An open letter to the FCPX audio development team about the lack of Ambisonic support in FCPX 10.4.

 

I've been waiting a long time for version 10.4 to begin producing 360° video projects and it's been depressing to see that you've completely punted on spatial audio, thereby making FCPX almost useless for immersive storytelling.

Although the 360° video features that you've implemented in FCPX 10.4 are great (thank you Tim Dashwood), this release unfortunately fails as a professional 360° storytelling tool because of the totally unimplemented spatial audio features.  I'm an independent filmmaker and editor using FCPX for all of my projects having  switched from Premiere years ago... I've been a big supporter of FCPX for professional use.  

At the very minimum we need to be able to import sequences with first-order ambisonic tracks into FCPX and then export them as ambisonic tracks with the appropriate metadata.   (It would be nice to use ambix VST plugins while in FCPX as well, but that's not essential for the system to be useful right now.)  

As it is now, I can import an ambix track (from an H2n, for example) but when it's exported, all that b-channel metadata has been stripped out and it's useless.

My convoluted workaround for this is the following:

1) Import H2n audio, assign the overall track to a Spatial role and assign each of the four sub-tracks to subroles.  

 The third channel is the Z (elevation) channel, which the H2n doesn't support, so it's empty.

The third channel is the Z (elevation) channel, which the H2n doesn't support, so it's empty.

 

2) Edit the video sequences as normal... for example making a 20-shot film that lasts 12 minutes (average of about 30-40 seconds per 360° shot).  In this example we'd now have a 12-minute show and it would have spatial audio tracks plus mono-point-source tracks and sound effects.

What I'd like to do now is load a VST that allows me to pan the mono sources in 360 and then just export the whole thing for uploading.  But of course this is impossible.  Here's my workaround (note that I'm using Reaper as an example DAW for this workaround):

3)  I've identified three options/hacks/workarounds for exporting all of my AmbiX tracks:

a)  Export all four of the AmbiX tracks from FCPX to separate files (note that the Z from the H2n is silent, but I'd export it as a silent track):  Name these:

allthesamename.1.wav
allthesamename.2.wav
allthesamename.3.wav
allthesamename.4.wav

Then I would use an AmbiX interleaving utility like Snapper (www.audioease.com/snapper) to interleave this to a single AmbiX file. I can then drag this four channel AmbiX file onto a four channel track in Reaper and use it as AmbiX track.

or...

b)  I can alternatively import the three mono files with audio on three tracks directly into Rreaper and set these up as follows:

W on stereo track, output 1-2, panned to left.
Y on stereo track, output 1-2, panned to right
X on stereo track, output 3-4, panned to right

or... 

c) Use the Enda Bates Zoom H2n conversion plugin and record in the H2n's 4-channel mode, which creates both XY and MS 2-channel files, so four channels total.  By using this plugin to route channels 1/2 of the MS to channels 1/2 of the 4-chan receiving track in Reaper, and then routing channels 1/2 of the XY track to channels 3/4 of the 4-chan receiving tracking Reaper, this plugin will blend them into an AmbiX track.  All good except MAYBE challenging when rendering a combination of this track plus the tracks produced by the AudioEase plugin I'm using to do the 360 panning and 360 reverb effects for the single channel audio sources (lav mics and sound effects).  

Of the above three methods, I'm zeroing in on option b as the "simplest."

Either way I'll end up with an actual AmbiX track that's been exported (if you can call it that) from FCPX 10.4 that I can then use in my DAW.  I can then use whatever tools in the DAW that I need to continue with audio sweetening AND authoring the 360 panning that's needed to pin the mono sources (usually lav tracks) to people moving in the 360° video.  (AudioEase 360 Pan Suite does this very well).

The next step is performing all of the sweetening/panning inside of the DAW because I can't go back into FCPX again, and then use the Facebook FB360 Encoder to mux the audio/video together and then the Google metadata injector to prep it for uploading.  What I really want to be able to do is export each of the shots in my film as a separate sequence of audio tracks and sweeten/pan each of them, render a 4ch AmbiX track and then import that back into FCPX so I can do all my final assembly and output in FCPX.  Because I can't do that, I have to export my ENTIRE SHOW of whatever length (could be up to 15min, made of many shots) and clumsily do all the sweetening and 360° panning on these monolithic tracks.  Oy!  That is asking for trouble in so many ways and I haven't even tested it with anything very large yet to see if it really will work... I've just used a couple of short shots as a test.

So if you just give us the ability to import and export b-format audio, it would make creating an actual 360° film in FCPX possible (instead of just a few little amateur/hobbyist 360 video clips, which is what you're seeing now).  

Sound design is the bedrock of storytelling, whether in 2D or 3D 360°.  And with your complete lack of ambisonic support in FCPX 10.4 you've essentially asked us to build a house without the foundation.  C'mon folks... this is ridiculous.  PLEASE fix this as soon as possible.  I don't have the patience to deal with this clumsy kind of workaround/hack for long and hopefully you can get at least this very minimal support for the format into a point release soon because you will not get any serious 360 video creators interested in using FCPX until you make this happen.

I purchased a 10-core fully-loaded iMac and a Vive for this, so I'm all-in and would very much like to continue using FCPX for my 360° projects.

If you have any questions, please contact me at gary@yostopia.com.  Thanks for listening!

-g

gblog, BlogGary Yost