Field Editing & Production Using Final Cut Pro
COW Library : Apple Final Cut Pro Legacy Tutorials : Walter Biscardi : Field Editing & Production Using Final Cut Pro
Before you settle on how you are going to use FCP in the field, you first have to decide which laptop is right for you. You have to think about how you will be using your laptop and if you are going to stay with FCP3 for a while or jump right into FCP4. Using FCP3, you can choose between a G3 iBook and a G4 Powerbook but when using FCP4, it has to be a G4 -- the iBooks simply will not work with FCP4.
Other factors include: Will this be your primary editing station? Or will it primarily be for word processing and internet use, with only occasional use in the field? If it's your primary editing station, then you probably want to lean towards the TiBooks with their faster processors and SuperDrive option. If you use another workstation as your primary editing station, like one of the new G5 towers, then you might want to consider the iBook as a cheaper alternative. (If you are using FCP3.)
In my case, I actually never intended to do any editing with this laptop, so I was looking for a reasonably priced iBook with a DVD player. The main use of the computer was to be a marketing tool when making presentations to potential clients. But just one week after purchasing the laptop, I decided at the last minute to load up FCP and take it with me to the shoot.
Now the first thing I did was to visit my friendly neighborhood computer store to look at the laptops. Yeah, I get the catalogs and look at the websites all the time, but I needed to physically see the screens sizes and keyboards to get an idea of what they were really like. The 12” screens on the smaller iBooks were simply too small, but I found the 14” iBook screens were really close to the size of the TiBook screens. Well, maybe not the 17” TiBooks, but the original 15” TiBooks. The TiBooks are really nice, but I couldn't see spending the extra money on a machine that would really be used for typing and hanging out on Creative Cow (the best darn tootin website in the world!). So in the end, I went with the iBook 800mhz G3 with 256mb RAM, 30GB internal drive and the CD-R / DVD drive, about $1,400. I also picked up an optical mouse and this really made life easier and faster in the field than the touchpad that is part of the iBook.
Re-Format the Laptop
As we have preached often at the FCP Cow Forum, you should never capture media to the same drive as the System drive. So the first thing I did was to re-partition the internal drive. This involves completely re-installing the OS and takes about an hour or so depending on whether you decide to completely re-install all of the software that came with the laptop.
Essentially you re-boot the computer from the OS X install disk. You start the process of re-installing OS X and before you actually select the drive you want to install to, you can go up to the “File” menu and choose Disk Utility. This will hide the OS X Installation window and bring the Disk Utility to the front. You use this utility to reformat the drives before you re-install OS X. I decided to go with 2 partitions which I named: Macintosh HD (10GB), 18GB Media (18GB).
I then quit the Disk Utility which brought me back to the OS X installation screen. I installed OS X to the MacIntosh HD. Upon completion, I then installed FCP 3.0 to the Applications folder on the MacIntosh HD. I then updated Quicktime to 6.0.2 and FCP to 3.0.4. So now I had a fully updated laptop with FCP ready to run on the System partition and 18GB available for media on a second partition.
The project was a corporate training video involving a three day shoot at a very large manufacturing plant. Three actors and a full crew shooting a series of safety scenarios involving up to 10 camera setups per scenario. The client decided to shoot portions of the video themselves on MiniDV equipment so we choose to shoot our portions on the JVC-GY500 MiniDV camera so the footage would match up better with theirs. This presented the perfect opportunity to test out FCP in the field as this camera has Firewire out. If you’re working with camera equipment that does not have Firewire out, then you will need to use some converters to ensure that you get video, audio AND timecode to the laptop.
Horita makes some nice timecode readers that combine the TC and Video out of the camera (or deck) into one feed. They’re primarily made for logging stations and put the TC information up on the screen. It’s very possible that this same unit would allow FCP to read the TC information down the video line via Firewire, but as I do not have these units, I was not able to test this theory. You would need something like the Sony DVMC-DA2 or the Canopus ADVC-100 to take the analog Video/audio from the camera and convert it to Firewire for the laptop. If you don't care about timecode information, then you can just use the converter by itself.
In addition to the camera, we utilized a Shure FP-33 Field mixer with three wireless microphones. The mixer fed the audio directly back to the camera for recording to tape.
Prepping Final Cut Pro
FIRST AND FOREMOST….. now that I have your attention. We were very careful in the field to ensure that we never connected or disconnected a live Firewire cable. By that I mean either the camera or the laptop was turned off every time we needed to move the equipment. Though Firewire devices are supposed to be hot-swappable, I have heard of computers getting damaged and mother-boards getting fried when a Firewire device that is turned on, was connected or disconnected to a Mac. I ALWAYS unmount and turn off Firewire devices before connecting/disconnecting them to/from any of my Macs. Better safe than sorry.
We used a 20’ Firewire cable to connect to the camera and it allowed great flexibility in the shoot so we didn't have to disconnect quite so many times to re-position the equipment. FCP was set up as follows: Capture Settings – OfflineRT NTSC; Sequence Settings - OfflineRT NTSC; Device Control – Firewire NTSC; External Video – None; Scratch Disk – 18GB Media; Sync Adjust movies over 5 minutes – Off. I also had a pair of headphones plugged into the laptop to monitor sound.
OK, why am I using Firewire NTSC for Device Control on a camera and not “Uncontrollable Device?” Because with Uncontrollable Device, you do not get timecode. You must be in Firewire NTSC (or PAL) to get the timecode. As this was to be an OfflineRT capture, timecode was critical to recapture the footage later. BUT, this does create an issue where you CAN accidentally stop down the camera from recording. More on that shortly when we get to logging and capturing.
As the camera operator was setting up I got my bins organized. We were shooting all the Narrator segments separately and then 7 different scenarios with all the actors. So I set up a Narrator Bin and then one for each of the 7 scenarios. As this would be a “live recording” session, I'd be using Capture Now for all my capturing. Since Capture Now requires you to manually drag the clips into the bins, pre-setting all of your bins ahead of time keeps you organized and can help the shoot go more smoothly.
Once the bins were all set, I closed down all of FCP’s windows except the Browser, this just keeps the screen clean and keeps my focus on the task at hand. I launched the Log and Capture window and then double-clicked the Bin for the first set of captures. By double-clicking the Bin folder, you open up a new window for that bin which makes it easier to drag the clips in after capture. Again, an optical mouse makes for easier and faster operation in the field than the touchpad. “VTR OK” in the Log and Capture window told me that FCP was communicating correctly with the camera.
As this was an offline capture, correctly logging the shots was very important, especially the Reel description. Take a few extra seconds in the field to ensure that your logging information is correct BEFORE you call “Action” and you'll save yourself some real headaches later.
Capturing in the Field
OK, so we're ready to get to work. Camera is in position, actors are ready for their cue and we've got the Log & Capture window open in FCP.
Roll camera and when you see the timecode rolling in your Log and Capture window, hit “Capture Now.” If you hit Capture Now prior to the camera starting, you'll get a warning message telling you that FCP is waiting for the device to start up or that timecode cannot be found. Call “Action” and at the completion of the scene hit “Esc” to stop the capture. If it's a good take, drag the clip to the correct bin. If it's a bust, then just close the clip and FCP will ask you if you want to save the clip, click “Don't Save” and the clip is deleted. Since I was recording everything to MiniDV tape, I could always get those busted takes later, but why waste disk space and cause more clutter with bad takes? Just keeping the good takes on the laptop and keep life simple.
Log each shot prior to the take and then hit Capture Now for each capture. Then drag each good take into the appropriate bins. You simply log and capture in this manner until you're done. Ensure that you stop your capture BEFORE you stop down the camera after each take. You'll get another FCP timecode warning if the camera stops before FCP. It doesn't really affect you, and you can still save the clip just the same. It's more of an annoyance than anything else in a live situation.
NOW BACK THE WARNING. As I noted earlier, with a Firewire enabled camera, you can accidentally stop down the camera during capture. If you close the “Log and Capture” window while the camera is rolling, the camera will stop down. Just logging a clip has no effect on the camera and you can log hundreds of clips with the Log and Capture window open. But closing that window will stop down the camera. You'll pretty much have Log & Capture open most of the time in the field so it's just something you need to be aware of. In addition, you need to be careful and not touch any of the “VCR” controls in the Log and Capture window or you can override the camera operator.
That's pretty much it to capturing, just use Capture Now and make sure you don't close the Log and Capture window when you're rolling.
Continuity and Cutting It Together
How many times have you moved the camera and your on-camera talent asks “Was this in my left hand or right hand?” Normally, this requires the camera operator to roll back the tape, check the scene, then roll the tape back, but he'll probably break timecode when he restarts the camera. With the laptop, you can simply pull the take up on the computer and timecode is never broken.
Now that I captured all the good takes, I was able to do a “slap cut” each evening of the scenarios that we shot that day. This allowed me to ensure that the sequences cut together correctly and that we had not missed any camera angles or had any audio issues.
Each morning the talent and my client were able to watch the scenes to ensure that everything was good. Imagine having the client being able to view and approve the project while you're still in production!!! There was plenty of time for us to do any re-takes or camera angles while we were in our production window and not after the fact where it would have blown the budget to bring the crew and actors back on site. That alone was worth the cost of the iBook!!
On the third and final day of shooting, one actor had to be leave the set early for a prior engagement. As soon as we completed his segments for the day, we paused for 10 minutes while I edited that scenario right there on the factory floor to make sure we had everything we needed from him before he was released. The scenario cut together perfectly, he was clear to leave and I had the piece of mind that we had everything we needed. Not to mention the nice jaw dropping “Wow!” factor my client got from seeing the sequence cut on the spot.
After all of the offline was completed on my laptop, the entire project was transferred to my CinéWave system for completion. The turnaround for the online was only 2 days since everything had already been captured and put together as we moved along.
BEFORE taking the iBook out into the field, I decided to run some tests with the camera the night before to ensure that everything worked like I expected it to. I highly recommend you do the same if you can get access to the camera equipment ahead of time. Set it up the way I described here and do some recording tests. The LAST thing you want is some frustration because everything is not working.
What a brave new world we live in. This project was the first time I returned without a paper log and it produced the quickest turnaround I've ever had in post production. The usual process of checking all the good takes, then capturing them, then editing it together was all taken care of during production.
All in all taking Final Cut Pro into the field can give you the piece of mind that paper logs simply can't give. You will know right away if something is working or if you need to do some re-shooting. Kudos to Apple for bringing us such a flexible tool!!