-intense colors. The highlight and shadow tint controls shift the color balance of those portions of the image towards any area on the color wheel. The tint balance slider changes how much much of the image is considered to be the shadow or highlight range. For example, if you move the slider all the way to the left, then all of the image is affected by the highlight tint wheel only.

Curves

df2715_lumetri_5_smThe Curves group includes both standard RGB curves and a color wheel for control of the hue/saturation curve. The RGB curves offer four dots – white (overall control), plus red, green and blue for individual control over each of the R, G or B curves. The hue/sat curve is really a vector-based secondary color control and is akin to Lightroom’s HSL group. However, in the Lumetri Color panel a wheel control is used.

If you select one of the six color vector dots under the hue/sat curve wheel, then three control points are added along the circular curve. The center point is the color chosen and the points to the left and right establish a boundary. Pull the center point up or down to increase or decrease the saturation of the curve. Pulling the point left or right doesn’t change the hue of that color. The wheel works like a “hue vs. sat” curve and not as “hue vs. hue” when you compare it to the way in which other color correction tools operate. If I select red, I can increase or decrease the intensity of red, but pulling the control point towards orange or magenta doesn’t shift the red within the image itself towards that hue. You can also select one or more points along the curve without selecting a vector color first and make more extensive adjustments to the image.

Color Wheels 

df2715_lumetri_6_smColor Wheels is the next control group and it functions as an standard three-way corrector would. There are luma sliders and a color wheel for shadows, midtones and highlights. Moving the color wheel control effectively adds a color wash to that portion of the image instead of shifting the color balance. If you shift a wheel towards blue, the blue portion of the parade signal on a scope is increased, but red and green are not lowered in a corresponding fashion. Therefore, these wheels act as secondary color controls, which explains why Adobe placed them further down in the stack.

Vignette 

df2715_lumetri_7_smThe last group is Vignette and it works in much the same fashion as the Post-Crop Vignetting control in Lightroom. There are sliders for amount, midpoint, roundness and feather. In general, it acts more like a photographic vignette or one that’s a result of a lens artifact – and less like masks that you typically add in creative grading for vignette effects. Moving the amount slider controls the lightness or darkness of the vignette (yes, you can have a white vignette), but it only changes the outer edges of the frame. You cannot invert the effect. Midpoint moves the vignette edge farther into or out of the frame. Roundness adjusts the aspect ratio of the vignette and feather controls the softness of the edge.

There is no position control to move the vignette away from dead center. While the vignette group is useful for “pinching in the edges of the frame” (as a DP friend of mine is fond of saying), it’s less useful for directing the viewer’s attention. That’s the “power windows” approach, which I often use in tools like Resolve, Color, or SpeedGrade. There are other ways to achieve that inside of Premiere Pro, but just not self-contained within a single instance of the Lumetri Color effect.

It’s clear that Adobe has added a very deep toolset within this single effect and its corresponding control panel. For most color correction sessions, you can pretty well get everything done using just Lumetri Color. I believe most editors prefer to use a comprehensive grading tool that allows them to stay within the confines of the editing application. Lumetri Color within Premiere Pro CC 2015 brings that wish to reality without the need for roundtrips or third-party color correction filters.

©2015 Oliver Peters

Adobe Premiere Pro CC 2015

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To reinforce the value of the Creative Cloud subscription, Adobe continues to improve its core video and design products, but is also expanding the implementation of mobile-to-desktop and cloud workflows. The Creative Cloud 2015 video products were previewed at NAB and released this summer.

Mobile-to-desktop

Incorporation of mobile products into the production pipeline has become an important theme for Adobe. For Premiere Pro CC users, this primarily involves two products: Premiere Clip and Adobe Hue CC. Premiere Clip is a lightweight video editor for smartphones. Shoot your video on your phone and start cutting. Now Premiere Pro allows you to import Premiere Clip projects so you can continue cutting there. Media assets and projects can be moved among systems via Creative Cloud Libraries, powered by Adobe CreativeSync. With a Creative Cloud subscription you can access your own library, as well as shared libraries created by other users.

df3015_AdobeHueCC_editAdobe Hue CC supports the new color workflow within Premiere Pro CC. This smartphone application was previewed at NAB under the code name “Project Candy”. It will analyze the color tonality of any photo in 3D color space on your smartphone and turn that into a 3D LUT (color look-up table). Adobe Hue CC displays this analysis in the form of floating color bubbles over the image. You can rotate the cloud of bubbles on your smartphone screen to change the relative values of the selected colors. When you’re happy with the choice, this is saved as a 3D LUT to your Creative Cloud Library. Back on your laptop or desktop in Premiere Pro CC, access this LUT through the Creative Cloud Library and apply it as a “look” using Adobe’s new color controls.

New color workflow

The most visible addition to Premiere Pro CC 2015 is the new Lumetri Color panel. If you are familiar with Adobe Lightroom or SpeedGrade CC, then you’ll instantly recognize the similarities. It combines several color grading functions into a single, multi-tabbed interface panel. These controls are accessible through either the standard Effect Control panel or the separate Lumetri Color panel. The best part is that you can keyframe all of the functions. With either control panel you get a set of task-specific color wheels and curves. When the color workspace is activated, the display automatically docks the Lumetri Color panel, along with a new set of high-resolution, real-time videoscopes brought over from SpeedGrade.

df3015_Premiere_LumetriPanel_CurvesHueSaturationThere are two points within Lumetri Color to introduce LUTs. For example, in the Basic Correction tab’s pulldown menu, you can add a log-to-rec709 color transform LUT. Then in the Creative tab’s pulldown, add a stylized look. Premiere Pro CC comes with a number color transform and custom look files created by Adobe and LookLabs (SpeedLooks). Some of these, like the SpeedLooks options, work in two steps for the best results. For instance, if you were applying the SpeedLooks Blue Ice creative LUT to an ARRI Alexa log-C file, you would also need to use the SpeedLooks profile for ARRI cameras. Both generic .cube and Adobe’s .look formats work, so if you’ve purchased other LUT collections, like Osiris, Rocket Rooster, SpeedLooks, Koji, or others, then these will work with Premiere Pro CC. I created a set of SpeedGrade Look files last May and these can be easily accessed and applied inside Premiere Pro from the new Lumetri Color panel.

Editorial enhancements

There are a number of improvements that editors will appreciate. Workspace selections are now grouped across the top of the viewers. They are still available as pulldowns, but by having them grouped across the top, it’s easy to change between layouts that have been organized for editing, color, effects, audio, etc. These presets can be customized according to your needs.

One new marquee effect is Morph Cut, which is intended to make jump cuts in interviews appear seamless. This transition is similar to the FluidMorph effect available in Avid Media Composer. Editors cutting talking-head corporate videos and documentaries are frequently challenged to assemble cogent soundbites from sentence fragments – the so-called “frankenbite”. The inevitable jump cuts in the interviewee’s video are either left to jump or are covered with B-roll cutaway shots. When you apply a Morph Cut transition, Adobe’s warp stabilizer technology is used to analyze the video and create new in-between frames for a seamless transition across the cut.

In actual practice Morph Cut isn’t a panacea for all situations. If the frame size and position matches, the person is largely in the exact same spot, and they paused mid-sentence at the cut, then Morph Cut works quite well. However, if the camera has reframed, the person has their head turned at either the out or in-point of the cut but not the other, or they are still quickly talking through the cut, then the result isn’t very pleasing. Morph Cut requires analysis before being applied, which can proceed in the background.

A few of the less obvious improvements include trimming and timeline scrolling. These came with prior versions, but are still worth noting. You can now loop the trim window and make trim adjustments, which are dynamically updated. You can also JKL-play the middle of the cut or either side of the cut in the trim window to make a direct “double-roller” or “single-roller” trim. The point at which you stop the playback is the point to which the cut is then updated. The timeline will scroll smoothly or page as you play, depending on your preference. Auto-selection of clips is new with Creative Cloud 2015. As you move through the timeline, the playhead auto-selects the clips that it is parked over, based on the enabled target tracks. This is a handy feature, but it’s always on, unless you deselect the target tracks containing your video clips.

Interoperability

df3015_AfterEffects_FaceTracker_DetailedTrackingAdobe’s strength has always been its interoperability among the applications. Dynamic and/or Direct Links to Adobe After Effects CC, Adobe Audition CC, Adobe Media Encoder CC, and SpeedGrade CC make it easy to use Premiere Pro CC as the central hub in your workflow. After Effects got a huge update with CC 2015. I won’t go into depth, since this is mainly a Premiere Pro review, however, for editors the most important thing is the performance bump. Playback in After Effects is now as easy as a spacebar tap. This will be in near real-time after caching, complete with audio. You can make dynamic changes without stopping playback. As you loop the playback, these changes are quickly re-cached. The bottom line for editors is that After Effects now finally becomes a more interactive tool that fits with the temperament and workflow of most editors.

It’s not new with this version, but another workflow improvement is Premiere Pro’s Render and Replace command. When you send a set of clips from Premiere Pro to After Effects using Dynamic Link, those clips are replaced with an After Effects composition on the timeline. Until rendered, the After Effects composition is always “live” and negatively affects Premiere Pro’s performance. If you have a lot of compositions in the timeline, it can become bogged down. With Render and Replace, the “live” composition is replaced with rendered, “flattened” media. You are no longer having to access dynamic After Effects compositions, thus returning real-time playback to normal. Thanks to Adobe’s linking, you can still choose to edit that rendered file, which automatically sends you back to the original After Effects composition.

Interoperability between Premiere Pro CC and SpeedGrade CC has changed. Adobe had previously added Direct Link, which sends the Premiere Pro timeline to SpeedGrade. In the CC 2014 versions, color corrections applied in SpeedGrade show up as a Lumetri effect applied to the clip or adjustment layer when you send it back to Premiere Pro. The addition of the Lumetri Color panel in CC 2015 creates Lumetri Color effects in the Premiere Pro timeline, but these are not editable inside of SpeedGrade. The same is true going back to Premiere Pro.

The performance of SpeedGrade CC 2015 varies on my two Macs. It’s very sluggish when using the Direct Link path on the 2009 Mac Pro with a Sapphire 7950 graphics card. But when I run it on my Retina MacBook Pro with the built-in NVIDIA card, it’s an entirely different story. I don’t know if that’s an AMD versus NVIDIA issue, but whatever the reason, newer software runs best on newer hardware configurations. Yet, Premiere Pro seems about the same.

During the testing period, when I had installed CC 2015 preview versions alongside CC 2014 applications, SpeedGrade was extremely unstable on both Macs. Fortunately, now that the release versions are out, I’m glad that Adobe fixed these problems. It’s noteworthy that the CC 2015 update replaces all previous versions, so maybe they found that running multiple versions caused problems. It now works likes it’s supposed to. Nevertheless, with the Lumetri Color panel covering 90% of what nearly any editor would want, there seems less justification to use the SpeedGrade roundtrip, when you can get nearly everything done right inside Premiere Pro.

Other

df3015_CA_big_tracking_but_no_timelineSince After Effects is integral for many editors, a few more features are worth noting. New in CC 2015 is a Face Tracker. This is a simple mask based on identifying points on the face, like eyes, pupils, mouth and nose. The Face Tracker will follow the shot’s or person’s movement. It will even track exaggerated mouth movements without frame-by-frame adjustments. This is a very useful tool for locking an object to head movement or facial blurs to protect identity.

The Face Tracker ties into a new Adobe application – Adobe Character Animator. As the name implies, this is an application that enables you to create 2D character animation. Facial tracking technology can be used to animate the characters according to prerecorded tracking data, as well as to live, real-time tracking. For example, a webcam could be used to animate the characters live, complete with lip-sync. Animation passes can be recorded and edited for a complete production featuring multiple interactive characters.

This release has a number of large and small upgrades that will make editors and compositors quite happy. I like the direction Adobe has taken. It just reiterates that the designers are working hard to integrate user input and build upon the professional momentum that Adobe has earned to date.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / CreativePlanetNetwork.

©2015 Oliver Peters

The FCP X – RED – Resolve Dance II

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Last October I wrote about the roundtrip workflow surrounding Final Cut Pro X and Resolve, particularly as it relates to working with RED camera files. This month I’ve been color grading a small, indie feature film shot with RED One cameras at 4K resolution. The timeline is 1080p. During the course of grading the film in DaVinci Resolve 11, I’ve encountered a number of issues in the roundtrip process. Here are some workflow steps that I’ve found to be successful.

Step 1 – For the edit, transcode the RED files into 1080p Apple ProRes Proxy QuickTime movies baking in camera color metadata and added burn-in data for clip name and timecode. Use either REDCINE-X Pro or DaVinci Resolve for the transcode.

Step 2 – Import the proxies and double-system audio (if used) into FCP X and sync within the application or use Sync-N-Link X. Ideally all cameras should record reference audio and timecode should match between the cameras and the sound recorder. Slates should also be used as a fall-back measure.

Step 3 – Edit in FCP X until you lock the cut. Prepare a duplicate sequence (Project) for grading. In that sequence, strip off (detach and remove) all audio. As an option, you can create a mix-down track for reference and attach it as a connected clip. Flatten the timeline down to the Primary Storyline where ever possible, so that Resolve only sees this as one track of video. Compound clips should be broken apart, effects should be removed, and titles removed. Audition clips should be finalized, but multicam clips are OK. Remove effects filters. Export an FCPXML (version 1.4 “previous”) list. You should also export a self-contained reference version of the sequence, which can be used to check the conform in Resolve.

Step 4 – Launch Resolve and make sure that the master project settings match that of your FCP X sequence. If it’s supposed to be 1920×1080 at 23.976 (23.98) fps, then make sure that’s set correctly. Resolve defaults to a frame rate of 24.0fps and that won’t work. Locate all of your camera original source media (RED camera files in this example) and add them to your media bin in the Media page. Import the FCPXML (1.4), but disable the setting to automatically load the media files in the import dialogue box. The FCPXML file will load and will relink to the RED files without issue if everything has gone correctly. The timeline may have a few clip conflicts, so look for the little indicator on the clip corner in the Edit window timeline. If there’s a clip conflict, you’ll be presented with several choices. Pick the correct one and that will correct the conflict.

Step 5 – At this point, you should verify that the files have conformed correctly by comparing against a self-contained reference file. Compound clips can still be altered in Resolve by using the Decompose function in the timeline. This will break apart the nested compound clips onto separate video tracks. In general, reframing done in the edit will translate, as will image rotation; however, flips and flops won’t. To flip and flop an image in FCP X requires a negative X or Y scale value (unless you used a filter), which Resolve cannot achieve. When you run across these in Resolve, reset the scale value in the Edit page inspector to normal from that clip. Then in the Color page use the horizontal or vertical flip functions that are part of the resizing controls. Once this is all straight, you can grade.

Step 6 option A – When grading is done, shift to the Deliver page. If your project is largely cuts-and-dissolves and you don’t anticipate further trimming or slipping of edit points in your NLE, then I would recommend exporting the timeline as a self-contained master file. You should do a complete quality check the exported media file to make sure there were no hiccups in the render. This file can then be brought back into any NLE and combined with the final mixed track to create the actual show master. In this case, there is no roundtrip procedure needed to get back into the NLE.

Step 6 option B – If you anticipate additional editing of the graded files – or you used transitions or other effects that are unique to your NLE – then you’ll need to use the roundtrip “return” solution. In the Deliver page, select the Final Cut Pro easy set-up roundtrip. This will render each clip as an individual file at the source or timeline resolution with a user-selected handle length added to the head and tail of each clip. Resolve will also write a corresponding FCPXML file (version 1.4). This file will retain the original transitions. For example, if you used FCP X’s light noise transition, it will show up as a dissolve in Resolve’s timeline. When you go back to FCP X, it will retain the proper transition information in the list, so you’ll get back the light noise transition effect.

Resolve generates this list with the assumption that the media files were rendered at source resolution and not timeline resolution. Therefore, even if your clips are now 1920×1080, the FCPXML represents these as 4K. When you import this new FCPXML back into FCP X, a spatial conform will be applied to “fit” the files into the 1920×1080 raster space of the timeline. Change this to “none” and the 1080 media files will be blown up to 4K. You can choose to simply live with this, leave it to “fit”, and render the files again on FCP X’s output – or follow the next step for a workaround.

Step 7 – Create a new Resolve project, making sure the frame rate and timeline format are correct, such as 1920×1080 at 23.976fps. Load the new media files that were exported from Resolve into the media pool. Now import the FCPXML that Resolve has generated (uncheck the selection to automatically import media files and uncheck sizing information). The media will now be conformed to the timeline. From the Edit page, export another FCPXML 1.4 for that timeline (no additional rendering is required). This FCPXML will be updated to match the media file info for the new files – namely size, track configuration, and frame rate.

At this stage, you will encounter a second serious flaw in the FCP X/Resolve/FCP X roundtrip process. Resolve 11 does not write a proper FCPXML file and leaves out certain critical asset information. You will encounter this if you move the media and lists between different machines, but not if all of the work is being done on a single workstation. The result will be a timeline that loads into FCP X with black clips (not the red “missing” icon). When you attempt to reconnect the media, FCP X will fail to relink and will issue an “incompatible files” error message. To fix the problem, either the colorist must have FCP X installed on the Resolve system or the editor must have Resolve 11 installed on the FCP X system. This last step is the one remaining workaround.

Step 8 option A – If FCP X is installed on the Resolve machine, import the FCPXML into FCP X and reconnect the media generated by Resolve. Then re-export a new FCPXML from FCP X. This new list and media can be moved to any other system. You can move the FCP X Library successfully, as well.

Step 8 option B – If Resolve is installed on the FCP X machine, then follow Step 7. The new FCPXML that you create there will load into FCP X, since you are on the same system.

That’s the state of things right now. Maybe some of these flaws will be fixed with Resolve 12, but I don’t know at this point. The FCPXML list format involves a bit of voodoo at times and this is one of those cases. The good news is that Resolve is very solid when it comes to relinking, which will save you. Good luck!

©2015 Oliver Peters

Building a Free FCP X Color Correction Filter

df2315_opcolor_1One nice aspect of the symbiotic relationship between Final Cut Pro X and Motion is that Motion can be used to create effects, transitions, titles and generators for use in FCP X. These are Motion Templates and they form the basis for the creation of nearly all third-party effects filters, both paid and free. This means that if you learn a bit about Motion, you can create your own custom effects or make modifications to the existing ones supplied with FCP X. This has become very easy to do in the newest versions (FCP X 10.2.1 and Motion 5.2.1).

I decided to build a color correction filter that covered most of the standard adjustments you need with the usual types of footage. There are certainly a number of really good color correction/grading filters already on the market for FCP X. Apple’s own color board works well and with 10.2 has been broken out as a normal effects filter. However, a lot of folks don’t like its tab/puck/swatch interface and would still rather work with sliders or color wheels. So as an experiment, I built my own color correction filter for use with FCP X – and you may download here and use it for free as well.

df2315_opcolor_4_smLet me point out that I am no Motion power user. I have nowhere near the skills of Mark Spencer, Simon Ubsdell or Alex Gollner when it comes to using Motion to its fullest. So all I’ve done is combine existing Motion filters into a single combined filter with zero modifications. But that’s the whole point and why this function has so much potential. A couple of these individual filters already exist singly within FCP X, but Motion has a lot more to choose from. Once you launch Motion, the starting point is to open a new Final Cut Effects project from the Motion project browser. This will default to a blank composition ready to have things added to it. Since I was creating a color correction filter, all I needed to do was select the existing Motion filters to use from the Library browser and drag-and-drop the choices into the composition.

df2315_opcolor_5I decided to combine Brightness, Contrast, Color Balance, Hue/Saturation and Tint, which were also stacked in that exact order. The next step in the process was to determine the state of the filter when you apply it and which parameters and sliders to publish. Items that are published, such as a slider, will show up in the inspector in FCP X and can be adjusted by the editor. In my case, I decided to publish every parameter in the stack. To publish, simply click on the right side edge of each parameter line and you’ll find a pulldown selection that includes a publish/unpublish toggle. Note that the order in which you click the publish commands will determine the order of how these commands are stacked when they show up inside FCP X. To make the most sense, I followed a straight sequence order, top to bottom.

df2315_opcolor_3_smYou can also determine the starting state when you first apply or preview the effect.  For example, whether a button starts out enabled or disabled. In the case of this filter, I’ve enabled everything and left it at a neutral or default value, with the exception of Tint. This starts in the ‘off’ position, because I didn’t want a color cast to be applied when you first add the filter to a clip. Once everything is set-up, you simply save the effect to a desired location in the Motion Templates folder. You can subsequently open the Motion project from there to modify the effect. When it’s saved again, the changes are updated to the filter in FCP X.

If you’ve downloaded my effects filter, unzip the file and follow the Read Me document. I’ve created an “Oliver FX” category and this complete folder should be placed into the User/Movies/Motion Templates/Effects folder on your hard drive.df2315_opcolor_2

Applying the filter inside Final Cut Pro X is the same as any of the other effects options. It has the added benefit that all parameters can be keyframed. The Color Balance portion works like a 3-way color corrector, except that it uses the OS color picker wheels in lieu of a true 3-color-wheel interface. As a combination of native filters, performance is good without taxing the machine.

UPDATE (12 June 2015) : I have added one addition filter into the download file. The second filter is called “Oliver DVE” and designed to give you a full set of transform controls that include XYZ rotation. It comes from the transform control set included with Motion. This provides you with the equivalent of a 2.5D DVE, which is not available in the default control set of FCP X.

UPDATE 2 (15 June 2015) : These filters are not backward compatible. They will work in FCP X 10.1.2 and Motion 5.1.2 and forward (hopefully), but not in earlier versions. That’s due to technology changes between these versions. If you downloaded these prior to June 15, for FCP X 10.1.2 or 10.1.4 and they aren’t working, please download again. I have modified the files to work in FCP X 10.1.2 and later. Thank you.

Download the free “Oliver Color” and “Oliver DVE” filters here. My previously-created, free FCP X color board presets may be found here.

©2015 Oliver Peters

NLEs at NAB 2015

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NAB is the biggest toy store in our industry. As in years past, I’ve covered it for DV magazine, where you’ll find the expanded version. The following is the segment covering the four – soon to become five – most popular NLE vendors.

df2115_NAB2Editing options largely focused on the four “A” companies – Apple, Adobe, Avid and Autodesk. Apple wasn’t officially at the show, but held private press meetings at an area hotel. Consulting company FCPworks presented a series of workflow and case study sessions at the Renaissance Hotel next door to the South Hall. This coincided with Apple’s release of the updated versions of Final Cut Pro X, Motion and Compressor. FCP X 10.2 includes a number of enhancements, but the most buzz went to the addition of a new 3D text engine for FCP X and Motion. Apple’s implementation is one of the easiest to use and best-looking in any application. The best part is that the performance is excellent. Two other big features fall more in line with user wish lists. These include built-in masking and changing the color correction tool into a standard effect filter. Compressor has now added a preset designed for iTunes submission. Although Apple still encourages users to go to iTunes though an approved third-party portal, this new preset makes it easier to create the proper file package necessary for delivery.

df2115_NAB1Adobe has the momentum as the next up-and-coming professional editing tool. At NAB Adobe was showing technology previews of the application features that will be released as part of a Creative Cloud subscription in the coming months. Premiere Pro CC now integrates more of SpeedGrade CC’s color correction capabilities through the addition of the Lumetri Color panel. This tabbed control integrates tools that are familiar from SpeedGrade, but also from Lightroom. Since Premiere already includes built-in masking and tracking, this means the editor is capable of doing very sophisticated color correction right inside of Premiere. Morph Cut is a new effect that everyone cutting interviews will love. The effect is designed to smoothly transition across jump cuts in a seamless manner. It uses advanced tracking and frame interpolation functions to build new “in-between” frames. After Effects adds an outstanding face tracker and improved previews. View design iterations, adjust composition properties, and even resize interface panels without halting composition playback. The face tracker locks onto specific points (pupils, mouth, nose), which enables accurate tracking when elements need to be composited onto an actor’s face.

Adobe is also good for out-of-the-box thinking on new technologies. Character Animator was demonstrated as a live animation tool. Using real-time facial tracking, such as from a laptop’s webcam, the animator could do live animation key framing of an on-screen cartoon character. Import a cartoon character as a layered Photoshop file as the starting point. When you move and talk, so does the character in real-time – all controlled by the tracking. Not only can you add the real-time animation, but certain animation functions are automatically applied, like a character’s breathing motion. Another interesting tool is Candy. This is a mobile app which analyses the tonal color scheme of photos stored on your mobile device. It creates a “look” file and stores it to your Creative Cloud library. This, in turn, can be synced with your copy of Premiere Pro CC and then applied as a color correction look to any video clip.

df2115_NAB3Avid ran the second annual Avid Connect event for members of their customer association in the weekend leading up to the NAB exhibition. Although this was the first show appearance of Media Composer 8.3.1 – Avid’s first move into true 4K editing – they did very little to promote it. That’s not to say there wasn’t any news. Several new products were announced, including the Avid Artist | DNxIO. Instead of developing their own 4K hardware, Avid opted to partner with Blackmagic Design. The DNxIO is essentially the same as the UltraStudio 4K Extreme, except with the addition of Avid’s DNxHR codec embedded into the unit. Only Avid will sell the Avid-branded version and will also provide any technical support. The DNxIO supports both PCIe or Thunderbolt host connections and can also be used for Adobe Premiere Pro CC, Apple FCP X and DaVinci Resolve running on the same workstation as Media Composer.

In an effort to attract new users to Media Composer, Avid also announced Media Composer | First. This is a free version with a reduced feature set. It’s intended as functional starter software from which users will hopefully transition to the full, paid application. However, it uses a “freemium” sales model, allowing users to extend functionality through add-on purchases. For example, Media Composer | First permits users to only store three active projects in the cloud. Additional storage for more projects can be purchased from Avid.

df2115_NAB5Autodesk’s NAB news was all about the 2016 versions of Flame, Maya and 3ds Max. Flame and Flame Premium customers gain new look development tools, including Lightbox – a GPU shader toolkit for 3D color correction – and Matchbox in the Action module. This applies fast Matchbox shaders to texture maps without leaving the 3D compositing scene. Maya 2016 received performance and ease-of-use enhancements. There are also new capabilities in Bifrost to help deliver realistic liquid simulations. 3ds Max 2016 gains a new, node-based creation graph, a new design workspace and template system, as well as other design enhancements. If you’ve been following Smoke, then this NAB was disappointing. Autodesk told me that an update is in the works, but development timing didn’t allow it to be ready in time for the show. I would presume we’ll hear something at IBC.

df2115_NAB4For editors, all eyes are on Blackmagic Design. DaVinci Resolve 12 was demonstrated, which is the first version that the company feels can compete as a full-fledged NLE. Last NAB, Resolve 11 was introduced as an online editor, but once it was out in the wild, most users found the real-time performance wasn’t up to par with other NLEs. Resolve 12 appears to have licked that issue, with a new audio engine and improved editing features. New in Resolve 12 is a multi-camera editing mode with the ability to sync angles by audio, timecode or in/out points. The new, high-performance audio engine was designed to greatly improve real-time playback, but also supports VST and AU audio plug-ins. Editors will also be able to export projects to ProTools using AAF.  Don’t forget that there are also updates to its color correction functions. Aside from interface and control enhancements, the most notable additions are a new keyer and a new perspective tracker. The latter will allow users to better track objects that move off-screen during the clip. Resolve 12 is scheduled to be released in July. Blackmagic acquired Fusion last year. It’s a node-based, compositing application, built on Windows. At the booth, Blackmagic previewed Fusion 8 on the Mac and announced that it will be available for Windows, Mac and Linux. Like Resolve, Fusion 8 will be offered in both a free and a paid version.

This post is an abbreviated overview written for CreativePlanetNetwork and Digital Video magazine. Click here for the full-length version to find out about more post news, as well as cameras, effects and other items presented at NAB.

©2015 Oliver Peters

Autodesk Smoke 2015

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After NAB last year, Autodesk released Smoke 2015 – their Mac-based editing application. This version also marked Autodesk’s shift from perpetual licenses to a subscription model for Smoke. Any new Smoke users must subscribe for an active license, with monthly, quarterly, and annual plans available. In order to attract new users, Autodesk also introduced a free student license, which is active for three years. This is part of a companywide initiative to make all Autodesk software available to students worldwide.

df1015_smoke_2_smI wrote an in-depth review of Smoke 2013 two years ago. This was the first major optimization (after the introduction of Smoke 2011 for the Mac) to convert Smoke from the look and feel of its Irix and Linux roots into a predominantly Mac-oriented application. Much of Smoke 2015’s interface and operational style remains unchanged from that previous version. In the intervening two years, Autodesk has decided that Smoke and Flame no longer need to remain 100% compatible or locked into the same development cycle. Each product has evolved from a core toolset, but more and more is being designed for a specific audience and user need. Smoke 2015 is targeted at editors who want a strong compositor, but are most comfortable with track-based NLEs that run on Macs. This new release is even more Mac-friendly with improved performance on Mac hardware, including the new Mac Pros, iMacs and Retina MacBook Pros.

df1015_smoke_3_smThe hallmark of working with visual effects inside Smoke is the integration of a node-base compositing tool. That can also be the most daunting part of the learning curve for new users. Building on the 2013 version, Smoke 2015 has increased the amount of effects control that you can perform in the timeline, without touching any nodes. It uses a “ribbon” of common effects that can be applied to a clip and adjusted without ever leaving the timeline display. These consist of 14 effects modules that include most of the text, transform/DVE, color correction, and speed change effects commonly used by editors. For instance, you can apply a color correction to a clip or an adjustment layer, and then alter the look by numerical entry (keypad or mouse slider). You get a lot of correction control right within this ribbon, including access to master/highlight/mids/shadows and RGB/red/green/blue parameters. If you want more control with color wheels, then simply enter the effect editor to switch to that layout for the selected clip.

Smoke had included a third-party effects API (Sparks), but other than GenArts, never had many takers among the development community interested in rewriting their Sparks Linux plug-ins (originally developed for Flame and Smoke on Linux) into Mac versions for Smoke on the Mac. Not many users bought the ones that were available. As a result, Autodesk has moved away from this API for Smoke, even though the effects tab is still there. Instead, Autodesk engineers filled in the gaps through additional effects that now come with Smoke. The bottom line is that although there’s a Sparks tab in the ribbon, it’s a legacy item with no functionality without third-party plug-ins.

df1015_smoke_5_smSmoke has undergone a big performance improvement since its original Mac introduction. In the past, you could usually only play a timeline clip in real-time, when the clip had no more than a single effect applied to it. Add more effects and rendering was needed. Now it’s possible to apply several effects to a clip and still play through it without rendering. This is based on my testing on a 2009 8-core Mac Pro with 28GB of RAM and an ATI 5870 GPU card. To enable new users to adapt more quickly to complex composites and to add effects not supplied by third parties, Smoke 2015 includes a number of presets. For example, if you add a lens flare, there’s a wide range of preset styles accessible from a pulldown menu. When you set up a chromakey, you can start with a preset selection of nodes, designed to be a good starting point. Autodesk also added 3D camera tracking into Smoke 2015, which had been previously developed for Flame.

In an effort to position Smoke as a finishing tool that works well with Apple Final Cut Pro X, Autodesk has improved the compatibility with FCPXML lists generated from that application. While this works reasonably well, I did have problems relinking to clips with frame rates that differed from the main sequence rate. For example, 60fps clips from a Canon 5D that were cut into a 23.98fps timeline and slowed, did not properly relink when I imported the sequence into Smoke.

df1015_smoke_6_smOverall, Smoke 2015 is a good upgrade. With a subscription you get updates as they come out. Unfortunately, this process is not as easy as it is with Apple, Adobe, or even Avid products. My software went from SP1 (service pack) to SP2. When I tried to download SP2, I could only find SP3. I tried this version, but it was incompatible, because that was designed for legacy perpetual license owners. I finally got SP2 installed, but only through the help of tech support. On the plus side, I’ve found Autodesk’s support personnel to be very helpful and knowledgeable, when I’ve needed them.

Smoke does not support dual-display systems in the same way as its competitors. You can run the broadcast monitoring signal to a second display, which gives you full-screen video or a duplicate of the node tree in some modes; but, the user interface is not configurable across two screens like other NLEs. Smoke also accesses media differently than other NLEs, which conflicts with some of the Mac’s internal networking functions. I typically run with my internal Mac OS X firewall set to block all connections. This works fine with all creative applications, except Smoke. Set that way, all of the media is unlinked. Rather than reconfigure my settings to run Smoke (since my main use is for demo purposes), I simply turn off the internal firewall before launching Smoke.

df1015_smoke_4_smThe long-term success of the subscription software business model among creative applications is still an unknown. Adobe and Autodesk are primarily on the vanguard – with Avid offering it only as one option. Among users, it’s still a love/hate thing. It will take a few years yet to see whether or not it’s the right move. Nevertheless, if you have the business to justify the cost and want to stay current with a top-notch editor/compositor, then a Smoke subscription might be right for you. If you are serious about Smoke 2015, then I would highly recommend Alexis Van Hurkman’s book, “Autodesk Smoke Essentials”, which may be purchased through the Autodesk website, as well as from Amazon.com. It’s the ideal quick start guide for users committed to learning Smoke.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / CreativePlanetNetwork.

©2015 Oliver Peters