Prep for Color

When you’ve picture locked—and I really mean 100% picture LOCKED—you can prepare your sequence for Color grading.

Note that you can adjust sound all you want after the fact—just not picture.

The basic color workflow is this: Send your prepped timeline to Color from FCP, work on it in Color as a Color Project until all changes are done. You render the changes in Color, which generates new media files for each clip, then send the timeline back into FCP from Color. FCP makes a new sequence, called “Your Sequence Name (From Color)” with all the video clips linked to the new media files generated by Color, not to the original media files. Once returned to FCP, your clip will no longer have heads and tails (extra media before/after the in/out points) because color only renders the part of the clip you used, so you will not be able to make picture adjustments. There is a rudimentary mechanism to update the Color timeline with new changes from FCP, but it is VERY buggy and not advisable to use. You can, however, make further color changes in color and update the FCP timeline after it’s already been sent back into FCP.

Note that nested sequences (a sequence inside a sequence) cannot be sent to Color. You must send original sequences. Also, you can’t send sequences longer than 20 min.

Here’s what you need to do to prep your project:

1. Try to collapse your timeline into as few tracks as possible. Using multiple tracks in the Color timeline can be awkward, it make it difficult to reuse color grades from one clip to another.

2. If you have any clips that need retiming (speed up/slow down) you need to export those clips with the changes applied, then re-import them and replace them on the timeline. Color doesn’t properly handle sped up/slowed down clips, so you have to follow this procedure to apply the speed change to the file on the hard drive (or rather, make a new file with the change applied). Now is a great time to do retiming using Optical Flow in Motion. To replace speed changed clips including ones processed through Motion:

  • Double click the clip, then with the Viewer window still selected, go to File > Export > QuickTime Movie.
  • Use the “current settings” option. Make a new folder in your project folder called “speed changes.” Export the movie here.
  • The easiest way to replace the clip in the timeline is to open a Finder window with FCP still in the background, navigate to the newly exported clip, then just drag it to the timeline to overwrite the existing clip. Another method would be to right-click the clip and choose Reconnect Media.

3. For any freeze frames generated by FCP using the Make Freeze Frame command (not imported still image files), you need to do the same thing—export them as a new file and replace them in the timeline. To do this, open the freeze frame, and go to File > Export > QuickTime Conversion. Select Still Image, click Options, and use PNG format. Save in your project folder, then import to FCP and replace the old clip in the timeline with the new file.

4. Be warned that any text clips, layering effects, and filters will not appear in Color, but will reappear once your project comes back from Color. Avoid using any other color effect filters other than Color Corrector 3-way. Changes made through that filter will import into Color, and when returned to FCP, the changes will be applied but the filter will no longer appear in the Filters tab.

5. For longer projects, break your project down into sequences no longer than 20 minutes each. Color doesn’t like long sequences.

6. Any stop motion animation made out of individual still files in sequence in the timeline should be exported out as a new video file. Copy the range of stills, create a new sequence using the same settings as your project sequence. Paste the stills, then export using Export > QuickTime Movie, with “Use current settings” and “Video only.” Import the resulting file back into FCP and replace the stills with the new movie.

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