What Is It?
Time-lapse photography is effectively the opposite of slow-motion filmmaking. By shooting multiple frames of a scene at intervals and then stitching them together into a film/video, the final product presents the passage of time in a unique, artistic way. It’s not a new process – the first time-lapses were done in the 19th Century. And it’s not a fad — with advances in digital photography, digital processing, and digital video, new creative styles are possible and the process has simply gained renewed popularity. To see the work of a great, contemporary time-lapse filmmakers, I encourage you to check out Tom Lowe and the stunning 4K film he produced, “TimeScapes”.
I’ve always been interested in this technique, and I’ve done some of it myself. There are a few time-lapse sequences in the music video I shot and produced for Astra Via’s “Fast Forward”. I’ve been playing around with it more since, and I think I’m hooked. What really sparked my interest in time-lapse photography was when I learned that, sure enough, “there’s an app for that.”
How to Do It:
TriggerTrap is a free iPhone and Android app that works as a programmable shutter release for your device’s camera. If you want to use it with a DSLR, you need to buy a small dongle for $30, so that you can connect your mobile device to your camera (which is what I did.) When connected, the app works surprisingly well. There are multiple reviews of the app and how it works, so I won’t get into all that here. To make your life easier, I’ll point you to this particularly extensive review on The Phoblographer. In a nutshell, the app gives you a variety of creative triggering options — not all of them intended for time-lapse. But for time-lapse (also known as “long-exposure photography”) you can set the overall time you want to cover in a scene, the number of exposures to take within that time, and you can even ramp the speed up and down at either end of the session to create a “warp” effect.
There are a few things to keep in mind when doing time-lapse photography. First, set your focus before you begin. If you leave your camera on auto-focus, and your subjects are moving in and out of a shot, not only will the end result look weird, it will affect the time your camera takes to prepare for each exposure and confuse the app. You also want to maintain the same exposure settings. This means either put your camera in “Aperture” mode, so that the shutter speed will vary without changing the aperture of each exposure, or leave it fully manual, which is my preference.
Once you have all your shots, you can then import them onto your computer and stitch them together into a single video file. I have been using a free program called TimeLapse Assembler, which gives you several options to set your resolution, frame rate and format. Once I have my exported video file, I can then ingest that into FCPX and edit the final piece with music, ambient noise, what have you.
If you go to Vimeo and do a quick search of time-lapse videos, one thing you’ll notice about the best time-lapse filmmaking is the way perspective is adjusted, adding another level of motion on top of the passage of time. I’m talking about camera motion that adds a 3rd dimension to the viewer experience. Of course, you can invest tons of money into motorized sliders and dollies that are timed to gradually move throughout a series of exposures. I cannot recommend against this. In fact, I would love a piece of kit that could do this, and I hope to have one soon enough. Check out manufacturers like Cinevate and Kessler for more on this. Vincent Laforet has a great blog post about his own recommendations in this motorized sliders.
But if you’re like me, and you are working with only a tripod (and no, don’t try manually doing this with your hands on a slider), there are ways you can spice up your video in post. The results aren’t exactly the same, but you can definitely add dimension to your time-lapses by creating a little camera motion. In Final Cut Pro X, I’ve been playing around with this. Something as simple as the “Ken Burns effect” allows you to set start and end points so you can zoom in and out, pan left/right, etc. And thanks to FCPX’s ability to natively edit up to 4K video, you can take full advantage of a using very high resolution video in a 1080p editing space. Think about it: your camera most likely shoots stills at much higher resolution than it shoots video. So if your photos are 5,000 pixels across, you can create and edit sequences in 4K, move the camera all around as you please, and when you output your video at 1080p, there will be virtually no loss in resolution — even if you zoom in to twice the size of your frame. Here’s a short example of a time-lapse experiment I did just the other day:
Try it Out
I have a particularly renewed interest in shooting time-lapse photography, because of the potential I see for the international school market, which I am focusing on with my new brand, International School Marketing (ISM). But schools aren’t the only ones that can benefit from this technique. I now have several video productions for various clients that I look back on and think, man, I wish I had thought of this sooner! The art form of time-lapse can add a level of professionalism and creativity to an otherwise straightforward video, and now it’s affordable for everyone.
As with 360-degree VR photography and HD video, the DSLR revolution has democratized professional filmmaking. Thanks to apps like TriggerTrap, time-lapse photography is now something that everyone can afford, and professional artists can focus on advancing their skills without breaking the bank.
I can’t end this post without showing you one of the coolest time-lapse films I’ve ever seen. I particularly like it because it highlights one of my hometowns, Saigon, Vietnam. Rob Whitworth is an Asia-based photographer dividing his time between time lapse and architectural photography. This award-winning video is another example of how cool this process can be — and it’s a reminder of all the great things that can be accomplished both in-camera, and (I’m gonna go out on a limb here) in post-production:
Great news! The latest video from Saigon South International School and Gypsy Creative Communications, are among the winners of the 2013 Global Cardboard Challenge Video Contest! I just got word of this during our holiday in Cambodia. What a great gift it was, and what an awesome way to kick off my new business: International School Marketing! I’ve put up a couple posts leading up to this, if you’d like to check out some of the backstory:
Otherwise, check out the video below:
You can learn more about Caine’s Arcade and the Global Cardboard Challenge from the links below:
I’m so proud of this video and so proud of the award. What a great way to start off the year! Here’s to hoping 2014 brings more opportunities to work with great kids and great schools. And… with a little luck and a lot of hard work, let’s win some more awards!
This is my follow-up to a previous blog post I wrote, just after starting on this project.
Caine Monroy is a little boy who lives in Los Angeles whose dad owns an auto parts store. While his dad worked, Caine developed a hobby of taking the boxes from his dad’s warehouse and creating intricate arcade-style games out of them, complete with coin slots and ticket dispensers. As it grew, Caine’s Arcade wasn’t getting a lot of traffic until a year or so ago, when a filmmaker named Nirvan Mullick came along and recognized the boy’s passion and creativity as something beautiful. One flash mob and a few million YouTube hits later, the two have used Caine’s Arcade to inspire the world to create! If you haven’t seen the Caine’s Arcade video, please take a minute and check it out now:
I spent most of Earth Week in the classrooms, on the playground, in the auditorium and all over the SSIS campus shooting interviews, B-roll, and of course, creativity in action. I covered the elementary school exclusively and Gary Johnston, a science teacher at SSIS, provided additional footage from the middle school. The elementary teachers were more than accommodating, letting me into their classrooms and letting me get my camera in close and tight on the students’ cardboard creations.
Everything was shot on my Canon HDSLR rig, except for a couple interviews and wide shots that were shot on a tricked-out Canon AVCHD camcorder rig. Lenses were a Canon 50mm f1.8 prime for hand-held interviews, a Tamron 17-50mm f2.8 zoom for shots where I needed image stabilization, a Sigma 70-300 f4 for tight telephoto shots, and a Rokinon 14mm prime for the wide angles. Almost everything was shot in 24p, unless it was to be retimed, in which case footage came in at 60fps. See more on “the film look” and frame rates here.
This entire piece was organized, cut, graded and finalized within Final Cut Pro X. After collecting and ordering all of my footage and assets, I set down to rough-cut the interviews. This is almost always my first editing step when producing micro-documentaries such as this, since these provide the narrative for the story. I interviewed a number of teachers and students and, as with every video, there was plenty of great interview material that I wish could have made it into the final cut. Heather MacMichael, a 5th Grade teacher, probably played the greatest role in putting the whole thing together, so she was common face throughout the piece. Adam Dodge provided insight as a school administrator. Tara (5th Grade) would explain the process from a student’s point of view, and Vincent and Leo were to add a little (at times comic?) relief from the frenetic pace of the whole production, adding some sound 1st Grader perspective.
Once the interviews were cut and cut and cut again, and I had some semblance of a 3-act narrative, I collected my interviews into compound clips. Then I began going through my footage to see how I could best illustrate the story. It was pretty simple, actually. First, the soundtrack is the instrumental version of “I Don’t Mind”, by Imagine Dragons. I started framing the edit with some establishing shots of the school and B-roll of the students playing soccer, on the playground, etc. to provide context. Then it was a matter of ordering and placing my clips in 3 stages: Planning, Building and Sharing. Just over half-way, I dropped in Vincent and Leo’s interviews to provide some pacing relief and a slightly different perspective (kind of like a bridge in songwriting). The whole story wrapped up with the finished arcade and the “Day of Play.”
Finally, after getting through the laborious task of editing sound (see “Lessons Learned” below) and color correction, the whole piece was output and uploaded to Vimeo. Eventually, it will show up on YouTube. And that leaves us here:
1) Sound. I love my Rode VideoMic. As you should know, you can never rely on your camera’s onboard mic for good sound, especially if you are shooting DSLR. The Rode has saved my butt many times. However, this was not a rushed, run-and-gun type of situation. Given the relative time flexibility of the teachers and students, I probably would have benefitted from less noise by using a wired, or even wireless, lav the whole time.
2) Lighting. The fluorescent ceiling lights throughout classrooms (and offices) are a pain. Especially when you’re shooting at a frame rate like 24p. You might notice the flicker effect on some of the portrait shots that these lights created. When I opened it up or decreased the shutter speed to the point where flicker was eliminated, my shots were too blown out. I think one solution would have been to use an ND filter on my 50mm lens, stopping it down so that I could open the aperture or adjust shutter speed to compensate for the lights while still achieving similar exposure and the same shallow depth of field.
I am very proud of this video. Of course, I did not create it alone. In addition to Nirvan, Caine, and all the teachers and students that made the film possible, I should say a word of thanks to Philip Bloom, a London-based filmmaker/DOP who creates short documentaries all over the world and who is a constant source of inspiration and education for me. I must have watched the school video he produced for Facebook, and read his workflow post, 10 times before going into SSIS to shoot. So thanks again, Philip!
**UPDATE: I was recently informed that the SSIS’ Caine’s Arcade video (above) was among the winners of the Global Cardboard Challenge Video Contest! So excited! Read more here…**
First, if you haven’t seen “Caine’s Arcade”, please check it out now. It’s a great story about a 9 year-old boy who had almost more creativity than he could handle, and access to a ton of cardboard boxes. So he made an arcade out of cardboard. I was personally moved by this film, partly because I used to do the same thing as a little boy (believe me, we had our share boxes in the house) and because it gives me a lot of hope for my own kids’ discovery of their creative potential.
Without saying any more, here’s “Caine’s Arcade”:
Teachers have been helping these students as much as they can; they introduced them to Caine’s story and asked them if they’d like to create something similar. But I’ve noticed that this is the kind of project that doesn’t require a whole lot of adult guidance. Sure, some of the little ones need extra help cutting through the thick cardboard, but when it comes to blueprinting these things out, they’re best left on their own. The projects vary in complexity and detail: the older kids have reproduced a lot of their favorite real-world arcade games (Whack-a-Mole, Angry Birds), the first- and second-graders built a soccer game and a “Monkey Toss”, and one of the preschool groups came up with a cardboard train that you can climb inside and go anywhere you please. What more could you want in an international school?
Tomorrow’s the big day. The students will put the whole arcade together in the elementary school auditorium. Kids from other classes will visit throughout the day to participate in the games. And don’t worry: the reason cardboard arcade games are better than store-bought, as one astute 1st grader told me today, is because when they break you can fix them as long as you have “lots and lots and lots of tape.”
I’m still going through all the footage, and I’ll be shooting the event tomorrow. Below is a teaser of this little micro-doc we’re putting together for the Imagination Foundation. Believe me, there will be plenty more to come on this one!
OK, I’m sold. Final Cut Pro X is a badass.
I recently returned from the Philippines, where I took an Apple certification course in FCPX over the course of four days at a training center in Manila. Like many people in my profession, I often have to learn new software in the studio, all alone, working on deadline. Much of what I know of design, audio and multimedia applications is self-taught. However, I was fortunate to learn the ins and outs of FCP7 from an Emmy Award-winning editor in Washington, DC years ago. And as Gypsy’s portfolio increasingly involves video production, I decided that formal training on the new FCPX was more than appropriate. Now, I’m proud to say that I am officially an Apple-certified Pro (the only one in Vietnam, I am told!)
So it is with that experience that I submit the second half of my review of FCPX:
One thing I realized when studying FCPX—something you are less likely to explore when self-training—is how extensively the program emphasizes organization. From your initial ingest of footage to the editing stage, you are constantly offered opportunities to organize, organize, organize. When importing footage, you can tell FCPX to analyze your footage for everything from camera stability and color balance to the number of people in each shot. Then you can group your clips according to these parameters. You can create groups of clips based on keywords, shot type, and “ratings.” You can create Smart Collections and Keyword Collections, and you can search your clips based on any of these criteria, or even overlapping criteria. It’s insane how much you can organize, categorize and filter your footage for editing. For someone as disorganized as me, it is like having a personal life coach sitting next to you throughout the edit. And I dare say I’ve had a couple breakthroughs!
As I mentioned before, Apple seems to be moving away from the concept of users having to save their work; the programs want to do that for you. Personally, I’m not too keen on this development. Believe me, I need all the help I can get and auto-saving can be a lifesaver in the event of an application or system crash (which, by the way, are becoming less frequent with each software update.) But I’m also old school. Sometimes I just want to mess around with a project, knowing I’m going to close it out without saving. Well, you can’t do that with FCPX, because before you know it you’re screw-around file will be automatically saved and then bang! it’s official: that crazy upside-down rainfall effect that you were dying to show your wife is now in there, ready for client review. Of course, all things can be undone, but the best way to avoid ruining a working draft due to autosave is to duplicate the project in your Project Library, and rename it something like “Bullshit File-Safe to Fuck Around With.”
-The Learning Curve
This is no doubt the greatest challenge of FCPX: the learning curve. There’s no getting around it; it’s a completely new program, redesigned from the ground up. What was really wrong with FCP7 in the first place? Nothing, really. But I’m telling you, the new version of Final Cut Pro is leaps and bounds ahead of FCP7 when it comes to speed and convenience. That’s because of its 64-bit capability, better memory management, and optimal utilization of multiple cores in your computer. These are all things the professional community had been clamoring for, and it all means it had to be completely re-engineered. There were a lot more than aesthetic considerations behind the new FCP platform.
Of course, changes like these create a learning curve that many people are simply not interested in, or don’t have time for. Not long ago, I was among the former crowd. It takes time to learn new things, and to unlearn old things. This, certainly among other reasons, is why so many editors have made the switch to Avid or Premiere as their NLE of choice. Me, I’m glad I stuck with it. I say full speed ahead! I believe FCPX will stake its place again among the standard applications for professionals in my line of work. But Apple can’t expect that to happen overnight.
I must point out something here: professional editors will all agree that FCPX version 1.0 was not suitable for professional use. There were too many pro features—many of which had become industry standards—gone missing. That being said, following the often-enraged cries from the editing community, Apple has been making significant improvements with each version. Final Cut Pro is currently at version 10.0.7, and it’s safe to say that FCPX is now a solid professional application. In fact, many production houses in film and television have embraced the FCPX platform.
-The Real World: Who’s Using It?
I don’t work in broadcast TV. For the most part, I create micro-documentaries for international NGOs. There are others out there like me, and they are the ones using FCPX, I believe. From everything I know, post facilities in Hollywood prefer Avid systems, and the release of FCPX only emboldened the Avid loyalty. At this point, FCPX is probably a tool best suited for freelancers who often need to work fast, and on the go. I’d venture to say Premiere enjoys a similar target audience. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. From Apple’s own website, here’s an article on Electric Entertainment, a Hollywood production company that uses FCPX on the hit show Leverage.
I use Final Cut Pro X on client work now. I love it. It is super fast compared to Final Cut Pro 7. Now that I know the software well, I no longer look for excuses to go back to FCP7. The organization tools in FCPX actually encourage me to be more organized and, yes, they do speed up my workflow, as promised. Considering that, plus additional features like background rendering, the magnetic timeline, and built-in color tools, I’m glad I stuck with Final Cut. Even if the new version meant going back to Square One.
The Internet has no shortage of FCPX reviews. But if you’re looking for more insight from professional editors, I can’t recommend this blog post from Philip Bloom enough, featuring the perspective of 7 different professional editors. Note: this article is about a year old and, as I said, FCPX has made major improvements in recent versions. It’s long, it’s comprehensive, and it’s worth a read! A more recent (and glowing) article from the MovieMaker folks can be found here. Enjoy!
*Photo of Dean Delvin, Electric Entertainment © Apple, Inc.
I’ll say it: I like the way Final Cut Pro X works. I like the way it looks, the way it feels, how fast it loads up. I am excited about FCPX. I think good things are happening here.
But many video editors are still not so enthusiastic about Version Ten, and that’s understandable. For now, they insist on sticking with the previous FCP platform (Final Cut 7; don’t ask). Either they’re sticking with FCP7, or they’ve made that dreaded migration to an Avid system or, in many cases, to Adobe Premiere. To be fair: my optimism may fade tomorrow and I could end up being one of those guys too. But for the time being, I’m one of the editors that has decided to go along with what very well might be the future of NonLinear Editing.
Apple didn’t make a lot of friends when they introduced Final Cut Pro X. Make no mistake: it is a complete rewrite from the ground up. Of course, scores of video editors did not flock to the store when Apple released this product, all of a sudden, at a third of the cost of previous versions. In fact, once they got a look at FCPX, editors ran in the other direction. If anything, Apple lost a significant part of the market share. Although general acceptance of FCPX seems to be increasing again as Apple addresses the software’s most pressing professional concerns, I think it’s safe to say the company still has a lot of work to do winning back the offended video editor crowd.
So did I get rid of FCP7? Oh, hell no. (I do have a career to keep in mind.) And besides, does my job as a videographer-editor rely entirely on which NLE I use? Of course not. But I have worked with Apple products for many years, and I have always been willing to play along. While I know Apple has made its share of mistakes in the past—like Adobe—I depend on these companies’ willingness to take risks that lead to bigger and better things. Besides, mastering Premiere CS6 and it’s companion apps at a professional level sounds like a professional pain in the ass. I’m willing to give FCPX a chance. Or several, if need be.
So away we go. iMovie Pro… ahem, I mean Final Cut Pro X.
It Looks like iMovie.
I imagine that the biggest qualm most had with FCPX when it was first released last year was the completely redesigned interface which looked unsettlingly like iMovie, Apple’s consumer-oriented editing platform that allows very little room for precision editing. Back in 2009, iMovie went from being a program that looked kinda like a standard NLE to a dumbed down, cutesy little app with a frustrating file storage system and a tendency to crash. Well, FCPX looks like iMovie ’09 and later. Naturally, that made people who were at all familiar with iMovie—myself included—quite uncomfortable. And if you weren’t familiar with iMovie, then you were even worse off when it came to navigating the interface.
What’s more, when the price was announced at $300 (a fraction of what FCP used to cost) editors were left scratching their heads. Think of it this way: you’ve driven BMWs all your life, right? You’re just a BMW guy. One day BMW announces the new F-series, a line of vehicles that look like Geo Metros (no disrespect to Geos) and they start at $7K a pop. You’re probably not rushing out to pick one of these up. Now imagine that BMW has just announced that the F-series are the only cars BMW will ever plan produce from here on out… Panic might start to set in.
It Feels like iMovie
Nobody likes “Events” and “Projects” for organizing files. Nobody. Personally, I’ve never really liked the “Movies” and “Music” approach to folders that OSX uses in general. But it’s easy enough to get around that, and not so risky when you’re just talking about some home movies or your iTunes library. Maybe I’m a closeted Windows lover, but I like to maintain and consolidate my files where I want them. While FCPX allows you to allocate external drives for footage and project files, it doesn’t want you to have much more control than that. And just like in iMovie, if you start moving files around from their original “Events” and “Project” homes, you start breaking things. This is an architecture that I’m sure Apple has no intention of changing, although I am 100% confident that 100% of all video editors around 100% the world think it’s a stupid setup, just like I do.
FCPX also makes you grab those little yellow sections of clips in the same way iMovie does. You don’t set in and out points by default. Just as in iMovie, you drag clips from your Events library into your Project, which feels clunky. To be fair, you do have the ability to set precise ins and outs, but this is not clear at the outset; it’s not the default approach. So you can’t help but wonder if precision editing was really what FCPX wanted at the top of its claims to fame.
And maybe one of FCPX’s biggest drawbacks is that it won’t import FCP7 files. That’s just wrong.
It Does Things That iMovie and FCP7 Have Never Dreamed Of
It’s so cool. What the magnetic timeline enables you to do is move a clip within the timeline, and anything that is attached to it (cutaways, multiclips, audio tracks, sound effects, anything) will stay in sync with the clip you’re moving. Not only that, but all the other clips and their related content stay in sync as well as you push them around. You don’t have to make room in the timeline for extending or shortening a clip, everything just clings to the in and outpoints, and stays synced up. The implications here are pretty impressive when you think of what a timesaver this must be to a user who’s mastered it. Best of all, when you need to, you can just turn it off.
-Shot Stabilization in Post
Stabilization is something you might be accustomed to doing by exporting clips from FCP7 to Motion, stabilizing them, and then reimporting them back into FCP and cropping them. It essentially works the same way your video camera or DSLR lens stabilized shot: detect motion in a certain direction, shift ever so slightly in the other direction, then crop the whole shot to fit. It is something you don’t want to get too used to, but it can be a lifesaver every now and then. Post production stabilization is like Autotune; you should only use it when you have to. Just as there are certain performances in the studio that you want to save for their emotional or performance power—though they might be technically lacking—there are moments in video that just have to be saved. Sometimes the shot is not steady, but the subject is just too compelling to give up. This is when you go for digital stabilization, and you accept what residual artifacts may come. Bottom line: once you get the hang of the controls, FCPX handles stabilization in a powerful way—it’s quick, accurate and it’s all self-contained.
The fact that FCPX renders everything automatically is just logical. It makes sense that editors would want to see their cuts the way they will look in final production, as soon as they can. That rendering has been something traditionally handled manually is due to the fact that software is often developed much faster than hardware. This is the case no matter what kind of multimedia you work in. You want Maya to render a nice, long 3D animation in 1080p? Shut down Maya and open Maya Terminal to free up memory. You want to bounce a 64-track song from Pro Tools down to an mp3? Bus those complicated MIDI instrument tracks to audio and print some of those inserts. Well, the same thing goes for HD video. You want to do all these fast edits, add all this cool grading and apply a bunch of effects here and there? No problem. Set it to render, fix yourself a drink and catch up on Breaking Bad or whatever.
Except now, you don’t have to do that. Just as soon as you switch applications or take your fingers off the controls, FCPX starts rendering your work in the background. Preview a clip or scroll the timeline, it pauses the render. Get distracted, and FCPX gets back to work. As far as I’m concerned, this makes sense. Once again, when and if doesn’t make sense, you can turn it off.
I’m on the fence with this one. It looks like a really cool function, but again, only if used when you really need it. Basically, with Color Matching, you can go into the color correction window of any clip, select “color matching”, and then select any point in any other clip to try and match that color space. For you print designers, think of it as eye-dropping an entire “style” in Adobe InDesign. At first, this seems like an invaluable tool. Especially if you’re working on one scene with different cameras, taping to different codecs, from different angles and lighting scenarios. In an instance where I needed to match colors on a multicam setup to get quick rushes out the door, I tried this function out, and I was more or less pleased with the results. The images below were from two different cameras (my AVCHD camera and an HDSLR rig):
But don’t expect Color Matching to give you a lot of control over the color parameters once you’ve copied them between matched clips. If you’re used to working with third-party grading applications like Red Giant or Davinci Resolve, you might be able to simulate color parameters from clip to clip, but you won’t really know what you’re looking at. This function seems a little iMovie to me, too. Great idea, something FCP7 never came close to tackling, but perhaps something best left to folks who don’t have the time or patience to go in and do it the right way.
Next Post: Auto-Saving, the Learning Curve and How it Works in the Real World…
The MTS Format
I know, I know. You only work with DVCAM files from the field. That is, of course, if not film. You won’t deal with footage provided by clients, because it just looks so shitty. If you weren’t hired to shoot it yourself, then at the very least, you expect a RAID drive sent to you with all the HD footage already converted to ProRes so that you can edit with ease.
And you haven’t worked in 3 months.
The truth is—at least with my business—from time to time you are going to have clients that want you to include the footage they shot on their flipcam, their iPad, or (God help ’em) their Blackberry. Maybe they have a guy in the field with a consumer camera that just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Maybe they recorded a Skype call and just have to include it in the edit. *gasp!*
The point is, it’s gotta make it into your cut and your artistic integrity be damned.
You already know how to work with the AVCHD format, but every so often, you end up getting a file called .MTS over email or DropBox. I know it sucks. And fortunately, there are programs that can re-encode these files to a format that’s editable in Final Cut or Premiere. If you’re serious about editing, you already have MPEG Streamclip and Voltaic installed, just for these purposes.
But sometimes, even those apps won’t play nicely with the dreaded .MTS file. It’s happened to me, and even the snarky old pro geniuses over at Creative Cow didn’t seem to have a solution. So I worked one out, and I’m offering it here.
What often happens with MTS files is that Voltaic and MPEG Streamclip either won’t open them or won’t export them. They will tell you that they can’t identify the first frame, or the frame rate itself. The net is the same: you got nothing. Normally, for me, the next option is to use the Adobe Media Encoder (AME). But what happens when you convert the file in AME and you end up with a beautiful video file with no audio? From reading various forums, I can tell you it happens all the time. Yes, VLC will play the file with audio, but your newly AME-converted Quicktime or mp4 is silent.
We’ve ruled out MPEG Streamclip, Voltaic and AME as one-stop solutions. (And don’t even think about trying to do the stream/export from within VLC.) Here’s your last resort, in 4 easy steps:
Open your .MTS file in Adobe Media Encoder. Export as usual, using the codec of your choice. I recommend the highest h264 you can handle. (It doesn’t matter, you’re not going to use the h264 to edit anyway.) Do your export. Now you’ve got your video in a Quicktime-readable format that looks as shitty-beautiful as it did in VLC, just without audio. Keep reading.
Open your .MTS file again in VLC and run an internal audio recorder like Wire Tap Pro or Audio Hijack Pro. Play the video file within VLC and record the audio to something decent like AIFF or AAC audio. Don’t worry, the Amazon Kindle footage your client sent you won’t suffer at all in the audio encoding process. 🙂
Open up a program like iMovie or FCPX (I admit: at this point they are still more or less the same to me.) The reason I’m suggesting this is because you’re not going to keep your native files. There’s no point in starting up a whole new project in Final Cut Pro 7, resetting your scratch disks, etc. You want quick and dirty.
Import your silent, beautiful footage that you just exported from AME. Drag that into your timeline. Now import your new audio file that you recorded from within your Mac. Drag that into your timeline as well. Sync up your audio. If your files are too big to sync manually, I highly recommend PluralEyes.
Now it’s time to feel professional again. Export (or as FCPX likes to call it, “share”) your file with the ProRes422 codec. What you’re left with is a perfectly good video file that will work in a professional editing session. I can’t say it looks awesome, but that’s because your client shot the footage on their HD Flipshit or whatever. The process above is virtually lossless at this stage. Now you can edit those gorgeous shots in FCP7 or whatever you like.
This entire process doesn’t taket that long. It depends on the length of your video, of course. God help you if you’ve got an entire :30-min interview in an MTS file.
There are plenty of “pros” out there who will tell you to never bother with anything captured by the client. I used to be one of them. But there are also a lot of pros out there watching marathon Game of Thrones episodes, because their former clients think they ought to know how to do this kind of thing. None of us like working with iPad footage, and you should discourage it whenever you can. Like you, I prefer the highest quality footage that I have shot myself.
But one thing I like even more is clients. I like to think that the reason they come back is because I make their lives easier, not harder. I hope this makes editors’ lives a little easier.
Note: my apologies to Windows users; I don’t know that all of these processes will work the same way for you. But most of the essentials are the same. I hope it’s still useful.