Digital Cinema Workflows Using Apple ProRes 4444

If you’re working with images that were originated on film, HDCAM SR, or some other high-resolution, RGB-based media, and your intention is to finish and output a project to film, the Apple ProRes 4444 codec enables you to follow a simple, consolidated workflow. Consider the following:

Once all your source media has been transcoded or captured as Apple ProRes 4444, it can be imported into your Final Cut Pro project. If necessary, you can then create a duplicate set of lower-resolution offline media with which you can edit your project more efficiently.

Upon completion of the offline edit, you then relink the program to the original Apple ProRes 4444 media before sending the sequence to Color, where you’ll be grading your program. Ultimately, you’ll send the finished media that Color renders directly to the film recording facility.

Mastering from a single set of Apple ProRes 4444 media keeps your workflow simple, making media management straightforward, and eliminating the need to retransfer or relink to the source DPX media later. The only disadvantage to this method is that it can require a substantial amount of storage, depending on the length and shooting ratio of the project.

Figure. Ingesting as Apple ProRes 4444 for eventual film output.

The following steps break this process down more explicitly. Because of the extra steps needed, this workflow assumes that you’re shooting film.

  1. Stage 1: Running Tests Before You Begin Shooting

    Ideally, you should do some tests before principal photography to see how the film scanner–to–Color–to–film recorder pipeline works with your choice of film formats and stocks. It's always best to consult with the film lab you'll be working with in advance to get as much information as possible.

  2. Stage 2: Scanning All Film as DPX Image Sequences

    Depending on how the shoot was conducted, you can opt to do a best-light datacine of just the selects, or of all the camera negative (if you can afford it). The scanned 2K or 4K digital source media should be saved as DPX or Cineon image sequences.

    To track the correspondence between the original still frames and the offline QuickTime files that you'll create for editing, you should ask for the following:

    • A non-drop frame timecode conversion of each frame's number (used in that frame's filename), saved within the header of each scanned image.

    • It can also help to organize all of the scanned frames into separate directories, saving all the frames from each roll of negative to separate directories (named by roll). This will help you to keep track of each shot’s roll number later.

  3. Stage 3: Converting DPX Image Sequences to Apple ProRes 4444 QuickTime Files in Color

    Since Final Cut Pro doesn’t work directly with image sequences, you need to create high-quality, online-resolution QuickTime duplicates using Color before you can begin editing. Once you’ve done this, it’s a good idea to archive both the original source media and the converted Apple ProRes 4444 media as safely as possible.

    You can use Color to create online-resolution QuickTime versions of each DPX image sequence you need to use in your edit. To do this, create a new project with the Render File Type set to QuickTime and the Export Codec set to Apple ProRes 4444. Then, edit all the shots you want to convert into the Timeline, grade them if necessary, add them to the Render Queue, and click Start Render.

    When you convert the DPX files to offline QuickTime files using Color, the timecode metadata stored in the header of each DPX frame is copied into the timecode track of each .mov file that’s created. (If there’s no timecode in the DPX headers, the frame number in the DPX filename will be converted into timecode, instead. For more information, see How Does Color Relink DPX/Cineon Frames to an EDL?).

    This helps you to maintain the correspondence between the source DPX media and the Apple ProRes 4444 QuickTime files you’ve created, in case you ever need to go back to the original media. To make this easier, enter the roll number of each image sequence into the reel number of the converted QuickTime clip. You can do this in the Final Cut Pro Browser.

    For more information, see Converting Cineon and DPX Image Sequences to QuickTime.

  4. Stage 4: Creating Offline Resolution Clips for Editing in Final Cut Pro (Optional)

    This step is especially useful if you’re working on a project at 4K resolution. High-resolution media can be processor-intensive, reducing application responsiveness and real-time processing unless you have an exceptionally robust system. If this is the case, you can create an offline set of media (using whichever resolution and codec your particular workflow requires) with which to work using the Media Manager in Final Cut Pro.

    If you downconvert to a compressed high definition format, such as Apple ProRes 422 or Apple ProRes 422 (HQ), you can offline your project on an inexpensively equipped computer and still be able to output and project it at a resolution suitable for high-quality client and audience screenings during the editorial process.

    Once you finish your offline edit, you can easily reconform your sequence to the high-resolution Apple ProRes 4444 source media you generated.

  5. Stage 5: Doing the Offline Edit in Final Cut Pro

    Edit your project in Final Cut Pro, being careful not to alter the timecode or duration of the offline master media in any way.

  6. Stage 6: Preparing Your Final Cut Pro Sequence

    To prepare your edited sequence for an efficient workflow in Color, follow the steps outlined in Before You Export Your Final Cut Pro Project. If you’re planning on printing to film, it’s prudent to be even more cautious and eliminate any and all effects that are unsupported by Color, since the media rendered by Color will be the final media that’s delivered to the film recording facility.

    • Clips using speed effects should be rendered as self-contained QuickTime movies, with the resulting media files reedited into the Timeline to replace the original effects. This is also true for any clip with effects you want to preserve in the final program, including filters, animated effects, composites, opacity settings, and embedded Motion projects.

    • The only type of transition that Color is capable of processing is the dissolve. Any other type of transition in the sequence will be rendered as a dissolve of identical duration.

    • The only other types of effect that Color supports are Position, Rotation, Scale, and Aspect Ratio Motion tab settings, which are converted into Pan & Scan room settings. While keyframes for these settings in Final Cut Pro cannot be sent to Color, the Pan & Scan settings can be keyframed in Color later.

  7. Stage 7: Sending the Sequence to Color or Exporting an XML File

    When you finish prepping your edited sequence, there are two ways you can send it to Color.

    • If Color is installed on the same computer as Final Cut Pro, you can use the Send To Color command to move an entire edited sequence to Color, automatically creating a new project file.

    • If you're handing the project off to another facility, you may want to export the edited sequence as an XML file for eventual import into Color. In this case, you'll also want to use the Final Cut Pro Media Manager to copy the project's media to a single, transportable hard drive volume for easy handoff.

  8. Stage 8: Grading Your Program in Color

    Grade your program in Color as you would any other.

    Important: When grading scanned film frames for eventual film output, it's essential to systematically use carefully profiled LUTs (look up tables) for monitor calibration and to emulate the ultimate look of the project when printed out to film. For more information, see Using LUTs.

  9. Stage 9: Rendering Graded Media Out of Color

    Once you finish grading the project in Color, use the Render Queue to render out the final media. If the film recording facility you’re working with requires an image sequence, now is the time to:

    • Change the Render File Type to DPX or Cineon, depending on what the facility has requested.

    • Choose the Printing Density to match your facility’s recommendations.

    • If you’ve been using a LUT to monitor your program while you work, turn it off by choosing File > Clear Display LUT. Otherwise, you’ll bake the LUT into the rendered media.

    • Double-check the Broadcast Safe and Internal Pixel Format settings to make sure they’re appropriate for your project.

    Rendering high-resolution media will take time. Keep in mind that the Render Queue has been set up to let you easily render your project incrementally; for example, you can render out all the shots of a program that have been graded that day during the following night to avoid having to render the entire project at once.

    However, when you're working on a project using 2K image sequence scans, rendering the media is only the first step. The rendered output is organized in the specified render directory in such a way as to easily facilitate managing and rerendering the media for your Color project, but it's not ready for delivery to the film recording facility until the next step.

  10. Stage 10: Assembling the Final Image Sequence for Delivery

    Once every single shot in your program has been rendered, you need to use the Gather Rendered Media command to consolidate all the frames that have been rendered, eliminating handles, rendering dissolves, copying every frame used by the program to a single directory, and renumbering each frame as a contiguously numbered image sequence. Once this has been done, the rendered media is ready for delivery to the film recording facility.

  11. Stage 11: Creating Additional Transitions, Effects, and Titles

    In a 2K or 4K workflow, you can also use a compositing application such as Shake to create additional transitions or layered effects, including superimpositions, titles, and other composites, after the color correction has been completed.

    Each image file's frame number identifies its position in that program's Timeline. Because of this, when you send frames to a compositing application, it's vital that the frame numbers in filenames of newly rendered media are identical to those of the original source media. This requires careful file management.