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Round-Trip Workflows: Post Workflows From and To Final Cut Pro X

By Oliver Peters

XML (eXtensible Markup Language) has become a common method of data interchange between postproduction applications. Standard XML variations are like Romance languages: one version is as different from another as German is from French; thus, translation software is required. Apple’s Final Cut Pro X was updated to include XML interchange, but this new version of XML (labeled FCP XML) is completely different from the XML format used in FCP 7. Stretching the language analogy, FCP 7’s XML is as different from FCP X’s XML as English is from Russian.

Export your edited project from Final Cut Pro X
as an XML file.

The underlying editing structure of Final Cut Pro 7 is based on the relationship of clips against time and tracks. FCP X links one object to another in a trackless parent-child connection, so there is no easy and direct translation of complex projects between the two versions. Some interchange between Final Cut Pro X and 7 has been achieved by Square Box Systems’ CatDV, Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve and Assisted Editing’s Xto7 for Final Cut Pro. These offer limited migration of edited sequences when you stay within the narrow parameters that FCP XML currently exposes to developers. I’ll concentrate on Resolve and Xto7, as these have the most direct application for editors.

Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve
DaVinci Resolve offers an exchange in both directions between Resolve and Final Cut Pro 7 or X. (It also allows Avid round-trips using AAF and MXF media.) This is intended as a color-correction round-trip, so you can go from FCP 7 or FCP X to Resolve and back, but you can also go from X to Resolve to 7 and the other way around. For this article, let’s stick with Resolve’s position as a professional grading tool that can augment FCP X.

1. Start by cutting your project in FCP X. Avoid compound clips and speed ramps and remember that effects are not passed through FCP XML at this time. Highlight the project in the project browser and export an FCP XML file.

The same FCP X timeline in Adobe Premiere Pro
after it was imported from an XML file
translated by Xto7 for Final Cut Pro

2. Launch DaVinci Resolve and make sure Media Storage includes the location of your source media files. Import the FCP XML file, which will link to these clips. Check your configuration settings to make sure the frame rate matches. I have noticed that 23.98 sequences are often identified as 24 fps. Reset these to 23.98. Proceed to color grade the timeline.

3. Open the Render module and select FCP XML Round-Trip from the Easy Set-Up pull-down menu and assign the handle length. Individual new clips with modified file names will be rendered to an assigned folder using Resolve’s source-mode rendering. These correspond to the timeline.

4. From the Conform tab, export an FCP X XML file.

5. Return to Final Cut Pro X and import the FCP XML file from Resolve. The graded clips will be imported automatically into a new Event, and this will complete the round-trip. The new, imported project will be video-only. As a safe step, I recommend that you copy and paste all of the clips from this project (the “from Resolve” timeline) into a new, fresh project.

6. Take the audio mix from the original (before Resolve) project—using either a mixdown or a compound clip—and edit it as a connected clip to the new timeline containing the graded clips. Lastly, re-apply any effects, such as transforms, crops, filters, speed ramps or stabilization.

Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve color grading interface

Assisted Editing Xto7 for Final Cut Pro
When Final Cut Pro X was launched, the biggest shock was the fact that you couldn’t migrate sequences from previous versions of Final Cut into the new application. That issue still hasn’t been properly resolved, but you can effectively go in the other direction. Assisted Editing developed Project Xto7 (available in Apple’s App Store as Xto7 for Final Cut Pro), which is a translation utility between the two formats of XML.

At first blush, one might ask, “What good is that?” In reality, it’s a very useful tool because it empowers FCP X users with a whole range of postproduction solutions. FCP X is a closed application that as yet offers none of the versatility of Final Cut Studio (FCP 7) or Adobe Creative Suite. With Xto7, an editor can perform the creative cut in FCP X and then use Apple Color, Apple Soundtrack Pro, Adobe After Effects, Adobe Premiere Pro, Adobe Audition, Avid Pro Tools, Autodesk Smoke and other applications for finishing. In fact, since Automatic Duck has made its plug-ins available for free, this path also enables an editor to move from FCP X to Avid Media Composer by way of FCP 7 and Automatic Duck Pro Export FCP.

1. Start in FCP X. Cut your project, but avoid a few known issues, including speed ramps and compound clips. (Check with Assisted Editing for specifics.) Also, don’t apply effects, as they won’t translate. Highlight the project in the project browser and export an FCP XML file.

2. Launch Xto7 and navigate to the FCP XML file.

Resolve render module with round-trip setup
for various target formats

3. You have two choices: Send to Final Cut Pro 7 or Save Sequence XML. The first option opens the timeline as a new FCP 7 project. The second saves an XML file that can later be imported into FCP 7, but also Adobe Premiere Pro or Autodesk Smoke.

4. Once inside FCP 7, you have access to all the usual effects filters and round-trip tools. This includes creating an EDL for grading or an OMF file for a Pro Tools mixer. Or sending to Color for a grading round-trip or to Soundtrack Pro for a mix. Likewise, if you opened the XML in Premiere Pro, you could send the audio to Audition for a mix or to After Effects for effects, grading and compositing using Dynamic Link.

Neither of these processes is perfect yet, but these are just two examples of how a new ecosystem is growing up around Apple Final Cut Pro X. This controversial editing tool may not be right for everyone, but solutions like Resolve and Xto7 mean you aren’t stranded on an island.

Apple’s Final Cut Pro has enabled a cottage industry of useful workflow tools based on the ability to exchange data using XML. This data could define an edited sequence, a bin or a complete project. Final Cut Pro X introduced a radically redesigned interface based on completely different underlying data, which also required a different version of XML.

A feature of FCP X is a new media database that tracks audio/video files using unique ID numbers rather than simply relying on file name, reel number and/or timecode. Since the way previous FCP versions track media files and define edit points is completely different from FCP X, the two corresponding XML formats don’t contain common information; therefore, you cannot migrate projects or timelines between old and new versions without translating between the two different XML formats. As the ecosystem develops around FCP X, so will the richness of the XML interchange that is possible.