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.

The tech of Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad

Nathan Mattise at Ars Technica takes a look at the subtle but effective use of VFX in two of this century’s greatest shows:

On the surface, nothing about Better Call Saul appears particularly innovative. Crime and legal dramas stand as one of TV’s oldest formats, and this one happens to be set in the near-past. The show can’t even draw on the latest headlines where the bleeding edge of tech runs into law. On top of that, of course, Saul spun-off from the wildly successfully Breaking Bad, meaning a lot of this world’s largest narrative arcs have been spelled out already (to say nothing of the critical shadow Breaking Bad casts).

The included video is a great watch, but you may want to skip it if you haven’t finished Breaking Bad- there are series finale spoilers.

The future of eGPU support on the Mac

Back when the cylindrical Mac Pro was hitting the scene in late 2013, there was much made of the twin AMD FirePro graphics cards tucked away inside. When developers updated their applications to take advantage of them, performance would soar.

The reality has been quite different. Aside from Apple’s own Final Cut Pro and Motion, not many companies jumped on board. In some cases systems would overheat because a pro application would overtax one GPU and leave the other one sitting mostly idle.

With Thunderbolt 3 here now and a promised (modular) Mac Pro replacement on the horizon*, things seem to be looking up for high end users. Apple now fully supports third party eGPUs (ones that sit in an external box connected via Thunderbolt) which is a pretty big deal. Jeff Benjamin at 9to5 Mac pushes the envelope with dual GPUs in his testing:

On this week’s episode of Back to the Mac, we go nuts with an eGPU setup featuring two Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Box 650 units mated with a pair of workstation-class 16GB AMD WX 9100 GPUs.

The results are pretty astonishing. You should check out his video too.

I learned something new while filming this episode: the 2018 MacBook Pro can handle up to four eGPUs — two eGPUs per Thunderbolt 3 bus — simultaneously. On the MacBook Pro, or iMac Pro you can connect eGPUs to any of the available Thunderbolt 3 ports. I briefly dabbled around with connecting four eGPUs to my MacBook Pro, and needless to say, it was downright absurd.

We’re slowing coming full circle, back to the place where we were with the “cheese grater” Mac Pro tower- you can add your own additional components for your niche high end use. Sadly, this now means a string of boxes, cables, power supplies, and fan noise instead of an all-in-one solution. Apple bet heavily on the 2013 Mac Pro and came up short. Let’s see what 2019 holds.

*iMac Pro and MacBook Pro users can take advantage of this tech today.

Galaxy Crisis

Speaking of astute film analysis, in my research I stumbled upon The New Yorker’s original review of ‘Star Wars’ from 1977. Penelope Gilliatt:

No sci-fi film—not even a sci-fi film set long ago—being complete without a robot and a computer, there is a gold-plated robot who walks as if his feet hurt, like a primal woman shopper, and an overweight computer who is a mixture of bald pate, traffic lights, and mailbox, and who transmits rapid information in a language that evokes Eskimo. The computer is the robot’s dearest and most irritating companion.

It’s hard to imagine a world where this film was quite so unfamiliar.

‘2001’ and the power of music to tell a story

Charlie Brigden, at Film School Rejects:

Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is possibly the ultimate example of using music to tell a story in an opening title sequence, ostensibly telling the story of the classic film. It’s an incredibly simple concept, tracking the rise of the sun above the moon and earth, but Kubrick uses it as a thematic guide, with a grand gesture coming from his choice of music, the opening portion of Richard Strauss‘ 1896 tone poem “Also sprach Zarathustra,” itself based on a philosophical work by Friedrich Nietzsche.

‘2001’ will be deconstructed for as long as people watch film, but this is a good read.

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.