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Final Cut Pro Scratch Disk Management

Here’s how Final Cut Pro (versions 3.0 and higher) manages files with some suggestions to ensure you don’t “lose” your work.

FCP writes digitized video and audio files to what it calls the “Scratch Disk,” and you can specify which hard drive this is on your computer. For a number of reasons you should not use the same drive as your OS and FCP application for your scratch disk. First, you’re likely to encounter speed and access time problems, resulting in interrupted playback. Second, the size of video files could quickly fill the drive and cause you unnecessary work with disk backups and transfers. Also, if you should experience a drive failure you’ll not only lose your application (which you can re-install) but also your video and audio files (which you probably can’t re-install).

In the Final Cut Pro main menu choose Preferences and from there go to the “Scratch Disks” tab. Here’s a cool feature: FCP allows you specify up to 12 different scratch disks for storing files. Most of us have only one scratch disk but if you are working with uncompressed video or with extremely long format productions, having additional drives can be a blessing. You tell FCP what drive you want to be the primary disk and then specify others to be “additional” disks. When the primary drive gets full FCP automatically switches to the next disk on the list. This is a lifesaver if you have multiple editors (or students) doing projects on a single system.

But after you set the actual disk itself, where do the files go? FCP creates three main folders, called Capture Scratch, Audio Render Files and Video Render Files. The Capture Scratch folder contains all of the digitized video and the Video and Audio Render Files folders contain all video and audio clips that have effects applied and rendered.

If you have many people working on a single system and you want to easily manage projects and keep track of files, create a folder specifically for each individual user on the primary scratch disk. Then when they begin a project they should select the primary drive and their folder as their scratch disk.

Final Cut Pro also creates an Auto Save Vault directory in case your system crashes and you need to restore the last auto save. Locating that folder might be harder than you think. By default, the auto save, waveform, and thumbnail cache are all saved to your main hard drive in an obscure folder that’s difficult to track down (though the manual does tell you where to find it). Instead, in the Preferences menu, target those directories to the same drive and folder you set up for your primary scratch disk. This keeps everything in one location.

Finally, when it comes time to save your work in progress, save the project file to the same folder on your scratch disk. This is particularly effective if you use an external drive and if you work both at home and at the studio. By having your project, digitized audio and video, plus all rendered files and auto save files on one drive, you can plug in your drive, launch FCP, open your project and continue working without having to re-render effects or worry about new files going to the wrong drive.

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