Time for the last instalment in this reference series of articles for filmmakers. Part five is all about collaboration with colour, VFX and audio departments. We finish with how to deliver your film for theatrical release & display.
- Part 1 Introduction and On-Set Editorial
- Part 2 Organization
- Part 3 Editing
- Part 4 Group Workflow and Finishing in FCPX
- Part 5 Collaborating with Color, VFX & Audio Departments
In Part 1, we talk about On-set workflow for FCPX. In part 2, we focused on how to take advantage of the media management and organizational tools. In Part 3, we focused on the fun part, which is how to maximize the editing experience in FCPX.
In Part 04, we explained how to keep your finish entirely within the FCPX ecosystem. Now, with part 05, it’s time to go the last mile, and talk about how you collaborate with other team members as you take your FCPX edit and start round tripping with Color, Sound, and VFX team members who are all working on your edit.
We’re also going to go through how to make your own DCP file and what you need to know in order to deliver this properly to a theater. For a quick primer sending your project from FCPX to Resolve & ProTools, check out this video.
On Off The Grid, we had no outside help whatsoever with the post process. All editing, sound design, color, VFX, and even DCP creating (along with the drive that went to the theater) was handled directly by the We Make Movies team and mastered in house at the Lumaforge lab in a shared Mac-Windows-Linux environment off of a Jellyfish.
Off The Grid premiered in October to a packed house at the Sundance Theater in Hollywood. It was 100% DIY from script to theatrical DCP. You can do this too. You’ve just got plan your work and work your plan.
Ending the Post Workflow “Tower of Babel”
Post production has progressed a lot over the last 10 years. Things like file-based cameras and inexpensive editing software have helped to democratize creative storytelling through video.
However, with these advances come complications. Each part of post production has developed different needs than the other departments over the years. These differences can lead to VERY expensive turnovers between departments and a lot of confusion between teams about how a to efficiently work together.
Often, the Edit, Sound, Color, and VFX will all be done by different companies working in completely different buildings and none of the people involved will have ever worked together before. This can often make content creation feel like you’re reinventing the wheel at every turn.
Things do not need to be this way, though. The biggest hurdle in a narrative workflow is managing the requirements of your individual team members and vendors to create an efficient pipeline that everyone involved understands.
The truth is that once you finish your edit, the real work begins. If things go smoothly, you give an AAF to your sound team, an FCPXML to a colorist, and numerous frame sequences, count sheets, spreadsheets, and XMLs or EDLs to your VFX team.
However, most audio teams are used to receiving OMFs, which lose a good bit of information from your cut. And if you are on a deadline, you may have to send multiple AAFs to your sound team before you are done cutting. This leads to complex conforms in ProTools using change lists and reference movies.
If things go smoothly, a good sound design and mix in Los Angeles can easily cost you $20,000 or more.
On top of that, many online post houses are used to receiving EDLs for the color turnover. This is inefficient for both you and the post house. EDLs are limited on the number of tracks they can contain, and are very limited in what they can pass from one application to another. Unless you are only doing simple edits and dissolves, EDLs are going to be a pain to work with.
FCPXML can save you a huge amount of headache, but you have to communicate with your post house about it well before your first turnover. If you don’t do tests with the post house up front, they may end up having complicated conforms on their end, which will cost you thousands of dollars.
That’s on top of the $20,000 that a typical high end color grade can start from for a feature film.
In Hollywood, it is common practice to keep the camera originals at a post house, and not with the edit team. This means that all VFX pulls have to go through the post house. This often becomes extremely expensive and time consuming. On a movie with a lot of effects shots, doing these remote VFX pulls can easily cost $50,000 or more. That’s $50,000 that could be better spent with highly skilled VFX artists.
Pulling as much of the process in-house can help save a lot of time and money. For example, you could bring a sound designer to work in-house for a fraction of the cost of working on an expensive sound stage, and then just book the final mix in a sound stage for mastering.
You can hire someone to do the color grade in-house, or at least do the conform in-house before sending it to a vendor. Additionally, if you keep your original media in-house, you can make your own VFX pulls in Resolve. This can save you upwards of $50,000.
You can also save a good bit of money and time by knowing and meeting the needs of each of your departments ahead of time. FCPX editors prefer the editing with Optimized or Proxy Media from the camera originals.
Thankfully, FCPX allows you continual access to the Original Media, even when working with Optimized or Proxy Media. This allows you to pass an FCPXML to Resolve, giving your colorist immediate access to the camera originals.
Your VFX artist will want DPX or Open EXR pulls from the Camera Originals. These can be easily be generated in Resolve. They will also likely want count sheets to detail what is supposed to be done with each VFX plate. If they are working in Nuke, they may also want an EDL and Excel Spreadsheet to help automate the conform on their end.
Your sound designer and mixer will be best served by a well organized AAF, along with a ProRes reference movie. You can provide an H.264 reference, but it won’t play back as well in either Logic or ProTools. You may also need to provide change lists if you are frequently updating the edits you have sent to your sound team.
Various parts of post production also have different hardware requirements. While your FCPX Editors and sound team will probably all want Macs, your Colorist will likely want access to a high-end PC or Linux machine for realtime performance. They will also want a color accurate monitor. Your VFX artists will almost certainly ask for similar Windows or Linux machine.
Working in a multi-operating system environment without the right storage and networking can cause quite a few problems. These include painful permissions and relinking issues as well as the never ending pain-in-the-ass that is known as “Sneakernet”.
Knowing what these needs are and crafting a workflow around them in advance will save you countless man hours. It will be a breath of fresh air for your team members. If you can bring all of your talent under one roof and have the working from the same footage, amazing things can begin to happen.
While much has been said about remote or cloud based workflows, the fact is that nothing replaces the immediacy and organic nature of in-person collaboration. A director can save a lot of time and headache when his collaborators are under the same roof. Being able to walk down the hall and talk to your editor, VFX artist, and colorist allows communication to be far more direct. It also allows results to be seen nearly immediately, rather than having to wait for a shot to be uploaded via Aspera or FTP.
Bringing your talent and departments in-house can make collaboration easier, and can save a lot of money in the long run. It allows you to invest in your talent rather than on your turnover.
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Creating your in-house Content Department
For productions with smaller budgets, many problems can easily be solved in-house with dedicated artists working together on high speed shared storage that is optimized for video content (like our Lumaforge Jellyfish Mobile, Tower, or Rack). This is, in fact, what we did for Off The Grid.
In this workflow, Original Media, FCPX Libraries, sound effects, Image Sequences, graphics, visual effects, musics, and color renders are placed on a Jellyfish. The Jellyfish can also be set up for DropBox or FTP transfers.
Cameras like the Alexa allow you to record to edit friendly codecs like ProRes and DNxHD. When working with one of these cameras, shooting with the high-end version of the codec allows you to work with your camera originals from beginning to end.
If working with RED Raw, Proxies can be created in Final Cut Pro X. This allows you to work “offline” during editing. You can easily go “online” byswitching playback from Proxy to Original media in the Viewer.
Editors will work on Mac Pros and iMacs, connecting to the storage over 10G ethernet. If they’ve been working in Proxy mode, they’ll flip back over to original media, grade their RED Raw, and send an FCPXML to the Resolve Colorist. The Colorist will work from a PC or Linux machine with multiple GPU’s and connect to a the storage via either 10G or 40G ethernet.
The Resolve Colorist will create DPX or Open EXR plates for the VFX artist. The VFX artist is in another room working in Nuke or Fusion on a PC or Linux machine that is connected to the storage via 10G or 40G ethernet. The VFX artist will render DPX or OpenEXR sequences that will be cut back into the timeline by the colorist.
If the VFX artist continues to render new versions of the shot over the previous version, the shot will automatically update in Resolve. When the colorist is finished grading, they can either export masters directly in Resolve or round-trip back to FCPX with FCPXML. In either case, the color graded footage will need to be combined with final VFX and audio before the final export.
In tandem with this, the FCPX editor will also deliver an AAF via X2Pro or Vordio to the sound team. The sound team will probably work on a Mac using Pro Tools, Logic, or Reaper to deliver final stems to either the editor or the colorist.
If you’re at a large facility with teams of editors, colorists, sound designers, and VFX artists, you can do everything described above at a much larger scale with a ShareStation. A ShareStation allows for blazing fast connections using up to a 100G ethernet backbone. This is amazing for extremely performance intensive 4K, 8K, and high end VR work.
When everyone has access to the same storage and knows how to speak each others’ language, completion of a project becomes exponentially faster. This results in happier teams, clients, and budgets. Ending the Tower of Babel of post production allows you not only save time and money, but it also allows you to put more of that time and money where it matters most…the craft of storytelling.
A few things are universally true about turning projects over from one piece of software to another. First, the simpler the project, the cleaner the transfer. Second, reference movies are invaluable in keeping things in sync between departments. Third, each kind of turnover has its own requirements. Pay attention.
When preparing for turnovers to both audio and color, you should begin by duplicating your Project. This first duplicate will be where you simplify your timeline. Adding the suffix “_turnoverPrep” can help differentiate it from the picture locked offline Project.
In the new project, you will want to “Break Apart Clip Items” for all Compound Clips (Shift+Command+G). Clear out any shots that you are not using. Wherever you can, move your footage into the Primary Storyline (Command+Option+Down Arrow). You’ll also want to finalize all of your Auditions.
There is a fun bug in FCPX that allows you to finalize multiple auditions at once. Open the Timeline Index. Search the word “Audition”. Select all of the resulting Auditions (Command+A). Open an Audition (Y) and then use the “Finalize Audition” command (Option+Shift+Y). If you don’t open an Audition first, it won’t work. It’s a very odd workaround, but it gets the job done.
Once you’ve broken apart your Compound Clips, removed unnecessary footage, and finalized your Auditions, and moved as much of you footage to the Primary Storyline as possible, it is time to detach all of your audio from your video. This step makes it easy to the audio in your turnover to color, and your video in the turnover to audio. Doing this will make your turnovers less likely to have conform issues. In the “Video” tab of the Timeline Index, find anything that has both video and audio Roles. Use the “Detach Audio” command (Control+Shift+S).
Duplicate your turnover preparation Project twice. Once for audio and once for color. Use suffixes like “_turnoverToColor” and “_turnoverToAudio” to keep them organized. In the turnover to color Project, use the “Audio” tab of the Timeline Index to find all of your audio. Select it all and delete. Do the same in the “Video” tab for your turnover to audio Project.
For your color turnover, exporting an FCPXML and a reference movie usually suffices. For audio, you’ll need to send an FCPXML through X2Pro to create an AAF for ProTools or Logic. If your audio team is using Reaper, send an FCPXML through Vordio for the conform and change lists.
FCPX to Resolve
The conform of footage from FCPX to Resolve has vastly improved over the last few years. Just about all of your spatial conform settings, speed changes, synchronized clips, multicam clips, and compound clips move to Resolve without a hitch. Even the Ken Burns effect works now. However, there are a few things to keep in mind when preparing a Project that you intend to send to Resolve.
- Though speed changes do register in Resolve, they are unlikely to be perfect. To prevent this, you can export a ProRes XQ version of the shot in FCPX and cut it back in.
- 3rd party effects applied to shots in FCPX won’t come through. Similar to speed changes, export ProRes versions of each shot and cut them back into FCPX before sending to Resolve. Make sure to turn off any Color Board effects or titles before you export.
- Stylized titles rarely come across properly in Resolve. You can either export individual titles or the entire Titles Role for the Project. Make sure, in either case, export a Master File with Roles as “Video Only as Separate Files”. Remove the “Video” Role so only “Titles” will export. Make sure to use ProRes 4444 or ProRes 4444 XQ to retain the alpha channel.
- When working with Synchronized Clips or Multicam Clips, make sure to set ALL of you clips’ Spatial Conform to FILL. This can be done in a batch before making your Synchronized and Multicam Clips. If you don’t do this, Spatial Conform will become a nightmare in Resolve. I did NOT handle this correctly on Off The Grid, and it cost me tons of time.
- For Rec709 workflow, make sure Resolve gamma is set to 2.2 (instead of default 2.4)
Grade your Red Raw prior to going to Resolve… the controls for RAW are easier to manipulate in FCPX or Redcine-X than Resolve in my opinion.
- If working with Sync-N-Link, there is a weird bug that causes 1 frame of black to be added to each clip. If you copy all of your clips from your Project into a new Project, you will see many 1 frame gap clips between shots. You can remove them quickly using the Timeline Index before sending to Resolve.
- Remote Grading in Resolve allows multiple shots with the same source media to share a grade. At current, this goes for all instances for a multicam clip as well. This means different angles of a multicam clip will share the same grade too. To prevent this, flatten your multicam clips in Resolve, or use Local grades for you multicams.
- When working on a Rec. 709 project in Resolve, make sure to set the gamma to 2.2 so as to remain consistent with FCPX.
- You can either create your final deliverables in Resolve, or round-trip back to FCPX.
If you decided to do a round-trip back to FCPX, you should keep the following in mind.
- When you’re done in Resolve, use the “Final Cut Pro Round Trip” setting to send back to FCPX.
- Import the FCPXML Resolve has made into FCPX. The new Project will link to the media rendered in Resolve.
- If you did not bake in your effects earlier, you’ll need to rebuild them.
- If a colorist re-renders shots to the same location on the Jellyfish, they will automatically update in FCPX.
- Use the reference movie you made from your offline edit to conform the newly round-tripped Project inside FCPX.
- Cut in your final audio mix
- Work from this Project to create your final deliverables.
FCPX to ProTools, Logic, or Reaper
When you imported your footage, iXML should have been applied to your audio. At this point, the audio in your timeline should have very specific subroles. For sound effects, you can add Subroles for things like Ambience and Foley. You may want to bring your sound designer into your edit bay so they can go through your timeline with you and assign Subroles in a way that will be most useful to them.
When sending FCPXML to X2Pro, all these Subroles will become tracks in ProTools or Logic. Our sound designer on Off The Grid could not believe how organized our sound delivery was. For more information on how to use X2Pro, check out this article.
If your audio team is using Reaper, you’ll want to use Vordio to make your turnover. The combo of Reaper and Vordio makes updating the audio mix with changes to the picture edit much easier. Reaper is also uses a similar mindset to FCPX in the way it handles the organization of audio. We’ll do a more in-depth write-up on Reaper at some point.
When stems return to FCPX from ProTools, Logic, or Reaper, you’ll want to apply new Roles and Subroles to keep them organized. For a surround project, you might create a Role for Dialogue, Music, and Effects and have Subroles in each for L, R, C, LFE, LS, and RS. Each Subrole should have a name specific to the Role to which it belongs. For example, you might have Dialogue-L, Dialogue-R, Dialogue-C, etc. as well as Music-L, Music-R, and on down the line.
Once you’ve assigned Roles and Subroles to all of your stems, you can deliver your final deliverables with the proper “tracks” using the “Roles as: Multitrack Quicktime Movie” setting on export. You can even make preset configurations based on standard deliverables you have to make.
For more information on how audio works in FCPX, including details on Roles and the audio signal path, read this white paper from Apple. Once your head stops spinning, you’ll be glad you did.
FCPX Turnovers to VFX
This process is going to be ongoing throughout your production. Compound Clips can be used to make mini-projects out of each of your VFX. When you make the initial Compound Clip, name it using the Scene it is in, along with a number indicative of which VFX shot it is within that Scene. You can save these Compound Clips in a separate Event just for VFX. You can send create FCPXML of the Compound Clip to send to applications Like Xsend to Motion and Ximport AE.
You’ll want to use Resolve to generate DPX or OpenEXR image sequences when sending plates to Nuke or Fusion. While Final Cut Pro X can export both formats, it improperly encodes the color, making it a mess to work with in VFX. Additionally, if you’re using Resolve with Fusion, Fusion Connect can be used to send shots to Fusion as well as manage versions within Resolve. Nuke can accept EDLs or FCP7 XML, or you can just send them frames exported from the individual plates.
Regardless of how you pass shots to and from VFX, it is wise to have a database to track all of your VFX. You can also use Producer’s Best Friend to make spreadsheets describing how the various plates of a shot are supposed to line up within their compositing application.
If you have an in-house VFX team, you can have them export ProRes 4444 or ProRes 4444 XQ files that can be imported directly into FCPX. They can then update the shot by exporting new renders with the exact same name. This can overwrite existing versions, or you can have them rename older versions before rending the newer version.
Sometimes ProRes will not be the best option, due to long, complex, or problematic renders. If new versions frequently need only a few frames to be changed, images sequences can save hours of time on the initial render. In these cases, you can conform your VFX shots in Resolve and then export a ProRes version to bring back into FCPX for the offline edit.
If your VFX artist is remote, you can place a DropBox folder on your Jellyfish like we did on Off The Grid. This can also act as an FTP server for direct upload and download of plates and renders. With FTP, once the file has been uploaded by the VFX artist, it is already on the Jellyfish, so you can immediately begin working. This can be done with other departments as well.
Discuss the color pipeline with your VFX artist at the beginning. There are numerous ways this can be done, and it is important to make sure you’re on the same page from the beginning. Let them know that you can work in Rec. 2020 color gamut.
Delivering a DCP for Theatrical Release
Regardless of how you make your DCP, it will need to be delivered on a drive that has been formatted on a Linux computer. Specifically, it needs to be use EXT2 formatting with an Inode size of 128. If you have a Linux machine around, great. You can hook it up to a Jellyfish, select the DCP you’ve already made, and render it out onto a USB stick that will be formatted for the theater’s DCP server. If not, you can create a Linux partition on your Mac and do it that way. This is unfortunately more difficult than it should be, but it can be conquered.
- Part 1 Introduction and On-Set Editorial
- Part 2 Organization
- Part 3 Editing
- Part 4 Group Workflow and Finishing in FCPX
- Part 5 Collaborating with Color, VFX & Audio Departments
As creative artists, more than ever before we are being asked to do more with less. Budgets are being cut, more footage is being shot than ever, and more than ever before, the process with which you create your content (aka Workflow) matters more than ever before.
At Lumaforge, we felt it was important to share this information with the community as a means of stemming the tide, and hopefully getting people home from work a little faster, and having their projects be a little better.
We wish you all a smooth workflow! Happy Editing!
Sam Mestman is the CEO of Lumaforge, maker of the Jellyfish and the SHARESTATION, a shared storage platform optimized for media and entertainment. He is also Founder of We Make Movies www.wemakemovies.org, the world’s first community funded production company, as well as a workflow architect for FCPWORKS. As a professional editor and colorist, he has worked for Apple, ESPN, Glee, and Break Media (to name a few), and has edited or colored hundreds of shorts, features, web series, and just about every other type of content you can think of. He is also one of the world’s leading experts on Final Cut Pro X Workflow, and is responsible for some of the largest FCPX professional integrations in the world.
Patrick Southern is the Chief Workflow Engineer at LumaForge in Hollywood, CA. He previously worked as an Editor and Assistant Editor on documentary projects for A&E, Riot Games, Smithsonian, National Geographic, and the Lifetime Movie Network. He has helped develop and refine a number of software tools for documentary editing. He has also acted as a FCPX Post Production Consultant on a number of independent features.