The frustration of Final Cut's "General Error" / by KirstenStudio

The dreaded General Error popped up a few days ago. I usually don't blog about technical issues. I leave more technically driven and better written blogs for that, but this really affected the project I'm working on for several days and resulted in much frustration, but it did prove to a learning experience as well. Therefore it seems appropriate to share my pains and triumphs. I hope this will benefit other unfortunate souls who unwittingly run into the rather uninformative Final Cut Pro "General Error". Earlier this week, while working in Final Cut Pro 7, I innocently hit Command R to render out my sequence before exporting and sending to Compressor. I am working in a sequence with multiple aspect ratios, frame rates and still image formats. I understand that although Final Cut and Avid are more forgiving of mixing codecs and frame rates these days, that doesn't mean they always care for it and won't put up a fight.

The first steps I took were to hit Command R about a half a dozen more times as if circumstances would change.  They didn't. Then I hit Save and got another "General Error" message, which quickly put me into a panic. Alas though, it did end up successfully saving after I took a break and did some Googling to see what others had to say. Then I returned, saved the project and it kindly complied. Yet it still didn't want to render.

When troubleshooting a new issue, I like to refer to Larry Jordan's site, which is often quite helpful. He had a list of suggestions including disabling your tracks and re-rendering them. Larry writes that a General Error is often due to a bad clip or render file.  If there are clips at a different frame rate than the rest of the sequence, disable those clips and then re-render them. Isolating the problem by rendering a section at a time until you run into the error message will help narrow down the problem clip. Also do a safe reboot of your computer. Click here for further instructions from Larry Jordan. Going by his instructions did prove helpful but disabling the clip and then re-rendering it, didn't do the trick, nor did the re-boot. It did, however, help me find the corrupt items in my timeline. Several were still image Tiffs and a couple were archival footage at a different frame rate than the majority of clips in the sequence.

I tried re-scanning the still images and saving them as a jpeg, a lower-resolution tiff, a png, etc. This approach did nothing except suck up a lot of time. Desperate emails and phone calls later, I end up trashing render files as well as my preferences and running Disk Utility (more than once). All of these suggestions were from very kind and patient editors who I know and don't know.

Trashing the render files and re-rendering did take care of a couple still images that were giving me problems.  According to a very nice editor at NYU, even if the sequence tracks are disabled inside Final Cut, the clips might still look to the old render files instead of the new ones after re-rendering. That's why it's better to trash your render files on the back end and then re-open your project render anew.

I was also told to check out my sequence settings and make sure my video processing was set at Render in 8-bit YUV rather than Render all YUV material in high -precision YUV.  Unfortunately, or fortunately, I already had mine set to 8-bit.  But the last tip I was given was the tip that did the trick.

When I mentioned I was finally able to render all but one still image in my sequence and said it was an 8-bit Tiff, three different editors asked me the resolution and/or pixel dimensions. To my surprise my pixel dimension was over 8,000 (8421 × 11847 to be exact). I was told that pixel dimension shouldn't really be over 4,000 or one can run into problems.  Yes, I'd say so.

According to several editors I spoke with, Final Cut often takes issue with still images. I was always under the impression that bigger is better when it comes to size and resolution of a still image. That way there is the option of putting motion to still images and getting in close on detail and maintaining crispness and avoiding that awful shakiness that results in a low-res image that has a move on it.  Apparently one should pay attention to pixel dimension size and ensure that you don't get carried away in the name of a crisp and smooth image move. Since I brought the pixel dimension down to 4,000 in Photoshop, the sequence has rendered, saved and exported without issue. Let me take this moment to knock on wood.

Hopefully some will find my General Error problem solving diary helpful.  All the best of luck if you are reading this in a panic over the dreadful General Error.