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Multicam Editing in Final Cut Pro, Part 1

Jun 1, 2010 12:00 PM, By Jan Ozer

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Multicam editing is probably the most concrete distinction between consumer and professional productions. In this two-part tutorial, I'll detail the workflow for using Apple Final Cut Pro's multicam editing feature. In this issue I'll focus on covering the shoot and syncing your clips; next time I'll cover choosing camera angles and other multicam editing details.

The multicam shoot

Let's start with some preliminaries at the shoot itself. First, if possible, shoot with same camera model white balanced to the same lighting, which will minimize color-correction issues in post. Second, if you don't have multiple cameras of the same model, understand that Final Cut Pro's multicam tool can only work with clips that use the identical resolution, codec, and frame rate. If you're shooting in mixed formats, budget some time for converting all of your clips over to a common format using ProRes 422 as the codec.

Third, unless you're syncing your cameras via timecode, always capture audio with every camera, even if it's crappy audio. If you're syncing your clips manually, audio often provides the best clues for setting the necessary sync points. If you're using a utility such as Singular Software's PluralEyes to sync your clips, it works by analyzing the audio waveforms, so if the audio isn't there, the camera angle isn't getting synced.

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Fourth, if you're syncing manually, always be thinking about a distinctive audio or visual event to sync up on. Fortunately, this doesn't have to be at or even near the start of the event, but it usually helps if it is.

If you're going after a visual cue, make sure that it's equally visible from all cameras— center stage and big motion is ideal— otherwise, the precise moment could be tough to gauge on your back camera. A flash from a digital camera usually works, but if the shutter speed on your cameras is fast enough, the flash may not register, so think about a plan B as well.

If you're counting on an audio cue, make sure it will spike the waveforms on all cameras; a discreet cough might register on the front camera, but it won't make a dent on the back or opposite side cameras. All that said, if you don't create a sync event, usually you'll be able to find one while editing, which is what I do below.

Fifth, if you're working with inexperienced shooters, remind them that the golden rule of multicam shooting is to never, ever, under any circumstances, stop shooting once they've started recording, at least until the end of the event, act or set. Otherwise, you'll have to resync for every discrete clip, which can be extraordinarily time-consuming. If you're working with a digital SLR that won't capture more than 10 minutes of video, skip ahead to the part about PluralEyes, since it could save hours of syncing time.

Finally, when working with tape-based cameras, a two second drop-out can absolutely ruin your day while editing the multicam production. So, clean your tape heads, and use a premium tape brand to decrease the odds of a drop-out.

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