Creating DCPs with DCP-o-matic

Posted in Compression, DCP, Gene Siskel Film Center on Thursday, August 14th, 2014

This guide covers the process of creating a DCP (Digital Cinema Package) from an Apple ProRes movie file. Click to enlarge the images, or download the PDF.

Burning Blu-Ray in Adobe Encore

Posted in Adobe Encore, Blu-Ray, Compression, Gene Siskel Film Center on Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

The steps detailed in the handout below show you how to burn a stereo Blu-Ray disc using Adobe Encore. Click to enlarge the images, or download the PDF. Blu-Ray burners are located in the General Access lab in the MacLean building, and are available for checkout through the MacLean Media Center.  Blu-Ray discs are for sale in the MacLean Resale vending machine.

For instructions on burning a 5.1 surround Blu-ray, see our other Blu-ray guide.


Posted in Editing, Hard drives on Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

(Revised August 12, 2014)

An external hard drive consists of a standard 3.5” or 2.5” hard drive (the same kind of drives that are installed inside desktop and laptop computers) and a physical enclosure that protects the drive and allows you to connect it to a computer via Firewire, USB, eSATA, or Thunderbolt.

You should use hard drives for two general purposes–working and backing up your data. We strongly encourage you to purchase separate drives for these two functions. For maximum data security, you would have one high-performance drive for editing plus two copies of all of your projects on two different backup drives.

Before outlining hard drive types and technologies, here are our recommendations for the 2014-15 school year:



Some brands (G-Technology, Other World Computing, Lacie) are used prominently in the media production world and have won the loyalty of SAIC staff, faculty and students, but please remember that as with motor vehicles, cell phones, cameras, etc., hard drives are mass-produced mechanical devices prone to malfunction. We have witnessed the complete and irreversible failure of hard drives made by virtually every single brand out there. Plan on buying numerous hard drives as long as you are making media. You might develop your own brand loyalties, but always be prepared for hard drive death. Back up your work, and back up the backups!

That all said, choosing RAID drives with the fastest possible transfer technology (not to mention good practices like giving your drives frequent periods of rest/inactivity and keeping about 10% of your hard drive space free) will improve the chance that your drives will have long and productive lifespans with minimal data loss.


When choosing a working drive, think about when and where you plan to use the drive. Are you buying a drive to use in the immediate future with SAIC computers, or are you investing in a drive that will be compatible with computers you’ll be using 1-5 years from now? For example, if you plan to use the drive exclusively with your 2012 or later Macbook Pro, and with the new Mac Pro and future generations of Mac computers, we recommend  this 4 TB G-RAID or a similar Other World Computing model.

G-Technology G-RAID Thunderbolt
Hard Drive Array
Other World Computing Mercury
Elite Pro Duo

As of the Fall 2014 semester, all three FVNMA labs and several suites will be equipped with new Mac Pros. Numerous FVNMA and SAIC facilities will still be equipped with 2010 Mac Pros, with Firewire and USB 2.0 connections. If you buy a Thunderbolt-only drive (e.g. the 4 TB G-RAID recommended in the paragraph above) and you plan to move between new Thunderbolt-enabled machines and the older Mac Pros, you’ll need this Thunderbolt to Firewire adapter, and you will be limited to Firewire 800 speeds. The Other World Computing model (also listed in the paragraph above) includes a USB 3.0 connection, allowing you to connect to older computers via USB 2.0 speeds. USB 3.0-only drives offer much more storage space per dollar than Thunderbolt drives, but the performance and speed boost offered by Thunderbolt are well worth the price difference.


Plug-in desktop RAID drives are our recommended option for rigorous work. For everything else including light editing work, backing up and transferring files between computers, etc., you could invest in less expensive desktop drives and/or more convenient portable drives. B&H carries a huge list of external drives, searchable by such factors as drive speed, connection, capacity, etc. We’ve tested and can generally recommend the brands mentioned in this post (G-Technology, Glyph, Other World Computing, Lacie) as well as Hitachi/HGST.

Our top pick for a portable, bus-powered Thunderbolt/USB 3.0 drive is this 7200 rpm G-Technology 1TB G-Drive Mobile Hard Drive with Thunderbolt

G-Technology 1TB G-Drive Mobile Hard Drive with Thunderbolt

For further reference: in May 2013 Macworld published this rundown of portable hard drives and in December of 2011 it offered a similar list of desktop drives. Other places to look for recommendations would be Creative Cow discussion forumsGizmodoEngadgetCult of Mac and your creative community.

One final cost-effective USB 3.0/Firewire/eSATA option is not a hard drive per se, it’s an enclosure which allows for 2.5″ or 3.5″ HDDs or SSDs  to be easily be swapped in and out. It’s not sleek and self-contained like most of the drives mentioned above, but it offers a more affordable method of working with new SSDs and can also be used to access data from a desktop computer’s internal drives. Initial tests of this enclosure show it to be fast and stable.

*One portable drive that we can recommend you NOT buy is Other World Computing’s ElitePro mini line (we’ve had more success with OWC’s older portable drives and their desktop drives).




HDD refers to traditional hard disc drives that store data on spinning metal platters. SSD means “solid-state drive” and uses a much newer technology of flash memory chips to store data. SSDs are significantly faster than HDDs, and because they do not rely on mechanically spinning discs, they are more reliable and durable than HDDs. However, external SSD drives cost as much as five times more per gigabyte as their HDD counterparts—a 256 GB portable SSD drive made by Lacie costs $300 while its 1 TB HDD equivalent costs $200. When purchasing an HDD that will be rigorously used (ex: video editing as opposed to standard backup usage), make sure that the drive’s speed is at least 7200 RPM.

(more on HDDs and SSDs here)


Portable hard drives are typically bus-powered (no AC adapter) and small enough to almost fit in the back pocket of the average pair of jeans. This convenience comes at a price and with capacity limitations—portable hard drives are more expensive than their desktop counterparts, and they generally don’t hold more than 2 TB. Because they aren’t powered externally they can lose connectivity if the computer’s Firewire or USB bus has power issues. For this reason, they are not as stable and reliable as desktop hard drives. Desktop hard drives must be powered externally, often with chunky “wall-wart” AC adapters. They are much more cost-effective in terms of storage capacity than portable drives, and they are typically more stable in terms of connectivity. Bus-powered portable drives are great for backing up and transferring files and for light production work, but… For maximum performance, stability and affordability, we recommend plug-in desktop drives over bus-powered portable drives.


For more than a decade Firewire had been the prominent Mac interface standard for external hard drives and other peripherals. In more recent years the Firewire400 (6-pin) standard was replaced by the faster Firewire800 (9-pin), but Firewire800 is not quite fast enough for smooth, efficient editing of HD video, especially when compared with newer alternatives.

A faster alternative is eSATA (serial ATA), an option included along with Firewire in many external hard drives. The main drawback to eSATA is that eSATA ports are not included in any computers currently on the market. It’s not possible to connect an eSATA drive to a Mac laptop without an adapter. It’s a relatively old standard at this point and will probably not be included in future generations of external hard drives. However, eSATA cards can be installed in desktop computers, offering the fastest possible connection from a pre-2013 Mac Pro to an external hard drive.

Many inexpensive drives offer USB 2.0 capabilities, but USB 2.0 should only be used for light work like editing photos or copying files—it’s almost two times slower than Firewire and can’t handle large video files. USB 3.0 is over five times faster than Firewire (see chart below) and at the moment is the most affordable standard for HD editing or any other bandwidth-heavy activity. Only the new Mac Pros at SAIC include USB 3.0 ports, but all Macbook Pro laptops produced after May 2012 have USB 3.0 capabilities.

(more on USB here)

Thunderbolt is twice as fast as USB 3.0 (for now) and is included in all new Mac laptop models and in the new Mac Pro. Thunderbolt peripherals and drives have been slow to develop and are considerably more expensive than their USB 3.0 counterparts, but they are gradually becoming more affordable. Thunderbolt is currently capable of speeds up to 10 gigabytes per second. Thunderbolt 2 can reach 20 gigabytes per second with the potential for speeds up to 100 GB/s. However, at the moment, Thunderbolt 2 drives are drastically more expensive than standard Thunderbolt drives. 

(more on Thunderbolt here)

(Gizmodo – “Thunderbolt vs. USB 3.0: “The Definitive Showdown”)


*RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) is a technology that bundles several physical hard drives into one practical unit. Data is distributed across the multiple drives for dramatically improved performance. A common RAID-configured Mac Pro would have one main system hard drive (Macintosh_HD) plus four 1 TB HDDs that are RAID-striped into a single unit. This unit is seen by the Finder as one 4 TB hard drive. When video data is processed to and from the RAID unit, it has an incredible amount of bandwidth to do so, especially when compared to that offered by a Firewire cable. The example here is of a configuration for maximum performance; other RAID configurations can allow for increased security against hard drive failures and data loss.

We highly recommend that you purchased a RAID-configured external drive if you plan on using the drive for HD or 4K video work. For backing up and transferring files RAID technology is not crucial.

Click here for explanations of various RAID configurations.

FCP X Basics and Recommended Practices

Posted in Editing, FCP X on Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

(Guide updated August 6, 2014)
This guide is an introduction to the terminology, interface and basic editing features of Final Cut Pro X. Click to enlarge the images, or download the PDF which includes hyperlinks to various other FCP X resources.

Here is a very important Larry Jordan post on improving performance in FCP X 10.1.2 by deleting preferences:
Also useful:

Dragonframe with the Sony FX7

Posted in Animation on Thursday, March 26th, 2015

Sony FX7 cameras are found on the animation stands in the FVNMA department in rooms 717, 329, 1404, and 1405b. This guide will help you to optimize the Sony FX7 camera settings and get a signal inside Dragon Stop Motion. Animation Stands and software are only available to students currently enrolled in an Animation class in the department of FVNMA. Click on the images below to enlarge them or download the PDF.

Preparing Video Files for the Aja Ki Pro

Posted in Aja KiPro, Compression, Gene Siskel Film Center on Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

The Gene Siskel Film Center offers the ability to play Apple ProRes files via its Aja Ki Pro hard drive player/recorder. This guide covers the process of converting a file to make it compatible with the Aja Ki Pro.  It includes workflows for Final Cut Pro X and Adobe Media Encoder. Click to enlarge the images, or view a high quality PDF.

FVNMA Equipment List

Posted in FVNMA Equipment List on Thursday, February 12th, 2015

To view a list of FVNMA equipment please click here. All equipment is circulated through the MacLean Media Center.

Live View EOS Correction Cap

Posted in Animation, Canon EOS 7D on Friday, February 14th, 2014

The EOS Live View Correction Cap is designed to reset the Live View Exposure Preview level in Canon DSLR cameras.  When you connect a digital lens to to a Canon DSLR you are able to alter the exposure, and as you do the Live View Exposure Preview adjusts to mirror the still image you will capture.  However, once you replace the digital lens with a manual lens (used in puppet animation classes to avoid flicker) the camera is no longer capable of communicating the exposure setting with the Live View Exposure Preview.  Any adjustments you make are additively applied to the last Live View exposure setting.  This means your actual exposures won’t match what you are seeing in the preview.  You can correct this by using  the EOS Live View Correction Cap to reset your Live View Exposure Preview.  The following guide will walk you through the process of using the Correction Cap.  Click on the images to expand them or view the high quality PDF.

Steadicam Flyer Speed Guide

Posted in Steadicam on Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

The following is a step by step guide to assembling and operating the steady cam.  Click to expand the thumbnails below or view the high quality PDF version.

Working with Video in the Advanced Dub Room MC1319

Posted in Aja KiPro, Dubbing, Transfers on Friday, October 11th, 2013

We recently upgraded our Advanced Dub Room from an SD-only patch panel setup to a computer-controlled, HD and SD capable system. This guide covers the basics of making traditional dubs, recording from tapes or discs to ProRes files and sending video files out to tapes and DVDs. Click to enlarge the images, or download the PDF.

Using the Sony HVR-MRC1 CF Recorder with the Canon XH-A1

Posted in Cameras, Hard drives on Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

This post covers the physical connections, camera and hard disk settings and file transfer workflow when using the Sony HVR-MRC1 hard disk recorder with the Canon XH-A1 camera. Click to enlarge the images, or download the PDF.

Submitting Files to the Render Farm

Posted in 3D, Animation, Maya on Thursday, April 25th, 2013

The following guide will show you how to submit files to the render farm. Please follow it closely. You can download a high quality PDF version here. Users already familiar with the render farm and looking for a refresher can download the quick guide.

Files can only be submitted from a computer on campus. All FVNMA computer labs have Deadline render management software installed and the Deadline plugin for Maya. When you submit a render please keep the following things in mind. Your job title must always be your email address. This way we can contact you if there is a problem with your render. Before you submit an entire project please be sure to render a test frame and check for errors. Once submitted jobs are automatically added to the render queue in the order they are received. If a single user is rendering for more than a week the render will be stopped and added to the end of the queue from where it left off. This gives the entire community the opportunity to use the farm. If you would like to stop or delete your render please contact Emily Kuehn at or 312-345-3988. Anyone who attempts to alter the queue or render farm architecture will be banned from using the render farm.

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