FCP X - Is it ready for it's close up ?

I was asked by my friend
Edmond Terakopian, an award winning photo journalist, who is also pretty skilled at using his 5DMkII for shooting video what I thought of Final Cut Pro X for an article he was writing for the British Journal of Photograpy. As a self shooter/editor he has taken to the new software, however he was interested in my opinion from the point of view of someone working in broadcast post production.

Its fair to say that FCPX received a very negative reaction from many sections of the editing community. The ones who seemed to be shouting “foul” the loudest were those working in TV facilities houses and broadcast environments.

Having worked in broadcast television for over 20 years I can understand why they were unhappy.

Despite only spending a couple of days checking it out, its obvious straight away it needs some additional features to be ready for use in facilities houses or by broadcasters.

Apple had spent about 10 years building up a reputation for Final Cut Pro, forcing facility houses and broadcasters to take it seriously. It has arguably helped to drive the prices of Avid down and become a favourite among production companies who have taken the plunge and bought their own editing kit.
It has also seen off many rivals, Edit, Media 100 (just about) and Lightworks being a few examples.

While Avid is still the favourite of higher end post houses and broadcasters FCP has chipped away at its dominance, however it does seem Apple have just hit the rewind button with FCPX.

FCPX seems to be squarely aimed at the “pro-sumer”, the iMovie compatibility and social media publishing options have been rolled out first. There is no denying this is aimed initially at a different market to FCP7, the new software is designed to make as much of the process as possible as easy as possible for one person to do it all.

However making television programmes is rarely a solitary endeavour. The credit list at the end of a TV show makes that pretty obvious. Feature films even more so. Collaboration is a key part of the process. TV facilities need to be able to move media along the stages of the production and post production process as efficiently and seamlessly as possible. Shoot, ingest, rough cut, fine cut, finishing, visual FX colour grading, audio dubbing and layback is a common path for many TV shows. Different people bring different skill sets along the way, kit wise,
Avid, Apple, DaVinci, Baselight, ProTools and Fairlight are just a few that are used. Getting all those to integrate uses a combination of EDL. XML and OMF files depending on what is going where.

Once finished, programmes are subject to “Tech Assess”. Everything must conform to a strict broadcast technical standard, every programme is watched and checked for any errors. Careful monitoring is required during the programme finishing to achieve this, the current lack of ability to interface FCPX properly with broadcast monitors or measuring equipment makes this impossible. Specific audio track layouts must be followed with both full mixes and discreet audio tracks requested and laid out to specific tracks on tape. HD delivery is still most commonly requested to be on HDCam SR tape.

Tape is not dead in our world, we wish it was, but the archive of tape is huge. Apple’s tapeless utopia is no where near a reality. Fifty odd years of worldwide tape based acquisition and mastering adds up, not to mention all the film that was transferred to tape. Many programmes especially documentaries have elements drawn from this archive. Even without the archive material, tape is usually the preferred delivery format, although file based delivery is becoming an option, not everything fits that workflow.

Final Cut X, in its current incarnation, literally allows none of the above process to happen, and these are things we do day in. day out.
All the tools we need to collaborate with our colleagues are missing and the hardware to allow critical external monitoring and measuring to ensure technical compliance are not supported. Programme delivery requirements cant be met.
With all of that missing and the whole thing served up on an iMovie based GUI, you can perhaps see why some were miffed.

So we have to wait for Apple to add features, or development by third parties, they will come in time, but at what cost ? Currently the price of adding
Automatic Duck in order to add the ability to export audio files is $495.00. So these are not cheap add-ons. Estimates seem to vary as to how long it may take for all these developments to happen but a couple of years does not seem unreasonable given how long it took FCP to develop into a serious contender.

Meanwhile we use Avid and FCP7 as we ever did. Adobe is currently not that popular in the broadcast world, I asked my agency TOVS who have been supplying freelancers for around 25 years if they are ever asked for Adobe editors. The reply “I think we had one call” However Adobe Premiere Pro is very like FCP in operation and workflow so it could become a favourite for disgruntled FCPX users looking to swap.

But it is not all doom and gloom. Not everyone has to meet broadcast delivery requirements or needs elaborate collaborate workflows.
The first things that struck me about FCPX is that it feels quick and the timeline feels smooth. The 64 bit architecture is certainly a performance boost. DSLR film makers, for example, can take advantage of this speed and the easy file based importing, everything is geared towards the single user operator.
Effects and “looks”, via the clever interface with Motion can be quickly and easily auditioned and FCPX guides the less technically skilled editors along the way, automatically creating tracks as needed, avoiding clip collisions and keeping things in sync. Sub frame audio editing is a real advantage and background render is a long awaited addition too, (although I did notice this seems to pause when certain editing processes are happening). Either way it has some really innovative features and with development I can certainly see the potential,
If your main skill is shooting, these things will initially make your life easier as you develop your editing skills.
I say initially, as I find these things unnecessary and constraining and as your editing experience develops so may you. Once you learn the rules you want to be able to break them in ways that suit you, thats when real possibilities open up. One of FCP’s strengths was the flexibility to work in ways that suited the user. My worry is FCPX is too locked down to allow this and concentrates a little too much on handholding, and making things easy for the “pro-sumer” but time will tell.
In terms of the broadcast market, The Onion made a great spoof some time ago about the new
Apple Wheel Laptop. The pay off line seems apt. Just replace “business users” with “broadcast users” and you get:-

“It's not yet clear if this will catch on with broadcast users who need to use computers and editing software for their actual work, and not just dicking around”

Ok maybe a little unfair, but funny all the same.

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Canon EOS55D Final Cut Pro Log & Transfer Fix

A couple of months ago Canon released an updated version of their FCP log and transfer plug in that I mention in my
Canon DSL Workflow Post.
As I hadn’t shot any video with my 550D for a while I had not realised that in this new version the 550D no longer works.
So when I recently had to transfer some footage I updated the Canon Plug In and found that it no longer recognised the files on the SD card.

After a bit of searching I found a post by Nathan Beaman on finalcutuser.com which addresses this issue.

Here is what you do to get your EOS550D or T2i to work again.

You need to modify a file called cameras.plist which you will find here.

/Library/Application Support/ProApps/MIO/RAD/Plugins/CanonE1.RADPlug/Contents/Resources

Please make a back-up of your original file before doing this just to avoid embarrasing mistakes.

Then you need to add a couple of extra lines which change slightly depending if your camera is 550D or a T2i

You will see from this screen grab that you just have to add the 550D or T2i into the list after the “7D array” line.

I cut and paste the 7D instructions then just overtyped the camera name.

If you have the T2i version of the camera you need to do the following

Once you have edited your cameras.plist file just re-save it to the same location with the amended text and
you will find your log and transfer tool will once again work.

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Canon DSLR Workflow for Final Cut Pro

I was speaking to a client today who was explaining that they had some problems editing footage shot on a Canon 7D.
Everything needed rendering and they were getting 'odd artefacts' on slo-mo shots.
Additionally, although they usually recorded audio direct, they had used a Mirantz PMD661 recorder for some audio and spent hours trying to sync it up.
So in light of this conversation I thought I would run through the workflow that I use when editing DSLR footage in Final Cut Pro. I will hopefully address the areas where they were having issues.
All the kit I mention I either own and use myself or have used on behalf of others. I do not work for any of the companies I mention.
This article assumes that you have some experience in FCP and are happy using the Log & Transfer options etc. Sorry it's a bit long!

First The Footage Itself.

Canon DSLR's have shot HD video 1920x1080 since the introduction of the 5D MKII camera. Although initially it could only shoot in NTSC format, which obviously
posed some problems for us here in PAL land. A firmware update introduced around the same time as the launch of the 7D - which was multi standard, added the ability to shoot both PAL & NTSC frame rates.
(So if you are using a 5D that only shoots NTSC you can
update the firmware to give you the PAL options here)

The more recently introduced 550D (which I own and am blown away by) compares very favourably with its 2 bigger brothers, it also shoots HD video and all 3 cameras can be used with this workflow.

The first thing to take into account is that these cameras all shoot H264 Quicktime movies. Now while this is fine for acquisition, its far from ideal as an editing format.
It's a pretty processor hungry format, when it comes to playback, which is why your machine may begin to struggle especially at HD res with more than one stream.
Now before you start jumping up and down and pointing out that various NLE's support editing this format natively its still slow to work with in an editing environment and you will find things speed up in FCP if you use ProRes HQ to edit. (The above mentioned client was using the H264 files directly in FCP 6.x and rendering them into ProRes on the timeline - hence the frustration at the speed)

The other thing to take into account is your drive speed. Firewire 400 or USB drives are not really quick enough to play ProRes HQ HD footage. You will likely find that you get a lot of dropped frames if you try. Firewire 800 just about manages a single stream but again is not really up to the job.

You really should be looking towards a Sata raid or even a Fibre raid if you are going to regularly do this kind of work,

Earlier in the year Canon released a plug in for Final Cut Pro that allows direct import and transcode to ProRes HQ via the standard Log & Transfer window.
You can download a free copy here. Just select Mac OS and its a few down in the list, don't worry that it's listed under 5D software, its fine for the 7D and 550D too.
NB the later version of this software omits the 550D for some reason - see this post for the fix.

Before you transcode anything I would suggest making at least one copy of your footage and working with the copy.

Once installed, you simply open the Log & Transfer window and select the folder that contains your footage. The clips will appear as thumbnails, they can be previewed, renamed and imported according to the preferences that you set. ProRes 4444, ProRes 422HQ, ProRes 422 plus proxy and LT versions are selectable, along with Apple Intermediate Codec.

An indication of the way your footage will appear in L&T once you
have installed the Canon plug-in.

Once you have set your media paths and naming options you can then add all, or a selection of clips to the queue. This will then transcode your H264 clips into new ProRes clips.
(My trusty old MBP 2.33Ghz version with 3GB Ram was taking roughly around 3 times real time to do the transcode to ProRes HQ, to give you a rough idea of the time it takes on an oldish machine)

Once this is complete, you can then edit the clips much more easily rather than struggling with the limitations of editing H264.

The Audio Issue.

Recording good quality audio on the DSLRs is not that easy, the internal mic is functional at best and they only have a small jack socket for the audio input. This is not really up to the rigours of shooting, unless in a really controlled environment. It also limits the mic choice, you often need cabling adaptors, all in all it's not the best option.
One solution is to use a box like
the Beachtek.

This adds the ability to use phantom powered mics with XLR connectors and gives L&R level controls and monitoring, all of which add considerable ease and functionality to audio recording on the DSLRs. (NB some units are passive and do not supply phantom power so if you need that option check with your supplier)

Often a preferred alternative is to record on something like a Mirantz PMD 661/620 or a Zoom H4N digital recorder. However then you have the problem of syncing everything up in post. Without a locked synced timecode, which these units do not provide, this would mean eye-matching audio using the old fashioned clapperboard. But unless you very carefully log and ident every take on your shoot this is soon going to become a lengthy job for you or your poor editor.

The answer is a bit of software called
Pluraleyes by Red Giant. It's a standalone bit of software that works with FCP and Media Composer (also Premiere and Vegas) that automatically syncs separately recorded audio with your DSLR video.
I have used it and it really works very well. I wont explain the workflow in full detail here as they have loads of info on the site if you follow the link.
However as a guide, you still have to record audio on your DSLR but it can be just using a small mic or even the internal mic as long as there is not too much ambient noise. Basically it has to be audible and distinguishable from any background noise but quality is not important as such.
You then add all your video clips to a sequence, in any order as long as everything you want to sync up is there.
Start Pluraleyes and follow the sync dialog. Pluraleyes will sync up the shots and add the high quality audio to your sequence. It's not foolproof but in the vast majority of cases it works beautifully.
There are 'Replace Audio' and various other options which make syncing all, or even most of your footage really very simple.

There is a free trial and the full programme is $149.00 USD at the time of writing.

Lastly The Slo-Mo Thing.

Very briefly, we all know the slo-mo tool in FCP is nowhere near as comprehensive in the options it provides as it should be. Avid beats it hands-down in this department.
The aforementioned client had shot some fast moving cars in 25P and was getting jerky slo-mo using FCP.
For fast moving things especially, shooting progressive can give poor slo-mo results. You may want to shoot in an interlaced format if you know that you are going to slow them down. Generally you will find this gives a better look but I realise this may not fit in with your workflow, how do you know exactly what will need to be slowed down and not etc etc.
Cinema tools does a great job of slo-mo. You can reset the frame rate there and its generally very free from any motion artefacts - a pain if there is audio though.

Anyway hopefully you will find some tips there about what to do with your DSLR footage, if you bear some of these points in mind you should have a smoother ride.
(All of the kit I have mentioned, including Cameras, Beachtek, Mics and Mirantz can be
hired from my good friends at New Day Pictures.)

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