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Workflow Table For One

From The Creative COW Magazine


Creative COW Magazine presents Workflow Table For One



Tim WilsonTim Wilson
Boston Massachusetts, USA

©2006 Tim Wilson and CreativeCOW.net. All rights reserved.

Article Focus:

Rating product-line integration and how well it accomplishes workflow enhancements for smaller teams and one-man shops.


So anyway, I've been thinking about workflow. Good thing, since we've devoted a whole issue to it. We see it applying best to teams, smoothly accomplishing their goals. Some of the software we discuss in these pages can help.

Integration can be easier to talk about than workflow because it speaks to us as individuals. At its best, it relieves the stress of too many applications and too little time, on every single job.

Think of integration as workflow for one, with each of the integrated applications serving as the members of your team. You can feel integration. You work less. You finish faster.

Note that I did not say integration "frees you to be more creative." I've used those very words before, but the more I think about it, the less I believe it. The most that software can offer creativity is staying out of its way. Don't think I take that lightly, though. Most of us would give our gold teeth for software that stays out of our way. At least some of our gold teeth, anyway.

The dedicated, talented, and good-looking folks who make up corporate life know you want it. They've remade their products, and in some cases their companies themselves, to bring you better integration. Integration may be the only thing that excites them as much as it engages you. Another thing not to take at all lightly.


Today On The View

Like you, I have a perspective on integration as a paying customer. I was one of the owners of a small production company for a decade. I've also worked for companies that make and sell integration, giving me a view from inside the belly of the beast. Part of my jobs included evaluating the competition's integration, with two goals: seeing if there was anything worth swiping (there usually is), and finding weaknesses to exploit (there usually are).

Before I begin, note that this isn't a comprehensive, objective review of the major features in each suite. This is my view of the lay of the land.

I'm not in any way speaking for any companies I used to work for, of course. Don't assume that my opinions are held by even one other person inside those companies, because they're largely not. But one of the reasons why you visit the Creative COW website and read the COW Magazine is for strong opinions. Here are some of mine.

Get yer score cards! Can't tell the players without a scorecard!

It's not my opinion that there are three major players in the integration game. There are, and that's all there is to it. All have some form of integration among their software applications, which is part of what makes them major players.

They've all got different flavors of integration, however, based solely on one thing: what they've got and others don't. If they don't have integrated 3D, then "you don't need integrated 3D." If they don't have integration via XML, then "you don't need XML." If they don't have Adobe After Effects...well, you know you need After Effects, so feel free ignore the rest of their pitch.

Accordingly, part of everybody's grade is determined by how well they integrate with After Effects. Another part of the score is how well they integrate with third-parties. And of course, how well a manufacturer's products integrate with each other. There are a few extra credit points to sprinkle around, too. There is no curve. Neatness counts.


ADOBE

An automatic "A" since they have After Effects, right? Yes, but that's only one part of the grade. They have a chance to lose points elsewhere.

Except they don't.

Here's one of my favorite examples of integration. All DVD authoring applications worth their salt use layered Photoshop files to build menus. Adobe Encore takes this to another level, as changes in Photoshop automatically update in Encore.

It's a simple example, but a reminder of how many of their applications we all use, tied together exceptionally well. Photoshop and Illustrator. Illustrator and After Effects. After Effects and Flash. And round and round they go.

Don't count Premiere out. As I've traveled across This Great Planet of Ours, I'm convinced that it's bigger than all other NLEs combined. So what if many Premiere users are professionals using video, rather than video professionals? Adobe still gets to count the money. Premiere is also many people's entry into Adobe suites, and they feel very, very strongly about it.

I also think having the former Macromedia inside Adobe truly represents the tip of an iceberg about to scrape everybody else's hull. I'll talk much more about it in the next issue, but Flash on the web is bigger than QuickTime and Windows Media combined. Now think bigger. Much bigger.

One reason everybody has integrated suites is that Adobe made such a big bang when they introduced both of theirs. They didn't have to. We were already buying most of it at full price.

But Adobe even further assured our loyalty, and vastly expanded its already massive customer base by thinking like customers, finessing the integration among their products we'd been reaching for, at a truly compelling price. They set a standard that will likely never even be approached. You know it's true.

Did I mention they have After Effects?


ADOBE SCORE:

After Effects integration: As we say in Boston, out the wazoo.

Extra credit: Inventing integrated suites

More credit: Inventing two integrated suites

Even more extra credit: They're both really, really good suites

Extra, extra, extra credit: "The familiar Adobe interface."

What? More extra credit? Getting taken over by Macromedia. I mean, buying Macromedia.

Final grade: On a scale of A (abs of steel) to F (flabs of veal), Adobe goes to 11.

My fondest wish for the future: That the peeps learn to spell After Effects (not After FX) and Photoshop (not PhotoShop).



APPLE

Apple earns a full letter grade for acknowledging that After Effects exists, with some mild integration between it and Motion. However, read Wes Plate's take on it in "Great Workflow for `Good Eats'" elsewhere in this issue for the rest of the story. For editable elements passing between them both? Automatic Duck to the rescue.

From there, you'd better like how Apple apps integrate: it's about all you're going to get. As a Mac lover, it saddens me to see the Mac landscape become more barren as Apple chases more application developers from the platform.

Fortunately, each of the applications in Apple's suite is strong - especially Final Cut Pro and DVD Studio Pro - and they're well integrated with each other.

Silicon Color's Final Touch offers the only significant native third-party software integration, but it's exciting.

Things will get interesting fast when Final Cut Pro finishes becoming a real Mac app. Adding the FX Plug technology currently found in Motion potentially supercharges it.

Of course, it may also place Motion firmly beside the point, if there's anyone for whom After Effects hasn't already done so.

The future has clouds on the horizon. I find the long-term prospect for professional video hardware chilling. Matrox, Apple's first real-time video card? Digital Voodoo, roaring out of the gate with 10-bit SDI? Cinewave, both accelerated and making Apple credible in HD? All you kids: out of the pool!

Still, I'll never forget the thrill I felt when I first saw Macromedia Final Cut doing dual-stream video with nothing more than a Targa 2000RTX card inside a Windows box. It was the first time I had the answer to the question whether editing and compositing could be integrated in a single application: a resounding "Yes!" This is Apple's ball to fumble.


APPLE SCORE:

Plays nicely with others: What others?

Playing with themselves: A++

Extra credit: Acknowledging After Effects.

More extra credit for anyone using Automatic Duck.

Even more extra credit: Sticking the conceptual landing on the combination of compositing and editing with Final Cut Pro.

Final grade: If you care, MAC RULES!!! WINDOWS SUCKS!!! If not, whatever.

My fondest wish for the future: I still use Macs, but...whatever.



AVID

Here are the notes I scribbled when I was outlining this section: "Astonishing to me that nobody else offers 3D and hardware. Unfortunate that some software components are outside the Avid family. More unfortunate that the two key apps might as well be."

It's not that Pro Tools and Avid editors don't work together. It's one of the industry's most firmly established connections. But to the extent that integration is for individuals? On Windows, not bad. On Mac? Not at all.

Hey! Where's the surround mixing?

Still, I can't believe that anybody sells an audio app without a dedicated control surface, because a mouse is not an audio tool. The indispensable Digi 002 and Command|8 audio interfaces keep adding features in the video editing apps, too.

The growth of Avid 3D is another bright spot. Video passes easily over, and rendered animations with alpha channels play in real time when composited over live video back in the editor. Nice! You might think that Avid 3D is Softimage XSI Lite, but especially in the latest version, simply untrue.

Overall, Avid's Studio offerings can feel a little wobbly. Also, the full suite is missing Media Compose software, whose video (not film) feature set lines up most closely (for better and worse) with Final Cut Pro and Premiere Pro (yes, really).

Avid offers another approach to integration with Avid Liquid: everything in one application, featuring some of the company's most advanced technology. Just three examples: background ingest (!!!), integrated 5.1 surround mixing, and not just Avid's most advanced but the industry's most advanced GPU acceleration.

For After Effects integration, Wes Plate once again rides Automatic Duck to the rescue.

Can it really be that Media Composer is the only fully-fledged (alas, Xpress doesn't have all its feathers yet) dual-platform editor? Yep.


AVID SCORE:

Integrates 3D and hardware: A-ish.

Pro Tools: The real deal, but no surround? De rigeur in this category. On a scale of 1 to 5.1, PT gets a 2 -- one for each stereo channel.

Pro Tools integration: B, as in Barely B if I've had a snack after naptime, C if I haven't. Don't ask me what the grade is if I miss both a nap and a snack.

After Effects integration: God bless Wes Plate and his Duck.

Bonus points: "It's an Avid." It really is and it really matters.

More bonus points: Media Composer software, even as part of an incomplete suite.

Degree of difficulty for supporting two platforms: Gazillion.

Overall grade: Still trying to corral all the pieces of the suite to give them a single grade.

My fondest wish for the future: Avid acting like one company. How cool would that be? So Avid, pretty please?



Opinions are like armpits. Everybody's got more than one, and they're covered with hair.

As promised, no objectivity in sight, although there was a whiff of balance: the body of each suite's evaluation weighs in at precisely 300 words. It's my own form of haiku.

There's obviously much more I could have said about each of these suites and integration. My point is that integration should be the place where our collegial disagreements are most clearly and loudly expressed. Forget platform wars. You choose a platform a couple of times in a career, but you live with integration and the lack thereof every day. There's no excuse for not letting manufacturers hear from you more about this than anything else.

Be nice, though. As I said earlier, they genuinely want better integration every bit as much as you do.

My fondest wish for this article is that it inspires you to think again about integration, then as a first step from there, to share with the rest of the class. I know you know where to chime in. Please do.


Tim WilsonTim Wilson is the Associate Publisher of Creative COW Magazine and spent the last three years as the Senior Product Marketing Director at AVID. Before that, he was the Product Manager in charge of Boris RED while at Boris FX. Tim was an alpha tester for FCP and is also a longtime Adobe user. He owned a Media 100 for years. His opinions are his own but are well crafted from years of experience. Oh, and he's just as good on a Mac or Windows.



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