"Editing Offline" in Final Cut Pro 4

One of the most misunderstood features in Final Cut Pro – other than all of them – is “offline” mode. This is probably because the word “offline” is overloaded in the program’s GUI. The most common usage is simply that the media is offline, but you can still edit the project.

However, there is another, more useful definition of “offline” in FCP4, sometimes referred to as “Offline RT”: editing in a resolution lower than that which you eventually intend to deliver. It’s not obvious how to do this, or even that it’s possible at all, without a little investigative work. But once you figure it out, it opens up the possibility of a much quicker workflow. Why would you ever want to do this? A few reasons:

The downside to working in Offline RT is that it isn’t terribly well documented, and it takes a leap of faith to try it the first time. It also requires you to log your clips with thorough devotion and use batch capture or capture clip rather than “capture now” when acquiring the media – but you should be doing that anyway.

Without further ado, here is Peterb’s guide to completing an Offline RT project in Final Cut Pro. Note that I’m assuming your “native” resolution is DV-NTSC and your “offline” resolution is half-size PhotoJPEG. The same principles apply, however, even if you’re working natively in HD and are using DV-NTSC as your offline res.

(1) Log your clips carefully. When all the media you think you’ll use is logged, go ahead and batch capture them using the DV-NTSC -> Offline RT/Photo JPEG mode. Note: don’t capture them in DV-NTSC and recompress later, as this can lead to aspect ratio problems. If you must capture in DV-NTSC, use the Media Manager’s “Create Offline” feature, not “recompress.”

(2) Edit a rough cut of your project as usual – nothing has changed except you are working with lower resolution clips.

(3) When you’re near completion and want to work with the higher resolution clips, go to the Media Manager for all clips and sequences in your project and choose “Create Offline” (yes, this is not intuitive – don’t you want to Create Online? Just trust me. This is one place where the double meaning comes in, because “Create Offline” and “Make Offline” have completely different meanings). For format, choose DV-NTSC (or whatever the final resolution you intend to work in is). Make sure “delete unused media” is checked, and make sure the “copy and place in a new project” checkbox is checked. You’re going to create a junk project to hold your online clips and sequences. “Create offline” is going to upres our sequences, special effects, and clips to the target resolution (it will still look ugly at this point, of course, because we’ve basically just taken a half-size photo jpeg clip and made it larger and more pixelated. Don’t panic).

(3) Now go to your new “junk” project. Select all the clips, right-click (or control-click) and choose “Make offline”. This time, we really do mean “get rid of the media”, unlike the “create offline” we did in step 2. You can do whatever you want with this media, since it’s already a copy of what is in your ‘real’ offline project.

(4) Now you should have an empty project with a bunch of clips which have no media associated with them. What now? A batch capture, of course! Only this time, we’re going to capture at full resolution, which will connect the full res clips to our sequences.

(5) Rerender the project, do whatever last minute touchups you feel are necessary, and export the completed movie to its final destination – I usually write it to a DVD as data and print it to tape to keep an archival copy around.

It sounds easy, but the nonintuitive names Apple chose for some of the Media Manager functions make this a much more dramatic and fear-inducing process than it should be. Done properly, using OfflineRT mode will let you keep many more projects in flight at once, and let you finish them faster. It can even open up possibilities you’ve never considered – you’d never send even a 5 minute video to a friend in DV format for them to edit, but if you’re using Offline RT you can send them your project and media, they can edit it, and send it back

If you have any tips on working in OfflineRT mode, or you’ve noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let me know by commenting in this thread. Thanks!