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.

Adobe’s Premiere Strategy

Yesterday was a big day for Adobe. They announced the 2019 iteration of their Creative Cloud suite of software, an upcoming iPad version of Photoshop, and an in-development drawing app codenamed Project Gemini.

Tucked away in the list of updates is a new, slimmed down version of Premiere, called Premiere Rush. It’s available across platforms (iOS, Mac, Windows) and upon first glance it bears a strong resemblance to iMovie and Final Cut Pro X. Adobe is positioning Rush in a low key way, gearing it toward casual video makers and social media content creators. But I think there’s more going on here.

One bit of criticism occasionally aimed at the full version of Premiere Pro is the notion that the software is built upon decades of legacy code. It’s filled with features and options (arguably too many) while it holds onto links to the past like videotape ingest and output.

Rewriting an application from scratch is no joke, and it’s virtually impossible to do so all in one fell swoop without cutting way back on features and focusing on a key set of functionality. Look no further than the transition from Final Cut Pro 7 to Final Cut Pro X back in 2011 for a case study on that.

But…what if Adobe is taking on the strategy of creating a FCPX-like application alongside its “legacy” version? They can continue to release feature updates to Premiere Pro while working on the stability, functionality, and usability of Premiere Rush. Eventually the two converge in more ways than they differ and become one unified application.

It’s so crazy it just might work.

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.

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.

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.