X makes the air again.

I love deadlines. They make things happen in my life that don’t always get done otherwise.

I work for a local daily magazine show, and we do all sorts of stories. Generally they are 3 to 5 minutes long and require single camera field shooting, followed by script writing, tracking, editing and all sorts of fun effects. “Street Style” is a new segment (new for us), where we go to a public street, accost some unsuspecting  pedestrian who’s style catches our eye, then throw him or her on tv, sometimes against their better judgement.

It’s meant to be light and full of fun, which is why I thought I would edit it on FCP X.

We edit on an ancient Sony product called Xpri. It was an affordable HD option back in 2003 when our show went HD. It looks great, but it’s not fun. Far from it. I’ve been editing on FCP for years, and our show recently got one booth with FCP 6 running on a G5 tower. We got it mostly to handle codecs that Xpri doesn’t like (pretty much all of them). The side-benefit is that I’m freed from Xpri. I can now ingest from our hdcam tape source, and either edit on our G5, or take the footage on a portable drive, edit on my MBP in FCP 7, or X, and export the flattened quicktime file back into FCP 6 to archive on tape. I like FCP so much more than Xpri. I think it’s much more fun, and let’s me untether my creativity and let it run unbounded, like Julie Andrews at the beginning of The Sound of Music. On the Xpri I’m working in a dark little room, but on FCP I may be sitting in a dark little room, but my soul and spirit is bounding the alps in widescreen technicolor!

Will I ever get there with FCP X? I don’t know. I hope that FCP X is built for fun. It doesn’t seem to be built for getting work done. Too many things missing. But that’s another blog.

I have a project and I’m going to start editing.

This is my second story I’m editing in X.

ain't this beautiful?

This is hours of edit decisions graphically represented as a series of ugly little boxes. Click to see the full sized image, and read the little yellow notes.

Spine and spikes. My first story, I tried several strategies for sticking things together. This time, I laid out my spine: the stand-ups, the interview bits, the full sound clips. Then I added the bits of music, spiking them to the first clip in each little music sequence, or the end of the last clip just previous. The goal here is not to spike the clips to the music. I want to keep the video clips free to slip and slide so I have freedom to move things around easily. Likewise, if I wanted to be able to mix things up, I placed b-roll shots into small storylines, so I could stay in the alps and play with my b-roll shots. This mostly worked for me. There were a number of times where I would just spike a shot or two to the spine. These were most likely direct references to a piece of apparel, so I added a close up that wouldn’t likely change.

Audio is 75% of the editing. Of course Video is the other 75%, adding some points for effects, organization, and coffee breaks, and you get over 200%, but hey, that’s why you hire a seasoned professional for your project. Who would pay for just 100% of an employee? The audio however was arduous. I tried very hard NOT to break clips up into separate video and audio. It was impossible. In the field I record 4 channels of sound. I generally have two wireless lav mics feeding channels 1 and 2, and the camera mic on 3 and 4. I tried to adjust my levels as the reporter was asking questions and the subject was answering. Didn’t seem possible. If it was, I just haven’t discovered it yet. Have a secret way to do this? Please post! I need to be able to set separate sets of keyframes for each audio channel. I could do that easily in FCP7.

Where’s my normalization gain? One day I discovered this menu item in FCP7, and made a button for it. My life has never been the same since. Normalization gain. What a wonderful thing. With one click, it adds a gain effect to raise or drop the peak of the clip to any desired level. I select several clips: all of my narration and soundbites, click “normalization gain” and set the peak to -6. It usually keeps the audio between -6 and -12 where I can use cmd +/- to bump the level up or down 1db at a time until it sounds good. Where is my normalization gain? It must be hiding, along with my cheese.

where is my normalization gain?

The audio inspector. The first level of controls. Don't worry, there will be more, but they're hidden for now.

It seems to have been replaced with the rather nebulously named “audio enhancement” controls. Cmd-4 opens the audio inspector, but to get to the enhancements, you need to click the pointer in the blue circle at the right of the inspector window, or type cmd-8. Look! A parameter for “Loudness”. I tried some different settings, and settled on 40% for the amount and 10% for uniformity. This got me in the ballpark, and I then bumped the clips up or down 1db at-a-time until it sounded balanced.

ah, you though compressor was too scary, so you called it loudness. Thanks for not offending my delicate sensibilities.

Look. The hidden settings. You have been brave soldier looking for this. Enjoy your reward.

Loudness? Amount? Uniformity? Technical audio terms universally used by professionals? That’s like having effects in the bin called “fancy” and “extra fancy”. I discovered that if you select the clip in the timeline and open the audio animation (ctl-a) you see the audio portion of the clip and can see any parameters used by active effects. If “loudness” is selected for the click, there will be a teeny-tiny, barely visible triangle next to the word “compressor”. Click it, and bingo, there are your standard compressor settings, if “amount” and “uniformity” doesn’t make you feel like you’re using a professional application.

crazy small hidden compartmentsYou’ll also see that you can keyframe and animate the compressor settings. I probably never will. I use the compressor so I don’t need to ride audio every second. However I need a simple way to ramp the different channels of audio for a clip, and that’s not there without breaking up the clip.

Making my audio edits smooth was very frustrating. Arduous is the operative word again. I like to add very short 10 frame transitions at every audio edit to soften the abrupt nature of the edits. I like abruptness in my video edits, but not my audio edits. In FCP7, I select my cross dissolve, set the duration for 10 frames, make it the default transition, select multiple audio clips and type opt-cmd-t. In the blink of an eye, crossfades are added to every audio edit. Try that in FCPX.

I spent much time zooming into an edit, expanding the outgoing clip, extending the audio just a bit, grabbing the small built-in fader to ramp the audio track, collapsing the clip and repeating for the incoming clip, then repeating for every audio edit. This is progress? This makes editing easier?

Apple threw out something that wasn’t broken. The thing they replaced it with is pretty cool, but is missing much of the functionality. The purpose of this blog isn’t to complain, but find a way to make this wayward child obey.

Overall, it was a fun experience. I don’t mind learning something new, and having the reward of seeing my work at the end. It’s very painful however to run down dead-ends when looking for your cheese.

I expect that as I follow the steep learning curve for this new software, that Apple will backtrack, making the modifications they must. Somewhere those two lines will intersect, and I hope it’s somewhere close to the point where my needs and expectations live.

Here’s a link to the finished story.

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