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Little Frog in High Def

Musings of an NLE ronin…
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Archive for June, 2011

I didn’t always use Final Cut Pro, and I didn’t start using it from version 1.  I was a late convert.  I started out using Avid Media Composer.  But I did start using it after version 3 came out.  Before that I, and many other editors, begged and pleaded with the companies we worked with to use their Avids, after hours, to do our side projects.  But then FCP came out, and was cheap, so we could then use it to do all of our side work.  And I did use it for a lot of projects, but nothing for broadcast.

Then FCP 4.5 came out.  Now it not only had external hardware for it (Targa Cinewave, Matrox RT Mac), but it also worked with DVCPRO HD natively…capture directly via firewire, at full quality.  And that was the HD format that was taking the documentary world by storm. I did work on a TV series that was shot with that format.  720p 24over60.  But the Avid Meridians, that the production company used at the time, didn’t edit HD.  So all the tapes were converted to SD and then captured.  And we were going to online with the Avid Adrenaline.

Well, the Adrenaline was Avid’s big mistake.  It was slow, ploddingly so…and it was difficult to get accurate captures and outputs.  And at the time we went to online…it only did 1080i.  Well, all of our tapes were 720p…so we had a problem.  The tapes had to be converted to 1080 and then captured…and that was a HUGE expense.  The nine-episode series went $200,000 over budget.  That hurt.

Then I was approached to edit a two-hour History Channel show and the producer planned on shooting DVCPRO HD with the Varicam.  Well, I knew that Avid couldn’t do this. Sure, the Adrenaline had been updated, but I still was very wary.  Besides, I just attended a Los Angeles Final Cut Pro Users Group meeting where they touted DVCPRO HD native workflow with FCP 4.5.  So we talked to a post expert about workflow, and they highly recommended FCP 4.5  And said that we could do all we needed to do with it to deliver a broadcast show. AJA had the hardware, it was solid. We could use firewire drives…all was good.  So we leapt.

And since then Final Cut Pro was my primary choice for editing. Yes, I still used Avid, but editing with Final Cut Pro was more natural to me. It seemed to think they way I thought.  I was faster, able to do more effects with ease.  It was the perfect tool to use for the projects I was presented with.

But it still wasn’t used in Hollywood all that much.  People looked down on it…thinking it was prosumer. It did start out that way, but it made huge strides in the professional editing market.  It started seeing use on the TV show “Scrubs.”  Walter Murch decided to use it for COLD MOUNTAIN.  More and more commercial productions and music videos were cut with FCP.  It was gaining ground.  But it wasn’t easy.  It took a lot of effort for us to convince people that FCP was ready for broadcast, that it did a better job than Avid.  That despite the low cost it was as good as Avid.  In fact, if the companies went with FCP, they could save a lot of money, and still produce the high quality they were used to.

It took years of struggle, but finally FCP made in-roads, and found a home in many production companies.  But there were still editors who mocked us for using FCP.  And who said that Apple wasn’t serious about the NLE market.  They had so many other things they paid more attention too…iPhones and iPods and iPads.  They didn’t put that much effort into FCP was their argument.  It was hard to believe, seeing that FCP 7 was so solid…there were more plugins and side apps made for it than any other NLE (HUGE support base)…more hardware options for FCP than any other NLE.

Then FCP X came out…and the rug was yanked out from under us.  Not only did Apple release a version of FCP that didn’t meet the needs of the broadcast professional…they EOL’d (End of Life) FCP 7…the last version that DID support professional broadcast workflows.  Everything the Avid guys were saying was right…Apple dumped all the professional features and made an NLE (Non-Linear Editor) for the masses.  They used to use us to tout their software.  Articles on their website showed how Bunim/Murray, the largest reality show company in the US, built their facility and workflows around FCP.  Films edited with FCP…”Jarhead,” “Zodiak,” “The Social Network.” TV shows… They were, and always had, used broadcast and film productions to showcase FCP as a professional editing solution that is so good for Hollywood, just imagine how good it will be for your projects!

Then they release a product that is useless for all those projects. Lacking every professional feature we have come to rely on. And not only that, change the interface so drastically, professional editors would be lost. All indications point to them leaving the broadcast market and aiming at the prosumer.  Why cater to 3% of your user base (according to Philip Hodgetts), when much more can be had from the people in the much larger, middle-range?  People making content for the web, DVD…  After all, tape is dead, according to Apple.  In saying that, they have indicated how out of touch they are with professional workflows. It might not be in the majority, but it is certainly there, and will be there for YEARS to come.  Avid knows this…and I highly doubt they will every remove tape capture and output from their software.

We professional editors rely on “muscle memory.” That is knowing where all the buttons, keys, menu options are when we are cutting…knowing them SO WELL that it is second nature to click on a button to do what we need done. If that one button moves, or doesn’t do what we need…that slows us down.  And in our high-pressure environment, we can’t afford to be slowed down.  When Avid changed the weight-lifter icon to an up arrow…the button indicating that you wanted to LIFT out a section of video…that threw us for a loop.  And when they moved the SELECTION arrows to the Smart Tool bar on the left of the timeline, that caused a lot of havoc.  Editors all over were furious.  Their muscle memory was disrupted.

FCP X goes well beyond that.  Forget everything you know about editing, and start over. Learn everything from scratch.  And change the names of everything, change the way things are organized…and call it “better…an improved way of doing things.”  Who’s to say it’s better?  What we have worked for us…worked well. Why fix what isn’t broken?  Sure, FCP X is now 64 bit, and can address more memory, and therefore is faster…people were crying for this.  They got it, but in the process, a complete re-design.  Adobe didn’t do that.  They went 64-bit and retained the look and feel of the app.  Everything is the same, well, most things.  But if you used Premiere CS4, going to CS5 is easy…nothings different.

Apple says that eventually they will add back some if not all of the pro-features missing from FCP 7.  But will it be too late?  Avid Adrenaline was a huge debacle that caused me and many others to switch to FCP. And even when things were fixed, and Avid came out with newer hardware, and much improved software, we stayed there, because it did what we needed. Now it looks like FCP X is doing to Apple what Adrenaline did for Avid…causing professional editors to look at alternatives. And once we find them, once we get used to the working with them, will we be inclined to switch back?  Switch back to a completely foreign interface?  We’ll see.

And yes, we could stick with FCP 7.  FCP X didn’t cause it to break. But sticking with an NLE that has no future will only go so far.  There will be no further improvements to the NLE we know and have come to rely on. It is gone. So we will continue to use it while we explore options that do work the way we need to work, and will advance with technology.

Future posts will have me doing projects with Avid MC and Adobe Premiere Pro, as I test the waters to see which will work best for me. And if Apple does come out with something that will fit my workflow later…who knows, I might go back.

Time will tell.

EDIT: To be clear.  I will continue to use FCP 7 as long as it does what I need.  But when it won’t be able to handle a workflow need I have I will explore other options.  If the next version of FCP adds the professional functionality I need… and allow for more advanced options other than included templates… then I will explore it as an option.

This all started when I sat down to give ScopeBox a spin.  ScopeBox, as you can see via the link, is a way to get external scopes running on your Mac.  Feed it a signal via firewire from a camera, or via a signal into a capture card connected to the computer.  When I was testing it out (and I am still in the middle of testing it, so no final conclusions at this point and time), I noticed that the video levels that it indicated was different than what I saw in FCP or Color.  BUT, I should note that the scopes in FCP and Color didn’t show the same thing either.  But this I knew.  I have grown accustomed to trusting the Color scopes more than FCP’s… even though I know I am not supposed to trust either one.  Because software scopes are no match for hardware ones.  But I felt that the ones in Color more closely represented what I saw when I did have hardware scopes on a system once.

OK, I am doing testing, looking at the comparisons when…I noticed something.  I am parked on the same frame of video in FCP and Color.  Kind of bright, so peaking a little over 100IRE, blacks a little high too, muddied.  BUT, when I switched back and forth from FCP and Color…the signal I got from them to ScopeBox was DIFFERENT!  The image from FCP was a little hotter….brighter.  Just by a couple points, but noticeable when I switched back and forth and looked at the scopes.  The signal coming from COLOR was different than that coming from FCP…even though I had the same hardware involved.

By the way, the hardware involved is my MacPro Octo 3.0 Ghz Jan 2008 machine, outputting from my Matrox MXO2 Mini via HDMI or Component (same issue on both) into my Matrox MXO that is connected to my MacBook Pro 2.4Ghz Duo core machine.

So the image looked different.  In FCP, the image was brighter.  Well, the brights were brighter, the blacks were actually more crushed too.  This concerns me.  Which is the PROPER video signal?  Because I color correct in Color, but then output to tape in FCP.  I wondered if this was an issue with my hardware…the MXO2’s.  So I went into work and that machine is running an AJA KONA 3 feeding a Flanders Scientific (FSI) monitor via SDI.  Using the built in scopes on the FSI I checked this again.  Sure enough, THOSE scopes didn’t match what FCP or Color was showing, and it TOO was showing the offset between FCP and Color.  Again, FCP was hotter and more crushed.

This is not good.  And I am sure that if I point this bug out to Apple, they will do nothing, as FCP 7 and Color 1.5 are legacy apps, with FCP X around the corner.

The full sized screen captures of the scopes from ScopeBox can be found here.  SIGNAL FROM COLOR.  SIGNAL FROM FCP.

Comments welcomed.

UPDATE: Here is a frame of video seen from FCP and Color…output via an AJA Kona 3 to an FSI monitor via SDI.  FCP scopes, and FSI scope…and Color scopes, and FSI scope. http://www.littlefrogpost.com/pictures/ScopeComparison.jpg

OK mates, time to get out of your flat and out meeting people.  People in your industry.  Talk shop, see great demos, have a chance to win fabulous prizes!  You can sit around your flat any old time…but a FCPUG Supermeet is a once-a-year event.  This is the perfect way to network, get to know other editors.  Talk shop without your significant other staring at you blankly.  Learn something new…TEACH someone else something new. I mean, for pete’s sake, Alexis Van Hurkman is going to be there!

Where? – THE GREAT HALL, KENSINGTON CONFERENCE & EVENT CENTRE

When? – Thursday, 23 June, 2011 Doors open 16:30 for SuperMeet Digital
Showcase featuring 15 vendors and PLENTY OF NETWORKING – SuperMeet 19:00 -
23:00
How Much? £15.00 per person plus ticket fee.
£10.00 for Students and Teachers with valid ID plus ticket fee.
£20.00 per person at the door
Ticket will include 2 raffle tickets.
Any raffle prizes? Of course.

http://supermeet.com

Agenda highlights
- Secrets of Final Cut Pro – Larry Jordan
Final Cut Guru Larry Jordan joins us to present the inside tips to Final Cut
Pro. He’s working on his presentation now and will let us know more in a
couple of weeks. Cool stuff about Final Cut 7? A first look at Final Cut X?
Exciting plug-ins or hardware? He hasn’t told us.

- World premiere of a new short film produced by Red Giant Software – Simon
Walker
Apple Certified Master Trainer Simon Walker will show the world premiere of
a new short film produced by Red Giant Software

- “Finishing in the Third Dimension” – Demystifying Smoke on Mac OS X: – Joe
Billington
Joe Billington will rock the SuperMeet with a fun and informative
presentation using Autodesk Smoke 2012

- Davinci Resolve 8 – Alexis Van Hurkman
Version 8 is here! And Alexis Van Hurkman will discuss how, in the last nine
months, DaVinci Resolve has changed his color correction practice.

- GenArts Sapphire Visual Effects – Todd Prives
An exciting world premier announcement.
GenArts will also be showcasing a project produced by local wedding
videographer Alan McCormick using GenArts plugins for Final Cut Pro

And World Famous Raffle valued now at over £24,000.00

Try Artbeats’ 3D footage FREE!

Artbeats, a great source for royalty-free stock footage, is offering everyone a free HD clip from their new Stereoscopic 3D (S3D) library. If you’ve been wanting to play around with 3D footage and see if you can figure out the workflows, but have lacked 3D footage to play with, this free download is the perfect opportunity to test it out.

For those of you who are not producing or editing for 3D, you can download the same clip in 2D for use in your everyday high def projects.  You can download the free clip now thru July 5th.  Just use the link below and the clip is yours:

http://www.artbeats.com/littlefrogHD0611

OK, so I am playing a bit more with Adobe Premiere CS5.5, and this time seeing what it can do with still images…pictures.  Typically I will do my moves on stills in After Effects, or Motion, because the way FCP does them is wrong on many levels.  The “ease in, ease out” is iffy, at best in FCP (never worked for me), and zooming from really far out to really close in isn’t a constant speed.  It starts out fast, and slows down.  I forget the term for this…the speed is constant, but the perception of it is that it starts out fast, then slows down.  Well, After Effects, and Motion, compensate for this and make it look more consistent.  So I wanted to see what Premiere could do.

I brought in some photos I shot of my kids, with my Canon T2i.  The pictures are 5184×3456 pixels.  Now, FCP would choke on these, because they are over the 4000 pixel limit. Not at first, but when you try to render…BAM! “General Error.”  Which tells the editor nothing, unless they know from experience that you can get that if you have pictures that are either CMYK color space, or over 4000 pixels.  Adobe Premiere doesn’t have that limit.  It took in the pictures no problem, and allowed me to work with them, and render them, no problem.

I put a still on the timeline, and out of habit, double clicked on it to open it in the Viewer (preview monitor).  I was glad to note that my FCP muscle memory in how to do that also works in Premiere.  And I was happily surprised to see that all the controls I am used in After Effects were available in Premiere:

If you want to manually move the still about the frame with the mouse, you click on the word MOTION and that gets you cross-hairs, telling you that you can move the pic with your mouse.  Or you can adjust the horizontal and vertical position by clicking on the numbers and moving the mouse to the left or right, increasing or decreasing the numbers.  Either way you want to work.

But the cool thing is that you set your keyframes, adjust it where you want to start and end…and then you can right-click on the keyframes and choose TEMPORAL INTERPOLATION>EASE IN or EASE OUT.  This will start the move on the still gradually, and end on it gradually, rather than the jerky sudden start and stop you normally get…and typically get with FCP (even if you use EASE in and out…because it rarely works right).

So I do my move on my still, I put the playhead just before the still, press play and… it stutters.  Hmmm.  Might be because I am on an older (two generations older) MacBook Pro…2.4Ghz model.  Or because the still is very large.  Or because I am on a DSLR 1080p24 timeline, which already has a yellow bar…meaning that Premiere needs to process the footage as it plays.  Might be a combination of all those factors.  So I made a DVCPRO HD sequence, 720p24.  Brought in some footage in that format, made a new sequence with settings to match…and the footage in the sequence had no color, meaning that Premiere could deal with it natively, without any processing needed on the fly.  I added a still, and moves (the spot with the still had a RED render bar, and it did on the DSLR sequence as well) and pressed play.  It played through without any problems.  So I assume it is because the system already had to deal with processing the DSLR footage.  Things might be smoother on the MacPro.  I’ll have to test that and tack my findings on the end of this post.

OK, so back to the DSLR sequence and the jerky still.  It was only jerky the first time, for when I played through the second and third times, it was fine.  Having a bit of knowledge of Adobe products, I assume it built up a buffer…a RAM PREVIEW of the move.  And I assume the more RAM you have, the more buffer it can build with footage that needs to be processed.  OK, well if I want this to be smooth the first time, and all additional times because I am on a laptop with limited resources, I rendered the still.

And I found out something too…a little bit about how Premiere handles rendering.

I started rendering the picture, but then decided that I wanted to change something, so I cancelled the render. When I did, nothing was rendered.  This might be normal for Premiere people, but you see, coming from Avid and FCP…when we render, if the render is stopped, everything that was rendered up the point you cancel stays rendered.  Even halfway through clips.  Well, I found out that if you render only one clip in Premiere, if you stop the render, the render is lost…all of it.  Premiere only retains renders of full clips before you cancelled.  Meaning, if you have 5 clips to render, and you cancel the render partway through clip #4, clips 1-3 will retain the renders, but clip 4 wil not.  There are no partial renders of clips in Premiere.  All or nothing.

That was fine in this case, I was going to make a change.  But what about LARGE renders?  I guess I am used to FCP and Avid MC where at times rendering everything can be too much to ask the computer, and we need to render in chunks.  You can still do that in Premiere.  But what about large files…with layers of video.  And you start the render…and an hour into it you realize that you want to change something on the last clip.  So you stop the render, and all the progress you made up to that point is lost.  That can be a bummer.  Someone on Twitter (@Salah_Baker) said that “that is when the razor blade becomes your friend.”

There is a logic in keeping one render file per clip…so I won’t fault them for that.  Because when I make a change in FCP to a clip, I have to re-render the whole darn thing anyway.  Avid is a bit better about that, but then again, it manages media and renders better than anything, so…

Still, I’m very happy with how Premiere deals with pictures that I am satisfied.  Better ease in and out, ability to handle large stills..and they are much higher quality than I am used to in FCP.