Archive for the ‘workflow’ Category

Meaningful decisions

August 15th, 2011

Every meaningful decision is taken in the absence of better knowledge. That’s not an excuse in advance, it’s the best reason to stop hesitating and get it over with so you can move on.

(Side note: In my latest read Fredmund Malik recommends writing down all motivations that influenced the decision so when it is reviewed someday, one can better understand what the thinking at the time was. Sounds easier than it is, but certainly worth the effort.)

Quick Tips: Final Cut Pro 7 SmoothCam & Apple Color

July 28th, 2011

Not having posted for a long time, I thought a share some tips as a comeback teaser.

In various forums, people have reported problems with camera stabilization inside Final Cut Pro 7 using the plugin SmoothCam (which orginally comes from Shake, no pun intended), but not in Final Cut Pro 6. For comparison I ran some tests on both systems and came to the conclusion that FCP7’s SmoothCam does not work properly with interlaced footage no matter which codec you use. FCP6’s SmoothCam does the job with whatever kind of video.

Two more tips for Apple Color:

Always de-interlace when using Color, especially when working with Color FX. There are two ways to do this, one via the Clip Settings Tab and the other in the Color FX Tab. I haven’t compared whether they give different results but my guess is it’s not going to be that dramatic (we’re talking video ‘ere).

Last one: When migrating a Color project from Version 1.x (Final Cut Studio 2) to 1.5.x (Final Cut Studio 3) and you want to keep a copy of the old version, be careful to keep them in different folders. Thing is, when you rename the .colorproj bundle (it’s not a file, but a file package), Color will crash when opening the project (because he filenames inside the package don’t match). So you can either re-name the backup, open the current version, update & save-as the project and then re-rename the backup file, or just use different folders.

Idea: Speed Composing on a Music Collaboration Platform

June 12th, 2011

Here’s a proposal for something I can’t turn into reality myself:

There are a number of music collaboration platforms on the web already, but most of them don’t seem to be very productive, because all projects are open-end, there’s no deadline, no need to ship. Hence engagement soon drops after the initial euphoria. I think making music is more fun when it happens quickly and spontaneously, as well as under a time constraint, something you can see in the many remix contests that only allow participants to work on their remix for a few days or even a few hours.

So here’s the beef:
A collaborative music platform where there’s just a limited amount of time to finish a song. Not measured in real-word time, but in project-time. Huh? Very simple. A song has to be finished in, say, 12 hours. For instance, a guitarist starts a new project by uploading a riff. Someone downloads the music file and adds a bass part. The timespan until the new file is uploaded again will be added to this project, so when the bass player needs 90 minutes to contribute her part, there’s 10 hours 30 minutes left to finish the song. To spice it up even further, the whole thing does not happen in linear fashion, there can be multiple forks or branches per project. Again, huh? Well, say there are two bass players and each has a different idea (likely to happen), there will be two branches on each of which the project can be continued, each with its own timeline. Combine that with 3 different lyrics, 5 vocalists, one drummer, you might end up with 30 results based on the original part.

I’d be extremely happy to see someone turn this into reality. Got questions? Just drop me a line.

Goals need to be 3D

April 20th, 2011

Here’s something  I learned from a website overhaul project: Goals need to be specified in (at least) three dimensions, otherwise you’ll be running into trouble because you’ll be overthrowing the schedule multiple times. Three questions:

  • What’s the content? – That’s the first and most obvious question, what we will see when we open the box.
  • How will it look like? – The second and second-most obvious question, how the box and its content will look.
  • How will it work? – The third, most boring, thus most critical question. It’s not only how something seems to work (what the UI does when the user performs a certain action), but it’s the point where the people on the project need to decide what the minimum tech specs are, in terms of technical design and quality, accessiblity, documentation, and so forth. All the stuff that’s not fun because it’s not so cool (except for the geeks). But vital (not only for the geeks).

Once all of these questions have been covered (which is unlikely to happen in one single meeting, so everyone gets a list and checks off their items), it’s time to compare it to the status quo, and do this really thorough.

One of the biggest problems is people tend to think stuff that’s working is okay, because as long as it’s working there’s no need to look under the hood to see what’s really going on, right? But you need to do this before you make any guess about how long something is going to take from A to B. It avoids questions (and answers) that make at least one person in the room feel stupid at a later point.

Final Cut Pitfalls

April 13th, 2011

Since the Editing Community will have to wait some more weeks for the release of the long awaited Final Cut X, I thought I’d share some insight of my latest work with Final Cut Pro 7.

Log and Transfer:
When importing footage from card media, it is possible to start editing with the imported clips while the others are still being ingested. However, I cannot say this is advisable. I encountered some random errors, such as clips only being partially transferred (with correct metadata, meaning FCP displays a duration of 3 seconds, and the clip (which should be 2 mins long) really is 3 secs. Other clips were fully imported, but with wrong metadata (you can shuttle through the entire clip of 2 mins, but FCP displays a duration of 5 secs in the browser window). So the old rule applies: Never touch a running system! Which is why you should ingest overnight, if you don’t have an assistant.

Working with clip files:
When I realized that FCP screwed up during the ingest, the only thing I could do was to re-run the Log & Transfer for the corrupted clips. So I selected these in the browser window, right-clicked and chose “Make offline…”, then picking the “remove from disk” option. And this is where you should stop and check in the Finder if these files have been properly removed. In my cases, some were still on the disk, which resulted in a major hassle I’ll explain in the next section. Remember: Double-check if files you want to be removed really are removed.

Renaming files:
One sweet feature of FCP is the ability to rename files to match the clip name. However, if the file you’re trying to rename already exists, Final Cut won’t do it — without any prompt of the failed action. Here’s the story: I offlined the corrupted clips and ran the Log & Transfer again. Let’s say the clip (and file) name was “”. What happens is when Final Cut detects a file of this name in the Capture Scratch folder, it automatically increases the index number to the next one available, like “”, if files ranging from 5612 to 5677 have already been captured. But it displays “MVI_5612” in the browser window. Again, you can only rename file “” to match its clip name (“MVI_5612”) if the file “” does not exist in the same folder. Seems logical, but any decent piece of software would at least give you an obscure error message. Or crash with an exception. But I’m not getting into Avid here.

Media Manager:
Also known as the Media Mangler, it’s not advisable to use the Media Manager when you’re working with mixed footage. I had a project containing ProRes4444 FullHD 25p footage and DVCpro 720p50 footage. I had already figured out that there is no way to convert the 720p50 footage to 25fps without crushing the metadata (making re-capturing at a later time impossible, or at least very cumbersome), but the problem remains when you’re consolidating your project to get rid of unnecessary footage. Though all images match in the new project, edited audio gets totally mangled. My workaround for now is to render your audio coming from footage that is not in the timeline codec (in my case that’s all 720p50 audio because the timeline was ProRes4444) to a hard file. Make as many tracks as you need to have all padding for later edits, and then use the Media Manager to consolidate the project.

Rarevision offers an alternative to Compressor and FCP’s Log and Transfer to convert Canon 5D footage that I couldn’t test myself up to now, but the images on their site looks very promising.

It’s working, but different (Apple Compressor)

March 10th, 2011

This week I’ve been quite busy converting a series of videos into iPad-compatible format (which is h.264 video with AAC audio in an MP4 container), and I encountered an annoying glitch in Apple’s Compressor 3.5.x which is part of Final Cut Studio 3.

It’s been reported that when working with interlaced footage, de-nterlacing and downscaling leads to bad results. My experience and the solution I’m giving here has worked with DVCpro 1080i50 material, I can’t say if it works for other formats as well. Here’s the thing: When deinterlacing, you have to leave the Deinterlace Filter off. Here are some screenshots to show the massive differences between Compressor’s Preview and the actual results.

Compressor Preview with Deinterlace on

Fig. 1 — Compressor Preview with Deinterlace on

Compressor Preview with Deinterlace off

Fig. 2 — Compressor Preview with Deinterlace off

Once again, the source is 1080i, and I want the output to be 720p. The Image Processing settings are “better” for both Scaling and Deinterlacing, because “Optimum” takes ages to render. The output fields are set to “Progressive”.

In Fig.1, the Deinterlace filter in the Filters Tab has been added with the “even” setting. As you can see, the result (right side) is promised to look very smooth. In Fig. 2 the Deinterlace filter is off, all other settings are the same. Notice the jagged edges and compression artifacts on the right side.

Compressor Output with Deinterlace on

Fig. 3 — Compressor Output with Deinterlace on

Compressor Output with Deinterlace off

Fig. 4 — Compressor Output with Deinterlace off

But the results are just the other way round. In Fig. 3, which is the output from the processing with the filter enabled, the edges are all jagged and the whole image looks like a blow-up from one with half the resolution. But the file with the filter disabled (Fig. 4) looks all sweet.

Oh, by the way, should you experience Compressor abort encoding with a “NewMovieFromFile failed” error when converting WMV with Flip4Mac 2.2.x, my current workaround is to export the WMV from QuicktimePlayer 7 with a ProRes 422 Setting and then use Compressor on the ProRes file to make whatever format.


Compressor Troubleshooting

February 27th, 2011

If you’re working with Final Cut Studio , you might have experienced some trouble with Compressor. For instance, after some time on one machine at my workplace you couldn’t transcode on the machine itself, only other machines available on the network (for insiders: the qmasterd service not launching story). Or in another case Compressor (or rather the Batch Monitor) kept aborting the transcode with strange Quicktime errors.

In order to fix this, Apple put a Troubleshooting Guide online, but before you start try’n’error with it, I suggest you download Compressor Repair from Digital Rebellion, it really works wonders and fixed both of the problems I was talking about above without the hassle of a reinstall. Speaking of which I also recommend the FCS Remover app from the same company to get the software off your disk in the first place.

Tapeless Workflow in Final Cut Pro 6

December 21st, 2010

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.

Now and Then

September 29th, 2010

Currently learning a lot of stuff about digital 3D modeling and compositing, I found it very inspiring to discover this video in which Visual Effects master Douglas Trumbull explains how they did the Hades landscape for Blade Runner, 30 years ago. Awesome.

Resizing Volumes & Changing Partitions in Mac OS X with Disk Utility and Terminal

September 1st, 2010

This post is the result of two days messing around with my Mac to set things up the way that I want them.

Initial situation: MacBookPro, 500GB hard drive. One Partion (200GB) running Leopard, another partition (150GB) with Snow Leopard (installed for testing purposes), and the last 150GB were on partition 3 with my music samples library.

Goal: Have Snow Leopard on the first partition with not-much-more space than it needs, the User data on the second one with 250GB, and the last partition stay the same.

Now one might think working on a Mac is straightforward (it is), but when it comes to HD issues, it’s almost as bad as a Windows PC. So just in case anybody out there needs some help with a similar issue, here’s what I did.

A. Make a Backup. If you’re using Time Machine that’s fine, if not you might consider Carbon Copy Cloner.

B. Make sure your backup works, the system should be bootable and all your data should be there.

[B2 Update Leopard to Snow Leopard. Fortunately it takes less space on the disk.]

C. Changing volumes and partitions: It’s no problem to make a volume smaller (in Disk Utility you just drag the grey-striped triangle in the lower right corner of a volume), but unfortunately the space that becomes available can not be assigned to another volume straight away. You need to do this in two steps.

  1. Merge both volumes. This has to be done in the Terminal. Go to “Utilities” in your “Applications” folder (or press Cmd-Shift-U in the Finder) and launch the Terminal app. It’s just a plain text command line tool.
    First, enter diskutil list. This will display a list similar to this:

    In my case, I wanted to merge #2 and #3. Here’s the command (one line):
    diskutil mergePartitions "Journaled HFS+" new disk0s2 disk0s3
    Brief explanation: The first volume needs to have a Journaled HFS+ file system (standard in Mac OS X), otherwise all data will be wiped. We need to tell the computer that the merged partition will have the same file system. “new” is the dummy name for the merged partition, because oddly enough Mac OS keeps the name of the first partition of the merged group. Then comes the list of volume identifiers you want to merge. I only did this for two, but I’m sure you can also merge more volumes in one go. Maybe you can even write JHFS+ instead of “Journaled HFS+”, but I didn’t test it.

  2. Next, resize the big volume in the Disk Utility and create a new one in the freed-up space, or use the Terminal which is quicker but doesn’t look so fancy. The command is (sizes just my example, yours may differ)
    diskutil resizeVolume disk0s2 90G JHFS+ Users 250G
    Or use Disk Utility, drag your volume handle until the desired size is displayed (or enter it manually), then click the “+” button beneath the disk list to create a new volume.
    Note: No matter if you use the Terminal or Disk Utility, don’t panic when you get an error message during resizing. Mac OS sometime can’t allocate the disk space properly if you “over-shrink” a volume (say, from 200 to 50 GB). In this case, you may try going about half the way down, and then repeat the procedure until your volume has the desired size.

D. Phew. Now let’s move your home folder to the Users Volume, using Terminal again. Here goes (one line again):
sudo ditto -rsrc /Users/[YourUserNameHere] /Volumes/[Volume-Name]/[Folder-Name]/[Your-User-Name-Here]
The sudo ditto -rsrc command makes sure all the metadata of your files  are preserved when copied.

E. When finished, go to your System Preferences, select “User Accounts”, unlock and right-click (or Ctrl-click) on your username, select “Advanced Options” and set the Home directory to your freshly copied folder. Then you’ll have to reboot and everything should be working fine. At least it did with me. If you’re using the NoScript-AddOn for Firefox, you’ll have to uninstall and re-install it because it doesn’t “get” the new folder. The main upside of this procedure is that now you can take your user data to any other Mac by just cloning it to an external drive. Or easily back up all your Users’ data.

Please do not forget to make a backup before you do anything on (or to) your system. Backups are your friend.
Hat tip to Jon at Ransom Note Typography for the Home folder moving tip, and all the people at the Mac forums all over the Web. What I’ve written here is just a brief summary of their work. And if you liked using the Terminal, here’s a list of other things you can do with it.

[Update: The whole process does mess things up. For instance, if you have virtual machines like VMware Fusion running, you’ll need to re-assign the machine files — no big deal here. Other applications, like Native Instruments’ Kontakt sampler, may need to be reinstalled because the can’t locate certain files either. But it’s not too big a deal overall. The major downside (at least in my case) is that TimeMachine understands the new configuration as an entirely new system and re-does the whole backup.]