Prepping and Exporting for Post Audio in Final Cut Pro

Prepping and Exporting for Post Audio in Final Cut Pro

Beginning the audio edit of the post production sound process requires receiving the correct files and media from the editorial facility.  I’ve always had my standard “list of deliverables”, but over the past few years I’ve found that quite often the export of these files from Final Cut is not done properly.  Thus, I’ve created a document (as well as explanations) outlining what a sound editor might need, why, and how to do it.

We need 3 main things in Post Audio: The media, the file which points to the media, and a video copy of the project to use as reference.  The project file and media are pretty self explanatory, however, the video can complicate things.  Audio needs the video file so they can:

  1. Match the old / original audio and new audio against the picture.
  2. Check sync of all dialogue, music, and effects.
  3. Place foley and sound effects at specific points in time.

As I’m sure you can understand, all of these go on the assumption there is “picture lock”.  A more appropriate would be “picture timing lock”, as every edit and decision a sound editor and mixer makes is dependent on the timing of what is on screen.  If the timing of the  picture is changed during post audio, the sound will fall out of sync instantly – like dominoes.  That is why it is paramount to have complete picture lock before starting audio.  Unfortunately, due to timing constraints on some pieces, the audio edit has to happen while picture is still being edited.  This can be the most grueling part of being an audio editor.  Products like Virtual Katy help bridge the gap by comparing old edits to new edits and moving audio appropriately.  However, there is no one click fix, and I cannot stress enough:  if at ALL possible, only work with a cut with picture timing lock.

Next, editorial has to provide post audio with a video with a visible timecode marker on the video.  This is referred to as a “Time Code Window Burn“.

Now that we have that clarified, let’s move into the specific requirements.

I. Quicktime movie with Academy Leader, 2-pop, and tail pop and embedded audio guide track. (see below for EXPORT settings)

Academy Leader is that familiar 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 countdown you see before some older films.  Each number is on the screen for 1 second, except the “2”, which is on for 1 frame (this is where you hear a beep – also 1 frame in length).  This is what’s known as a 2-pop.  The Academy Leader is a carryover from mechanical film projector days.  The machines had to have time to “slew” – that is, ramp up to speed so the film projector and audio system could get up to speed and be in sync.  The 2 Pop was an audible indicator that things were in sync, because it lasted just as long as the visible “2” – and at the same moment.  A tail pop is analogous to the 2-pop – only at the end of the film.  This is used to ensure that sync is retained through the entire piece.  If the 2 Pop is in sync, but the tail pop is not – then there is a sync issue somewhere within the piece.  I use this as a simple check.  I also like to have the picture editors audio “mix” as a reference / guide  – not only for yet another way to check sync, but because many directors & producers fall in love with audio work the picture editors do – and may want to use those in the final mix. (Ed. Note: See comments below for a correction to this explanation when dealing with film and feet)

II. OMF export that includes all audio data and NO video (see OMF export details below)

OMF (Open Media Format) is a “container”  of media, along with instructions for your audio editing system as to where to place these media files in the timeline.  If your audio editor is using Pro Tools – you’re in luck – Pro Tools can understand OMFs, provided they have that option purchased & enabled.  Pro Tools can read OMFs with audio – but not video.  Thus, the video must be generated separately.

Details for Final Cut Pro Media Export

QUICKTIME GUIDELINES:

  • If for TV, divide your program into reels that span commercial break to commercial break.
  • If for film, divide your program into reels, corresponding to the same length as your picture reels.
    (these above two allow for smaller segments of media to be transferred from the editorial house to post audio, and is easier on the editing systems to generate and work with, plus the opportunity to not screw up the entire piece, if just one reel’s timing has to be changed)
  • Quicktime .mov**
  • Timecode window burn (SMPTE timecode – HH:MM:SS:FF)
  • Insert Academy Leader, 2-pop, and tail pop into your sequence
  • If academy leader is not used, then a black slug with a one-frame visual pop 2 seconds before FFOA (first frame of action) and 2 seconds after the LFOA (last frame of action) must be added. Additionally, an audio pop (1kHz one-frame beep) must be added to match sync with the visual pop.

TIME CODE BURN:

Make a new sequence in FCP, maintaining same sequence settings as your master project. Name it same as the original locked sequence plus “_TC”. Nest your entire master project sequence into the new sequence (you can do this by dragging your master project sequence onto the time line of the new sequence). If you don’t nest the sequence, the timecode print will not print continuous timecode from HeadStart to tail sync. Be sure the PICTURE START mark is the very first frame of the timeline.

In the Browser, (important–NOT from the Effects menu) click the Effects tab. Open the Video Filters folder. Then open the Video folder. Click the Timecode Reader effect, and drag it down onto the new _TC sequence. This puts a Time Code window burn on the picture.  It is imperitive that when you do this, you place the nested clip in the new _TC sequence at the exact same Timecode it resided at in the original sequence. Why? Because if you don’t, the Timecode reader effect will burn the wrong code into the exported movie, and will ruin any kind of obvious sync point.  The OMF you will export for me will not match the video Time Code window burn, and there will be many sync issues.

Next, in the CENTER box click the circle with the crosshairs. The crosshairs will appear in the Canvas. If you click and drag the crosshairs in the canvas, that will adjust the placement of the timecode window. When you have placed the crosshairs where you want the window, release the mouse. Place timecode window to obscure least important pix area, usually bottom-center, within title and action safe.


QUICKTIME EXPORT:
**

You can export a QuickTime movie from either the Browser or from the Timeline. Make sure you have an IN and OUT marked in your sequence so the QT movie will be limited by the marks. To export a QT, make sure the sequence with the window burn (see instructions above) is selected in whichever window you’ve clicked in (Browser or Timeline). Then go to File>Export>Using Quicktime Conversion. When the dialog box comes up, name the sequence so you recognize it as your sequence with time code burn (i.e. “your project name_TC.”)   Direct it to the folder on your drive where you want to save it. Under Options (where it may say “Current Settings”) navigate to the codec of choice.  Click settings and make sure both AUDIO and VIDEO are checked, and that FRAME RATE is set to CURRENT.

OMF EXPORT:

Once the QT movie is exported, go back into FCP to export an OMF. Select the MASTER sequence you made earlier (not the _TC), prior to the timecode window sequence. File>Export>Audio to OMF. Make sure your IN and OUT points are the same as your QUICKTIME export, listed above. Change the default Handle Length to AT LEAST 5 seconds (00:00:5:00 – but more is better!). Include Crossfade Transitions should be checked. Click OK and navigate for a place to save the OMF – in the same folder as the Quicktime export. Name it “your project name_OMF” and click Save. This allows the audio editor to get your audio with the same timecode (in the metadata) as the picture you just exported.

Important notes:

  • Nested sequences are NOT allowed to be used in your OMF export for audio. If your project contains nested sequences (i.e. your timecode sequence) your OMF will export, but will not be completely usable – your audio files within the nested sequence will be mixed together, and therefore practically unusable in post. Therefore, you MUST un-nest all nested sequences, and place them in your master project before performing the OMF Export.
  • OMF files have a 2GB limit.  This is due to OMF being created back when 2GB was a huge size!  Because this may cause a limitation in long form and audio heavy FCP projects, you may need to export several OMFs.  A common practice is an OMF with tracks 1 & 2, an OMF with tracks 3 & 4, etc. Project length and audio density will dictate how many tracks you can export in 1 OMF – and still be under 2GB.  It’s good practice to name the OMF with the track names, and what kind of audio is on them: dialogue, music, effects, etc.

**This can be any time of MOV file.  The type of file will be dictated by what the sound editor’s computer(s) can playback and use.  Often, this will be a DV file (for SD) or DVCProHD (for HD).  If the audio facility will be projecting the image, they may require a higher quality MOV file.  If a second computer is used for video playback – like Digidesign’s Video Satellite, an even high res file may be requested.  Always check with the audio editor for their desired MOV file format.

*My thanks to users of the DUC (http://duc.digidesign.com) for their input on this document!

21 Comments
  • Hello
    Posted at 08:24h, 24 March Reply

    One note: The “2-pop” is not on the visual “2” of the academy-leader. It´s actually on the visual “3” because it´s the 3-feet-mark.

    • Michael Kammes
      Posted at 08:33h, 24 March Reply

      I’d love to see documentation on this.

      While I concede that when film stock was being used to mix to, the pop occurred at different times. However, in the NLE and DAW post realm, the pop (as I have known it) has always been 2 seconds prior to FFOA, which in TC would be 00:59:58;00.

      Not being on the “2” destroys it’s namesake, plus the concept of syncing the one frame of film to the one frame of audio. I’m not saying I don’t believe it, I just don’t see the logic of it due to aforementioned points.

  • Hello
    Posted at 08:47h, 24 March Reply

    Like I said: On the academy leader the VISUAL mark for the 2-pop is the VISUAL number “3” which marks 3 feet before FFOA or 48 frames before FFOA. There is no visual “2” on the academy leader. It has been this way for decades.

  • Hello
    Posted at 08:58h, 24 March Reply

    Forgot: It´s called 2-pop because it´s 2 seconds before FFOA. In the US the full hour TC is usually at the visual “START” frame of the leader which is 12 feet before FFOA This applies for theatrical films.
    In Europe FFOA is usually at the full hour TC.

  • Hello
    Posted at 09:07h, 24 March Reply

    Here´s an example of the leader that is put before EVERY 24fps 35mm film-print on the planet:

    http://www.pond5.com/stock-footage/495144/academy-leader09.html

  • Michael Kammes
    Posted at 09:29h, 24 March Reply

    I appreciate the information, Frank.

    Given the audience for this piece, and for purposes of checking sync between editorial and post audio, I don’t think feet is a consideration – it’s all digital. Thus, the concept (as even outlined by my alternative if leader is not available) stil holds true – check sync! However, for purposes of posterity I’ll make the alterations.

  • Hello
    Posted at 09:53h, 24 March Reply

    There are other leaders as well like the universal leader which looks like this

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GfAnyT9QitU

    This one counts down by the second and I guess is what´s used for TV mostly.

    Anyway, placing the audio 2-pop 48 frames before FFOA is never wrong for a 24fps movie 😉

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  • Paulina
    Posted at 19:24h, 03 December Reply

    Very helpful information. Incredible all this info in one page! My sound guy is asking me the OMF files and my composer is asking the time code window burn with academy leader. I had no idea what they were talking about, now I do. Thanks!

  • Pieter Koster
    Posted at 01:18h, 16 April Reply

    Like to have an example of a fast workflow.
    for audio post the video editor has to do a lot of work. export OMF and QT movie.
    than afterwards relay the audiotrack. This mostly takes so much extra time, video producers say forget about it and they will leave it as is.
    As a post audio engineer you don’t get that much work anymore.
    Are there any tips for this issue.

    • Michael Kammes
      Posted at 14:18h, 19 April Reply

      I’m not sure I understand you completely…

      But this workflow is pretty darn efficient. Once you do it a few times, it becomes pretty routine. I would tend to feel that any producer who complains about the time it takes to accomplish this, may want to look into other wants to save time.

      I can’t think of a way to make the above process faster…short of not using Pro Tools, and sending your FCP session to Soundtrack Pro, or cutting in Premiere Pro and sending to Audition. Sending from Avid to Pro Tools still requires about the same amount of prep.

      Good Luck!

      ~Michael

  • david
    Posted at 15:39h, 11 December Reply

    later on you send a high res file only video? to match with the OMF file?

    • Michael Kammes
      Posted at 15:54h, 11 December Reply

      Correct.

      As long as you don’t make changes to the timeline, both the audio OMF and video will have the same timecode, so they will sync up in the mix.

      ~Michael

    • Michael Kammes
      Posted at 20:12h, 11 December Reply

      I should add that I usually export the video with the audio mix the picture editor gave me, and import both into Pro Tools.

      Why?

      It gives me a reference to check for sync issues AND gives me an idea of what the picture editor (and by extension, the director) heard in the edit and liked.

      ~Michael

  • Arijit Lahiri
    Posted at 14:02h, 07 July Reply

    Thanks so much.
    This is really helpful for me, I was sending my work for audio post for the first time.
    This helps me not look like an amateur in front of audio professionals I will be working with.
    Appreciate all the help : )

    Only query I had is that why is the color bar added onto the reels (of course not for sound, is it for color grade etc.)?

    • Michael Kammes
      Posted at 18:36h, 07 July Reply

      Are you referring to bars and tone?

      It’s used for many things – and also because of “that’s what’s always been done”.

      Bars and Tone are usually together – so wether you’re watching or listening while shuttling a tape (or nowadays, video), you can always tell when you’ve hit some content. Tone helps calibrate audio gear and speakers, and since bars and tone are together, it also is yet another way to check sync.

      Also (and not always – normally a hold over from tape) many times the audio facility did the layback to tape after the audio was completed. Having bars is yet another way to verify color at the post facility.

      Hope this helps!

  • Gary
    Posted at 08:49h, 29 December Reply

    Finishing a TV spot here – and was told by someone this basic RULE – NEVER put Dial right at the first or second frame. It must be at-least 3 to 4 frames in OR It will get cut off in broadcast.

    Is this an older rule? Still valid?

    Thanks
    G

  • ray
    Posted at 15:48h, 02 May Reply

    I am working on a feature right now and want to split the movie in different reels ( I like the idea of having less sync issues if a change in the edit occurs) but I am wondering how to deal with this in my NLE. Do I put each reel into individual sequences and time-code them seperately, pull the final audio back into the NLE and sync the audio with each reel…then composite each reel together in the master sequence? Thanks, great article!

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