Reader CP sent me a link to this cool cut-down of Apple’s presentation at the NAB Final Cut Pro User Group Supermeet by French videoblogger Emmanuel Pampuri. This is where the from-scratch re-write of Final Cut Pro was introduced…

Part 1

Part 2

Preamble

You still can’t buy FCPX and very few people have used it at the moment. You can, however, play around with iMovie for iPad, which has some similarities in the interface – touch-centric, draggable edits, automatic clip grouping – and looks a heckuva lot like it! I’ll probably say more on iMovie for iPad later. But for now, just know you can safely ignore it if you’re a video professional.

Final Cut Pro X, on the other hand, is directed at professionals. And some of them have been none-too-happy to see how it challenges the current editing paradigm, which is based on Avid’s interface which in turn was based on flatbed editing.

The blogosphere has mostly condemned the new approach, but influential NLE blogger Steve Cohen at Splice Now is staying open minded:

In general, the new FCP is another step in the democratization of editing, aimed squarely at people who need to quickly rough out a story from miles of unstructured, file-based material. Those making documentaries, commercials, webvideos and reality tv are going to find a lot to like. For structured material, it makes less sense. Whether automatically moving clips around in a timeline and automatic track creation will work for scripted features and television remains to be seen.

What Was Said and What Wasn’t

And this from his follow-up post, FCPX 2nd Day (emphasis his):

What’s striking to me on second viewing is how much of the demo focused on editing. There were none of the de rigueur things we’ve gotten so used to — no mention of the number of realtime layers, for example, and little discussion of which media formats can be used. Instead, they talked about how editors work.

[…]

It remains to be seen whether I would want to cut a complex sequence without asymmetrical trimming. Or whether I’d want to look at a timeline where sync audio clips and dialog edits weren’t visible. Or whether I’d want to lock music and sound effects to picture clips all the time in order to keep sync when trimming. Or whether I could do without the ability to lock two sequences together and compare them side by side. Nor is it clear how you’d turn over to sound, or share a project between editors, or handle big projects.

But whatever you think of this demo — and today’s reaction was pretty mixed in some circles — it focused on how we work. That’s where the innovation was, and that’s what got the crowd charged up.

Cohen has been advising Avid, and ironically Avid’s at the point where it is clearly better than Final Cut Pro for most professional uses, but Final Cut has the bigger market share. As someone who learned editing on the very first edition of Final Cut before later re-learning with Avid, here’s how I see the history. Final Cut, with its bins and timeline interface, tried to make itself very easy for “switchers” to come over, while at the same time also providing a way to edit that was all dragging, dropping, pulling. This was a more intuitive way of doing it for those who found Avid’s menu-and-keyboard interface arcane. It worked.

The easier learning curve combined with the wildly lower prices means my generation and everyone after me learned on Final Cut, not Avid. This has filtered up into the pro ranks everywhere but features, where the majority are still cut on Avid, and perhaps dramatic television. Cohen is concerned that Final Cut X is not going to serve this world, but I saw a couple things when watching the presentation that maybe indicate they’re trying.

Part 1 Analysis

First of all, they hit Image Quality. Avid’s DNxHD compression codec is superior, in terms of quality, to ProRes. No word on if this has actually been addressed, but it looks like the groudwork has been laid.

Secondly, they hit Organization, saying the new 64-bit program could handle tons of media. This is the main complaint I’ve heard at the LAFCPUGs from feature editors and assistants who use Final Cut Pro. They have to have a project for each reel and wait long periods of time just for the main project to open.

On the finishing side, there was the “fully color-managed” note, which, trust me, makes a difference when the program you deliver is QC’d to within an inch of its life.

Resolution Independence is something Avid made big strides with in their last edition, and is really most critical for documentaries, where footage is coming from all different sources. Being good on 4K workflows (read RED camera) has been Apple’s main wedge into the feature world, as some of the most innovative directors and young filmmakers have embraced this as the future. Avid, meanwhile, has pinned its bets more on supporting 3D.

Final Cut Pro, being Apple-based, will always have an advantage over Avid, the outside company. They know where Apple;s hardware and OS is going, and can design for it ahead of time. So I’m not surprised that Grand Central Dispach to take full advantage of multiple-core processing is included.

The example the speaker uses for content auto-analysis is AVC-HD, a particularly annoying format to edit with. The cameras are cheap, so lots of producers think they can save money by shooting in this format. They don’t realize that Sony makes the footage hard to just throw in an NLE and go. Both FCP and Avid have worked hard to support it, but the workflows are not intuitive. Any system that doesn’t make you memorize new workflows for weird formats gets a thumbs up from me!

File-based workflows seem to be the future, and Apple seems to agree. All this additional metadata stuff like face-detection and image-stabilization analysis is stuff that Adobe has been pushing. I like the addition of auto-audio cleanup, provided it is minimal – like setting reasonable levels. The auto-color balance might be annoying, assuming that the d.p. may have baked in a specific look, or that you want to know what the footage looked like to forewarn the colorist or double-check the lab.

Keywords applied to a range of frames is nice, also, from a meta-data standpoint. I imagine this will be most useful for reality t.v./documentary workflows. I can also see there being plug-ins that keyword audio based on voice analysis. In other words, you can, like with Adobe’s suite, click on a word in a transcript and it will take you to that exact frame in the dialogue where the word begins. Editors like Walter Murch already integrate Final Cut’s XML with Filemaker databases to take advantage of keywording and the ease of searches based on tags.

People who learned on Avid, or in the post-sync-sound era in general, I’ve noticed are bothered by clip connections, even just dialogue linked with the clip where someone is actually speaking with it. If you learned that way, having the clips unconnected just isn’t a problem. (Read Steve Cohen’s comments, above.) But I remember coming to Avid after Final Cut and finding this to be dumb and unintuitive. The ability to lock your music track to a particular piece of video doesn’t seem all that revolutionary.

But it is the next part, the magnetic timeline, that shows why this is worth mentioning. They want you to be sliding locked groups of media into each other. I’d really have to try editing this way to know how it works. I do know that the nested sequence ability (which seems similar to what they are now calling “building blocks”) is a bugaboo for finishing. So I could see why people get upset. Assistants spend a lot of time undoing these and making nice clean AB reels so that movies can actually be produced through the limitations of film in the physical world.

The Inline Precision Editor seems addressed at Avid’s greatest advantage over Final Cut: Trim Mode. The editors I know who’ve switched from Avid to Final Cut always list a lack of Trim Mode as the number one complaint. It looks like FCPX’s implementation addresses some of these problems, but as Cohen notes, doesn’t include the complex asymmetrical trimming that can be so powerful and useful in Avid. Also, the speaker says we can see the shots on either side of the cut, but does he mean in a triple-real-time preview window like on Avid, or just as the thumbnails on the timeline?

Audition Mode – this looks interesting. Again, I’d have to try editing with it to know if it is superior than other methods.

Final Cut Pro X demo at NAB 2011Part 2

What they called “cluster view” (hard to hear) looks interesting. It’s where a clip gets exploded into a stack of thumbnails. In some ways, this is a throwback to looking at a strip of film held up against a light, looking at individual frames. I could see this being useful, although I’m not sure just scrubbing a timeline quickly isn’t equally intuitive.

People applauded the automatic track adding, but many editors (and all assistants) use tracks to organize the audio. (Dialogue on 1&2, Effects on 3&4, etc.) So I can see why they would feel this doesn’t fit a pro workflow.

Built-in Pluraleyes-like functionality – thumbs up!

Match Color – a lot of applause for this. Avid has had this ability for a while, although I don’t think a lot of people know how to use it, or use Avid’s color tools generally, since most pro workflows still have a dedicated high-end color pass. Apple’s algo here looks like it may work better than Avid’s, but I guarantee a professional colorist could still beat it.

Spot color correction built in is super-sweet. In Avid, you have to upgrade to Nitris to do this, I believe, and the controls are not as intuitive.

Animation keyframes in timeline – not necessary but still cool. If it keeps extra windows of keyframes from cluttering up the screen, it will be well-worth it.

The demo of the Audition Mode makes me wonder how useful it is beyond just testing single shots. I know he showed that it works when the clips are not the same length, but is there a feature built into to make the clips identical in duration? That seems to me more often how I work. I have the right timing, and just need to find the clip that best fits in the gap.

Shipping in June. This coincides with Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference. Beyond that, I don’t know any significance to the date.

$299, downloaded directly from the App Store. Avid’s student edition is $295; Media Composer software-only $2,295. Adobe Premiere is $349 educational and $799 commercial. Apple is going for the jugular, in other words.

Sample-accurate audio editing – all I can say is, it’s about time! And tons of applause comes later in the video when they show a whole mode for keyframing audio easily. It looks like they’ve thought this through nicely.

The ability to re-order B-roll and then pick up a whole group and slide it looks promising.

Good note for Avid editors: all doable from a keyboard as well as mouse.

Conclusion

Overall, this looks like a well-thought-out reworking of the existing editing paradigm, not a from-scratch re-invention. I think they watched many FCP editors work, looked at what they spent a lot of time doing that could be automated, and worked to build that in. There may be some unintended consequences from this in how it affects pro workflows, where the media has to get handed off to different people and often different systems. Cohen is right to point out we don’t know how this fits in with the wider Final Cut Suite – especially Soundtrack Pro, Motion and Color.

But Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor should a beta demo of Final Cut X be expected to please everyone. Final Cut will undoubtedly work to accommodate pro users just as Avid will undoubtedly work to incorporate the best of FCPX’s new features. Everyone wins.