Final Cut Pro X: New! Improved Proxy Workflow

One of the headline features in the 10.4.9 update to Final Cut Pro X is a number of improvements to proxy editing.

COMMENTARY

For some reason, proxy editing has developed a negative connotation which I don’t understand. If you found a free utility on the web which would improve file handling and boost performance in Final Cut, would you download it?

Of course you would! All of us are searching for free utilities that do magic.

That’s what proxy editing is – a free utility, built into Final Cut, that increases performance, decreases storage bandwidth, speeds rendering, and gives you control over image quality. All at the click of a single button.

Proxies could not be easier or more helpful.

Several times a week I get emails from editors who are buying new gear. One of the most requested features is to: “Future-proof my system, so I can edit 8K video without proxies.”

First, in today’s technology-driven culture, it is impossible to determine where the future is going; “future-proofing” is a fool’s errand. Buy what you need today, emphasizing the GPU and RAM. Second, though, is discounting the value of proxies. To edit 8K natively – especially HDR 8K – requires a high-end Mac Pro, with very fast, very big storage. However, most of us aren’t editing 8K HDR footage natively and there’s no reason to spend all that money “just in case.” Instead, when dealing with large frame sizes, simply switch over to proxies and work with much less expensive gear.

Proxies are your friend, not an acknowledgement of weakness.

OK, I’m done now.

WHAT’S NEW

Apple made many improvements to proxy editing with this update. For example, we can now:

Let’s take a closer look at what these options mean in practice.

CREATE PROXIES ON IMPORT

There are two places to create proxies:

In addition to rearranging the settings on the right of the Media Import window, Apple added two significant choices to creating proxies:

If file storage is not a big issue or if you are editing on an older system, choose ProRes Proxy. This is a highly-efficient codec, optimized for editing, that runs well on slower systems. It also provides higher image quality, compared to H.264.

If conserving file storage is important, you need to share project files with another editor, or you have a newer system, H.264 may be the better choice.

I did a quick test. Starting with a 1 GB ProRes 422 master, a half-size ProRes Proxy file was about 90% smaller. H.264 was about 10% the size of each ProRes Proxy file. Each reduction in frame size cut the file size by roughly 2/3.

Three reminders:

NOTE: There are a few file formats that do not support proxies: audio, video with alpha channels and still images. I would also expect that titles and generators to not support proxies, either.

PROXY DISPLAY

Here’s a simple sequence of three master clips that illustrate another change in proxies: how they are displayed in the timeline.

To switch from optimized or original footage to proxies, go to the View menu in the top right corner of the Viewer and choose Proxy Only.

NOTE: To switch back to optimized or original footage from proxies, simply select Optimized/Original in the View menu. Relinking is automatic and instant.

When you select Proxies, clips that have proxies are displayed in the timeline. Clips without proxies are displayed as red boxes. Frustrating!

Instead, when you select Proxies Preferred, if proxies exist, they are displayed. If not, the camera master/optimized clip is displayed. This removes one of the big frustrations of using proxies – that of not creating them in the first place.

NOTE: To create proxies after import, select the clips that need proxies in the Browser, then choose File > Transcode Media. As with importing clips, you get to select the codec and frame size of the proxies you create after the fact.

The benefit to creating proxies from Browser clips is that you can select the specific clips you want to create proxies for, rather than creating proxies for all imported clips using Media Import. (We can’t create proxies or optimized media by selecting Timeline clips.)

SIDE NOTE

If you want to know which versions of your media exist, select the clip, then go to the Info Inspector and scroll to the bottom.

A green light means that format exists. A red light means it doesn’t. In this screen shot, the camera master and proxy file exist, an optimized version does not.

Click the Transcode Media button to create different formats of your media, the same as using the File menu.

COLLABORATION – SHARING PROJECTS

When compared to Premiere, Apple has taken a different approach to collaboration.

Premiere is designed for collaboration where all team members are working off the same shared network, able to easily exchange media and projects. Up until the current pandemic, that choice made a lot of sense.

Apple views collaboration as a remote endeavor, where one editor sends files to another editor. While this didn’t make a lot of sense when the entire editorial staff is in the same building, it does today, when we are all working remotely.

Another new feature is that we can now create proxy-only versions of projects, events and libraries. To create a proxy-only project:

What I also discovered is that once that new library is created, Final Cut opens it so you can verify everything looks good. (This was done so seamlessly, I didn’t notice it for a few minutes.)

To send this library to another editor, select the library, then, in the Finder, choose File > Compress [project]. Zipping is necessary because it protects all the different files in a library from getting damaged during web transfer.

The new editor can edit this project as much as they want, even add new media to the library. When they are done, they should select the library, ZIP it and send it back to the original editor.

RELINKING A PROXY-ONLY PROJECT

When the original editor, who has all the master files, gets a proxy-only project, they can easily relink it. Here’s how:

In this window, which appears after you drag the project, select Project without media. The project is copied and all media is relinked automatically.

NOTE: If you added new media to the project and want the new media to be copied to the original library, select Media in the Include section, then select the Original media checkbox.

SUMMARY

Proxies have been a part of Final Cut for many years. But the improvements made with this update make working with – and sharing – proxies a whole lot easier.

If you are currently editing HD media, you don’t need proxies – though they will help when doing multicam editing. But, as you expand into larger frame sizes, HDR, or extensive multicam projects proxies will streamline your editing workflow. And when you need to share a project between editors, the new proxy workflow is a BIG help.

EXTRA CREDIT

Also, after reading Apple’s press release I realize I should also mention that third party developers like Frame.io, Keyflow Pro, and Postlab also support these new proxy features – as well as very powerful multi-user workflows.

Here’s a link to an Apple KnowledgeBase article that explains more about proxy-only libraries.


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8 Responses to Final Cut Pro X: New! Improved Proxy Workflow

  1. In an effort to save space would it be best to use proxy media only? Is there any real advantage to using optimize media for editing.

    • Larry says:

      Wayne:

      Keep in mind that proxy media is, at best, 1/2 the resolution of the camera original. If you are shooting 4K and editing 1080, the proxy media will look virtually the same as camera native. However, if you are shooting 4K and editing 4K, proxy media will look worse.

      Larry

  2. Martin says:

    Thanks for convincing me to go the Proxy route. The ONLY justifiable reason to ditch my 2015 MBP would be higher performance in FXPX but allowing for a little bit of extra time creating proxies during import (while I pack away my gear).
    I’ve instead installed a fast 2TB SSD for $240 (instead of $400 add-on custom order in newer MBPs). Note: after 2016 no MBPs can be customer upgraded.

  3. Dan Weissman says:

    What I’d really like to know — perhaps I don’t because I’ve just not done the deep dive — is what happens when you’re working with a proxy-only library and you use an effect. Does FCP: 
    1) render using proxy media only (if that’s a thing) and keep the newly-generated clip in the library, or
    2) render using original/optimized media, then render a proxy of the newly-generated clip, and store the proxy in the library, and store the other… where?
    3) some other method?
    It seems to me that if the idea is to keep the library small, the default behavior should be that only the proxy of the newly-generated clip resides in it.

    • Larry says:

      Dan:

      Apple has taken a very simple and straight-forward approach. When you render proxy files, you use proxy media. When you switch to high-res files, all proxy render files are deleted and FCP X re-renders everything automatically using the higher-quality media.

      Larry

  4. Jesse Hollington says:

    This is a great writeup and a big help, thanks!

    I got excited when I first read about the new proxy workflow features, but hadn’t had the time to really dive into them, but thanks to your instructions, I’ve managed to get a workflow that saves me having to travel to my church just to be able to work on stuff on the Mac Pro.

    In fact, this worked so well that I was able to create ProRes Proxy projects that performed surprisingly well on my aging 2013 MacBook Pro — rendering is naturally a bit sluggish, but nowhere nearly as bad as it would have been with the original media, and the sizes are much more tolerable.

    In fact, I’ve even able to use a Remote Desktop session to upload and relink up the proxy projects and render the final versions on the Mac Pro from afar; I simply point Compressor to a shared folder so the results are automatically there for review as soon as it’s done.

    Now I just wish it was possible to open a Final Cut project directly from an iCloud folder, but I can understand why that’s rife with potential problems (but I’m going to keep dreaming that maybe someday Apple’s iCloud team and their FCP team will get together for a few beers and hash out how to make it work properly 😀 ).

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