Final Cut Pro Workflow
Do you need Nuke?
First of all determine if you need Nuke or if your color editing needs can not be served within FCP.
Color correcting within FCP
A full exposition of color editing within FCP this isn't going to be. However, if you learn one thing on the topic it is the need to ensure that your light neutrals (i.e. your light grays) do not have a color cast to them (i.e. are not slightly pink, blue, yellow etc). This is often called the white balance of your image.
- What white balance is...
- White balance is in fact a misnomer. An image is white balanced if your light points (i.e. light grays) are not biased in any way towards pink, yellow, green etc.
- Why is white balance important as opposed to grey, black or blue balance?
- Any value can have a hue bias but it is easier to spot in a light gray.
- Super factoid...
- Once you have neutralized your light values then most other values within your image will magically look better. Sometimes, however, a gamma (mid value) correction is needed.
To neutralise your light grays:
- Identify a light area in your target image that should be light grey but is in fact a mild hue.
- Go to the Effects tab and find Color Correction / Color Correct 3-way. Drop this onto your clip.
- Double-click the clip to open it up in the Viewer window then go to the sub-window behind it that is marked Color Correct 3-way.
- Using the eyedropper (A), click once on the target area. If the results are ghastly then chances are you chose an area that is too dark or too light. Reset (D) and try again.
- You can refine the lightness of this area using the lightness slider (B) and its hue by using the color wheel (C). DONT push these two sliders too far.
- You may switch the change on and off using the Visibility check box (E).
- More Color Correct 3-ways or other Color Corrections can be added should you wish to augment this correction with some color atmosphere. Tip: when doing so try to ensure that your neutrals are kept neutral. The Desaturate Highlights filter is useful in this regard.
Fuller notes on this vast topic can be found in notes on my color lecture in the Assets page.
So you need Nuke?
Note to Film students: Nuke's advantage is that it can perform color operations that involve complex masks, trackers, color operations and goodness know what. Brilliant notes on the subject can be found in the Color page. Whilst FCP can easily be mastered by grandmothers and children, Nuke should not be touched by anyone who has not be trained in unarmed combat and tiger wrestling. Think you are man enough? Read on...
There are several problems with working across Nuke and FCP. For a start you must organise your media and files carefully if you are not to get lost. You must also ensure that your color management workflow is functioning correctly. If you dont then color inconsistencies will creep in to your work.
Organise your material
First ensure that all your files are named in a rational way. Your sequences, projects, raw media files etc should all follow a consistent and logical naming convention. I propose:
- Under_score all gaps.
- Padded numbering.
- Short scene description (e.g. 06).
- Alphabetical shot indicator (e.g. 06a).
- Numerical take indicator (e.g. 06a_04).
Do not insert whimsical narrative addendums into these denominators e.g. '06a_04_blue_hat'. Such information can be contained within an excel spread sheet with as well as any other needful notes.
Whatever folder structure you implement it should serve at least three sets of files:
- Raw files: the original source footage.
- Rendered clips: see Render clips below.
- Corrected clips: the output from Nuke.
Check color flow
QuickTime's (and therefore FCP'S) color management is famously whimsical. As you move from QuickTime to Nuke and back again the gamma of the image is especially prone to damage. Do a test run: read into Nuke test output from FCP, write this out from Nuke without any adjustment then read back into FCP. If it looks the same as the original then you are home and dry. If not then:
- Try changing the colorspace parameter in Nuke from default (1.8) to 2.2.
- Check online to see if other people have encountered the same problem and see what they have done.
- Try changing codecs. This is a pain in the arse and should be avoided if possible. A reliable codec is 10 bit uncompressed.
The clips in your FCP sequence refer to longer take footage on your hard disc. They will be easier and quicker to manage if they are rendered out as self sufficient media. This is done through the Meda Manager (right clip on sequence or selected clips). This will give you a new FCP project and a bin full of newly rendered clips that correspond in size to those in the timeline.
Strip out the soundtracks
Nuke does not recognize soundtracks and you will be saved a lot of FCP error messages if you strip them out of the clips. Open them up in QuickTime and in Move Properties select and delete anything that isn't a video file.
You will then need to Reconnect Media in FCP. Bypass any error message that you encounter as you do so.
Edit in Nuke
Do creative whatever voodoo in Nuke you wish. As Nuke does not have a very effective timeline, it is difficult sometimes to compare footage. A [[[Switch]]] node and other Timinging nodes should be used for this purpose. The SwitchGroup device that I made should be very useful in this regard.
Using a Write node render the result. Check that you have set the correct FPS value in the advanced setting.
Read back into FCP
Using Reconnect Media replace the clips in FCP with those you have rendered out from Nuke.