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Optimizing FCP + XDCAM workflow

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Michael Sigmon
Optimizing FCP + XDCAM workflow
on Jul 23, 2010 at 12:02:44 am

I'm in the fortunate position of having to edit a LOT of programs shot in XDCAM and I'm working on reducing/eliminating the bottlenecks which slow everything down. Hoping the experts here can help me figure out if I'm on the right path.

First, the specs:

17" MacBook Pro (Santa Rosa) w/ single Dual core 2.6ghz CPU, 4gb RAM
Final Cut Studio 2

The current workflow:

1*Import XDCAM (1080p30) footage using Sony's plug-in

2*The programs - typically 1 hr to 1.5 hrs in length - have LOTS (40 to 80) of PPT slides as JPGs, which require significant render time. Otherwise, nothing special - no motion graphics, not a lot of scene changes - other than occasional dissolves to b-roll footage. I typically lay these PPT/JPG and b-roll on video track 2, with the XDCAM footage on track 1 beneath.

(wondering if this is costing me FCP render time, vs. putting it all on one video track? Is FCP needlessly wasting cycles calculating transfer modes between tracks 1 and 2, when the JPG or b-roll on track 2 is completely covering up the XDCAM ftg on track 1?)

3*Export to QT Movie at HD res, with 'self-contained' option UNchecked.

4*Use Compressor to make .m2v and .ac3 for SD-DVD

5*Someone reviews the videos, asks for changes. Make them and repeat steps 3 and 4.

6*On final approval, use the exported QT movie to make an H264 @ SD res (640x360).

So, the three bottlenecks are:
1*Rendering and export in FCP, which keeps me from editing other shows. Typically the render takes 1 to 2 hours, and export is about 1 hour.

2*Compressing to .m2v. 2-pass takes 8 to 14 hours.

3*Compressing to H264. Takes about 14 hours.

I can edit while Compressor is running, but even so things stack up and while I do a lot to maximize CPU usage, I'm not going to orient my sleeping hours around waking up every hour or two to set up another FCP render or export.

So far here's my ideas to speed things up:
1*Get one of the new Mac Mini's. Add 2gb RAM for 4gb total. Use this to handle FCP renders and exports so I can keep working in Final Cut on my MBP.

2*Get Cinema Craft Encoder to speed up .m2v compression.

3*Get some flavor of Matrox Max to speed up H264 compression.

I haven't yet figured out whether I want to roll my own PC to run Cinema Craft Encoder and the Matrox Max card (only $495), or I could forget the PC and get the MX02LE Max (which also has some nice additional features, as well as being a nice, portable complement to the MBP) and run CCE on the Mac Mini.

Feel free to shoot holes in this if you can find them, because I'm talking about $3000 or so here and if there's a better way to do this, I'm all ears. I'm pretty sure this is a better approach than just buying a Mac Pro, but if any of you think I'm better off going that way, let me know...

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Richard Cooper
Re: Optimizing FCP + XDCAM workflow
on Jul 23, 2010 at 12:46:09 am

Your MacBook is really the bottle neck here. Get a MacPro tower or at least a new i7 iMac if you are using FW drives.(I don't believe FCStudio will not run on a MacMini, so that is not an option) Use it for all your rendering and exporting (or vice verse)so you don't have to tie up your ONLY computer while exporting. An MXO with h.264 enhanced compression will speed up your compression of the h.264 stuff to nearly real time I believe. Another idea is DONT SPEND ALL THAT TIME encoding for DVD!!! Man, just go out and spend $100 on a set top DVD recorder and play your time line out your new MXO (you are going to buy) and record your DVD in real time. Its only for client review, not replication so you don't need to worry about menus and such. THIS IS A ONE TO ONE PROCESS and it sounds like it will save you about 8-14 hours of rendering per episode.

Also in FCP set your XDCAM timeline to render to ProRes (you can do this in the time line render settings) it will save a bunch of time and your MBP will thank you for it.

Don't worry about the separate video tracks for stills and video, wont make a difference on render times no matter how you do it. You are fine there.

Good Luck!

Richard Cooper
FrostLine Productions, LLC
Anchorage, Alaska

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Michael Sigmon
Re: Optimizing FCP + XDCAM workflow
on Jul 23, 2010 at 1:00:20 am

Great suggestions, however WRT DVD:

The 1st edit is just the program, so your suggestion of Mac Pro ->MXO->set top recorder would work.

However, the 2nd edit is required to have a menu with chapters.

The final version (I'm good, so often the 2nd edit is the final version) does go to a replicator.

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Michael Sigmon
Re: Optimizing FCP + XDCAM workflow
on Jul 23, 2010 at 5:11:34 pm

So far I can't tell much difference between render time in XDCAM and render time in ProRes... but WOW the render files seem much larger.

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Jason Brown
Re: Optimizing FCP + XDCAM workflow
on Jul 23, 2010 at 2:49:51 am

If u upgraded to fcp 7 u would be able to send multiple sequences to compressor while continuing to edit in fcp. You don't have to create intermediate file. It's a major improvement in the suite workflow that I feel justifies upgrade to fcs3

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Bouke Vahl
Re: Optimizing FCP + XDCAM workflow
on Jul 23, 2010 at 4:37:37 am

Get cinemacraft.
And don't use multipass with Cinemacraft.
Single pass at 7 mBit CBR will give gorgeous results,
and it should be a 45 min. render max.

(I'm running an old version of Cinemacraft on a quad 3 gig PC, and i get about 3 times faster than RT encode, at CPU rates that allows me to keep the machine for other work.)

smart tools for video pros

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Michael Sigmon
Re: Optimizing FCP + XDCAM workflow
on Jul 23, 2010 at 2:33:10 pm

Thanks Bouke. I'm really beginning to think the proper course of action is to roll my own PC, get the $495 Matrox Max card plus Cinema Craft. A 2nd Mac to handle FCP renders and exports can wait; the time lost to waiting on this is not that bad compared to time spent compressing .m2v and H264.

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Michael Sigmon
Re: Optimizing FCP + XDCAM workflow
on Jul 23, 2010 at 2:36:26 pm, if I build it right, I could run Adobe Premiere on it and edit my videos there while FCP renders. There's no requirement that I do everything in FCP; it's just my preferred NLE.

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Dennis Radeke
Re: Optimizing FCP + XDCAM workflow
on Jul 25, 2010 at 10:59:18 am

At that point, why not just export to Adobe Media Encoder which is a 64-bit application (CS5) and renders in the background while you continue to edit another timeline in Premiere Pro.

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