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A Guide to FCP X, Part 6: Export and Archive

Check out our Final Cut Pro: Exporting and Sharing Your Work course!

This is a 6 part series on using FCP X:

Part 1: Import & Organize

Part 2: Rough Cut Techniques

Part 3: Fine Cut Techniques

Part 4: Primary & Secondary Grading

Part 5: Transitions, Titles & Effects

Part 6: Export & Archive

Step 1 - Watch it all carefully

We’re in dangerous territory now — you’re done. Or are you? There’s no better time to send the Viewer into full screen, press Home (or Fn-Left Arrow) and then play the thing. Watch it all through, looking and listening to everything with the freshest eyes and ears you can muster. You will find small problems, so fix them. Attention to detail always counts.

Step 2 - Share a full resolution movie

OK, here’s the big moment. Share > Export Media, then output on defaults (ProRes codec at full resolution) and save the movie somewhere easy to find, like your Desktop. This is your final movie, and the one you should show people. Pre-rendering means there are no glitches, no stuttering, no excuses.

The defaults for Share > Export Media are usually appropriate

The defaults for Share > Export Media are usually appropriate.


Step 3 - Watch it again

Take a break, go outside, then come back and watch it again, this time from your exported final movie, on the biggest screen you have. Call in friends, family, coworkers and ask them to take a look if you need a fresh perspective — but remember that too many cooks can spoil any broth. Listen carefully to their comments, but remember that ignoring those comments is an option. You need to please your audience, not necessarily the people around you.


Step 4 - Share more with Roles if needed

At this point, you may want to export some additional versions of your movie. If you’ve been using Roles, you’ll have the freedom to export with or without titles, with or without voice-over dialogue, and even with or without picture-in-picture effects. If you have an advanced post workflow, you might be able to output a multitrack QuickTime movie and let someone else down the line figure it out. But if you can’t be sure that’s going to work, go for Roles as separate files.

An international production’s Roles could look like this

An international production’s Roles could look like this.


You could export, for example, Video and Titles in separate files, or pre-compose Video + Titles in one version. Give a mixed-down stereo version of the audio, or separated tracks of music, effects, dialogue and narration. Even if you haven’t planned this earlier, it’s not too late to take advantage of Roles now — and could be very useful in the creation of international language versions of your production.

A more complex sharing option using Roles, including with Video + English Titles, Video + Japanese Titles, Video with no Titles, and with separate Music + Effects and Dialogue audio tracks

A more complex sharing option using Roles, including with Video + English Titles, Video + Japanese Titles, Video with no Titles, and with separate Music + Effects and Dialogue audio tracks.


Step 5 - Share a compressed movie

Compressing your movie is essential for most sharing, as the original mastering codec (likely ProRes 422) has a high data rate and is too big to comfortably share online. The easiest built-in option is found by choosing Share > Apple Devices. Next, uncheck Add to iTunes, then press Show Details. Four device options here produce H.264-compressed movies in a variety of resolutions, suitable for both common Apple devices and online video publishing sites like YouTube and Vimeo. This is also the only easy way to maintain matrix surround effects in a compressed movie, so if you’ve used Surround sound, this is the best way forward.

Share to any or all Apple Devices for easy H.264 movies

Share to any or all Apple Devices for easy H.264 movies.


Of the four devices shown, you’ll generally get a flavor of 720p and 1080p on High Quality, and anything from 360p to 1080p on More Compatibility. It’s mostly self-explanatory, but read the fine print: a modern iPad (3rd gen) should be given a file from the High Quality Apple TV preset, and if you want to email a movie, the iPhone option under More Compatibility is the smallest preset here.

The major downside? Final Cut Pro X is locked up while encoding. For maximum quality and flexibility, it’s worth exploring the range of alternatives available: Apple’s Compressor, or a third-party program like Adobe Media Encoder or Telestream Episode. They are all similar, in that you add your full resolution ProRes movie (the one we already exported) as a source file, then choose one or more compression presets and press Go. Compressor has a leg up, since you can simply choose Share > Export Using Compressor Settings, but I still recommend using the program independently.

The more important options in the QuickTime export dialog is data rate

The more important options in the QuickTime export dialog is data rate.


Depending on the presets and programs you choose, you may find built-in sharpening filters and a surprising variation in output quality and speed. The basic variables are the same, though: codec, resolution and data rate. Codec is easy: H.264 is king for compressed output right now. Higher resolutions require higher data rates, and while both YouTube and Vimeo currently request 5-8Mbps for HD resolutions, I prefer to up the numbers to roughly 8-10 Mbit for 720p and 15-20 Mbit for 1080p. (References: YouTube’s specs and Vimeo’s specs.


Step 6 - Upload your movie

Always upload the highest resolution version of your movie that you can, using the H.264 codec. Those with fast connections will prefer a 1080p version, while YouTube and Vimeo create smaller versions automatically for other audiences and devices. If your content doesn’t look great at 1080p — perhaps if your camera wasn’t great and you’ve scaled it up? — then there’s no great shame (yet!) in uploading a 720p version. Remember: even if your eventual target audience isn’t online, you’ll likely have to show someone the movie online — even if it just goes in a private folio. 

Manually uploading to YouTube or Vimeo is straightforward these days: just push the button or drag it in

Manually uploading to YouTube or Vimeo is straightforward these days: just push the button or drag it in.


Mostly, it’s sensible to avoid the built-in uploaders for YouTube and Vimeo. Why? As before, Final Cut Pro X is locked up while encoding and uploading. Compressing your movie independently and uploading through a browser will leave you free to continue work in FCP. Better yet, if there’s a problem with some part of the process, you don’t have to guess where that problem was, nor do you have to re-encode your video.


Step 7 - Share a disc?

If you can’t convince your whole audience (or your backers, or your family) to get online to see your movie, you might have to burn an optical disc. A Blu-ray drive will give the best quality, while a DVD will probably throw most of it away — it’s only standard definition, after all. The options here are rudimentary at best, but they’ll do for a screener. Use a discontinued app like iDVD or DVD Studio Pro, or a third-party app such as Adobe Encore or Toast to create something more. Increasingly, this option will cease to be relevant, but there’s still a need for physical media in many markets. Just remember that a DVD will always look worse than a decent online video.

Here’s the Blu-ray export dialog, about to burn a real disc. If you want more customization, you’ll have to get clever with the little-known Quartz Composer

Here’s the Blu-ray export dialog, about to burn a real disc. If you want more customization, you’ll have to get clever with the little-known Quartz Composer.


Step 8 - Back it up

Something I always like to do is to store full-resolution ProRes exports in my FCP X Library, in an Event called Folio. That way, I can eventually move the original Events and Projects onto an archive drive but still have the best quality available to show people or to compress new versions from. Another excellent idea at this point is to put a copy of this movie on another drive, and take that drive out of your office. Off-site backups are always important, but your finished movie is critically so.

Name your final movies with YYYY-MM at the start to find them more easily later

Name your final movies with YYYY-MM at the start to find them more easily later.


Step  9 - Archiving

Now that everyone is happy, you can archive your project. If you’re never going to edit it again — and I mean never — then you could delete any Events and Projects you don’t need. You can often recut from your full-resolution master ProRes export should the need arise, but title changes will cause pain.

More sensible (as there’s often a change to be made) is to archive this job’s Event and Project to an external storage device. Big, dumb external USB drives will do the job, but an external hard drive dock with FireWire 800 (or better) will do the job in style. Buy a disk for each client, keep all their work on the same drive, and spin it up every few months to avoid problems.

The Duplicate Project dialog

The Duplicate Project dialog.


And how to do it? Easy. Plug the drive in, then right-click the Project in the Project Library and choose Duplicate. Pick your target drive, copy Referenced Events (for safety) or Used Clips Only (to save space) and wait. When it’s done, delete the original Project and Events — or wait a week or two if you have the luxury.


Step 10 - You’re done!

You’ve imported the media, organized it, assembled a rough cut, finessed the rough cut, graded it, added effects, fixed the audio, exported it, compressed it, and backed it up. And the next job will be even easier as it all becomes second nature. I hope you enjoy editing as much as I’ve enjoyed putting this together. It’s fun — have a blast!

Check out these video courses for Final Cut Pro X and enjoy your video editing journey!

Check out our Final Cut Pro: Exporting and Sharing Your Work course!

Iain Anderson

Iain Anderson | Articles by this author

Iain Anderson is an editor, animator, designer, developer and Apple Certified Trainer based in Brisbane, Australia. He has taught privately and in tertiary institutions, and has freelanced for Microsoft and the Queensland Government. Comfortable with anything from Quartz Composer to Second Life and Final Cut Pro to Adobe Creative Suite, he has laid out books, booklets, brochures and business cards; retouched magazine covers and product packaging, shot and edited short films and animated for HD broadcast TV, film festivals and for the web.

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