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leadenhall FCPX4k timelapse

This short film shows the construction of the Leadenhall Building in London. 2 years and 8 terabytes of 5K & 7K timelapses/hyperlapses all edited (in the end) on Final Cut Pro X then published at 4K resolution. A stunning FCPX user story.

Film maker Dan Lowe and photographer Paul Raftery got the job of documenting the construction of the 50 storey Leadenhall Building in London. They decided to shoot the timelapses at high resolutions and as you'll agree, the result is stunning.

Make sure you toggle the settings to 2160P (4K) and go fullscreen.


We were curious to know more, so asked Dan if he could tell us how the film was made.


You mentioned the film  pushed your machines to the limits, what were you editing on?

As the project was so long we started out using FCP7 as that was my go to software and used that for compiling rushes throughout the first stages of the project. I had been an early adopter of FCPX as I was excited by the features previewed in the keynote announcement but it just wasn’t usable (for me) when it was first released.

When the first edit of our film was needed (after 6 months as a teaser - Making The Leadenhall Building) I got an editor friend of mine, Seb Ratcliffe, to put together the edit as I find it is always good to have a fresh set of eyes and a clean perspective on the material.

We used FCP7 for that edit, but when it came to online the media (we had been using 1080p ProRes proxy to edit, reconnecting to 5k - 7k ProRes HQ masters) FCP7 just couldn’t cope. Something I believe is to do with the allocation of memory in 32bit software? Good old General Error!

I used 7toX to convert an XML and imported the project in to FCPX to reconnect to the full res media, and match all of the zooms etc. From here we did a round trip in to Resolve for the grade and I was impressed by FCPX’s ability to cope with the crazy file sizes I was throwing at it.

I met an editor on a commercial shoot a year or so ago and I was surprised that a professional edit house was using X. He said that half of his team are now using X. He convinced me to give it another go, it must have been after the 10.1 update. He explained the new workflow and how he used libraries/projects/events and it made a lot more sense to me. When the first version was out I didn’t like (or didn’t understand) the workflow.

When it came to editing the final film, I wanted to edit in FCPX as I knew I would have to eventually import the project in to it anyway, but my editor this time round (Jim Simpson) was very keen to stick with what he knew (FCP7, Avid or Premiere.)

So we compromised and started out the edit in FCP7 with proxies to get the first draft of an edit down, then we would transfer in to FCPX when it was in good shape. This helped Jim, who was apprehensive about using FCPX, transition into X without it being a start-from-scratch nightmare.

I had assured him that I was finally a convert after an uncertain start, and it was actually a nice bit of software, he got on with it quite well. Of course you have to un-train yourself from doing some things, and learn a new workflow, but I had already learned most of that and was dealing with the data wrangling.

We used 15” MacBook Pro’s, which were pretty souped up (pre-retina).

 leadenhall FCPX 4k timelapse 02


What storage were you using? 

As a master storage for the photos, Paul and I have LaCie Rugged drives for storing the data in the field which we mirror and then take home to back up to GRaid USB 3 drives. After converting the files for editing I use a LaCie 10TB 5big (RAID 0 - this is backed up via Carbon Copy Cloner to another drive) Thunderbolt as my working drive to cope with data rates.

What format and resolution did you shoot at?

We started out the project shooting flat profile JPGs as I know how much storage you can get through on these projects, and the added step in the workflow is very time consuming. After a while we started to shoot RAW as we were shooting in such varying conditions, day, night, rain, sun, shooting towards the sun, interiors, etc. We needed the latitude and decided the extra work was worth it to get the best possible film at the end.

Can you tell us about the motion control rigs you used?

Not much to tell really, apart from introducing you to the bona fide genius that is Justin Pentecost. He has a solution to any problem and I’ve been lucky enough to work with him on a whole range of projects. For this film we asked him if he could help us out and he built a motion control rig for us to do a few of the shots. It was a 2 metre track with stepper motors controlling the camera plate on a geared belt.

leadenhall FCPX 4k timelapse 03 


Did you process the images before importing into FCPX? Also how did you make the timelapses -in FCPX with compound clips? or bake them by exporting then importing.


RAW -> Lightroom - Process a look retaining latitude

Lightroom -> JPGs - full res

JPG -> QT7 - create image sequence MOV

MOV -> ProRes 422HQ (full res)

MPEG Streamclip -> 422HQ to ProRes PROXY 1920x1280 (for the earlier edits in FCP7)

It seems like a complicated workflow, but it was born out of years of refining and I have come to trust this process as it allows me to be organised and have a copy of the images at each important stage:

422HQ MOV at full res for the final reconnect
422 proxy for editing

I now use FCPX exclusively so I don’t bother with the proxy file from MPEG Streamclip and instead make the proxy files inside FCPX.

I use some simple AppleScript software to help with my file organisations (even though the QuickTime one has gone a little funny since upgrading to Yosemite)

One is a file sorter - It allows me to drop a card full of images/movies and it sorts them in to respective folders Jpg’s go in to a folder called JPG

Organisation is key! When you are trying to find a shot from two years ago, having the metadata in Lightroom and folder names such as “2012_11_30_CAM_A_CARD_01” is essential.

The other program creates the image sequences in QuickTime, which is a simple process but one I have done so many times that every second saved is a blessing.

I just drag and drop my JPG folder from within “2012_11_30_CAM_A_CARD_01” and it creates ““2012_11_30_CAM_A_CARD_01.mov” which I then batch process in MPEG Streamclip.

If anyone knows AppleScript and can help me fix the quicktime software please get in touch!

I know some people might wondering why I process the mov’s before I enter FCP, but after using 7 and finding out the hard way that importing 1000’s of files in to a project, it will have to load the files every time you open the project. I’m not sure if it is the same in X, but my reasoning is that I would rather deal with my media first and have a project in X (sorry - Library??!!) that has 50-100 movies rather than 320,000 jpgs and then 50-100 compound clips.

 leadenhall FCPX 4k timelapse 04


Did you stabilise the sequences at any point?

Yes, some. For the hyperlapses (I hate that term) I used after effects and did some simple stabilize motion work but that’s it.

What worked well?

The cameras mainly, they have far exceeded their shutter count life spans considerably. Paul used Canon 5d2 and 5d3, I use Nikon D700 and D800.

I’m pleasantly surprised with FCPX, I still feel a little unsure about the magnetic timeline and find myself finding tricks to overcome it in some instances, but I guess old habits die hard. I think Jim was quite impressed too.

Any difficulties?

Just storage really, I have about 8TB of data for this project, which I can trim down at some point and get rid of the intermediary files and renders etc.


A big thank you to Dan Lowe for sharing his methods, an interesting read full of information and of course the transition from FCP7 to Final Cut Pro X. 



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