What is FCP X’s relationship to iMovie?

Another emerging source of concern about whether FCP X is a professional app is its relationship to iMovie. In particular, a narrative seems to have emerged in which FCP X was derived from iMovie, after Apple realized there was no way to modernize the existing Final Cut Pro codebase.

There’s clearly a lot of shared DNA between FCP X and iMovie, as marcus.sg noted in commenting on the previous post. But the most accurate way to look at this is to view iMovie and FCP X as having a common ancestor, with a bit of horizontal gene transfer since the apps split off. I suspect an accurate depiction of the relationship runs something like this:

Evolutionary Relationship Between iMovie and FCP X

(Horizontal transfer probably occurred more than once and it’s hard to say exactly when, but that’s not really the point.)

The idea that Apple only recently realized it wasn’t possible to modernize the old FCP codebase, and belatedly decided to start over from the iMovie codebase, isn’t very plausible. The old FCP was obviously not the way forward. Its interface felt like something from a different age, it was the only Carbon pro app left, and it was clear at the very least that the entire rendering engine was going to need to be rewritten to use GPU acceleration and multiple cores.

It seems far more likely Apple started serious work on FCP X immediately after wrapping up FCP 6 in 2007 (FCP 7 was more of a maintenance release) — this would have actually been somewhat before the product’s release date, which was April of that year. Now, shipping a pro video editing product based on an entirely new technical foundation is a serious, high-risk undertaking. But Apple happened to have another video editing product where the new engine and even some of the new UI could be tested without much risk: iMovie.

So along comes iMovie ’08, in August of 2007. Rewritten from the ground up, it’s clearly a much more modern app… but it has so many features missing it seems almost more like a proof of concept than a finished app. My theory is, that’s because it pretty much was. It was Apple’s early-stage work on its next-generation video editing platform, quickly packaged up as a consumer app.

When you get right down to it, most of what sets a pro video application apart is not related to the core task of arranging video clips in time, but to ancillary functions like format support, video I/O, workflow integration and metadata management. So, if FCP X is an offshoot of the same codebase as iMovie, but adds support for these things… well, that makes perfect sense. Why would Apple not allow iMovie and FCP X to share DNA this way? Why is this a bad thing?

What’s funny is that nobody would object to this if the release order had been reversed, and the shared new features and UI had shipped first in FCP X and not shipped in iMovie until, say, iMovie ’12. But the truth is, pro users are all much better off for the fact that Apple isn’t dumping four years of code on them with no real-world testing. FCP X will be less buggy because Apple has been using consumers as guinea pigs for nearly four years.

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16 Responses to What is FCP X’s relationship to iMovie?

  1. simon.u says:

    You could be right with this analysis, but then you have to ask yourself the question why doesn’t iMovie look and feel more like a pro editing app?

    But much more to the point why doesn’t FCPX look and feel much more like a pro editing app?

    If Apple have really been working on FCPX since 2007, did they really decide that what pro editors need is to do away with the age old In/Out system of editing and replace it with a scrubbing (sorry, “Skimming”) UI? It seems a really odd decision. However it would make a lot more sense if iMovie in fact had precedence and FCPX is playing catch-up.

    Don’t get me wrong – I’m already a fan of where all this is going. I don’t think we’ll ever really know what the history of FCPX actually was. But it’s interesting to speculate.

  2. Chris Kenny says:

    There’s no way a company that sweats the details of UI as much as Apple does would simply borrow UI from iMovie and toss it into Final Cut just to save a bit of development time. This UI is in Final Cut because Apple made a positive decision that it was better.

    Apple has a long history of reexamining user interface conventions that other companies never quite seem to get around to questioning, whether that’s the lack of drop-down menus in iOS (previous mobile operating systems had them), or the extensive use of trackpad gestures in Lion (a recognition that laptops now outsell desktops, so trackpads should be treated as a first class input method, not an inferior mouse replacement). Not everyone always agrees with their decisions, but there is rarely anything casual or accidental about the UI decisions Apple makes.

  3. simon.u says:

    OK, here’s a completely different scenario – bear with me for a second.

    What if there was a point back around 2007 when Apple were seriously thinking of dropping out of the NLE business altogether, based on the fact that FCP was never going to be upgradable to 64 bit, etc.? I seem to remember there were in fact layoffs in the FCP team around that time.

    Meanwhile Randy Ubillos is developing iMovie 11 – which is always going to be a great money spinner for Apple given it’s consumer level customer base. And iMovie 11 has some genuinely awesome features, features that will very much appeal to a mass market base not interested in the conventions of NLE editing.

    Seeing that it’s a damn good product with a cool new approach to what might be possible for an editing app, the momentum for FCP picks back up at some point last year. Steve Jobs’ announcement that the new FCP is going to be “awesome” fits into this picture. It’s going to be awesome because it will have all the cool new features developed for iMovie.

    It’s a bit of a rush job but the new FCP is demo-ed in February to a select few, and still in beta it’s shown to the rest of us this week. But despite some heavy re-engineering under the hood it still looks and feels very much like an editing app designed for the masses. Some slightly more “pro” features but essentially the same animal.

    Not surprisingly, there is no mention of any of the rest of the suite, because those apps haven’t been developed along the iMovie paradigm, precisely because the shift to the iMovie style FCPX happened late in the day, rather than way back in 2007.

    Possible? I think so, but I can’t be sure – anymore than you can.

  4. Chris Kenny says:

    Possible, but Apple secretly canceling and then un-canceling Final Cut Pro is a rather more complicated explanation that is required to account for the data, as far as I can see. And saying FCP X might be a direct descendant of iMovie because it “looks and feels very much like an editing app designed for the masses” is kind of begging the question, when we don’t know whether that UI was originally developed just for iMovie in the first place. I mean, nothing about the new UI is objectively more consumer-oriented, is it? One could attempt to make that case about the new automation features, but most of those aren’t even in iMovie.

    • simon.u says:

      I wouldn’t say they cancelled it, rather they dithered about what to do with it and gave some thought to whether or not to abandon it, meanwhile giving us FCP7 in the process!

      As for the UI being “designed for the masses”, I think, yes, the new UI is “objectively more consumer-oriented”. I think there are loads of pointers (auto stabilization, auto audio correction, etc.) but mainly the absence of a traditional In/Out edit point selection system in favour of a mouse dragging range selector system. I really think that is a bit of a clincher for my scenario rather than yours – but then I would think that!

    • simon.u says:

      Oh and one other thing. I think the price point of FCPX is very telling in this regard. Four years of development on a brand new app and they wouldn’t be charging this kind of money, whereas souping up an existing consumer product the price makes absolute sense.

      • Chris Kenny says:

        Image stabilization is in FCP 7, though. Not automatic stabilization (where it can figure out what shots might require stabilizing) but iMovie doesn’t have that either. Nor does iMovie have audio cleanup, shot-based color matching, automatic audio clean-up or automatic shot tagging (medium shot, two people, etc.). Those all seem to be new features for FCP X, and while all of them would be useful to consumers, I can’t see how they’re inherently consumer features. I mean, even DaVinci Resolve has an “auto color” function, and an entry-level Resolve system cost $150,000 until Blackmagic bought them.

        And camera shake, audio glitches and mismatched color happen to everyone. Even with, say, feature film editing, where you’re hopefully going to have a real color grade and audio mix, those things don’t happen until picture lock. It would be very nice to have a way to quickly fix these sorts of problems during the offline edit. They can be distracting to the editor who has to spend hundreds of hours with the footage. And getting rid of them means you can spit out higher quality rough cuts, which is useful if you’re screening those for feedback or whatever.

        As far as the price cut, that has more to do with the App Store than anything else. Apple did exactly the same thing with Aperture; they cut the new purchase price to what the upgrade price previously was (in that case, from $199 to $79).

        Selling software for less money doesn’t necessarily mean you believe it’s less valuable. It’s just a matter of finding the profit-maximizing price, and with the incremental cost to produce another unit of a software product being near zero with digital distribution, that can often be quite low. Apple could easily sell several times as many copies of Final Cut at $299 (with super-easy one-click purchasing), primarily by reclaiming current losses to piracy.

        The other thing to consider about the price is that this is just Final Cut Pro, not an entire suite. I tend to think Apple will ditch bundling, as this seems to be their policy as they move to App Store sales (they unbundled iWork and iLife), but there may still be other apps coming that will be sold a la cart.

  5. simon.u says:

    Image stabilization seems to me to be implemented in iMovie in exactly the same way as it is in FCPX and it is very much “automatic”, analysing your footage in a very intelligent way and marking sections that have extreme shake. You can also choose to stabilize and identify faces at the same time. You can also opt to “reduce background noise” on your source audio, which also seems to me to be essentially the same as what FCPX is offering.

    These features seem to me at any rate to be very much of a piece with what we were looking at in FCPX.

    I would also point to the people recognition feature as being very indicative of the development path of FCPX/iMovie. When Randy Ubillos showed us iMovie 11 as part of the new iLife, it was clear that the face recognition component came directly out of work already done on iPhoto, which I think you would agree is a consumer app, albeit with some genuinely “awesome” features that in some sense surpass anything available in the pro domain. Conversely, I simply can’t imagine Apple addressing the issues of pro editing and thinking that what editors really needed was face recognition. In other words, it is patently obvious to me that the implementation of this in FCPX derives directly from iPhoto/iMovie rather than your proposed development route.

    More generally, I can’t see the Apple team sitting down and thinking ‘how can we make the ultimate professional NLE?” and coming up directly with FCPX as we know it, but I can see them sitting down to write the most fun, coolest editing app on the planet for the consumer market and coming up with iMovie.

    I feel that while FCPX may be a great pro editing app come June, there were far too many professional concerns simply not addressed in what we saw (the list seems to me to be endless) to believe it was originally conceived as a pro editing app. To be possibly unfairly flippant, I wonder whether they have yet worked out how to get the Timeline NOT to ripple. That’s all it does in iMovie, but Randy didn’t show us how you could “turn it off”, as a lot of people have pointed out. I found that pretty odd even before I started looking into the whole iMovie thing and started to glimpse why that might be!

    As far as the whole “suite of apps” is concerned, I utterly fail to see how they can be made to integrate with the radical new model of FCPX in the way that we have become used to with the old suite. I would tentatively wager it will be a long time, if possibly ever, before we see any of them ever again. You might think that’s absurdly sceptical but then I have been a long time user of Shake, and look what Apple did to that. I think that’s a pretty salutary lesson to be remembered when we consider what may or may not happen now to the rest of the apps in the FCP bundle.

    Hey, it’s all speculation, and I could be proved horribly wrong but thanks for humouring me in this discussion! It’s been fun!

  6. Chris Kenny says:

    Maybe I’ve got this wrong, but my understanding is the FCP X analyzes clips (for stabilization, audio cleanup and everything else) by default, in the background, during ingesting, which is not my understanding of how iMovie works. There’s no reason iMovie couldn’t or shouldn’t work this way; my point is merely that it doesn’t.

    And even if it did, similarities between FCP X and iMovie are essentially meaningless in terms of determining how much of a pro app FCP X is. In particular, I strenuously disagree with your assessment that FCP X doesn’t look like something Apple would come up with, designing a professional app from scratch. To me, it absolutely looks like what I’d expect from an NLE designed by present day UI designers willing to question past assumptions.

    I also think you’re reading far too much into Apple’s presentation. It was a quick preview of some of the more impressive new capabilities and the new UI. Somehow when other companies announce new professional software, and show off flashy features, people don’t assume everything was wasn’t explicitly mentioned (including things like XML exporting, which is actually in iMovie) has been cut. It’s like seeing a presentation on a new car model, hearing all about its acceleration, horsepower, etc. and wondering whether it has turn signals, because they weren’t mentioned.

    And I don’t particularly see how FCP X makes integration with the rest of the suite any more awkward than it already was. In fact, it would be rather surprising if Apple hadn’t taken advantage of the fact that they were retooling the entire app to build in many additional new hooks for integration.

    Finally, all the handwringing over the Magnetic Timeline seems rather silly, given that for all anyone knows it can be flipped on or off with one key press, like snapping on the current FCP timeline.

  7. Robert Dee says:

    An interesting article that makes a lot of sense, given Apple’s business practice which has been to spend time on something to get it “right” and not be afraid to decide for themselves what is right for the given product. I find the whole iMovie Pro debate really tedious. It all seems about value judgement and snobbery rather than functionality. Just because something makes some tedious functions easier does not make it any less pro. I’ve also read elsewhere that if you don’t like the new paradigm you can still mark in and outs in a 3 point style if you chose to. I think the unspoken fear is that Apple may be opening the floodgates to lots of bedroom editors with DSLRs undercutting and undervaluing editors (and shooters). I think that’s a genuine concern – its happening now – but I doubt it will last. Editing is a craft and the editing software a tool and video has trends as much as anything else (that “youtube” lo-fi look or tilt-shift being 2 that became old really quickly). The pro is the person who can match the style to the content, not the otherway around, regardless of the tool he uses.

  8. simon.u says:

    Robert, I don’t believe there is any reliable basis for the rumour that 3-point editing will be supported, but I would be fascinated to hear your source if you can recall it. I’ve also heard it said that FCPX will support JKL transport control but again there’s really no evidence that I can see for this either. Wishful thinking, perhaps?

    Chris, I really don’t believe I’m “handwringing” as you suggest, I was just interested in discussing the subject for its academic interest. For the record, iMovie does support stabilization on ingest.

    • Shorty says:

      LOL… that’s hilarious coming from YOU of all people, where you just wrote pages of completely contrived, uneducated conjecture without even the least bit of a logical or technical basis for any of it, other than your obviously wanting to believe it…? Brilliant. :-D And even tho Chris has a far stronger position and comprehensible arguments, you fail (i.e. refuse) to grasp any of them. Makes one wonder what you’re so utterly afraid of that you get so stuck on such a complete non-subject.

      Handwringing is far more diplomatic than I would have described it.

      • simon.u says:

        Hey, calm down, kiddo. Did I say anywhere that I didn’t like FCPX? I like it quite a lot as it happens, insofar as I know anything about it, and my getting to know it has been greatly helped by looking into iMovie in proper depth. I was not expressing a value judgement of any kind, let alone a criticism. I was just entirely unemotionally interested in the question of how it came into being, which was you may remember was the subject of Chris’ original blogpost (“What is FCP X’s relationship to iMovie?”) – which curiously you seem to think is a non-subject. I don’t “want” to believe one thing or another, quite frankly, but your emotional outburst rather suggests that you do.

        • Shorty says:

          The mere ” I like it quite a lot as it happens” claim about a product you, at best, haven’t seen more of than a few stills and clips is just ludicrous and sums up what ridiculous angle you’re coming from. Your reading comprehension apparently needs a tad polishing also, since I never eluded to anything of your supposed “value judgement” or “criticism”, since there is in fact none. Only, as I’ve already pointed out, nothing but contrived conjecture you actually try to sell off as some sort of FACT and then even have the gall to doubt someone else’s claim saying ” I don’t believe there is any reliable basis for the rumour that 3-point editing will be supported”, seeing that, if anyone, YOU are the one arguing on nothing other than rumored and personal, conjectured tripe. Bravo.

          And spare us the “kiddo” crap, since I’ve been in the business for a near 25 years and know your type well enough to know who the only possible “kid” is here. Anyone actually, in all seriousness(!), following such an inane train of thought along the lines of “the momentum for FCP picks back up at some point last year” actually suggesting Apple simply cranked FCP X out in UNDER A YEAR… jesus… nuff said. You disqualified yourself from any serious, logical or even vaguely educated discussion with that in your very first post.

          Far too much time wasted already… enjoy.

    • Shorty says:

      “A man with a conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point.” – Leon Festinger

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