A FilmHelp article by Greg Pak
I recently bought my first new desktop in eight years and upgraded to Final Cut Pro 7 to edit my new short film “Mister Green.” I’ll be posting much more about “Mister Green” soon. But for now, here’s a painfully detailed report on the trials and travails of transferring a much older film project to the new workstation. Here’s hoping it helps someone out there avoid my mistakes.
Transferring the Media
The older project had files scattered across multiple drives on an old blue and white G3 desktop. Unfortunately, out of the box, the G3 and my new 2.66 GHz Pro Mac don’t communicate particularly well. The new Mac only has Firewire 800 ports; the old Mac only has Firewire 400 ports. A cheap adapter would let me plug Firewire 400 devices into the new Mac. But my dream of transferring directly from the old computer to the new computer using Target Disk Mode didn’t work out — the blue and white G3s apparently don’t work as target computers. Although, strangely enough, two of the drives on the B&W did show up when I connected it via Firewire to the new computer. (Your guess is a good as mine!) But for the bulk of the media, I had to transfer the data onto Firewire drives, then transfer it again from the Firewire drives to the new Mac.
Even that relatively straightforward process became a bit complicated when I discovered that my newest Firewire drives wouldn’t open on the old Mac — they’d been formatted to be bootable with Intel Macs, which means they don’t show up on old Macs running less than OS 10.4. So I used some older Firewire drives, which were a bit touchy and crashed once or twice.
The second complication is that transferring from the old computer to the Firewire drives took a long, long time. Files that took an hour to transfer from the old computer to the drive would take a few minutes to transfer from the drive to the new computer. The rotation speeds of the drives on the old computer and the bus speeds of the computer itself seem to really slow down transfer rates.
The third complication was that certain folders and partitions from the old computer would make the Finder on the new computer crash and reboot. I think this is a Snow Leopard (Mac OS 10.6) bug — it’s not something I’d see in 10.5.8. As far as I can tell, the culprit folders and partitions contain older Mac operating systems, which must trigger something strange in Snow Leopard. This didn’t affect any of the FCP data directly — that was just media files. But I managed to cause a few Finder crashes and interrupt data transfers while messing around with transferring other data like backups of old hard drives.
The fourth complication was that at a certain point, I realized I was missing a big chunk of media. Eventually I figured out that one of the internal drives on the old computer had gotten disconnected. Thankfully, all the data was there.
Relinking and Syncing
Once all the media was in the new computer, I was able to relink fairly seamlessly. The picture looked great. But all of the audio was out of sync. At first I was just baffled. But after I dug up the original source tapes, I remembered how we’d prepped the material in the first place and figured out the problem.
The sound for the old project was originally recorded on DATs, which were transferred to MiniDV and input into Final Cut Pro. This created a sync problem — transferring from DAT to MiniDV slowed the audio down a tiny bit, apparently because NTSC MiniDV runs at 29.97 rather than 30 frames per second. Eventually, I figured out that if I changed the speed of the sound clips to 99.9 percent, they would sync up perfectly with the picture.
The problem was that when I updated the FCP file from 3.0 to FCP 7 and relinked the media, the source material lost the speed adjustment I’d made back in the day. So the clips from that source material were the original speed, which meant that all the sequences were out of sync.
Unfortunately, changing the speed of the source clips in the new FCP 7 project did not cause that change to be reflected in the already cut sequences. Also, it was difficult for me to tell if I was even successful in changing the speed of the source clips in FCP 7. In FCP 3, after changing the speed, I could hit Command-9 and see “99.9” in the “Speed” section under the “Timing” tab. But in FCP 7. the clip’s speed shows up as “100.”
So I ended up going to the cut sequences and changing the speed of the clips therein. Sometimes just changing the speed to 99.9 would result in everything syncing beautifully. More often, I’d have to shift forward or backward a bit to find the sync. So this worked best for sequences which used big chunks of uncut audio. But I was working with a few sequences with many cuts. In those cases, I exported the audio tracks from the old computer as uncompressed aif files. Those audio tracks were then easy to match with the new sequence in the new computer.
I also tried exporting aifs of the speed-changed source clips from the original computer. I then transferred that media to the new computer and relinked the sequences, referencing the new if rather than the original media. Sometimes this worked flawlessly, with everything in perfect sync. Other times, everything was shifted a bit. I wasn’t able to figure out exactly why it worked well sometimes and not so well other times.
But in the end, using a few different strategies, I have everything back up and running. Now I just hope I can finish the project before I upgrade again…
- Take notes about anything unusual you do when setting up and editing a project. That can be invaluable when trying to understand what’s going on when working with the material again years later. I’d have saved myself some grief and time if I’d left notes for myself about the whole 99.9 audio issue with this particular project.
- It’s far better to keep all media on a single drive, if possible. When I first started working on this project years ago, my biggest hard drive was 37.5 gigs. So the fact that the media got scattered over multiple drives isn’t surprising. But I sure wish I’d consolidated everything as soon as I got access to bigger drives — it would have made tracking down all the different bits of media much easier.
- Don’t delete anything unless you’re certain you know what it is. Back in the day, Final Cut Pro and/or Quicktime couldn’t create files larger than about 2 gigs. So longer movies would end up as a series of files with titles like my-movie-v-0, my-movie-v-1, my-movie-v-2, etcetera. I have a vague memory of looking at those extra files and wondering what the heck they were. And at some point I must have (foolishly) deleted one of those extra files, thinking I could save some drive space. In FCP 3, the program would play the movie up until the point where the missing file was. But FCP 7 wouldn’t play any of the file. In the end, I had to export the first three quarters of the file from the original computer and then redigitize the remainder from the source tape.