|A Creative COW Final Cut Pro Real-time Report
©2009 Jiggy Gaton and CreativeCOW.net. All rights reserved.
Article Focus: Our man in Nepal, Jiggy Gaton, likes to live for danger. He installed a major software upgrade mid-project, with virtually no preparation, just to see what would break. Lo and behold, it all worked! And the more Jiggy works with it, the better he's liking it. Join him in this Creative COW, Real-world, Real-time Report on Final Cut Studio 3.
It was exciting and out-of-the-blue news for us when our ex-genius bar pal told us that FCP was here with an upgrade, just days after FCP 6.06 hit Kathmandu. Eager to see what 7.0 had in store for us all – in light of the 100+ great things advertised on the What’s New page – I loaded it up. I wanted to see what was broken, what has gone missing, and what it was going to take to put this new release into production.
I usually wait until I hear from others that all is well before loading new software on a production machine, so I used a late 2007/early 2008 MBP that was just collecting dust for testing. This box had a copy of FCP 2 on board with the entire set of Apple updates applied. I wanted to see just what the upgrade would break - or not! The install was a snap, and took about 15 minutes, as I added none of the new content. My FCP footprint was only increased by about 2GB, so I started thinking, hey, this is looking pretty good. In fact, the only thing difference from the Final Cut 2 install was the colour of the install screen - everything else was nice and familiar.
On launch of the new FCP 7.0, the only thing I noticed that went kaflooey were some of my system settings. It seems that all the scratch disks under system settings were reset to the default for some odd reason. I also lost all my favourite settings under Effects. But all else was fine, and my filters and plugs (Looks, Boris, FxFactory, etc.) all worked just fine in the new version. The last project I was working on in 6.06 did not automatically appear, but when I reloaded the project, all worked as it had during the prior release.
So far, the only noticed difference in the interface so far was a new tool, Timecode Viewer.
So far just peachy, but nothing to write home about...yet.
The changes all seem subtle and non-descript. Like global transitions, where you just select a row of clips on the timeline and with one click you can place the same transition between all the cut points at once. This shortcut seems to have come from iMovie, and is just one of those little timesavers that are sure to be appreciated over time.
Another feature taken from iMovie ’09 is the new Share click on the File menus of both FCP & Motion. Now you can send your assets or project results to your iPhone, iPod, iTunes, MobileMe, YouTube, DVD, and Apple TV. The same can also be done in batch mode from Compressor 3.5. Very cool, and it all actually works!
Click image for full size
So the deeper you dig, the more apparent the subtle changes from FCP 6.06 become. Like the speed controls that sorely needed a revamp. Adjusting speed is much much better now, as are markers, timeline tabs, and safe title markers. In fact, the marketing blurb actually lists 100+ changes, and my guess is that almost all are applicable to most editors. By now, I was really excited about the upgrade and I had not even opened Color or DVD Studios Pro yet.
Another improvement noted that may not even be in the What’s New list, is the ability to batch off work to Compressor from the timeline or bin, and then not have to wait for compressor to finish before continuing to edit in FCP. What a relief that that bug is fixed!
And one last note here: Apple was nice enough to provide free Alpha Transitions downloadable from their website, to be used in the new alpha transition effect. I love them all but the Sparkles, and plan to use some in my next project.
Alpha transitions are transitions that take a moving image and overlay that over your film clip in an alpha layer, making the transition look very professional and virtually seamless. FCP 3 comes with a new Alpha transition effect, with drop zones for the needed transition files. Apple even went as far as providing you with 9 free transitions for download, in case you don’t want to create your own.
Online for download are 9 sets of needed files to make each of the free transitions: Circle, Countdown, Graph Paper, Leaves, Lens Flare, Mist, Sparkles, Static, and Veil. Each set contains movie clips that make up the transition (the transition, the Alpha matte, and the Wipe matte). Each transition comes in SD and HD sizes.
I tried them all (not sure why Apple just did not bundle it all together in a sample project, that would have been nice) and most all look grand when applied. The Sparkles transition was the only one that looked like something from a bad PowerPoint slide show, while all others looked usable. Graph Paper is a great page-turner, while Veil and Lens Flare looked very corporate. For a bit of fun, try Countdown that wipes huge red LED numerals between your two clips and looks very retro.
Using Photoshop and an alpha layer manipulation it’s easy to create your own transitions in addition to the ones provided. You can even bring in the provided transition .mov files and using Photoshop CS4 Extended and Video Layers / Animation you can deconstruct the ones provided and then make your own from those.
Since I had an embedded Motion project on the FCP timeline, I decided to edit it from there and see what was new in Motion 4. Motion fired right up and all looked the same as Motion 3, but I was warned that the file format needed changing to work in this new version. And yes indeed, once converted, there is no going back. This could be a problem for some that wind up having a mix of Motion levels for a time, but that’s progress for ya.
What I wanted to try out immediately were the new text features in Motion, specifically scrolling text for credits. But it seems Apple just added a dumbed down version of the FCP textscroller to Motion, and during a quick test I noticed that without the Fade Size control found in FCP, the Motion credits just roll of the screen in full and annoying brilliance.
However, the ProRes 4444 being used in Motion 4 is gorgeous looking and smaller by 1/10 the size when using another codec, so the credits are brighter and smaller in disk size. Unfortunately, nothing helped smooth the text scrolling action, as scrolls in Motion appear just as minutely choppy as scrolls coming out of FCP have always appeared to me.
But now you can scroll LiveType! And what’s interesting here is that Livetype credits movement actually looks smoother then normal system font text scrolls. Dunno why. A little more testing is needed, but I was impressed with the smooth motions in the Livetype scroll, and I may try some in my next credit roll - if I can figure out the lack of fades at the top and bottom of the screen.
Well again, it could a week or two to go through all the changes in Motion 4, and playing with the depth of field, camera framing, linking parameters, flow retiming, 3D shadows and reflections alone is just a blast of fun tweaks. At some point (maybe Motion 5), this product will be giving Adobe After Effects a run for it’s money, or possibly a replace. For now, and unlike AE, it’s more of a quick-and-dirty special motion effects tool that’s just outright fun to use.
There is nothing scarier then an update to Compressor that threatens an already “working just great” setup. When things go wrong with Qmaster and Compressor, as anyone who has been there can tell you, your life becomes a living hell when it’s time to get your project squeezed and out the door. But so far, I can see nothing at all wrong with the upgrade from 3.05 to 3.5. The added batch feature (same as Share feature in FCP/Motion) is very nice, and all of my settings from the previous version were preserved. Compression takes place as expected, and all is good here.
Soundtrack Pro 3
Well, with our shop being a Protools 7/8 Studio, there has never been any real interest in Soundtrack from anyone other than me, a lowly editor stuck in FCP most of the day. I like Soundtrack, if for nothing more then it’s uncomplicated interface and easy use of non-RTAS plug-ins. The updates here probably won’t affect me much, as I am pretty lazy and just hand off audio problems to a real audio engineer. But spotting clips to the play head, quick look support for STAP files, and new keyboard shortcuts are welcome improvements. Anything to help you work faster has to be a plus, as long as there is no hit to system performance, and so far in the entire suite of apps, I see none. Well, perhaps one, and that has to do with Color 1.5
Not sure what to say about his one, as on my test machine, an aging 1400x900 MBP, Color 1.5 won’t work. I haven't paid much attention to this, since I use a 24” iMac and ext. monitor for tough colour grading jobs. I think this is a subtle hint from Apple to retire the old MBP and get one of those nice Unibodys (drool). At least the 17" can run Color.
While I have not yet tried this new 1.5 to compare to the old 1.4, I see that the marketing blurb on the Apple site seems to be stretching the importance of this single point update. The zoom factor on the scope sounds interesting, as I am going blind from reading those...or perhaps I am just going blind from age, not sure. And the Round-tripping will be a welcome improvement from the single trip out to Color from old FCP 6.06.
DVD Studio Pro 4.0
Well if there is any disappointment at all in the new FCP 3, it’s in the lack of an update to DVDSP. There is no change whatsoever, and this is one app that could have used some. Especially in the areas of subtitling and closed captioning, as DVDSP has never been strong there. While FCP 7 got a hit in this regard (and the developer of Annotation Edit wrote me about his new upgrade as well), it seems that DVDSP was left out in the cold this time around. Too bad for DVD creators.
While the financials are a bit steep on the upgrade, $299, that seems to be the cost of doing business these days. Progress isn’t cheap. ProRes 444 is a leap forward in render quality, and the changes to Motion will make any animator using the previous version want to lock themselves in a dark room and play with the new controls. Better usability across the board and improved controls in FCP are also a big plus in my editing book.
And on that sticker price, in comparison to the Adobe CS Upgrades every 16 months or so, the Apple suite still seems a bargain. I think any serious editor is going to want and love these changes, and I even feel Apple should even be commended on making so many changes without breaking a single thing (knock on wood). It’s such a pleasant surprise these days when upgrading a product and not having to spend hours or days fixing all the features and functions that break in the process.
Jiggy Gaton is an expat living in Kathmandu Nepal, running a small A/V studio with family and dog. He is an author/cartoonist, filmmaker, and overall geek from way back. Not the kind of geek who would ever be sitting in a Star Trek Captain’s chair – more likely to be sitting on the back of a 500cc Royal Enfield Bullet somewhere out in the middle of the Himalayas - but only when he’s not behind his Macbook Pro hacking out whatever needs to be done in the studio.
And hey, if you've ever wondered what it's like to run a studio in Kathmandu, check out Jiggy's COW BOG, as well as more great stuff by the rest of the herd.
Of course FCP and DVD Studio Pro are the tools to use for professional production....but what about when you have a speedy job that doesn't need the full range of features found in these powerful applications? Well, you might be surprised what Jiggy found when he was in a pinch, and took Apple's iMovie and iDVD for a spin.
If you're looking for more real-time reports of how Final Cut Studio 3 is working in the real world, be sure to check out the Cow's Final Cut Pro, Color, Motion, DVD Studio Pro and Logic forums, as well as the forums for Blackmagic Design, AJA, and the many cameras being used by FCP editors. See here for a complete list.
And if you'd like to add your own look at Final Cut Studio 3, or anything else, let us know!