circuit pro FCPX

***Updated with a trailer for the programme***

When Circuit Pro looked to cover the East African Safari Classic Rally, they questioned which NLE should be used for post production. After starting with FCP7, they discounted Adobe's Premiere Pro due to bugs and ended up with Final Cut Pro X. So how did it all work out?

We will let Charli Randall from Circuit Pro take up the story after we have a look at a trailer for the show!

 

ABOUT THE PROJECT

Circuit Pro is a film production company that was started primarily focusing on the automotive and motorsport sectors, and has grown from a one man operation, to eleven full time staff and a wide pool of freelancers. From online content to full broadcast, we have been lucky enough to cover some incredible events in the automotive world and beyond. Now expanded into a new parent company, Kingdom Creative, we have tried to evolve our post-production workflow to allow quick turnaround times, and that is something we pride ourselves on, even when the conditions are punishing and deadlines even more so.

Always trying to be at the forefront of efficiency, we had kept an eye on Final Cut Pro X since its launch and although initially enthusiastic, we had to dismiss it at the time due to the fact it had no collaborative ability. By this point we were working off shared storage via gigabit ethernet and FCPX was for all intents and purposes, network blind.

We did not have the budget to go down the SAN route - and the fact that FCP7 performed excellently with a small team of editors working from an attached RAID5 unit shared via ethernet, meant that until FCPX would be able to slot into this workflow, it would remain something for the future. FCP7 continued to be the daily workhorse. We also investigated Premiere as an option, but bugs found in testing combined with an initial reluctance from staff put us off the Adobe software.

We were approached by Richard Tuthill from Tuthill Porsche in June 2012 about doing some filming at his workshop. Tuthill Porsche, based in Oxfordshire, are a well established team and workshop that prepare historic Porsche sports cars competing in motorsport events all over the world. Richard was keen to document the build up of many of the cars he was preparing for the East African Safari Classic Rally. The team was undertaking the build up of nineteen classic Porsche 911s for clients who were looking to undertake the event. It was clear during filming this short feature that this was no ordinary undertaking and this was building up to be a task of herculean proportions.

The East African Safari Classic Rally is an event that runs biennially and was first held in 2003 to celebrate the 50th running of the original classic rally event which was a round of the World Rally Championship until 2002. It is open for cars produced before 1974 and the concept was to re-create the challenge of the original Safari Rally, with long and punishing stages (competitive timed sections) run over nine days. The event servicing of the rally cars is done roadside on the route, instead of a centralised service area, which is now the normal structure for modern rallying events.

circuit 3

 

Originally we approached Porsche to produce a series of films from the event for publishing online, as not only was this one of the largest Motorsport entires ever undertaken by one team, it was also 50 years of the Porsche 911. The deal did not come to pass, so Richard decided to still continue with the booking as he still wanted this historic moment for the team documented, and we would find the budget to complete the project on our return.

THE GEAR AND TEAM

Due to the limited budget a small crew would be required, and this approach meant the crew could quickly respond to any sudden events to cover. Ben Treston (Senior Camera Operator & Editor) and Joe Bannister (Camera Operator & Editor) shot their hands up to volunteer for this opportunity. Ben would fly from London to Mombassa to cover the pre-event build up, and Joe would fly from the Macau Grand Prix via London to Mombassa a day later.

The crew had to keep the gear simple, so selected the following equipment for use on location:

  • Sony EX1 
  • Sony FS700 
  • Canon 5D w/ 70-200mm 
  • Canon 60D w/ 18-55mm 
  • Sennheiser 416 Boom Mic 
  • DJI Phantom with Zenmuse H3-2D &
    GoPro Hero 3 
  • A selection of GoPros

circuit 4

 

The team set up a camp outside Mombassa to prepare the cars before the event start and whilst covering this, it was clear how big the scope of the undertaking was. Each of the 19 cars had two technicians, a 4x4 service vehicle of spares and numerous other support staff to keep the entire operation moving. In total the team expanded to over 120 people for this event. 

The event started in Mombassa and would head west towards Mount Kilimanjaro - the rally cars and service and support vehicles covering many kilometres each day. Due to the large distances, Ben and Joe focused their efforts on meeting the Tuthill team crews between competitive stages. Trying to film the competitive stage sections as well as covering the team stories would not be possible. It was a agreed that the footage from the cars on the stages would be supplied by a local Kenyan crew who were covering the event as a whole.

Ben and Joe were given their own 4x4 Hilux and were able to cover the same route as the service vehicles choosing when to stop and cover any team stories that were taking place. 

circuit 1

 

Some highlights for the film crew involved filming GVs at a overnight halt (not knowing there was lion hidden behind them), a very high speed excursion off road to avoid hitting a local truck, and flying the Phantom over an entire village of locals who thought this was something from another planet.

circuit 2

 

On the event at each overnight halt, footage was ingested using Final Cut Pro 7 and then backed up externally before media was repurposed for the coming day.

Without giving the plot away, incredibly the team had one of the closest finishes in Safari Rally history. To actually be there and document this incredible event, the people, the counties visited and the sheer drama and challenge of the mammoth undertaking meant we knew we had a cracker of a story to tell.

THE EDIT

As the event drew to a close, the footage was approaching 1TB of rushes in H.264, XDCAM-EX and AVCHD. Normally when using FCP7, we would use MPEG Streamclip to convert all footage to XDCAM-EX and then work on a XDCAM-EX timeline. However when we returned to base we started floating the idea of putting FCPX 10.1 to the test, especially as now we would be storing the media on a shared network location so both Ben and Joe were able to access the same material.

The programme was edited on 2 x iMacs (i5 and i7) both connected to shared media via ethernet and AFP connection to a Mac Mini server (running Mavericks server) connected to a Promise Pegasus R6 RAID via Thunderbolt. Libraries were copied locally for opening and working.

This was a unique project, not just because of the location and subject matter but because when the footage was acquired, there was no specific output.It was uncertain whether this was going to be an online series or full television programme, so Ben and Joe had to be certain to and cover all angles.

circuit FCPX 2

 

After an exhausting return to base in the UK, the process of organising the footage started, however the power of the FCPX metadata system became quickly apparent. The Library for the project was divided into an Event for each day as well as Events for build-up and wrap. In addition, all of the footage filmed in the UK beforehand was also added. Footage was keyworded by location (eg: service, overnight halt, village colour, stage) and then interviews also had their own keywords. Using Favorites and an “Interview Selects” smart collection meant that there was a dynamic collection of Interview material for each day that made assembling all the highlights of the day very quick and easy.

The decision was made to start by using Original Media, instead of Proxy or Optimised, due to the fact that the material must remain on the shared storage. This was also a test of the software to see what kind of problems might happen on other (smaller) projects if this approach was taken.

circuit FCPX 1

 

As a first pass edit, both Ben and Joe shaped each event day into narrative, while working out where the story needed some V.O. or additional explaining to the viewer. At this point the duration was not a concern, as at the time the target was to lay everything down to find how the story flowed. Using FCPX’s placeholder clips was a very useful way of seeing where gaps were and being able to make notes on the clips was a useful way of having notes on screen while watching, as well as being able to show the client edits without all the pieces in place.

When using footage from the DJI Phantom, the stabilisation in FCPX was excellent. It took shots with too much lateral movement from the craft (which only had a 2-axis gimbal) and transformed them into very useable material which really helped add an extra dimension throughout. The fact that it would only stabilise the clip portions required instead of the entire clip (as in FCP7) kept sanity in this process.

Rachel Cavers, the Tuthill team’s PR had some contacts at Motors TV and they expressed interest in showing this as a 52 minute broadcast programme. So work began on taking the longer edit, dividing it into four parts and then starting to trim down to duration.

Using Project XML, Ben and Joe were able to exchange Project data very quickly and start building each part of the programme.

It was clear that there needed to be a narrative “glue” that would tie the whole story together and avoid using too much V.O. track. Ben and Joe returned to Tuthill Porsche again on a very cold January morning to conduct a three camera interview with Richard, where he looked back over the event and offered the viewer his story of what took place each day. The multi-cam tools in FCPX were a huge advantage when putting this interview together. Although there is still some clarity required when dealing with audio in Multicam clips, this is a huge step forward from FCP7, and it is painful to go back to use the old tools for multi-cam.

Using the magnetic timeline and ensuring proper clip connections were made when editing meant that it was extremely quick to make changes to duration throughout to re-time the programme sections.

circuit FCPX 3

 

Colour correction was performed entirely in FCPX, as there was insufficient budget to take the programme to another suite. A bug was discovered where you cannot exchange Project XML if you have a shape mask active in the Colour Board. These had to be disabled or removed to get this working. We were lucky to find a workaround for this issue online as the programme deadline approached.

All audio post was also done in FCPX, due to time and budget once again. The audio tools have improved greatly over FCP7, however not being able to have a assignable shortcut to apply audio fades to both ends of a clip is something that FCP7 has over X, and is nearly number one on our wish list for the next point update. (And ours! - Editor)

As the programme grew in complexity, sections were made into compound clips which were then added to a master sequence for an overall look at the progress of the master edit of the final broadcast. This was instantly useful being able to duck in and out of sections of the programme to fine tune changes.

GRAPHICS

Lower thirds and graphics (route maps and programme bumper logos) were created in After Effects CS6 and brought into FCPX as rendered ProRes files. In general this process worked well and simply replacing rendered files in the background would immediately show the updated version on the timeline.

OVERALL

We were certain that once the learning curve was straightened, we were working faster in FCPX, however there are still a number of issues that came up -

  • Slow UI performance over time - a restart would normally resolve it 
  • The above bug with Project XML Exchange 
  • Sometimes poor performance when editing via network (same media in FCP7 had no problem) 
  • Some very bad bugs when titles would lose their font and position, and even re- creating them from scratch would cause the same issue after FCPX was reopened. The fix at the 11th hour was to re-create them in Photoshop and bring these in as images. We have yet to have this issue again on other projects however.

We like FCPX. Our whole team does now too. It’s not perfect, no software ever is. We found some pretty serious bugs - however we think there is a very solid and powerful base here for our new NLE of choice. Having a broadcast credit for the software shows it has come a long way since launch, when a lot of folks would have found this unthinkable.