When Codecs Go Bad



What is a Codec?

 Codec is short for Compression Decompression, which is the ability and workability for a computer to read and display data. There have been many video codecs created over the years. While Final Cut Pro can handle quite many codecs thrown at it, its native codec is ProRes. Final Cut so forward thinking its quite amazing. Upon ingesting from a camera card, it copies the original media (or re-wraps it if it's a format like AVCHD) into the FCP X Library. You can Optimize the media, which creates ProRes copies of the media. ProRes files are Apple's advanced codecs that are quite large in storage space, especially if you're shooting in 4K so be mindful of that! If you don't optimize, and you create MultiCam clips, by default it will optimize those clips too, unless you turn that off in Final Cut Preferences. With newer machines, I rarely optimize my media. However, Final Cut Pro X handles organizing all of these different files with ease.  


 The alternative is to use Proxy instead. ProRes Proxy files are a bit smaller than the media that was recorded and not just due to more compression, but also frame size. For instance, 4K media transcoded to ProRes Proxy has a HD frame size. If you're looking for even smaller Proxy files, be sure to check out the Uber Proxy workflow


Couldn't I just copy the files directly from my card? 

 Another thing that is recommended is to create Camera Archives of your AVCHD media for backup purposes. Bit by bit, a Camera Archive is an exact copy of your camera's card in its original file structure. Just be sure to store this on a drive other than your library and its ingested media. A camera archive's purpose is simply to restore project files if a drive were to fail. This is another reason not to edit from your boot drive, the drive your operating system resides on. Final Cut Pro X automatically creates backups of your libraries minus the media of course. So- if you have your camera archives on a "rainy day" drive, and your edit drive fails, you will be able to open up your library from the Final Cut Backups folder and simply relink everything from the camera archives saving you hours of re-editing. I keep my backups folder in my home folder so that Time Machine will back this up as well. Final Cut Pro saves automatically so there’s no need to worry, as long as you have your media backed up of course. Copying the files directly from your memory card in the Finder is never recommended just to be safe. Aside from creating camera archives, I simply copy the libraries media to a backup drive manually after I've imported it into the library. You can see my full workflow by purchasing my workshop on workflow and organization.  It is on sale for $29. 

Camera Archives are great, but I have a hard drive full of mixed media. 

 Streamlining this workflow of ingesting and backup is not even the forward thinking part! Recently I had a project where I had about 2 terabytes of footage to incorporate into my corporate documentary. My company acquired this footage from an outside production house who does amazing work for our mutual client. As you could imagine, there were several cameras used complete with time-lapses and interviews from a project that spanned over the course of a few years. Skimming through the footage I noticed a lot of the footage simply would not work on my machine. In FCP X it was just black clips. I tried the usual troubleshooting, deleting FCP X preferences and such, and I almost considered that this particular footage was corrupted. Then I remembered, in the Finder you can "Get Info" by hitting Command I and the info window will tell you which codec it is. AVID! They must have ingested this media using Avid and tossed the original files. In order for my system to read it, I had to instal the Avid Codec. Once I did, everything was fine. Almost anyway...

An editor is part storyteller, technician, and psychiatrist

As any corporate editor will tell you, a project's deadline only means that about no less than 50 people will need to review the edit before breaking through to publishing. 50 people with very full calendars. If a corporate editor lived by the mantra "Never update in the middle of a project..." then there would be no updating, ever. In my case, I had my main computer go down after about 6 months of troubleshooting and replacing parts with Apple's awesome tech folks on the phone and at the Genius Bar. When I have computer issues, you know it's bad! It was finally repaired, but not before I purchased a new machine. I was nervous that the problem might have been software related so I did not restore from my Time Machine backup. Instead I restored everything myself by dragging all the files over manually. Luckily I keep a folder for all the misc software I use such as codecs, web browsers, Skype, Seed De-Flicker, etc. This saves a tremendous amount of time from having to hunt down each website and wait for all the downloading again.

 I was up and running again and everything was running smoothly. I get a request for some changes in my corporate documentary so I dusted that drive off and plugged it in. I opened up that project and... Oh crap! Black clips? Again??? Oh, wait, I didn't install the UPDATED CODEC only the older one I had in my folder. So, I went back to Avid's site and downloaded the most recent version. Whew! Avid hasn’t gone bankrupt, yet, and I was good to go! 

  When I first got the footage it was a nightmare to figure out why the footage wouldn't play. The second time was just heart wrenching considering this project was costing upwards of $80K to produce and all the time I've spent cutting it. If the production company didn’t ingest their media with AVID’s codec, I would never have needed to download AVID’s proprietary codec. FCP X never transcodes the original media! If you transcode to ProRes Optimized and ProRez Proxy, you'll have 3 copies, optimized, proxy, and original media. FCP X elegantly switches between them by the flip of a switch. If I ever need this footage in the future, even if in another application or machine- I would still have the original media to access without any need to download more proprietary codecs.

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