The Ultimate Guide to FCP X Proxies: Make Final Cut Faster
Proxies give you tons of flexibility – they increase playback and editing speed without forcing you to sacrifice quality, allow you to edit seamlessly on laptops and portable drives, and provide a streamlined project delivery, whether that includes a hand off to a mixer or colorist, or exporting a full quality output for a client. And FCP X makes all of that simple.
Say what you will about its initial release back in 2011, there’s no denying that FCP X was a leader in redefining the proxy workflow – it was the first of the big NLEs to allow for creating and switching to proxies with the click of a single button, all within the application.
At its core, FCP X’s proxy workflow remains incredibly simple – creating proxies is as easy as checking a box upon import. (And if that’s what you’re here to learn, feel free to skip ahead to Importing and Creating Proxies).
But because of FCP X’s unique library structure, how to take proxy media on the go remains a big source of confusion among editors. With a little media management know-how, anybody can take advantage of proxy media’s portability.
By the end of this article, you’ll have a complete understanding of how to manage your FCP X library for proxy success, how to create proxies during or after import, and how to take your portable proxy media on the road.
What are Proxies?
Proxies are lower-resolution copies of your media that are created in one of two ways – either by transcoding raw media to an intermediate codec or by simultaneous in-camera recording, a standard feature on many high-end cameras.
Editing with proxy media is commonly referred to as an “offline edit,” while the process of relinking back to the full-res media at the end of a project is called the online edit. FCP X’s proxy workflow essentially combines the two, allowing you to effortlessly switch between offline and online with one click.
A previous article explains in detail why using proxies is awesome and how they fit into an overall postproduction workflow. Here, we’re going to dive into the details of how FCP X deals with proxies.
So how do we get started? First, we need to understand how FCP X manages our media.
FCP X Library and Media Management Overview
If you’re an FCP X editor, you likely have an understanding of how FCP X references and manages media. But a successful proxy workflow requires a specific storage setup, so let’s review.
In FCP X, you organize your work in libraries. A library contains events and projects and tracks all your media files, edit decisions, and the associated metadata.
Let’s take a closer look:
- Libraries are the top-most level of organization and hold all of your events, projects, and often, your media. You can have as many libraries as you’d like, with the option to open and close them within FCP X as needed. You can save a library wherever you’d like and can migrate events and projects from one library to another. Libraries contain all of the information relevant to your edit, wrapped into one file on your hard drive. They’re similar to what other NLE’s call project files, except that libraries are capable of holding your media as well.
- Events are stored within libraries, and every library must contain at least one event. I find that it helps to think of events like folders, since events hold and organize your media within your library. For example, on a feature film, I may create separate events for each shoot day’s dailies. For a short form project, I may label events based on camera media cards. You may also have separate events for your music or graphics.
- Projects are the lowest level of organization in FCP X and are housed inside events. “Project” is synonymous with the terms “timeline” or “sequence” used in most other NLE’s.
By design, FCP X can manage all of your media for you, including camera media, proxy media, render files, and anything else you import, in a single place – the library.
This is a powerful feature and can be useful in many situations, like if you intend to edit your project on a single computer or hard drive from start to finish. And if that is your situation, go ahead and adapt your storage setup to meet your own needs.
But we want the freedom to both take our smaller, lightweight proxy media on the go to and to work off a lower powered laptop without sacrificing performance. To do that, we need to retain control over the locations of our original camera media and our proxy media.
FCP X recognizes these different storage needs and allows for two types of media management:
- Managed media refers to media that you let FCP X manage for you. In most cases, this means that you copy your media into FCP X’s library structure and let it handle the organization from there.
- External media refers to media that you manage yourself. In most cases, this means that you organize your media on your hard drive as you see fit. When you import it, you tell FCP X to simply link to it, rather than copy it into the library structure. If you’re familiar with Adobe Premiere or have used FCP 7 in the past, then you’re likely more familiar with external media management.
To fully understand this concept, let’s break down the structure of an FCP X library.
Library File Contents
This is what an FCP X library file looks like on your hard drive.
Though it looks like one single file, it actually contains many other folders and files within it. If you right click on a library file and select Show Package Contents from the context menu, the library will open like any other folder.
Inside, we can see a few metadata files and folders that we generally don’t need to touch.
We’re interested in the corresponding folders for each event that we created in FCP X. In this case, I have one event called BROLL that I created in my FCP X edit and then imported my broll footage into. If you have an event called Wedding Ceremony in your edit, then you’ll find that folder here as well.
If we open up any event folder, we’ll see additional folders for Original Media, Render Files, and Transcoded Media.
The Original Media folder is where FCP X stores our imported media. The Transcoded Media folder is where FCP X will eventually store our proxy files.
This is an image of a managed library. All of the camera media is right here, in the Original Media folder.
By contrast, this is an image of a library with external media.
Note the little arrow icons in the bottom left corner of our media clips. Those icons mean we’re looking at files called symbolic links or symlinks for short. Symlinks tell FCP X that our media is stored externally and act as pointers to that location. You can also tell that these are pointers rather than the actual media, because they are very small files (97 bytes).
To give us ultimately flexibility for our proxy workflow, we’re going to use a combination of external media (for our high resolution camera files) and managed media (for our proxy files).
Ultimately, we want our library to look like this, with external media in the Original Files folder and managed media in the Transcoded Media folder.
For now, let’s focus on our original, high resolution camera media – our external media.
For most professional level projects, maintaining the camera media’s original file structure is imperative. Breaking that file structure can be detrimental for sharing edits between FCP X and other programs like DaVinci Resolve.
We don’t want FCP X to manage this media for us unless we’re sure that the entire project will only ever live in FCP X.
Organize Your Media on Your Hard Drive
Before we even open up FCP X, let’s do a little media housekeeping. First, I strongly suggest you organize your entire edit into a single container folder, and then organize all of your camera media into its own container folder.
For example, the footage you’ll see in the screenshots throughout this article comes from a commercial shoot for a fashion line called NIA. My top-level folder is named NIA_COMMERCIAL_EDIT and immediately inside, my camera media container folder is named NIA_CAMERA_MEDIA. All of my camera media gets copied directly into this folder, with as many subfolders for shoot dates, camera cards, pickups, etc., as needed.
Generally, I create similar folders for graphics, music, voiceovers. That way I know where everything is at a glance.
Once you’ve got your camera media organized, it’s time to create the library that we’ll work out of.
Creating a Library and Setting up Storage Locations
Launch FCP X and close any currently open libraries to avoid confusion.
To create a new library, navigate to File > New > Library.
You can also click the Open Library button in the sidebar and select New in the Open Library dialogue box.
In the Save dialogue box, name your library and then navigate to your project’s container folder. You don’t have to create a new folder to house the library file because, as we’ve seen, it acts as its own folder, keeping all of FCP X’s data inside, but you can if you’d like to.
When you’re ready, hit Save.
In the sidebar, you’ll now see your new library, pre-populated with a Smart Collections folder and an event labeled as today’s date.
Now that we have a library, we can start importing footage.
But first, it’s important to set our import preferences. Use the keyboard shortcut “⌘,” or Navigate to Final Cut Pro > Preferences to open the Preferences window.
In the Preferences window, click on the Import tab. Under the Files heading, we have two options:
- Copy to library creates managed media. By default the media we import will be copied from its original location to be stored inside the selected FCP X library. I’d like to note that we can actually tell FCP X to copy our media to a location outside the library, but when we do this, FCP X reorganizes our media into its own folder structure, rather than maintaining the original file structure, which is not what we want.
- Leave files in place creates external media, meaning that the imported media remains in its original location and is linked to the library with symlinks, rather than copied over to it.
We want to choose Leave files in place. The other Import setting we’re concerned with is under the Transcoding heading, where we have another two options: Create optimized media and Create proxy media.
We’re mostly concerned with the second, but there are situations where optimized media is useful, so let’s go over both.
- Create optimized media: On import, transcode your original media to the ProRes 422 codec, allowing for better editing performance and faster render times. Because this option will maintain the same frame size as your original media, we don’t think of this as proxy media, but more as a direct intermediate. This option is most useful if you’re ingesting footage with a frame size that your computer can handle well, such as 2K or smaller, but in a codec that’s not edit-friendly, such a highly compressed .mp4. By creating optimized media, you can significantly improve editing performance and speed, while maintaining your original frame size. In many cases, these optimized media files will be high quality enough to serve as new master clips. Note that if your original camera media codec can be edited with good performance in FCP X, the create optimized media option is dimmed.
- Create proxy media: On import, transcode your camera media to the lightweight ProRes 422 (Proxy) codec at one-half the original frame size, creating smaller files sizes for faster editing performance and portability. With this option checked, still images you import are transcoded to either JPEG (if the original file doesn’t have alpha channel information) or PNG files (if the file has alpha channel information). Note that the codec and frame size for proxy media can’t be customized.
Check the Create proxy media box and close the Preferences window.
Based on these selections, we know that when we import our camera media, it’ll stay in its original location and be linked to our library. We also know that we’ll be creating proxy media on import, but where does that go?
To find out, let’s take a look at our Library Properties. In the sidebar, select your library. Now open the inspector by using the keyboard shortcut “⌘4” or navigating to Window > Show in Workspace > Inspector.
At the top, the inspector lists the name of our library and underneath, what drive it’s stored on and how much space it’s occupying. Below that, we can see a summary of where our media and other files associated with our library are stored.
If we take a closer look at the Media section, we can see it lists that imported files, proxy and optimized files, and consolidated files are set to be stored In Library.
Don’t let this information confuse you – once we set our Import Preference to “leave files in place,” our camera media won’t be copied to the library, even though it doesn’t specify that here (I wish it did!). The important information is that our proxy files will be stored in the library.
Remember when I said we’d be using a combination of managed and external media? We’re going to keep our proxy files as managed media – meaning they’ll be stored inside the library.
Why? In a nutshell, FCP X has two serious limitations that when combined, form a perfect storm that can destroy its own proxy workflow.
- First, while it has tons of options for moving and copying media, events, and projects, FCP X has no option to move or copy ONLY proxy media. The only way to move or copy proxy media from within FCP X is to move or copy the original camera media along with it – something we’d almost never want to do.
- Second, FCP X has no option to relink offline proxy media. That means that if we try to circumvent the above issue by managing proxy media externally (outside of the library), and we copy that proxy media to a portable hard drive, FCP X will not be able to relink to the proxy media in its new location.
To keep things as simple as possible, while leaving as little room for error as we can, we keep our camera media as external and our proxy media as internal.
That way, we prevent proxy media from going irreparably offline by letting FCP X manage it inside the library, and we bypass copying over original camera media by managing it ourselves, outside the library.
To bring this all together, let’s import some media, create some proxies, and take a closer look.
Importing and Creating Proxies
In FCP X there are two ways to import media: through the Media Import window or by dragging and dropping into an event.
Importing Through the Media Import Window
Selecting an event and clicking the Import Media button or using the keyboard shortcut “⌘I” will bring up the Media Import window.
In addition to allowing you to navigate to your original media, you’ll notice that on the right-hand side, we have the same settings available in Import Preferences. These settings are all global, meaning that we can set them here or in Import Preferences and they’ll remain set in both places. Except for one.
The Media Import window has the ability to override the “Leave files in place” setting and for that reason, I don’t recommend using it.
When browsing files through the Media Import window, FCP X automatically detects file structures that resemble camera media, and when it finds this type of media, it greys out the “Leave files in place” option forces you to choose the “Copy to library.”
Why? FCP X thinks that you’re copying media from an actual camera memory card, so it forces you to copy that media over to the library to stop you from accidentally editing off of a memory card.
It’s true that you should never edit from removable media that will likely be ejected and erased. However, as I’ve mentioned several times, in a professional workflow it’s always best practice to leave the original camera media’s file structure intact, meaning that if you use the Media Import window, FCP X will always think you’re importing from a real camera card, regardless of whether you are or aren’t.
In future releases, let’s hope this feature changes to an overridable warning, rather than an unalterable default.
Drag and Drop Importing
Drap and drop importing bypasses the Media Import window’s memory card issue, allowing you to import your media and maintain all of the settings you’ve selected in Import Preferences.
For the most part, you can drag the highest level folder containing your clips right into your event and all of the media inside will import.
Be aware that you’ll usually get an Unsupported Files message, alerting you that some of the files within those folders won’t import, such as the camera’s metadata files. That’s fine, though. We don’t need those files in FCP X anyway.
As soon as you import media by dragging and dropping, FCP X gets to work creating your proxy files.
Background Processing and Monitoring Progress
FCP X creates proxies using background processing, meaning that you can keep working, labeling or even editing your clips, while the proxies generate in the background. As they finish, they’ll be automatically attached to your high res clips.
You can monitor the progress of all background tasks by using the keyboard shortcut “⌘9”, or navigating to Window > Background Tasks.
The Background Tasks window lists a variety of processes that may be happening behind the scenes. The first section, Transcoding and Analysis, is where you can see the progress of your proxy clips.
What if You’ve Already Imported Media?
If you’ve already begun editing or importing without having created proxies, don’t worry. You can also create them after import, right from the browser.
Before you do anything else, STOP and consider whether your original imported media is external or managed. If you want to take your proxies on the go, your imported media must be external.
Not sure? Select your library in the sidebar, right click it and select Reveal in Finder from the context menu.
This will take you to where your library file is stored on your hard drive. Right click the library file and select Show Package Contents.
Navigate to and open one of your event folders, and then open the Original Media folder. Are the media files inside symlinks? If so, then your media is external. If you have multiple events, it’s a good idea to run through them here and make sure all of their media is external.
If you don’t see symlinks, you have managed media and need to make it external before creating any proxies.
We can do this from within FCP X using the consolidate feature.
Consolidating to Create External Media
Consolidate allows us to gather all the media in the project and move it to a new location. We can use it to move our managed media to a folder outside the library, making it external.
It’s important to note that ALL media associated with your library will be copied to the new folder with this method. For example, if you’ve imported your camera media as managed, but have kept your music as external, the consolidate feature will copy both the camera media and music to the new location.
To consolidate, select your library in the sidebar and if it’s not already visible, open the inspector panel using the keyboard shortcut “⌘4” to bring up Library Properties.
Select the Modify Settings button next to Storage Locations.
Under the Media dropdown menu in the Storage Locations dialogue box, select Choose.
Navigate to where you’d like to store your external media, creating a new folder if necessary, and click Choose. Click OK to close the Modify Settings dialogue box.
Back in Library Preferences, click the Consolidate button under the Media heading.
In the dialogue box, you’ll have the option to include Optimized media, Proxy media, or both.
If you haven’t generated any media then you can leave these options checked, however if you have already generated proxy media, then uncheck the Proxy media box so it remains inside the library as managed media.
Once you click OK, FCP X will move all of your media outside of the library to the new location. If you reveal your library in the finder one more time, you can verify that your media now uses symlinks and is external.
Creating Proxies from the Browser
Before we create proxies for our clips, we need to change our storage locations one more time, so that the proxy clips end up inside the library as managed media.
In Library Preferences, select Modify Settings next to Storage Locations. Under the Media dropdown menu, select In Library and click ok.
Now, simply select the clips or whole events you want to create proxies for, right click, and choose Transcode Media from the context menu.
The Transcoding Media dialogue box opens, with the same two choices we explored when importing: Create optimized media or Create proxy media.
Check Create proxy media and click OK. FCP X will begin to generate proxies in the background, which you can monitor through the Background Tasks window.
Working with Proxies in the Project
Now that we’ve created our proxies, we have to set the viewer to display them instead of our original camera media.
Toggling Proxy Media
In the upper-right corner of the viewer, click the View dropdown menu, locate the MEDIA heading and select Proxy.
FCP X will automatically switch your project to view proxy media. It’s important to understand that ONLY proxy media will be displayed when Proxy is selected in the View menu.
That means any files that haven’t been transcoded to proxy media will display a Missing Proxy File icon.
Create Missing Proxies
If you see any Missing Proxy File icons, you can transcode the missing media in one of two ways:
- Select the clip or clips in the event browser, identified by the Missing Proxy warning, right click, and choose Transcode Media from the context menu.
- Select a clip with a missing proxy in the event browser and open the inspector by using the keyboard shortcut “⌘4”. In the inspector, navigate to the Info tab. Under the Available Media Representation heading, you’ll see that the Proxy media is missing, indicated by a red triangle (a green dot means the proxy is online). Click on the Generate Proxy button to create the missing proxy.
Exporting Your Project
When you’re ready to export your project for sharing or review, you’ll almost always want to switch back to Optimized/Original media in the viewer by clicking the View dropdown menu and selecting Optimized/Original under the Media heading.
By default, FCP X will export using whichever setting is active. For the highest quality export, always use Optimized/Original media. However, if you’d prefer to export a smaller, lower quality file for review, then exporting proxy media can be desireable as well, as it will usually be faster.
Deleting Proxy Media
When you’ve finished a project and don’t need the generated proxy media anymore, you can easily delete it from within FCP X.
Select the event or events you’d like to delete proxies for and navigate to File > Delete Generated Event Files.
Check Delete Proxy Media and choose any other options you’d like in the dialogue box. Click OK and FCP X will delete the proxy media.
Copying Proxy Media to a Portable Drive
Now that we have camera media in an external folder and proxy media managed in the library, moving just our proxies to a portable hard is simple. We can go about it into two different ways.
But first, take a moment to open your project and change the Viewer to display proxy media. If anything in your timeline is offline, create the missing proxy media now as detailed above.
If everything is online, you’re ready to copy.
Copying from Within FCP X
In the sidebar in FCP X, select all the events in your library. Navigate to File > Copy Events to Library and select New Library. In the Save dialogue box, navigate to your portable drive and create a folder if desired to house the library.
Name the new library carefully. You always want to be able to differentiate your current library from older versions.
Once you click Save, a dialogue box will pop up asking if you want to include Optimized or Proxy media. Make sure that Proxy media is checked, since we want to copy that over to our portable drive.
Notice that the information in the dialogue box tells us “Media stored in external folders will be left in place.” That means that while we can tell FCP X to copy our proxy media, it will leave our original camera files in place in their external location, which is exactly what we want.
Once you click OK, FCP X will copy the library and proxy media to your portable drive.
Copying from the Finder
We can also copy our proxy media through the finder. In the sidebar in FCP X, select your library, right click and choose Reveal in Finder from the context menu.
By now, we know that the revealed library file contains our proxy media and project metadata, but not our original camera media.
That means we can simply copy this library file over to our portable drive and all the proxy media will go along with it. We can then open it from our portable drive and get to work.
Don’t Forget to Copy External Assets
Whether you copy your library through FCP X or the finder, it’s important to remember to copy over any additional media you may need on the road that’s not managed within the library.
Depending on how you like to work and import media, this may include an external music, graphics or ADR folder.
Remember that when you move this type of media between drives and reopen your library, you’ll have to relink it through FCP X’s Relink Media window.
Open the Library from Your Portable Drive
Once your library is copied over to your portable drive, you can open it either by double clicking it in the Finder window or from within FCP X by navigating to File > Open Library > Other and then choosing the library file on your portable drive.
When the library opens, you may get a warning that some storage locations for the library are unavailable. You’ll see a caution triangle next to any locations that need to be addressed, but in most cases, it’s just Media. Choose In Library from the dropdown menu and click OK.
Don’t panic if your media shows up offline. Go to the View menu dropdown and make sure that Proxy is selected. Now your proxy media should be online.
Lastly, reconnect any external media, such as music or graphics files, using the File > Relink Files feature.
Keeping Track of Updated Library and/or Project Files
How you choose to manage your library and project files is up to you, but here a few suggestions:
- If you copy your library between hard drives, append each copy with the date or a version number so you always know which is the most recent file.
- If your library becomes large with proxy media, you don’t necessarily have to re-copy it every time you update your project. Instead, you can use FCP X’s Copy or Move Items feature to move new events between libraries, detailed here. Just remember that if you’ve added new media to your library, you’ll want to copy those over too including the proxy files when prompted within FCP X and manually copying the original camera files to your external camera media folder.
- There are third-party apps that help make syncing library, events, and projects easier. Which one to use really depends on your personal workflow, but two worth a mention are Sync Folders Pro and Final Cut Library Manager.
Other Workflow Ideas
If you want to explore more and like troubleshooting workflows, then I encourage you to test these ideas out (use with caution).
So far, I’ve made a clear case for keeping proxies as managed media within the FCP X Library. This is a sure-fire way to make sure that you always have the media you need and that nothing goes offline.
But sometimes for larger projects, your proxy media ends up being pretty big, which in turn makes copying your library file between drives a bit of a pain.
If you ONLY intend to use proxies on the same, single portable drive (or internally on your mac) and are certain you won’t need to copy them elsewhere, then using external proxies deserves a mention.
Before creating your proxies, modify the settings for your Storage Locations in the inspector panel to set an external folder for your media. Then create your proxies as normal.
Your library will look like something like this.
To work with proxies only, simply disconnect the drive with your original camera media and take the drive or computer with your proxy media with you.
The benefit to this workflow is that because ALL the media is stored externally, the library file itself is very small and can be copied, shared, and updated more quickly.
The downside is that if you move the file path of your external proxies or even rename the drive they’re located on, FCP X’s symlinks will break and the proxies will go offline with no option to reconnect then.
External Proxies with Symlinks
Here’s another intriguing workflow for dealing with larger proxy libraries that uses self-made symlinks, for those who want to experiment.
Essentially, you create the proxies as managed media and then manually move them outside the library as external media and create your own symlinks though the Finder.
One big drawback for this method is that FCP X separates each event into its own folder, which means if you’re working on a larger project with many events, this workaround becomes tedious to maintain.
Using Original Media to “Relink” Proxies
If you do find yourself in a situation where your proxies have gone offline and can’t be relinked, there is one last resort that generally yields success, but requires having access to both the proxy files AND the original media.
Make sure that all media, proxy and original, is available on the computer you’re working with. Select your library and in Library Properties, select the Modify Settings button for Storage Locations.
Set your Media storage location to where the existing proxies are. Depending on how you created them, the folder structure will differ, but generally, you want to point to the outermost folder that FCP X created.
Back in the browser, select the clips that need to be relinked to their proxies, right click and choose Transcode Media from the context menu. Choose Create proxy media in the dialogue box and click OK.
FCP X should then recognize that those proxies are already there and rather than re-transcode then, simply reconnect them.
Note: In general, this method seems to work, but some people have reported that FCP X duplicates certain proxy clips.
In-Camera and Third-Party Proxies
FCP X does not have the capacity to link original high resolution media to in-camera proxies or proxies created in other software, such as DaVinci Resolve.
You can, of course, import these proxies, edit your offline project and then relink back to the original media to create an online project. But there is no way to take advantage of FCP X’s fast switching between original and proxy media with this method.
And the more you understand about how FCP X works internally, the more you can adapt any given workflow to meet your needs. Using proxies in the most basic situation requires nothing more than checking one box, but if you want to become a proxy master, it’s worth putting in the time to really understand the various options. Like Premiere Pro’s proxy workflow, FCP X’s tools get the job done, combining your offline and online edits into one.
So create a library, import some media, and start playing around.
As always, feel free ask questions or give suggestions in the comments!