3 Ways to Get RED Footage into Final Cut Pro

RED Workflows with Final Cut
Scott Simmons
By Scott Simmons 02.12.09

The RED camera and its proprietary .R3D, file-based workflow has been a subject of much discussion, speculation and frustration for many in the post-production industry since it began shipping. It has also made a lot of shooters and camera owners into post-production people since they are choosing to do (or attempt to do) a lot of the complex post-production themselves. There has been much discussion on reduser.net from day one on how best to edit RED camera material. Early on RED had an exclusive deal with Apple and that made Final Cut Pro a choice for most. FCP's QuickTime based architecture makes it a natural choice since RED supplies (for free) a QuickTime component for download from their website.

This codec will give any Intel Macintosh the ability to playback the QuickTime reference files (or "proxies" as they have come to be called) that the RED camera generates during a shoot. These files live in a folder with the raw .R3D file and as long as they are kept together on a hard drive the RED codec will allow most any QuickTime aware application to work with the clips. While very convenient, the ability to use the proxy files is very processor intensive. Depending the speed of your hard drives, speed of your computer and any number of other factors (RAM, background processes, alignment of the moon) playback might not be perfect. These proxy files can also be imported directly into Final Cut Pro and edited. A recent update to FCP will also allow the application the ability to import native RED QuickTime files. This is a re-wrap of the .R3D files into self-contained QuickTime files. Both methods (proxies and native RED QuickTimes) are similar in performance. A search of reduser.net will reveal people who have great success with these methods and others who have great frustration. While the process does work it is, IMHO , less than ideal for anything other than the simplest single-layer edit. One reason I say this is that RED's own white paper on the subject states "Because native RED media is extremely processor-intensive to work with, you'll want to use Unlimited RT while you work. Otherwise, you may need to do a lot of rendering." Whenever I see instructions to edit a Final Cut Pro timeline in Unlimited RT I start looking at options of how I can transcode the footage to a more use-able format. While this does make realtime full frames-per-second playback (somewhat) possible it becomes a bottleneck in a smooth edit process when you begin to do things like adding transitions and effects, make multigroup clips for a music video or multicam shoot, add motion and/or speed effects or anything you do in the normal course of an edit. It becomes time to render pretty much everything. Rendering each and every dissolve and playing back as less that the full frame rate is not an efficient way to edit.

That leaves the question of: Into what format do you convert your RED footage in order to offline edit?

This whole discussion will beg the question of why do you need to offline in today's world of file-based, low bandwidth / high quality HD codecs? Truth is you really don't need a traditional offline to online workflow with much of the technology that is available today. It's often more a matter of retraining your thought process to working with graphics, audio lay-back, fine tuning and things like that for an online today more than it is recapturing media at a high resolution. Or it may mean passing off the edit to an online editor more fluent in final graphics and broadcast specs than a creative editor is. But with RED and the processor intensive nature of the RED proxies and RED QuickTimes an offline to online workflow is a great option. Even if you are doing it all yourself you can still "offline" in ProRes and "online" with native RED QuickTimes which can be sent to Color. The RED Final Cut Studio whitepaper (here's a pdf link ) outlines this process. It is an extra step but it does work relatively well (at least it did on the two jobs that I have tried it on).

My choice for offline editing in Final Cut Pro is to convert all of the raw footage to Apple's compressed but high quality codec ProRes 422. There are choices for ProRes in both standard definition and high definition as well as regular quality and HQ (high quality). I usually offline RED projects at 1920x1080 ProRes with the occasional conversion to a standard definition ProRes file depending on where the editing will take place and on what type of system. Older G5 Macs will work very well with SD ProRes files. Since this is offline editing there is no need to use the higher bandwidth ProRes HQ since the visual quality is pretty much indistinguishable. What if you don't plan to online your RED project? Then a conversion to ProRes HQ would be in order but doesn't it seem to defeat a large part of the purpose of shooting a "camera raw" format like RED when you don't conform an edit back to the original raw .R3D files and all of the advantages the format offers? Would you transfer a film with only a one light and never properly re-transfer selects? There are so many options for RED available today so the question is: why would you not? That's a discussion for another time.

Using Apple Compressor


A conversion of the raw RED footage to ProRes files for the edit can happen in one of three ways. A tried and true method that has worked since day one is using Apple Compressor and running the RED camera created proxy files through a batch conversion to create self-contained ProRes QuickTimes. As mentioned above the RED camera creates the proxy files when shooting (or they can be regenerated in RED's REDAlert software) and these proxies can be placed into a Compressor batch and be trans-coded into a new self-contained QuickTime.

imageSince the RED camera places each shot into its own folder and then those folders are usually placed into another folder per download of CF card, getting the proxies to Compressor can be a time consuming process if you attempt to drag them in one at a time. That's where a search on your media drive for a specific string can come in handy. Since the QuickTime proxies always have an identifying suffix you can just search for that specific suffix and then drag the search results into Compressor. The proxies are created in 4 sizes, _P for the smallest size, _M for medium, _H for high and _F for full size. Depending on your shooting resolution you could use the _M, _H or _F files for processing since Compressor will scale the footage to your desired resolution. But be aware that the _F is a big file when shooting 4K. To make selection of these files easy I use the Find function of my favorite Finder replacement tool Pathfinder . Pathfinder allows you to designate a single directory for very detailed and very powerful search strings. Search for "_H" and all the _H size proxies from a shoot show up in Pathfinder's search results. Drag the results to Compressor and then choose your setting:

I use a ProRes 422 1920x1080 setting but once in Compressor the files can be trans-coded to a variety of resolutions and formats. If you are working on a less powerful computer then you could even create standard definition DV rez files for easy playback. Once Compressor has batch processed the files you are ready to edit.

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