Getting Final Cut Pro projects and/or media into Avid Media Composer

I’m sitting at my desk last week when my phone rings – caller ID tells me it’s an associate from my hometown of Chicago.  No sooner do I lift the receiver do I hear

“I win!”

Bewildered, I respond with a puzzled “Excuse me?”

“I win!” he repeats.  “I knew you’d go Hollywood!”

Now this puzzles me.  Not only because TMZ and perezhilton.com are blocked at work, but that very day I was looking into flights to visit family and friends in Chicago, as well as planning my next trip from the Valley to Buena Park for some much needed Portillo’s.  In fact, not to much earlier that day I had made a decent Chicago pun.  (There are four directions in Chicago: Northside, Southside, Westside, and the Lake.)

“You swore you’d remember your roots, man.  But I read your blog, and you’re talking about stuff we’d probably never do in the Midwest.”

“Well, some would…” I rationalized.

“Hardly.  Didn’t you used to say the difference between L.A. and Chicago was a million dollars and 6 frames?  All of your stuff revolves around those two things.”

“Yeah, well…some people out here do 29.97…”

He cuts me off.  “They’re called Tape Ops.”

(We both chuckle.  Post geeks are an odd squad.)

So, in this post, I’ll be backing off the Hollywood-centric workflows, asinine acronyms, and strings of polysyllabic words and going back to some grass-roots issues.

On any given project, there are many editors, in many disciplines, and spread across many miles.  Therefore, getting YOUR stuff to work with THEIR stuff is imperative.  Thus, I present to you the best ways to get Final Cut Pro projects and/or media into Avid Media Composer.

First, it’s important that we understand how Avid deals with media.  As of March 2010, Avid understands media in 4 formats.  This may very well fluctuate in the next few months**, but for now, Avid understands media thusly:

  1. Native Avid media – that is, captured by Avid.  Nowadays, this is usually in Avid’s DNxHD codec, which is analogous to ProRes – see chart below.  Avid, during capture into DNxHD, wraps this file in an MXF wrapper.  In legacy systems, instead of MXF, this would be a standard definition file in an OMF format. This media is understood natively by Avid, and requires no other transcoding or re-wrapping for usage within Avid.
  2. Quicktime Media encoded with Avid’s DNxHD codec (with a .mov extension).  Avid can see this file, but will want to “wrap” it into an MXF wrapper before utilizing it within Avid.  This is not instantaneous, but is faster than a straight file import / conversion because it is not re-encoding the media.  Avid calls this a “fast import”. **
  3. Via Avid’s AMA  – Avid Media Access. (v. 3.5 and above). P2, XDCAM, and GFCAM are understood natively (but ONLY camera native files with the mxf wrapper and original file hierarchy) **
  4. Other Quicktime Media NOT encoded with the DNxHD codec, but still understood and playable by your Quicktime player.  Provided the codec is installed on your Avid machine, Avid can see it, but needs to import (transcode) and wrap the file into an MXF wrapper.  This is the longest of the techniques.

Knowing these rules, we can build several workflows which enable a FCP Project – or just the media – to get into Avid.

Just Media from FCP to Avid: Easiest Method (and Free!)

Media from FCP to Avid

Media from FCP to Avid (click to enlarge)

  • Download the Avid DNxHD Codecs (http://www.avid.com/dnxhd/ ) onto your Mac.  This enables FCP, Compressor, or any other encoding application on your same Mac to encode into DNxHD. (Remember DNxHD is a codec, so it can have a “.mov” extension).
  • Export your timeline into a comperable DNxHD .mov format (see chart).  This yields a file with a .mov extension, but encode with a DNxHD codec.
  • This file can be seen by Avid, who will then “fast import” it (wrapping it into an MXF wrapper), allowing you to use it in the most efficient way on the timeline.

GOTCHA: You can, of course, bypass the entire download of DNxHD codecs, just just export from FCP using the same codec FCP is using in the timeline.  This, however, complicates things for the Avid user.  What if they do not have the same codec you are using within FCP?  Worse yet, what if the codec you export with requires the other user to pay to get the codec?  For example, DVCProHD is not free for a PC!  Companies like Calibrated Software (http://www.calibratedsoftware.com/) charge $69 for a plugin to simply decode the file.  Rule Of Thumb: Make it as EASY as possible for the next person to use your media.

ADVANCED USERS:  From FCP, export a QT Reference.  Use your clustered or more robust encoding solution to encode into a .mov DNxHD file.  Quite possibly, your encoding solution may allow you to even wrap the DNxHD file into an MXF wrapper (OP1a compliant) which makes importing into Avid even faster!  (see #1)

Project AND Media from FCP to Avid (slightly not free)

Project & Media from FCP to Avid

Project & Media from FCP to Avid (click to enlarge)

  • Purchase and download Automatic Duck Pro FCP Export ($495) http://automaticduck.com/products/pefcp/
  • Download the Avid DNxHD Codecs (http://www.avid.com/dnxhd/ ) onto your Mac.  This enables FCP, Compressor, or any other encoding application on your same Mac to encode into DNxHD. (remember DNxHD is a codec, so it can have a “.mov” extension)
  • Within FCP, export using Automatic Duck (see movie here: http://automaticduck.com/products/pefcp/FCPtoAvidwitMedia.mov).  In short, Automatic Duck creates a Project file Avid can understand, and you have the option within the export of converting the media to DNxHD AND wrapping it into an MXF wrapper.  All are read natively by Avid.  ALL IN ONE STEP. Can you dig it?

GOTCHA: (for you advanced users) This process can be slow, as Automatic Duck handles the media transcode and re-wrap.  This is a single threaded process, and cannot be done by another application.  This may yield a wait for longer form / media heavy projects.  In addition, there are a handful of effects that may not transfer over.  Check Automatic Duck’s documentation for limitations.

ADVANCED CONCEPT: Use Automatic Duck to export the Project.  Manually take the FCP Media and transcode into DNxHD or MXF wrapped DNxHD with your favorite encoder.  Take the converted Project file and media to the Avid.  Open the Project, and manually re-link to the transcoded media.  Depending on if the FCP media was wrapped in a MXF wrapper, Avid will either import it instantaneously, or necessitate a wrap into MXF.  While this may save time on the front end (manually doing the encode into DNxHD), you will lose that time by needing to manually re-link to the media within Avid.  Plus, you lose tons of metadata.  I am not a fan of attempting this.  But I will be glad to charge you for consulting on it.

NOTE: This workflow ensures the most amount of metadata transferring over.  Sure, you can save yourself $495, and try to work some magic with a generic EDL.  I’ve had zero consistent success with this, and only massive amounts of metadata loss, headaches, and a severe limitation in terms of effects transferring over.  Take it from Nancy Reagan: JUST SAY NO.

FOOTNOTE:  Quality loss is always a big concern.  There are hundreds of codecs out there – so I cannot possibly mention each one.  However, I can tell you what standard codecs in FCP equate to what codecs in Avid:

Avid “family” Codec*** FCP Codec Notes
DNxHD36 ProRes Proxy Best for film/ video offline, archival for reference, digital asset management (DAM / MAM)
DNxHD115 ProRes LT DVCPROHD-like.  Lightweight, used as a balance between quality and efficiency.
DNxHD145 ProRes 422 Television broadcast quality baseline
DNxHD220 / DNxHD220x ProRes 422 HQ 220 is 8-bit.  220x and HQ are both 10-bit, and therefore have greater latitude for color grading and motion effects.
DNxHD??? ProRes 4444 Lowest level of compression (highest quality).  ProRes 4444 has an alpha channel; Avid currently has no equivalent.

**Most likely in mid 2010, the line between #2 & #3  will become blurred.  That is, AMA being enabled to understand ANY codec Quicktime can read.  This means that Avid can play almost any media file you throw at it, so long as Quicktime on the same machine can play it.  While this is a fantastic concept, Avid will always perform better when dealing with multiple streams of video when all formats are in an Avid codec.  Avid only guarantees 3 streams of broadcast quality video via AMA, and I do not expect that to change once AMA is opened up fully to Quicktime.

***Avid’s DNxHD codec has “families”, for ease of use (snort) in terms of naming conventions (left column above). Depending on your frame rate, the bitrates (the last numeric digits) of the file can fluctuate slightly.  For example, DNxHD36 is for 23.976 fps material.  This “family” also encompasses 29.97 fps material encoded with the same codec, yet yields a file (technically) at DNxHD45.  Yes, I know: uber-confusing.  Look for a blog post on this soon.

Hope this helps.  Have any input?  I’d love to hear it.

21 Comments

  1. Chris Mara:

    Michael,
    What about this. The new MC 5.0 supports Quicktime AMA including DV (PAL and NTSC) DVCPRO HD, AVCHD (from say a Canon 5D). Now what about FCS for asset management of this material and AMA into MC?

  2. Chris Mara:

    Oh and ProRes via QT AMA as well. I’ve tried it it works fine

    • Definitely. This is what I alluded to at the end of the post. Media swapping will be seamless between Avid and FCP. FCServer can track the assets, but doesn’t understand Avid files, nor can you “check out” an Avid project from FCServer like you can FCPro.

      So, I guess my question is “what do you want to accomplish with FCServer in this workflow? Since FCServer doesn’t understand Avid’s relationship to files, any media handled by Avid (after FCP) and changed will not register correctly with FCServer. So, while FCServer can move and keeps tabs on the original assets, it won’t understand new assets created from the AMA sequence as being related to the raw media. Does that make sense?

  3. Jim:

    Hi Michael,
    I came across your excellent site – in search of some answers on capturing in DNX145 . Would love to pick your brain for a moment.

    We have shot a project on the Sony HVR Z7U HDV in 1080i, 24p over 59.94 with pulldown inserted, using”cine-like” or “film-look” settings. And now, I need to capture and edit the footage in DNX145 (also the delivery format).

    Can I capture DNX145 from an HDV deck over a firewire cable plugged directly into my MacPro with only Media Composer Software? Or do I need to rent some AVID hardware , like the MojoDX?

    Sorry if this is not germane to your article – but you seem so knowledgeable. I know nothing about the AVID thus far.

    Thanks, Michael.

    • Thanks for the feedback!

      In Avid, anything captured via firewire is going to be in the format it was encoded in – HDV, DV, etc. This is (for the most part) true of FCP as well. In order to get this into any DNxHD format, you need to

      1. Capture the footage as HDV, then transcode (or export, and re-import) in DNX145. This is time consuming, and you may lose some metadata. But it’s free!

      2. Find an HDV Deck and/or Camera that has an HD baseband out (Component, HD-SDI), and connect that to an Adrenaline, Mojo DX or Nitris DX, and capture like you would from a normal deck. Capturing via a baseband source allows Avid to do it’s encoding magic into the DNxHD codec in Real Time.

      As a side note, I ALWAYS recommend NOT editing in HDV, nor delivering in HDV. HDV is Long GOP, thus the quality breaks down in editing with effects, especially when color grading or chromakey. HDV is also not reliably frame accurate, and thus difficult to batch capture from, or lay off too. Plus, it’s very rare to find HDV in a list of acceptable deliverables.

      Hope this helps!

    • Hahahaha. I\’m not too brghit today. Great post!

      • @mreae Thank you so @mreae Thank you so much. Feel free to check out the videos soon. But I’m hniavg problems with sony vegas, the final video comes out glitchy and turns to an almost completely green screen at parts. What should I do?

  4. Really great article! Honest..

  5. Lou_honey:

    Dear Michael,
    Reading this interesting article above, I have a big question. If I want to transfer my FCP sequence (timeline) into Avid the only way it works is with automatic duck?
    I have been trying EDL’s, XML’s and OMF’s but none of them I can get into Avid. I know of a lot of ways of getting my media there, but I want my timeline there!!!
    What do you suggest, or is automatic duck really the ONLY way to go???!!!
    Louise

    • Yup, Automatic Duck is the only reliable way to get everything from FCP to Avid, and vice versa. There is some magic you can pull to use generic EDLs, but you lose a ton of information, and it becomes cuts only, and if the media is not in the correct format(s) – lots of errors. I don’t recommend it.

      I find it ironic that in the age of collaboration, we’re still beholden to the almighty CMX 3600 EDL from the old linear days. I think when and if Avid starts supporting XMLs, things will change.

  6. Ron Nee:

    Just so I understand correctly – you’re saying that DNxHD145 = ProRes422 in quality (compressions, etc?) When I render these out of After Effects, I do notice a visual difference imported on the Avid – DNxHD145 has more bending and ProRes422 has a higher gamma level (looks washed out.) Any idea what’s going on? Thx.

  7. Roo Fivehundred:

    Can anyone tell me to use RBG or 601/709 to import ProRes .mov files into Avid DNxHD145? Both show shifts in levels and color, especially 601/709 although I thought this is the correct setting.

    • Well, if you want a FAST IMPORT, it has to be 601/709, if that’s not important, you can do either 601/709 or RGB.

      As I mentioned above in the comments, ProRes files notoriously have color shifts….and I have yet to find a foolproof recipe to combat this during an encode, short of manually trying to adjust the colors.

      If this is coming from FCP, perhaps exporting DNxHD.mov files from the machine that is handling the ProRes? i.e. the Avid QT files are generated on the export from FCP…not the Avid import?

      Good Luck!

      ~Michael

      • Roo Fivehundred:

        Thx. for your quick response. In my case, it’s rendered QT movies coming out of After Effects most of the time. Have you seen larger shifts importing Movies in Animation codec vs. ProRes from After Effects to Avid? I’m just trying to figure out which codec is the lesser evil. Thanks again.

  8. Tom Mackie:

    Michael,

    Been trying to get some answers from Avid with no luck. I want to use MC 5.5 as my editing software, but wanted to know a few things before purchasing. I’ve read a few of your posts, but help with any of these questions or any other resources to answer them is much appreciated. I’m going to be using a MacBook laptop and all my questions pertain to MacBook Pro use with MC 5.5.

    Most Macbooks come with a 5400 RPM drive, will this work to run software only?

    I’ve read a lot of HDV problem stuff with MC, will a MacBook using 5.5 be able to Capture HDV via firewire? I know Final Cut can

    I captured HDV via firewire into Final Cut. The .mov file is:
    Apple HDV 1080i60, 1440 x 1080 (1888 x 1062), Millions
    16-bit Integer (Big Endian), Left, 48.000 kHz
    16-bit Integer (Big Endian), Right, 48.000 kHz
    Will avid/play access this file native so I don’t have to recapture?

    Will it will able to access native HD files (prores, RED, etc.) I know Final Cut on a Mac laptop can edit RED files?

    If many HD formats are limited to being captured directly to laptop, can DNxHD, XDcamHD etc, media at least edited on a laptop?

    Should any laptop that is of faster speed, but not tested by Avid yet run Media Composer as long as OS X version is correct?

    Is there any difference between student version of MC 5.5 and regular?

    Thanks for any help
    Tom

    • Hi Tom-

      Lots of questions. We’ll see if I have answers.

      NOTE: You mention MacBook and MacBookPro. 2 very different creatures. I am going to assume you mean MacBookPro.

      1) You can install MC on a 5400 RPM drive, but expect performance to be slower than expected, which includes playing media FROM the drive. This can manifest in less real time effects and dropped frames. It’s poor practice to store media you’re editing on your laptop internal drive anyway – and with a 5400 RPM drive, it’s even worse. I recommend upgrading the drive to a 7200 RPM or better.

      2) Yes, HDV, via firewire is 100% supported. Again, I recommend capturing to an external drive, not an internal one. You may need a firewire adapter / cable to go from your deck/camera to your MacBook Pro (Firewire 400 vs Firewire 800). This is dependent on which MBP you ahve, as Apple discontinued the FW400 ports on Mac Book Pros over the past year or two.

      3)MC 5.5 can access the .mov files via AMA (Avid Media Access). This is like FCP, where Avid LINKS to files instead of importing them. http://www.avid.com/US/products/Avid-Media-Access

      4) Read up on AMA. Avid can access any file you have a plugin for (see above link) or that can open in Quicktime on the desktop. Performance, obviously, is dependent on the strength of your CPU and drive speed. For the record, FCP CANNOT edit RED files natively, it has to use the proxies the camera creates. Avid, on the other hand, can read RED files natively, but performance will suck – in FCP AND Avid. RED is not meant to be edited natively….yet. Transcode it to a more editable codec.

      5) The specs of your laptop dictate what it can or cannot do in Real Time. There are a thousand different codecs. You’ll just have to try. Have you made sure you laptop meets Avid specs? http://www.avid.com/US/products/Media-Composer/system-requirements . Most flavors of XDCAM can be edited (tjhere are many variations), and most DNx flavors (again, there are many flavors)

      6) Correct. Faster laptops generally will work, provided the OS is right. While this is not endorsed by Avid, it should work. It’s rare Avid doesn’t qualify the fastest machine out there, so I don;t know how your machine is faster.

      7) Media Composer is Media Composer. The ONLY difference is the ancillary apps. Student versions don’t come with all of the third party apps that come bundled with MC. But the editing application is 100% the same.

      8) When you speak of me, speak well.

      ~Michael

  9. David Palmer:

    Hi Michael,

    I am an on-set DIT and am looking for a way to transcode multiple SxS ProRes (4444 and 422HQ) files to Avid native (.MXF) DNxHD36 files for Media Composer offline edits, with a burnt in LUT (eg LogC to Rec709). I also have to do the same with RED files (R3D).

    Also, I’m looking for a drag-and-drop way to convert both ProRes 4444 and R3D files into low-res 422 (LT or Proxy) files for FCP editors, again with a burnt in LUT.

    In short, I need a way to produce transcoded, LUT applied, low-res proxies, on-set, for FCP or Avid, with as few mouse clicks as possible! You clearly understand workflows as well as anyone out there. Do you have any suggestions…?

    Many thanks,

    David

  10. Matt W:

    I know this is an old thread, but I was wondering how automatic duck does with grouped/multiclipped footage. I’m working on a multi-camera project that we want to migrate from FCP to Avid, but the whole timeline was made with multiclipped footage, and we are wondering if automatic duck can preserve our multiclips, or if it just processes the active angle only. Thanks!

  11. ed marx:

    BTW, we used a variation on the work flow to cut in Avid, then do an AMA finish to 4444, then out to Duck and FCP to color finish for Holliston. It’s the launch show for start up network FEARnet.

    Except for FCP’s eternal slowness, prohibitively pervasive renders, and an embarasing title tool, it’s a killer work flow.

    Season 2 – all avid, all the time.

  12. jim:

    hey Mike;
    im getting this blasted “cannot accept speed changes in nested sequences” during the export from FCP to AVID, i removed all attributes and STILL get this message, what gives?

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