A great FCPX user story from Thomas Grove Carter. This time he shows us how the new Honda commercial got the diptych treatment in Final Cut Pro X.
A superb story on how a very different and very cool commercial for Honda got cut. Thomas takes us through the process in creating this uniquely interwoven story. As you will understand, we cannot embed the commercial here, so please follow Thomas' link and instructions:
I’m an editor at Trim Editing in London. I cut music videos and commercials like this and this. I’ve cut plenty of work in Avid, and Final Cut Classic. But I am an editor who uses Final Cut Pro X. The following is meant to shine a little light on how an application I love is the best choice for an odd workflow and a brutal deadline on a very big job.
‘The Other Side’ is a double sided interactive film which follows a humble dad by day or a member of a criminal underworld by night, depending on how the viewer interacts with it. The user can press, hold or jab the R button on their keyboard as much as they like to flick between the two parallel narratives.
It was directed by visionary filmmaker Daniel Wolfe, who made this mark in music videos and commercials before his blistering debut feature Catch Me Daddy. It was shot on 35mm in Slovenia and Croatia over 6 days and nights by the outrageously talented Robbie Ryan.
The advertising agency was Wieden+Kennedy London.
Interact with the full film here.
Watch the Trailer here.
The Odd Workflow
With a job as large as this, work needed to be handed off to sound, effects, grade and music departments as soon as possible. I had to present the first cut of the offline two days after the shoot.
Because of the nature of the dual narrative, shots in one location had to precisely match shots in other locations (sometimes in a different country), so I also had to cut and assemble on set. Sometimes as quickly as an hour after a scene was in the can.
They were also shooting on 35mm and as the shoot was in Slovenia and Croatia, the turnaround time for receiving final QuickTime footage (from Hungary) was two days.
The solution to all these constraints? Get snipping fast!
As the director, DP and crew were used to playing back the most recent take on set-based monitors, I knew that if I edited this on-set footage together, that would be high enough quality for location-based decisions to be made.
Video playback files are recordings of what the on-set monitors showed the film camera was shooting. It’s like sticking another camera down the eyepiece of a 35mm camera and recording that. They share no relation (beyond the visuals) to the final film scans. No timecode. No metadata.
The problem was how to design a workflow that wouldn't require my assistant (or me) to have to recreate all our 6 days of on-set work when proper timecoded ProRes files arrived back from the lab.
Final Cut Pro X provided us with a unique solution I’d never tried before: Compound clips. Compound clips are like little nests that hold source clips. You can keyword, edit to multiple timelines, speed ramp, add effects, transforms etc, compound clips. Later if you then go inside the nest and change the source clip, the change will propagate through your project to all the places the compound clip is used.
So here’s what we did.
We had the video playback files into Final Cut minutes after cut was called. We instantly put each take into its own compound clip. From then on, we only worked with these compound clips. We added keywords and metadata to them, synced sound, favourited and rejected them, and edited with these compound clips throughout the whole process.
When the high-quality film scans began to drip through, we located each shot on the lab roll and replaced the low-res video playback footage within each compound clip with the high-res film ProRes clips. Bang! The compound clips in my browser, which were all organised, rejected and favourited, instantly changed from grainy low res video to glorious 35mm HD ProRes. The shots I’d used in the assemblies and cuts all switched. Like magic, the replacement flowed through every use in my Final Cut library, meaning no work I’d done had been wasted. My 35mm editing had got underway (almost) as quickly as if the film had been shot digitally.
A couple of extra bits we also did to smooth the process...
Some of the footage was shot slow-motion, but because the monitor playback is captured in real time, these clips would not match in length to the final processed film. So whenever a slow-mo shot was slated, we slowed it by 50% (or whatever it required) within the compound clip. Although playback was a bit jerky, it gave me a good approximation of what it would finally look like. When the film arrived, we replaced the 50% speed video clip with the 100% speed film clip. Amazingly it matched frame for frame every time! Flow, flow, done.
At import we marked all the video playback footage with a “Playback” role.* We marked the 35mm high-res ProRes clips with a “Film” role. The compound clips’ video role would start as “Playback” - because they contained clips with that role assigned. When the “Playback” clip was replaced with a clip assigned with the “Film” role, the parent compound clip’s role automatically changed to “Film” as well. This meant that we could create a smart collection which only showed compound clips with the “Playback” role . Once our “Playback compound clips” smart collection was empty, we knew all the playback clips had been replaced. Also when working in the timeline it was really reassuring to open up the timeline index and see the Playback role disappear once we had changed the clips within the compound clips we had edited with.
Even if we hadn't had to use crappy playback I still think we would have used compound clips. Because the film comes back in 30 minute long QuickTime files, Compound clips of each shot allow you to apply metadata to individual shots rather than whole QuickTimes. Just like the subclips of old, only loads better.
So while there was a little cha-cha-cha** to get clips in and replaced, it was far less of a ball ache than having to eye match sequences and cuts. My assistant, Fouad, for one was thankful. It was smooth and frame perfect.
The Assistant Workflow
Fouad and I worked in the back of a van for most of the shoot and then back in our hotel every night. We edited on Retina MacBook Pros, with our media on USB3-connected Lacie Rugged drives. We set up our libraries storing everything externally, media, caches etc, keeping libraries really small, good for passing around.
The video playback rushes were captured using Blackmagic AJA recorders. We quickly transcoded them to ProRes Proxy using Compressor. Which is super simple and fast. These playback rushes were then duped on to two drives with identical names and folder structures (because we were on the road we obviously didn’t have any shared storage, duping the names made sharing that bit simpler).
Fouad would go about loading the rushes in, enclosing the clips in compound clips, naming them to correspond with our storyboards, dividing them into scene keywords and adding notes and any additional tags required. As he went he’d reject the useless heads and tails of clips and any dud takes.
These compound clips were then added to a transfer library which was AirDropped across the car to me (which worked out quicker than using a USB stick). I was able to open the library (the clips within the compound clips linked to my external drive because of the dupe drive names), copy the new compound clip shots into my project and get selecting and cutting, while Fouad continued to work with new footage in his master media library. Once everything was transferred over to me, my library became the master.
The collaboration between the two of us worked really well. On set the flow of information and metadata was purely one way, assistant to editor.
For me, the things which make Final Cut Pro X the fastest NLE are not really to do with power or rendering but the way the overall editing metaphor has changed. The shift from ‘Bins view’ to ‘Clip browsing’ has revolutionised the way I work.
Here is how I chose to set up my project: I use multiple events, but I don't go as far as a separate event for each shoot day. I want to have all my scenes there in one place, sometimes scenes are shot over multiple days. Basically if you might have the same keyword on a number of clips, they should all live in the same event. So my general rule is to have all my video media in one event.
Now I could have everything in one event, but I find this gets messy. Keywords in folders in folders in more folders. So I separate out anything which doesn't need to live together. Graphics, sound, sequences. It’s really handy to just select an event and see your cuts, and all the smart collections are just one disclosure triangle away. I don’t know, it just feels nicer to me.
I have my video broken into shoot day keywords (I rarely look at these), ‘Scenes’ (these are what I work from all the time) and any additional tags (really handy when clients wanted to quickly review all the car shots for example). We also added a note to each clip of ‘Day’ or ‘Night’. Then whatever keyword or folder I was in I could type either of these words to quickly filter down further.
(Click for larger image)
I reject all the bits I can't use, everything before and after action and cut, anything which is clearly unusable. It's very quick to whittle it down with the skimmer and delete key. I can then use the ‘Hide Rejected’ option from the filter menu, and see just the usable media. It instantly reduces the amount I have to look at, with the flexibility to review the hidden media with a shortcut if I need to.
I then go through all my shots, scene by scene, using the pre-organised keyword collections, and favourite all the bits I like. On Final Cut Classic, I had to load a clip into the viewer and insert selects onto a selects sequence, or go through a string out sequence and remove the bits I didn't like. What I like about X is that it's fast, and flexible. I don't have to produce sequences. I play through every bit of video with JKL keys, I O to select my range, and F to add a favourite. I can do all of this without ever stopping playback. If I want to add something new, when I favourite, it's added right there in context, in all it’s keyword/smart collections.
To review the selects it’s just a quick shortcut to filter the view to only show favorites. I can select any keyword, any smart collection, any folder and toggle between selects (Favorites), usable (Hide Rejected) and all media (All Clips) very quickly. It’s fast! All this without having to create one sequence.
It's such a delight to just look at a browser full of filmstrips. The combination of having the discipline to review all the footage throughly with JKL and the speed of the skimmer after, means I really get to know my rushes more closely. In filmstrip view you can see the media before and after where the playhead is. It's gives you a god’s eye view of the shots, almost a 'wide angle' view of your media. If I ever have to go into Avid or Final Cut Classic, I feel like I have blinkers on. When paused, being able to see only that one frame on that one clip feels so alien now.
A relatively recent browser view is 'Used Media' ranges. Little orange bars which show you which portions of clips are used in the currently open timeline. I didn't think I'd have any use for this but it's actually really handy. If I'm reviewing selects and I have my current edit open, I can instantly see the take or portion of a take I've used. I get asked this all the time by directors, it's nice to know that without even making much effort that I have the answer instantly.
One last feature I use in the browser is smart collections. Primarily I use them for organising my cuts. On this job I had the main cut, teasers, and sequences prepped for EDL. So I had a smart collection for each of these. The ‘Teaser’ smart collection, for example, was set up to include items whose ‘Type’ was 'Project', whose ‘Text’ included 'teaser' and whose ‘Text’ did not include 'EDL'. All my teaser cuts were automatically filtered into this smart collection. Whenever I duplicated a cut and appended the sequence title with ‘EDL', it magically disappeared from this collection and appeared in my EDL smart collection. Small things, but once set up they make sorting, one less things to think about. It makes you neater, while doing less.
The Inspector is a powerful little window. It holds (almost) any information you could want on a clip, more than one clip, a sequence, a library, a title or transition. It's great when working in the timeline to have instant access to transform, colour correction, crop, opacity and filters all in one place.
All the metadata views are also fantastic when you're in the browser. Renaming clips with the ‘Batch Rename’ command, once you've really learnt how it works, is fantastic. You can quickly have Final Cut take any number of metadata fields and combine them to produce a name for the clip. What I usually do is highlight all the takes for a slate, for example let's say Slate 12 has 23 takes, name them as '12' and then have a custom renaming preset add a counter. In a few clicks in have all my files renamed, 12-1 through 12-23.
I add searchable notes in the inspector at the browser level. On this project, ‘Day’ or ‘Night’, but also ‘50fps’ and ‘100fps.’ These are then all searchable not only in the browser but also in the timeline throughout the entire edit. I've learnt over the last year or so that different types of metadata work well for different uses. For example, I used to keyword files as ‘50fps’ but then the only way to view them in the browser is to select that keyword. What if I want to see all the ‘50fps’ shots in the ‘Getaway’ keyword collection? Yes, I could make a smart collection and have it only show those two keywords, but this takes time to set up every time. Whereas a note is searchable. I select the keyword I want and search ‘50fps.’ Much more useful.
I've come to use the scene column in list view to breakdown my footage further. Sometimes within a 'scene keyword', let's take the ‘Pick up’ scene as an example, there are a number of actions which are similar or related, but shot out of sequence, and out of slate order. So I might have a wide of people "getting in the car" at the top that keyword collection (because it was shot first) and the close up might be at the bottom or in amongst other shots. Then break the scene into smaller chunks and assign a "scene" to each of these. So here I assigned ‘1 Waiting', ‘2 Exit' and ‘3 Getting In’ to the scene field of each clip in column view (or in the inspector when it set to ‘General’ metadata view), and by grouping by 'scene' in the ‘Group Clips By’ menu all these clips are collected in the order I want:
Regardless of when they were shot, or the name the clips have been given, they're together, each divided into sections. I'm sure this isn't the official way to use the 'scene' field, but it works really well for me.
I chose Final Cut Pro X for this job because I love it in general but also because I knew I could get that compound clip workflow working well. What I hadn’t really considered was how much it would benefit me on the timeline.
So: the magnetic timeline. I hated when I first used X, now I hate to be without it. It allows me to move much faster. Even on a normal job I love the flexibility it gives me to do things quickly and see how they work, but also the precision I need to finesse.
For this job I edited both sides of the story in the same timeline, at the same time. The ‘night version’ in the Primary storyline, the ‘day version’ of each clip connected below. So every time I changed the edits, trimmed, slipped and slid, the shot below went with it and was always in sync. After doing a pass on the night side, I’d just quickly trim the day shots to length below and it’d be done. If we decided to swap the order of shots, I just moved them about and the connected shots just moved with them. The sides of the edit stayed in sync.
On a job where I was constantly having to reassess either 'side' of the cut, X made it so easy to quickly make changes, and see these changes in day or night mode.
I also decided to use the free nature of the Final Cut timeline to divide day and night audio visually. Night above, day below. It made for a strangely beautiful timeline in my eyes, and one with which I could easily lasso one 'side' of the edit and enable or disable it. Once again the Magnetic Timeline was wonderful. Because each connected clip is associated with a particular shot, or part of a a shot, they were always in the right place. A tire pop sound, for example, can be connected to the exact frame where it visually explodes. So whatever I do with the video clip, it’s always in sync.
It allows you to produce complex sound beds, while also being able to hack away at picture without worrying about patching the right channels or selecting the correct group of clips.
Yes, It takes time to get used to. But once you do, it’s a marvel. (click for much bigger timeline!)
Now because this was an interactive film, I couldn't just edit without any consideration for the user experience. It was essential that myself and the clients could preview the effect. This was possible right in timeline. Final Cut allows you to make changes while playing an edit. I could select all the upper clips and use the disable/enable keyboard shortcut to turn on and off the night clips instantly and see how it would not only look, but also feel. This was brilliant. Far better than the alternative of exporting the two sides and loading them into the prototype interactive player application we had.
I even changed the keyboard shortcut so the R key became enable/disable clips., I then gave the clients a bluetooth keyboard so they could try the interactivity within Final Cut Pro X!
The Art of the Edit
This was the first time I’d cut an interactive film like this, and it took a slightly different mindset to make it work. If you’ve watched and played with the final film, you’ll know that it’s unique every time you watch it. The user is, in part, driving the edit. The challenge for us was to create an edit which worked as a standalone film, but was also un-intrusive to the experience.
We worked on faster and slower paced cuts until we found the tipping point. A speed which kept the films exciting while letting the shots breathe enough to encourage switching. We cut the opening purposefully slow, to allow the viewer to settle into the idea that they are in control and then quickened and varied it throughout the piece. Sound design played a big part in this. Creating varying sound beds between the worlds helped to set them apart, while also making shots quicker to digest.
The value of collaborators in this process cannot be understated. First and foremost was the director, who constantly pushed us to make it work better. But then also all the people we shared it with throughout the process, a queue of willing guinea pigs. You can only really see how the film works when you watch someone else interact with it. Some hammer the R button, others press slowly and digest each scene. No matter how long you stare at a screen, until you watch others absorb it, you never truly have a sense of how it’s working.
The 3rd Party Party
“Final Cut Pro X lacks so many features”, It’s something I hear all the time. This is largely a misconception, most things people believe it lacks are there in a different, and often better form. But there are features which it doesn’t have, and that doesn’t bother me in the slightest. The rate at which Final Cut has been updated and changed is astonishing. It continues to grow and mature month by month. So the direction and desire by Apple to continue improving it isn’t really an issue.
The approach they appear to have taken is a modular one. Final Cut costs £199.99. That’s less than a one year subscription to Premiere Pro, and about 5x cheaper than Avid Media Composer 8. I’ve only had to pay for it once. It’s CHEAP.
As a professional, If I need to export an EDL, I can buy EDL-X. It’s fantastic and works better than any EDL creation tool I’ve ever used.
Most people will NEVER need to make an EDL (I wish I could join them). Why should they pay for those functions?
I’m more than happy with this arrangement. The price of all these add-ons still brings the total to less than I’d pay elsewhere.
Here is a quick list of the plugins or apps I use.
EDL-X - Takes an FCPXML, makes EDLs from one XML it takes each layer and exports them as separate EDLs. All you have to do is hit enter. No enabling and disabling of tracks and exporting all separately.
X2Pro - Takes an FCPXML, makes an AAF for import into ProTools and other audio tools. Not only does it do this, but it can also take your roles and sub-roles and organise them into clearly labelled tracks. I’ve never looked so good to a sound mixer.
SliceX - Tracks the position of elements within your footage, allowing you to quickly draw and cut out shapes. On ‘Day and Night’ I was able to produce good looking rough composite shots in a very short about of time. It helped us define rapidly what we could push certain shots to do or be.
So Although Apple has made Final Cut Pro X able to take footage directly from camera and deliver finished productions to clients of all kinds, it also works well for those working with composers, sound designers, colourists and online editors, as this job (and every job I do) can attest.
While I’m (clearly) over the moon with Final Cut, there is room for improvement.
So here’s some of my list:
Roles-based timeline organisation - Audio editing is great in X, it’s freeing and fast. But it can get a little messy with all the clips defaulting to the lowest point when they are written to the timeline. Audio could be grouped by roles. Effects, music and dialogue all falling together on the timeline at the click of a button. Being able to move all your sound effect clips to the top while you’re editing them, music clips to the top when you need that. Editing clips to the timeline and automatically having them fall into the right place. It’d be wonderful. The best description I’ve seen of it is here.
Continuous Play*** - When I review selects with the director it’s really important to sit back and let them play. However in the Final Cut browser playback stops the end of each clip; you have to jump to the next clip before playback can continue. Sometimes to get round this I throw all my favourited clips onto a timeline, but then I lose all the power of the browser and any markers I add only apply in that sequence. Frustratingly, but also offering a glimmer of hope, iMovie does play clip to clip! I’d love the option of this in X. A simple tick box on/off would be great.
Browser Effects - On this job wanted to apply a 2.35 crop to all clips. At the moment if I want to add filters, transform or speed change and see these in the browser I have to open each clip in timeline and do it to every... single... one. It would make life so much easier to do them in a batch, right at the browser level.
Remove Attributes - I’d like a remove attributes function like the copy attributes one.
Dupe Detection - Being able to show used media ranges is great, but that’s not dupe detection. Dupe detection in the timeline is essential. Please see Final Cut Pro 7 for more information.
I need to stop jabbering now, for as my workmates will happily confirm, I could go on about Final Cut Pro X for hours.
I don't think we should really be Final Cut editors, Avid editors or Adobe Premiere Pro CC editors. We should just be “Editors”. To focus all the attention on the tool does a disservice to our craft, and that’s what it all boils down to at the end of the (overly long) day. But that would be a different article. X is still hugely misunderstood and underestimated, but it allows me to work my craft harder and deliver to a higher standard. It’s not just good for the small, quick or one-man-band jobs. It’s great for all jobs.
Final Cut Pro X is better, and I can’t go back.
Thomas Grove Carter