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.