'Best of the Bronx' won the category of Outstanding Community Service PSA campaign at the recent 58th New York Emmy Awards. Walter Garaicoa tells FCP.co how the spots were shot on DSLRs and edited using Final Cut Pro X.
Not the first FCPX user story we have featured that includes winning an Emmy, but always good to get more detail about projects that have been recognised for their content.
Walter Garaicoa takes us through the process of shooting and editing this Emmy winning series. All the visual effects and colour grading were done right inside FCPX.
We will let him take up the story after we have embedded the finished announcements.
On May of this year, at the 58th New York Emmy Awards from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, The “Best of the Bronx” Public Service Announcements won in the category for Outstanding Community Service PSA campaign.
“Best of the Bronx” is a series of 10 - 1 min video vignettes promoting New York City's northernmost borough. "Best of the Bronx" highlights Bronx icons such as Arthur Avenue's Little Italy, iconic Wave Hill, historic Woodlawn Cemetery, and the beautiful City Island. I was the VFX/Post Production Supervisor for the series.
The idea behind the project was to provide a unique training scenario for students to gain real-world experience while generating a product at the highest quality. The spots are distributed in broadcast, cablecast, Internet and on the Taxi-TV screens in every yellow taxi cabs in the city.
The post-production phase of the series started in New York and was finalized in Ecuador. We started post during the summer of 2013 until the fall of that year. All things ran smoothly until I got a phone call from Ecuador. My mother got very ill. I had to make an emergency trip. Little did I know, that first trip would become one of many.
But let me focus on FCP X and how the “Best of the Bronx” spots were developed. I appreciate the fact that, Project Manager Brendan McGivney brought the post team in right at the beginning of the process. Brendan asked me on how to customize the pre-production process to maximize post production.
PRE-PRO & PRODUCTION
Principal photography was done primarily with DSLR cameras and dual audio system. One of my first suggestions was to try to unify the file naming conventions for all the shoots. Each one of the spots was filmed at different locations with different crews at different times. I suggested to add a DIT position for each one of the shoots.
These days with digital cinematography, it is easy to comeback from a shoot with thousands of clips. I asked that all the files be renamed using the following protocol:
Renaming the files this way proved invaluable during the editing process. The DITs quality controlled and backed up all the data on set. Then, all files were renamed using the very useful application called Name Changer. By the time the hard drives got back to the studio, the media had already been renamed and arranged. My editors created keyword collections based on the folders. And instantly, the FCP X project was pre-organized.
As I mentioned earlier, this was late summer of 2013. At that point we were working on FCP X version 10.0.9. I am sure you remember the good old times before Libraries were introduced to FCP. As you would imagine, like on any project deadlines are always looming. We worked in three parallel timelines. My editors, Josmar Taveras and Brian Caraveo, created the main storyline then added lots of B-Roll creating a preliminary rough-cut. At the same time graphics were being developed and original music was being scored for each one of the segments.
It was really amazing to see how everybody was so focused on each one of their tasks yet at the same time they were complementing each other. The editors, after finishing their first pass of the rough cut, would provide selected footage to the graphics team for timing and tracking. In each of the spots, the host would wave his/her hand to bring in a graphics page with information and directions about the location.
FCP X made the process seamless. The editors created H.264 files directly from the timeline and transferred them over via Dropbox. Then, the graphics team sent back proxies as placeholders until the animations were rendered. Once they arrived, the editors relinked to the high-resolution animations in FCP X.
At this point everything was running smoothly. However, I had to stay in Ecuador for longer periods of time. My mother was back in the intensive care unit.
I decided to bring equipment down south to continue on the mastering and VFX phase. I had devised a way to make all the media available for me to use in Ecuador. Since principal photography had not ended at that point, I asked the team to finish as much of the rough cutting. Then create a disk image to use as a transport tool to upload each of the projects as they became available. One of the advantages of using a disk image is that it would grow to match the size of the media included. It was very helpful because downloading in South America was painfully slow. Once it was done, there was no reconnecting or relinking of any files. The projects and events opened without a problem.
I initially started doing all the color grading with DaVinci Resolve. It is a fantastic tool, but I experienced round-tripping issues. Due to deadlines, I had to change gears. I realized the two main reasons I was using Resolve were, one, the power windows, and two, curves. I wanted to stay within FCP X.
Then I started using the Color Board along with Magic Bullet Looks. The color board allowed me to do my primary color pass. If the shot required it, I would add another instance of the color correction tool to use its mask as a power window. I really like the ability to be able to independently apply color correction to the inside or outside of the mask.
The secondary grading pass was done in Magic Bullet Looks. In Looks, I started with one the presets. For Best of the Bronx, my favorite starting preset was Buffalo. I tweaked each parameter: curves, vignetting, diffusion and saturation. Once I was happy with a look, I applied it to the rest of the clips in the timeline. I also went back and adjusted a few more parameters. I made sure all colors were even from shot to shot.
Being able to do full color correction and grading without leaving FCP was a real time saver.
If anyone looks at spots in the series, no one would imagine there were tons of effects applied. My favorite visual effects are the ones that look natural and feel like a part of the scene.
For this task, I used several plugins. I wanted to add a touch of lens flares. Nothing over the top. I like the on-screen controls. It is very easy to position the lens flares anywhere on the screen and then move them around interactively. And if I needed to adjust a parameter within the lens flare, I would opened the inspector and started modifying the settings.
I used the ProVega lens flares collection in the Wave Hill spot. I think the seamless combination of the nature scenes in the organic lens flares gave the whole spot a much more relaxing and heartwarming feeling.
On the Woodlawn Cemetery and BCC spots, there are several places where the hosts are inside large structures. I thought it was a great opportunity to add some light rays peaking through the windows. I added some Prolumetric lighting. I added a touch color and subtle shimmering light rays. I also keyframed the light source origin to match the camera movement. And to add some depth, I sprinkled some dust particles.
MASTERING & DELIVERY
The mastering process was done all within the FCP X. At this time, I was in Ecuador and I had only in my laptop. The real-time feedback from the waveform and vectorscope monitors within FCP was a huge plus. I made some final tweaks on the colors, brightness and contrast levels. Then I added a broadcast filter at the end of the chain.
For audio, I used the Loudness and Background Noise Removal audio enhancers to even out the voice over. There was some equalizing in the VO and music. On the music, I lowered the volume between the 1000 KHz and 2000 kHz bands to create a little extra room for the voiceover to hover above the song.
I had to make three sets of deliverables. All the master spots were exported directly from FCP X as progressive ProRes HQ files. Second, depending on the company, I mainly used Compressor or Adobe Media Converter to transcode the master files to:
For the yellow taxi cabs’ on-board screens, the Taxi-TV specs presented a challenge. Specs required DivX AVI files. I used DivX Converter on the Mac. For some reason, DivX Converter did not output the right aspect ratio. It kept squeezing the horizontal dimensions to fit the 16:9 footage inside the 4:3 box. I tried several settings, but it just did not work. All the videos ended up looking tall and skinny. Luckily, my brother saved the day. He had a PC app called Total Video Converter. We transcoded all the DivX files and we were able to deliver them on time and on specs.
For Best of the Bronx, I used G-Raid hard drives to back up all the projects and media. I happen to like G-Raids. They are sturdy and reliable. I have been using them for years without any hardware failures. And while in Ecuador, I used two G-Raid Minis to keep back ups of all the media.
The day after I finished uploading all the spots unfortunately my mother passed.
A few weeks later, I got back to the States. I backed up once again to local drives and transferred all projects and media to Lehman College’s hard drives. I would have never imagined that after such mourning moments, the “Best of the Bronx” series is now an Emmy award winning series.
Walter Garaicoa is the president and owner of WGTV Productions. During his professional life, Mr. Garaicoa is a 6-times Emmy® Award winner and 4-times Telly Award winner. Mr. Garaicoa’s latest achievements include three Emmy® awards for his works, Best of the Bronx, Chihuly at the Garden and the documentary “The World is Coming to Hunts Point.”
Walter has been the keynote speaker at the Bronx Community College Freshmen Convocation and he has also been a speaker at the Alliance for Community Media Conferences and Trade Show.
He’s an active member of the NYC Motion Graphics organization and NYC Final Cut Pro Users Group. Mr. Garaicoa is an Apple Certified Final Cut Pro Trainer and an adjunct professor at Lehman College of the City University of New York, where he lectures on non-linear editing, advanced television production and advanced audio production.