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  • Editing for multiple screens with FCPX

    Posted by Tim Spicer on February 19, 2024 at 5:15 pm

    Hello good people of the FCPX community,

    I am seeking ideas on how to approach a multi-screen documentary / installation project that I will soon start work on. I have had a long break from editing and am back, trying to get my head around FCPX.

    The installation will have ten discreet, tightly synchronised “streams” of both video and audio playing concurrently to ten seperate screens. Periodically, the “streams” will have “synchronised moments”, i.e. the subjects all saying the same word or becoming silent at the same time and cutting to and/or from black simultaneously.

    Currently the project consists of about 30 x 10 minute timelines. The source is 1080 x 1920. Each timeline is made up of dozens of brief clips taken from a vast number of interviews. I need to turn each of these ten minute timelines into a “stack” of 10 x 1 minute timelines that contain several, “synchronised moments”. Obviously it will be impossible to understand 10 people all speaking at once. But I will need to find a way to locate and mark points on clips to line them up for the “synchronised moments” and then play them to test the synchronisation. Ultimately, all 30 stacks will be lined up to play one after another. I will output 10 seperate movies that’ll be streamed simultaneously.

    Before I get going, I’d be very grateful for some pointers.

    Tim Spicer

    (Australian living in Germany)

    Tim Spicer replied 3 weeks, 1 day ago 7 Members · 9 Replies
  • 9 Replies
  • Jim Mcquaid

    February 19, 2024 at 7:01 pm

    Two thoughts, mostly conceptual. First I would start with the synchronized moments. Find those and the rest falls wherever it seems.

    Second, though this isn’t the way you would deliver it, I would resize and position each of 10 layers of video so that I could see them all on one screen (or even output that for reflection).

  • Mads Nybo jørgensen

    February 20, 2024 at 3:24 am

    Hey Tim,

    Adding to Jim’s suggestions, you need to have the end in mind.

    As in what technology will you be using to play this back with, and how are the videos distributed.
    As such it is not rocket science, but there can be some surprises waiting for you in terms of syncing the monitors, and local isolated playback from individual boxes, versus all coming out of one point of distribution (server).

    Personally, I’m not sure that I would use FCPX for this kind of job. Not least as Apple at the best of times makes it difficult to lock tracks. Where as on other more old fashioned “linear” NLE’s you can have 30 vertical videos on 30 video tracks on a 30-split screen (or 10 split screen), with nested tracks running in each of those. You will need a fairly high spec computer with a serious hard-disc with speed and space to make that happen.

    If the 10 screens are not connected, you could also just have 10 timelines, with 3 nested tracks in each. But you still need to find out what the playout format is?

    Going big, and potentially a hazard on a smaller system, will allow you to time forexample interviews, and when they appear on different screens across the whole installation. Are there specific points in the installation where the audio is changing from low to high volume.

    Motions graphics is another one where you can have themes travelling across the screens.

    Again, it really depends on having the end in mind.

    For a project that size is there a director and/or producer attached?
    Or are you on your own?

    3 vertical timelines simultaniously, I’m sure that FCPX can handle that. But these kind of of projects tends to grow. And being able to lock your videos and tracks in place, and not allow FCPX to move your footage around, will save you time. Yes, I know that there is work-arounds on FCPX, but incoparison to the obvious where you drop onto a specific track in the timeline, and can quickly apply the right frame to it, is a must for speed of editing, delivery and revisions.

    Start with the end in mind, and work your way back from there, and it will all fall into place for you.

    Sounds exciting – go have fun!


  • Ben Balser

    February 20, 2024 at 4:43 pm

    This is where ROLES comes in really handy. Assign a custom video/audio role to your clips. Then in the timeline, you can use the Timeline Index to enable/disable specific Roles. When exporting, you can choose which Roles to export and which to ignore. I’ve done a few multi-language projects like this. Or place all the clips for a specific screen in a compound clip. Then you work in the compounds individually. There’s several ways to approach this.

  • Kent Wiley

    February 21, 2024 at 10:24 pm

    Likewise, I’ve been working on a project for a few years which would utilize a number of screens for playback, but haven’t settled on how to edit the material. As others have suggested, I think figuring out the display tech may be the place to start. One solution I’ve seen was an art project that used nine screens all in sync, each stream recorded in a different room in one house. They were using Brightsign servers. I’ve not gone down this rabbit hole yet, but it looks like they have software to create streams which are served by their display boxes, sent to screens of any type.

    I’ll be very interested to hear what others suggest for your project. Mine is much less complicated than yours, as I envision only four screens running simultaneously, with some material sliding from one screen to another.

  • Mads Nybo jørgensen

    February 22, 2024 at 2:22 am

    Hey Kent,

    You make a good point.

    I kind of always thought of the projects mentioned here as being short-term and one off. In which case a basic control and playback system might be the way to go.

    Where as if is a long-term install, with a budget, then digital signage is certainly an option.

    However, digital signage comes in many flavours, and will still need someone who can connect the boxes together and do the programming. Some SMART TVs will already have the software included. However, if you are running multiple screens showing different content, then it will need a network of devices with a “head-end” to control it from.

    Good news is that if any one of the devices falls out, then with the right system software it can alert people on-site, or engineers by remote.

    In short: Digital Signage is a dark art in itself. And often the “manufacturer” in the past has promised functionality, that isn’t there on the day. Or worse, there is no operating manual, and you have to guess how it works.

    In a distant past I have had good experiences with Revel Digital – they do some clever stuff, including push notifications when people approach the screen + more:

    If you have a good budget, then it might be worth contact Vizrt:
    (Tricaster is one of their other products, which I have recommended to clients in the past)

    Even BlackMagic is in on that game, you just got to scroll down the page to find it:

    There are soo many ways to approach a Digital-Signage set-up. whether within one location, city-wide or globally. And, then if it just playback of sound and “standard” video, you can simplify the process without going overboard.

    Next time you are out and about, keep an eye out for digital signage systems – they are everywhere, often disguised by using PowerPoint slides made with Comic-Sans font…
    But the technology that drives those, are likely to be closest to what you want – don’t be afraid to ask those digital signage owners how they do it, or who set it up for them. They might just direct you to the local genius, who can save you time, and who will be happy to do it together with you just for the thrill of getting away from Comic-Sans.

    Hope that this helps?


  • Matthew Woods

    March 4, 2024 at 7:20 pm

    Final Cut is excellent for editing multiple screens with a large number of layers. That is the reason that I switched to it from Premiere. I am amazed at how many simultaneous streams of video FC can play back unrendered from a fast SSD on a high powered modern Mac. I would at least try editing them all on the same timeline, then chopping them up afterwards. Makes it much easier to do synchronized moments. I just finished a 4x4k project where I edited in 8k and chopped it up. I have done a 9 screen program with screens of various sizes projected on using 2 4k projectors. How are your screens configured? All in a row next to each other? I usually start with a template layer with an alpha channel that corresponds to the locations of the screens. I never edit on the primary storyline, so I put a still on there (usually a bright solid color so I can make sure I am covering it). I edit everything on secondary storylines below the alpha template and above the main storyline template. If I need to move stuff to open or close a gap, I blade the main storyline layer, and adjust that. All the secondary storyline layers move with it. Good luck! -Mat

  • Kent Wiley

    March 13, 2024 at 7:59 pm

    Thanks for the input Mat. Not sure about the O.P., but I envision for my program something like a room in a gallery with screens on all four walls. How the program moves between them, I’m not certain. But your experience is definitely a help.

  • Eric Santiago

    March 14, 2024 at 1:03 pm

    Now were talking about the output tech you need to display the content.

    As mentioned, you would need a central brain to feed all the displays.

    Past experiences for me is using a single source with enough GPU to playback all the displays.

    I’ve done multiple LCDs in varying sizes as well as the Christie cubes.

  • Tim Spicer

    March 19, 2024 at 9:22 am

    Hey Matthew, thank a million for these tips. This is exactly the kind of technically specific “leg up” I needed. All the best. Tim

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