The Making of a 64 Track Final Cut Pro X Timeline

by Svein Sund


When I was asked to edit the opening movie for the Chess Olympiad 2014 I thought that I would be standard editing job. That is until I got to the actual briefing. A fun fact I learned about the Chess Olympiad; it’s actually the world's fourth largest sporting event, with over 180 countries attending. Though it probably has the same budget as the hairdressers in the Spanish Football/Soccer league.

Most of the scenes in the opening ceremony were filmed in 1920x1080p, though we got some lower quality clips from some parts of the world, But even those were better than those who didn't send anything at all. And the clips were filmed by chess players and not professional camera people so this was not unexpected. We also had some 1440p clips from GoPro and 2K footage from RED EPIC. The reason for 2K was the high frame rate we used. 5D cameras were used as well as Panasonic cameras. The Panasonic clips where the only ones that I transcoded to optimized media. We did not work with proxies. We used the native formats stored in external folders and not imported to a library bundle.

My setup for this project was the new Mac Pro with maxed out specs and two Lacie 5Big 10TB Thunderbolt disks. One of the disks was for backup using Carbon Copy Cloner twice a day. One backup was scheduled around lunch time and one around dinner time. The perfect time of day for backing up since we were on a break :). The latest version of Final Cut Pro X was used.

The reason we used disks and not on our XSAN was because this project would consume a lot of streams and since we are currently almost overbooked at work, I had to think of my colleagues that were already struggling with the 4GB fibre channel SAN.

One question I have gotten a lot is why not After Effects (hereafter called AE) or Premiere?

AE doesn't support AMD’s ray tracing and therefore only renders with CPU and not GPU on the new Mac Pro. Working with sound and playback in realtime is nonexistent on AE at this scale. And grading individual clips at speed is a hassle. Premiere could have been a good choice but I decided It was not suited for a project like this due to speed and quick tools.

Since Final Cut Pro X is metadata driven and because of that, getting through over a thousand different scenes with over 200 hundred different faces quickly made it the clear winner. I had a short dead line. And Final Cut Pro X is optimized for the new Mac Pro. That doesn't hurt either. The more I worked with the multiple clips in this manner (grids) I found that the tool I used the most was the Trim tool. The Trim tool is located in the Crop tab in the Viewer.

By adding a chess board as background it was a super easy for me to manually adjust each face on the screen and adjust the composition by simply adjust the height and width of the clip and placing it wherever I wanted on the canvas. When I had placed all the 64 layers in the canvas, I had to re-organize them to a system that made it easier for me to edit them. Since the layout is based on a chessboard I divided it by rows. I organized the clips by the 8 horizontally lines. Then I adjusted the clips to an equal length and worked my way from there.


If you see the picture of the timeline you can notice for every eight layer there is a gap to the next eight. When the timeline was organized I just duplicated the project and started editing and retiming the clips the way I wanted. I used Markers and that and made the job real quick. I had 8 - 64 layer projects in total. Organizing and editing it went really quick. The director of this project, Erlend Gjertsen, has been using FCPX since the very beginning, was just laughing how crazy good this software really is. And after this, I couldn't agree more.

Playing a project of this size in realtime with sound is crucial when working with sync and choreography. I also made some color presets quickly and easily that I used on the clips that needed it. Main grading was not done before the end of the project, and some clips were not graded at all. This was due to the look and feel the customer wanted since the look and feel of the movie was to be personal and almost home made. Which it is at parts since we got so much footage from around the world.

I also had a few questions of how hard it could be editing a scaled down and trimmed clip that once was 16:9 1080p. But if you crop or scale down a clip in the timeline it is still referring to the same 1080p clip.

The main issues I had with the editing was the sheer amount of tracks/layers. It is easy to get lost when working with so many layers. I really hope Apple adds color labels in a future update, just like in Logic Pro X. Adjusting several clips at once is also a feature I reckon Apple will add as well. But only time will tell.

Watch a preview here:

About the guest writer:

Svein Sund is the Technical Director at Gyro, the largest Event company in Scandinavia. He’s now working several projects using Final Cut Pro X, C4D, Adobe CC and on a three to five year time lapse project using scripted solar powered GoPros which he is very excited about.

Follow Svein Sund on twitter; @sundsvein

His website is http://gyro.no/english

Copyright © 2013 Richard Taylor. All rights reserved.
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