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Why are roles superior to tracks?

When I wrote on Saturday about how tracks have evolved from their compositing role, to one where they became defacto metadata I had no idea Apple were about to release the first Final Cut Pro X update (I only found out on Monday). I also wrote in Conquering the metadata foundations of Final Cut Pro X:

Apple teases us with Audio Role metadata that seems to have no current use within Final Cut Pro X.

If you open the Info Pane and select the Info tab, you will see the pop-up menu in Figure 20.1. showing the Roles

One magic way for this to be useful would be as a solution to the missing audio output options. In the near-magic, near-future I expect that a future version of Final Cut Pro X will use this Audio Role metadata to route audio outputs. At version 1 Final Cut Pro X’s audio output options are very basic, and there’s improvement coming, for sure.

So you can imagine how excited I was to open Final Cut Pro X 10.0.1 and see that those fairly limited audio roles (no doubt implemented specifically to enable export to OMF/AAF) had evolved into not only customizable Audio Roles, but to have the same option available for Video clips as well. And a Title Role comes rolled in!

Display the role, or the clip name.

Commenter Andrew Richards nailed it! Second commenter Marcus R. Moore also called out a real need. Well in the new release, not only can you use Roles in a Project to enable or disable clips assigned that Role, but selecting a Role highlights all Clips in the Project that have that Role assigned (either Audio or Video). Marcus kind of also gets his wish, because there’s a new option in the Project View settings to display the Role on clips, as an alternate to displaying the Clip name. It’s a non-destrcutive toggle.

There can be different Roles assigned for Audio and Video on the same clip and Roles can have sub-roles.

When selected all shots tagged with B-roll highlight in the Project. They can be deactivated temporarily with a single checkbox. (click to enlarge)

In fact, I think the implementation of Roles in Final Cut Pro X really completes the metadata story, and makes the Magnetic Timeline more valuable.

Here’s some of the ideas we’ve been thinking of:

  • Multi-language Titles. Each language is a Role that is applied to the Title. With a single click on a checkbox, all titles from a language set can be enabled or disabled.
  • Identifying A-roll and B-roll so one can turn off all B-roll to see the underlying A-roll story.
  • Being able to selectively turn on or off the tracks that make up the audio mix, because now we can not just assign a Role of “SFX” or Dialog, but audio could be tagged with a Role that was, for example “Background Farm noise submix”. When (if) Apple implement a mixer in Final Cut Pro X then those clips could be assigned a single fader by Role name. Much smarter than track number mixing.

Roles now appear in the Event Browser’s list view as an optional column. This also means they are now available as a filterable field in the Filters window, or for Smart Collections.

I think (i.e. my opinion) that Roles provide all the advantages of using Tracks as de-facto metadata by making the job explicit and allowing us to use that metadata in a Smart Collection.

In other Final Cut Pro X update news

I truthfully have been focused on only part of the new version – the XML import and export specifically – so that we can have a new product to be announced at LAFCPUG @ DVExpo on Wednesday night, so I haven’t explored the other changes too much. I did go through every menu and dialog to find differences, but I’m sure this is not comprehensive.

Xsan is now officially supported for shared storage. At this point it’s shared storage of Events or Projects, not shared Events or Projects. Each Event or Project can only have one user active at a time.

Trial version. Check it out for yourself without commitment or cost.  Apparently fully functional but time limited, so you can even finish something for yourself.

Improvements to Share with better movie export options (from memory)

API for camera manufacturers to add their own format support. So, if we expect or want Alexa RAW or R3D native, then those companies apparently will be stepping up to make it happen. Definitely an improvement though, because users should not have to wait for a Final Cut Pro X release in order to get support for a new format. The manufacturer can develop it themselves and have it available when their camera is launched.

This release was pretty much what I expected: XML and at least one other banner feature, a lot of tweaking and (presumably) bug fixes.  They’ve knocked off a good number of features promised in the earlier FAQ, and Roles are an adequate (I say vastly better) way of achieving the same goal as track layouts did.

So, it seems they’re on the right path.

UPDATE: Turns out there’s more to Roles than meets the eye. Not only can you enable/disable particular roles in the Final Cut Pro X timeline, but there are new export options. The Export Media dialog now has options for exporting “Roles as Multitrack QuickTime Movie”, “Roles as Separate Files”, “Video Roles Only as Separate Files” and “Audio Roles Only as Separate Files”.

UPDATE 2: Here’s the knowledge base article listing the new features and bug fixes.







39 responses to “Why are roles superior to tracks?”

  1. Chris WIlby

    bloody hell! Well done Phil – and Apple!

    Premier/Avid users not so smug now…

    1. Andy

      “Premier/Avid users not so smug now…”

      LOL… like *that* day will ever come?!? Puh-leeeeeeze. I’ve already seen them yelling “Too little, too late!!” (after a mere *three months*?? LOL! Yeah, whatever…) and the usual Apple hatin’ pundits-on-a-mission, like ol’ Hullfish, still screaming “iMovie Pro!!” at the top of his lungs to steer us poor (non-PRO of course!) lemmings away from our own blatant stupidity and certain X-doom whilst firmly pressing HIS SHIFT KEY WITH EACH MINDLESS RANT… dream on dude. That’s what makes guys like him get up in the morning. 😉

  2. Paul Shields

    This is a joke right? If I want to use part of one clip as atmos and another as dialogue how do I do that?

    Avid/Premiere users still very happy with their ability to tracklay in a professional manner. FCPx still not fit for purpose.

    Where’s the XML hooks?

    1. Greg

      The answer to using parts of the same clip is in the help.
      Just like FCP7 clips in a timeline are independent so can have different metadata.

      The help says:
      You can assign different roles to each instance of a clip. For example, if you add a clip from the Event Browser to the Timeline, copy clips between Events, or copy clips within the Timeline, each of these clip instances (copies) is independent of the others.

    2. Tag them differently, the same way you can tag parts of the same footage with different keywords.

      If the only way you consider exporting audio “Pro” is by the current track metaphor, then FCPX will no doubt remain unprofessional, long after dozens of movies and TV shows have been cut on it.

      If you’re going to come into this discussion thinking the current paradigm is the ONLY and best way there will ever be to do things, then give up now- cause things change. Everything may not work out for the better, but I give Apple credit for at least trying to think about editing differently.

  3. And coming in “early 2012”:

    Multicam Editing
    Broadcast-Quality Video Monitoring (!)

    I bet the latter requires Lion, as Lion added a new OS level Device Abstraction API for that kind of thing:

  4. TonyB

    So we can expect another installment of Terrence and Philip soon?

    1. Philip

      Tony, we have another show already for publication (me being the slowdown with DV Expo prep and delivery) but I’m sure FCP X 10.0.1 will be featured shortly

  5. Markus

    Roles now also allow us to minimize clip height for groups of clips, which is nice. The only elements we cannot selectively minimize in height are storylines, primary and secondary ones as well. – Not good if you work with music – for example – as a secondary storyline (which you should IMHO). You may label that storyline as “music” but it cannot be minimized in the Timeline Index. I wish they’d make this behavior optional…

    But overall, a good step in the right direction.

  6. Steve Martin

    You’re a metadata prophet Phil!

  7. Something else I’ve been thinking about. Aside from compositing, what do you really need tracks for? It comes from an old paradigm whereby you had to create stereo masters, d, m and e tracks for distribution. With metadata attached to each clip, it now becomes a one click process to export “stems” that would have taken significantly longer

    1. antonio

      some of us like to work vertically or to keep an original clip that has been modified under one where an effect has been added. that is the advantage of tracks. I realize the same basic thing can be done with story lines but its not the same. it almost makes sense only if you are finishing the project you started in FCPX without having to go to AE or Resolve. There is a tried and true methodology behind the use and need for tracks.

      1. Philip

        There’s no ‘tried and true’ method with tracks. Tracks evolved for compositing – totally possible in FCP X without Secondary Storylines – and became metadata “by accident” (or lack of altenative). They are not the only way to get to the same end.

        1. Auditions are a great solution to your modification practice.

    2. Markus


      unfortunately the thing with “exporting stems” isn’t really practical for audio mixing for example, since FCP X mixes down all audio roles. When you want to do a full blown mix on a sound stage, you still need access to every individual clip…

      1. Philip

        Agreed. It will work OK for limited applications but it’s not a full on OMF export with discrete element.

        An opportunity for a third party developer no doubt, to give all stems and an OMF with it. Pity we know nothing about OMF or AAF.

  8. I still haven’t been able to download the update. AppStore isn’t giving me an UPDATE option. Anyone else having this issue? Motion upgraded fine.

    1. Markus

      I had the same issue. Delete FCP X first. Then go to the App Store and look up FCPX (not under updates but under general apps). It should now give you the familiar “install” option underneath the FCP X icon.

      I deleted FCP X with this excellent and free app
      Dragging it into the trash might do the same thing. But I don’t know that.

      1. Thanks Markus (and Ben below). I used the FCSremover and reinstalled. Working like a charm.


      2. João Nuno Martins

        Could you guys clarify one thing please?
        I used the FCSRemover app and on the app store I now have access to the new updated version with an install button. I assume that the install button means that the app store recognizes my last purchase and is not charging me again. But what I find strange is that on the purchased apps list FCP X is listed as having todays purchase date and not the original date. Is the same happening to you and was anyone charged twice?
        Thank you.

        João Nuno Martins

        1. Philip

          Yes, but you should not have removed it with FCSRemover as that only works with FCP 7 and earlier.

          1. It worked ok for me, Philip. With no ill effects after the new install.


          2. Markus

            Not true Philip. FCSRemover has been updated to include FCP X and the latest versions of Compressor and Motion.

  9. Marcus, I spoke to Apple Support today, the Final Cut team, and they admitted there is a known update bug. Move FCP X from your Applications folder to the Trash. “Install” FCP X fresh, you’ll have the new version. It’s a known bug.

  10. TonyPDX

    Don’t know why my first comment was scrubbed –I’m actually a fan and very much look forward to the Terence and Philip installments. Was hoping that this might prompt a new one.

    1. Philip

      tony, your comment wasn’t scrubbed but first time posters are on moderation and I posted, then left immediately for DV Expo where I’ve been without Internet all day (and without time being a presenter). As soon as I saw there were comments lines up I asked Greg to approve them on my behalf. Once approved once your future posts will come through directly (like the one I’m replying to).

  11. Moze

    I’d like to wager on mere rumor. The interconnect of logic pro x that may be on the horizon.

    1. If Logic can directly read those roles we will be propelled into nirvana.

    2. Andy

      Don’t you think that integration is a GIVEN? Even Apple isn’t stupid and near-sighted enough to not jump at the chance. I’d say we can in fact expect an entirely new and feature studded level of integration even along with the new X XML.

      Then again, I just exported and imported a project and of all things AUDIO levels and keyframes are GONE. Well great…

      But screw Logic… I WANT MY MOTION ROUND-TRIPPING BACK THE WAY IT WAS!! Then you can fiddle with Logic all you want.

  12. Floris

    I believe that within one year Apple will offer Logic Pro X, Aperture X, Motion X and Final Cut Pro X integration = all these applications will be able to talk with each other and use each other’s resources freely without rendering a la Dynamic Link but improved because of the better DAM of Apple’s products.

    Wishful thinking but this is going to happen sooner or later.

  13. Philip

    Markus, I didn’t know FCSRemover had been updated, but it seems it removed the receipt as well.

    1. Markus

      Philip, if you click on the triangle next to FCP X in FCSRemover you have the option of removing the receipts or not.

  14. Philip

    Cool. I should have expected that from Jon. I think the problem that João ran into was the one many people reported and completely unrelated to the use of FCSremover. Thanks for the clarity Markus

  15. Two important Apple postings. Like I said before, Apple confirmed with me there is a known bug in updating FCP X and Motion 5, move the app to the trash alone fixes it.

  16. macmac

    Thanks for this
    Multi language works fine by making a role for each language but there’s no option to make new title roles if i want to select different titles for each language.
    What works is assigning video roles to titles but is this the correct way to do this?
    By assigning a video role to a title the title clip becomes as tall as a video clip.

    1. Philip

      You can create new parent and child roles so I don’t quite understand what is missing?

  17. macmac

    To answer my own questions:
    I just found out that making subroles does the trick.
    Also the clip height can be minimized in the Roles Tab of the Timeline Index.

    But how to I delete role?

    1. Philip

      Delete a role by making sure that it’s not assigned to any clip and then you can delete it.

  18. Your article doesn’t explain at all why Roles are superior to Tracks. Never mind exporting, I use tracks to visually organize my project and it makes selecting similar elements very easy.

    I don’t want to enter metadata for every clip. It’s a waste of time, which could be better spent shotlisting or transcribing.

    This idea that one shot would be an “interview” and another would be “B-Roll” is such a mediocre way to think about editing… but if you did want that, you could colour-code shots in the old FCP style. That, too, would make visually orienting yourself very easy.

    And the exporting via stems seems almost irrelevant to anything. I mean, I’m going to export only the “interview” stem? Why? Or export three stems, one is music, one is interview, and one is b-roll – then a sound person will mix them and hand me the mixed file… AFTER they’ve gone through and chopped it back up into the clips so they can tweak each one appropriately. Why not just let me export the OMF then??!

    Stems make more work for me… and more room for errors. Plus it’s mixed down… what if B-roll overlaps, how does that come out in a stem, mixed together?

    In my FCP 7 timeline, I have a track for each interview, because each needs a specific colour correction and audio tweak. I go back and forth amongst these interviews, so if I want to tweak them, or find all the clips of one person, I can visually find them very easily.

    Some are subtitled in english (all on a certain track) and others are chinese subtitles (on another track). I can quickly find things by eye on the timeline, and select them all with a single click.

    If I had to go through and add metadata for each of these clips – dozens and dozens of subtitles! It would have been a nightmare.