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FCPX: READY OR NOT, IT'S HERE
I'll be honest. When I first opened FCPX, my first title for this article was, "What the @#%, Apple?!"
Let's get the hard part out of the way first. FCPX is NOT an upgrade to Final Cut Pro 7. This is a whole new app, literally built from the ground up. Here's one thing that this means: upgrades traditionally allow you to open previous projects. That is not allowed here, so let's just call this a whole new app.
This is a look at the full interface of FCPX
This release is not for the professional editor, not yet. Apple knows this -- BOY, does Apple know, and they understand that if they want to make this useful for pro editors, they have a short window to deliver some of what's missing.
The main issues for most pro editors now: no support for any tape based capture, no third-party hardware support, and no third-party codec support. That means that you cannot send or receive an EDL or XML file for online editing or finishing.
These are the available direct output options for Final Cut Pro 10, Note that Blu-ray is finally an option for mac users, and that the Export Movie Option offers all flavors of ProRes, DVCProHD and 2 Versions of Sony's XDCam Codec, and the Export Image Sequence offers output of DPX or Open EXR format frames using the libraries for Shake.
Apple has been very specific, that this is not the final state of FCPX. Features are expected to be added quickly, via the App Store, with some of them waiting to show up natively in OS X Lion and with support for Thunderbolt.
Once we get past the knee-jerk reactions (like mine was), the fact is there's a lot to like about FCPX right now. The GUI has naturally received the most attention so far, but I'd like to show you some of what's going on underneath the hood.
Some of it has to do with 64-bit speed that you're not going to believe, but I'm going to start with our old friend, FCP media management. Even more important, is the information about your media, called metadata. The changes that Apple has made will change the future of non-linear editing for film, video and digital cinema professionals, with power that high-end pros have only been dreaming of.
Finally Apple has been able to include a true Background Tasks Indicator that is more than a spinning beach ball and a locked up interface.
INGEST OR IMPORT?
Since there is not a way to open previous projects, your best practice here is to start from scratch with the newest tapeless camera you have access to.
However, while Apple's approach with FCPX defaults to ingesting the media directly from the camera, a reality is that we no longer shoot our projects on a single camera or a single form of media.That concept precludes using the camera as a media ingest device, especially when you consider that many cameras use USB as the only connection, yet I can transfer from SxS, SDHC or CF cards over SATA at 10x the speed of USB.
My main reasoning for this is simple--why bother hanging a camera when you can edit with the content directly from the cards while the transfer of media is going on in the back-ground? The only difference is when the media copy is complete your timeline playback be-comes noticeably faster.
Final Cut Pro has gained enough intelligence to be able to understand media location and organization as part of this release, that level of commitment is at the foundation of this release and is evident throughout the application.
Currently FCPX easily supports the DSLR cameras, Panasonic's P2 and AVC-I format cameras along with any Apple Devices. My pre-release version of the software had some issues with importing of Sony's EX and XDCAM formats, so I resorted to using the XDCAM Transfer Tool.
There is no support for any of the RAW camera formats or frame based workflows like DPX or Tiff working with this release. Workarounds for higher end cameras include using the QT reference files with R3D media, and just importing ProRes from the ARRI Alexa. However in both of these cases much of the camera metadata is ignored.
This is the metadata folder from my ingest test with FCPX, my original media included a 20sec video clip from my iPad and a Nikon DLSR card archive. You can see from this that AutoContent Analysis is doing quite a bit in the background.
AUTO CONTENT ANALYSIS: IT'S ALL ABOUT THE METADATA
The real fun starts once you get your media in, you can then see some of the industry-changing approaches that Apple has built in for tracking metadata. Metadata is not magic and what is done with it is not voodoo. Metadata is nothing other than information about your data, being handled as a secondary part of the content.
It was only with the onslaught of digital still cameras that we started to understand the vast amount of data that a camera could embed into the content stream, simply not possible with video or film. If you have never ever opened the EXIF panel in Photoshop and taken a peak at what is viewable in that file, you get some idea of what it's possible to include in a digital cinema file.
That extra information covers everything from your camera's serial number, GPS loca-tion data, time of day, zoom settings, exposure, even auto color settings and the date the data card was last formatted are cataloged, all of this information a secondary result of leaving film and videotape behind.
Now that more and more cameras are moving into the data realm, expect to see even more metadata on movie and film sets: SMPTE has defined the R210 protocol for metadata in a way that allows recording of up to 2048 fields of information embedded as data.
How great would an editor's job be if he has an assistant whose only job was to pre-sort the ingested material into workable bites based on script or shooting information? B-roll could be flagged at the camera, and then deposited in the proper bin based on location and time of day it was shot. Studio interviews are separated into close up, 2-shot or wide shots. Exteriors are logged based on where and when the content was recorded. Even graphics and animations sorted into bins based on whether they are lower thirds or opens.
All of it happening automatically, nearly invisibly, in the background because of all that metadata being read and cataloged, so in this version of Final Cut Pro that assistant editor you cannot afford is called Auto Content Analysis, readying all of your incoming media and defining it as it is ingested into your system, placing the content in multiple places within the Event Library, based on both application and user defined keywords.
VERSIONING VIA AUDITION
Or when you are finishing your edit, and worrying about having to do 20 variations of a close, each with a different station graphic, or with a different version that all use the same graphic, but with multiple versions of the local news teams -- the new Audition function in FCPX provides those 20 alternate versions in the one project, without having to create 20 different physical copies of that project file and media. All of them are instantly accessible, without needlessly filling up your storage volume with 20 redundant copies of your media project.
Here is the close-up of the Event Library with its color coded keywords. This is Clip View, highlighting the image in the Viewer Pane with all of its available information displayed alongside.
One not so minor aspect of handling all of your content is now called Clip Connection. While it appears on the surface as not much more than a visual identifier for linked media in your timeline, it is actually tracking that source media, VO, graphics, music, and foley as a single piece of media, not as a disparate grouped of items loosely cobbled together as previous versions of FCP did. This is a quantum change in the approach to handling media.
So fundamental is the change that Apple was able to bring us the Magnetic Timeline, by far one of the most controversial features of the FCPX.
Let's be really honest here: Apple has had an incredibly poor track record with video sync for as long as they have been in the video editing space. While I cannot see the future, I can see this as the one thing that makes me think the ground has shook under Cupertino and they finally woke up, this time creating what could be a game changer.
Final Cut Pro now fully supports editing surround sound, with dynamic control for speaker assignment and balancing.
So what does the Magnetic Timeline have to do with game-changing media management? It works in conjunction with Clip Connections to allow you to move content around while maintaining clip, project and event sync. Clips being moved in the timeline push other media out of the way, but only vertically in the timeline.
This closeup of the timeline shows how the Clip Connections offer visual links to the various parts of your media, all while maintaining sync for all of those elements.
Apple has said many times that they finally understand the concept that "sync is holy." In my limited experience with the pre-release version, I never saw media being moved in the timeline in a way that caused ripples of my content or connection downstream of the edit I was working on.
So against all outward expectations, it really looks like Apple got maintaining clip and time sync right this time. So far, anyway. It waits to be seen how all of this works when we start adding RAW and the high-end workflows with dual system sound to the mix. I am going to go out on a limb here and say that it certainly cannot possibly be any worse at maintaining sync than it is in FCP 7.
This is a close up of the Event Library and Clip Viewer. The Smart Collections created in the Auto Analysis are listed in the Library and are color coded purple, User Defined Keywords appear Blue.
Nothing shows the power of what Apple has attempted in the mining of all of this metadata within FCPX more than the simple concept of "Range Based Keywords".
Ok, let's say I have 3 clips in my viewer selected, all from different cameras, days and types of content and on different drives. I can select part of the first clip, all of the second clip and a bit of the third, and then define a keyword for that selection. Under that keyword, all of those separate entities now appear in the Event Library as a single clip!
Now that is truly a revolution, all because Apple vested the ranch into creating, handling and maintaining metadata like no one has before.
Here we show the richness in the display of available Metadata from the Event Library, Listing in the Clip Viewer or revealing all of the parts of your edit in the New Timeline Index
As I said at the beginning, the initial release of FCPX is not intended for the Professional Editor.
This is the Import media dialog screen, note it offers users the ability to turn on and off the AutoContent Analysis during import if the user so desires. Make sure you always check the "Create Smart Collections" button to get the most out of the background processing.
At launch, there is no support for any tape based capture, no support of third-party hardware or codecs, and you cannot send an EDL or XML to allow the edits performed to be viewed or used in any other editing or finishing system.
Apple is keenly aware that FCPX is not ready for professional editing out of the gate. I have been assured both privately and publicly that support for third-party tools by AJA, Blackmagic, Matrox and others will be implemented, but how soon? I know for a fact that many of the FCP developers were all but avoided at Apple's Worldwide Developer's Conference (WWDC) in early June.
I also know that many of the decisions were postponed to not create the perfect storm of disaster that came the last time that Apple decided to release major updates to the OS, QuickTime and Final Cut Pro all at once. Hardware releases in particular have been pushed back enough to allow for both the forthcoming Lion OS and the rollout of Thunderbolt I/O connectiv-ity to be handled together.
In the meantime Apple is allowing FCPX to stand right along side of the FCS suite already on your Mac, so that you can see for yourself the power of what is possible. Let's just hope that Apple does not take a couple of years to show us what that is.
For the time being, I am going to be getting to know the new FCP X using it for my web based media and lots of testing.
COMING IN PART II: Why FCPX is such a big deal anyway....