ben treston

FCPX Report Card - 10.1


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After having used Final Cut Pro X in a professional collaborative environment for nearly six months now, I can safely give FCPX 10.1 a full round up via Report Card -

INGEST - C+

Although FCPX is a lot friendlier in being able to import more formats out of the box, the Import dialog is one step forward, two steps back. Although it would be nice to be able to set batch file naming on Ingest, I can understand the use of metadata as you can still access the original file names, and rename after ingest. There have been a few cases of files coming in off CF cards where it takes two attempts to ingest, it fails and then you have no option but to delete the referenced media and start again. Although you can “Hide Imported Clips” I wish it were clearer than a very thin grey line to see which clips have been ingested or not. Some cards also don’t ever eject in FCPX, only in Finder - this could be a Mavericks issue. Overall C+ - a bit too simple for Pros, would like things to be more obvious and have some extra control of file naming in the process if needed.

ORGANISATION - A

Apart from the magnetic timeline, this is the one area where there is initial friction when coming from FCP7. Most editors want “Bins” of media, but once you have got used to keywording and setting this up and using Smart Collections, this becomes a much superior alternative. My personal favourite is having a preset “Interview Selects” smart collections, so every time I favourite a portion of an interview, I have a dynamic collection of clips than shrinks and grows depending on what has been favourited. Although none of this is new to 10.1 - it is still worth noting how well that has all been though out from the very outset.

TOOLS & TRIMMING - B+

Once you learn about the Position Tool (P), the magnetic timeline is not as terrifying. The one trap a lot of colleagues have got into is actually using only the position tool and then losing all of the functions and use of the Magnetic timeline. When you can use Arrow and Position in tandem this becomes very powerful. The trim tool is also very powerful, although muscle memory means I keep jumping to the ’S’ key when wanting to do a Slip edit. Unfortunately I don’t often use the precision edit function. although I really should more often, especially for transitions.

TIMELINE - B

The concept of primary and secondary storylines is very useful, although there are a number of issues that someone may struggle to comprehend. You can end up with a gap clip in a secondary storyline which seems redundant even existing, but there might be cases where you would need this. If my skimmer is parked in a secondary storyline, the ‘Q’ shortcut should insert than into the secondary, rather than connect above. It feels like there is at times forcing and squeezing things into place with the mouse. Knowing that the skimmer always has priority means this becomes a lot more logical, although that is not always clear when starting out. It is very hard to live without the skimmer when ploughing through lots of rushes.

COLOUR CORRECTION - B+

The colour board is a controversial change, however once you get used to it, it is not as tricky as first expected. I do wish it could be made larger for easier movement of the pucks, and perhaps to have all three tabs (Colour, Exposure, Saturation) visible at once instead of tricky shortcuts to get between them. The new architecture for plugins and the way looks are previewed is excellent and much to look forward to.

KEYFRAMING & RE-TIMING - B

Two steps forward and one back here. It is great to have the video animation editor available on the timeline, but easily trying to set a keyframe on frame 1 of a clip is near impossible without careful clicking and possible use of the inspector to do this. The Ken Burns effect is excellent, but is hardly useable until you can choose to disable the Ease-In and Ease-Out that comes as default. A clunky workaround is to expand the clip so you hide the start and end, not ideal. Re-timing is a thousand times better and I wish I had more use of speed ramping so I could continue to use this, especially the Blade retime tool.

AUDIO - A-

It is a much nicer place having sample accurate audio trimming and much better live waveforms. Skimming audio means hearing effects is very useful and much more accurate. This would be an A+ if there was a keyboard shortcut to allow you to dip the audio handles on the edges of a given clip with one keystroke. FCP7 had this (for audio transitions), so I wish this was the case. A lot of camera clips come in as panned Stereo and need to be dual mono, so this becomes constant changing of clips to correct this. FCP7 didn’t treat ingested clips like this.

EXPORT & SHARING - A

A big improvement here. Being able to output multiple targets using Bundles is awesome. Having Compressor 4.1 is also a big plus. The only down side is not being able to export selections of a project - a few times there have been stray gap clips which have been included in the end of project, or some off cuts at the end of the project.

The changing face of the promo

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It has been far too long since updating this blog, but it is only because work has been so astoundingly busy. So busy in fact, that we have needed to expand and take on more people due to the volume of work.

Why so busy? With budgets shrinking, motor manufacturers and teams in poverty and people generally wanting to spend less money, why the upturn?

Quite simply, the face of the promo is changing. The reason we are so busy is that we operate at sensible and reasonable budgets, but also in general, try to keep things engaging for the viewer - who now more than ever is constantly saturated with glossy images and sold to left, right and centre.

People don’t need to see another very expensive glossy car advert, it’s all been done - and viewers take a lot now to be impressed. But also at the same time sending a print reporter with a mobile phone to film is not enough to create something engaging and worth sending to others. Current? Sure. Newsworthy? Maybe. But something that someone is going to watch and then share afterwards - less likely.

It’s this middle ground that is erupting. Last year we did two jobs for a client, one was a higher budget promo using projection, helicopters and super slow mo cameras. The other was for the same car but had an enthusiastic presenter talking around a lap of what the car was like to drive. Nicely filmed and put together, but no jaw dropping visuals. The non-glossy version was viewed triple the glossy version.

People now know when they are being sold to. By stepping back and producing content that does not beat them over the head with the brand, rather simply gently reminds them of it, means the outcome is much more effective.

Busy, and changing, times at present. I’m glad to be in the right spot.

Total Upheaval

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I can’t believe it has been since November that I have updated this blog - so much for keeping content fresh…

Looking back over the previous posts, it has amazed me how so much has changed and up-ended in such a short time - WRC television went from ESPN to nothing at all, F1 is now split between the BBC and Sky and yet work and demand for automotive video content continues to thrive like never before.

There is so much to say on all of the above in individual posts however the irony seems that as a premier motorsport spectator (at least the in the UK) it is now nigh on impossible to watch both premier categories on terrestrial TV. What an enormous retrograde step and surely the teams and manufacturers can’t be overly happy about this situation. With the F1, a lot of people in the know I work with, say that Sky has been spending obscene amounts of money on the coverage compared to the BBC - which is not surprising, however there was nothing fundamentally wrong with the BBC coverage in the first place. Having endless analysis and a 24 hour F1 channel does not an exciting race make, rather simply flog their prize motorsport asset to death.

With the World Rally Championship and the collapse of CSI and North One Sport, this has caused the television coverage to become a piecemeal effort that is now the responsibility of the rallies themselves, which is totally unfair - even though the coverage has been adequate, I now wish for the days of coverage on ESPN, let alone on Dave or even better Channel 4. I take back everything I said right now.

And yet, with the turmoil for your armchair motorsport fan, I am run off my feet with work - the hunger for content still remains, however the majority of work I do is not for a broadcaster, it is direct from manufacturer/team/client to fan or the public.

I imagine the possibilities of the the coverage of the WRC and also F1 given this model - I think it could surprise a lot of people.

Final Cut Pro X Furore

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Now that the dust has settled a little on the launch of Apple’s Final Cut Pro X - it’s time to take stock of the situation with a clear head.

Why the outrage?

When Apple first debuted the preview of FCPX at NAB this year, editors went wild for the speed and features demonstrated - now there is a significant amount of pro users who are saying they will jump ship and move to Avid or even Premiere.

The cause of this anger appears to be focused on a few key facts -
  • You cannot open projects from Final Cut Pro 7 (or earlier) in FCP X
  • You cannot export OMF/EDL/XML from FCP X
  • Multicam-editing support is not present

I believe a lot of the frustration here would have been avoided if Apple simply came out and said this when previewed. Of course people would have been upset, but at least they would not find this out at launch and then witness the rather surprising backlash that occurred.

Final Cut Pro X is a fundamental re-write and re-think of media management, non-linear editing and full use of all the core technologies in OS X - I am not surprised that there were going to be a few bumps on the way, perhaps the surprise is how loud and public they have been.

No professional editor would ever adopt a brand new piece of software mid project, so at the moment the prudent idea would be to assess the software and see if it is worth getting on board in future. No one is being forced to upgrade on day one. As much as people might disagree, Apple does listen to user feedback - so until some feedback has been gathered, the direction of FCP X is not known yet.

The biggest showstopper in our current workflow is the lack of support for working from AFP shared storage - which is how we share a RAID array. Not sure if this is going to be addressed, however this may require a re-think of our media managment in future for this to work.

So now, the waiting and wondering for the first software update begins - let’s hope sooner rather than later.

Final Cut Pro X - A leap into the unknown

Final Cut Pro X Screenshot

So Apple officially unveiled Final Cut Pro X at the NAB show this year. With the amount of pre-event leaks and whispers in the post production business it would have been a huge disappointment if they had not shown anything, but they took the wraps off the new baby with a room full of overly excited editors to witness it.

The biggest comment afterward had to be “this is just iMovie”. Sure, the basic window layout and some of the buttons and controls borrow from it’s consumer sibling, however rather than iMovie feeding Final Cut Pro, I think it was the early builds of Final Cut Pro X that internally at Apple fed iMovie, and now we have the results of their labour to view. So how is it?

Randy Ubillos - the father of Final Cut Pro took it for an on-stage test drive, and the initial fears that this new package was not fit for purpose were put to bed after watching the (non-official) video of this. The biggest requests I have been wanting (Cocoa, 64-bit, background rendering) were all shown off in full glory, and better yet there was mentions of Open CL and Grand Central, so finally now Apple is now laying the pro-app groundwork for the future, and laying it down properly.

There looks like a learning curve for sure - I don’t use clip linking and unlinking a lot, however in FCP X this now looks like a really easy way of sub-sequencing and seems very intuitive, being able to nest sets of clips deeper and deeper so you have a very compact looking timeline. The audio controls look very slick and finally appear to have some excellent transitions for finer detail, along with the waveforms that you can now see when peaking, even before playing any audio.

The automatic colour correction was very impressive and when mixing formats between DSLR and other cameras, might make this an amazingly easy matching experience. Also mentioned was the ability to drop in the native media from DSLRs without having to transcode - an amazing timesaver for me.

I suppose the most exciting thing was the actual content they were using for the demo, a nicely shot piece for the Audi R8. This mixed DSLR, tapeless and minicam (GoPro) formats on the same timeline, which is something I do nearly daily now, and also the timeline looks very familiar as well - actually doing this demo was like it was made for me.

There are still a few questions, regarding plugin and filter compatibility, XML export, project exchange etc - however I for one cannot wait to get my hands on this and really get under the skin of the new system. It’s a really new way of working so I imagine those resistant to change may be scared off or angry that it’s now how it was - but that is the price of progress and this feels like a massive change in the right direction for Final Cut Pro. Bring on June - and stay tuned for a full hands-on here.

DVD = Development Very Difficult...

DVD - Development Very Difficult

It has been a little while since I have had to get involved with DVD authoring directly at work, and to be honest I am truly surprised that it is still the same frustrating, infuriating process it was before.
The two suspects I am referring to are Adobe Encore and Apple’s DVD Studio Pro.

Encore (now at CS5) has not changed a single element (to my eye) since CS3, and DVD Studio Pro still feels strangely detached from the rest of the Final Cut Studio suite.

I am always keen on trying to keep the workflows as simple as possible (aren’t we all?) so ideally would come out of Final Cut Pro and straight into the authoring program with minimum of fuss (and transcoding time). When dealing with a recent DVD for a client, DVD Studio Pro did not properly recognise a menu asset imported, which stopped us in our tracks, so it meant over to Encore, which had no problem with the same asset.

With more clients requesting Blu Ray discs, Encore seems like the natural solution, as you can set every new project as a Blu Ray project and then target either a DVD or Blu Ray disc in the Build stage - this also means you can import H.264 high quality files in, and let Encore handle the transcoding to MPEG2 for the DVD version.
However this elegant solution crashes and burns when you try to burn the DVD version, as for some unknown reason, the pixel aspect ratio is not right (the video shows black lines on each side of the video). It seems it is to do with new pixel aspect ratios introduced in CS4. Works fine for Blu Ray but all comes apart for a DVD burn. It’s only a few pixels at either side, and most flat screen TV’s won’t even show them, but it just does not look right.

Creating buttons and overlays in both DVD Studio Pro and Encore is a exercise in sheer frustration as well - I actually have to take about six steps per button in Encore to get the overlay to highlight a layer, as well as having the text of the button included.

Perhaps it is user error, and I should be reading up on better and easier ways to do all this - but why should it be that way? Encore is a mess of panels and hidden tabs when working, DVD Studio is better but still no clear way of doing simple navigational tasks, and has plenty of hidden tabs and settings on its own.

Some will say that DVDs are becoming extinct and everything will be streamed online - but clients still want DVDs and in some cases Blu Ray discs, so this is going to continue to be a daily frustration.

The ironic thing is that the easiest package to use and works exactly as it should is iDVD which has not been updated properly in quite a while. Go figure...