A superb user story about the shooting and then editing (on FCPX) of a series of corporate films about fly fishing in Iceland. Lots of material, lots of formats, so how did Final Cut Pro X perform?
What's great about this user story from Adam Loretz is the fact that he is one of the growing number of FCPX users that prep footage on location before bringing it back to base for the main edit. It's good example of how versatile FCPX can be, so we will let Adam take up the story...
FlyFish Iceland - A corporate film produced by Adam Loretz & John Rippin
(Click for larger images)
In February 2013, I had a fleeting conversation with both my cousins, John and Peter Rippin who are professional flyfishermen about the possibility of shooting a film in Iceland, for Peters business, FlyFisherGroup (FFG).
John is a World class fisherman, guide and keen filmmaker, and between the two of us, we were totally up for this filmmaking challenge.
For me, this would be the longest and most challenging shoot of my 14 year career - most of my video projects are typically 1-3 day shoots with fast turnarounds of edits. This was something else, this would be epic.
John and I were by no means given the job. First off, we shot two tests to both assess our equipment needs and to demonstrate our abilities to the other FFG Directors.
During these shoots it was clear that although we liked the shallow depth of field we got from my Canon 550, the 12 minutes record time was never going to cut it. Similarly, whilst videoing underwater using a Samsung Galaxy inside a clear, zip lock bag was actually quite good, it was never going to really be a patch on the Go Pro black hero 3. Useful as a back up though.
Lucky for us the project was green lit and we secured the commission against stiff competition from other production companies. With only a month to go, we still had lots to do. The shoot test results were enlightening and strongly influenced our choice of kit, which we now knew has a strict limit of 80Kg. Further to this weight restriction, we were also hearing reports of terrible weather in Iceland, that some river were almost unfishable. We would need several shooting solutions based on the weather conditions.
For the best case scenario, sunshine, we would purchase a DJI quadcopter - we figured if it had been raining cats and dogs for weeks, maybe, just maybe we would get lucky and get some sunshine, or at least flyable weather. Worst case scenario, rain, we would have zip wire to achieve tracking shots if the weather was really poor.
Regardless of the weather, we knew we wanted to try and achieve as many dynamic shots as possible and wanted jib and slider moves, yet also needing to stay under the 80Kg baggage limit. John had the answer, build his own jib/slider combo in four weeks.
Having bought a Go Pro for the DJI quadcopter, we realised that one would not be enough - what would we use to shoot the fishes? Luckily, we had a contact at Go Pro and within a few short emails, we managed to secure a box full of support for the trip.
￼In 3 weeks John had designed and built 3 jib slider prototypes, all working, however we went with the best option which he further modified 3 times before we left. John also mastered the flying of the DJI quadcopter, putting in hours of flight time and simultaneously testing of the GoPros at different frame rates and resolutions.
The final piece of kit we needed was a camera that could be easily fitted to the new jib and also offer some shallow DOF and long form record times. Without further ado, Johns Canon Glass became a GH3 and lenses.
The shoot was particularly demanding, 18 hour days for 12 days straight and was shot by 2 1/2 men: John Rippin, Alex-Gordon Lennox and myself, Adam Loretz. By that, we only had Alex for the first three days of the shoot and what an amazing first three days. We landed under grey sky, but as we drove to the first river, the clouds parted and out came the sun.
We have a fun BTS film which covers the shooting, so I’ll briefly cover the major points. (Embedded below)
￼When the sun was out we took every opportunity to fly the DJI quadcopter. Very quickly we found the copters limitations and that of Johnny's piloting skills, not least of all through rotor shift (where the sun creates a flicker through the rotors). Relatively small, technical challenges though.
As usual, we were shooting to edit, looking to cover off wides, medium and close up shots to capture the action. However, fishing is hunting, and fish don’t like being caught, so you have to stay low and creep up, be stealthy. Typically one of us would stick with the fisherman the other would try and pop a Go Pro in the water on the end of a pole and try and get the catch from the fishes perspective. Whilst Alex was with us it was particularly useful to have another person getting a wide shot to complete the paradigm. This certainly made for some fun multi-cam clips.
Altogether we shot about 1.5TB of mixed formats, GH3 50P at 50 MBs, lots of AVCHD footage at 25P and 50P, and all the Go Pro footage at 50P. We backed up every night, key worded, picked out some favourites and checked footage that we might have a chance to reshoot. In hindsight knowing that we ended up with 1700 clips it would have been beneficial to spend just a bit more time logging our footage and picking out more favourites from each days shoot. Again, a third person to assist with ingest of material would have helped here. Half way through the shot we realised we needed extra hard drive space, in order to have 2 x back ups. This was an expensive oversight.
At times in the north of Iceland the weather became a serious issue. In driving rain, changing lenses on a DSLR would not be possible. Taking a camera that is fit for purpose is essential and this of course reflects in the overall look of the finished film. Up to my waist in the middle of river Hafralonsa, shielded from the powerful current by a huge rock, I was glad to have my Panasonic SD700 with it’s 50P recording and stabilised lens. To add to the drama, a steady amount of rain meant I was regularly cleaning the lens, listening to Matt Harris, the fisherman over the Lav mic and Peter Rippin over the walkie talkie to suss out where the fish were and whether a catch was imminent. No second chances to capture the strike. Exciting stuff.
We shot the entire trip, not just rivers, but all the travelling, at Hotels and the airport and whilst I had no issues using the Miller Safari tripod, (next time!) I might consider taking a Manfrotto mono pod with feet as they are particularly versatile and light.
One More Shoot
On our return to England we had a second shoot back at the client's head office where we shot 2 x multi cam interviews to add to the four we had shot in Iceland.
My first job in the edit process was to buy a 3 TB USB 3 hard drive. Mostly to back up the 2 x 1 TB drives which totalled 1.5 TB of data. The next job was to select all the original clips and create proxies. I performed this task in batches as there was so much footage I knew that if I didn’t, the computer would probably throw a wobbly and crash. This process literally took a couple of days.
I created proxy files for the edit, largely due to my system performance - AVCHD 50P is fine, but GH3 and Go Pro 50P was too choppy to edit on FCPX 10.0.7. Interestingly, our MBP a quad 2.2 was very choppy playing back the 50P footage in FCPX and QuickTime, only VLC handled it well. This has since changed with only an upgrade to Mavericks and the release of FCPX 10.1.
Proxies all created it was time to start the job of editing.
My Editing Set Up
My editing setup is the aforementioned MacBook Pro quad 2.2 connected to a Samsung 24 inch, full HD monitor. I find this set up perfectly adequate for my FCPX needs giving me plenty of screen real estate. Typically I leave my events and clips on the MacBook Pro and focus on the work on the bigger screen: monitor, timeline and Inspector.
￼The edit was to be comprised of four rivers each of which totalling about six minutes each. And each of these four rivers would contain portions from six multi cam interviews.
During this period, I was travelling around and just used my MacBook Pro and because of the events and key-wording, worked very quickly even on a restricted amount of screen space. The client would need to watch each of the interviews and pinpoint the most useable sections from which we could piece the story of each river together. The interviews would be the backbone to the film and so that is what I first started to edit. All the interviews had at least two cameras so my first job was to multi-cam each of them. No tricks, just used the standard synchronisation via audio. I would then pop each of the multi-cam interviews into its own compound clip.
My first run-through would be to cut out any unnecessary pauses or sequences which were unusable and toggle between the different cameras to get the best image flow possible. Once I had all of the interviews edited down and off to the client I was ready to start the teaser edit. Time to make a project.
First off, I had to cut a teaser. A great way to get to know your footage and hone your storytelling skills.
To get the party started, I went to Vimeo music to grab a few pieces of creative Commons material that I could use to underscore the teaser and, or use in the main film. I found all my music here and I thoroughly recommend Vimeo music. Cutting a teaser first is certainly a great way to get to know your client, manage their expectations and come to some understanding about the style and look of the final film.
With the interviews returned and edit lists of useable sequences I was ready to start cutting the main feature.
As per my typical edit process. I like to cut the interviews then add b-roll then GFX, titles, colour correction, letter-boxing, any image manipulation given the letter- boxing, and finally add the mighty Finisher plug-in.
I find using Final Cut Pro X a breeze, I just seem to pick up more and more shortcuts which makes the process quicker and every command feel like second nature. Each decision or problem - Boom! the answers right there. I’m a big toggler, I keep focused, so turning off the inspector, the scopes, or the events and clips so I just look at what I need to.
For me, the hardest thing to do as an editor is to stay fresh with the material, to try and listen with fresh ears and make edit decisions. Mostly I am listening out for repetition which is the number one thing you can typically cut to bring the duration of your film down. That may sound obvious, but it can all seem like a blur of audio after days of listening to the same voices.
During our shoot we had travelled from the south of Iceland where it is generally sunny to the north where it is typically overcast or raining. Seeing the opportunity to shoot a time-lapse, I popped one of our Go Pros on the window of the Jeep for the 6 1/2 hour journey. The time-lapse came out really well but we felt that a 2 1/2 minute sequence in the middle of the main film was going to be too long.
We also wanted to show on a map where we were travelling. This meant I needed to learn how to make a map and animate it. Thankfully, there is a website called FCP.co and I had seen an episode of Macbreak studio where (the very talented) Mark Spencer makes a car travel along a predetermined route using Apples Motion 5 app. I had a feeling I could use this as the basis of my map.
I have to say I had a lot of fun making my own map of Iceland. With my map complete, I then created layers to crop out/animate over time and reveal the route, a la Indiana Jones, at the head of which was a blinking circle to represent our car.
To add a bit of atmosphere and a little more cinematic look I added a camera turning the project from 2D into 3-D. Further to that I added some clouds to mimic the effect of descending closer to the map and making the overall sequence more dynamic. Added to the time-lapse, I think it made the transition from south to north Iceland really engaging.
I had a fair few shots to stabilise, not many from the DJI, as the AeroXcraft gimbal was very good, most of the issues with handheld material. One shot from the bespoke jib, (largely because we missed! a little camera shake during shooting) did require some special attention.
As our Jeep pulled in to the car park at Kjos fishing lodge the camera sweeps low left to right following the wheels, the move slightly dips down with the road gradient and as the Jeep is revealed fully and pulls in to a space, the camera pans left with the turning Jeep and moves up in one flowing motion to reveal the mountains behind the lodge.
Just before the final move up and reveal, is where the issue came.
To fix this particularly unique wobble I decided it would be best to hand keyframe this issue. Time to zoom in and pay close attention. I scaled in the clip as little as possible to retain detail - 106%. This was a GH3 shot at 50Mbs so it held up well. Opening the video animation window, I frame by frame alt- clicked the Transform tabs smoothing out the camera movement.
We also letter-boxed the film and that gave us room to re compose a fair few shots, critically, the opening DJI shot which flies from the sea, up to and then above Peter Rippin who is netting a salmon
In this shot, we wanted to start by looking at the sea, tilt up to the horizon whilst puling back to reveal the fisherman. Again, a little key-framing to enhance a little reveal. Letter-boxing also meant that any rotor blades could be moved out of frame too. John and I cannot wait for 4K Go Pros.
I love the colour corrector in Final Cut Pro X. There were plenty of clips which needed brightening up as the clouds in Iceland often move in very quickly. Matching shots from a brighter part of the day or crystal clear underwater shots to some of the aerial shots required some subtle touches to even out the sequence. The Go Pros handled the brightness of the sky amazingly well and only lost some of the￼brightest detail. Several times though, skies were a bit blown out on the Panasonic and Sony cameras. In the colour corrector I found it easy to sample the colour of the sky and perform a correction inside and outside of this colour parameter to bring back all the information from the sky that was possible. This was particularly useful where we had an interview and I really needed the shot. It did take me a few tries to get the right balance between trying to recover the image detail and pushing the codec too far and seeing blocks and aberrations. Watching the neighbouring clips helped, as your colour correction should take in to account each clips place in the overall context of your film.
Overall, I found matching shots, in terms of image quality not too bad at all. We had a Panasonic GH3 Micro 4/3 and a Panasonic SD700, which matched really well. However, the GH3 and Sony AX2000 were not as good together. In the Sonys defence I should have used the Sony on the close up at the end of the lens, to blur some background and used the GH3 on the wide. The GH3 produces a super sharp image. I certainly noticed a difference between the image quality between the Panasonic SD700 (shooting 50P AVCHD) and the Sony AX2000e (Shooting 25P AVCHD)too. I understand that AVCHD 25P/progressive is captured in an interlaced stream and that AVCHD 50P is captured in complete frames producing much clearer images than the 25P method. Based on what I have seen, I’d agree, so, even though the Sony had a bigger sensor and better lens the Panasonic SD700 shooting 50P version of the AVCHD codec just tipped it for me.
Just to throw the cat amongst the pigeons, since the trip, I sold the Sony AX2000e and bought a Sony RX10 and maybe it’s the RX10’s 1 inch sensor or maybe the codec, but the AVCHD 25P looks way better than before - possibly producing images sharper than the SD700.
To sharpen up most of the 25P AVCHD footage I used the Finisher plugin from Crumplepop, I swear by it. It seems to be able to really draw out! detail that you just cannot retrieve any other way.
The GoPros are what really shone in the edit - a third of the film is probably GoPro footage.
The only error, I had was exporting the final film. Out of the ten times I probably did this, a couple of times I get an error code -50 After a restart and re-render it all exported smoothly.
My production distribution workflow, was to send drafts to Vimeo for client approval and for final delivery I exported ProRes 422 files and high quality MP4 files for the client to upload on their Vimeo channel.
The client also had a DVD which was authored in DVDSP4.
There is also a 35 min BTS film, which focuses on the shooting part of the production, but is fun all the same.
The final film has not yet been released by the client, however one of the rivers, Hafralonsa is available to watch here.
The reaction to the Iceland films has been fantastic and John and I are teaming up with brand communication expert Justin Loretz to offer our filmmaking services as www.vertigopros.co.uk
I have been making films since 1999, lots of them, in a diverse range of industries and subjects; from micro sculptures to mountain bikes, jewellers, building societies, as well as a working prolifically in the health and fitness industries.
My clients are local, national and international businesses, you get through a lot in 14 years.
I started out shooting and editing DV, in a package aptly named EditDV. From there, I jumped in to FCP v3, followed it up to 7, jumped to X and have never looked back. Today, I shoot with whatever camera is right for the job and fits the budget. Recently, I have found myself utilising more jibs, cranes and now aerial drones to keep a fresh perspective in my films. I love my job. More about me at www.loretz.co.uk