In this special article, we take a look at how one company supplies a national US broadcaster with half hour shows cut exclusively on Final Cut Pro X. Advantages, disadvantages, the workflow and more.
The timing for this article is pretty apt, a perfect response to news that the once Apple poster child of FCP in television, Bunim Murray has decided to switch back to Avid.
This is a question and answer session with Dustin Hoye, the Lead Editor/Developer at Sour Squirrel Studios who kindly spent time with us to give us an insight on how FCPX performs for broadcast. He edits 'The Next Bite' which is aired on Tuesdays and Thursdays on NBC Sports Network (Formerly Versus Network) at 1:00pm Est and 10:00am Est.
FCP.co: Dustin, can you tell us about your latest project you are working on?
For long format, it is half an hour episodic television show on NBC Sports Network (Formerly, Versus Network) called The Next Bite. It is a northern species angling/educational show featuring the industry's top three Walleye, Musky and Northern Pike experts, Gary Parsons, Keith Kavajecz and Pete Maina.
The show is sponsored by Bass Pro Shops, Mercury Marine, AMSOIL, Tracker Boats, Berkley, just to name a few, so this isn't your average low-budget outdoors programming for those outside the genre looking in- we take the look, sound and feel of this type of broadcast project/production as serious as any other genre of programming.
FCP.co: The big question, why did you choose FCPX to edit The Next Bite on?
Curiosity. The Apple PR run-down on Media Management and Background Rendering sounded enticing to me and I like to form my own opinions on software, much like movies or music. I've got two Mac Pro towers, so I installed FCPX on the newer 6-core and left FCP 7 on the older 8-core, just in case. Never looked back, except to export old project footage.
FCP.co: Did you get any pressure not to use FCPX?
Besides feeling a bit uneasy from reading the initial knee-jerk reactions on the web, no. I understand exactly what is needed from potential software and am fully capable of deciding for our company and clients if something will work for our/their needs or not.
FCP.co: How have your directors/AP's received it?
From our network, viewers, executive producers and clients- our shows continue to get better each season. We are currently editing this season, season 8, in FCPX and so far, everyone believes that the shows have never looked or sounded better. This doesn't mean you can't achieve the same level of quality with FCP 7, but it does mean you can achieve the same or better quality of project with FCP X.
FCP.co: Could you explain your workflow?
We shoot a combination of cameras for the The Next Bite (and all of our commercial projects for that matter.) No tapes in our workflow, so that is a big plus, given the lack of tape media support in FCP X. Our main cameras are Panasonics, which for our purposes, usually means 1080i P2 or 720p60 for slow motion. Our secondary cameras are 1080p HD POV cameras.
I receive the footage via hard drive, still natively formatted in AVC-Intra 100M 1080i60, Linear PCM, and I'm able to immediately start editing as it automatically transfers in the background of FCP X. I work in Apple Pro Res 422 (HQ) for my FCP X timeline, same as FCP 7. 10 bit. Only difference is I used to use YUV for FCP 7 and now work in RGB, since that it is what FCP X supports- which isn't a bad thing since HD 709-A is the HD broadcast standard and is itself, RGB based, to my knowledge.
FCP.co: Do you do rough cuts/reviews?
I deliver rough cuts regularly to our clients using FCP X and Compressor, nothing really new here, for us.
FCP.co: How about audio mixing?
I used to use a combination of FCP 7 and Soundtrack for audio mixing, but with Soundtrack being combined into FCP X, I can now do everything inside FCP X. Although I still prefer to record VO into Soundtrack from an audio board on a separate machine, for the rest of the sound, I am able to mix it inside FCP X.
Breaking apart audio in FCP X can be tricky at first, but remember to shortcut break apart first then break it down into it's 4 channel tracks, if need be and you can never go wrong. I don't recommend using any of the on-import pre-set audio channel features, do it yourself inside the timeline- the same goes for the auto-color correction (on-import) features... use your own brain, eyes and ears on this stuff, as the results from the FCP X auto features wander greatly.
For graphics, we (including my business partner, Joseph Bowie who is also our team's lead animator) use a combination of software ranging from After Effects and Toon Boom, to Lightwave and Maya. We work in Pro Res 4444 for the output of these files into FCP X. FCP X projects for The Next Bite are cut in 1080i Pro Res 422 (HQ).
FCP.co: Compression, delivered master?
Compression for delivery on hard drives for HDCAM dubbing is done in Apple Pro Res 422(HQ). I just want to say that I personally feel that if anyone is whining about FCP X not supporting tape they are upset that they put their eggs in the poorly developed HDV and over expensive HDCAM baskets too soon.
Seriously, an investment in a $25,000 HDCAM deck is for networks, not production companies who want to remain versatile in their own budgets and interests. IMHO, this hard-earned money is better spent on peace of mind in your hard drive working space and storage at a fraction of the cost, even when considering paying for the HDCAM dubs. (Our show is closed captioned as well, so in our scenario, it makes to sense to have that and the HDCAM dubbing done all at once on the way to the network.)
FCP.co We understand you do all the color correction in FCPX?
For those of you wondering about color correction- yes, you can faithfully color correct using an external 1080p and 1080i capable HDTV using FCP X. OS X lion supports 1080i output and so does FCP X.
Combine that with the 6500K white point based HD 709-A color profile, or even a 65K calibrated custom profile if you see fit, and a 1:1 pixel supported, full 10-bit capable, HDTV with appropriate hardware color/gamma controls and you are on your way to setting up your monitor.
People argue that color bars are dead. This isn't true in broadcast. NBC/Versus is a national broadcast network and they require color bars. Given the setup described above, here is why, from my point of view:
HD 709-A or an externally created color profile with a monitoring/profiling device only takes you so far- HD 709-A works great for uncontrollable monitors like Apple LEDs, but for HDTVs, you still need those bars to make sure your Chroma and Hue are correct. FCP X includes blue only output.
Yes, it shows up as black and white, but this blue channel only option also behaved this way on some Sony models of professional color correction monitors. It will still show you whether your main bars are matching their sub-bars or not- and that is the final piece to the puzzle. Test it against an external color profiling device and see how it measures up- I did and you are well within acceptable ranges for both temperature and accurate color representation, checking flesh tones and true reds and whites on your vector scopes.
NTSC often was referred to as "Never the same color twice" in the old days of analog- and to some degree, barring some incredibly difficult math, the same leeway exists today in HD color correction.
One very important sub-note here is to make sure and match your generated bars with the same color saturation levels as your material at either 75% target levels or 100%- this is toggled inside the FCP X vector scope settings at 100% or 133% zoomed options.
It is important that you know what your network or client requires for this and that this saturation relationship is uniform, since the color bars will depict the levels of the rest of your project.
Thus, being an owner of an AJA video out board and a Matrox box- I can say that this FCP X setup offers the same quality of setup for monitoring HD 709-A color space for me and it is understanding the benefits of these devices (read the tech specs on their webpages and compare the major features yourselves, outside of tape-based work flows) and then recognizing their presence in your software and technologies that make a really good editor and/or producer, in my humblest of opinions.
We don't restrict ourselves to one piece of software- FCP X doesn't do it all and neither does AVID or FCP 7, etc.
FCP.co: Has Final Cut Pro X been stable?
I am very impressed with the 1.2 update- proves to be very stable for a version 1.0 piece of software. Uses RAM more like After Effects, so a minimum of 16 GB of ram is necessary, I think. I personally use the full 32 GB in my 6-core, so I can run Motion 5 and After Effects, Compressor, Photoshop, Illustrator, etc. at the same time. Also, who needs to save or remember to save or have auto-save crashing your projects?
Yes, FCP X crashes, sometimes a lot, depending on what you are trying to force it to do- But, every time you open it back up, no matter what I have been in the middle of, my project is EXACTLY where I left it every time. Version 1.0 does this? Insert applause here, *ahem* early haters, for Apple on this one, no matter how much you despise anything else about the software at the $300 dollar price tag.
FCP.co: Could you tell us some of the advantages of using FCPX over say FCP7?
Background rendering. Addition of Looks library. I used to use Magic Bullet Looks suite, but their isn't anything in that setup (which is still a great piece of software) that I can't get from FCP X or create in Motion 5 myself. Plus, with the added benefit of toggling these effects directly to my color correction monitor from FCPX instead of opening the MB Suite software and closing and checking the changes, etc.
Project back-up is another nice feature. I use a RAID 0 12 TB raid setup for a working drive and a 9 TB Raid 5 setup for project backup. Obviously the mirrored raid is smaller, but with the consolidate and duplicate project/used media options, I can easily and efficiently back projects up. To be fair, the native P2 files are backed up additionally with a production partner of ours.
So we have three levels of working/back-up space, but can afford to mirror space for safer back-ups thanks to saving space and time with the consolidate and duplicate project/used media options FCP X presents.
FCP.co: Do you miss not having the render time?
LOL. No. I can continue to color correct and render the same color correction as I go in FCP X, enough said there.
FCP.co: And some of the disadvantages?
Two very big things here- the ability un-compound clips needs to be examined. I have seen FCP X pull through on some more complicated clips after a few minutes of rainbow, but there are sometimes where you can't un-compound. This is not acceptable for those us who enjoy the simplicity of the magnetic timeline but need access for re-edits, maybe even years down the line.
One given here is to never compound Storylines. In fact, I try to avoid using the "Storyline" feature as much as possible and just stick with the main storyline and use of connected clips for as much of the editing as feasible.
Secondly, relying on Compressor for outputting using in and out points. This is ridiculously unreliable when working with complicated and long timelines. You're better off compounding and copying an pasting into a new project, exporting native and then using Compressor, which defeats the entire point of a basic feature of other NLEs.
However, for things like setting in and out points to see length of segments and even "adding" time from a starting point in FCP X into the timecode reader in FCP X are all here, you just need to know where to look for the information.
FCP.co: Were there any times when you thought 'I wish I was on FCP7?'
No. I edit a lot, and when I say a lot, I mean almost every day of the year and although FCP X is young and a very different animal, it makes story telling fun, all the while adding benefits like maximizing screen space by eliminating unused timeline space from old school track based NLEs. Looking at FCP 7 timelines and FCP X timelines side by side, it makes me smile simply based on the improved use of space altogether, including being able to click anywhere and moving to where I need to be, not just the timeline header.
FCP.co: If there were three key features that could be implemented for you right now, what would they be?
1. Definitely, better and more stable communication with Compressor.
2. Also, it would be nice to be able to view all of the scopes at the same time, like previously available in FCP 7.
3. Another feature would be, being able to re-name your trackless stems right in the timeline, without using the Timeline Index or the Inspector Window.
FCP.co: If you were to do it all again, would you change anything?
As with anything new, it is all a learning process and everyone has varying preferences for how they like to edit or work. At first, I was attempting to use the timeline like I would in FCP 7 and that created some chaos as video clips would flip flop on me as I continued to edit. Not good. But I wasn't taking advantage of the magnetic timeline- once I started working with it, the way it is intended, things became much, much easier.
FCP.co: And finally, any words of advice or encouragement for editors thinking about the jump to FCPX for long form/episodic work?
Use what you find inspiring. At the end of a long day, week, month, etc. that is all that really matters, if technically, what you're using is capable in a professional manner for how you are choosing to use it. Don't hang your editing hat on any one piece of software or company. Just trust your knowledge and don't be afraid to research issues and come to your own conclusions. To truly be current, you can't just rely on what used to work easily, you have to forge ahead and continue to learn what's out there and more importantly, why.
In regards to FCP X specifically, make use of resources like FCP.co and other great industry resources that cover all aspects of your software and hardware- because as shown here, professionally and quite technically for us, FCP X is working wonderfully for our broadcast needs. Also, Motion 5 and Compressor are absolutely necessary to truly get all the features out of FCPX. Many of the pre-packaged effects plug-ins available for purchase right now can be done inside Motion 5 yourself and imported as FCP X plug-in.
FCP.co: Dustin Hoye, many thanks for your time, I'm sure other editors out there are going to learn a lot from what we've talked about.
©Copright 2012 FCP.co/Dustin Hoye
If you have an interesting story about using FCPX in your field or genre and would like to feature it on FCP.co, please email editor (at) fcp.co