Recently I had the pleasure to work on the final stages of postproduction for “Zonder jou”, a short movie by my buddy Roeland Vandebriel and Jeannice Adriaansens. “Zonder jou” is one of the few independent almost-no-budget shorts made in Belgium last year but IMHO it looks as good as any “professional” short. The movie came back from color correction as an HD image sequence on two FAT32 disks. I had to create a DVD and a subtitled HDV-master.

Here’s what I learned:

  1. FAT 32 may be the grail for cross-platform data transport but it ain’t holy. The trouble starts with creating the FAT32 partition: Windows 2000 or XP limit you to a 32 GB maximum size although FAT 32 has a maximum volume size of 8 TerraByte. You actually have to use Mac OS X if you want a larger partition than 32 GB.
  2. FAT 32 is not made for large numbers of files. Each directory can contain about 64,000 entries at most, but since each file can take as much as 3 to 10 entries, you can expect to the limit to be about 16,000 files in one directory. For “Zonder jou”, this meant that the 32,000 frame image sequence had to be split in two directories.
  3. Mac OS X’s Finder doesn’t like FAT 32 disks. It took about 10 to 15 minutes to show one of the 16,000 file directories in column view. The same directory on an HFS+ disk showed instantly.
  4. Final Cut Pro’s manual lists two ways to deal with image sequences. The first is: set the default still duration to 1 frame, import all stills into Final Cut Pro and drag them into the timeline. The second way is to use Quicktime Pro to create a movie out of the image sequence. You then use this movie inside Final Cut Pro.
  5. Final Cut Pro doesn’t like projects with 3000 items. It takes ages to open the project and memory consumption goes through the roof. I didn’t try with all 32,000 frames.
  6. Quicktime Pro is utterly unable to deal with long image sequences. Opening a 16,000 frame image sequence in Quicktime Pro took more than one hour, during which Quicktime remained unresponsive and was in fact “hung” according to Activity Monitor. Trying to paste both (see item 2) image sequences into one Quicktime movie was impossible.
  7. Don’t ever try to create a reference Quicktime movie out of 16,000 frames. Quicktime can do it, it will even save such a movie to a 6 MB file, but any attempt to access any frame of the resulting movie inside Quicktime or Final Cut Pro will result in a 15 minute or longer stall during which Quicktime does IDNTKW (I-don’t-know-what, also known as The Secret Innards of Quicktime).
  8. Don’t ever try to create an uncompressed movie out of 16,000 frames in Quicktime. Each access to a single frame takes the 15 minute Quicktime IDNTKW hit, meaning the movie will be ready only after the sun has exploded (theoretically).

In the end I ended up sacrificing one of the backup disks to create an HFS+ partition large enough to fit both image sequences. I used After Effects to create a single 8:2:2 uncompressed Quicktime movie. After Effects took 20 seconds to iterate through a single 16,000 frame image sequence. The final render took 8 hours though. I took the uncompressed file into Final Cut Pro and had the subtitled HDV master on tape about 3 hours later.

Of course, things could have been a lot easier. If I had the disk capacity and disk speed to deal with uncompressed HD and we had the money to hire on HDCAM deck (the color corrected movie was delivered in HDCAM too) everything would have been finished in half a day but in the end we managed. The movie was premiered from my HDV master…

The moral of the story is: don’t bother using Final Cut Pro or Quicktime with long image sequences.