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.

Final Cut Pro X 10.1

It’s finally been released, alongside the new Mac Pro.  Shipping times for the Mac Pro have quickly slipped from December to January and now February.  Apple tends to under-promise with delivery estimates, but this isn’t good news for anyone hoping to get the boxes installed by the end of the year for tax purposes.

A flood of information is now available about FCPX 10.1, and the best roundup I’ve found is located at Alex Gollner’s blog.  I look forward to digging into all the resources out there, but I have a few thoughts based on what I’ve gleaned so far:

  • Apple backtracks on the Event/Project paradigm. Having your source material and edited projects in two distinct locations didn’t make sense to a lot of people, and Apple has come up with Libraries as an answer.  Libraries are centralized locations that hold all pieces of a particular job.  I’ve been using SAN Locations on an Xsan, which is functionally very similar (SAN Location = Library for the most part), so much so that Apple has removed SAN Locations from 10.1.  Also gone is the sliding-left-and-right Project Library, a piece of eye candy I’m happy to do without. It is worth noting that Libraries are packages and not folders.  Double clicking on them in the Finder will launch FCP, and not show you the contents inside.
  • Mavericks is a requirement to install Final Cut Pro 10.1.  If you have FCP 10.0.x installed and are not seeing the new release in the Mac App Store, you’re probably still running Mountain Lion or earlier.  Click the “Show Incompatible App Updates” text link and FCP should appear. Releasing 10.9 Mavericks for free was an attempt to reduce the barriers of entry and get as many people current as possible.  There are also technical underpinnings in Mavericks that the new FCP takes advantage of.  People on older gear or those who can’t upgrade for other reasons will have to sit this one out for a while.
  • Some FCP7 features are back and have been improved upon.  In “classic” FCP, you had colored indicators on clips when a shot was duplicated in your timeline.  FCP 10.1 appears to tag the sections of your source material that have been used already, so you don’t have to cut the clip in to see if it already lives somewhere else.  There are other niceties like “through edits” (a visual indicator that shows when you’ve added a cut to a continuous piece of footage) and audio-only transitions.  Oh, and Fit to Fill is back!  Thank you.
  • Skeuomorphism continues its retreat.  The default “linen” background is now a slate grey (or is that space grey?) and the clip icons have a less rounded feel.  Overall it feels more “Pro” in its look.

This is the most significant update to Final Cut in well over a year, and paired with the new Mac Pro it will make for a very interesting 2014.

WWDC 2013

After half a year of almost total radio silence, Apple came out swinging this week with a two hour keynote that had a lot to prove.  The bullet point recaps are everywhere online, so instead let’s look at a few major themes from the presentation.

Design

Mobile and desktop technology have evolved in the mainstream to the point where the term “fashion” can be used with a straight face.  Apple’s message this week was that the current version of iOS looks dated, inconsistent and, well, out of fashion.  What’s interesting here is that Apple also seem to acknowledge that they may not always be the trendsetter in this regard.  There’s a lot of the Google+ aesthetic throughout the new mobile OS, and certain navigation elements have a Windows Phone feel to it.  Functionally iOS 7 borrows some tricks from all the competitors (not to mention iPhone jailbreak hacks and WebOS) and tries to refine and redefine them into a cohesive experience.  It will be interesting to see how this new iOS evolves by the time it ships.

On the hardware side, Apple released the long awaited Mac Pro.  Say what you will about its lack of expandability or the trash can/R2-D2/Pringles can look- this machine is unlike anything anyone else has ever released.  It represents everything Apple stands for- it’s bolder in design than the 2000 Cube as it breaks with the past more than the original 1998 iMac.  This is a machine that virtually anyone would recognize from 20 yards away.

Secrecy

Seriously, how did Apple manage to keep the lid on the Mac Pro considering how long it’s been in development?  Last year Tim Cook claimed that Apple was going to “double down” on secrecy, and it looks like he was successful in that regard.  Across the board Apple was able to keep a lid on things like no keynote since the original iPhone.

Apple after Jobs

Not to dwell too much on the Mac Pro, but it struck me that this could very well be the first major piece of new hardware to emerge in an Apple after Jobs.  It’s possible that the iPad mini beat it to the punch, but this is more than just a shrunken-down version of an existing product.  If anyone was wondering whether Apple still had the ability to push the norms than this box puts that to rest.

In many ways I feel like this was truly the first post-Jobs keynote, even though technically it was not.  There was a confidence in the presenters that seemed to stem from new ideas and new creations, ones that originated after the company’s founder was gone.

Tim Cook

Speaking of confidence, Tim Cook has come into his own as Apple’s leading persona to the world.  I think back to the iPhone event in the fall of 2011, just before Jobs died.  I thought his performance was admirable under the circumstances, but it took him a while to really own it the way he did this past Monday- he was comfortable in the role and you could tell he was ready to swing back at the “Apple has lost its mojo” press stories swirling around his company.

Cook has also forged a new path that his predecessor might have disagreed with.  The firing of Scott Forstall and promoting Jony Ive to head up both software and hardware design is a clear break from the past.  Forstall was a brilliant but caustic personality that Jobs admired, and he was a strong proponent of the skeuomorphic touches of green felt and leather stitching that have been scrubbed from the new versions of OS X and iOS 7.

 

Apple has kicked off the second half of 2013 with what looks like an accelerated schedule of new releases and updates across most of their major projects, both hardware and software.  But perhaps more importantly we are starting to see signs of Apple transitioning into a post Steve Jobs existence.

Newspaper circulation rose in last six months

Andrew Beaujon for Poynter:

Newspapers across the country gained readers in the last six months, compared to the same period a year ago, according to new figures released by the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Nationally, daily circulation was up .68 percent for digital and print at the 618 papers reporting; Sunday circulation was up 5 percent at the 532 papers reporting.

That’s the first positive news I’ve seen about “traditional” news media in quite some time.