The predictability of the Final Cut Pro X response

I’ve been going through old posts on my Indie4K blog (now merged into this blog) to see which of them might be worth migrating to this blog’s archives, and I turned up this, originally posted nearly a year ago (and now living in its new home on this blog). Important bit:

In general, [Apple is] willing to do things that they know people will complain about loudly — but this gives them the flexibility to sometimes make exceptional products.

I suspect this is precisely where they’re headed with FCP. We’re going to get the OpenCL and Grand Central Dispatch goodness that everyone wants. But we’re not going to get an app with a strict superset of Final Cut Pro’s functionality. Instead, we’re going to get an app that Apple believes is better overall for the tasks video editors perform, even if some features are cut. And we might also get a significantly overhauled UI; something that results from a process of sitting down and questioning every assumption about how editing interfaces currently work.

In short, I think they’ll come up with something really interesting… that will probably cause a bunch of people to totally freak out about how Apple has ruined everything and make forceful public declarations about how they’re leaving the platform. Meanwhile, people actually willing to embrace the thing might discover it has a bit of that iPad ‘magic’.

Hmmm….

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The magnetic timeline’s off switch?

There has been some concern expressed on Twitter and various blogs that Final Cut Pro X’s new “magnetic timeline”, with all of its automatic rippling, could interfere with the process of making adjustments to material that has to meet precise length requirements, like commercials or TV programming.

I noted a couple of days ago that for all anyone knew it could just be switched off, like snapping in the current FCP timeline. Aindreas Gallagher over on the Creative Cow forums may have identified the toggle.

(Clipped from the screenshot attached to this post.)

It could also possibly be the switch on the left here:

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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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Is Final Cut Pro X a professional app?

Almost certainly. There is essentially no reason to believe otherwise.

I’ve seen speculation that FCP X won’t support EDL/XML/OMF export, won’t support professional video I/O interfaces, won’t support third-party plug-ins, won’t work well with large projects, no longer supports three-point editing, and even that new automation features won’t be possible to disable.

Why are so few people willing to give Apple the benefit of the doubt here? After all, it would be unusual for a new and ostensibly improved version of an application to drop all sorts of critical features that previous versions had.

The skepticism toward FCP X makes little sense based on the actual content of Apple’s announcement. It only makes sense if you went into the announcement with a preexisting conception that Apple was pulling back from the pro market. A lot of people clearly did precisely that. But where did such a preconception come from?

As far as I can see, the primary evidence for the notion that Apple was pulling back from the pro video market is that there had been no really major new release of Final Cut Pro since 2007. But there were always two ways to explain that:

  1. Apple was de-emphasizing the pro video market or
  2. Apple was quietly working on a major, ground up overhaul of Final Cut Pro.

We now know definitively that the latter was the case.

It makes no sense to evaluate what we know about FCP X within the context of a mental model of Apple retreating from pro video, when the mere existence of FCP X removes the primary evidence for the validity of that model.

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First thoughts on Final Cut Pro X

Well, the long-awaited major rewrite of Final Cut finally dropped yesterday… sort of. Apple’s Supermeet presentation showed off lots of flashy new features that will be extremely convenient for creative editorial, including a dramatically improved timeline. But an on-stage presentation isn’t really the best place to discuss crucially important workflow details, so we still know little on that front.

What we do know is good. The new Final Cut is resolution independent, extensively uses OpenCL and Grand Central dispatch (for leveraging graphics processors and multiple CPU cores), it’s 64-bit (no 4 GB memory limit), and it’s Cocoa. It also uses floating point video processing like, say, DaVinci Resolve, which depending on other details conceivably makes it a valid high-end finishing tool, not just an NLE. And it supports ColorSync. In theory that means you should be able to get something pretty close to accurate color with just a desktop display and a $200 calibration probe. I’m curious to try that next to one of our calibrated video monitors and see how well it works.

On the other hand, this is a new app. A ground-up rewrite. As a consequence, one can’t necessarily assume it has a strict superset of the features of Final Cut Pro 7. There may be some things missing. We just don’t know yet. And many questions about anticipated new features were left unanswered, and may not have clear answers for a while.

Native support for Red files, for instance, wasn’t mentioned yesterday. Maybe once info on FCP X goes live on Apple’s web site, this will be there. But if it’s not, we won’t immediately know the implications of that. If there’s a flexible new plug-in architecture that would allow for it, for instance, it might be better if R3D support was handled entirely by Red, so users wouldn’t have to wait for updates from Apple when Red upgraded its color science, etc. But we probably won’t know this until Red has had some time to kick the tires on the new release. The same applies to formats like DPX — if they’re not there out of the box, the answer to the question of how smoothly they can be added will have extremely significant implications for where FCP X fits into the market.

And then there are all the little entirely un-flashy things that people in the post business deal with every day. Can the new Final Cut finally relink a timeline entirely based on timecode + reel number? Can it batch-sync dual-system audio based on timecode? Can the new PluralEyes-like auto syncing feature be used to sync up dual system audio, or just multiple video tracks? How much has Final Cut’s XML file format changed, and what implications will that have for its integration into complex workflows? Has Apple fixed the bugs FCP 7 has with EDL exports? Some of these questions quite likely won’t be answerable from whatever promotional info Apple posts on its web site, and some of this stuff is sufficiently esoteric that early reviews probably won’t touch on it either. We’ll have to wait until FCP X goes live in the App Store.

Also, before I wrap up here, a few words on pricing. FCP X is going to be $299, available through the App Store in June. Initially this seems like a huge price cut, but there are two things to keep in mind.

First, the App Store lacks upgrade pricing. So yes, FCP X is $299, But FCP 11 (or whatever they call the next major release) will probably be $299 as well, even if you bought FCP X. $299 has long been the upgrade price for Final Cut, so really this is just a discount for first-time customers (which makes sense; Apple seems to be aiming for aggressive growth here).

Secondly, this is just Final Cut Pro. Apple has announced nothing about the rest of Final Cut Studio. My guess is some other FCS apps are slated to be axed, while others will live, see significant upgrades, and be sold separately from Final Cut Pro in the App Store.

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New web site launched

Our new web site is live.

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Welcome Indie4K readers!

We’re merging Indie4K with our company blog. Selected archive posts from Indie4K will be migrated over here, and this blog will now include the sort of technical and industry discussions previously featured at Indie4K (the first such is here), as well as announcements about our creative projects. Links to old Indie4K.com posts will remain active for the foreseeable future.

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Latest Final Cut Studio rumors make little sense

So, the Internet is abuzz with rumors about major delays for Final Cut Studio. Frankly, these don’t make a ton of sense.

Apple is working on a major rewrite of Final Cut. This is pretty well established. Because they’ve essentially deprecated the Carbon API, the programming interface large parts of Final Cut use, they have no choice but to rewrite. And even this latest largely pessimistic rumor confirms they’re doing precisely that.

Now, Final Cut Studio has traditionally been on a two year release cycle. Expecting a major rewrite to take at least twice that long is not remotely unreasonable, and they’re not at that mark yet (even measuring from FCS2, the last full-scale upgrade). Moreover, a major Final Cut rewrite essentially requires Apple to deliver a major QuickTime rewrite first, which was never likely to happen before OS X 10.7, which almost certainly won’t ship until Q3 or Q4 of next year. (It’s not even officially announced yet.)

Some commentators seem concerned Apple is going to lose significant market share to Avid or Adobe if they take another year to ship a major Final Cut update, but I doubt it. Avid Media Composer is significantly more expensive than Final Cut Studio. The cost difference isn’t much to a post house, but for a freelance editor or an indie film, it’s not nothing. And while Media Composer has native R3D support, it’s missing many other things Final Cut Studio has (motion graphics, serious color correction, etc.) and is much more limited in terms of what video I/O hardware it supports. Meanwhile, Premiere Pro has some flashier features, but still isn’t as mature as Final Cut as a professional editing platform. One big issue is that Adobe currently lacks an answer to ProRes, which in my experience is used very widely for file-based workflows, and would be even if Final Cut had native support for more types of media — working with native media (especially Red media, for the majority of editors who don’t have a Rocket) tends to bog things down.

This industry is pretty conservative; not many shops are really going to switch just because Apple takes a year longer than would have been desirable. We regularly run into editors who run a year or two behind on NLE upgrades anyway. And speaking from personal experience, after two and a half years of Red workflows we weren’t really happy with, we’re finally settling in on something we like with RedCine-X transcodes, FCP 7 editing, Resolve color grading, and round-tripping from Resolve back to Final Cut (via some custom in-house workflow tools). We’re not looking to totally shake things up again right now.

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Introducing “364″ The Webseries

We are incredibly pleased to announce the release of our webseries 364.

Ever wonder what Santa’s reindeer do on their 364 days off from work? Probably not, because they’re reindeer.  Well, unwonder no more.

We have over an hour of content which we’ll be releasing weekly at www.364series.com.

Created and Written by James Manzello

Directed by Pierce Varous

Shot by Chris Kenny

(Photo credits Johnny Wolf )

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Kid Cudi “Pursuit of Happiness” Megaforce video finally released

We’re very happy to see the Megaforce-directed video for Kid Cudi’s Pursuit of Happiness finally come out. Not only because it was shot on our Red, but because it ended up being just as crazy as you’d imagine a video directed by four crazy Frenchmen would be. It’s got anti-gravity, a boat, scary circus people, and girls with antlers or something. Come on, how could that not be great?

(On iPad/iPhone? See it here.)

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