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NAB has come early!

I must admit I thought that the rumours of the FS700 were a well crafted April Fools joke, 960fps! Well the Easter Egg was all over my face.

The FS700 looks like a worthy upgrade to the excellent and underrated FS100 adding features, let’s be honest, the FS100 should’ve had from the start. Ahem, ND filters! The unfortunate thing is the price of the FS700 about £6000+VAT no lens. That has just taken it out of my ballpark. Yes, I know it’s not a lot of money for a 4K (ready) camera but cameras are developing so fast that you really want to spend as little on them as possible. We are looking for another camera and the FS100 still represents the best price/performance available as the additional features of the FS700 are not worth the premium to us. Our view is a camera’s life is about 1 year, buy it, use it, get another in a year’s time or a maximum 2 years. We try and keep as much overheads out of the business while continuing to invest in new equipment.

It was great to read Reduser and see them try a little too hard to rubbish this camera. I’m really happy for neurotic camera owning assholes of the world to have a spiritual home there.

It looks like Sony are seeing the FS line of cameras as more than just a flash in the pan and this will mean a greater choice of lenses as 3rd parties see the growing E mount market as an opportunity to bring great glass to the platform without the need for an adapter.

On the same day as the FS700 announcement Sony released details of a 1/3″ 422 50 Mbps camcorder. This would’ve been great 2 years ago but looks decidedly a me too product to compete with the Canon 50 Mbps cameras. Once your clients get used to the large sensor aesthetic they’ll never go back. Yes, I know it’s for news but still…

I wonder what other surprises NAB holds.


Unless you’ve been living on Mars you’ll already know FCPX 10.0.3 has been released this week. It was another free update but also another huge update fixing many niggles, very noticeable performance improvements and stability but importantly it made good on Apple’s promise to provide Multicam and Broadcast monitoring features to FCPX early in 2012.

The reason for this post is to question why Multicam is so important to seemingly so many people. I have to confess I rarely use multicam, when I say rarely I mean, I can’t remember the last time I used it at all during production. It’s not a feature that I use nor is it a feature I see as a must have so I found the furore surrounding its omission perplexing when FCPX was released.

I’m sure when Apple drew up the initial release spec for FCPX they will have thought about what to include and what to leave out quite carefully. I mean it’s obvious who Apple were aiming the initial release of FCPX at (single editors and small companies ) and the types of project they’d be most likely to be working on. It’s unlikely that a huge multi camera productions would be high on the agenda for these users and companies so again why the level of vitriol thrown at Apple for leaving this feature out and now why the level of praise for re-instating it?

It is all very bizarre as looking at comments on Twitter (#FCPX) shows most people are delighted and it’s almost as though now that FCPX has the “Pro” feature of Multicam that now people feel able to embrace FCPX in a way they didn’t allow themselves to before. The Multicam implementation in FCPX is by far the best implementation of multicam I have ever seen in a NLE. It even renders proxies of footage used as camera angles to ensure your HDDs aren’t murdered when you use more than a couple of streams of a possible 64. It’s a great piece of engineering but it doesn’t explain the mass change of hear with respect to FCPX.

My impression is that some (actually a lot of) people need assurance from the software’s feature set and need certain key features to be present in order to feel that it is a professional level tool even if they may never use the functions or at best have a quick fiddle with it. Whatever the reason FCPX and Apple seem to have been cut the slack they most certainly deserve and can concentrate on rolling out more features and I also hope the new found positivity towards FCPX will result in many more people will discover its delights unafraid what their “friends” or colleagues might say. If adding Multicam has allowed people to feel differently about the software then that’s a good thing as it will only be a good thing as it’ll attract more 3rd party developers, personally I would have preferred improved audio editing tools and a round-trip to Motion but that can wait until the next release.

I confidently predict that FCPX has a bright future and in eighteen months to two years, given the rapid development shown so far, will be the NLE that the others will be judged against. In that period the trackless paradigm will no longer be new or strange it will be accepted as perfectly normal and any workflow or performance issues caused by the new way of thinking will have been addressed making the competition look utterly old school. The puck will eventually catch up to where FCPX has been skating.

Since a vast proportion of my future business will come from online content production and it was a conscious decision to target the burgeoning new media markets, primarily because I found it more exciting and people are more willing to take risks.  I’m very happy to be in that Vimeo crowd rather than producing tired low budget scraps of programmes and having to invest in all the broadcast level monitoring to service that crud.

The vast majority of the critical voices of FCPX came from the so called Broadcast crowd but let’s not be under any illusions Broadcast does not mean quality.  Broadcast means working to defined limitations of the broadcast network. Some “Pros” are deluded into thinking this is the epitome of media creation, I’m not.

Clearly there are some exceptional documentaries and dramas that could only exist in the Broadcast realm (currently) but alas these landmark shows are the exception. The vast majority of material broadcast is below lower common denominator quality. I’ve recently ditched Pay TV in the UK (Sky) and gone to Freesat because I was paying £40+ a month for drivel we never watched, several hundred channels pumping out chewing gum for the mind.

I have seen the term “Vimeo Crowd” used in a disparaging way when I spend many happy hours a week watching the amazing creative content posted there. The vast majority of which would never be “broadcast.” Google have announced Youtube Channels which may go someway to answering the question of making online content pay and be a real alternative to the closed shops of the broadcast media.

The future is bright.

The sky is falling again!

The neurotic “Pro” community are up in arms again at the hint of a baseless rumour that Apple are considering the retirement of the Mac Pro. This is my take.

Let’s assume these rumours are in fact the truth and my current 12 core Mac Pro will be the last one I own, so what does this mean as a creative professional using Apple computers for his work? To be honest in almost every task I use my Mac Pro for can be very easily carried out by a much cheaper iMac/Macbook Pro the only area that I need the Mac Pro is for 3D rendering where CPU muscle still counts. In every other area of media creation the Mac Pro looks like an anachronism from a bygone computing era.

Killing the Mac Pro now would be no different to the early removal of the floppy disk drive from the Power Macs of old, a decision that perplexed the myopic but in due course proved to be the right decision. We are entering a new era of computing with heterogeneous high powered mobile devices, high speed interfaces like Thunderbolt and cloud computing. These are all technologies that spell the end of desktop computers as we have known them.

I fully expect in the next 3 years I will be doing all my work on a Macbook Pro and have a render farm comprised of Mac Minis all connected via Thunderbolt running OpenCL to combine the GPU and CPU power for the most demanding tasks. This will be a huge change to the way I/we work as I’ll have the best of both worlds, a powerful mobile computer which I can carry out 99% of my tasks on and for the 3D rendering I can plug into an easily extensible network of cost effective render nodes. I may not even need the Mac Minis as Cloud services are improving all the time. I may choose only to rent CPU power as and when I need it and with the proposed improvement of the internet access one the coming years means it will be almost seamless between local and cloud computing.

You will not miss the Mac Pro and it is absolutely not a sign Apple is dumbing down it’s just about kicking you screaming into the future.

The overwhelming view (on Twitter) appears to be FCPX is not a “Pro” level tool, in fact I received this tweet:

@BeetleCarDriver @fineblendmedia I am a professional editor, and FCPX is not “pro” yet. Sorry.
22/06/2011 01:32

This pretty much sums up the vast majority of the sentiment that was floating around on twitter shortly after the release.  It’s an interesting on points because it’s a comment about FCPX but also a comment about how Pro people see themselves.  The insinuation being that because you can see value in an affordable mass market product that immediately means you’re less Pro.  Frankly, that fucks me off.

A Bit of Background.

Quite a lot of My/our work is non broadcast corporate communication which is never seen by the public at large.  A typical example would be a large shopping chain is keen to communicate with all their staff about a change to their branding and store layout.  We produce those videos that explain to the staff the new direction that the company is going in and why.  Because it is vital that these videos are watched by the staff they are not typically dry and corny corporate videos.  We produce videos that mirror the company’s own external marketing using current broadcast aesthetics to appeal to their staff because it is vitally important that they receive the message.  The mode of receptions can be staff training day presentations, DVDs to take home or web based video hosted on the company intranet.  The point is these presentations have to be as good in production value as external marketing or very close otherwise the presentations reflect poorly on the companies’ brand to their own employees.  The production quality is way above a lot of what constitutes broadcast TV quality.  Our main constraint is of course budgets and with the credit crunch our budgets have been further constrained so we continually look for competitive advantages and offerings.

Our budgets do not come close to approaching typical Broadcast spots but we offer the very best pragmatic and cost effective solutions using tapeless workflow, HD compact video cameras, DSLRs, VFX and 3D animation to punch well above our weight.  In a short while and once FCPX has had a couple of point releases I believe it will be making a huge contribution to our output.  We do not have the need nor budgets for a dedicated grading suite with everything that involves because if you don’t do it properly you’re wasting your time.  I have been a vocal proponent of Apple Color for a long time which has helped us get that Broadcast aesthetic but at a cost of a lot of assing around with the round-tripping, with some media supported and others not, only really a single layer grade-able at a time and no way of seeing the final composite with blending modes live in the colour corrector.  Sorry but our clients want to see these things with titles and graphics all live ready for them to change — as is their right as the people paying for the work.  FCPX answers so many of those needs.  The Color Board at first glance looks primitive but it also does a good job of hiding its power and umpteen layers of colour correction can be applied with vignettes and keys with no apparent slow down.  This is absolutely going to be a game changer for us especially when we have a client with us in the studio who is signing off the work — which enables us to get paid — so the sooner the project is finished the better.

Am I going to rush FCPX right into the frontline straight away?  Of course not.  In the few short hours I’ve used it I’ve noticed several bugs and interface inconsistencies and until they’re worked out FCPX will not be used on client facing work.  Over the coming weeks we’ll continue testing workflows and the moment we are happy we’ll roll out the use of FCPX in a controlled way.  There’s no point showing the client the future of video production only to take longer than the old school way.  But….

Having said that, we are immediately going to make FCPX part of the back room process by using the wonderful media management tools to bring all our previous client files into its database.  This will enable us to quickly access client files should the need arise.  In the past when we’ve had previous requests for a quick montage it has been anything but quick to locate relevant clips taking many times longer than the actual edit.  I’m surprised all the “Pros” that are demanding refunds couldn’t see the worth of a fabulous set of tools for managing a huge media library.  In my view these tools are worth the £180 I paid for the whole of FCPX and are immediately going to impact our bottom line.

How “Pro” do you have to be before it becomes an impediment to spotting the obvious?

FCPX has arrived to a storm of criticism.  😦

My  strong feelings are that Apple missed a masterstroke by not including the ability to load FCP7 and to export XML.  It would’ve allowed people to continue with FCP7 and integrate FCPX into their workflow just like the other parts of the FCStudio.  I could foresee editing in FCP7 then finishing inside FCPX with all the realtime goodness of the filters, Color Board and Motion templates.  The finished project could then have been sent back to FCP7 for output back to tape.  This would’ve enabled FCPX to be useful straight away and deflect much of the criticism.

I am firmly of the mind that in six months all this launch nonsense will have been forgotten as Apple will have released a couple of updates that will have addressed the main criticisms and squashed a few bugs too.

Anyway, in the most I’m really enjoying the FCPX and Motion5 experience in fact I love it.  Yes, there are a few bugs to iron out so too some workflow improvement, especially in being able to copy colour corrections to other clips on the timeline without having to resort to using the Paste Effects option.  It copies colour correction well enough but it also copies all video and audio effects onto the target clip too making it a bit of a blunt tool.

Give it time, think of it as an iPhone 1.0.  No one remembers how limited that was do they?

Back to it….

What no Color X?

Oh no the world is going to end!  Nope but it could mean we’re just about to get a Smoke competitor in FCPX and Motion.

So if the rumours are true that Apple has dropped Color from the Final Cut Studio range of applications what does this mean?

If true it means the Color Board in FCPX is the first stage in incorporating production level grading tools into Final Cut Pro X.  Surely this is something that many of us would prefer?  Round tripping to an external grading application with all of the hassles that entails is very often over kill for many projects, many of my projects, but I want more control than the FCP7 colour corrector!  Will the Colour Board be fully featured enough to grade a film for cinema release?  Probably not but then I’ve never graded a cinematic release and never will.  I deal with reasonably high-end corporate communication and marketing/advertising with generally short turnover but not scrimping on quality.  To be able to show the client the final edit with the grade, titles and graphics all live and in realtime takes FCPX into Smoke territory for finishing.  This fact seems to have been missed by the negative voices who are keen to sell the myth that FCPX is not Pro.

I’m completely confident and capable with Color and to some extent Davinci Resolve but I’d gladly ditch round-trupping for the benefits of being able to work on all the media in the timeline right up to the point the client says export.  So would my clients, especially those who’ve requested edits that have to be re-round-tripped who are then surprised by the hassle extending a fews clips causes not to mention the extra time it takes for “minor” changes up against deadlines.  In my work the benefits of a built in colour corrector with reliable scopes massively out weigh the (possibly) more limited grading tools FCPX will ship with.  I expect the, much derided already, Match Grade function to be a key component of the workflow  I don’t see this as an amateur tool but a pragmatic professional approach – if it works well.  I’m prepared to give it the benefit of the doubt.

I’ve never been able to find myself a satisfactory workflow with titles, effects and graphic media with the external roundtrip to Color (or any grading application to be honest) as there’s always some form of timeline.  Clients are well known for wanting changes to lower thirds and graphics at the last minute but how do you make sure they are video legal without round-tripping them too?  It’s been a pain in the ass so much so we were considering looking at Autodesk Smoke to limit the wasted time on round-tripping and to better offer what the client wants, continual options right up to the point we run out of time or they say the project is finished.

I have a feeling that FCPX and much tighter integration with Motion will be our answer.  Together they could be ideal for the promo work I do.
Leaked screenshots of Motion showed what looked like the ability to develop (Rig) your own effects in Motion then share (Publish) them to FCPX.  It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to think that you could Rig and Publish a set of the more useful colour grading filters together to enhance the FCPX toolset.  The Motion workflow is probably much closer tied to FCPX than before and maybe live updates are possible while working in Motion.  One to look out for!  Whatever happens Motion is going to have a massive boost with OpenCL, GCD and 64 bit and may for the first time deliver RT motion graphics production that its previous architecture wasn’t quite able to in the past.  Motion has always been a favourite of ours and works well with Cinema 4D and could tie our post production together nicely.

My take is that with FCPX Apple is answering the needs of the users that need to finish often with the client behind them who often don’t feel they’ve done their job without making changes late in the day.  Will FCPX really be a Smoke competitor?  Not long to wait…

FCPX – A Platform

FCPX can only be days away from release so I thought I’d jot down a few thoughts.

There has been much FUD spread on Twitter during the last week, you know, the Lemmings were worried what Larry Jordan said two months ago, the sky fell in etc.  Another tweet caught my eye, it was a complaint that 32 bit Plugins would have to be purchased again to work in FCPX.  Yeah?  Well of course 32 bit plugins aren’t going to work in a 64 bit application and even if they did why would you want them to?  What we all want are the plugin developers to recode their plugins for all the nice new technology FCPX is based on like OpenCL, GCD, oodles of memory etc. etc.  Who wouldn’t want real time Colourista III, Sapphire Plugins and Conduit?  I mean, who wouldn’t?  Personally I’d love Conduit 3D to find its way into Motion/FCPX in a few short months then I could put Shake to bed and roll out “Phenomenon” for real.

My wish is that there is an excellent SDK available at launch or soon after and that developers see FCPX as an excellent business opportunity especially as the new low price is sure to attract many more users to the Pro level software.  It’s good for all of us that so many new users could be attracted making it a vibrant platform to develop for.

Much has been made of the fact FCPX will be version 1.0 software but with a vibrant 3rd party plugin developer community working in parallel to Apple to bring features and functionality to FCPX will make it the fully featured all round application we all desire sooner rather than later.

Interesting article concerning the possible usage of Apple’s new flagship data centre and the setting up as a possible YouTube competitor.

My Take:

We already know FCP X is to be released in June, WWDC is also in June so we probably will be a lot wiser but I’m going to take a wild stab and suggest that the article is probably correct.  I am expecting Apple to release a HTML5 packager for DVD like menus in web based video in effect a replacement for DVD Studio Pro.  These packages will be able to be uploaded to the new web service and syndicated across the internet.  The quality of the service will warrant a hefty subscription for server space.  A bit like without the crapness.

A high quality offering that Apple can monetize can compete with YouTube.  YT is free but crap and offers nothing much beyond linear videos.  The next stage forward is interactive and non-linear videos in effect online DVDs that can be spread across the web like YT and also to Apple’s iPads and Apple TVs.

The article says this is for the consumer and pro-sumers but actually I can see a lot of professional uses for the service.

Websites and blogs are ringing to the tune that Apple is in some way no longer interested in the professional market or are in the process of dumbing down FCP because they have chosen to build the new FCP X on a similar codebase and interface to iMovie.  It couldn’t be more wrong in my view.

Yes, the new FCP X has quite striking similarities to iMovie but and it’s a big BUT so do all of the iApps have very close relationships to their Pro Apps counter parts.  Take a look at Aperture and you see a grown up iPhoto, Logic Studio is a grown up Garage Band and no doubt if iWeb had a Pro App counter part it would also be from the same gene pool.

It seems to me the real reason behind Apple’s move is to make sure that little Johnny that has discovered a passion for video editing using iMovie on his iMac and now wants more creative control than the iMovie presets allow then the obvious choice would be FCP X.  Little Johnny is already familiar with the interface so there is a smooth transition into the new software and we haven’t even begun to mention the price!  The barrier to entry is so low that you’d be a fool not purchase FCP even if it’s to quell some bicurious interest.

The Little Johnnies of this world end up being the TV editors and production company owners of this world 10 to 15 years down the line and will directly be able to influence hardware purchases.  Professional users have always gone for the upper end of the performance curve and the Mac Pros and Macbook Pros have fitted the bill.  But in an age where literally all Macbooks will be powerful enough for multi stream HD editing with Thunderbolt it would seem silly not to expect a whole new market for the once elitist software.  I’m sure the demo at the Supermeet was talking directly at those people, look we have a non-intimidating interface one that you may already be familiar with in iMovie.  It was made clear that many of the Assistant functions in FCP X could be turned off but many of the blogs conveniently skip over this fact because it’s a better story to suggest Apple’s gone pro-sumer.

Apple’s Pro Apps sell Apple’s Pro Hardware sell iPhones sell iPads sell Apps, the cycle is endless.