Thursday, April 28, 2011

FCP X - The Day After

I’ve just returned from the tenth anniversary Final Cut Pro Supermeet, that raucous and always entertaining and informative gathering of Final Cut Pro users held as an evening event during NAB. This year in front of some 1400 attendees, Apple chose to announce its forthcoming update, Final Cut Pro X. Billed as a “sneak peak”, this hour-long demo began with the obligatory history of FCP, its ground-breaking features and impressive list of users in every production realm from documentary to indie to feature film—and more.

Richard Townhill of Apple introduced the evening rather unceremoniously and came right to the point. FCP X is rebuilt from the ground up as a 64 bit application which will leverage all available ram and all available processor cores. It is built atop Snow Leopard with its utilization of CoreGraphics and OpenGL

FCP X is billed to stress three core elements—image quality, organization and editing all in a redesigned user interface and look. Let’s just cut right to those points both as discussed as well as demonstrated by Randy Ubilos, Apple’s head of video products development and the architect of the earliest version of FCP.

The display in FCP X is fully color-managed based upon color sync. It has fully floating point rendering and resolution independent playback from SD to 4K and everything in between. Rendering will be practically a thing of the past as the app will employ unused processor cycles to render constantly in the background.

Ingest of media is also to be a background activity with various automatic analyses taking place during ingest. Footage will be analyzed in the background for stabilization. Audio will be analyzed with the option to repair clicks, pops, phase and other audio defects. During ingest, shots will be detected as medium, wide or close and people will be detected—one, two, more, etc. Finally there will be automatic non-destructive color balance during ingest.

That leads to the next point—organization.

The browser is much more dynamic and relies upon metadata and particularly user-generated metadata. Assign keywords and multiple criteria to clips. Tag those clips and return when needed. Smart Collections is a dynamic means of organizing material based upon multiple criteria. View in clip view. View by criteria. View in filmstrip mode to find a specific shot.

It is in the timeline that even more significant changes are seen.

Clip Connections is a term to signify primary audio and video locked together with secondary audio. When the clip is moved, all media associated with the clip is moved. That leads to the Magnetic Timeline feature. If a clip or group of clips is moved and collides with another clip, the clip to the right is moved up a track. Want to reduce the clutter on a timeline? Create a Compound Clip which collapses everything into one single clip which then can be edited or moved. Double click the compound clip to edit its components. It is a much more dynamic extension of the “nest” or “pre-comp” depending upon your background terminology.

One of the most unique features is Auditioning. Arrange several versions of a sequence for client or director review. Play them all out one at a time. When you or your director or client decide upon the version for the edit, just a keystroke will change the timeline.

Enter the Precision Editor. Double click on the seam between two clips and both sides of the material is available to trim. There are audio and video handles within clips in timeline for fades and even retiming. Balance audio levels just by raising or lowering the waveform levels. Secondary audio can be synced with primary audio. No need for a third party application.

In both the editing and image areas, Color Matching is as simple as bringing up two clips, clicking and clicking again to match. Speaking of color, color correction has both primary and secondary correctors, complete in secondary with masks which can be manipulated on-screen.

Any clip can be expanded in the timeline to show an Animation Graph, a track-like display of all keyframes which can then be modified.

And here’s the big one—mix and match clips on a timeline with no transcoding.

That’s a pretty basic summary of most of the hour’s key points.

And yes, the price and delivery. June 2011, $299 on the App Store. Unheard of!

Now it’s time for the questions. My first impression as a Final Cut editor was definitely wow factor. Just the sheer increase in speed alone and its taking advantage of the power of my MacPro while scaling to my two MacBook Pros is awesome. Metadata and clip management looks strong.


What will become of third party plug-ins which have so enhanced the FCP experience. Two developers with whom I spoke wondered: “We don’t know if we will work in this. Certainly Apple did not share with us.”

Yet another concern comes from those who are accustomed to sending their audio out for sweetening and mixing. With these new timelines, is there going to be OMF support for ProTools export? And, in fact, will there even be a Soundtrack Pro or will all or a subset of STP features be bundled into FCP X?

Color management is another. What if I don’t want automatic color balancing? I would hope there would be a preference to toggle on or off. The same goes with clip analysis for motion stabilization.

Is there an effects tab? Or another comment: “Where’s my viewer window?”

Apple is clearly seeking to design an editing system for the future rather than for the past. Editors are often creatures of routine who like to do things fast in the way in which they have become accustomed. Much of the editing metaphor in FCP X is different. Those are changes which will be embraced by younger editors and by the great mid-point of FCP users. Is all of the automation sufficient to drive Apple’s highest end customers to PremierePro or more likely Avid?

And these are only a few questions that come to mind after a long day on the NAB floor.

And reference video display—what about capture cards?

You’ll hear much over the coming couple of months from me and an assortment of writers, bloggers, editors and just general mavens.

Let me say that I welcome this upgrade and am excited for the technological advances.
I welcome the opportunity to force me out of a rut and in doing so perhaps to think more creatively. I do have conerns. I also realize that some projects may lend themselves to FCP X while others might require Avid. It is all about the right tool for the job and putting NLE fan-boy loyalties aside.

Let’s just say for now that I am excited and am keeping an open mind.

Thank you, Apple, for once again pushing us to technological and creative boundaries and we look forward to using FCP X. Available of all places from the App Store. Oy vay.