Sunday, July 25, 2010

FCP: What Works... and What Doesn't

Before starting on the second season of Warehouse 13 I detailed some of the ideas we were going to implement, trying to solve some of the issues and clunkiness we experienced on season one. So, as we approach the end of production for season two, here is my take on what works... and what doesn't.

Project Organization:

Instead of one project for each episode I have several projects: a master editing project, dailies, backup, outputs. This has worked extremely well. It keeps the project size manageable, although I've had to create additional backup and output projects as the originals get too large, well over 100 mb. The other editors use different schemes, but multiple projects is the common thread.

In addition, I've created an all purpose project which stores things I use every episode. These include a 16x9 matte, black and white leaders, audio effect presets,  video effect presets,  titles (VFX, Scene Missing, Insert Missing), and certain audio files needed for every episode.

One caveat: when you save with multiple projects open, you must Save All. This is extremely important as a Save doesn't save your current timeline if it isn't in the active / topmost project.

Keeping  music and sound effects in their own master project works well also, except when you Save All you get an error message that that project is locked.

What doesn't work is when you crash, it takes quite a while to restart all your projects. Plus you have to be careful your System Settings are set to the correct Scratch disk (on occasion it has defaulted to the internal drive).

Crashing: it happens. Some people responded to Edgar Burksen's article that they 'never' crash. That has never been my experience with very complex projects, with multiple sources of media, and some version of shared storage. On WH 13 my CPU is new. All software is up to date. The drives, cards, and connections are all provided by the studio, so I have no options or choices in the matter. I maintain the system as best I can with repairing permissions and using Preference Manager to delete the old then create new preferences files if I start consistently crashing. FCP seems no more unstable than recent Media Composer iterations. But it crashes.

And once it crashes, the recovery time is a real time suck. FCP is slow to start, and worse when you have to open 4 to 6 projects.

Storage Organization:

Our FibreShare storage was partitioned so that each episode has a partition, each assistant has a partition, and the media is in one of three partitions. Sound effects, music, and stock footage have their own partitions. This has worked quite well. When I need to work on episode #208 (a very funny one, for those keeping track) I simply log into that partition within FibreShare. My entire project is on that partition, it is my Scratch drive, and when I need particular sound effects or temp ADR, it all is put on that partition.

What hasn't worked great is FibreShare. This version (3.0.6) isn't qualified for Snow Leopard, so we've all stayed at Mac OS10.5. The drive partitioning was very difficult. So, we would probably move to another sharing software in the future.

We've had almost no issues with media becoming un-linked under this scheme.

What hasn't worked so well is rendering. FCP requires a great deal of rendering. And re-rendering. It slows up my work flow considerably, because this is a VFX heavy show and I do a great deal of sound work that, with adding audio effects, also requires rendering.

Then there is the rendering problems when outputting. My assistant (Seagan Ngai) outputs my cuts for directors, producers, studio, and network on her system. I copy my episode sequence to an output project, then quit FCP and FibreShare. She logs into my partition (all computers internal drives are named the same, and all admin accounts on each system are named the same, so the system will think that I've simply logged back in). Seagan adds a timecode burn-in with a 16x9 matte, and a slate. She renders the timeline and outputs to DVD.

The problem comes later when I open my original project and timeline. All my renders are disconnected. I can see the render files on the partition for episode 208, but have only been able to link them one at a time by finding the name and pointing to the specified unlinked render. Rather than do that, I re-render the timeline. Something about rendering a sequence copy breaks the link to the original renders. Another waste of time.

Work in Standard Definition:

Our dailies are DVCPro-50, delivered on drives from Technicolor. Not having to digitize saves time for the assistants, and working in SD saves time over HD with rendering. Also important is we convert all media to consistent formats, so all video is the same codec and framerate, and all audio is the same format and resolution.


Creating titles in Boris Contiunuum has worked great. A basic title with no drop shadow needs no rendering. And the controls in Boris for more complex titles work very well.

Boris Continuum

Boris Continuum Complete (6) has been a fantastic addition to our workflow. It has an excellent variety of effects. The Chroma Key effects are fantastic - we do a LOT of temp green screen compositing. Every plug-in I've tried has been interesting and useful... if not always easy to understand how to use.

And, amazingly, the people at Boris called our office to upgrade to the latest version 7 for free. How great is that!

What doesn't work as well is the Pixel Chooser. In Media Composer, the Pixel Chooser works similar to Animatte, where you can draw complex shapes and motion track them. Pixel Chooser for FCP only has simple shapes. I've found from forums that it has to do with how FCP is written. But a fantastic and free plug-in to draw and animate complex mattes comes from Alex Gollner's 8-point Matte Plugin (be sure to donate if you like and use this plugin). I don't bother with FCP's 4 and 8 point garbage mattes any more.


What doesn't work well in FCP is any form of motion tracking, an essential tool in VFX heavy shows. I've tried several plug-ins, and none I've tried are any good. Boris has tracking on some plug-ins. What is needed is the ability to draw a complex shape or matte, and track that for a shot.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Informative and interesting to hear. I edited a show for USA on a similar systems and found many of the same problems and work arounds. Just a comment as far as motion tracking is concerned - Motion (included as part of the FCS suite) is actually quite good at this. It isn't a perfect workflow and requires special attention when it comes time to online, but during the offline edit for temp effects, etc. the motion tracking available in Apple's Motion can be great. Same goes for speed changes if you use the Optical Flow feature.

8:44 PM  

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