How To Transfer & Convert Logged Video Clips From Avid Media Composer to Final Cut Pro
Ok so this is all about one of the most painful experiences I’ve had as an editor in recent times. It should be simple. It should be easy. But it aint! Let me start by getting some whining out of the way. Why oh why can’t competing companies make products that are more compatible. People at Apple know that there will always be people who use Avid and likewise, those at Avid know there will always be people who use Final Cut. There is enough room for both products. Why can’t they make the software talk to each other easier?
Alright so now that I’ve had my two cents worth, on with the real reason you are here. I recently started as the editor on a feature film. I was brought onto the project late in the game and all the footage was logged and captured on an Avid suite. Not being an Avid editor, I wanted to work on what I knew, which is Final Cut Pro. This was so I could focus on the creative side of things rather than constantly having to figure things out.
Not being familiar with the Avid Media Composer or even with a Windows PC, I called in the cavalry, Mr. Uber Micro, Cameron d’Arcy, who also happened to be the post production supervisor and one of the producers on the film. Completing this simple task would turn out to be a mammoth job, taking the two of us hours of scanning the net and finding very little and then trial and error (mostly error). Eventually we figured it out. Well I say we, but really the full credit goes to Cam. So here it is the step by step guide of how to get logged clips from Avid Media Composer to Final Cut Pro, keep all the sound in sync AND retain all the logged information including time codes.
The first part is to get the footage and information out of Media Composer.
Step 1: In Media Composer, select all the clips you want to export and then from the file menu choose ‘Export’ then in the dialogue box, choose ‘Options’. A fairly straight forward start.
Step 2: In the ‘Export As’ button, choose ‘QuickTime Movie’. Next to that are two tick boxes ‘Use Marks’ and ‘Use Enabled Tracks’. Both of these were not ticked. Then under that section ‘Same as Source’ was selected and ‘Use Avid DV Codec’ was not ticked. For this case ‘Video and Audio’ was selected, but this will depend on your project. The video format selected was ‘RGB’ and the ‘Display Aspect Ratio’ was DV (720 x 576) This will change depending on your footage. We were working with PAL DV footage for the offline edit. We then saved these settings as a preset by clicking ‘Save As’ and naming it ‘AVID DV QT’ You could be more creative with the name but by the time we got to this point we couldn’t be bothered.
Something to note is the names of your clips. I found that if they have * or / and probably other characters in them, they didn’t work. However -() seemed to be OK. It’s probably easier to go through and check all of this first. Also make sure there aren’t any duplicate names as this too will cause hours of trouble when it comes time to re-link the media.
Step 3: So now you’re back at the ‘Export As’ dialogue box. All you have to do is select a location for all of your footage to be saved (make sure there is enough room) and click ‘Save’. Go get a cup of coffee, go out for dinner or go to bed, depending on how much footage you have. This could take a while...
Step 4: That’s the footage taken care of, now you need all that logged information. With the bin opened but none of the clips selected, go to the ‘File’ menu and select ‘Export’.
Step 5: In the ‘Export Bin As’ menu, choose ‘Avid Log Exchange’. Find somewhere to save the ‘ALE’ file, name it and click ‘Save’. Easy!
Step 6: Eject the hard drive (did I mention to save all that stuff on and external drive that can be booted on Mac and PC... Oops) and plug it into the Mac.
This is where it starts to get fun...
Step 7: Now you may have noticed all of that footage you have just exported has no time-code attached to it. This was by far the hardest step to figure out and yet now it seems so simple. First download some freeware software called ‘Sebsky Tools’.
Sebsky Tools was created by Dharma Films who unfortunately are no more. This little freeby is going to save you hours and hours and probably save you from going completely insane too. As they no longer exist I am providing a download here. I hope that this is ok to do so. If any of the original creators have a problem with this, please contact me and I’ll remove the link immediately.
Step 8: Now that you’ve downloaded, installed and opened up Sebsky Tools, click on ‘Batch Add TC’ find and select the ‘ALE’ file you created and in the ‘Use Timecode from column:’ drop down menu, we chose ‘[ALE] Start’. Then click ‘Select’
Step 9: A new dialogue box opens and you need to point to the folder with all of your footage in it. Put a tick in the ‘Overwrite existing Timecode Track’ tick box, and we had the ‘Match QuickTime File names exported from Windows’ tick box not ticked. The ‘Movie file extension:’ menu was on ‘.mov’ but this may vary depending on how you exported the files. Now go get another Coffee cause this could take a few minutes, as it is re-writing the time-code track to each QuickTime file
Step 10: Once Sebsky is done doing its thing, a report will open saying how many clips it has processed and how many (if any) it couldn’t find. Click OK. If there were any files that were skipped there’s a good chance they are either missing or have one of the characters in the name that doesn’t work. Click on the ‘Log’ button and you’ll be able to find the problem files. You may have to go back and change names both in Media Composer and the QuickTime files and then output a new ‘ALE’ file. If everything is good, you may want to open a few of the files in QuickTime and check to make sure the time-code is correct.
Step 11: Now we have to convert that ALE file to an XML file so that Final Cut can read it. Open up ‘Cinema Tools’ which comes as part of the Final Cut Studio package. Select ‘Create a New Database’ and click ‘Continue’.
Step 12: Put all the settings for your film type in. We kept the ‘Film Standard’ on ‘35mm 4p’ and put the other three menus on ’25 FPS’ and select ‘OK’. In the new dialogue box, type a name for the database and find somewhere to keep the file and click on ‘Save’.
Step 13: Now goto the ‘File’ menu, ‘Import’ then ‘Telecine Log...’ In the dialogue box, choose your ALE file and make sure the ‘Append a camera letter’ is not ticked. Click on ‘Open’ then click on ‘OK’ when it’s done.
Step 14: Now goto the ‘File’ menu, ‘Export’ then ‘XML Batch List...’ In the dialogue box Type a name for the XML file and find somewhere to put it and click ‘Save’
Step 15: You may as well close down Sebsky Tools and Cinema Tools, as you no longer need them. Open up Final Cut Pro and start a new project or open up the project you want to import all the files into. Keep in mind though when you import the files, they are all placed in the top level folder, so it may be easier to start a new project and then move them to the required project once you’ve had time to sort them all out.
Step 16: Goto the ‘File’ menu, ‘Import’ then ‘XML...’ and choose the XML file you just created.
Step 17: In the dialogue box that opens, set the ‘Destination:’ to the project you have open. Set the sequence settings if you need to (we didn’t as we were only importing clips). In the ‘Options’ section we had ‘Reconnect to Media Files’ ticked and the other two boxes, not ticked, but this may vary. Click ‘OK’
Step 18: Now if you’re anything like us you’ll notice that the bloody ‘Reconnect to Media Files’ didn’t work. So far we’ve found no way to make this happen easily so let the pain begin... Select all of your clips and goto the ‘File’ menu then ‘Reconnect Media...’.
Step 19: Set the ‘Search Single Location:’ to the folder with all your media files in and then click ‘Search’, this will speed things up a little.
Step 20: Now for some ungodly reason there is a bug in the system so that if you tick ‘Reconnect All Files in Relative Path’, after selecting the first clip, all the other clips disappear. You’re not gonna want to hear this part, but you must reconnect each clip individually. I gave suicide a serious thought when I looked in the folder to find 930 clips. So make sure that ‘Reconnect All Files in Relative Path’ is not ticked and you’ll probably also have to make sure ‘Matched Name and Reel Only’ is not ticked as the QuickTime files do not have the reel number embedded in them and it won’t find them. Find the first clip and select ‘Open’
Step 21: ‘File Attributes Mismatch’ dialogue box will probably open. I found that it worked OK if you just click ‘Continue’ I’m not sure why it does this, but it does.
Step 22: Click on ‘Search’ again. This time it should find the correct clip and will do each time from now on. Click ‘Open’ and keep repeating until you’re all done. If you have a lot of clips, you may want to do this in chunks of 50 or so clips so you can keep saving. Once you get in the rhythm, it’s actually not too bad and only took about an hour for me to connect all 930 clips. However, if anyone knows of a quicker way, please drop me an email and let me know.
Step 23: That’s pretty much it. All done. I did find a few anomalies with odd file names and stuff that needed to be corrected manually, but with a bit of logical and lateral thinking you should be able to figure them out.
There are packages that supposedly do most of this for you like the Automatic Duck FCP Import plugin, but we found that this caused all the sound to go out of sync. Maybe this is because our sound was recorded separately and without any time-code. We couldn’t figure it out for sure. I know that the AE Import plugin that Automatic Duck makes for importing timelines into After Effects, works really well.
The other thing with doing it this way, is that you haven’t spent any extra money on software, whereas the Automatic Duck plugin is over $600. Anyway I hope this helps, as I’m sure there are others out there who need to do the same thing and are having as much trouble finding information as we did.
James Cole is a Director, Editor and Visual Effects Producer for Hysteria Productions and has worked on hundreds of projects from short films to feature films and music videos to commercials. You can find out more at http://www.hysteria.com.au