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Using Final Cut Pro Without Getting Bit
Avoiding the Pitfalls in This New Editing Environment
by Andy Somers

Unless you’ve spent the last year sequestered in a Tibetan monastery, you’ve heard of Final Cut Pro. You might say that it’s become the "non-linear editor du jour". But is it ready for prime time? While many editors are using it for more and more significant projects, there are some issues you should consider before using it on your next show.

If you do decide to take advantage of this new, budget-priced technology, here are a few ways to protect yourself and make the transition to FCP a happy one.

All Your Eggs Are In One Basket
How to protect yourself in case you (or the system) trips and falls down.

The Avid keeps each bin as a separate file, and the Media100 even keeps sequences as separate files. In the Avid, all bins are in a project folder and backups are stored in the Attic.

Final Cut Pro, like Lightworks, places all bins, sequences, and other project-related information into a single file called the project file. This one file holds everything except the media. Having this single file is very convenient, but fraught with danger. In the event that your project becomes corrupted you can lose everything. (This has happened to me twice.) Also, because the file contains everything, it can balloon to a very large size – so large, in fact, that it will no longer load! This happened once to someone I consult with, and they had to go out and buy more RAM in order to continue working!

Figure 1: When Final Cut Pro does an auto save, it creates this "-auto" file. It will go away whenever you do a manual save, or when you quit without saving. If you crash, this file will be the most recent version of your project.

The moral of the story here is BACKUP, BACKUP, BACKUP. By itself, Final Cut Pro does not automatically backup the project file (although it will autosave, but more on that in a moment). This means that you must take the initiative and make sure that you back up your project file regularly, say twice a day.

All you need to do is make a copy of the file by selecting it on the desktop, and pressing Cmnd-D. Rename the copy to something more descriptive, like "BKUP 3". Then drag it to your backups folder. While you’re at it, put your backups on a different drive than your project. That way you’ll be protected if your main drive crashes.

If you have Autosave turned on (and you definitely should), you’ll get a new project file whenever you crash. It will carry the same name as your project, with "-auto" appended to it (see Figure 1). If you crash, use the opportunity to save a backup and replace your project file with a clean version. Rename the old file, adding "BKUP #" to its title and place it in the backups folder. Then remove the "-auto" from the auto-saved version, and begin using that as your main project. It’s important to remember to remove the "-auto" – otherwise the next autosave would then be named "-auto-auto" and so forth.

Media Manglement
Keeping those thousands of media files organized.

Final Cut Pro and the Avid handle media in fundamentally different ways. With the Avid, all of your media is held in the "OMFI Media" folder, and that folder includes a file known as the media database. You handle the deleting and management of your media through the Avid and the Avid Media Tool.

Final Cut has no built in media management tool like Avid and Media100. Nor does it use "master clips" like the Avid. Clips in FCP are nothing more than pointers to Quicktime media living on your hard drive. When you delete a clip from within Final Cut, you are not given the option of also deleting the media. The only way to delete the media is to find it at the Finder level, and drag it to the trash.

You must approach media differently than you would with the Avid, since a great deal of your media management happens at the Finder level. To facilitate this, you need to organize all your media in folders. How you do this will depend on your particular situation. Here are a few examples:

Let’s say you’re using Final Cut Pro to offline a feature film, which is the only project in the system. It will probably be simplest to have a separate folder for each of the individual master tapes that you are digitizing, containing all the media files created from that tape. If you were to digitize everything to a single folder you would find it difficult to locate a clip since the folder would contain thousands of files.

If you have several small projects on the system, you’ll probably want to have, at the very least, a separate folder for each project’s media. If you’re working on, say, a series that has elements that are repeated each week, you might have a separate folder where you place frequently used and re-used items (establishing shots, banners, Bars and Tone, etc.)

The upshot is, that you need to think ahead about how your media should be organized in folders on your drives, in much the same way that you would organize your bins in an Avid.

You should also keep the names of your hard drives and folders as short as possible. Otherwise when you select "Clip Properties", the full path for a particular clip’s media might become too long to be fully displayed.

Figure 2

Finally, you should remember that the system captures media into a folder called "Capture Scratch". This means that when you were selecting your scratch disks (in the scratch disks preferences) make sure that you don’t select the folder called "Capture Scratch", but the folder that "Capture Scratch" is in. Otherwise, you’ll end up having a "Capture Scratch" folder inside another "Capture Scratch" folder! (See Figure 2.)

Finally, once you’ve digitized your media don’t try and move it around! Final Cut does NOT automatically look for it in its new location (although there’s a rumor that this is being addressed in version 2.0). At the moment, if you move media to a different folder, You’ll have to manually re-link those clips.

Caveats and Centipedes
Miscellaneous bugs and things to watch out for.

The Capture Bug

This is a bug in Quicktime. When you capture (digitize) video media using a capture card, the first frame of a clip is repeated so that you have 2 identical frames at the head of each clip. This has two implications. First, it’s important that you digitize with enough handle (at least 2 frames) so that you don’t use these duplicated frames.

Second, if you use these duplicated frames in a sequence, the duplicated frame will not play back and the sequence will play out of sync from that point on, with picture advanced by one frame against sound! If you have several of these fully extended clips, then you could get quite out of sync.

Until this bug is corrected it is critical that you never use the first frame of any captured clip in your sequence. Note that if you are loading DV footage through FireWire this does not seem to be an issue.

Frame-Off Bug

Sometimes when a clip is captured, it is captured off by one frame relative to timecode. This seems to happen up to 20% of the time. Thus, if you are using the system in offline, you should check each clip after digitizing, and if necessary, use the Modify Timecode command to make the clip’s timecode match that of the window burn. (It’s interesting to note that the Avid has the same problem, although it happens less frequently.)

Audio As Separate Files Option

Under the "Scratch Disks" preference, you’ll see an option to "Capture audio as separate files." I recommend that you do not use this option! (Leave it unchecked.) There are several problems with its implementation. You cannot relink separated audio files. In addition, if you capture separated audio files to the same disk as your video files, you’ll notice a severe slowdown during the capture process. Finally, when capturing audio and video to different drives, there’s a further bug that can prevent you from capturing anything at all due to errors in the way FCP calculates available disk space.

Timecode Offsets

This is not a bug, but a feature that you need to pay close attention to (see Figure 3). Under Device Control Preferences, you’ll see two places to set offsets.

Figure 3

The first, "Timecode Offset," relates to the offset used when digitizing material into FCP. Depending on your capture card and system setup, you’ll have a specific timecode offset when digitizing. This is the first thing you need to determine when setting up your system or all your timecode references will be off.

All you need to do is digitize a clip with a timecode burn on it that matches the timecode on the tape (you can use the built in TC display on most decks to create the burn). Then look to see how much this displayed TC differs from that of the TC shown at the "now" position in the viewer window. The difference here is the offset. Note that because of the "Frame Off" bug noted above, you should check this on several clips to ensure that you have the correct offset.

With some capture cards, you’ll find that the offset required when digitizing Video or Video with Audio will actually be different from what’s needed when you are digitizing Audio only. As a result, you should digitize audio-only for the same test clip, and see if the audio has the same offset. You can determine this by syncing up the audio-only clip to the video/audio clip, and then seeing what kind of offset there is between them.

The second, "Playback Offset," adjusts the playback of the sequence relative to the in points set in it and the Print or Edit To Tape functions.

This is needed as Quicktime can take a few frames to get "up to speed". If you are printing to tape (or using Edit to Tape), and finding that the first few frames of playback are frozen, or that the sequence is a few frames out of sync, you’ll need to increase the playback offset to allow FCP and Quicktime to get up to speed before actually going into record.

The easiest method is to play back a sequence containing clips with a timecode burn in on them, and see if the numbers in the burn in line up as expected when editing to tape.

Finally, if you are switching between serial control of a conventional deck and FireWire control of a DV deck, the offsets will likely be different. Remember to test each configuration.

Handle Sizes

This is an issue if you digitize at a low resolution, and then plan to re-digitize at a higher resolution. When you re-digitize, you must set the handle size (in the batch capture window) to the exact same length that you used when you digitized initially, or your material will end up out of sync.

Slo Mo

Unlike the Avid, adding a motion effect to a clip does not create a new clip, even though the effect will have to be rendered. When you apply a speed change to a clip in a sequence, it will not only change the length of the clip, but also ripple the entire sequence after that point to accommodate it. In some cases this might be a neat feature. However, if you’ve locked a sequence time-wise, and just want to alter the speed of a clip, it can cause plenty of problems (especially if you’ve already turned over to the sound department).

You’ll want to create a new, empty "temp" sequence and drag any clip you want speed-adjusted into it. Then apply the speed change and drag that speed-changed clip back to your main sequence. An alternate method is to do a "match frame" to find the original clip and apply the motion effect to it (or to a duplicate of it).

Field Dominance
Which foot do you start walking with?

As most of you know, a single frame of video is composed of two half frames called fields. In most video systems, it’s important to specify which of these fields is ‘dominant’. In simple terms, this

Figure 4: Field Dominance is set in Sequence Settings. Any change you make will affect only the current sequence. To affect all new sequences, select it in Preferences/Sequence Presets.

indicates which one is played first. It answers the question, "Does a frame start on field 1 or field 2?" If it is not set correctly, you may see unusual problems. For example, motion effects and graphics with motion added to them can appear jerky.

You’ll find field dominance options in Sequence Settings. The correct setting will depend on the type of media you’re working with and the codec you’re using. For instance, when using a CineWave or Aurora Fuse capture card (and the appropriate codec) you need to set the field dominance to ‘Lower (even)’. However, when using plain-vanilla DV media, I’ve had it set to ‘Upper (odd),’ though some people report that in this situation it should be set to Lower. You’re mileage may vary! If you are getting poor results when rendering motion effects at Hi-Res, then check your field dominance, and try a different setting. Although the default is ‘Unknown (none)’, you may have better results with either Upper or Lower, depending on your situation (see Figure 4).

That should cover most of the less-than-obvious pitfalls in Final Cut Pro. Keep in mind that this is a new product, and many of these issues will likely be addressed and fixed in future releases. But also keep in mind that if you’re going to be using this on a ‘real’ project, you may need to allow extra time to deal with unexpected problems. So, till next time, happy cutting!

Andrew Somers is a Guild member, a picture editor, sound editor, and mixer.
contact him viaGeneral Titles & Visual Effects

Reprinted from
The Motion Picture Editors Guild Magazine
Vol. 22, No. 1 - March/April 2001

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