Noam Kroll from Creative Rebellion decided to shoot his Sundance entry on a Blackmagic Cinema Camera in RAW and post produce in Final Cut Pro X and DaVinci Resolve. He takes us through his workflow.
Before Noam starts the story, let's have a look at the trailer for 'Brother Sister'.
Over the past few weeks I have been scrambling to finish my film "Brother Sister" in time for the Sundance submission deadline. The film which I directed, shot and edited was shot on the Blackmagic Cinema Camera and cut on FCP X. This was a new experience for me as I typically shoot straight to ProRes on the BMCC, but due to the nature of this project I opted to shoot everything in RAW, which turned out to be a great choice. It added a couple of extra steps to my normal process, and even though I used a fairly standard workflow, I still wanted to outline it here for those looking to work with this combination of camera and NLE as it seems to work exceptionally well and quite seamlessly.
My first step was to create proxy files from the RAW Cinema DNG's. To do this I used DaVinci Resolve, as naturally it is built with the BMCC in mind. There are many other options for conforming BMCC footage including going to Photoshop or After Effects to create your proxies, but with the amount of time I had to do this, I used Resolve as I knew it was a tested workflow that was pretty bulletproof.
In Resolve I did a very minimal one light pass where I essentially balanced out contrast and brought down the exposure. This was crucial as on the BMCC you typically want to expose to the right and the images coming straight off the camera can look extremely overexposed. It would have been difficult to edit any material without first doing a quick one light pass on everything. This only took about half an hour as I wasn't worried about adjusting white balance or anything else at that point.
Once the session was ready to be exported, I rendered out everything to ProRes LT .MOV files to edit in FCP X. I decided to go with ProRes LT rather than ProRes 422 as I knew there would be at least a small increase in speed once the edit got more intensive. In total I only had about 4 days to go from raw footage to a picture lock, so using LT files rather than 422 put my mind more at ease.
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Once everything (video and audio) was brought into FCP X, I simply went through all of the video clips and labeled them by scene and take, and then did the same for audio. This made it extremely easy to sync audio with video. I then organized the viewer to display by name and went through the list sequentially, clicking each corresponding video and audio file and then synchronizing them automatically. This feature alone saved me a massive amount of time in the process as I was able to label and sync all of the footage in no time.
During the edit itself, there were quite a few new ideas that I decided to try based on the footage that we had. There were some technical issues to work around and some happy accidents that happened on set that I needed to experiment with to fit into the edit as a whole. The magnetic timeline was a treat when it came to trying out new ideas. This was not a new concept to me as I have loved the simplicity and general concept of the magnetic timeline since I've started using X, but this was a perfect case-in-point situation where it really helped. I was able to try out many ideas in a very short period of time and was able to make critical decisions quickly.
As far as audio went, initially I didn't do a lot of audio adjustments within FCP X as I knew from the beginning that the audio edit and sound design would all be done in ProTools by a colleague of mine. However on some problem areas, I did have to do some minor audio edits to selectively adjust which mic track I was using (lav or boom). I primarily did this to give myself peace of mind, knowing that the audio was in fact there on another track and confirming that I didn't need to do any ADR.
I used X2PRO to create an AAF from the .fcpxml file and delivered that directly to my sound editor. He brought that into ProTools in his excellent 5.1 studio and was able to get his session up and running without a hitch. I have to say, I've now used X2PRO several times and am very impressed with it. Each time, I find myself less anxious about translation issues as it still has a perfect record as far as my projects are concerned.
We did have some issues with the post audio though, in that our sound editor was running out of time and couldn't complete everything that he needed to in the time that we had. Ultimately the background audio was all in place and most of the foley was in there, but the dialogue still needed some work. Being in a pinch, I decided to have him export audio stems and I brought them back into FCP X to do a final audio pass myself. I used his backgrounds and foley (and some of his dialogue), but mostly re-did the dialogue edit myself. This was the most extensive audio work I've done in FCP X to date and while I'm by no means an expert in that field, I was easily able to accomplish what I needed to with the tools within FCP X. Specifically many of the Logic plugins/filters were extremely valuable.
Currently I am having another sound editor do an audio pass for our final master as the current version was only used for the Sundance submission cut. He will be using Logic X to do it, and we are trying out to .fcpxml workflow with Logic X which should be an interesting test. I'm looking forward to sharing the results of that workflow as well once we have it established.
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With the audio complete, I exported a .fcpxml file once again and brought it into DaVinci Resolve. Within Resolve I made sure to bring in all of the RAW files first, and none of the prores LT files. The XML rebuilt the timeline without a hitch and all of my edits and transitions were perfectly in place. The grade itself only took a single day to do as I wasn't doing a lot of tracking or power windows. On my own projects, I tend to prefer working with more natural color grades and avoid making things overly synthetic by re-lighting in post. This helped keep the color process on the short side too.
With the basic looks all complete, I then exported the sequence in 2K resolution using ProRes4444. This was brought into FilmConvert, where I added film stock emulation to the entire film. I didn't go shot by shot, but rather added an entire wash to the film as a whole to give it some more consistency.
After that was rendered out, it was once again brought back into FCP X for titles and output.
While I knew that FCP X would vastly speed up my post workflow, this project just proved to me how fast and efficient it actually is. In a real world scenario I was able to go from raw footage to a final master within 2 weeks, and most of that time was spent in ProTools. The ability to have so many audio and colour tools within FCP X is invaluable as it allowed me to make minor tweaks and adjustments on the fly to try out ideas, or in some cases make necessary adjustments that had to be done without sending it out to another application. Even mastering the final video file and DVD went off without a hitch and was completely done within FCP X.
This short film was done as a precursor to my upcoming feature of the same name, and was a testing ground both creatively and technically to establish relationships with the actors and crew as well as test out gear and workflows. While many things will change before we go to camera on the feature, one thing that is for certain is we will be cutting the film on FCP X.
Noam Kroll is a Los Angeles based filmmaker and owner of the boutique production company, Creative Rebellion. A decade of working in the entertainment industry has led to the completion of over a hundred productions, ranging from commercials and music videos to television content and feature films. He has been awarded and recognized for his narrative work internationally, and his commercial and broadcast projects can be seen nationwide on television regularly.