Why did Apple base Final Cut Pro X on Metadata?
Last September, in my What should Apple do with Final Cut Pro article, one of the bullet points was:
Better media and metadata management.
Right in with 64 bit, all processors used and the use of the GPU. I immediately qualified myself:
Ok, there probably aren’t that many people clamoring for better metadata management, but it’s a significant part of better media management, and crucially important for the future of automation in post production.
Then toward the end of that article, under the heading of what I thought that Apple should do, other than what everyone expected, I said:
More metadata automation. Well, part of me hopes they won’t because that’s my field, but it would be nice to see source metadata being used to auto-populate Titles or Master Templates (like iMovie for iPhone does).
Truthfully, I was indulging in some wishful thinking. I still don’t think we’ll get – at least not with Final Cut Pro X v1 – auto-populating titles or Master Templates, but I am very pleasantly surprised how far Apple have “come around to my way of thinking”.
OK, let’s call it parallel development then, as I’m fairly sure that Apple had their metadata-centric rewrite well under way by the time I was writing, but it is gratifying to have one’s position validated. For a company that didn’t really show much sign of “getting” metadata with Final Cut Pro 1-7, they have certainly embraced it for Final Cut Pro X.
Final Cut Pro X is entirely metadata based. You find clips initially via their date/format/source metadata. Each metadata category gets its own smart collections. From there, each time a keyword is applied to a clip, a new Smart Collection is created. Add the keyword to another clip (they autocomplete even for multiple keywords at once, just like our prEdit does) and it goes into the same bin (whether the keyword is applied to the full clip or a range). Or drag the clip or range to a Smart Collection and have the keyword applied.
Media organization/location, Bins and Subclips are all metadata functions in Final Cut Pro X. There’s no need to assign a Bin for imported footage (a.k.a. Log and Capture/Transfer target bin) because all media finds its way into Keyword Collections and Smart Collections based on metadata.
I also suspect that audio routing to replicate the functionality of fixed tracks will also use metadata, so that similarly tagged clips are always output to the same channels, i.e. dialog, music, effects, etc.
To be more precise, we’re talking about two different types of metadata. I’ve written extensively about the Six Types of Metadata we use in postproduction. Initially identifying four: Source, Added, Derived and Inferred; and then later adding Analytical and Transform. You can find out more in my Mastering Metadata for Postproduction webinar that I did for Larry Jordan and Associates back in March.
In Final Cut Pro X Apple are using Source, Added and Derived Metadata. They also use Source and Derived for automation, beyond simply automatically creating Bins (as Smart Collections).
The information that comes with the file from the camera is clearly Source Metadata: camera, format, frame rate, codec, date shot, transfer date, and other information comes from the camera with no additional work. Interestingly there is more camera metadata available than apparently there are columns that can be displayed in Final Cut Pro X. In the NAB sneak peek we caught a brief look at the optional columns for the Browser and there are missing columns for metadata I know is available from the camera. Maybe our Metadata Explorer isn’t dead after all?
Obviously keywords are Added Metadata: it has to be added by someone. Keywords and especially Range-based Keywords, provide much more flexible media sorting than Clips and Subclips ever could.
More interesting is that Apple have gone beyond those two types of metadata: something I’d assume any modern NLE to embrace one way or the other. Apple have already embraced Derived Metadata. My definition:
Derived Metadata is calculated using a non-human external information source and includes location from GPS, facial recognition, or automatic transcription.
In Final Cut Pro X Apple derive:
- Facial Detection;
- Shot detection (plausibly derived from the size of any faces, and amount of sky area in the picture, among other Source criteria);
- Stabilization and rolling shutter correction based on detecting and removing the artifacts (saved purely as metadata);
- Automatic neutral white balance, based essentially on the auto-white balance technologies that are available (saved purely as metadata);
- Audio cleanup based on the detection of common source problems and applying a correction.
These functions, being metadata driven, are optional. Turn them off or have them performed only when you need them (but I would let them be done in the background during ingest, and just turn off automation when it doesn’t work to my favor).
Metadata driven automation is something that highly established editors well into their career tend to not want, while those in short term, faster turnaround jobs tend to appreciate it more. When demonstrating our First Cuts software the response of editors with traditional experience is generally kind of negative; but the response from those earlier in their career, or who have tight turnaround, is more “Thanks for providing these great tools”.
You see, this metadata stuff isn’t just theory to me. I live in it every day. Every one of our Assisted Editing applications manipulates or uses metadata to make editing easier: to take the boring out of post.
We believe in metadata. I believe that the automations Apple have already built into Final Cut Pro X are just the beginning. The focus on metadata is good for us as one of the problems we’ve faced in the past is to have our metadata needs force-fitted into Final Cut Pro’s earlier inflexible metadata structures.
Now, with metadata embraced so comprehensively in Final Cut Pro X, perhaps it will make it easier for people to understand our goal of taking the boring out of post by automating as much as possible using the metadata provided or derived/inferred.