August 16, 2012

Is FCP X ready for broadcast?

After a year of updates, is Apple’s best-selling non-linear editor, Final Cut Pro X, finally ready for primetime? 
The following was written for the August issue of the broadcast industry magazine: TVB Europe - available free online or downloadable to iPad via Newstand.
When Apple introduced Final Cut Pro X last year, it wasn’t so much an update to FCP 7 as a completely new non-linear video editing program. It was a radical re-think of how we do editing, but because it was essentially a version 1.0 release, it became more talked about for what it didn’t do than its new features.

Amongst broadcast editors, especially, the initial reaction was one of dismay. Many aspects of the traditional broadcast workflow weren’t supported. Indeed, so great was the backlash that Apple soon put the discontinued FCP 7 and the Final Cut Studio package back on its shelves, so that facilities and production companies that relied on the earlier version didn’t need to upgrade to X if they wanted to add further edit seats.

Since then, Apple has certainly lost mindshare in broadcast, where some editors faced with having to learn a new way to edit have decided to look at discounted crossgrade offers from Avid and Adobe, while many others have simply remained on FCP 7 and waited to see what Apple would do next.

“I think the main issue was that FCP X wasn't what people were expecting. It was a whole new application that shared little with its predecessor other than its name and it edits video. It also challenges the way we think about editing with its storyline approach to editing rather than tracks,” says Chris Roberts, video editor, Apple Certified Trainer and Adobe Certified Instructor (pictured below).

“It also lacked some of the key features we had come to expect with FCP: the ability to update older projects; the familiar roundtripping workflow with Motion, Soundtrack Pro and Color; exporting and importing ‘industry-friendly’ files such as EDLs and XMLs; working from shared media assets; audio mixing; broadcast video monitoring; and, of course, multi camera editing. All this, coupled with an unfamiliar interface, alienated existing users who unfairly likened it to iMovie [Apple’s consumer editing package].”

However, FCP X does have some excellent and innovative features, such as the Magnetic Timeline, Inline Precision Editor, skimmer (now also seen on Adobe Premiere), Auditions, Keyword collections, and Smart Collections. Apple has also been diligent in pushing out updates, and is seemingly listening to complaints, although there are still more than 80 requested features on the To Do list at the Final Cut user site

“The updates have helped address some of the major concerns (XML import/export; exporting Media Stems; multicamera editing) and the software we have now is quite different from the software initially released,” says Roberts.

“In many circumstances third parties have started filling the gaps…, but not always and sometimes the updates from Apple break what already works,” he adds, citing problems with Automatic Duck's Pro Export FCP, Genarts' Sapphire Edge plugins and Red Giant's Magic Bullet Looks. Although fixes became available, some users had to wait months.

Amongst the large number of third-party applications that solve some of the problems of X, one of the most useful is Intelligent Assistance’s 7toX. It only costs $10 and makes it relatively easy to migrate FCP 7 projects or sequences into X, and handles the vast majority of standard effects and transitions. Some things (such as text effects) might not translate exactly, but it will make it a great deal simpler for anyone upgrading from 7 to X. Intelligent Assistance also has an Xto7 application ($50) that converts FCP X Project XML to Sequence XML for import into FCP 7 or other applications, such as Premiere Pro. It also has a nifty $5 app, Event Manager X (pictured below), which makes it very easy to keep track of Events and Projects, whether they are mounted or not, particularly if you want to avoid a project being seen by an unauthorised client.

There are also a huge number of plug-in filters and effects packages available for X, from the likes of: CoreMelt; Digital Heaven; GenArts; Noise Industries; and Red Giant.

The large number of third-party applications and plug-ins is a good sign that FCP is still the most widely supported of editing systems. Like the program itself, they tend to be good value – there is even a lot of freeware available, such as from the editor Alex Gollner, whose site ( has lots of useful effects, fixes and transitions.

Multicam Editing

One of the major complaints when FCP X launched was that it couldn’t do multicam editing – although you actually could using a fairly easy workaround.

However, Apple has since added a multicam editor that is better than FCP 7 had. It offers 64 camera angles, using mixed video formats and frame rates, and a selection of synchronization methods. Besides timecode and markers, it will also sync automatically by matching audio waveforms. Then, to cut between the cameras, there is an Angle Viewer, with a bank of up to 16 angles (you can switch between banks for more cameras), and you cut using a number key.

Broadcast monitoring has also been added back into X, so long as you use third-party PCIe cards or Thunderbolt devices from the likes of AJA, Blackmagic Design and Matrox, although this can mean it isn’t as well integrated as it was previously.

Roberts is happy that “Apple seems to be keeping to its promise of regular updates….” He is doing less FCP 7 training now, quite a lot of FCP X and taking enquiries all the time. “For my editing I'm still largely on FCP 7 because my clients haven't moved yet, but we're now looking at how FCP X can be used for their workflows.

“I've done a few little corporate projects in FCP X now and I have to say I'm really impressed with how quickly I can put an edit together and, more to the point, how quickly I can make changes.”

FCP X has... Leverage

Some major broadcast productions have moved to FCP X, with excellent results.

Electric Entertainment has been making the crime drama series Leverage using Final Cut Pro since 2008, and has moved completely to FCP X for the current Season 5, which it is shooting in 4k on two to nine Red Epic cameras per take.

“We think that Final Cut Pro X shows how simply and inexpensively a powerful file-based workflow can be implemented,” says executive producer/director, Dean Devlin. “We’ve been able to do things on Leverage that no other cable show does simply because we can afford to do it using our all-digital workflow. It’s very rare to see a television show that averages 40 digital effects per episode. Or has four- or five-day sound mixing sessions. We’re able to do it and still produce a show for basically $1.8 million an episode. Not only does it change the price, but it actually changes creatively the way in which we work. We don’t have to wait to lock picture to start our digital effects shop.”

Daily rushes are sent on hard drives from Portland to Los Angeles, where the Red .r3d files (about 200 per each day of the seven-day shoots per episode) are converted to ProRes Proxy using Red Rocket cards at faster than real time, and picture and sound are synched as a batch using Intelligent Assistance’s Sync-N-Link X.

One of Leverage’s three editors, Brian Gonosey particularly likes the Magnetic Timeline on FCP X. “I do a lot of cutting in the timeline, and I never even think about losing sync. And the new trim tool makes quick work of whatever I need to use it for. It lets me edit a lot more efficiently with the waveforms, mostly putting dialogue in and cutting a lot of sound.”

Once the network approves the cut, the finished XML files are sent to DaVinci Resolve (where it reconnects to the original Red .r3d files, which are colour graded and rendered out as ProRes 4444 files), and through Marquis X2Pro Audio Convert to Pro Tools for sound mixing.

“Final Cut Pro X started out by completely redefining our approach to editing,” says Devlin. “But the giant improvement since it was originally released is that now it interfaces with a professional workflow in a way that Final Cut Pro never could before.”

Award winning German comedy, Danni Lowinski, which is made for SAT.1 by Phoenix Film, is shot on a Red One and, for the latest season, edited on FCP X. According to editor, Knut Hake, using X allowed him to work faster than with any previous editing tool. “We have a very tight editing schedule, as the season’s first episodes were already airing as we were cutting. The editing speed with Final Cut Pro X was fantastic. Trimming especially was very fast, and a lot of it can be done without ever leaving the arrow tool.”

Editing at home on his iMac in Berlin, Hake particularly likes the Magnetic Timeline “because it lets me focus on the storytelling. I know other methods of trimming in Final Cut Pro 7 and in Avid, but I’m glad I don’t have to deal with them in Final Cut Pro X. Because all I care about is how I trim — the rest is done for me. I really liked that.” He also found that it was easier to edit the full 45-minute episode as one chunk, because the Magnetic Timeline kept everything in sync.

By David Fox

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