Turbo Charge Your FCP X Workflow with DaVinci Resolve

When FCP X was released in 2011, it famously/infamously caused quite a stir. Its magnetic timeline confused many editors, and a slew of other frustrating issues caused many to abandon the program altogether. While many of those criticisms were well deserved, there is a lot about FCP X that is either misunderstood or misrepresented. It actually has a bountiful number of professional features that improve efficiency and speed of editing, and make it a viable NLE for anything from industry feature films to Fortune 500 commercials to broadcast television.

Although many of the initial problems with FCP X that caused this exodus have long been addressed with updates (multicam and 3rd party hardware output were added soon after its release for instance), DaVinci Resolve can—for FREE—solve the number one problem that FCP X is still hasits limited file exchange format capability.

So let’s take a look at how DaVinci Resolve can be folded into your FCP X workflow so that you can turn over your picture and sound to any program you like, without having to buy any software or plug-ins (like EDL-X or X2Pro, which cost $100 and  $150, respectively!).

FCP X’s Missing Feature: Interchange Formats

If you were to point out the fact that FCP X is still limited in the area of project interchange formats, I would have to agree with you on the whole. After all, it doesn’t export standard .xml, but rather .fcpxml (a type of XML that isn’t currently compatible with most other video and audio software). It doesn’t support AAF, OMF or EDL, so you are pretty much stuck with .fcpxml as your only option out of FCP X.

fcpx export menu

Why is this a problem?

While there is absolutely nothing wrong with FCP X’s own color correction and audio editing tools (at least for basic work), the vast majority of professional workflows out there are going to require the ability to send your project to specialty programs to handle things like color and sound. (On a side note, while the aforementioned OMF and EDL are still legitimately supported file exchange formats, it is always recommended to use AAF and XML when possible. These project exchange formats carry more information than their older cousins and should always be given preference.)

The bottom line is: no matter whether you’re heading to Resolve, Baselight, Pro Tools, Adobe Audition, or any of a number of other programs, you are going to need a file exchange format that is recognized across these applications—and unfortunately, .fcpxml is not it.

Whatever shall we do?

DaVinci Resolve to the Rescue

Let’s take a look now at how Resolve can act as a “translator” of sorts between FCP X and the rest of the editing world.

Once you’ve got your .fcpxml exported from FCP X, open Resolve. When you navigate to “File” and then “Import AAF, EDL, XML…” (it means .fcpxml as well), there are several FCP X-specific options on the following prompt in addition to the standard options.

resolve import menu

“Use color information” is a check-box that only works with FCP X, which allows you to bring over any color changes made in FCP X to DaVinci Resolve before deciding if you want to scrap them and start from scratch.

load xml window

The “Mixed frame rate format” option is also FCP X-only. This is especially helpful in documentaries where you often have footage not just with different resolutions, but different frame rates as well. This way, you don’t have to render framerate changes ahead of time in FCP X. You can take care of it all in Resolve, without worrying that your sequence might go out of sync in the translation process.

Conforming

Assuming you had the “Automatically import source clips into media pool” selected upon import you should now have your FCP X project—timeline and media—up and running in Resolve. This translation from one NLE to another via a file exchange format isn’t always foolproof, however, and so now comes what is commonly known as the “conform” stage during which you will make sure that everything has translated properly in your timeline’s journey from FCP X— and manually fix anything that hasn’t.

Usually, this is done by laying a low-res QT file of your timeline (created in FCP X) on an upper layer of the timeline (in Resolve) and checking the timing of cuts and transitions and that all clips have properly reconnected. If you are reconnecting to higher-res media, you may also need to go through and make sure all your “scale” attributes are behaving properly. If you had been working in a low-res, offline sequence and are now creating a high-res, online sequence, your raster dimensions will be different and sometimes clips’ “scale” attributes do not translate properly from one application to another.

improper scaling

Improper scaling on import into Resolve (screenshot from Forgiving Buddha, courtesy of Wakan Films)

Another problem editors often come up against during the conforming process—at least in their Premiere -> Resolve workflow—is that any compound clips you created in Premiere (how some folks like to marry audio to video in that NLE) tend to cause problems when you attempt to reconnect in Resolve. Once you know this, you can simply circumvent the issue altogether by using another method to sync your dailies, but FCP X and its .fcpxml is actually able to avoid this problem altogether.

Compound Clips & Multicams

In fact, not only do compound clips and multicam clips from FCP X reconnect quite easily in Resolve via the .fcpxml, but you can also continue to make multicam choices inside Resolve and “decompose” the compound clips and “flatten” the multicam clips in Resolve by right-clicking on the clip. FCP X users were rightfully upset when the ability to flatten your multicams was removed between 7 and X, but Resolve has stepped in to solve this problem for us as well.switch multicam

flatten multicam

Compound Clips As Nests/Scenes in FCP X

The ability to decompose compound clips from FCP X inside Resolve is especially good news to those FCP X editors who use compound clips in FCP X as timelines/sequences (rather than the intended “Projects”).

decompose multicam
nested clips in fcpx

Here is a number of scenes “nested” in FCPX as compound clips.

This method essentially treats these compound clips as “nests”, where each one could be an individual scene or reel in the film. You can then drop them all into one single timeline (or “Project” in FCP X) when it comes time to assemble the whole movie from the individual scenes or reels. Then, when you shoot your .fcpxml over to Resolve, you will be able to look at your edit with each scene as a compound clip and easily reorder scenes if need be before decomposing them all in place for detailed color and audio work.

nested clips in resolve

The same reel from the previous image with scenes as compound clips in Resolve (the middle scenes have been un-nested)

Where do we go from here??

With its wide file format support, Resolve gives you the ability to spit your project out to just about ANY other program.

  • Send it to Adobe Premiere via the .xml or .edl functions (again, I  recommend .xml as it carries more information than .edl). This could be helpful if you have After Effects as part of your workflow, as Adobe has their wonderful “dynamic link” feature. So FCP X —> DaVinci —> Premiere/After Effects —> back to DaVinci for finishing could be an option.
  • Send it to another high-end finishing tool like Baselight.
  • Spit out an AAF for importing into Avid or Pro Tools for audio finishing. It’s important to note that if you use “File” → “Export AAF, XML…” to create your AAF this will end up re-linking to your original media when you import it into another application. If you use the “Pro Tools” option in the “Deliver” tab however, this will create not just an AAF but new MXF files from your original media and Pro Tools will re-link to these upon AAF import— not to your original media.
  • Lastly you could use Resolve as a way to migrate any old FCP7 timelines over to FCP X without the need of the widely-used “Send To X” 3rd-party app. Simply export your .xml from FCP7 per usual (I recommend neatening up your timeline in 7 first rather than in X as the track to roles functionality can become messy in the translation). Open your .xml in Resolve, re-export as a .fcpxml and then bring that into FCP X. Viola! If FCP X gives you a timeline with layers upon layers of videos, simply select everything above the primary storyline, hold down “option” and “command” and hit the down arrow key. This will consolidate everything onto one “track” and make things more manageable.

Problems Solved

So as you can see, Resolve pairs very nicely with FCP X because Resolve is particularly strong in the area where FCP X is weakest. We have successfully gotten around FCP X’s limited file exchange formats and its inability to flatten multicams. We’ve migrated our FCP 7 projects over to FCP X and we’ve gotten our FCP X projects into a more easily-accessible and robust finishing program—ready to round-trip anywhere—and all without spending any money on additional 3rd party plugins.

  • J Dor

    Great article
    How about roundtripping from Premiere to Davinci and back?
    Some of the projects here have a lot of various file formats, resolutions, codecs (image sequences, ProRes, DV, Betacam, Raw etc.)

    • J Dor. Good question. It is extremely easy to go back and forth from Premiere to DaVinci. It’s really just FCPX that is difficult when it comes to file exchange formats. Depending on your workflow set-up so far I would recommend conforming as much of your footage (with different formats, resolutions, codecs etc) all to the SAME codec BEFORE you start any editing. If you are mid-edit you will have to wait and conform at the end but I try and get as much of my footage on the same playing field as possible when I have a great variety. But in terms of Premiere to DaVinci it’s as easy as the good ole’ .xml. – Ryan Charles

      • John Matthews

        I don’t quite get why FCPX is problematic with XML, it’s a text file that is open to anyone who wants to work with it. It contains far more information then PPro Xml which is infact the old FCP6 XML. Here’s a very good article from Philip Hodgetts; http://www.fcp.co/final-cut-pro/tutorials/1912-demystifying-final-cut-pro-xmls-by-philip-hodgetts-and-gregory-clarke

        Resolve works incredibly well in both directions with FCPX. AAF on the other hand although it is supposed to be a standard and part of MXF, generally is only used by Avid for Media Composer and Protools and because Avid has such a grip on traditional workflows it seems to be some sort of standard, but it’s a hard nut to crack. It’s a binary format and contains Avid dark matter.

        I’ve got Roundtripping working with Avid and FCPX, via Resolve, where you can turn up on a gig with already ingested Avid Media (Opatom MXF), export QTref files to FCPX, cut in X and return a sequence back to Avid, relink with no media being copied.

        The idea was mainly to leverage the multicam capablities of FCP. There’s a still a lot of testing to do, and if you use X2Pro for the audio you get a tracklay in Avid with named tracks by Role and or Subrole. I don’t think the problems of interchange are because of lack of AAF support by Apple

    • Richard E Starkey

      J Dor, I agree with Ryan Charles.
      Although Resolve does handle mixed frame rates and codecs, in my experience it’s best to try to get everything into one codec. With frame rates, I tend to dabble till I get it right: wither convert to the correct frame rate on a frame-for-frame basics, thus changing the length of the clip, OR making sure Premiere is interpreting the footage correctly.

  • J Dor. Good question. It is extremely easy to go back and forth from Premiere to DaVinci. Depending on your workflow set-up so far I would recommend conforming as much of your footage (with different formats, resolutions, codecs etc) all to the SAME codec BEFORE you start any editing. If you are mid-edit you will have to wait and conform at the end but I try and get as much of my footage on the same playing field as possible when I have a great variety. But in terms of Premiere to DaVinci it’s as easy as the good ole’ .xml. – Ryan Charles

  • Richard E Starkey

    Great article, thanks Ryan. I didn’t know that you could choose transfer that color info into Resolve from X. But you’re absolutely right about the biggest limitation of FCP X.

    • Thanks Richard! Yea, FCPX and DaVinci play quite nicely together.

    • Pol Pol

      as a matter of fact it is no “any” color change but only “the primaries” (whitch is logical)

  • Austin Piwinski

    Hey Ryan, question here if that okay since you seem to know your stuff. I have been droping frames when my files are sent back to Final Cut X. They seem to happen to clips that I am speed ramping. Do you know why this would be an issue and how to fix a problem? I have the mixed frame rate box checked for final cut x, but it still leaves me with issues. Thanks!