I was fortunate to beta test Final Cut Pro 1 back in early 1999; my company had the second training tool for Final Cut Pro a few months later with the DV Companion; I’ve been writing about editing paradigms and new workflows/new professionals for some time. I was on record as wanting Apple to do the “Apple thing” for Final Cut Pro and pursue some new paradigms for editing. And for the last year, I’ve spend way too much of my time working out what Apple were doing with Final Cut Pro X and what technologies it would use.
So, when Apple invited me for a private preview last week – just a week before Final Cut Pro X’s release – I jumped at the opportunity. Apple additionally have loaned me an i7 17″ MacBook Pro for my testing pleasure.
So, what do I think?
My overall impression is overwhelmingly positive. Right up front I’ll say that this first release doesn’t support every workflow that every professional editor might need, but for the vast majority of people who don’t have specialist workflow needs, this is an amazing piece of software. I’d much rather focus on what is in the application than the few features that are missing for the moment.
It made editing fun again. Fast and fluid. Did I mention fast? I don’t just mean 64 bit, OpenCL, Grand Central Dispatch, no-holdups-from-the-app fast, I also mean “the tools are where I want them, there’s a ton of keyboard shortcuts and I can find my media and get an edit done” fast!
There are definitely some new concepts to get used to. Everything I thought I knew about project and media management is now up for revision.
While it took me a while to consider the concept of the Event Library as an Asset Management Tool, after working with it for a while it feels like it works. It’s every bit as flexible as a professional needs, although I was unable to find any warning when an Event Library was missing. (Event Libraries only mount if the drive they live on is mounted.)
I could probably have wished for another name for the Timeline edits than Projects – just to avoid confusion with the old concept of a Project – this new concept Project make sense and it all works. Projects can easily be moved between editors and workstations, as can Events, along with all their metadata.
Speaking of metadata, did you notice that Final Cut Pro X is metadata based? Now, while I’ve been talking, learning, preaching, and otherwise thinking about metadata for a very long time, the fact is that Apple built Final Cut Pro X on metadata because it was a good idea, not because they pay any attention to me!
If Apple were ignoring metadata in Final Cut Pro 7 then they’ve gone to the opposite extreme with Final Cut Pro X. Final Cut Pro X has all the benefits a database and metadata based foundation gives, but the interface and workflows are easy to grasp. For most people Keyword Collections will speed their work life. For those who really grasp the power of Smart Collections, clip organization and finding clips will become a snap. (Check out my new book Conquering the metadata foundations of Final Cut Pro X.)
Range-based Keywords are a genius replacement for Subclips. Try them, you’ll like it.
On the MacBook Pro on loan I never had a slowdown. Even during the long, processor intensive analysis phase, the edit interface remained lively. The background processes stop if they are going to interfere with the editing interface. If there is a “dirty little secret” it’s that background Auto-Content Analysis takes a lot of processing power and a lot of time. Good thing it can be done at any convenient time (like after I finish for the day). The metadata that’s derived from the analyzed media isn’t available until the analysis is finished. The use of the Facial detection, shot detection, stabilization and rolling shutter correction, color analysis and audio cleanup analysis is entirely optional. You may masochistically do it all manually.
After editing a personal side trip video and working on parts of a documentary I have in the works, I’m now driving Final Cut Pro X by keyboard more than half of the time. There are keyboard shortcuts everywhere and the new Command Editor is a beefed-up version of the Keyboard editor in Final Cut Pro 7.
I have to be careful to not be too rapturous here, but forgive me a little. This is exactly what I wanted Apple to do: reexamine the workflows editors undertake and determine if there was a faster way. Now, not every editor works the same way, and many in high profile positions change workflow and tools cautiously, but for the majority of Apple’s Final Cut Pro customers, Final Cut Pro X is going to make their life easier.
Unless they work with tape! Where’s that “I told you so dance” clip? Final Cut Pro X has very rudimentary tape support for, essentially, Capture Now for FireWire (DV, DVPCRO, DVCPRO HD, HDV) cameras only. It supports ingest from cameras, SD cards, card archives, or simple file import. Final Cut Pro 7 will remain a great tool for capturing from tape.
In fact, the media handling is really flexible. Final Cut Pro X will make the archive of your camera’s card, while it’s copying the media to the hard drive, and creating Optimized footage (optional transcoding to ProRes 422), while you start editing with the native footage off the card. As the copy completes Final Cut Pro transparently changes over to work with the media on the drive instead of the card. If you want to transcode to ProRes 422 (it will make processing easier but increases drive space requirements) then you continue editing with the native media until the transcode is completed in the background.
You can import media to Events while leaving it in the original location. Move or Copy media between events inside Final Cut Pro X; consolidate, merge and split Events. Events can be located on any drive mounted. (I did not test nor ask about SAN storage. Sorry.)
There’s always a dilemma when developing software. At some point you have a product that’s suitable for a very large portion of your customers, and can deliver real, tangible benefits right now, but isn’t perhaps as fully featured as it could be. Should it be delayed or released? I believe Apple have made the right decision with Final Cut Pro X by releasing it to market. In my briefing, I was told by folks at Apple that the Mac App Store and new financial rules mean that they intend to add features frequently rather than waiting for major paid upgrades.
So, while for this release there is no way to import a Final Cut Pro 7 Project or Export OMF, there are plans to meet these needs with some separate utilities. Other features not in this release, like Multicam, are in the works but await optimal integration with the new design.
But by way of comparison, Final Cut Pro version 1 did not support PAL (although I did, as a beta tester have a commercial cut in PAL, on air in Australia the week Final Cut Pro was released at NAB). In Final Cut Pro X I took a piece of PAL DV media and dropped it in a 1080i60 Project (timeline), scaled it up to fill the width and repositioned it – all in seconds – and have it play back with what appears to my eye to be perfect retiming. (That was with the default – there are better options available, all the way through to real time Optical Flow.)
Final Cut Pro version 1 had some very crude titling tools. Final Cut Pro X has the power of the shared media engine to play Motion projects as well as Motion does (which is now whole lot better than it did). Intricate animated titles can be composited and edited directly over the video they’ll play over.
In Final Cut Pro 1 you’d better know your settings and media management chops. In Final Cut Pro X, that gets taken care of for you, but never takes it out of your control.
I may be biased – again, Final Cut Pro X is very much what I was hoping for. I really like the look of the new LunaKit interface framework, although I’ll bet some will dislike the color.
There were things I wasn’t sure about. Particularly the new timeline design – the Magnetic Timeline. Now the biggest issue for some was that the duration would keep changing. That’s true, so for those who need to maintain an edited duration then Clips you’re lifting from a Project can be replaced with Gap media. (Yes, I hear you Media Composer editors.) Tools like Audition would be used much earlier in the editorial process than when you’re locked to time!
Having direct Clip to Clip connections works transparently. One time I wanted to hook a couple of Clips together on an “upper track” but didn’t want them moving with the Clips below – that’s when I worked out the value and role of a Secondary Storyline. It all works surprisingly well. I was expecting a composite (background, shadow and subject layer) – I connected the clips in the composite together and they moved together when I wanted and apart when I chose.
There is no generic drop shadow effect except in titles. You can build your own by duplicating, offsetting, changing color, blurring and distorting the image for the shadow. All in real time on an i7 MacBook Pro.
I didn’t explore the effects side very far, but it’s been completely revamped. There is now tight integration between Motion and Final Cut Pro X – they share the same media engine I’m told – where Motion becomes, at one level, an effects generator for Final Cut Pro X. Titles in Final Cut Pro X are Motion Templates. Generators are Motion Templates. Transitions are Motion Templates and can now have interstitial elements and are keyframeable.
A major enhancement to the Motion Template is the use of “Rigs” so the graphic designer can create options for the editor, from a limited palette. This is taken to the extreme with the new Placeholder Generator, which uses the rigs for different backgrounds, number of people, type of shot etc. It’s not going to give the Martini QuickShot guys any heartburn, but for a basic feature based on a Motion Template, it’s ingenious.
Was there anything I didn’t like? Well, there’s no published way of accessing Final Cut Pro X project information yet. Until we learn what options there will be, I’m professionally in a holding pattern – our software won’t support Final Cut Pro X until then. However it was gratifying to hear in my briefing that the two Apple folk I met with were very positive about the importance of the third-party ecosystem, and assured me that “good things were coming” (to paraphrase).
For output options, other than basic file export and sharing to various online services (an enhanced version of the Share from Final Cut Pro 7 that also tracks what version each online service has to notify if they don’t match) there’s not much export. Again I was assured they are aware these things are important to professional workflows, and they are coming.
As I’ve said in comments and on Twitter since April, it takes time to write quality software. There’s no real way to rush it, even if you have the resources of an Apple behind you. It’s taken three years to get this far (which is much faster than I’d initially expected), and it’s a lot more mature application than Final Cut Pro 1 was after a longer gestation. Of course, the OS X technologies, which give Final Cut Pro X performance similar to Adobe’s Mercury Engine, give the application developer a huge leg up. The new AV Foundation, I started writing about as the new foundation for Final Cut Pro long before we knew of Final Cut Pro X or that AV Foundation was coming to OS X via Lion. (For the geeks, it’s a Private Framework in 10.6.7 already, co-incidentally the minimum OS requirement for Final Cut Pro X.)
What has been released is what I’d hoped for. At version 1 it’s not going to meet every workflow today. But it will mature much more quickly than Final Cut Pro 1 did. As was made clear in my meetings with Apple, this is intended to be a foundation for another decade of advancement. With a metadata foundation it’s a decade I think I’m going to like.
And I like editing with Final Cut Pro X. It feels fluid, it’s fun. I said that at the start, but I wanted to say it again.