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Managing FCPX Media Labs for Maximum Sanity & Minimum Chaos

COW Library : Apple Final Cut Pro X : Andrew Gash : Managing FCPX Media Labs for Maximum Sanity & Minimum Chaos
CreativeCOW presents Managing FCPX Media Labs for Maximum Sanity & Minimum Chaos -- Apple FCPX Techniques Editorial


Lakeland, FL
CreativeCOW.net. All rights reserved.


Editor's Note: A conversation came up on the Apple Final Cut Pro X Techniques forum about the challenges of working with large groups of students in a high school media lab that we felt would apply to many more people than were on that thread. And actually, we think there' a lot of great advice here not just for teachers, but for ANYONE working in a multi-user, shared storage FCPX environment.

Andrew Gash teaches at Kathleen High School in Lakeland Florida, where he has over 100 students sharing 21 systems. As you can imagine, he's had to learn an awful lot to make these manageable. His replies on that thread were so compelling that we asked him to put them all together and expand them for the rest of the class, so to speak. We then asked him to put his advice in context.

"The primary focus of the tips I'm giving are for managing a large number of people who may not always follow the rules," Andrew tells us. "With a small team, I would imagine that they can easily get everybody on the same page as far as where to save their footage, etc.

But when you're dealing with 100+ students, as a teacher, I try to start making things as foolproof as possible to keep the chaos at bay. I'm the manager of a computer lab of 5 iMacs... running FCP X (10.1.3). Any students, faculty, and staff on campus with potentially no previous experience with video editing come to use the lab, so I'm hoping to make it as simple as possible for them to manage their files." Here's the original question that led to Andrew's replies, and this article.



I'm the manager of a computer lab of 5 iMacs running FCP X (10.1.3). Any students, faculty, and staff on campus with potentially no previous experience with video editing come to use the lab, so I'm hoping to make it as simple as possible for them to manage their files.

When launching FCP X, it opens the most recently used library. Sometimes students will simply create a new event in that library, thus saving all their work into someone else's library. If students want to save their project to their own flash drive by dragging over the library, they would end up copying over someone else's project, too.

Basically, my goal is to have each student project saved in their own library and also not be so easily viewable/editable by the next person that walks in.

Ideally, I would sit down with each student to create a virtual drive (sparse image) they would save their library into, then eject at the end of their editing session so their library would be invisible to FCP X.

Another idea would be to have FCP X automatically close out of all libraries before quitting. When relaunched, it would prompt the user to select a library to open or to create a new one. I've tried to set this as a preference, but I don't know if that's possible.

Here are the computer specs: OS 10.9.5, 3.5 GHz Intel Core i7, 8 GB 1600 MHz DDR3

Any thoughts?




Whether or not you use the external drive option, I've got a couple ideas that I think might help. IF YOU DO DECIDE to have each student use their own drive, the last tip I've got will really be helpful.

I run an editing lab with 21 iMacs and a lot of high school students who are prone to working on the first library that they can get their hands on. They can't afford to each have an external drive, so that option is out for me. But here's what I do, and I think this might help with your last question about having FCP prompt a user to choose a library upon opening the program.



I assign students in each of my classes to a computer...


I assign students in each of my classes to a computer and each computer has one external drive attached to it that has been partitioned with one partition for each class (Period 1, Period 2, etc).

You could do this or have each student create their own library on a computer drive, external public drive, or their own personal drive. This solves a little bit of the risk of one student overwriting another student's work since there's a different library per computer and per class.

You mentioned creating Sparse Disk images for each student and having them save their work on these images. That would also work great for helping keep each of their libraries safe from other students so long as they remember to eject their disk image when they are finished.

Here's what I teach my students to do from day one: HOLD DOWN THE OPTION KEY whenever they open FCP X. I repeat this over and over to them.


Here's what this does: When they hold down the option key while FCP X is loading, the Open Library menu that pops up. In this menu they have three options: 1) Open a library that is accessible (mounted) and has been previously selected from this menu (the library will be in a list). 2) Locate another library (which will then be added to the library list for future reference). 3) Create a new library.

The next time it is opened, the Open Library window will appear automatically without holding down the Option key (unless a user double-clicked their library, in which case FCP would skip this step because a library has been selected).








The power of this extra step is this: when they use the library chooser to select their library before opening FCP X, ONLY THEIR LIBRARY will open. So, no matter how many libraries were open during the previous session, FCP won't open any of those. Just the one they select. If they can remember to HOLD DOWN OPTION, they will always get to choose their own library and won't have to bother with the mess of seeing everyone else's work in FCP X (that's how I sell them on the "inconvenience" of this extra step).

Now, you might say, "Yes, but can't I just have them double-click on their library from the Finder?" That would make sense, but unfortunately, even if they do this, FCP will still load that library along with any other libraries that were opened at then end of the last session. The Open Library menu is the only way to single out a particular library that FCP should open.

You also asked, "Is there a way to have FCP X automatically close out of all libraries when quitting? This way, when relaunched, it will prompt the user to either open an existing library or create a new one."


When all libraries are closed before an FCP X session is ended, FCP X will remember that there were no libraries open at the close of the last session.



When FCP X runs after having closed the last session with no libraries open...


When FCP X runs after having closed the last session with no libraries open, you will automatically be greeted with the Library Chooser window, which will list any libraries that have been accessed via this window in the past as long as they are currently connected and accessible.
In the Open Library window...


In the Open Library window, if there are no libraries accessible, or no libraries have ever been located and opened using this window, the list will be empty. At this point you can create a new library and choose a location to save it or locate a pre-existing library that may be mounted but has never been accessed by the Library Chooser. After this time, that library will be listed as long as it is mounted and accessible when the window opens.

This is a great convenience, and if it happened automatically upon every FCP launch, it would be something that would really help us lab teachers (and, I imagine, a number of other multi-user environment administrators). Unfortunately, there's no way to have FCP automatically close all libraries when it quits. If a user can remember to close their library before quitting, Great! But there's a good chance they will not always remember.

Here's where we run into trouble. Many teachers, lab admins, etc. would prefer that student's libraries be as separated as possible and inaccessible to any student other than the owner of the library. A great way to do this is to keep libraries on totally separate disks (internal partitions, sparse disk images, or external). The nature of this setup is this: when one student is down with their library, they eject it so that it is completely inaccessible to the next student or user. But here comes the trouble: FCP always looks to open the library or libraries that were open during the previous session (unless they were all closed before the session ended).

So let's that that we've got two students: John and Sarah. John comes in, plugs in his external drive or loads his sparse disk image and opens his library. He edits, closes FCP X, ejects his drive or sparse disk image, and leaves.
He forgets to close his library...


He forgets to close his library in FCP before quitting the program (a common occurrence). This is what John should have done. Now, Sarah comes in. She plugs in her external drive or loads her sparse disk image. She forgets to hold down option OR to double click on her library. She just opens FCP X. Because all libraries were not closed at the end of the last session, FCP X goes out and looks for John's library. When it can't find John's library (because it has been ejected to keep it safe), you would think that Sarah would receive the Open Library popup window....but she won't.


Here's the crazy, frustrating thing that FCP X does:
Because it CANNOT FIND the last library that was open...


Because it CANNOT FIND the last library that was open (John's), since John has ejected his hard drive and taken it with him, and since John didn't close all libraries ahead of time, FCPX AUTOMATICALLY creates an Untitled Library in the User's Movies folder.

This doesn't seem nearly as logical as introducing the current user to the Open Library window and having them make a decision, but there you have it.

Now, if Sarah is paying attention, she will realize that she's not in her library, but rather in an Untitled one and quickly open hers instead. Then again, she may not. Either way, you as the administrator now have this unnecessary Untitled Library sitting out there in the user's Movies folder.


I can imagine that with every student's library stored on a separated hard disk or sparse disk, FCP X will frequently run into the trouble of not being able to find the previous library. Of course, if a student holds down the option key, or if they locate their own library and double-click on it – everything will be fine. But I've experienced multiple instances where they forget to do both of these steps and Untitled Libraries were created left and right on almost every computer. I was very frustrated.....until.....


Here's how I've worked around this, and I love the results. RESTRICT the User's Movies Folder. Follow me on this:




Go to the user's home folder...

Go to the User's home folder (from the Finder, click Go > and select the home icon). Right-click or control-click on the Movies folder for the User, then select Get Info.



.


Under Sharing and Permissions section at the bottom, change the Permissions for the student User (if you're logged in to that user, it will say (Me) beside it) to Read Only







Here's what this does. Back to Sarah: She opens FCP X. She doesn't hold down option or double-click her library. John didn't close all the libraries that were open during his last session, so FCP X goes and looks for John's library. FCP X can't find his library, so it goes to create that stupid Untitled one – but it CAN'T! Permissions for that folder are Read-Only! So what does it do????



It brings up that wonderful Open ...


It brings up that wonderful Open Library window and prompts Sarah to choose a library.

Success! Now, even if Sarah forgets to select her library from the Finder, or hold down Option, as long the previously opened libraries are inaccessible, FCP X will allow her to choose a library to open.


Of course, if FCP X can find any of the libraries that were open during the previous session (and Sarah doesn't hold down option or double-click on her own), than it will open those libraries. This would be the case if John had his library stored on an internal partition or a sparse disk image – something that he could forget to eject and not have to physically take away with him. So it's important to try and find a way to keep libraries inaccessible to students who aren't supposed to use them so that they are not modified by accident.

I've created workaround for this as well, writing scripts to have the Finder automatically eject hard drives that are not needed by which ever user logs in, but this is complicated and only works if there are multiple users (or user groups). That's a whole different subject entirely!

There is one catch to making the User's Movies folder Read-Only. Assuming that students aren't saving anything to this folder (because their media should be going on their external drive, sparse disk image or somewhere on a server), they shouldn't ever need to have access to save anything here.

HOWEVER, Final Cut Pro X does use the Movies folder for another set of files: Final Cut Backups. If they are using Motion application, Motion also uses the Movies folder for Motion Templates (which are accessible from FCP X as well) and Motion Projects (where it keeps autosaves).



HOWEVER, Final Cut Pro X does use the Movies folder...


So, a word of advice: you'll want to go ahead and create these folders in the Movies folder before restricting permissions and make sure that permissions for those folder are normal (Student User can read and write).
Be aware...


Be aware that the Final Cut Backups and Motion Templates folder is actually "Final Cut Backups.localized" and "Motion Templates.localized". Don't forget to type these extensions when creating those folders.

The Motion Projects folder does not have this special extension. One easy way to do this is to simply run these applications and let the application automatically create these folders, then restrict the Movies folder afterwards. This will keep the sub-folder permissions intact.


I hope that this rambling helps you in your administration. I have thought long and hard over the best ways to keep my students focused on editing their own projects and keep my head from exploding with file management nightmares. So far, these tips have helped me stay sane....most of the time.

Wishing you all the best!

Andrew Gash

Television Adviser | FCPX Certified Trainer


Andrew Gash
Lakeland, Florida, USA


Andrew Gash is an instructor at Kathleen High School in Lakeland, FL, where he serves as adviser of their award-winning television and film production program, IgnitionTV. Andrew created IgnitionTV in the fall of 2010 and since then has developed a fun, engaging, and challenging class that invites students to experience the world of production up close and in person.

In addition to classroom teaching, Andrew also delivers production and application workshops in the Central Florida area and is a FCP X Certified Trainer. He graduated with a Bachelor's of Science in Broadcasting and Film Studies from Southeastern University and is pursuing an M.F.A. in Digital Cinema. You can see more of his students' work by visiting IgnitionTV's Vimeo page at vimeo.com/ignitiontv.


Comments

Re: Managing FCPX Media Labs for Maximum Sanity & Minimum Chaos
by Ryan Sommer
I'm surprised schools aren't using active directory/open directory for student log in accounts. That would be a clean solution (unique users as someone else mentioned). Also without some sort of network login accounts, how on earth do they track down who was on a system if something illegal/malicious was done? I would think that would be a concern in schools as it is in professional environments.
Re: Managing FCPX Media Labs for Maximum Sanity & Minimum Chaos
by Bob Zelin
Hi Andrew -
your responses need to be turned into another article, or a supplement to this existing article. Just fantastic information.

Bob Zelin

Bob Zelin
Rescue 1, Inc.
bobzelin@icloud.com
Re: Managing FCPX Media Labs for Maximum Sanity & Minimum Chaos
by Winston A. Cely
Wow! Thanks for the detailed response. Can't say I'm not slightly confused by the details but I understand the reasoning now.

The way my schedule is I have 4 sophomore classes (one for each nine weeks) 2 junior classes (one per semester) and 2 senior classes (year round with some student changes). We're working on mostly individual to small group projects. We've got 24 iMacs but typically only have about 20-22 students per class.

We actually ran into the Motion Template problem last year, but it only happened a couple of times and we were able to deal with that. Our biggest stumbling block was to have students share media quickly so that we can edit on one computer and have someone else working on audio or visual effects at the same time. That's what my personal goal is this year is to get that figured out.

Winston A. Cely
Editor/Owner | Della St. Media, LLC

17" MacBook Pro | 2.3 GHz Intel Core i7
4 GB RAM | Final Cut Studio 3 | FCPX | Motion 5 | Compressor 4

"If you can talk brilliantly enough about a subject, you can create the consoling illusion it has been mastered." - Stanley Kubrick
Re: Managing FCPX Media Labs for Maximum Sanity & Minimum Chaos
by Andrew Gash
Bob,

Thank you!

I’m glad you enjoyed the article! It's nice to have these thoughts out there and hopefully helping people instead of bounding around inside my head. :-)

I appreciate your insight as well! A couple thoughts on why I use this method as a high-school teacher:

First, to your comment about administration, it's actually not a lot. No matter which way you slice it, every lab admin is going to have to work out a system for where user's keep their libraries, how many libraries there are, and who has access to what. That being said, everyone is going to need to take the time to figure out what they want and how they're going to manage it.

So library creation aside (since everyone has to do it, even if they're on NFS), the only administration part of this whole idea is locking the Movies folder. It's a simple step, it only takes a couple clicks, and the folders inside (those three folders that FCP and Motion use) can be copied from computer to computer.

Actually, I think the simplest way to do this whole thing is to get one computer just how you like it and then use Mac OS Server's System Imager to create an image of the system. Then deploy that image to the rest of the lab either with NetBoot or NetRestore. I use NetRestore since I don't want all my iMacs booting over the network. So, One and Done. The System image will copy over the user data (I have just two users, admin and student), and all the permission settings that were made with Movies.

To the NFS strategy: I've researched this and read your article about NFS sharing with FCP X just a few days ago. The reason we don't use this is lack of central storage space and a faster network. Our computers are on Gigabit ethernet, but still, with 21 iMacs editing at once, we need more than that - and it's out of our budget. The other element that we hit is storage space. I've got 100+ students. That many projects on one NFS RAID is going to take a big chunk of hard drive space. Once again, financially, we're not able to go that direction yet.

It's a great solution if you've got the storage space and network infrastructure to support it. Even then, I've still got to keep FCP from creating those pesky Untitled Libraries in the event that it can't find the last library it opened and I've got to keep my students off of the libraries that aren't theirs! And that's what this article was primarily about. :-) Ah, the fun challenges of teaching post-production. It's a good thing we love it.

Best,

-Andrew Gash

Andrew Gash
Television Adviser | FCPX Certified Trainer
+1
Re: Managing FCPX Media Labs for Maximum Sanity & Minimum Chaos
by Winston A. Cely
Great read. I'm wondering why you wouldn't simply set up a different user at the system level for each class? If each computer is only used by one student per class, each student could have a user account. They would have to log into their account when they boot the computer and they would never run into the problem of using someone else's FCPX library. It also helps narrow down content to a particular student (good in a high school environment). This is what I do for my classes. I teach 4 different video classes, sophomore, junior and two different senior classes, and it's been working well for me. Typically, they students are all using their own content as well. Though this year we're going to experiment with server based content.

Just curious if I'm doing something bass-acwarks here.

Winston A. Cely
Editor/Owner | Della St. Media, LLC

17" MacBook Pro | 2.3 GHz Intel Core i7
4 GB RAM | Final Cut Studio 3 | FCPX | Motion 5 | Compressor 4

"If you can talk brilliantly enough about a subject, you can create the consoling illusion it has been mastered." - Stanley Kubrick
@Winston A. Cely
by Andrew Gash
Winston,

Funny thing: I used to do this. I had a user for every student, and they could log in anywhere, on any computer. Administratively, this got to be a nightmare. At first I had the user's home folders at the server level. But this got to be too slow since 21+ users were logged in and editing at once. I also constantly had students join or exit the class (gotta love public schools) and this created more chaos trying to get the users deleted and new once added and the files updated, etc.

So then I tried just having a different user per class on each computer, like you suggested. Here's the catch, and this is something that affected us so much that I did away with it in favor of a new idea. It may not affect everyone: Motion Templates.

I didn't mention this in the article, but we are more than just a classroom. We create a news show for the campus every single day, with anchoring, announcements, packages, skits, commercials, graphics, etc. Every student is training to eventually make it to the news crew.

That said, we use Motion Templates heavily in our classroom since they integrate perfectly with FCP and they keep our visual look unified. When I or another student designs a template that we want to use for our shows or other projects, we can quickly share it with everyone who needs it.

So, before FCP X, Motion Templates were stored at the Library level of the main disk. And that was fantastic. Every user that logged in to a computer could access the same templates directly from FCP with only one copy of the templates needing to be stored on that machine.

Now FCP X comes along and changes all that. Templates are no longer stored in the Library. Now they're saved under the User's Movies folder! Ahhh!! And I immediately had this problem: I've got six classes, six users per computer, and now, in order for them to have access to the templates we've created, I've got to have SIX copies of our templates. The templates are HD, and take up anywhere from 5-10GB. Times six and I've got 60 GB of templates on the OS drive (since that's where I have to put them), and things get crowded very quickly.

That's six times the copying, six times the administrative work to get the templates (plus any other items that I want all the users to have) onto the users. Multiply that by 21 iMacs and I go from administering 21 users to administering 126 users.

And I set up folder syncing to try to deal with this, and I tried to do sym links to reroute the Templates folder, and on and on. It was a mess.

Finally, I discovered something new - and I've been doing this ever since. I love it.

I realized that a single user can be part of multiple workgroups, something that can be set up on Mac OS Server. This is no big revelation - but here's what is, or was, to me. If a single user, let's call this user Student, is part of three different groups, we'll call them Class 1, 2, and 3 - they can't log in to all of those groups at once.

Here's what happens. It's the second class period of the day. Student sits down at their computer. They log in to the student account, the same account that every other student logs in to. But then, once they put in the password, another window pops up after the user login window. It's a group selection window! It asks that student which group they want to log in to, and gives them the options of all the groups that that single student user is a part of.

Here's the power of this, and it sounds more complicated than it is, perhaps. Preferences can be set at the group level, and permissions can also be set at this level. When the student logs in to the student user and selects the Class 1 group, they will be greeted with Class 1 preferences, and the Class 1 server drives will be mounted, and they will only be able to open the Class 1 libraries (because the Class 2, 3, etc libraries are set to be Read & Write only by the Class 2 and 3 groups, respectively).

What is NOT happening with this, however, is hard drive clutter and multiple user home folder pileup. A user could be part of 2 groups or 20, and still, when they log in, they just have one home folder on the computer - that's one desktop to manage, and for me - Yahoo!!! - just one set of Motion Templates to have to install on that computer.

So I've found that I get the best of both worlds. I can still set preferences and permissions based on what class my students are in, but I don't have to actually have totally separate users and thus deal with the storage and administrative hassle of managing all those users.

The biggest question I get whenever I explain this to other teacher friends is this: "Well, won't your students log in to other classes and mess up their stuff?" My discovery: No, they really don't. In the three years that I've been practicing this method, I've never had a student purposefully log in to the wrong class, open up the wrong library, and start destroying another student's project. Kids who want to cause trouble would rather talk out in class than go through all this effort (and they probably wouldn't take the time to think about this in the first place - that would mean they're engaged).

And I just thought of something else! I know, you're thinking, my goodness, he's writing another article here. Well....yes. With students having separate user accounts on a computer, the only way to then keep their libraries automatically separate would be to also have those libraries as a part of that user account - meaning the libraries are on the OS drive. That clutters up the OS drive and could cause it to get very full, very quickly unless you're working with very large internal drives. On our iMacs, we got 1TB, and that would fill up very quickly if all six classes were using it.

If the libraries are located on an external drive so as to not clutter up the main OS drive, than any user would be able to access that drive unless the drive (or partition) is locked by permissions. In the case of having libraries stored externally, multiple groups, as opposed to multiple users, would seem to accomplish the same thing and take up less space. That's my thinking, anyway.

So there you have it. There's my reasoning for not having multiple users per student, or per class. I do multiple groups instead, and I love it. Saves space, saves time, saves headaches - for me at least.

Good luck with the network storage solution. Bob Zelin just recommended that in another comment. Of course, NAS is a pain because you still have to create Sparse Disk Images in order for FCP to read and write to the disk - and since sparse disk images can only be opened by one user at a time, it just gets really complex and crazy. NFS, like Bob recommended, would be a better solution depending on the storage space available and the network speed. For me, with 21 iMacs and 100+ students, I don't have the luxuary of having a network or a hard drive advanced enough to handle all of that load from one central location. Maybe one day....

Andrew Gash
Television Adviser | FCPX Certified Trainer
@Andrew Gash
by Tim Wilson
Andrew you wrote: "For me, with 21 iMacs and 100+ students, I don't have the luxuary of having a network or a hard drive advanced enough to handle all of that load from one central location."

That struck me as the key. The original forum query that led to this article was about 6 macs. You've got 21 macs with 100+ students. Throwing Motion into the mix, the level of complexity goes up exponentially.

The cost for storage that can handle 21 simultaneous HD clients is also far beyond the reach of most public schools, even schools that can set up a lab with 21 macs in the first place. The only solution: brain power and muscle.

Fortunately, you seem to have both in spades. :-)

So, not only thanks for the first article, but for the second one in the reply here! LOL
Re: Managing FCPX Media Labs for Maximum Sanity & Minimum Chaos
by Bob Zelin
What a wonderful article.
Only one problem. Still too much administration (from you and your staff). When Steve Modica of Small Tree figured out about Sparse Disk Images for FCP-X, I posted this info, and told people that this is what they should be doing. Most people found this process too difficult. Then I discovered the FCP.CO.UK article written by Amanda Burns at Florida Atlantic University, and how she got FCP-X to work over a shared environment using the NFS Network protocol (which is what I use to this day for my FCP-X clients, simply because almost no one is willing to do sparse disk images). But of course NFS is no bargain. I have worked with FCP X Beta tester John Davidson (Magic Feather) with all of these techniques - and most professionals that I know today simply just keep their libraries local, which is impractical for your application, but is what people do if they want to use AFP and SMB instead of NFS.

I am surprised I have not run into you. The closest system I built near Lakeland is for Polk State College.

Your article is fantastic, and I will re read it several times, and possibly comment again.

Bob Zelin

Bob Zelin
Rescue 1, Inc.
bobzelin@icloud.com


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Embracing FCP X and the RED Camera System from the earliest releases has been proven a successful choice for filmmaker David Battistella, whose enticing respect for the RED/FCPX workflow shines through from detailed explanation to his finished work. Everything we dreamed RED could be in post is beginning to unfold with the new FCP X update.

Editorial, Feature
David Battistella
Apple FCPX Techniques
FCPX INs and OUTs - Multicam Part ONE

FCPX INs and OUTs - Multicam Part ONE
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Finally it's here! FCP X has included a multi-camera workflow in its 10.0.3 update. Andy Neil will take you through the INs and OUTs of this amazing new feature in a two-part tutorial (there's THAT much to show).

Tutorial, Video Tutorial
Andy Neil
Apple FCPX Techniques
FCPX INs and OUTs - Multicam Part TWO

FCPX INs and OUTs - Multicam Part TWO
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This is part two of a two-part tutorial on the new multicam feature added to the 10.0.3 update for Final Cut Pro X. In this part, Andy Neil shows off the custom sync controls, syncing using meta-data and how FCPX handles non-pro sources.

Tutorial, Video Tutorial
Andy Neil
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