Post Production: Did Everything Change in Post?
COW Library : Apple Final Cut Pro X Debates : Walter Biscardi : Post Production: Did Everything Change in Post?
A discussion of FCPX, including comments on the latest 10.0.1 releaseIt's been five months since the "big sneak peek," and three months since "everything changed in Post." I was asked recently, "So where do we stand now? What's everyone doing?" From where I'm sitting and the conversations I'm having with many Final Cut Pro folks in the industry, there are three camps forming within the Post industry...
Camps 1 and 2 are quite large while the third is much smaller. Again, this is from where I'm sitting and the conversations I'm having with folks.
The overwhelming consensus on Reason Number One for the defection of the first two camps is directly off the Apple Final Cut Pro X FAQs.
"Can I import projects from Final Cut Pro 7 into Final Cut Pro X?"
Final Cut Pro X includes an all-new project architecture structured around a trackless timeline and connected clips. Because of these changes, there is no way to "translate" or bring in old projects without changing or losing data. But if you're already working with Final Cut Pro 7, you can continue to do so....Still, more than anything else, that is the complete deal breaker for everyone I know and those who are reaching out to me and my colleagues for advice. Apple spells it out quite clearly in their response, "there is no way to bring in old projects without losing data."
There is just no way, as a business owner, I can say to the client "I know we charged you $20,000 for that project last year, but we're going to have start all over. See we upgraded all our systems to Final Cut Pro X and we cannot open older legacy projects. Yeah, we can still use that media, but we'll literally have to start all over from scratch to build the project." I will not be in business very long if I have to have that conversation with clients. In my case we go back 5 years or more for news story updates, documentary updates, corporate presentation updates, etc... I'm working on a documentary project right now that was completed three years ago because it needs to be re-edited for broadcast. 250 hours / 6 TB of materials, over 40 original timelines, dozens of bins and all the organization from that original project. Sure FCP X could read all those original files, but losing my 40 timelines, my organization by bin, I could not do that to my client.
Part of the reasoning for this in Apple's explanation is the trackless architecture of FCPX. I don't know anyone who is a professional in this industry who would have ever suggested trackless editing is a smart thing. As an editor in a collaborative workflow, track management, especially in audio, is one of the most important things you do. When a show is handed off to a sound designer, for example, you generally hand them a chart that lays out exactly what they will find on each track. If the application is "trackless" there's no way to know what's what.
FCPX Interface - working in the timeline. Image courtesy Kevin P. McAuliffe.
This is a very VERY basic principal in editing and while it might be "old fashioned" and an "antiquated paradigm" it makes sense and is very easily understood between artists when projects and worked on together.
Evan Schechtman has been making a very well done and quite humorous presentation at User Groups around the country that presents a history lesson of sorts of Apple and Final Cut Pro. We were fortunate to have Evan come our Inaugural Atlanta Cutters meeting and he's a very smart and very funny guy whom I really want to get back to another Cutters event. The presentation essentially shows how Apple is simply following along with their tried and true method of "taking something just so far, and then they re-invent" using FCP, the Mac OS and the iOS as examples. It's a very clever presentation and you can clearly see the logic in Apple's approach when he's done.
There is one major fatal flaw in the logic of Apple "re-inventing" Final Cut Pro at this time. In 1999, when Final Cut Pro first came out, it was derided as a toy. I started with the product in 2001 with version 1.2.5. In 2003, with the release of FCP 4, it started to become good and people started to take notice. By NAB 2005, Final Cut Studio 1 is released and now it's starting to take the Post Production Industry by storm to the point where it was literally the Industry Standard Non Linear Editing Tool as NAB 2011 approached.
I'm not sure how many registered users there were in 1999, but as of 2011, there were over 2 million registered users of Final Cut Pro. Independent artists, post production facilities, broadcast facilities were almost exclusively running FCP, turning out thousands of hours of projects per year. In fact, in the past two years alone there was a HUGE influx of very major broadcasters and large post facilities finally making the move away from Avid and to Final Cut Pro. Apple literally had the entire post production market in its back pocket and was gaining momentum with each passing year.
So when Apple "re-invented Post" in 1999, there were no legacy projects to start from. In 2011, there are literally millions of legacy Final Cut Pro projects with millions of dollars invested, thousands of hours invested, but no way to access them if you move to Final Cut Pro X. Those are Apple's own words, not mine.
When you re-invent an OS, you're making folks choose to use a new computer operating system. But you can migrate your work forward, witness Final Cut Pro 7 running on the new OS Lion. When you release an iOS that can't copy and paste for several years, you've created something annoying that people complain about; but they buy the phone anyway because it's a super slick shiny object that will make them the envy of all.
Apple claims Final Cut Pro X was designed for professionals and with the help of professionals. There is not a professional I have met or talked to who requested a radical change in the Final Cut Pro architecture that would result in the loss of legacy project support. Somebody at Apple made the decision, in my opinion, to completely move the product away from professional users and toward the consumer / prosumer / hobbyist market with this one move. It seems that in somebody's mind at Apple, the product was "too hard, too confusing" for the average person to use, so it had to be made so simple that anyone could just throw stuff into the timeline and come out on the other end with a finished piece. Make it so folks don't think about anything, just throw it all in there, the software will figure it out. Apple calls this storytelling. The industry folks who are contacting me call it a mess.
When you re-invent the software that thousands (millions?) of people make their living with and cut off any access to the work that has been produced even just over the past two to four years, that's a huge problem. This isn't just some annoying software that had a few glitches in it but I'll use the phone anyway, this is the livelihood for many many people. This is the financial backbone of an entire industry that built its infrastructure around a single product.
"This is just a version 1.0 of the software, it's going to get better"
If I had a nickel for every person who had told me that, tweeted it, emailed it to me, I'd have quite the chunk of change right now. That is the fallback position for all those who are looking to Final Cut Pro X as "the new paradigm in editing." (By the way, name ONE time you heard the word paradigm used to describe anything in post production BEFORE FCPX came out.) This is an incredibly lame defense of a product that was introduced by the same team who were able to literally take over the entire Post Production industry in just 10 years by building a very affordable and very capable non-linear editing tool. A 1.0 software is something that didn't exist before. Final Cut Pro as an editing tool has certainly existed and had built an incredible legacy over that time.
Final Cut Pro 7.0.3 was going on three years old, it was very long in the tooth and was very outdated in its approach to working with the newer digital formats. So Final Cut Pro HAD to upgrade to native editing formats. We expected a great new release as Apple spent at least two years preparing for the new software.
So Final Cut Pro 10 is software that Apple "built from the ground up for pro video editors." Those are Apple's words on their Final Cut Pro X page. So Apple is telling us THIS - not the NEXT version - is the software they absolutely, positively intended to be developed for pro video editors. There is nothing there that says "This is a 1.0 release, please bear with us as we get this sorted out."
So they have said to their entire client base, "The old rules of editing don't apply anymore, what we are giving you today is what the pro editor needs moving forward. What you did yesterday, last week, last year, five years ago doesn't apply to the new world order of editing."
Being the dominant player in Post Production, Apple was in a position to dictate to the market the next move forward. Had they created the proper next generation tool of Final Cut Pro, that would have absolutely, positively been true. But they didn't. They managed to alienate much of their professional client base and brought eleven years of momentum to a screeching halt in just one day.
The reason that Final Cut Pro became the dominant player in Post Production was twofold:
The complete shift in the editing workflow, the move away from easily achieved artistic collaboration with other industry standard tools, the lack of legacy support - all of these things have shaken the trust of the industry. For me personally, I simply do not trust Apple any longer with my professional livelihood. I'm getting the same "lack of trust" feedback from many of my colleagues.
As a business owner, you need to be able to trust that the vendor you purchase from is not only looking to make a profit, but is also doing what is in the best interest of your business. I don't care if you're the owner of Discovery Networks or an independent artist working in a spare bedroom, like I did for four years. You trust that a company making a professional product, especially something as central as non-linear editing software, will continue to develop. the product based on a strong foundation. As the product improves, it builds on the legacy of what came before. One does not expect a clean break from the past and a complete do-over to your workflow.
Apple is first and foremost a consumer based hardware company. Look at their sales numbers (record breaking at that.) Apple absolutely, positively does not need professional applications at all. If they were to simply step away from the professional video and film market, it would not affect their computer sales at all. At our first Atlanta Cutters Meeting we had Apple, Adobe, Avid and Autodesk all present FCPX, Premiere Pro, Media Composer and Smoke. The common denominator? All were running on Apple computers.
There is literally no incentive for Apple to continue its pro applications lineup because there are plenty of other professional applications running on the Mac hardware. Many of us really didn't pay much attention to this because we had built complete infrastructures around the product and believed that Apple would want to maintain their hold over a very cool and engaging industry. But the release of a product that clearly borrowed from their consumer grade product line and even interfaces with that consumer grade product, really opened our eyes.
From a business perspective, you absolutely cannot blame Apple. Do the math - it's a very smart business decision to go after the masses instead of a singular industry. In your own company, would you continue to go after that client who keeps giving you $2,000 jobs a couple of times per year or five clients who bring in $10,000 each per month? You'll ditch the lower paying client in favor of those five. In effect, Apple is poised to ditch the smaller entertainment industry for the potential of millions of users in the consumer arena. I have to believe this was a very deliberate decision by someone at Apple in order to streamline the Final Cut Pro X product and bring down the per unit costs.
So you can call this 1.0.1 software all you want, but Apple knew precisely what it was doing. It broke away from eleven years of software development and re-invented itself to optimize the profitability of the product, not because the industry needed or demanded the "improvements." It would have been nice if the industry had been given some warning of the sudden shift in direction. Such a warning would have affected many decisions over the past few years -- many very expensive decisions that now might have to be reversed.
But wait, Apple released a new .0.1 update that fixes some of the things we need! See they ARE listening
Apple finally responded to some of the crticism today by releasing a 10.0.1 update.
From the 10.0.1 update page:
"Media Stems Export: Traditional, track-based editing systems require you to constantly rearrange and disable tracks to export audio and video stems. With the latest version of Final Cut Pro X, flexible metadata removes the burden of track management. Use the new Roles tag to label clips -- dialogue, effects, music, and more -- then export a single multitrack file or separate stems based on your tags."
What? OMF can output all the audio necessary for an audio mixing session in one export pass. No need to re-arrange and disable anything. And this business about "constantly re-arranging tracks" is something that a good professional editor avoids by laying out their tracks as they go. This is called Basic Editing 101. You must lay out your timeline in logical order so it's easy to export your project or share your project with someone else.
Then there's this metadata deal. That's going to require an editor to spend however much time applying metadata information to clips just so they can be properly identified by the software at the end of the editing process. This is a solution solely to fix a problem Apple created with the trackless timeline. There is really no need to add this metadata information for any other reason than when you have a trackless system, you have to have a way to identify what is what at the end. If FCPX had the traditional track based editing architechture, there would be no need for this additional metadata just to identify what I want to use the material for.
So now this new "trackless" easy way of editing has just taken a bit of a turn requiring editors to now enter additional metadata to their clips before they start editing so the software can identify what those clips are to save the editor all that precious time from having to lay out the clips as they edit. What?
Apple seems to be missing the point that part of an editor's job is organization. Especially in a collaborative workflow, you must be able to lay out the information in a logical way so that the next person down the line can look at the timeline and know what they are looking at.
Here's an example: In our facility there are 6 editors working together on most days. For our series "This American Land," we required some changes to an episode after it had already been completed. Because of the tight turnaround schedule for the Post, the editor was already working on another episode, so I jumped in and took over the show with the changes. Without even looking at the timeline I know that:
Audio 1 & 2 are NarrationThis is how we organize all our edits and it's a nice logical flow. If this same situation occurred in FCPX, the audio could be anywhere in the timeline just depending on where the application put it. So first I would have to decipher the timeline and then I could start to make the changes.
See, we don't just want to assign audio and video tracks when we're DONE with a project, we need to organize as we are WORKING in the project. And any particular piece of audio might be used both as natural sound and as a sound bite. The different uses would be designated by where they are positioned in the audio tracks.
Now we're just a small facility. Imagine a facility like Turner Studios or CNN here in Atlanta where you have hundreds of editors working on projects. Imagine 100 different timelines looking completely different from one another. That would drive an editor absolutely crazy every time they opened a new timeline. You MUST have a logical layout of your audio and video or nobody will be able to know what is what.
Biscardi Creative Media Edit Suite - for more information, read Walter's article, "Anatomy of an Edit Suite." Click on image for larger view.
Apple has created a mess on their hands with the trackless editing and now they are trying to figure out how to make that system work in a more traditional Post environment. It's nice that they are trying to get the collaborative workflow going by adding XML Import / Export and this Media Stems / Roles thing, but they are still missing the basic point of collaborative sharing. A professional editor needs control over the timeline AS THEY EDIT and not just at the end to share something with someone else.
Ok, let's backtrack: they sort of kind of have added XML import / export to Final Cut Pro 10. It's not the established XML that has been used for the past few years by multiple applications including Final Cut Pro 7 and Adobe Premiere Pro. It's a "new" flavor of XML called FCPXML. So developers will have to work to create tools on another protocol. Also it's important to note that Apple has simply released the XML protocols to the developers so THEY can develop the import / export tools for Final Cut Pro 10. These will be third party solutions, not from Apple. It's beside me why these tools to get into and out of Final Cut Pro are being handled by third parties. Sure, if you're moving between editing platforms like FCP and Avid I would expect a third party like the incredible Automatic Duck products to be in play, but just to export an XML from the Final Cut Pro 10 timeline? I would expect that to be from within the NLE.
More from the 10.0.1 Update Page:
"Coming in early 2012 Multicam Editing, Broadcast-Quality Video Monitoring"
Coming one year AFTER the release of the video editing product designed by professionals for professionals Apple is going to add Broadcast Quality Video Monitoring. This is not something you add to a professional video editing product. This is a very basic function that is included in the original release.
I really get the sense that Apple really doesn't know what they want Final Cut Pro X to be. Is it a consumer product that we're going to try to backtrack and add professional features to in order to quell all the backlash and defections or is it a professional product that also needs to be super easy for a consumer to use? Editing is not rocket science, people -- certainly not from a technical and organizational perspective, but Apple seems to keep insinuating that it is. Organization is just a part of basic editing, it's what we do, there was no need to throw that organization out the window just because they can. There was no industry demand for a trackless, metadata driven workflow, there WAS a demand for Final Cut Pro to support the new digital formats natively.
Apple is now in a position to create convoluted workarounds to the very workflow THEY created.
There is a bright side to all of this.
I've quite honestly never seen such an immediate and unified response from our industry to a single product in so short a time. The industry was looking for a new and improved Final Cut Pro that would improve on the legacy of the product by enhancing the efficiency of the workflow with all the new digital formats in a seamless manner with as little disruption as possible. Within a matter of days the conversation turned to "Where do I take my company so we can continue to work with legacy projects? We don't need new paradigms, we need software that will work with our established workflows."
Most importantly, "How do we do this with the limited budgets we have to work with?" I don't care if you're that single artist working in a spare bedroom or the head of Discovery Networks, you can't just throw a lot of money to overhaul your entire infrastructure because of the decision of one company. These are not exactly the best economic times to throw money at gear. Ironically, Apple set the stage for a relatively easy and cost effective transition away from their own software.
When Apple became the dominant leader in Post Production, they not only drove down the cost and accessibility of non-linear editing software, they opened up an entirely new infrastructure community that simply didn't exist before Final Cut Pro. Only Adobe After Effects comes close, with their tremendous library of plug-ins and add-ons.
Because FCP was produced as software that was hardware independent (except the Mac), we were free to pair up that software with any manner of media storage, computer monitors, host bus adapters, video I/O cards and external boxes, probably thousands of plug-ins and more directly related to the operation of the software. On the peripheral side, high quality reference video and audio monitors became much more affordable. With all of that third party hardware and software, it became possible to configure a very high end non-linear workstation capable of working on and outputting darn near any type of project imaginable -- from the web to feature film -- at a very reasonable price.
Apple's dominance in the field, and its ability to drive market forces both by inspiring the wealth of choices and the lowering of price points are the factors that are driving the two primary camps that I mentioned at the beginning of this article. That same infrastructure of hardware and software that you configured for Final Cut Pro is also almost universally supported by Adobe Premiere Pro and very soon Avid Media Composer is scheduled to support most of the same.
Adobe Premiere Pro Interface
From a purely financial perspective, Adobe is in a particularly good position because a lot of video editors already own the product as part of a suite. It's cheaper to purchase a Production Premium suite, for example, than just buying Photoshop and After Effects as stand alone items. Premiere Pro comes as part of that package. Adobe Premiere Pro also supports much of the hardware, in particular the video I/O boards / boxes from AJA Video Systems and Blackmagic Design. Adobe recently announced a 45% jump in sales over this time last year and they can directly relate most of those sales to people switching from Apple. One has to wonder if that number would be any higher if so many people didn't already own the product.
Avid has been much slower to react to the market forces, but that is understandable because they too have a lot of legacy products and hardware to protect. But just the fact that they've announced future support for the AJA and Blackmagic hardware has spurred a lot of folks to look again at their software.
In addition, Adobe, Avid and even Autodesk made the very smart business decision to put their products online for a free 30 day trial. (Apple finally joined the 30 day free trial boat with FCP 10.0.1) The end user can download the products, test the workflow, get feedback from the end users, ensure the products work with their infrastructure BEFORE committing any money to the product. This is huge because it's one thing to read a review or watch a demo and see the product work as expected, and quite another to actually get your hands on a working copy of that product and use it in your environment with your workflow and your personnel. Nothing is going to be perfect and it's going to be different than Final Cut Pro. But does it work? Does it disrupt our workplace? Does it support our legacy Final Cut Pro projects? There's only one way to know that and it is a brilliant piece of marketing to allow the end user real time peace of mind.
Adobe and Avid present a very good example of what the professional editing community expects from their non linear editing software. Adobe moved Premiere Pro to a 64bit architecture and have added many new features while maintaining the same workflow that their users have come to expect. The product grows and moves forward but the user is not required to drop everything, learn a new workflow and abandon their old projects.
Avid is not only moving forward into 64bit, but now opening up the product to third party hardware for the first time. Right now, it's the AJA IoExpress -- and we can expect that they will support third party hardware cards in the near future. This is a major quantum shift from Avid -- and one that is being watched closely by many of my peers.
Adobe's native support and Avid's opening of the application to third party hardware have made what could have been a huge financial drain on my company to move to another platform not that bad. We are talking hundreds of dollars per seat vs. thousands per seat. It's this relatively cheap migration path that I believe is spurring the rapid move away from Apple to other platforms, particularly the cross-grade offers from Avid and Adobe. Not to mention the legacy support path to move FCP projects into both Adobe and Avid.
But wait... Final Cut Studio 3 is back.
Since Apple sort of re-instated the Final Cut Studio 3 package (only available by calling the 800 telephone number) a new debate has sprung up on whether you should spend the $999 to get more seats of Final Cut Pro 7 while we wait to see Apple's next move with Final Cut Pro X.
My answer is quite simply, "No." Apple's decision made me look beyond the Final Cut Studio universe and I realized that many of the "new from the ground up" features in X were already in Premiere Pro and / or Avid. In some cases exactly the same feature was present -- in some cases something quite similar -- particularly with Adobe Premiere Pro, which feels more like Final Cut Pro 8 than something completely new. With both Adobe and Avid, their native workflows give the end user a much more efficient day to day workflow over the transfer to ProRes workflow of Final Cut Pro 7. In other words, keep moving forward rather than falling back to the familiar.
Now some folks are honing in on very small quibbles about Avid and Adobe as to why they are not more efficient than Final Cut Pro 7. It is true that Avid, Adobe, Autodesk, Media 100, Sony Vegas, and so on are NOT Final Cut Pro. You will have to adjust your workflow to the new tool. You've done it before, you can do it again. You can also make requests to the various companies to add new tools to their products. I have already adjusted my workflow in just a matter of weeks in Premiere Pro.
Regardless, Final Cut Studio 3 is at the end of the road. Spend that $999 on something else to move yourself or your company forward. At some point in the near future you are going to have to migrate to something else. Why not make the move on your own terms when you can ease into it rather than when you are forced to move because the software / hardware doesn't work any longer. By spending $999 on legacy software you are only delaying the inevitable.
For those very smart people who ask if my copies of Final Cut Pro 7 have suddenly vaporized or just stopped working because X came out…after trying out Adobe Premiere Pro on the exact same systems with the exact same hardware, our team has discovered just how inefficient and slow FCP 7 is in today's post production environment. So we chose to make the move away from FCP 7 now rather than wait.
Where I see it today.
With so many citing the lack of trust in Apple moving forward because of the release of FCP X and their history of EOL'ing pretty much every piece of professional software they've ever branded, I'm not sure they'll ever re-gain the market share they once had in this industry. Most telling for me are the number of schools with media focuses that are not moving to X because of the industry backlash against the product. They want to teach what the industry is using.
The complete ease of transition to another product caused such a quick migration either directly away from Apple or into the exploration of other platforms that many decisions will be made and implemented before Apple even has a chance to release 1.5 or 2.0 or whatever they are going to call their next iteration. Again, I'm not sure this industry was even their primary target with this tool all along, so that may not much matter to the powers that be at the company. So long as we keep using their hardware, it really doesn't matter what software we use.
As I've stated earlier, when FCP originally came out 11 years ago, it was a completely different market. Today, Avid doesn't cost $100,000 per seat anymore. Adobe Premiere Pro is a very viable NLE. Autodesk even has a killer editing / finishing system in Smoke. So it's not like Apple is presenting some dramatic NLE alternative any longer. FCP 1.0 was revolutionary because of the price. It didn't re-invent Post Production, it simply gave the professional editor another choice. The playing field is very level and we all have very affordable options should we choose to go elsewhere. Today the editor, the post production shop owner, the broadcaster have to decide whether to buy into Apple's "revolutionary way" of Post Production or go with systems that blend the traditional with the new.
What I have been recommending to people is to download any or all of the free trials from Adobe, Avid, Autodesk, and now Apple…If you have the Adobe Premiere Pro package in house, you really should at least open that up and try it. If you have the AJA or BMD hardware on your systems, you won't be able to use Avid Media Composer 5.5 with that hardware, but you can at least poke around and try out the interface until support for those products is available.
Avid Media Composer
In our facility we are actively transitioning away to Adobe Premiere Pro CS 5.5 because it absolutely positively works with our infrastructure and I already own a copy of it for every one of our suites. Premiere Pro easily opens any FCP legacy project via XML transfer with no third party tools required. So it's a natural fit and it's becoming a very easy transition for us.
That being said, as we are an independent Post facility, we are testing out Avid and once they deliver on the promise of our AJA Kona hardware working with the tool, I plan to install at least one seat. It makes good business sense to support both Adobe and Avid workflows to give the maximum flexibility for our clients.
Most of all, the most refreshing thing for me and many MANY others that I have been speaking to is that both Adobe and Avid are listening and responding. Those of us who have worked with Apple's silence for so long are very much enjoying the ability to reach out to a company with ideas, questions, etc... and actually get responses back.
Everything certainly did change in Post this past June of 2011. Just not exactly the way we expected.