WORKING REMOTELY DURING THE COVID-19 OUTBREAK WITH FINAL CUT PRO X
For years, postproduction professionals have been moving away from tradicional edit bays and on site networks to their home offices where they can control the hardware they use based on the needs of their projects and their budget, at the same time not wasting time commuting in big urban centers and making the hours they have available more productive and improving their personal life by being close to family and loved ones (if one is good at keeping the work/life balance in check).
Meanwhile many other professionals and companies have been relying on the status quo of “if a team is wining, don’t make a change”. I see every day either companies that have been doing things the same exact way they have for years, or maybe even decades, and then I see smaller shops and independents having from a range of no set workflow to extremely elegant ones.
No matter in which group you find yourself right now the reality is that the current pandemic of COVID-19 is forcing many of us to think about how to get around our current workflows, be that for corporate videos, education or films and make them work from anywhere, anytime. I’ve been working in non-virtualised collaborative workflows for a few years and I’m here to say it’s possible and it’s not hard.
If I would list all the possible scenarios and ways in which we can achieve a nice fluid workflow for every scenario, I might as well write a book that will become obsolete in just a year. Instead, I’ll write about one scenario just to get your creative juices going and start thinking more about your particular case. Of course, if you’re in dire need of a solution right now, you can also schedule a call with me and I’ll do my best to accommodate everyone that’s interested.
SCENARIO – FOOTAGE HAS BEEN ACQUIRED AND I NEED TO EDIT IT
No matter if the footage is from a Sony A7 series camera or from a BMD that recorded in ProRes or even RED or ARRI, the likelihood is that you’ll have to download GBs of files and someone, somewhere will need to upload them. Most home internet providers might give you a nice downstream speed but will severely limit your upstream. If you have one of those fancy Gigabit connections, you’re in luck! One question needs to be answered before going any further:
- Is the person/team/company that has the footage able to create Proxies?
If the answer is YES, then we can have all of the process happen a little faster just for the fact that they will need to upload a lot less data before you can start the project. After they upload the Proxies, they can still upload the originals. If the answer was NO, then the hope is that they have access to some fast upload speed, but honestly, today is so easy to create proxies that will work on FCPX (as original clips, typical relink to online) that most people will be fine.
Now, it’s important to notice one thing, just dumping all your original footage on a transcoder, be that whatever it is that you use, won’t guarantee you can easily relink between original and proxies on Final Cut Pro X. There are a few small and easy to achieve rules you must follow in order to have those proxies easily relink and be exchanged with the original media:
- It needs to have the same length, to the frame.
- It needs to have the same frame rate.
- It needs to have the same audio channels.
- It’s recommended to have the same name and extension as the original files
The first three requirements are easy to understand. The audio is just a matter to set your transcoder to pass-through the audio or copy it, without transcoding. The last one, keeping the same extension, is a recommendation to avoid needing to click on clip by clip and having to relink them manually. FCPX will first look for files with the same name and then will go over the “guts” of the files to see if they match those 3 basic requirements that the app is looking for. If you have MXF files, I recommend rewrapping them to MOV instead and then create the MOV proxies. If the original file is an MP4, the proxy needs to be MP4. The only exception to this rule is R3D. You can easily relink between R3D and MOV.
There are a few applications I can recommend for the Transcoding job:
- KYNO – by Lesspain Software
- Very powerful and fast transcoder with support for A LOT of formats, including the ones that are no longer available on macOS Catalina
- It’s like a MAM, but without a central DB.
- You can add metadata to files that are written on sidecar files and that metadata can be pushed to FCPX.
- EditReady – by Divergent Media
- Powerful and fast transcoder
- Support for many formats but lacks a bit on the Raw ones
- Compressor – by Apple
- Easy to setup profiles, locations and droplets
- Final Cut Pro X – by Apple
- You can import all original media to FCPX and batch export all the media using a Compressor Profile that will allow you to relink that original media to the batch exported proxies you just exported
If the person/company that has the original footage has access to any of the above apps, it’s extremely easy to create Proxies that will relink as original media on Final Cut Pro X. The proxies can be H.264, ProRes (but too big for online sharing) or even HEVC. Below you can see some examples of transcode settings on KYNO and Compressor.
Now that we have either the Proxies or the Original media ready to be uploaded, where do we upload them? There are MANY Cloud Storage services around today. From the most common Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive to more expensive video based ones like Frame.io, Digital Pigeon and others. At this point the decision is yours on which one you want to use. I personally HATE uploading through a browser or having to click on download links, therefore I choose services that have some level of automation or integration with other applications. Frame.io is a great place to start, it has automation and integration, but it will cost you. The more data you need to move/store, the heavier that will be on your pocket.
In my case I have QNAP and Synology NAS boxes in my office and both of them have applications that can run in the background to either upload or download from a number of Cloud Storage Providers.
You can also setup a direct connection between the person/company that has the footage and your computer using Resilio Sync. You can also use Resilio to link two NAS boxes as well. I use it every day in so many different workflows and absolutely recommend checking it out in case for some reason you can’t use cloud storage services. Resilio will allow you to have all the upload/download be automated, with the disadvantage is that this is a point to point connection and it will only go as fast as the lowest speed between the parties. If one of them goes offline, the transfer stops.
If you and your collaborator use some application on your servers/NAS like the ones mentioned above, the person that has the originals and proxies only need to put the footage in the correct watch folder and everything else will happen in the background. Worst case scenario this can be done using syncing applications and web interfaces.
Another thing that you can think about is that you can have a not necessarily super fast NAS, used only as a place to send, receive and store footage and then use Resilio between your NAS and your computer with a fast RAID to get that data over. At this point you also create safety copies of your footage in multiple places.
Now you have the footage and you need to start working. We already started using cloud services and on the next phase I’d recommend keeping that into your workflow as it will bring advantages in sharing and collaborating with others and having safety copies of your work. You will need create a FCPX Library to start your work and there comes the next app in our arsenal, Postlab.
Postlab in an application to manage your FCPX Libraries. It keeps the most recent version of the Library on your computer and a version of it in Postlab’s cloud. The amazing thing here is that those Libraries are kept in a version control stack, meaning that you can easily open an old version of the Library or event revert back to an older version. Since Postlab keeps what you could call “snapshots” of the Library with in line comments about each version, this means you won’t need to use Project Snapshots inside your Library anymore. No more bogging down a Library full of Project snapshots.
You can create a New Library through Postlab’s template management or you can import a pre-existing Library to a Postlab Production. There are only two rules when working with Postlab:
- Your media will live outside the Library
- Your cache will live outside the Library
Once you create a Production, which is where the FCPX Libraries live, you can share that production with another Postlab user and they will have access to all Libraries in that Production. For this scenario, we’ll assume the Library is being handed over from the Editor to a Director/Producer to review and add notes or from a Student to a Professor and vice-versa.
When you’re creating or importing a new library you’ll need to choose in which mode the Library will work, Individual or Shared.
In Individual mode, each person opening the same Library will have their own individual Library settings (location where cache is stored, motion templates, new copied media) and will have their own individual MEDIA location. What do I mean with that? Sarah opens a Library and have her media stored in /volumes/RAID/Media. Suzy has her media in /volumes/Project/Social_Project. Whenever Sarah opens the Library, all media will be linked to her individual folder structure and media location. Whenever Suzy opens the same Library, she will not need to relink anything, the Library will know her media is in her individual folder structure and everything will be online.
Without Postlab, if you somehow shared a Library with someone else, in order to avoid needing to relink, you had to have both people using the same exact absolute path of the media and have the same absolute path for their cache. With Postlab, that’s not the case anymore.
If you choose to save the Library in Shared mode, it will behave “normally” as if you’d be in a shared storage environment, meaning that you will need the same exact absolute path for all editors accessing that Library.
Since we are looking at people in completely different environments and having their own personal setup, Individual is the right choice here. Once you save the Library, you’ll be able to click on Start Editing and that will open the Library on FCPX. At this point you’ll setup where new media imported in copy mode or Optimised Media/Proxies will live, your cache location and FCPX back up location. Postlab does not change or influence in the backup creation of FCPX Libraries, that remains something controlled by FCPX. In fact, once you open the Library, Postlab isn’t doing anything at all to it.
Whenever you have a library “checked out” and you’re working on it, if someone else tried to access it, they will see that’s locked, who is working on it and their phone number (if they added to the app). The person will also be able to open a copy of the latest version of the Library that’s in the cloud. If you imagine or use a FCPX Library as a super Bin, Postlab is essentially bin locking, or Library locking. On a feature film, it would be common to have an assembly or Master Library and then a Library per reel. You would have each reel “bin”/Library locked by someone and could have many editors and AEs working on that film at the same time, each one on their reel/bin/Library.
Once you imported your footage and worked on your project, you’ll go back to Postlab, add a comment and then hit upload. The comment will be associated to this point in time of the Library. At this point Postlab will check what are the differences between the Library on the cloud and your current version on a line by line of code level, which will guarantee you won’t have any corruptions and then will only upload what changed. This is not checking file size or last change date of files inside the Library, it’s a lot deeper and more complex than that.
At this point your collaborator can open the same Library on their location, they will have their own individual settings linked to their own way of organising the footage on their system and be able to access all your edits. They could for example open your project and leave To-do markers on the timeline and then check the Library back in for you to work on those notes.
Teachers could create a Master Library on Postlab, distribute the footage to their students via their preferred cloud storage and then duplicate that Library for every student in their class. If the assignment has a deadline, then Postlab will help you as it keeps track of who checked out a Library and exactly when they checked it back in. Students wouldn’t even need to render their work, they could simply finish their project, check the Library back in with a nice comment for their teacher and then the teacher would just open the student’s Library and watch their project directly on FCPX. Need the student to make changes? Leave To-do markers and mention that on the comment when checking the Library back in.
The possibilities are immense but as you can see, it’s not very difficult to enable a workflow in which people in different locations can work together.
As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, this is just one scenario and of course there are more complex and involved ones. If while you read this you think you or your organisation could benefit being enabled to allow remote working, I’m here to help.
If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment.