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Final Cut Pro freebies for a better edit experience

Little things make a big difference By Mike Jones

It seems no matter how mature and complex creative software tools become, particularly non-linear editing systems, there always seem to be the extra things you find yourself wishing for. The technology trickle-down effect has seen enormous changes over the past decade where the tools that were once the sole domain of high-end turn-key systems - with appropriate astronomical price-tags - are now stock standard. One need only look at the complexity of colour correction and compositing options inside NLE's like Premiere Pro, Vegas and Final Cut Pro to see functionality that simply did not exist at the desktop level not all that long ago. But, big features aren't always the most useful. Sometimes it's the little things that make a big difference. Workflow, efficiency, automation, these are the elements that are high on the agenda for day to day working editors.

Final Cut Pro is an NLE that delivers a wide array of things it can do but often seems lacking in efficiencies and pragmatism as to how it does them or, moreover, is missing all-together simple things that would make the editor's job easier. This is where the old adage of nature abhorring a vacuum seems fitting as third-party tools and utilities step in to fill the gap.

Love or hate FCP, its enormous popularity means that with a lot of people using it there is invariably a lot of people seeking to plug some of the holes in its boat. Below are eight of my favourite free Final Cut utilities to make the FCP edit more pleasant and productive.


Final Cut Assistant
FCA is a perfect little problem solver for a host of missing or flawed elements of FCP. It can manage, save, backup and restore preference files and provides a central point for launching new projects with consistent settings. But tucked further down in its feature set is its hidden gem. FCPAssistant is a batch processor for audio files and with just a couple clicks it can covert a mixed bag of audio in different formats into a consistent set (ie uncompressed AIFFs) that FCP can cope with.

For reasons best known to Apple, FCP is still incapable of effectively playing back common audio files like MP3 without rendering, so FCA plugs a very painful gap. What's more is that Final Cut Assistant will automatically send those files directly to your FCP project when they are converted. It's simple, effective and very functional and will likely become a daily part of your FCP editing process. http://www.apple.com/downloads/macosx/finalcutstudio/finalcutassistant.html

Pref Manager
Much like Final Cut Assistant, this excellent utility from Digital Rebellion deals with the ever present issue of corrupted, misplaced or messed up preferences in FCP. In particular it allows for very quick load and restore of an over-all set of preferences for the entire Final Cut Suite of apps. Perfect for post-houses with multiple users on each workstation allowing everyone to have their layout and preferred options restored with a click. http://www.digitalrebellion.com/pref_man.htm

FCS remover
Another gem from Digital Rebellion, FCS Remover does as the name suggests - completely removes Final Cut Studio. The simple mechanism in the Apple operating system of 'uninstalling' by just dragging the app file into the bin seems fantastic on the surface but belies some significant issues underneath. Because there is no Mac equivalent of a 'registry' as found on Windows and Linux systems there is no way for the system to track the scattered assortment of files copied over with the install of a big suite of apps like Final Cut Studio. As a result attempting to remove FCS by simply dropping the FCP app file in the bin doesn't work. Copious amounts of detritus are left behind and this makes down-grading to a previous version very difficult and can often cause serious serial number re-install issues. Why Apple doesn't include a dedicated FCS uninstaller defies logic but fortunately Digital Rebellion has done the job for them. http://www.digitalrebellion.com/fcs_remover.htm

YouSend it Plug-In for FCP
The post-production world is not isolated from the inter-connected global village and so more and more post-production approvals, creative collaborations and workflow exchanges are being done across great spans of space and geography. Editor's today have to be as well versed with FTP as they are with their NLE. This great little plug-in integrates the process of transferring large files directly into your FCP editing system. The plug-in creates an extra export option in FCP's FILE menu to directly send a sequence from the timeline to a YouSendIt account. It is very seamless and simple. http://www.apple.com/downloads/macosx/internet_utilities/yousenditpluginforapplefinalcutpro.html

VideoSpace
No matter what scale the project or how big the budget, digital post-production is always a logistical process involving the management of data - big data. Numerous forms of compression and file types often mean an ongoing juggling act between different formats for post. The VideoSpace widget from Digital Heaven may be your best friend when you're trying to work out if you have enough storage for that large render or ingest. Covering most of the major production codecs (ProRes, uncompressed 8bit and 10bit, DVCPro, HDV, XDCAM, IMX and so on) VideoSpace can instantly calculate the storage requirements by simply entering the duration of your footage and the frame rate. http://www.digital-heaven.co.uk/videospace (Also available for iPhone - http://www.apple.com/webapps/calculate/videospace.html)

Alex 4D lower third
For anyone working post-production on non-fiction broadcast, news or corporate work, the venerable lower-third title card is a staple. There's numerous ways to produce them. Complex designs may be produced in Photoshop or After Effects and imported as a still or alpha transparent layer. For less complex lower thirds however there are enormous efficiency gains to be had by producing them directly in the NLE. Final Cut Pro has no viable way to do this without a lot of tedium. Enter Alex4D's Lower Third Generator. With automatic placement of main and sub-titles as well as position, opacity and colour bands, this simple plug in is enormously effective and a great time-saver. http://alex4d.wordpress.com/2009/03/30/free-final-cut-plugin-lower-third/

1z1 Source TC generator
1Z1 provides an entire bundle of plug-ins for Final Cut Pro, some 17 in total. Not all of them are free, being demo versions, but in the download bundle are five superb freebies. Of particular note is the 1z1 DisplaySourceTC which can super-impose the source timecode and other annotation text over a video perfect for client review processes. http://www.1z1.at/plugins/

Andy's Timecode Generator
Not all plug-ins for FCP address something that's missing, oftentimes they can also provide a right way of doing things when the built-in Apple way is wrong. The Timecode generator built into FCP is a perfect example. It's applied as a filter meaning it must be applied to a nested sequence as a continuous 'effect'. This makes it fundamentally flawed when you want to view on-display timecode as you work, cutting clips in and out and moving them around. This replacement timecode generator is applied as true Generator rather than a filter meaning it can sit as a discreet 'clip' on an upper track and overlay timecode on all clips beneath. http://web.mac.com/andymees/Free_and_Easy/main/Entries/2005/9/5_Andy's_Timecode_Generator.html


There are, of course, near countless other plug-ins and utilities out there for Final Cut Studio; these are just the top eight that regularly find themselves in my workflows and classes. If you've got a favourite time-saver, feature enhancer, or workflow optimiser, please let us know.


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Mike Jones is a digital media producer, author, educator from Sydney, Australia. He has a diverse background across all areas of media production including film, video, TV, journalism, photography, music and on-line projects. Mike is the author of three books and more than 200 published essays, articles and reviews covering all aspects of cinematic form, technology and culture. Mike is currently Head of Technological Arts at the International Film School Sydney (www.ifss.edu.au), has an online home at www.mikejones.net and can be found profusely blogging for DMN at www.digitalbasin.net


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