Apple’s positive future for pros

9to5Mac’s Michael Steeber looks back at Apple’s recent history with its pro customers:

To say that the initial release of Final Cut Pro X made waves in the creative community would be an understatement. Among full-time video editors, the shakeup is still spoken about with the same energy as it was seven years ago. Most users felt burned by the upgrade, and many bailed on Apple’s video tools altogether. Two years later, pros were wowed by the radically redesigned Mac Pro, only to be left in the cold without another meaningful update. It was a tough time to be a pro customer.

I launched this site way back in 2011, not long after the release of Final Cut Pro X 10.0, and I had some thoughts at the time. A lot has changed in the years since. Steeber recaps the just-completed FCPX Creative Summit:

This past weekend told a different story. After last year’s impressive announcements, video professionals gathered once again in Cupertino to hear about Final Cut Pro 10.4.4. After seven years of iteration, Final Cut Pro X is no longer the stripped down, controversial editing “toy” it was once perceived as.

New workflows have been developed. Features have returned. The industry is taking Final Cut seriously again. The question is no longer “are you still using Final Cut?” but rather “how are you using Final Cut?”

I can say that I share these sentiments. As I wrote earlier this week, Apple is taking the pro market seriously, and making significant gains in both hardware and software development. It’s an exciting time to be a creative professional.

2018 FCPX Creative Summit

I’m excited to be a part of this year’s FCPX Creative Summit in Cupertino November 16-18, where I’ll be talking about some of my editing workflows with Final Cut Pro X on large scale promotional campaigns.

I’ve been an editor for over 20 years, hopping platforms from linear tape, Avid Media Composer, Final Cut Pro “Classic”, to Final Cut Pro X, with side trips into Adobe Premiere Pro and Blackmagic Resolve.

Apple used 2017’s Summit to unveil FCPX 10.4 running on the new iMac Pro, so with any luck we’ll have some interesting news this time around.

Tour de France and the switch to FCPX

Peter Wiggins, for fcp.co:

I was starting to get concerned about how long we could continue to edit in FCP7. By now it had had no support for three years and very little in the way of updates for 2 years before that. At some point it was going to break, already we were seeing slowdowns and hangs. Yes we could probably hold out another year but that would be all. Time to look for a replacement.

All in all a great read, and much of what Peter describes is what FCP7 editors have been grappling with since 2011.

Jumping off the cliff

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, and that’s largely because I’ve been deep in a project that I recently completed, and it just happens to start airing tonight.

The show I worked on was somewhat complex in its source material, organization, assembly, and deliverables (multiple versions for different media outlets) and I stayed within FCPX for all of it.

On day one of the job, I stood on a metaphorical cliff deciding which NLE to use (my choices at hand were FCP7, Premiere Pro, and FCPX). As a bit of history, I started using Avid from 1995 to 2001, FCP “Classic” from 2001 to late 2012, and from there began testing the waters with Premiere and FCPX. I had lingering concerns about how FCPX would perform with an increasingly complex project, but the first few days were comprised mostly of logging and tagging sources, so I had a window of escape to another program if things started going downhill.

They didn’t.

FCPX performed quite well. I set up some hotkeys to tag media using keyword collections, and was able to very quickly get things organized. Switching between list and thumbnail view, or drilling down to only favorites were a few more keystrokes. It was all fast and fluid.

I was also dealing with many tracks of timecode-synced split audio files, so I selected them and created multicam clips, cut them into the timeline, and activated only the channels I needed in any given instance. When it was time to send the show to ProTools for the final mix (using the rock-solid X2Pro application), only the active tracks I chose were included in the AAF. Very convenient, and it kept the timeline streamlined. Speaking of the timeline, the timeline index was indispensable. With a click I could enable or disable music or effects globally, and I regularly used the search field to track down and select specific items in a sea of other clips.

FCPX’s most “controversial” feature, the magnetic timeline, is also fast and flexible in my opinion. I found that during the rough cut phase I could do a lot without taking my hands off the keyboard- no tracks to patch. In X I tend to do a “sketch” of the story I’m telling by quickly getting the pieces in place, and then I go back through and refine my edits. It’s nice to know that I can drill down to a specific moment in the timeline and make adjustments knowing that I’m not knocking something out of place further down in the sequence.

There were other little features in X that I appreciated. The Vimeo integration was handy for firing off a version for approval while I kept working on a different part of the show. The to-do markers helped to keep track of changes. Having color correction and image stabilization options built into every clip (as opposed to applying a filter each time) was great.

Overall I was glad I jumped off that cliff.

FCPX’s “Cold Mountain” moment

Editors familiar with Final Cut Pro’s history know that the legacy version of the application gained some major traction in the pro marketplace following Walter Murch’s decision to edit 2003’s Cold Mountain with FCP.  Over a decade later (and almost three years after its release) Final Cut Pro X is on the edge of a similar game changer.

This week, fcp.co linked to a ten minute presentation from Neil Smith from LumaForge at the Digital Cinema Society meeting last month.  Smith describes (without giving names) how a major Hollywood studio is editing a “100 million dollar movie” using six Final Cut Pro X workstations running Mavericks and connected to an Xsan.  In listening to the details that Smith lays out, it was surmised by fcp.co forum member Ronny Courtens that the film in question is Focus, starring Will Smith.

The obvious question: why is a Hollywood studio going against the Avid grain to cut a motion picture in X?  According to Neil Smith, the directors themselves are the driving force- they have been editing with FCPX on their MacBook Pros for two years and insisted upon using it for this feature.  The studio pushed back, but the the film’s producer had enough clout and sided with the directors, and they got their way.  They touted the creative power and flexibility of X as well as the relatively low cost of the buildout as the main reasons behind their decision.

2014 should be a tipping point for Final Cut Pro, one that’s been in the making for quite some time.  New Mac Pros will (finally) be arriving in editors’ hands, and the solid upgrade to version 10.1 (its 10th revision since 2011) brings FCP to a new level of capability in a shared professional environment.

Incremental progress vs. starting over

As creative professionals in 2013 we often find ourselves bridging a divide, with Adobe’s products on one side and Apple’s on the other.  I spend most of my time switching between Final Cut Pro X and After Effects (with Motion 5 thrown in for good measure).  FCPX is by far my NLE of choice, and going back to FCP7 or Premiere feels like a trip back in time.  Meanwhile, After Effects is still the reigning champ of the motion graphics world, so learning it is a must.  But looking at these two applications side by side illustrates two very different philosophies when it comes to embracing change moving forward.

After Effects is an incredibly deep and useful piece of software with a history and code base that dates back over 20 years.  Each successive release has added new features and workflow improvements while retaining practically everything that came before.  It is in Adobe’s best interest to keep their customer base happy, and not rocking the boat seems to be their plan to achieve that (Creative Cloud subscription controversies notwithstanding).

The downside is that this strategy may ultimately hold Adobe back.  Freelance editor and animator Lou Borella posted an interesting comparison video on Vimeo that highlights the performance differences between After Effects (CS6 and CC) and Apple’s Motion 5- it’s really worth a watch, and make sure you stick around to browse the comments.  While both versions of AE struggle to play back a single HD video clip in his demonstration, Motion handles it effortlessly, even after he applies additional layers and filters during real time looping playback.  His argument is that the legacy code in After Effects is preventing the program from fully embracing current hardware advances.

Apple, as we know, took a different route when Final Cut Pro was at a crossroads.  FCP7 was stuck in 32-bit and could only address a fraction of the RAM installed in high end systems.  Most material shot with newer cameras had to be transcoded to ProRes before editing could begin, which took many hours of productivity killing time.  Apple responded with version X.  Here are a few of my comments on the state of the transition back in September 2011:

I’ve said this before, but FCP X is not finished.  It feels like a stable beta release, but one where many features are missing or incomplete.  If I was forced to make a decision today to switch from FCP 7 to something else, the answer would be clear: X is not an option.  But a year from now?  Two years from now?  Things could be entirely different.  The question is whether or not the pro editing community can hold on that long.

It’s been two years, and things are indeed a lot different. Final Cut Pro has seen a steady march of point release updates (with a major revision coming next month alongside the new Mac Pro) and I’m using it for virtually every broadcast editing job that comes my way.  Adobe Premiere and After Effects are great products and will continue to be the go-to tools for a large portion of the market.  After Effects in particular is extremely powerful and I use it daily, although the lure of real time playback and a refined interface has me dipping more and more into Motion 5 lately.

FCP X: the turning point

Two years ago I wrote a piece called FCP X: the missed opportunity.  At the time I wasn’t bashing the program, but rather Apple’s seemingly clumsy approach to the transition, and today I can still smell the lingering smoke from those burned bridges.  Reading it today, I stand most of my original assertions: FCP X 10.0 was essentially beta software, but not bad software.  Apple dropped the ball by not providing a clearer roadmap for deeply invested customers who had used previous versions for over a decade, an error they eventually tried to reverse by being very un-Apple like and pre-announcing features the pros were looking for.  Adobe and Avid smelled blood in the water, and fought hard to pick up those dismayed FCP 7 expatriates.

By the fall of 2011 I had downloaded first the trial and then the full version of Final Cut Pro, but didn’t spend much time with it.  I felt like it was too limiting and that it was trying to somehow save me from myself.  After all, I had spent almost 20 years meticulously building timelines without clips “magnetically” sticking together.  Nonlinear editing systems from their inception in the 80s built their workflows and terminology upon concepts established a century earlier with cutting film.  “Clips” represented snippets of film hanging in “bins” that allowed editors to quickly organize and “splice” them together.  Final Cut Pro X was scrubbed almost entirely of this language, and it felt somewhat arbitrary.

In 2012 I started to spend more time with FCP X and tried to really understand it.  Dismissing it before ever really using it just didn’t feel right.  I eventually chose the “trial by fire” approach: I had a willing client with some patience to spare, and we jumped in.  The first day was frustrating for me, but the second was much better, and by day three I was fairly confident that I knew what I was doing.  Since then I’ve only edited projects in FCP X unless I had to go another way (the lack of tape support still sends me to FCP 7 to master to HDCAM).  I truly enjoy the non-destructive nature of the timeline, and the database driven organizational tools are amazingly flexible.  The software (usually) feels fast and responsive, and the modern architecture with AV Foundation allows me to mix and match formats and framerates quite fluidly.

In the months and years since its launch, Final Cut Pro X has evolved into a different animal than it was on release day.  Apple’s steady drumbeat of software updates (9 by the most recent count) introduced new features and stability.  Sales of FCP X have already exceeded those of the previous version.  The third party plugin market is flourishing.

Many people forget that it took years for FCP “classic” to break through.  Pros largely dismissed the first several versions.  How could a sub-$1000 application compete with systems like Avid’s Media Composer with its proprietary hardware, market dominance, and high price tag?  Some (myself included) experimented with it on personal systems and started to realize the potential.  By 2001 (two years into FCP’s life) I was using it as my main editing tool, and although it was exciting to be trying something new after 6 years of Avid, I wouldn’t wish that experience on the faint of heart.  Mac hardware and software in those days was downright anemic compared to today- we were still using Mac OS 9 and all the system crashes that came with it.  Third party support was sketchy and workarounds were plentiful.

FCP’s turning point was seen by many as what became known as its “Cold Mountain moment.”  In 2003, esteemed editor Walter Murch (Apocalypse Now, The English Patient) decided to cut his latest project with Final Cut Pro, and the professional world took notice.  The rest of the decade saw FCP eating market share away from the competitors, and eventually dominating that market by a wide margin.

The release of version 10 basically reset the clock in 2011, and pros largely dismissed the first several versions.  How could a sub-$300 application compete with Final Cut Studio and its mature suite of applications, comprehensive features, and market dominance?  As I mentioned earlier, it’s widely believed that X sales have surpassed those of FCP 7’s entire installed base, so that could be seen as a success.

But when was FCP X’s turning point?  For me, it occurred earlier this week.  After spending a few months editing in X, I had several jobs that sent me back to FCP 7 and Premiere Pro CS6.  I immediately noticed how the user experience felt like a trip into the past.  Not bad, necessarily.  Premiere Pro is a really well-built application, and I can still work tremendously fast in FCP 7 thanks to a dozen years’ worth of muscle memory, but I was feeling strangely confined by the workflow.  I missed features that I had grown accustomed to.  The legacy feel of timeline navigation in 7 and CS6 was cumbersome.

2013 isn’t like 2003.  There won’t be another Cold Mountain moment, because our tools have been democratized to the point that any pro level Mac can have FCP 7, Premiere Pro, FCP X, and Avid Media Composer installed simultaneously.  We can no longer master one editing solution and forget the rest.  Final Cut Pro X provides an extremely compelling alternative to the status quo, and many people will experience their own turning points as they discover its value.