. What's the best workflow for moving between Final Cut Pro and After Effects?
March 31, 2007 2:55 PM   Subscribe

Digital video workflow question: I'm editing a greenscreened music video, and wish to do a rough cut in Final Cut, then move the project into After Effects to do compositing. However, the only automated means of conversion the project is Automatic Duck's plugin, the price of which exceeds my budget. What's the best workflow for moving a sequence between the two applications under these conditions?

The rough cut will consist of the clips that I want, sequenced and timed properly but without any effects added. The three options I can think of are

1) to export the entire rough cut as a Quicktime and bring it into AE. This is probably the worst option, for obvious reasons.
2) to work clip-by-clip, roundtripping each clip by exporting from After Effects and replacing them individually in my FCP timeline.
3) to recreate my FCP rough cut in an AE composition manually.

Option 2 seems like a lot of work during the editing process (especially if I change something later and end up having to alter and re-export/import 20 AE compositions back into FCP), whereas option 3 seems like an enormous task at the beginning of my AE project, considering how clumsy it is to use AE as a non-linear editor. (Not to mention that the clips will be carefully timed to music.)

If anyone who's worked on a similar project has an advice about the best way to organize this workflow, I would much appreciate it! (The same goes for general tips and tricks in this department.)
posted by tweebiscuit to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It's been a while since I used FCP and there maybe some kind of additional export options that I am unaware of that will make this process easier, but assuming that isn't the case, I think I would have used option 2. While time consuming, it gives you the greatest flexibility to make changes to the sequence.

Essentially you are in a position where what you want to do is going to cost you money or time. Since you have indicated that money is tight, you know where that leaves you.

Option one essentially removes your ability to make changes easily, so that's out. And After Effects, while awesome, does lack the precision of FCP, and you'll regret that if you try to recreate your entire timeline in AE.

Hopefully though, someone who has used it more recently than I will come in and give you the magic bullet you need.
posted by quin at 4:23 PM on March 31, 2007

First off, and I know you probably don't want to hear this--you really need to ask yourself, "how much is my time worth?"

Because the reality is, while spending the $495 on the Automatic Duck Pro Import AE plugin isn't an insignificant investment, it pays for itself within one or two jobs, because it will literally save you hours (and even days) of work, compared to trying to manually export and reconform an FCP timeline within AE. I use it for :30 TV commercials on a near daily basis, and it's made the difference between staying at work till 11PM and leaving early to get a good night's sleep. I select my timeline in FCP, select "Automatic Duck XML export", and the timeline is ready to be worked on in AE within a matter of seconds. I shudder to think about the time involved in having to manually reconform a whole music video in AE, especially if you have a lot of timeremapping effects and the like.

Now, that advice out of the way, Option 2 is the best of all evils. Keeping in mind that AE does NOT support timecode of any sort...you're gonna have to eyematch to your offline reference no matter what. The way I would work in the pre-Automatic Duck days is this:

1. Edit the offline video in FCP.

2. Export an offline reference QT, with a timecode burn-in, which you need to have in order to eyematch your edits in AE. More on this later. It also may be helpful to export an EDL of your timeline, just as a plaintext reference of your edit, so you don't have to keep ALT-tabbing back and forth between AE and FCP in order to know what order each clip should appear in the AE timeline.

3a. When your edit is locked and approved, select each edit event in your timeline, one by one, using the "x" keyboard shortcut, and export it out of FCP using "File/Export/Quicktime Movie", making sure that "Make Self-contained" is checked. Do NOT choose the "Using Quicktime Conversion" export option, as that will recompress/transcode your clips.

3b. You could also use the FCP Media Manager to consolidate your timeline, copying the media used in the edit to a new location, and "automatically" chopping off any unnecessary media in the process. I use "automatically" in quotes, because the Media Manager is buggy and unreliable at times, especially if your timeline has lots of freezeframes and time/speed-changes, so you need to be careful with it. But at least this automates the clip wrangling process, and you can choose to consolidate the clips with handles, just in case you need to slip or trim an edit here and there.

3. In AE, bring in the media which you exported in step 3 a/b, as well as your offline reference quicktime.

4. Drop the reference quicktime into a new AE comp (the best way to do this is by dragging the quicktime clip onto the "make new composition" icon at the bottom of the Project window.

5. In this comp, change the Transfer mode of the reference quicktime to "Difference". The idea here is that you're now going to drop all the clips underneath the layer that the offline reference is on, and you'll slip or slide the clip until you see nothing but Black in the comp window (or a slightly strange looking "edge detection" thing). When you see black, this means that the two clips are in perfect registration with each other, both time and position-wise. You probably don't need to do this if you export your clips without handles, but exporting clips without handles will almost invariably come back to bite you in the ass later on down the line when you need to tweak an edit here and there.

6. Now you can go crazy with your AE treatments.

7. At this point, you can either choose to render each event in AE out to a seperate clip, or just render the whole damn timeline in one fell swoop. The latter is actually preferable if you're rendering with 3:2 pulldown, but that's a whole other can of worms that shouldn't be opened right now. Just make sure you render at 16 or 32 bits per channel.

As you can probably imagine, this workflow is fraught with opportunities for errors and timewasting repetiveness from nearly all angles. I can't recommend it for anything serious, and especially for anything longer than a TV :30. Just buy Automatic Duck (or find someone who has it in your area, send them the FCP projectfile along with the media on a Firewire drive, and have them convert it for you) and be done with it within a matter of 10 to 15 seconds.

There used to be a free way to export your FCP timelines out in AAF format, which could then be read in by AE, but this workflow no longer works with FCP 5 and AE 7. But for what it's worth, check out this tutorial if you're so inclined.

If, after all this, you STILL aren't convinced to just drop the $$$ on Automatic Duck, may I make the suggestion to use Motion instead? Motion integrates rather beautifully with FCP, and you can roundtrip FCP clips to Motion "in place", so you never have to deal with exporting/importing clips every time you need to make an effects change. Just a thought.

Good luck. You're gonna need it.
posted by melorama at 4:37 PM on March 31, 2007

As an addendum, you might want to go to your local bookstore and pickup Stu Maschwitz's AMAZING new book "The DV Rebels Guide".

Stu was one of the founders of the "Rebel Mac Unit" at ILM, and later founded the Orphanage, as well as developed the Magic Bullet plugin suite for AE and FCP. He's one of the formost proponents of performing finishing for film and video within AE (even going so far as to say that there's nothing a DaVinci or Lustre suite can do that AE can't do, other than realtime performance).

His book covers a lot of great stuff regarding all this, and he specifically discusses how he would do a "roundtrip" between his NLE and AE in the pre-Automatic Duck days. I can't recommend his book (as well as his blog) any more highly.
posted by melorama at 4:57 PM on March 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

How cool is that? I hope that a later poster will provide a 'magic bullet' and melorama did just that.
posted by quin at 5:28 PM on March 31, 2007

Melorama's got it.

I edit a lot of motion graphics and everyone uses Automatic Duck for this.
posted by nathancaswell at 6:39 PM on March 31, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks Melorama, that's a really great tutorial -- I definitely never would have thought of the burned-timecode reference movie myself. And yes, I have the exact same concern about handles -- they will make reconstruction in AE much harder, but without them I'm asking for trouble.

Unfortunately, if I were an independent editor I could certainly justify the purchase of AD from a time/money perspective, but instead I'm actually part of a comedy group / production team that is contracted to produce short films, and we use After Effects relatively rarely (and when we do, it's usually for just one or two shots), such that the $500 cost of AD would be borne by this one piece, the budget of which is just $2000. (And that's a budget we've already exceeded.)

And thanks for the recommendation on Stu's book -- it was already on my wishlist, but now I'm definitely going to buy it.

As for finding someone with a copy of Automatic Duck who can convert for me -- do they need the media to do this, or just the FCP project file? (I'm entirely sure why the media would be necessary.) If anyone wants to help in this particular way -- well, that would be help indeed!

And, of course, any other tips that anyone has would be gladly accepted.
posted by tweebiscuit at 7:06 PM on March 31, 2007

Now, the creator of Automatic Duck is a friend - so I hate to advocate something other than that workflow.

Really. Duck for FCP to AE is painless and totally worth the money. And what you described (indiviudally exporting files, rebuilding in AE) is the 'old method' which cause Duck to come about (but via Avid, not FCP).

Try motion. The RT Primate keyer that's there isn't as good as keylight, which comes with AE, but it ain't half bad. Buy perhaps the keyer from DV Garage. It's only $100. Especially if it's DV footage.

The roundtrip from FCP to motion is pretty tight. It ain't AE, but it's a decent compositor (garbage mattes, RT capability, 32 bit if needed.)
posted by filmgeek at 7:09 PM on March 31, 2007

Response by poster: Oh, and I would use Motion (I'll actually be using it for a lot of graphics creation for the project), but in my experience it has slowdown problems when doing serious compositing, primarily because it always wants to try to render everything real-time. One of the big advantages of AE, in my limited experience, is that it can handle huge compositions and tons of layers without experiencing UI slowdown.
posted by tweebiscuit at 7:09 PM on March 31, 2007

twee - the key of using motion is playranges (try around 5-10 sec) for it's playback. You can still do preview renders, just like AE.
posted by filmgeek at 10:17 PM on March 31, 2007

Tweebiscuit if you zip and email me your FCP project file I can duck it out and and send you back an AEP file. Just let me know if you want it in AE 6.5 or 7. Email's in the work section of my website which is in my profile.
posted by nathancaswell at 8:00 AM on April 2, 2007

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