Final Cut’s Final Cut

F

Over two months ago I made some predictions about the future of Final Cut Pro and the rest of the Final Cut Studio. Two weeks ago Final Cut Pro X landed and has ignited quite the firestorm within the post-production industry. On the App Store, which is the only way to get FCPX, it is currently receiving 3 out of 5 stars. (which is actually higher now than about a week ago.)

A lot of words and emotions and vitriol (many of them in my opinion quite unbecoming of those who deem themselves professionals) have been wasted already on FCPX, and so it seems rather superfluous for me to rehash a lot of the things that have already been said. For some of the more (in my opinion) balanced reactions, visit the following:

http://blog.nicedissolve.com/2011/06/pro-missing-features/

http://www.philiphodgetts.com/2011/06/my-impressions-of-final-cut-pro-x/

I thought it might be interesting to revisit my predictions, see how well I did, and then give a few impressions. For convenience sake, I’ll break the predictions down by application as I did in my original post. (I will also speak to some of the predictions I had in my own head that I didn’t commit to the blog, which I realize is rather convenient…but hey, that’s the blogger’s prerogative!)

Prediction #1: Soundtrack is gone, Soundtrack’s functionality is built into FCPX.

Actual result: Soundtrack is gone, some of Soundtrack’s functionality is built into FCPX.

For me, this one was not terribly difficult to foresee. For anybody who has tried round-tripping from FCP to Soundtrack, it was fairly clear that the integration was never that tight. The updates between Soundtrack from Final Cut Studio 2 and 3 were really not that significant, which sort of demonstrated that the writing was on the wall.

However, the biggest reason for expecting its demise is that it really didn’t fill a needed role, in my opinion. As I mentioned 2 months ago, Soundtrack Pro fills a kind of no-man’s land between the audio capabilities in Final Cut 7 (which were mind-numbingly frustrating to work with) and the far greater capabilities of Apple’s other audio software, Logic Studio. For any production that involves a lot of audio editing/mixing/etc., one is simply not going to use Soundtrack Pro. That level of audio engineering gets handed off to someone using something like Logic or Pro Tools. In the same respect, the person who is not going to utilize that level of audio would be far better served not having to round-trip.

As such, it would seem to make more sense for Apple to integrate as many features from Soundtrack Pro into FCPX as were possible. (I’ll get more into the ‘why’ of this later.) And this is essentially what they did. The audio capabilities of FCPX are nowhere near the level of Logic or Pro Tools, but they are an improvement over FCP7, and for certain workflows will provide a lot more capability than may ever be needed. For example, Soundtrack Pro’s AU Units Plug-in is built into FCPX, (as well as some from Logic) which means a lot of the processing filters one would use in Soundtrack (EQ, Parametric Filters, Reverb, Noise Reduction, etc.) are built in. For many workflows, this could be far superior to the round-trip woes that have plagued the last few Final Cut Studios.

Prediction #2: Color is gone, Color’s functionality is built into FCPX.

Actual result: Color is gone, some of Color’s functionality is built into FCPX, -ish.*

This one was far easier to foresee than Soundtrack. Color has never felt a part of Final Cut Studio. The workflow is node-based, the interface has no coherent relation to the other apps in the suite, and many other little things that made it feel like a tack-on. Granted, it is a very powerful tool. However, the integration was never tight enough to really seem to make it valuable, at least to me, and I described why in my previous post.

The workflow is also quite tedious: Send from FCP to Color, make your corrections, render the corrections, send back to FCP, potentially have to render again in FCP. Want to make a change? Repeat the entire process again. I can only speak for myself, but it was often more trouble than it was worth. (For dedicated colorists it was a different story.)

The writing was also on the wall for Color, in that besides some support for new cameras, there was absolutely nothing updated from Color 1 to Color 1.5. In fact, besides the hooks that let it interact with FCP, there didn’t seem to be anything that Apple did with it after its acquisition. Apple tends to have a very tenuous relationship with software acquisitions. (as all software companies do…) Shake was one notable acquisition that went from being one of the high-end compositing apps to essentially abandoned by Apple. It seems to me to be an economic reality of Apple: if it acquires software that it cannot market to a significant number of people, it really doesn’t seem to put much effort into it. As Color seemed to kind of fall into the same type of category, predicting its demise was not entirely difficult.

The color-correction tools built into FCPX are not really integrated into it from Color as the tools from Soundtrack Pro were. Nor would that probably have been ideal. After all, Color was node-based, and to try and cram a node-based interface into an NLE doesn’t seem like it would be either elegant or efficient. (Update: Patrick Inhofer was kind enough both to read my musings and clarify that Color is actually NOT primarily node-based, but is really a linear grading environment, with the node-based aspects being mainly for effects. Had I thought a little bit more about the way the app actually functions, I might have realized that… Anyway, thanks Patrick!) That being said, the color-correction tools are kind of a mixed bag. In some ways they are more powerful, in that the controls are vastly improved over FCP7’s clunky and, let’s be honest, stupid interface. (Except for the 3-Way Color Corrector, which was decent.) There is also the ability to do secondaries and much improved masking. (In reality, it would have been nearly impossible to not have improved over FCP7’s masking…) However, I am a little on the fence about the actual interface of the color corrector. (And I am nowhere near being a colorist by any means.) It is intuitive and easy to learn, but as a means of color correcting does not make use of color wheels. Normally I’m not that big on having specific interfaces as sacred cows, as they come and go and have different utilities, but color wheels are not merely a whim of an interface decision, but are actually founded on the way that the color spectrum functions, giving a visual representation of the physics underlying color. (I am indebted to Patrick Inhofer’s post on this.)

Prediction #3: DVD Studio 4 is gone.

Actual Result: DVD Studio 4 is gone.

This was by far the easiest prediction. DVD Studio 4 is 6 years old, and has not seen a meaningful update since 2005. Steve Jobs has already expressed his disdain for Blu-Ray, accompanied by his company’s refusal to support it, instead focusing its efforts and energies on digital media distribution. These two items alone put DVD Studio 4’s death into the realm of nearly complete certainty. In my post from two-months ago I said this:

Many who were hoping for Blu-Ray authoring in the last iteration of Final Cut Studio had their heads in the clouds- Apple has bet ‘all in’ on online distribution as the primary means of media distribution in the future.

At WWDC 2011 Apple announced it’s foray into the Cloud, which may be the start of an even more aggressive push for cloud storage, distribution and consumption. Whether or not it is successful, such an announcement was merely the nail in the coffin of DVD Studio.


Prediction #4: Compressor has tighter integration with FCPX

Actual Result: Compressor is a stand-alone app.

To be fair, in my mind I was imagining Compressor as not being a stand-alone app, but completely integrated. My wording in the prediction could be interpreted in a number of ways, but that’s how I meant it. So yes, wrong.

Something like Compressor, whether bundled in or as a stand-alone, is (in my mind) a fairly necessary component for an NLE. The fact that Compressor is a stand-alone app signals certain things to me about Apple’s overall plan with FCPX and its pro apps in general, but I will get to that at the end. (I promise!)

The most curious thing about Compressor is that, unlike Motion 5 and FCPX, it is not a 64-bit rewrite. It’s still a 32-bit app and in has the same interface as Compressor 3.5 from Final Cut Studio 3. Essentially Compressor 4 still utilizes QuickTime to encode files, and QT is (and always will be) a 32-bit app. I’m a little curious as to why Compressor wasn’t rewritten to utilize AV Foundation like FCPX does. One can only hope that once it is re-written those who have ponied up the $50 to get it will be entitled to a free or discounted upgrade. Given the way in which the App Store functions at present, we’ll have to wait and see.



Prediction #5: Motion will be a stand-alone app.

Actual result: Motion 5 is a stand-alone app.

While Apple had been markedly silent about Motion’s development, to be honest I was never really terribly concerned about its future. Once news was released that FCPX was coming, Motion’s future was virtually assured. There are two key reasons for this. 1. Motion is all Apple code. (from what I can determine…) 2. It has been continually developed since its 1.0 launch.

The first point is what separates Motion from its not-so-lucky counterpart Color. The former has been developed entirely by Apple, while the latter was an acquisition of a product already well into its development cycle. Unlike Color, Apple has made both major and incremental improvements to Motion. Consider some of the major improvements:

Motion 1 > Motion 2: Motion 2 gets 32 bit floating color support.

Motion 2> Motion 3: Motion 3 receives 3D space. (In actuality, 2.5D space like After Effects.)

Motion 3> Motion 4: Depth of field, shadows, reflections

Apple was signaling with its development of Motion that it was committed to making Motion a part of its Pro Apps strategy. Motion 5 seems to continue that, in that its updates are both subtle and significant. As far as features, it doesn’t boast seemingly major advances (although the rigging and templates for FCPX have definite potential, and the keying is evidently markedly improved) but is rather under the hood. Motion has been rewritten as a 64-bit app, and so presumably can take advantage of the full power of whatever one’s computer can throw at it.

To be honest, Motion 5 is a bit bittersweet for me. I am delighted that it is 64-bit, but it still feels a bit underwhelming. (Sort of like going from Leopard to Snow Leopard) I think there is a lot of innovation that Apple could bring to a motion graphics application, but it is still not quite at the level of After Effects. I outlined many reasons for this in my previous post, and many of them still remain. I still think Motion is a great product, and I am curious to see what Apple will do with it in subsequent releases. Notwithstanding that, I still think that Motion’s biggest limitation in comparison to After Effects is the lack of 3rd party support. We’ll see if that changes at all in the newest release.

However, at only $50, ($50!!?!?!?) it’s really hard to argue with upgrading.

Final Prediction: Apple will release a bundle of apps at a discounted price.

Actual result: Completely wrong.

As I look back over my previous post and the reasons I outlined for my other various predictions, I am actually somewhat surprised that I made this prediction, (along with that for Compressor) as it doesn’t really flow logically from the reasons I outlined for the death or continued life of the others. Having had time to think about it some more, combined with a lot of research and a lot of reading of others’ reactions to FCPX as a whole, I think there is a line that is running through all of this that points to Apple’s product strategy for its Pro apps.

Clearly, there are aspects of FCPX that have been rethought and redone from traditional NLE’s, including FCP7. In many respects, FCPX is aimed at hobbyists and prosumers, in that it is a low-priced NLE that is quite powerful and has somewhat robust built-in features for audio and color correction that are sufficient (perhaps even more than sufficient) for this level of user who wants something more powerful than iMovie but doesn’t want to send audio to an external application nor wants to color correct with something as intimidating as Color. For users within a tapeless workflow (such as the burgeoning DSLR video market) something like FCPX might be a really good choice, at a price that is right.

At the same time, there are features within FCPX (scopes, scalable to 4K, etc.) that clearly go beyond what this type of market would want/need/use. However, at present FCPX is missing some features (multicam, output to tape, XML output, EDL, etc.) that FCP7 had that users in high-end workflows not only find desirable, but in all actuality need. This might seem paradoxical, until one looks at the overall picture.

Some of the missing features are going to be coming in the future, presumably natively, while some, like OMF export via Automatic Duck, are already here via 3rd parties. This gives us what is perhaps a hint at what Apple’s plan for FCPX and its Pro Apps seems to be- Apple intends for FCPX to be modular.

Instead of trying to bundle an entire production workflow into one suite, like it did (to some extent…) with Final Cut Studio, it seems that Apple is wanting to focus primarily on the editorial, motion graphics, (in the context of the editorial process) and digital distribution portion of post-production. It is modular because the basic product- FCPX- contains the tools that the prosumer/hobbyist/professional with a limited workflow would use. Users with greater needs will need to look to 3rd party support/products for most of the solutions. While this might seem a big shift, in actuality it’s not.

As already mentioned in the now-defunct Soundtrack, high end users are not going to be using either Soundtrack Pro or the tools included in FCPX, just as they didn’t use them in FCP7. Rather, something like Logic or Pro Tools is going to be the tool of choice. It seems Apple wants FCPX to accommodate both the prosumer who can more than make do with the tools in FCPX and the high-end user who utilizes other software. (One thing that is interesting is that while Final Cut Studio in no longer on the market, Logic Studio still is. I wouldn’t be surprised if Logic Studio is currently undergoing a re-write as well.)

The same is true of color-correction. The prosumer is not going to utilize the power of Color, but will use the tools included in FCPX. Users looking for more robust tools probably already use something like Colorista (especially popular with DSLR filmmakers…) and will more than likely continue to do so, because they work very well. Dedicated colorists are already using Color or Resolve or something similar, and with the exception of Color (at least once it no longer actually works on the OS) will probably still do so.

My point is this: post-production is already a field in very which specific tasks are already fulfilled by niche products as a normal part of workflows. While FCPX certainly needs some native support for certain things (like multicam) before it is able to be utilized by certain workflows, it seems that some aspects of this type of functionality (such as OMF export and tape output) are in fact better handled by third-party solutions. (as was true in some respects in FCP7)

Ultimately, Apple’s decisions in this respect seem to have an economic component to them. Post-production is one of the fastest dying industries in the United States. While FCP had a lead in the NLE market, it was simply becoming a bigger piece of an ever-shrinking pie. However, DSLR video (to take one example) has seen a huge burst of growth in the past few years, and new ways of video production are being explored, often for a fraction of the price. More and more people are gaining relatively inexpensive tools to create videos with, and thus it is hardly surprising that Apple would wish to attempt to capitalize on this growing market, even if at the (at least) short-term expense of a much smaller and continually shrinking market.

It will be extremely interesting to see what the next few years hold for video production. If Apple truly is taking a modular approach with FCPX, one might expect it to have far more functionality in the next 6-12 months.

2 comments

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  • Hi – it’s Patrick from Tao of Color.

    Thanks for the Hat Tip on the color wheel thing!

    One note: While Color does have a Node-Based interface under its ‘Advanced Tab’, the Advanced Tab is ignored by many Apple Color colorists and isn’t as flexible as it might seem. It’s useful to think of it primarily as an effects creation tool (though it’s far more flexible and powerful than that).

    Color is really a linear-grading environment, starting first with a Primary In Room, moving sequentially through 8 Secondary Rooms (which can NOT be re-ordered), into the node-based effects creation Advanced Tab, and then finally out through the Primary Out Room (giving you the chance to make final, overall tweaks).

    In contrast, DaVinci Resolve is a true node-based grading app – with each node containing the full power of the entire grading toolset, and they can be re-ordered and re-combined at any time in many ways, transforming from primary to secondary corrections at the touch of a button.

    I just wanted to clarify that point… and you just gave me idea for a blog post! 😉

    But yes, having just typed all that – for most FCP editors, the distinction I just outlined is without meaning if there isn’t the desire or willingness to step outside of the NLE for these tools. Just like the difference between ProTools and SoundtrackPro isn’t meaningful if there’s never an intention to do an audio mix outside the NLE.

    – patrick

  • Patrick- thanks for the clarification! I appreciate it, as well as your incredible insight into the art and science of color correction.

    I’m going to update my blog to reflect your clarification.

    Thanks again!

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