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:
One of the strengths of Final Cut Pro X is its comprehensive organization system. From tagging and grouping clips, to reconnecting offline media, it’s a pretty impressive setup. When I took the FCPX certification course, a large part of the curriculum was dedicated to early-stage organization, and I spent a lot of time getting the hang of it. Once you do have the hang of it, there’s really no excuse for not organizing your stuff properly at the first stage of an editing workflow. Unless, of course, you are an imperfect human being.
It happens. Sometimes you are on a ridiculous deadline and you have footage coming in from 6 different places all 6 different times. Maybe you’re working on a project that combines footage from archived or otherwise unrelated shoots. There are countless reasons why you might find yourself editing a project that includes media from multiple drives, cards, photo libraries, whatever. If this is the case, do not lose hope; you can still consolidate it all in one place, after the fact.
Print designers have it easy. They are human, too; a photo may be on the desktop or a logo in their Dropbox folder. Fortunately, programs like Quark and InDesign have simple one-click methods for packaging projects in a single, dedicated folder. Web designers may have it even easier; not only do most web authoring programs have similar functions, these guys are working with images of 150kb and such. Final Cut Pro has never had such a simple method for consolidating all your assets, after the fact. “Media Management” in FCP7 was awkward and buggy. And yes, FCPX does have a system in place, but it’s far from intuitive. Maybe you can make sense of Apple’s online support, but I don’t think it is either sufficient or clear.
So I’m here to help out, drawing from my own experience. I hope this is useful to others who have been, until now, utterly confounded. Here’s how the file consolidation process works in real life. Click on the screenshots for full-size images.
You started out fine. You shot your footage, converted it, labeled it, and dumped it all on a Firewire or Thunderbolt drive. You did that, right? You imported it properly into FCPX, leaving your ProRes footage in its existing location so as not to clog up that annoying “Movies” folder on you system drive. Well done and good on ya’. But then your client came along with a new hard drive full of new Pro Res footage and they needed you to include it in a new version and deliver it by the end of the day. You don’t have time to move all the media to your drive, so you just plug theirs in and start cutting. Let’s make this even uglier: you also have several new photos on your desktop and several new clips on your local hard drive, and they all need to be in your edit, too. Of course, ya jerk, you should have imported and organized everything properly up front, but you were short on time and, like I said, you’re human. At the end of the day, you’ve sent off the new draft, but you still have the problem of your media living in different neighborhoods. Now you need to consolidate it all in one place.
Step One—“Duplicating” is just “Re-Referencing”:
First thing’s first: Leave everything plugged in! With all your relevant drives/media connected and your project open and free of errors, go back to the project library panel at the lower left corner of the screen (see above). Control click on your project and from the drop down menu click “Duplicate Project”. When FCPX asks you how you want to do this, choose your final destination drive and select the middle option (“Duplicate Project and Referenced Events”). This process can take a little while. If you get the spinning pinwheel of doom, don’t panic, this is not FCPX beta. If it says that FCPX is “preparing to duplicate” your project, it probably is. Don’t force quit or go searching for preferences to trash, just go get a coffee and relax.
Eventually, a new project will appear in you project library. When you click on it, it will take you to your new edit where everything seems to be in place. But it isn’t.
Step Two—Actually MOVE Your Media:
What FCPX did in the last step was create a new project and event library on your destination drive, just as you asked it to. But the media is still not really there. If you start unplugging drives and pulling out cards, you’ll find half your project is offline again and you will start tearing your hair out. To confirm this in Finder, look at the new event library on the destination drive. You’ll see that your “original media” is just a bunch of reference files. They are aliases (maybe 10kb apiece) that still direct FCPX to the original location of your footage.
So this part is important: within FCPX, you now need to select the new event on your destination drive. Go to “File > Organize Event Files”. You will get another warning. Click “Continue”.
Now FCPX starts doing the real work of copying the actual media to your destination drive. This process can really take a long time depending on what you’re working with. So get another cup of coffee. Screw it, forego the coffee and take a nap. If you want to see the process in action, go back in Finder to that “Original Media” folder on your destination drive, and you’ll see the alias files, one by one, becoming real media files. This is what you wanted all along.
The Finder screenshots below should give you an idea of what’s going on behind the scenes:
Before “organization”, aliases were created and your new project was re-referenced:
During organization, the aliases—one-by-one—became real media files. They start getting bigger:
Following organization, all your media is there, right where you want it:
Step Three—Test It:
Quit FCPX. Unplug your client’s drive. Drag the footage out of your “Movies” folder and put it somewhere else. Eject your SD cards. In other words, manually disconnect any media you can think of except for the destination drive where you are hoping everything now lives. Restart FCPX and, in your event library, click on the new project on the destination drive. If your project is intact with no disconnected media, you are good to go. Empty the trash or whatever you gotta do.
A Couple Warnings:
Of course, I’m not saying you should delete everything in a hurry. Make sure you’re not trashing media you haven’t used yet. Remember: FCPX only copied the footage that is already in use in your edit.
Yes, there are ways to do this all from within Finder, and then use FCPX’s “reconnect media” function. But this is a headache and never worked that well for me. Files get renamed or missed altogether. In my experience, FCPX does not want you to use Finder because Apple is a tyrannical monster that aims to take our power and souls from us. The method above is actually the way you’re supposed to do it, only Apple doesn’t explain it well at all in their documentation.
Admittedly, I have had to do this on more than one occasion. I’m working on a fun little short now from a motorbike trip me and my buddy Gary did around the southern suburbs of Saigon, Vietnam. Believe me, the footage comes from everywhere (GoPros, iPhones, DSLR, etc.) Now I want to take that project to a pub, watch the futbol, and finish up this goofy little edit. The above process is exactly what I did, using a small—but fast— little G-Force firewire drive. All good. And it will happen again. I’m sure.
Let me know if this helped you as an editor. Of course, if you have a better way of consolidating and cleaning up a convoluted FCPX edit, I’m all ears. Please share it. And do be nice.
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!
Scroll to the bottom for the sample video.
This is not a new concept, and it’s certainly one that has been discussed extensively around the Internet. But making digital video look like film is still an elusive task for many filmmakers out there; especially those in my business — small documentary production from weird places. If you are on set, with a decent budget, making a feature or commercial with a RED Epic or a C300, then this is not the post for you. Hopefully, you are already making video look like film. On the other hand, if you are shooting run-and-gun on a DSLR (Canon 5D, 7D, T3i), a small chip camcorder (Canon XF100, XA10) or even HDV (Sony Z1), then there are a few things you should know that might really boost your production value.
Let me make one thing clear: in no way am I suggesting that you “fake” film. Shoot video! Embrace video, enjoy video, take full advantage of the affordability, convenience and power that digital video offers today. Hell, analog film production is still out there and there are plenty of major feature filmmakers who still swear by it. That’s because film looks great, it’s a look viewers expect, and it’s what they learned on. But if you follow some of the great digital doco cinematographers out there (Philip Bloom, Vincent Laforet, etc.) you’ll find that there are a few masters out there who achieve that classic, appealing film look with digital video. Basically, we’re talking about upgrading from the “home video” look to something viewers are more accustomed to, and giving your work an aesthetic that adds depth to the story.
With that in mind, here are a few tips that I’ve picked up on over the years that will help you get the look you’re going for. Of course, I’m still learning, and I welcome your feedback.
1. Depth of Field
Photography 101: Film speed, shutter speed and aperture. Depth of field refers to the distance between which the closest and farthest images in the frame remain in focus. A narrow depth of field means that anything just slightly in front of, or behind, your subject will appear out of focus, thereby bringing more attention to your subject. A deep depth of field is when everything is in focus. For example, look at any Ansel Adams photo. That’s gonna be deep. Everything from 10 feet away in the foreground to the mountains miles away from the camera are all in focus. On the other hand, most portrait photography will give you a very narrow depth of field. Just behind the subjects head all the background is a blurry mess of defocused leaves or something.
What to go for, and how to do it: Try hard for a narrow depth of field. That means your aperture should be wide open. The lower the number, the wider your aperture. By allowing more light to get in at every shot, you create a much narrower depth of field. You’ll find when shooting with a low-number aperture lens (or a lower setting on a fixed lens camcorder) that you are able to create a narrower depth of field and thereby provide more emphasis on your subject. As opposed to DSLR, fixed-lens camcorders tend to take it all in at once, so this can prove difficult. Trick: if you are shooting with a fixed-lens camcorder without much control over your aperture, try moving as far away from the subject as possible and zooming all the way in. You’ll find your background quickly falls out of focus, which is usually what you want. That’s what I did here.
2. Frame Rate
Digital video usually defaults at a frame rate of 30fps (frames per second). That’s great, it can provide for really smooth video. And that’s about all it’s great for, really smooth video. It is also one of the reasons video looks like video and film looks like film. The default rate at which a film camera captures motion is 24fps. Many digital cameras — especially DSLRs — allow you to shoot at 24p now (actually 25p in Europe and most of the world). That’s a big difference. It can be a tough frame rate to get used to, especially if you’re relying on a small LCD screen when you’re shooting. 24p can feel jumpy and awkward, but believe it or not, it’s there for a reason.
What to go for, and how to do it: Just do it. Shoot at 24p. It may not look all that hot when you’re reviewing footage in-camera, but unless you have a good reason not to do it, do it. 24p will help you achieve a more traditional film look. It will look better upon exporting from post than it did on your viewfinder/LCD. Keep in mind: you can’t slow it down. Fortunately, the same cameras that shoot 24p can often shoot at 60i or 60p (60fps). So if you plan on slowing down your footage in post production, use those formats. 60fps and higher will give you the smoothest results when changing the speed of your footage. Trick: not really a trick, but important to know: If you are combining frame rates in the same project — in Final Cut Pro or Premiere, for example — be sure to conform your frame rates within the timeline. If you don’t, even 60fps footage will be jumpy when you slow it down because you’re working in a 24p space. If that sounds confusing, email me or comment below.
3. Aspect ratio
Your aspect ratio says a lot about you. When camcorders first hit the market and met the standard 4:3 (SD; almost square) aspect ratio of consumer TVs, it was easy to identify footage shot on tape vs. film. With DVDs, HDTVs and consumer HD cameras, we grew accustomed to a 16:9 (widescreen) aspect ratio. However, this still meant that films had to be cropped and panned and screwed with to get them onto the screen — that’s what that little notice: “this film has been modified from its original version…” is all about. 16:9 still not the film standard. Think about the last movie you saw in the theater. Better yet, go check one out tonight. Notice how much wider the projection is. The real aspect ratios of film are more like 1.85:1 or 2.33:1 (anamorphic). Trust me on this one. These ratios are a lot wider.
What to go for, and how to do it: With a wider aspect ratio, you will achieve a more “filmic” look. There are a few ways to accomplish this. When shooting, if you are relying on an LCD screen to frame your shots, take a little bit of electrical tape and cover the aspect of the LCD (top and bottom) that you don’t want in the shot; use a ruler. This will ensure that you can keep your subject matter in the frame later, when editing. Later, when editing, place black bars (you can download a great set of mattes here) into an editing layer to keep your content framed just as when you shot it. You can make individual adjustments to the height and width of your footage underneath that frame. Trick: Upon export, you can crop your footage using Compressor or MPEG Streamclip to match the ratio you imposed in editing. For example, if you are going for a 2:33:1 aspect ratio, you should crop off 128px from the top and bottom (image right). See an example of an anamorphic video here.
4. Focus and Zoom
Do yourself a favor and keep your finger off the zoom button. It’s a handy thing when you need it; I especially like the variable 10x optical zoom on my Canon XA10, which allows me to move in nice and slowly from miles away right up into a belly button. It makes sense for your establishing shot in a “60 Minutes” piece on the local prison. Or if you’re doing a film on belly buttons. But remember, that zoom is a loud reminder that you’re shooting digital video. If you want it to look like film, pretend you’re shooting exclusively with prime (fixed) lenses. Not only will you make a habit of getting up close and personal with your subjects, as opposed to shooting them from a distance, but your shots will look more professional. Sure they’ll go out of focus at times when you move the camera. That’s a good thing, too. So focus again. BTW, did I mention avoid autofocus? No? Well, avoid autofocus! If you want iPhone footage, use your iPhone. Otherwise, we are shooting on fancyglass primes here, people.
What to go for, and how to do it: You don’t have to shoot on a prime lens just to look like a prime lens. Just do me a favor: if you zoom in or out, cut out the zoom motion in post production. It’s fine if you want to jump to a close up of a Liberian fish vendor and can’t go running across a heavily-armed Freetown open market to get it. Fine, wimp, zoom in. But I (and your viewers) don’t want to see the lens getting there. When it comes to focus, there are a number of follow-focus rigs out there for DSLRs and digital camcorders. These allow you to adjust your focus as you shoot, without touching the lens and bumping your camera around. Even a cheap focus ring with a handle will do the trick. Trick: how about this? Let your footage fall out of focus from time to time. It’s not the end of the world. Especially if it’s a subject moving from the background to the foreground, or vice versa. Just adds depth of field. Give it a go.
5. Color, Effects and Grain
If you are still stuck shooting in Liberia and uploading straight to a your producer or offline editor at the Fastpants News Network (FNN), then I guess you don’t have time for many effects or color correction. Myself, I’m not a fan of much correction. However, most digital video cameras — especially when shooting in natural or ambient light — will give you pretty flat results. A small amount of color correction and grading can make all the difference in the world. Color correction is a topic deserving of its own classroom but, basically, you are trying to give your footage enough saturation and contrast to look like what the human eye sees, and what the brain records. Beyond that, any additional color effects and “looks” are on you. There are any number of 3rd party color tools out there. Final Cut Pro (FCPX) and Adobe Premiere do a pretty decent job of color correction “in-house”. I personally like Magic Bullet Looks (though I tend to “mix” those effects down to about 10-15%) for many of my jobs. I’m still getting used to DaVinci Resolve 9 from BlackMagic Design, but so far it looks pretty powerful and one day may end up being the only color correction tool I use.
What to go for, and how to do it: Start with this as a base: Once you have your footage ingested and in your timeline, go to your color tool of choice. Exposure-wise, bring your mids up a hair and then come back down on your blacks to level it off. Give it about 10% more saturation than you started with. That should give you an idea of the color and levels that you can achieve in post. From there, make further adjustments, but please do them slowly and cautiously. Trick: I have been playing around with the FilmConvert plugin from Rubber Monkey software and it works a treat. It adds grain (remember: this is “grain”, not “noise” — we’re talking about film, not video) and color effects that simulate the classic emulsion looks of Kodak/Fuji film.
That’s it for now. Below is a short video that I just shot and edited yesterday, wherein I tried to incorporate a little bit of all the above. It’s far from perfect I realize, and I don’t normally like to shoot myself from below. Anyway, this one is not really open for critique. I hope it shows how some of the strategies above can take an otherwise ordinary digital video and give it a “film” look that will add depth to your work and keep your audiences engaged.
“From Where I Sit”:
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.