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Little Frog in High Def

Musings of an NLE ronin…
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Archive for September, 2010

Again I find myself in HDV Hell. Further proof that this format is pure and utter crap. OK, fine for shooting…whatever. But never ever ever NEVER work in an HDV sequence. Ever. Those who do, if they are well informed and choose to ignore the advice given here and on the forums, deserve to be flogged. Beaten to death with dead rodents.

What now you ask? Let me tell you…

I was approached to help figure out a problem with a project.  A 90-min documentary shot on HDV, edited with FCP, and using an HDV sequence setting. The show is fully rendered, yet every effort to export a Quicktime Movie, or go via Compressor (this is FCP 6, so no SHARE option), results in either a GENERAL ERROR (love that one) or an OUT OF MEMORY error.  I have 8GB of RAM, I’m out of memory?  I can’t export the full show…I can’t export even five minutes of the thing without getting that error.  Absolutely maddening.

This project is LOADED with graphics.  Text effects.  Tons and tons of moving text and keyframed pictures with text overlays…stills, video, text..sometimes 18 video tracks deep!  It’s intense.  The original editor is running a G5, and they thought that the machine was the issue.  But no, I get the project and media here, on my Octocore MacPro 3.0Ghz machine, and I have the same problem.  So it isn’t an Intel vs PowerPC processor thing.  I just can’t export a darn thing.  And I have been tasked with making a DVD and an H.264 file for the web.

Well, the DVD was easy.  Just output the video from my MXO2, downconverted the signal to SD and connected to a DVD Recorder. Press record on the Recorder, play on the timeline…realtime output.  Still one of my favorite ways of doing this.  MUCH quicker than authoring.  No menus, but I don’t need those for this stuff.

But now the real trick…the H.264 QT movie.  I can’t export anything from this HDV timeline, so I am stuck in the mud.  I did notice that the Render Controls were set to render as ProRes, but that didn’t seem to be making any difference.  The render files are ProRes, but still no go.  I guess that something in there doesn’t need to be rendered, and still references the HDV master…so… I don’t know, just grasping at a cause really.  When I try to export a self contained movie, FCP says it will take 5 hours!  And then it bombs out…but note that time.  When I tried the 15 min chunk, it said just over an hour.  And still bombed out.  OK, I made a few attempts to figure out a work around for this.

ATTEMPT #1

Ok, the first thing I thought of was to make a new sequence…this one a ProRes sequence.  I copied and pasted the HDV sequence content into this one and rendered.  After about an hour the first 15 min was done.  Not bad.  And then I chose a 15 minute chunk, and exported that as a self contained file.  It took 8 minutes.  FAST.  ProRes is definately better than HDV…proof #1 there.  But then I watched the export and…OOOPS!  All the graphic elements were messed up!  They didn’t line up like they used to and they were squished.  OH, right!  HDV is thin raster 1440×1080…anamorphic.  And ProRes is full raster 1920×1080.  Those clips will have some DISTORTION in their motion attributes. So when I try to just remove the distortion, they still didn’t look right.  They were way off of alignment.  So no quick fix here.  These would all have to be redone manually, as they were all done internally in FCP, and not in Motion or After Effects and rendered out.  And there are a lot of these effects.  I can’t tell you how many text effects there are.  Almost more than there is footage.  A lot.  So that wasn’t going to work.  Not without a LOT of work.

ATTEMPT #2

OK…I was able to output a DVD via my MXO2…why not try something similar.  I happen to have TWO computers, a MacPro and a MacBook Pro.  And I have two capture devices…the MXO2 and the MXO2 Mini.  Why not play out from one machine to the other, capture the signal as ProRes, and then render out that file to H.264?  That sounds like it’d work.  So I connected the devices via HDMI, and I got the capture tool to see the image.  I played from the Laptop, as the tower would need to do the capturing…as the MXO2 does capture ProRes, but it relies on the COMPUTER to do the encoding.  So the laptop isn’t quite up to snuff for 1080…it does 720p at 23.98, but this was 1080i 29.97.  So I pressed CAPTURE NOW on the MacPro…pressed PLAY on the Laptop…and recorded for 12 min when…dropped frames.  Damn.  OK…try again.  I got 8 min before the same thing.  Hmmmm…. Let me turn off the dropped frame warning, it won’t look that bad, right?  Wrong…there were two cases where I noticed it…a freeze frame for 1-2 seconds.  Unacceptable.

OK, but how about the other way around?  I know that I can’t to 1080 on the laptop, but it does 720…and I do have a 720p 29.97 setting.  And the MXO2 does cross convert upon output, so it should work.  So I swapped the cables from IN to OUT on both sides, and tried the other way.  I got 23 min in before the laptop stopped capturing due to dropped frames.  Damn.  I have captured 720p 23.98 in one hour chunks before, so I know that works.  I guess that 29.97 is just too much.  OH, and the drive I was capturing to was a 2TB G-Raid3 via FW800.  Playing from a G-Drive via eSATA.  OK, so machine to machine won’t work, unless I have two MacPro towers.  Darn it.

ATTEMPT #3

When I was sitting here pondering what to do next, I recall how on one job we’d play out from the Avid to a PC with a capture device and PC software that would encode straight to MPEG-1 (this was 5 years ago) while we played.  VERY slick.  And I was wishing for something like that, when I remembered, “Hey, didn’t Blackmagic Design make something for this?”  I went to their website and looked and sure enough, the BMD Video Recorder did just what I hoped.  It captured a signal straight to H.264…just what I needed.  I called a local dealer, they had a bunch in stock, so I drove into Hollywood to get it.  I asked “does this take HD video?” and the salesperson said, “yup.”  So I bought it.  When I tried to use it with the HD signal…it didn’t work.  Then I looked at the manual and it states, near the end, that “this doesn’t work with HD video signals.”  Son of a…!  Drat…I didn’t research this well enough.  I expressed my frustrations on Twitter when a follower said, “yeah, for that you need the PRO model.”  I look on the site, and there is the nice pro model.  Yeah, that will do what I want.  But it is more than the other one…as it should be.  And it was not only a tad outside my budget at this time, the dealer didn’t have any in stock.

I did a test capture and compared that to the H.264 encode of the ProRes output (the bad one)…and it was noticeably softer.  This H.264 is intended to look GOOD, a way to attract investors for distribution.  So this model, while darn handy for quick outputs for producers or clients to review the cut, it isn’t all that great for FINAL compression.  Compressor is better for that.  And I’ll soon see if the PRO model does a better job.

ATTEMPT #4

OK, I know that if I can get this to ProRes, things will go smooth and I can use Compressor.  But that darn full raster issue.  But wait, when you capture HDV as ProRes via firewire in that little trick that Apple made available, the ProRes setting that it is captured as is 1440×1080…anamorphic.  So why can’t I make the timeline settings ProRes 422 at 1440×1080?  Let me see… I go into the Sequence Settings, see that it is HDV, that there is no field dominance…so not interlaced.  And I simply change the compressor from HDV 1080i60 to Apple ProRes 422.

BAM…I needed to render everything.  And when I tried to do it all in one clump, I got the GENERAL ERROR and OUT OF MEMORY error again.  So I rendered in small chunks…5 min…2 min….and it worked out.  When I looked at the graphics, they were perfectly fine.  So now I have a ProRes sequence, and the graphics are all fine.  And after I rendered out 15 min…I exported the QT and it was fast.  PERFECT!  But the big hitch in this is that I have to render those small chunks, and babysit them.  I am still doing it, as I write this.  It has been an 8 hour ordeal, but it is almost done.  VERY close.  I did find that the estimate that FCP gave was never right.  It’d say 15 min, but really be 24 min.  Two minutes is six minutes.

Now it is done, and I have exported the self contained file.  It took 30 min, but it is out and done.  SUCCESS!  Now compressing the H.264.

THE SOLUTION

Don’t edit HDV on an HDV sequence.  Not if you like things to go smoothly.  Yes, you will have the green render bar above the footage, and yes, eventually you will have to render everything.  But if you do it while you are working, bit by bit, you avoid the one massive render in the end.  And you avoid the HDV madness.  So if you want to save space by not capturing HDV as ProRes, and I can understand wanting to do that, then at least use a ProRes sequence while editing.  Even if it is full raster, which is a good thing, the HDV will fill up the space.

And for all you Avid people that might feel like chiming in with, “Well, if you editing with Media Composer you wouldn’t have had this issue,” that is true.  Because you’d be editing with DNxHD project and sequence settings.  Just like if someone in FCP land edited HDV on a ProRes sequence.  In both cases, you’d need to do a full render when you were done and ready to output.

What I am about to show you is the single most useful toolkit you can have for Final Cut Studio. This is really the “must have” set of tools if you want to ensure that you have a smooth working system. And the thing to have to help you figure out what is wrong.

Here you are, editing away with FCP, or working in Motion… some application in the Final Cut Studio bundle of applications… when the application crashes, or just vanishes. And you try to open it and work again, but it crashes again. Or you try to open a project and it won’t open, or when you hit a certain part of your timeline the application crashes. What is going on? What is causing all this crashing? You don’t know…you are the creative person on the team…or the only person working on a project. But your talents lie in making art…not diagnosing why the software isn’t working. Troubleshooting is a skill, and it will take a bit to develop. But how can you figure out what to do if you don’t know what is wrong?

Digital Rebellion has your back. They have released a great set of tools that not only diagnose the issue, but have several applications that can fix most of the probably causes of the issue. Take that mysterious string of code you get (when the Mac says “Submit crash report to Apple), use one of the tools in the FCS Maintenance Pack and see, in plain English…no tech talk, what the report is saying is the cause of the crash. Once you know that, taking the steps to fix the issue are more apparent.

That’s where it all starts…WHY. Why is FCP crashing? That is the first question that needs answering, so you can now go about fixing things. Can’t fix things without knowing what to fix. The answer to why lies in the “Crash Report.” But who can read that other than Apple engineers or other software code-monkeys? When people have crashes and post their question online, I typically ask for the crash report. Is it because I can read this cryptic code? No…I couldn’t do that if my life depended on it. No, I take the first 5-6 paragraphs of code, copy and paste that into the CRASH REPORTER and see what it says. It might report that there is “corrupt media,” or corrupt preferences, or incompatible media…any number of things. But now you know WHY…and can start to take the steps needed to fix the issue.

If it is corrupt media, Digital Rebellion has you covered. They have the CORRUPT CLIP FINDER to help track down the corrupt media. And then you can use the QT REPAIR tool to see if you can fix the media file. If not, then trash it and recapture or reimport. This has helped me in the past. I tried to send a sequence to Color, but everytime Color tried to open it…import the XML and read the media…it’d crash. Well, I ran the CORRUPT CLIP FINDER, and after about an hour (just longer than my lunch break), it found the offending media. There wasn’t anything apparently bad with the footage, it would open in QT, it would open into FCP. But going to Color it had an issue. QT Repair was able to fix one small glitch, and BOOM, things were working again.

What if your project won’t even open? You don’t have a crash report, and you can’t even get started? Well, then you have PROJECT REPAIR. It will fix projects so that they are openable, and fixes that horrid “Project is unreadable or too new” error that we all hate. It isn’t too new…it just worked YESTERDAY!

What if you get an XML that is version 5…one that only FCP 7 can import, but you are running FCP 6? And the person who sent you the file just flew to the Bahamas for a two week vacation? or they are somehow otherwise unavailable to send you the proper XML type? Well, no problem. XML Repair can convert that XML to any other type, so you can convert it to work with the version of FCP you are running. Or it can fix any number of issues or corrupt XML files.

There are many other tools, and you can read about them all on the web page…see what they do. They range from repair tools to system maintenance. And your system will hum when you maintain it. Like changing oil in your car. Running the FCS HOUSEKEEPER and AUTOSAVE CLEANER can help recover system drive space, and make sure that FCP is in peak running condition. All these things I do manually are handled in these apps. I haven’t used them all, but this is because I do a lot of this stuff manually. And I haven’t had the need to use the other apps to fix things. But, it is very nice to know that if something were to happen, I’d have a toolbelt of apps to help me figure out what is wrong, and help me fix it.

I do want to point out two applications I use the most…the PREFERENCE MANAGER and FCS REMOVER. And how would you like to hear that Apple employees, people who work on Final Cut Studio, use these applications themselves, all the time? Yeah, that inspires confidence in the power of these tools

The Preference Manager is the single most useful application in the bunch. So helpful that Digital Rebellion offers this separately, as a FREE download. Whenever FCP or ANY of the FCS applications aren’t acting like they should…if they are just not working like you expect them to, or they are crashing, the first thing you do is “trash the preferences.” This is the first step that I an other help forum leaders suggest. Because it really does solve about 75% of the problems. But, where are those preferences? How do you know which ones to trash? There are three of them scattered in the system…so why go digging when you can simply press a button and they are gone? yeah, I like that too. BUT, when you trash these preferences, it resets a LOT of settings. Your FAVORITES in the EFFECTS tab are gone, your preferences for how often you Autosave, or how many copies you save, how many tracks of RT audio you have, autorender settings, Easy Setup settings…a whole LIST of settings that you took time setting up, are reset to default. Now you have to take time to redo them. Well, not necessarily. Once you have good preferences, and then set all of these settings, you can BACK THEM UP! Yup…so if they get corrupt, you trash the bad ones, and restore from your good clean backups. And everything is back to normal. Cool beans.

The second application, also available separately and for free, is the FCS REMOVER. This will uninstall any part, or ALL, of the Final Cut Studio package. Now, why would you want to do this? Well, if you want to install a newer version, say FCS2 to FCS 3…it is best not to install on top of an existing copy. You want to install fresh. So you need to remove the previous version, and install the new one. Or if trashing preferences didn’t help, and things are still crashing and messing up, you might need to just start over. Then use this to uninstall, and install fresh.

This will be the best $139 you spend. Because the time you lose trying to figure out what is wrong, or posting on a forum hoping that someone can diagnose the issue at a long distance, will end up costing you more in the long run. How much is an hour of your time worth? PLUS, when you fix things yourself…figure it out on your own…there’s a sense of accomplishment.

And you can do what I do…use the tools to help someone else out and come out looking like some sort of FCP technical guru that knows everything.

NOTE:  DO NOT DO THIS!

Can’t be more wrong than this.  What makes it worse is that the offloads were done on a PC, and the drive is formatted, NOT Fat32, but NTFS…meaning that I can’t make changes…I can’t go in an FIX the names.

If you want something to be the date, the card, and the camera…it should be 040810_01A.  That’s… April 8, 2010  - Card 1, Camera A.  040810_01B.  That’s …April 8, 2010 = Card 1, Camera B.