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FCPX and the Domino Effect Pt 2: Knocking Them Down

COW Library : Apple FCPX or Not: The Debate : Walter Soyka : FCPX and the Domino Effect Pt 2: Knocking Them Down
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CreativeCOW presents FCPX and the Domino Effect Pt 2: Knocking Them Down -- Apple FCPX or Not: The Debate Editorial


Keen Live
Wappingers Falls New York USA

©2011 CreativeCOW.net. All rights reserved.


Apple's release of FCPX has shaken the digital content creation industry, and raised a lot of speculation among editors about how much Apple understands or cares about professional users. Walter Soyka looks into the issues in this two part series.



In Part 1 of this series, I described the long string of impressive investments and innovations that Apple made around Final Cut Pro during its first decade on the market. Apple took a third-party product and built an entire post-production ecosystem around it.

Apple changed the face of post-production, adding capabilities and slashing costs. Final Cut Studio was a transformative force in the content creation industry, enabling even one-man studios like mine to comfortably compete in a space that had been the domain of much larger facilities due to high barriers to entry and massive capital requirements only a decade before.

However, at the same time that Apple's consumer products took off in the market, Apple made a series of decisions that have led many to question their dedication to professional content creators, culminating with the release of FCPX.


Deciding Not to Decide

Once I saw how different FCPX was from FCP, I revisited my previous strategy of automatically upgrading FCP at each new release and ignoring other offerings.

There are some really compelling features in FCPX, like color management, linear floating point compositing, pervasive metadata, support for 4K frame sizes, and OpenCL processing over multiple CPU cores and GPUs. However, since the initial release of FCPX lacked features I need in order to work (legacy project support, video monitoring, and interchange with other applications), I knew I would have to start considering my other options. I wasn't initially concerned with the "big" questions about Apple's place in the industry - I was only concerned with making sure that I'd still be able to keep my clients happy and handle all the work that came through the door.

Autodesk Smoke
I already had a few licenses of Premiere Pro from my Adobe bundles, so I started working with that. I took advantage of Avid's FCP cross-promotion. I've also started training on Autodesk Smoke.

The point here is not that I chose to ignore FCPX and replace FCP in my toolset with Premiere Pro or Media Composer. After all, none of the big vendors here have a perfect track record: Apple killed a mature, industry-leading product and replaced it with a work in progress, and Autodesk killed Discreet Edit with no replacement in sight. Avid threatened to pull Media Composer from the Mac platform, and Adobe skipped two releases of Premiere Pro on the Mac altogether.

With so much uncertainty in the air, I simply wasn't sure which tool was the best fit for me today and which tool would be the best in the coming years, so I decided not to decide.

With Adobe and Avid looking to capitalize on Apple's misstep, license prices were at all-time lows, so it seemed like a good time to invest in broadening my business's capabilities, rather than putting all my chips on any one product.

I've been very critical of FCPX, but I think it's foolish to count Apple out. The FCPX 10.0.1 update and pre-announcement of 2012 features shows that the ProApps team has heard the criticism on both the product and their communication strategy. I'm hopeful that they will continue to improve FCPX, but that doesn't change my concerns about the larger trend I see developing. My work demands niche products with some special features and the ability to work well with other apps, not mass-market products that appeal to broader markets at the expense of specific features I'm interested in.


FCPX and the Domino Effect

With Adobe, Apple, and Avid licenses in place, I began to re-think what my needs for editorial really were and which tools would be appropriate for specific projects. My business looks a lot different now than it did a few years ago. Though I initially did editorial and finishing work exclusively, I now do more motion design, presentation design, graphics, animation, and effects work.

In addition to general motion work, I have a niche specialty in live event content design for blended projection widescreen and multi-screen systems. I work in huge, arbitrary frame sizes and non-standard aspect ratios. I use Adobe After Effects, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, and Maxon Cinema 4D on a daily basis. While editorial is important to the work I do, it's no longer the only work I do; as such, I'm just as concerned about integrating my NLE into the rest of my workflow as I am about the NLE's internal workflow.

Working in live events, display and playback is just as important as the actual creative work. Many of these apps are PC-only, so I've been running a cross-platform studio for years, currently with 7 Macs and 3 PCs. I've always split the work across platforms: I'd use PCs for all the specialty display/playback software, but I kept all my creative work on Macs.

As I've increased the amount and complexity of the 3D work I'm doing, I've started budgeting the purchase of a small render farm. I had always planned on buying Macs for operational simplicity, since I did all my creative work on Macs. As I started using Premiere Pro and Avid Media Composer, though, I realized that if I wasn't going to rely on FCP as my main editorial system anymore, there were no apps tying me to the Mac platform anymore: every other piece of general creative software I use is cross-platform.

I started running some numbers, comparing PC render nodes to Mac render nodes. In fairness, it's not an even, apples-to-apples comparison; it's easy to configure a mid-range PC machine with no directly comparable Macintosh available. However, for a render node, I'm not interested in a fair platform comparison -- all I care about is price per unit performance with comparable reliability.

Once I realized that I could get almost twice as much power from a PC-based render farm than a similarly budgeted Mac-based render farm, I started reconsidering my automatic decision to continue using Macintosh workstations instead of PC workstations.

Comparing PC workstations and Mac workstations is an apples-to-apples comparison, and the difference in pricing is not as significant. Apple's pricing is actually a bit more competitive than most PC workstation manufacturers, but arguably at the expense of configuration options, including number of PCIe slots and graphics card selection.

Apple is highly innovative, but their innovation is highly targeted -- they create carefully curated user experiences. As I outlined in Part 1 of this series, Apple's recent trend has been toward an ever-increasing presence in consumer's lives. You can have an iMac on your desk at home, a MacBook Air in your briefcase, an iPad in your purse, and an iPhone in your pocket, and soon the iCloud will tie them all together. As is evident in all these designs, Apple appreciates simplicity and miniaturization.

That's fine at home, but that's not what I'm looking for in a machine at work. I need flexibility and power, and I can easily find many options for these on the PC platform, running most of the same software I'm already using.

I am not interested in switching over my entire studio to PCs right now. I've made a sizeable investment in Apple hardware and software, and I fully intend on keeping these machines busy with billable work as long as I can. That said, as I look back at my line of thinking over the past few months, I've come to see FCP as the linchpin that was holding the entire Macintosh platform in place in my studio.

I'm discouraged by Apple's apparent shift away from specialized professional markets. I'm worried about the rumors that the next generation Mac Pro will be smaller and better suited to a broader market, more interested in mid-range performance than high performance. I'm no longer confident that Apple will continue providing solutions for me in the long term. I really enjoy the Mac experience, and I'd like to keep using Macs alongside PCs in my business, so I hope that I'm wrong about Apple's direction. I hope that they will surprise me and put some compelling professional products on the marketplace. Here's what I'd like to see from Apple to know that they're developing products I can rely on:

For FCPX, I'm looking for Apple to open up the platform very broadly to third parties, to let them build an ecosystem around FCPX as they had built one around FCP. I'm looking for Apple to end their practice of preferential treatment for a handful of developers. I'd also like to see Apple reexamine post-production industry standards, integrate them directly into the architecture instead of relying on third-party bridges, and be more open to the needs of existing users when rethinking industrial applications.

For the operating system and applications, I'm looking for an end to the absolute movement away from complexity. Previous generations of Apple products have balanced power and flexibility against complexity very well, but I'm afraid that the direction of FCPX and Lion runs the risk of sacrificing too much power to gain simplicity that professionals don't need. I'm looking for Apple to continue building on some of the amazing technologies they've built into Mac OS X, but also to offer third-party developers more stability and a longer roadmap so they can feel more comfortable committing to the platform.

For hardware, I want to see power prioritized on the high end over style or size. While an iMac may have enough horsepower for most HD editorial, 3D and heavy compositing has much larger memory and processing requirements. If the Mac Pro starts sliding away from the high-end and into the mid-range currently occupied by the iMac as some have speculated, no number of ThunderBolt ports will make up for the loss of performance potential for applications with high system requirements. I'd also like to see more workstation-class graphics cards with stable, high performance drivers enabling GPGPU (General Purpose computing on Graphics Processing Units) through both CUDA and OpenCL.

Now that I no longer have FCP to keep me full-time on the Mac platform, I will treat my hardware and operating system choices the same way that I will treat my editorial application choices: learning and using a new app, system or workflow must now be just another day at the office. A broad perspective that looks beyond single-vendor choices will open up new creative options.

I want to stay nimble. I'll pursue more cross-platform workflows, continually re-evaluate competitive applications, and always keep my options open. I'll use the right tool for the job, whether it's a Mac or a PC, and I'll be better prepared for whatever surprises the future will inevitably bring.








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Re: FCPX and the Domino Effect Pt 2: Knocking Them Down
by Brian Charles
Well balanced article Walter. I'm in a similar position, a sole proprietor working primarily on Macs.

Since FCP was EOL'ed and FCPX released I've made the switch to Premiere.

I updated my MacPro last fall so I'm in no hurry for new iron, however looking down the road there's no reason to stay with Apple if the MacPro is abandoned.

Re: FCPX and the Domino Effect Pt 2: Knocking Them Down
by Sam H. Shirakawa
excellent article. You either know how to write well or you have a good copy editor. Maybe both! Question re Adobe Premiere Pro 5.5: The latest version allows you to format the keyboard for FCP7 key strokes. Did you do this? Is there any advantage in just biting the bullet and learning the PPr default key strokes? Also are there any functions that can only be performed in PPr that would require reinstatement of the PPr default key strokes? Finally, did you use tutorials to learn Avid and PPro? Which ones?

thx

SAM
@Sam H. Shirakawa
by Walter Soyka
[Sam H. Shirakawa] "You either know how to write well or you have a good copy editor. Maybe both!"

Thank you! I like to think it's a little of both.


[Sam H. Shirakawa] Question re Adobe Premiere Pro 5.5: The latest version allows you to format the keyboard for FCP7 key strokes. Did you do this? Is there any advantage in just biting the bullet and learning the PPr default key strokes?

I'm of the opinion that using the FCP shortcuts in Premiere Pro may be convenient in the short term, but is a bad idea in the long term for two reasons:
  • The Premiere Pro shortcuts are logically laid out, and relate somewhat to other Adobe app shortcuts.
  • Premiere Pro may someday add new features and default key bindings that wouldn't map well within the FCP shortcuts.

The shortcut shelf in my brain has been a bit of a mess, with FCP, FCPX, Premiere Pro, Avid, and Smoke shortcuts bouncing around. My muscle memory still leans toward FCP, but now that I've done a couple projects with Premiere, I feel like I'm picking it up pretty smoothly.


[Sam H. Shirakawa] "Finally, did you use tutorials to learn Avid and PPro? Which ones?"

Adobe has some good Premiere Pro resources for Final Cut Pro users [link].

I used to use Avid (way back in the Meridien days), and while it hasn't been exactly like riding a bike, I have been able to muddle through. You might ask on the Avid forum [link] about good training resources.

Walter Soyka
Principal & Designer at Keen Live
Motion Graphics, Widescreen Events, Presentation Design, and Consulting
RenderBreak Blog - What I'm thinking when my workstation's thinking
Creative Cow Forum Host: Live & Stage Events
@Walter Soyka
by Sam H. Shirakawa
thx for the info. You appear to be another one who knows everything and can articulate that knowledge clearly, which I find unfair and deeply disgusting. ;--)
Here's a question/comment: What do you think of Adobe Story in connection with PPro a propos non-fiction video? I think it works fine, if you're making any kind of fiction feature. But speaking as a documentary film maker it doesn't work as well for documentaries and especially hard news, where more often than not you start with pictures and write TO them. Story starts with the word and helps you organize your shots. I want Adobe to offer a variant of Story that specifically addresses the needs of the documentary writer-preditor-director and news producer/writer/correspondent.

Again thx and

Regards from Cologne

SAM
@Sam H. Shirakawa
by Walter Soyka
Sorry, Sam -- I don't know the first thing about Adobe Story.

I would suggest, though, that you should write up your feature request [link] -- Adobe actually reads them!

Walter Soyka
Principal & Designer at Keen Live
Motion Graphics, Widescreen Events, Presentation Design, and Consulting
RenderBreak Blog - What I'm thinking when my workstation's thinking
Creative Cow Forum Host: Live & Stage Events
Re: FCPX and the Domino Effect Pt 2: Knocking Them Down
by Walter Soyka
My thanks to all for taking the time to read this, and for all your kind compliments!

I'd be very interested in discussion about what other criteria you are considering for future hardware and software selection.

Walter Soyka
Principal & Designer at Keen Live
Motion Graphics, Widescreen Events, Presentation Design, and Consulting
RenderBreak Blog - What I'm thinking when my workstation's thinking
Creative Cow Forum Host: Live & Stage Events
Re: FCPX and the Domino Effect Pt 2: Knocking Them Down
by Jackie Virgo
Great write up! I have thought a lot about the PC vs Mac hardware myself over the past few months. I work in a mostly Mac based environment and I have a MacBook Pro as my personal computer. I am looking to start learning some 3D programs in the near future. I have a question that maybe someone here may know, how is project compatibility between Mac & PC with adobe and autodesk? If I have the same version on a PC and Mac can I just open it up and work on it with no problems? I was thinking along the lines you mentioned where I could buy cheaper PC systems for render power.
@Jackie Virgo
by Walter Soyka
Jackie, my cross-platform experience with Adobe products has been totally seamless so far. I'm not a Maya or Max user, so I don't have any direct experience there.

I'm going to start pushing some cross-platform workflows very hard over the next couple months, so hopefully I'll have some good insight to share soon.

Walter Soyka
Principal & Designer at Keen Live
Motion Graphics, Widescreen Events, Presentation Design, and Consulting
RenderBreak Blog - What I'm thinking when my workstation's thinking
Creative Cow Forum Host: Live & Stage Events
Re: FCPX and the Domino Effect Pt 2: Knocking Them Down
by Marvin Holdman
Excellent article. It very clearly outlines the concerns that the professional market has voiced over the last year (and more vocally in the last 3 months). It also very clearly helps outline the criteria to help the decision process for the next year.

Marvin Holdman
Production Manager
Tourist Network
8317 Front Beach Rd, Suite 23
Panama City Beach, Fl
phone 850-234-2773 ext. 128
cell 850-585-9667
skype username - vidmarv
Re: FCPX and the Domino Effect Pt 2: Knocking Them Down
by Dennis Radeke
Hey Walter. I agree with Todd - very nicely done and well written.

Dennis
Re: FCPX and the Domino Effect Pt 2: Knocking Them Down
by Jonathan Moser
Walter--

That was one of the most thought-provoking and incisive articles I've read. Your balanced and informed writing goes beyond the emotions and into an analytical, forward-thinking dissection of this whole issue. Apple is at the forefront of creating niche product that supplies their market-driven applications...the pro market is meaningless to them at this point. The tragedy is how many end users trusted and expected Apple to have some sense of obligation and honor in continuing to support and develop a professional (read Broadcast/Tape/commercial Delivery) product. And while they were absolutely under no legal obligation to continue to do so, I do think there was a moral imperative that should have outweighed their commercial interests. I am sure there is tremendous innovation in FCPX that will trickle down to the professional market technology...but in the meantime, having the carpet pulled out from under the professional users and facilities that banked on Apple to continue to support a professional product (no matter how archaic or pedestrian they felt it was), did damage that will take much more than incremental updates (to return practical usability that shouldn't have been eliminated in the first place) to repair. (sorry for the length of that last sentence. Fantastic article. JM

+1
@FCPX and the Domino Effect Pt 2: Knocking Them Down
by David Foster
Brilliant! Thoroughly enjoyed the article
Re: FCPX and the Domino Effect Part 2: Knock Them Down
by Todd Kopriva
Great article, Walter.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Todd Kopriva, Adobe Systems Incorporated
Technical Support for professional video software
After Effects Help & Support
Premiere Pro Help & Support
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


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