Sync-N-Link and the Evolution of Workflows

Sync-N-Link is a specialized app used on productions that shoot picture and sound on separate devices, with matching time-of-day timecode. What we discovered in talking about it a few night ago, is how Sync-N-Link has been at the forefront of evolving workflows over the roughly six years the two versions have been in release.

Sync-N-Link came about when Ted Schilowitz – then Leader of the Rebellion at a very young Red – asked if we could do a timecode-based synchronizing tool for dual system. Particularly relevant as the Red ONE of the day had no onboard audio capability. While Final Cut Pro (Classic) could synchronize audio and video based on timecode, there was no batch process for doing so, thus Sync-N-Link was born. I still owe Ted a good bottle of Tequila for his suggestion.

What has only really become obvious to me recently, is that this request came about because the typical Red user was toward the low budget, experimental end of the market. They were not going down the path of using a digital lab for dailies. As the independent filmmaker market that was attracted to Red, they tended to be budget focused and therefore looking for solutions they could use themselves.

When high end Television production faced similar budget constraints they found Sync-N-Link saved a bunch of interns working an overnight shift to get dailies prepared.

We also got some great feedback from around the world. We learnt that American productions work with polyphonic WAV files, while Europeans prefer multiple mono WAV files. We responded to the rise in multicam workflows by allowing Sync-N-Link to automatically build multiclips based on timecode as well as synchronizing the clips. We got exposed to a lot of different workflows, and made many improvements to the app based on user feedback.

Then came Sync-N-Link X. As I mentioned in a recent post, we accelerated the development schedule so that Sync-N-Link X could be used on the final season of Electric Entertainment’s Leverage. Electric had been using Sync-N-Link on previous seasons edited on Final Cut Pro (Classic) and it would have been a deal-breaker for using Final Cut Pro X on that series.

Sync-N-Link is a nice proxy for how apps are being used in high end workflows. Initial sales of Sync-N-Link X were slow through until November of 2012 when they slowly started to pick up. That was exactly when we initially thought there would be a demand – beyond Electric! Sync-N-Link (Classic) sales peaked in 2011 as the reputation with Final Cut Pro (Classic) grew.

But even after the release of Final Cut Pro X, Sync-N-Link (Classic) sold strongly through 2012 and 2013, inferring that there were new shows setting up on Final Cut Pro (Classic) well after the launch of Final Cut Pro X. That should not be a surprise to anyone! What is mildly surprising is that it sold moderately well through 2014! Perhaps that reflects a growing acceptance of Premiere Pro CC at the high end of Television production.

Sync-N-Link X sales continue to grow, as Final Cut Pro X continues its penetration into high end Television, and film production.

While Focus used Light Iron as their digital dailies and media wrangling company – dropping one would probably have been a step too far for a studio highly dubious about Final Cut Pro X – it’s clear from conversations we’ve had, and Mike Matzdorf’s new book that the “cutting edge” workflows for feature film and Final Cut Pro X, are heading for a workflow without a digital dailies/media wrangler beyond the regular assistants.

Final Cut Pro X’s ingest of media natively, and incredibly easy proxies workflow, along with Sync-N-Link X and Shot Notes X eliminate the need.

You would think that the two generations of app would be similar, and in that they both synchronize audio and video based on matching time-of-day timecode they are. Yet they are very different apps. Sync-N-Link had the ability to sync only the clips edited in the timeline, something that was more indie producer friendly. However it required specific organization of bin structure by the editor, because of the lack of date metadata in the XML from Final Cut Pro. It also didn’t work as reliably as we would like it. So we didn’t attempt that in the new version. Dropping half the functionality, let us release it at a lower price.

Sync-N-Link X is far more metadata focused. For example, it reads in iXML metadata from WAV files (where it exists) and assigns that metadata to role names and to component names (something that Final Cut Pro X can’t do). It preserves metadata assigned to Clips and bubbles it up to the multiclip (something Final Cut Pro X doesn’t do).

Sync-N-Link X got a lot of great feature suggestions during, and since, Focus. In fact we’re exploring the feasibility of adding new features for these cutting edge workflows, as a result of recent feedback.

Sync-N-Link – both versions – require matching Timecode – and the classic tool, a LockIt box does tend to drift over a shooting day. I’m surprised more people haven’t caught onto Timecode Buddy which is continuously updated to keep everything locked. Sync-N-Link does not use audio to synchronize: you must have the matching timecode on all picture and sound recordings.

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