December 21, 2010

Tapeless Workflow in Final Cut Pro 6

Filed under: creativity,media,video,workflow — Erik Dobberkau @ 17:56

Time again for a technical topic. Shane Ross has released two excellent video tutorials for tapeless workflow in Final Cut Pro 7 on Creative Cow (Link 1, Link 2), and since I had to work on a all-digital-file-only project lately, I wanted to share some of the issues I ran into when using Final Cut Pro 6.0.6 and how I adressed them.

On the HD I got from the 3D studio there were all different types of files. Uncompressed .mov, H.264 Quicktime and several .tga, .png, .jpg sequences, most of them 1920×1080, some 1280×720. The final master was to be delivered in 1280×720, which meant converting would be inevitable at some point during the process.

Create reference movies

I decided to convert at the very beginning because editing full-res HD image sequences is a real hassle. To have the computer do the conversion over night I used Quick Time Player 7 to create a reference file for each image sequence. To do this, choose “File → Open Image Sequence…” or press Cmd-Shift-O. Then select the first file of the image sequence and hit OK. A dialogue box pops up where you have to select the proper frame rate. It may take a while till all frames are loaded. Then click “File → Save as…” or press Cmd-Shift-S to save out a reference movie. Select the radio button “make reference movie” at the bottom of the dialogue and save your file with a proper name. Repeat this for all of your image sequences.

Convert with Compressor

When this was done, I launched Compressor and created a preset for my target media, for which I chose the ProRes 422 HQ codec with a frame size of 1280×720, no fields, no audio. Then I imported all of the QT reference movies I created before as well as the H.264 and uncompressed QT files, applied the preset to all of them, set the destination they were to render to (external HD), launched the queue and went to sleep.

Converting using Final Cut

Should you—for some inexplicable reason—not have Quicktime 7 on your computer, you’re having a little more work. Launch FCP, go to “Final Cut Pro → User Preferences” (or press Option-Q… Option is the key that says “alt”), select the “Editing” tab, and set the “Still/Freeze Duration” to 1 frame. But before you import the files, read the IMPORTANT! note below, because you also have to adjust the “Imported Still/RGB Video Gamma” to 2.20. Then drag your image sequence folders to Final Cut’s Browser window, go through them one by one, selecting all of the files of each image sequence and drag them into a new sequence. It makes sense to set up ypur default sequence to the specs you want your output files to be, so in my case this would have been 1280×720 pixels, square PAR, 25 fps, ProRes 422 (HQ) codec, no audio. Otherwise you have to adjust your settings each time when exporting. Then export each sequencs by going to “File → Export → Using Compressor…” and from here it’s the same route as above. Or you can export them manually by choosing “File → Export → QuickTime Movie…” if you don’t need any sleep.


I don’t want to go too much into detail here, but it is vital to pay attention to FCP’s Gamma settings. I ran into this problem when taking the locked edit to Color, adjusting the image there, rendering the files and taking them back into Final Cut — the colors looked all different. So I exported a SMPTE bar image from Final Cut to Color and realized there is a color shift, but it did not happen when I opened the Color renders in QuickTime Player. Then I figured it had to be Final Cut’s Gamma Settings and when switching to 2.20, everything was okay. So make sure your Gamma Settings are correct, go to “Final Cut Pro → User Preferences” (or press Option-Q), select the “Editing” tab and set the “Imported Still/RGB Video Gamma” to 2.20 (see image). You’re running into all sorts of trouble when you’re on “source”.

Next step: Offline Edit.

With ProRes it’s not really necessary to edit offline, especially because the ProRes Proxy codec is only available from FCP 7 on, but you may want to go for smaller files nevertheless to edit when you’re on the road or whatever. So import your video files to Final Cut, select them all and either right-click or Ctrl-click in the Browser window and choose “Media Manager…” or go to “File → Media Manager…” to launch…the Media Manager! To create proxies (smaller files with reduced quality), choose the “Recompress” option and select the codec of your choice. Adjust all other settings as displayed in the second image. Select a folder where the proxies will be stored (“Media Destination”) and hit OK. In the popup dialogue name the offline project and confirm once more, and then Final Cut will generate the proxies.

Now here’s a caveat: In his tutorial, Shane Ross is using Final Cut 7 which does everything properly. In Final Cut 6 however, I realized that some files are being renamed and Final Cut appends a “-v” to the file names. I don’t know how this is happening or why (nor seems anyone else), but here’s the thing you need to do to work on without relinking issues. In your offline project, select all of your video files and right-click or Ctrl-click in the Browser window to select “Rename → File to match Clip” (see third image). This will rename all the files according to the clip names in one fell swoop. Otherwise the easy workflow that Shane is using in his Offline/Online Tutorial won’t work because the file names don’t match.

Going Online again

So what Shane does is to use two external hard disk drives, one has the Online Media and the other holds the Offline Media. When your edit is locked, you selct your sequence in the Final Cut Browser window, open the Media Manager and select the “Create offline” option from the drop down list, then you set the codec you want to ouptut. Ideally, this is the very same codec you encoded your files with before. Once again, select the folder the Online version of the project will be stored in and give the project a proper name. Close the Offline project to avoid confusion. Next, mount your hard drive with the Online Media. In the Online Project, select all your video files and either right-click or Ctrl-click in the Browser window and choose “Reconnect Media…” or go to “File → Reconnect Media…”, choose “Search…”, navigate to the appropriate folder and hit OK. If everything works out, Final Cut should relink to all Online files now. If not, well, you’ll have to relink the files manually. But you shouldn’t when you followed the steps above.


When your sequence matches your Offline edit (hopefully), you can now take the Online version to Color or Motion or whatever you need to do. A few more pieces of advice here:

  • When working with both Motion and Color, bear in mind that you need to render clips from motion back into Final Cut as physical files because Color won’t recognize the “soft link” between the Final Cut edit and the Motion effects that are only rendered in the Final Cut Timeline.
  • Don’t use speed ramps when working with Color, it can’t handle them and will screw everything up. Color can handle clips with a constant speed change, no matter if positive or negative, but when you use speed ramps, you need to render your clip to a file and bring it back into your Final Cut Timeline.
  • Don’t forget about the Gamma issue, especially when you’re grading on a different system than you’ve been editing on.

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