Final Cut Pro Setup
Apple's Final Cut Pro is something of an industry standard for non-linear video editing, and Final Cut Pro 6 is the editor in use at Treet. As it is both popular and capable of producing work to full broadcast spec, we anticipate that many production teams will want to use it to assemble their programmes for Treet distribution. This article provides an overview of approaches to file preparation and getting content into FCP, setting up the application to Treet specs, and minimising problems in using this powerful system.
To maintain the fastest, most efficient, and highest quality editing workflow, this article assumes that you will convert all incoming content to Apple ProRes format. ProRes is one of a small number of Intermediate Codecs specifically designed for low-overhead, high quality work, and is highly recommended for FCP operation.
Even if you are not using FCP, and not even editing on the Macintosh platform, you may find the information useful – and in many cases there are Windows versions or equivalents of the applications described, for example for format conversion.
Before you bring any content into Final Cut Pro, get your material into the right format.
The fundamental rule is to always re-encode everything in to ProRes 422 intermediate format. Always. (Read more about Intermediate Codecs).
Why convert to ProRes first?
- Editing is much faster (often 10 or 20 times faster, able to scrub over 500GB ProRes projects instantaneously)
- Because frames move through the system unmodified, exporting video is very fast. For example, an hour-long show consisting of about 40GB worth of ProRes files and complex timelines will export to a result file in about 2 minutes.
- There is no quality loss (results are exact copies of the originally captured pixels).
Remember that while it often "seems" that there is no loss using H.264 or other codecs, unfortunately this is far from true. For more on this, see Lossless and Lossy Editing Workflows.
Install Quicktime 7
First, you need to make sure you've installed Quicktime 7 (not Quicktime X that comes with Snow Leopard). You should find Quicktime 7 as one of the optional installs on your Snow Leopard CD, or you can download it from the Apple web site.
They are compatible with one another, and Apple provides QT7 in addition to QTX because many professionals rely on the features of QT7. The difference is just the player, not Quicktime itself. You are always using the current version of QT, because it is built into OSX. However, Apple has "consumerised" the player, and deleted many of the essential features people use for professional work.
You will also need to be sure you have installed the current version of Perian, which will transform QT7 into a "plays anything" player and expands the formats that it can 'suck in'.
So, here's your workflow, starting from an original file supplied by your camera operator:
First, take the file into QuickTime 7. If you are lucky, you can simply export the file as a ProRes 422 file. This works probably 70% of the time. Pay attention not only to the video, but also make sure that your audio is transcoded to 48Kbits/16-bit format to match your workflow.
For about 20-30% of the files, Perian won't read them.
If you're dealing with an "H.264" file of some sort, it will either be produced by an official encoder (eg an Apple one, or the gorgeous little ElGato hardware dongle), or an unofficial one. Curiously the one in the Windows version of Adobe Premiere's Media Encoder appears to be an unofficial one! The Sony Vegas H.264 encoder appears broken too. A possible clue is to look at the Inspector when playing the file in QT7 (not QTX, it will lie to you). If it says "H.264" then it's probably real. If it says "AVC" you may expect some issues. Typically the problem you'll experience is, when you try exporting, you'll get audio but a blank white screen. The fact that Quicktime can play a file doesn't mean that it can convert/export it successfully.
If Quicktime itself won't do the conversion to Apple ProRes, try MPEG Streamclip
The most recent Beta version of MPEG Streamclip (1.9.3b5 on the Macintosh at the time of writing) will read almost any mp4 you can throw at it, including AVC files and files created by popular Windows video capture app, Fraps. It will also output directly to ProRes.
The app is also useful for a lot for other purposes (eg converting MPEG2 stream files). It's great, because it eliminates some intermediate steps, and it's a good idea to avoid re-encoding when unnecessary.
It has other advantages:
- You can batch up multiple files for conversion.
- It will "multithread" allowing you to tell it to do 3 or 4 or 5 encodes simultaneously. Worked great for us.
- It is a program designed by professionals, so it has very good control of deinterlacing, cropping, and frame rate.
- It is free!!!!
If you can't export direct to ProRes 422 from QT7, try all the options you can. Typically, this means converting the file into something that QT7 is happy to convert into ProRes. This is most likely to be another form of H.264 file. Handbrake is free and generally good but can sometimes produce artefacts. Wiz calls VisualDub "the best, but discontinued!". My personal favourite (writes Elrik Merlin) is the ElGato Turbo H.264 HD system (either with or without the hardware encoder). Try to produce an MP4 file in any way possible. Sometimes this can take a lot of experimentation. Once you do it, go back to the beginning… export it from QT7 as a ProRes 422.
Standardise the frame rate. If the frame rate does not match the specified 23.976, take the ProRes file and re-encode it using Compressor to another ProRes file using advanced frame settings, which does motion compensated reframing. It takes about 1 hour per 10 minutes of video, but it results in a very good rate-change and that's important for original source materials. Note that 23.976 is not the same thing as 24: if you look at the Inspector in QT7 it will tell you whether it's one or the other.
Then, use the ProRes file for all work. Some shops use Neoscene or DNxHD, but these are wildly expensive and though there was some debate for a while, the industry believes Apple has done an amazing job at developing an intermediate codec in ProRes. Intermediate codecs are an art form. They are not "ordinary codecs". They are designed so that they can do interframe-cuts, slow motion, and designed for low CPU usage during extremely high frame edit sessions with nearly lossless compression.
Re-code all the output from your video capture application, because all capture applications drop frames. ProRes is a special format in that it keeps track not just of frames, but of frame duration. Some capture applications such as Wirecast (3.0.4 but not version 4 or later) actually know this and saves frame durations for frames which are skipped. If you do a "basic re-encode" of Wirecast capture files, it will change these files from having long duration frames into having independent single frames.
You cannot edit with files which have long frames. It will cause the timings of your edits to be out, sometimes by several seconds, by the end of the video. This is true especially of videos which consume more than 30 minutes to an hour. You can find out if source materials have long frames by going into FCP and running the "Video Analysis" (in the tools menu?). If you have long frames, then your file should NOT be used as an editing source.
Avoiding rendering on the FCP timeline
You want to be able to drop clips on to the Final Cut Pro timeline and not have them have to be rendered. Here are the keys to avoiding clips that require rendering:
The format you drop onto the timeline has to match exactly in the following ways in order to avoid rendering:
- It must use the same color space
- It must use the same aspect ratio
- It must have (or not have) an independent SMPTE timecode track to match your preferences
- It must use exactly the same codec
- It must be exactly the same frame rate
- It must have exactly the same dimensions
- It must use exactly the same IB-frame layout for the specific codec in use.
- The audio bit width and sampling rate must be identical and the codec must be the same.
Otherwise it will render. Many editing programs attempt to have "renderless" workflow by allowing you to drop anything onto the timeline. Editors who rely upon this are sacrificing significant quality and speed in their workflow. It is good that FCP does not do this. There are reasons why you can't simply use H264 in editing that are not obvious to people. For example, H264 has frame "clusters" (IB groups). You cannot do a cut in between key frames, so editors "fake it" round your edit to the nearest keyframe. This changes the timing of cuts and edits and means that you can't seamlessly substitute higher quality materials for low quality materials (the usual technique for cinema workflow). The unwashed masses who do amateur video could care less. But we care, professional editors care, and we know you care!
To solve the rendering problems, establish a hard-line intermediate workflow. Use ProRes 422 regular quality (not HQ).
Here are the rules you should follow:
- Establish a default FCP preset which defines your workflow settings using ProRes
- Transcode everything into ProRes before using it in your projects (that is what Treet's "Edit Ready" files are all about)
- Transcode all results using Compressor for finals.
This method assure that FCP will never have problems, never crash, never render when you don't want it to, and that no project you're ever working on will contain surprises and unexpected video flaws.
Final Cut Pro Settings
Here's the Final Cut Pro settings recommended by Treet for best results. We are assuming FCP 6 here, the version both Treet and the writer of this article use. We do not recommend "upgrading" to FCPX at present – it seems likely that subsequent releases of this new version will recover some important lost functionality (like multicam editing for example).
Go into Final Cut Pro -> Audio / Video Settings .... then click on the "Sequence Settings" tab.
Note below we use a setting we called SLCN - Prores 720p24 (23.98fps). You will probably need to duplicate the closest one you can find as a template to create your own:
If I edit the settings this is what I see:
Once you've completed this pane, click the "Video Processing" tab and select "Render in 8-bit YUV", Process Maximum White as: "White", and Motion Filtering Quality: "Normal":
Then, on the "Summary" pane, be sure that your new setting is the default "Sequence Preset":
Once you do this, you are most of the way to having seamless, high speed workflow.
Saving time on Export
You can save a lot of time when you export a movie in Final Cut by not checking the "make movie self-contained" in the dialog box. This will create almost instantaneous output from FCP and only render the minute areas that require rendering (such as transitions). This means those files depend upon all the other files (it creates internal links), so you can't distribute them. To convert a "reference movie" (that's what it's called) into a full copy, you just go into QT7 and re-save it if you ever need to do that.