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64 layer timeline project

A chessboard made out of 64 HD clips -  all made possible with FCPX and a new Mac Pro. Svein Sund explains to FCP.co how he accomplished this massive project.

Here at FCP.co, we have experimented before with the power of FCPX and a new Mac Pro, but that's excatly what they were, experiments. So when we saw that Svein Sund from Gyro had used a lot of layers for a real job, we had to find out more.


Svein, thank you for taking the time to talk to FCP.co, what was the project for?

The Project was for The Chess Olympiad 2014 opening ceremony, which Gyro (the company I work for) produced. The Chess Olympiad is held in the northern city of Tromsø (Tromsoe), Norway and has the worlds best chess players from over 180 countries. With over 200 million viewers I had no objections taking the job as editor on this video, which was the opening video for the Olympiad. Though not the biggest project budget-wise, it was by far the largest audience I’ve ever made anything for and I was super stoked.

The director, Erlend Gjertsen, had a brilliant idea of making the video a collaboration with the players and fans themself and we got material from all over the world. We decided early on that we wanted to have fun with the chess format and therefore the 64 grids (Chessboards for those who don’t know the game). I must admit was a bit worried at first due to formats, resolution and overall quality. But it worked fine and got the "home made" look the director wanted. Must say that all credit to Erlend for just going for it.


Why did you choose FCPX?

Gyro is probably the largest media company in Norway to use Final Cut Pro X as our main editing software, most of us are certified and we have been testing the software since the very beginning. For my part I know the software pretty well and love the workflow. But we use Adobe Premiere as a secondary NLE in case some freelancers that come from that or Final Cut Studio. That way they can get the media imported or edit on that (I’ve removed all FCP7 from all of the Macs, just not worth the hassle anymore).

(Click for larger images)

fcpx Screenshot small

Though Final Cut has catching up to do regarding built in support for MXF, to answer the question a bit more precise the alternatives were either FCPX, After Effects (hereafter called AE) or Premiere. As we all know, AE on the new Mac Pro is not ideal since it does not support GPU with the AMD cards, and working with sound on AE is useless, and so is grading when working with so many layers. Premiere in other hand, is the real contender but it has some major weaknesses compared to Final Cut. 

And this is the reason for why I chose Final Cut Pro X. 
Media Library
Final Cut is metadata driven and with the focus on content availability it is a far better software to locate, rate and review the media content. Browsing through thousands of clips is done in no time. And I think people that have worked on the previous Final Cut and Premiere and working on the current versionn of FCPX will agree with that.  
This is perhaps the main reason I went for FCPX, All the clips I had were 1920x1080p (full HD), and I had to trim and scale all of them so they could fit my canvas. I also color corrected most of the clips and by just having the controllers in front of me at all time, I without a doubt say my work could be done twice as fast as on Premiere. Premiere, like the previous version of Final Cut Studio, is tab based and that is nothing but a waste of good UI design.

Good crop layout in FCPX

FCPX-inspector Good crop layout

Poor crop layout in Adobe Premiere

Premiere poor crop layout

I must admit that going from Final Cut Studio to Final Cut Pro X was as hard for me as for anyone else, I think this is one of the UI elements that people use in their argument for calling it iMovie Pro, but I think it is one of the strong sides and it is perhaps the feature that makes you edit faster than on other NLEs. 

For the record. I did not use proxies in this project. (Only use that for 4K and up formats from RED or ARRI.) The 64 layer timeline had actually 66 layers. That was because of the chess formed background I used for compositing and the sound file. The making of the grid had 64 full HD streams and was impossible for me to use on the local XSAN, there were several others than me at work using it, so I used two LaCie 5Big thunderbolt (1) drives. One for editing and one backup. That was crucial for getting the speed I wanted.
And I was lucky to have the fastest Mac ever built. But still, over 60 HD streams is hard to edit, what ever system one works on, and at times it lagged a little of course, but that was mostly bacuase the LaCie disk had been inactive for a while. But FCPX was playing it in realtime. Which was insane! 
As always there is Mr.Dead line waiting for us and stability, auto-save and built in post production is also worth noticing. 

What equipment did you use?

Top Spec Mac Pro
LaCie 5Big 10TB thunderbolt disks
At least 138 cups of coffee
Final Cut Pro X (logging, editing, grading, exporting)
Carbon Copy Cloner (for backing up the project two times a day)
X-Wiper (A small app for cleaning up the project when done in FCPX)
Cameras (used in the grid sequenses)
Panasonic (don’t remember which one, but only camera where we optimized media)
Canon 5D MKII
Black Magic Cinema Camera
iPhone 5
iPhone 5S
Other cameras used, but not in the grid parts;
RED Epic (filmed in 2K due to high frame rate and edited natively)
GoPro (edited natively, which is stupid bacuse it’s probably the hardest format FCPX can handle on a daily basis because of the compression)
iPhone 4

How did you use FCPX to build the project?

Metadata is king and I have a folder setup that we use on all of our projects at Gyro. Folders named after location or for the grids and we had subfolders with clips named after what they did, gender or color of the chessboard (e.g. Jumping_Man_White) I thereafter imported the folders with the videos and always have "Leave files in place" selected.

Any problems?

Nope. But getting control over a such amount of layers can be difficult at times. 

64 layer timeline small

Could this have been done on another NLE?

One could always make this on other NLEs, but at the same pace? Not a chance. Heres the thing; The thing that took the longest time was setting it up and arranging it the first time. That was a hassle to say at least. But that was because I had not prepared or done anything like this before. But the second and third time I made a new grid with different people it was done in a couple of hours. The way FCPX works with the new Mac Pro is amazing, that is not suprising since the Mac Pro is practically built for FCPX, and working with so many layers and formats without having to wait all the time was crucial.


So let's have the statistics of the project!

Made 8 64 layer grids (mostly 66).
One grid had over 2400 clips in 14 seconds. 
The avarage grid had approx 1900 clips
Over 200 people were filmed in the grid sequenses
The 150 + of them did several scenes for several grids.
With 2-3 takes (on average) 
Each clip is 40-60 seconds long with timing. 
Several of the worlds leading chess players are in the main film. 
Filming this, we had at most 3 people (very small team)
The format was square, it was rendered out for the LED in 1080x1080p
Had aother timelines such as 4K 
The project with render files and optical flow was 1,8TB
Duration of the project was approx 1 month. 


Afterthoughts? Would you change anything about how you made the project?
Having made multiscreen grids before in After Effects with stills, it was a different beast to handle choreographed scenes with 64 wonderful people at a time and if I should do anything like this again it will be on Final Cut Pro X. 
When working with such a large timeline there are some things I wish the Final Cut team would add in a future update; 
  • The ability to color label/tag groups or single layers, just like in Logic or Nuendo. 
  • More functions for grading and a way to grade several clips at once with one setting. 
  • A way to make the layers thinner in the timeline. :)
Some have asked how it can be hard to handle trimmed and scaled down 1080p clips. Since this is a metadata driven software, the file it refers to is still the original source.

FCP.co -A fabulous FCPX user story, many thanks for taking the time to share it with us.


Svein SundSvein Sund is the Technical Director at Gyro, the largest Media Event company in Scandinavia. He is currently working on several exciting projects among them is a three to five year time lapse project using scripted solar powered GoPros which he is very excited about and with the rest of the crew at Gyro, making one of the largest floating arenas ever created for DNVs 150th anniversary. His favorite software tools are Final Cut Pro X, C4D, Adobe CC and Resolve. 
Ask him questions or follow him on Twitter @sundsvein 
©2014 FCP.co/Svein Sund

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