Managing 5D Media in Final Cut Pro 7

When you’re running a 5D rental house, you get asked a lot of questions. Most of these have to do with the gear itself, but the most important question may be “What do I do with the footage after I’ve shot it?” After all, if you can’t import and edit your footage properly, then that sweet 5D is just an expensive, awesome paperweight. (Seriously, it’s really good at keeping your papers from flying away.)

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received a Final Cut Pro timeline from someone who shot their project on the 5D and seen this:



RENDER BARS! Sure, it’s tempting to stick your Compact Flash card in a reader and just start dragging clips to your hard drive, but as many of you know, currently Final Cut cannot natively edit the files 5D generates. What’s more, a haphazard approach to copying files is a good recipe for lost media and, worse yet, general chaos once you’ve reached the edit stage.

So what’s the solution? I’d like to outline a 5D media management strategy I implemented for a recent feature film project Endless Picnic worked on.

Last fall, indie director David Wexler came to us looking for a one-stop shop: camera package rental, editing, and color correction for his latest film, The Stand Up. But before they rolled a single frame, we developed a complete workflow that let no clip fall through the cracks.


STEP 1: GATHER YOUR MEDIA AND LABEL IT PROPERLY.


"Label that media!"


The Stand Up was shot on two 5D bodies, and after determining the total amount of footage to be captured each day, we provided the camera crew with enough CF cards to last each camera two full shoot days. To be safe, we built a healthy margin of error into our calculations, and added a backup card for each camera in the event of media failure. Each card was labeled by camera and in numerical order. (Recently, Julien Lasseur made an excellent post on media management at Hurlbut Visuals that’s given me some new ideas on how to make this step even more efficient–that tip for renaming clips is aces!)


STEP 2: SET UP YOUR HARD DRIVES.

Start with a clean, formatted (Mac OS Journaled) hard drive that you’re confident will be able to hold all of your project’s original media, and then some. (I’ve had good luck with the G-RAID drives–that’s the G-RAID, not the G-DRIVE, which I have found to be unreliable at sizes above 1TB.)

To arrive at how big of a drive you’ll need, your basic calculation should look something like this:

ESTIMATED GIGS FOOTAGE PER DAY (3 minutes of 1080p 24fps 5D video is approximately 1 gigabyte) x NUMBER OF SHOOT DAYS x NUMBER OF CAMERAS = ESTIMATED TOTAL

For The Standup’s 12 day, 2 camera shoot, with a shooting ratio of roughly 5:1, we estimated the need for a 500G drive. To be safe, we decided on a 1TB G-RAID. We named this drive “THE STAND-UP OCM” (Original Camera Media.)


THE STAND UP ORIGINAL CAMERA MEDIA DRIVE

We label all our drives with the Brother P-Touch so that everything is always easy to find.

On the drive, create a folder named “SOURCE MEDIA.”

You’ll also need a second hard drive to hold the media that will be transcoded from the project’s original 5D Quicktime files. (More on this process later.) It should be large enough to contain this converted media, which, assuming you’ll be using Apple ProRes 422 (NOT HQ–there is no increase in quality when going from H.264 to ProRes 422 HQ) will be approximately 1.5 times the size of the OCM.

We named this drive, simply, “THE STAND UP TRANSCODED MEDIA,” and labeled it accordingly to avoid any confusion.


STEP 3: ARCHIVE YOUR SHOT CARDS.

Once production begins, you’ll want a bulletproof method for transferring your shot CF cards to your drives. For this process I like to use the Canon EOS-1 Capture Plugin for Final Cut, as it greatly simplifies the transcoding process as well as provides other nifty tricks like setting the clip’s timecode to your camera’s time-of-day.

First, open the FCP Log & Transfer window and select “hierarchical view,” right-click the card, and select “Archive to Disk.” (The Log & Transfer process should be familiar to anyone who’s used the P2 workflow in Final Cut.)




When prompted, save the disk image to the “SOURCE MEDIA” folder you created in Step 2 with the name of the card. While you can devise your own, I prefer to use this syntax: “CARD_A1_SHOOTDATE.dmg”. (For the duration of the shoot, each successive shot card is then named sequentially, i.e.: A2, A3…A78, etc. for the A camera, B1, B2…B45, etc. for the B camera, with an eight digit date that changes, well…each day.)




Next, double-click on that disk image and the card will mount on your desktop as if you’ve just inserted it into the reader.




Check the contents of each card to make sure everything transferred properly. (I’ve never lost any media using ‘Archive to Disk’–what sets it apart from less worthy methods is that it makes an exact clone of the original card, virtually eliminating the possibility of an individual file being corrupted during transfer. Nonetheless it’s a VERY good idea to spot check your clips to make sure everything works.)


STEP 4: TRANSCODE YOUR MEDIA.

Remember those pesky red render bars from a few paragraphs ago? Here’s where we’ll make sure they’ll never appear in a new 5D FCP project: by transcoding the camera’s H.264 Quicktimes into FCP friendly Apple ProRes 422 QT files.

First, create a Final Cut Pro project, and save it somewhere on your system’s main hard drive–but NOT on your scratch disk or OCM drive. (We like to save all our Final Cut projects into a folder on our Dropbox. This has been a great way to keep our projects backed up, and it also serves as a bit of an “Autosave Vault,” as it saves all your old copies of the project.)

Next, set your Scratch Disk to your transcoded media drive, then re-open the Log & Transfer window. Mount all of the disk images you’ve archived, and you will see them show up in the Log & Transfer window.




Now click on the name of the first card. In the logging section, type the card name into the section labeled “REEL.” This will apply the reel name down through every clip on that card. Then click “Add Selection to Queue.” All the contents of that card should now begin transcoding to Apple ProRes 422 (or whichever version of ProRes you set in the EOS plugin’s preferences) into your Scratch Disk. They’ll also be added to your project, along with the reel name and any logging data you added in the Log & Transfer window.

At this point, your footage is ready to be edited in Final Cut Pro. If you want some great tips on organizing your project, I highly recommend you look into the book “Make The Cut: Becoming A Successful Assistant Editor.” The organizational tools I’ve learned from it have saved me countless hours in media managing, and with the lines between Assistant Editor & Editor blurring on many projects these days, there’s a lot of invaluable information in there.

But hold on! There’s more! We can’t let you go without explaining the most important part of a good workflow:


STEP 5: BACKUPS, BACKUPS…AND EVEN MORE BACKUPS.

As a wise man once said, “Data you only have in one place is data you don’t care about.” That’s why at the very least you should have a cloned backup of either your project’s OCM or transcoded drive, but preferably both. (Carbon Copy Cloner is a good, free program for doing daily backups.) The OCM is smaller and thus likely more cost-effective to duplicate (as you might not need to buy as big a drive) but if the transcoded media is lost and there is no clone, it will be time consuming to re-transcode it from the OCM. Ideally this backup (or backups) would be kept off-site to protect against theft, fire, or other unforeseen loss.

Once you’ve verified these backups, then and only then is a CF card totally safe to be formatted and reused. (N.B. Always format in camera and never on your computer.) A simple method of verifying your backup drives is to compare the size of the master and backup drive media folders and look for any discrepancies. (To do this, in the Mac OS Finder select the folder and press the COMMAND (or “Apple”) key and the I key simultaneously. In the INFO window dialog you will see the size of the folder down to the bit.)


STEP 6: YOUR CARDS ARE FREE TO GO!

During production of The Stand Up, at the end of each shoot day a PA would deliver the shot CF cards to me at the Endless Picnic office, and I’d begin the archiving and backup process I’ve outlined here. The PA would then leave with the previous day’s media–which I’d securely backed up using the above workflow and was thus totally ready to be formatted–and return it to set the next day.

This “data leapfrogging” method, while requiring two times as many CF cards as you might normally use, ensured that the crew never needed cards on set, nor were they ever required to offload and reuse media while shooting. This is very important for a small indie crew that needs every last second on set to get the shots they need, and removes the very real stress of accidentally overwriting, erasing, or otherwise losing data out in the field!

So there you have it: the best way I know of to get those pesky 5D H.264 clips into an editable format and backed up properly so you can guarantee a smooth pathway to the edit (and sleep at night!) If anybody has any other tips for workflow, please post them in the comments below!

A-dog, out.

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