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FCPX - it's not the end of the world, its the future!

Requisite screen shot of the new ‘evil’ or as I call it Final Cut Pro XYou know what we need, we need another blog post on Final Cut Pro X or as its now called - FCPX.

Happy to oblige!

There are more than enough voices hand wringing about the latest release of Final Cut Pro X from a pro editor point of view (so far, Josh Mellicker’s piece is the best I have read). 

It appears that all there are in the world are professional editors and amateur editors. 

I would just like to say a few words as a creative professional who edits, a much maligned group, who sit between these two polar opposites in the land of Non Linear Editing (NLE) software. (Always good to start a software category with the word ‘Non’….).

I am writing this not because of the specifics of Final Cut and my use of it, (which of course I will touch on) but what a disruptive and exciting move I think the launch of FCPX is. 

A brand new flagship creative app, with a new usability paradigm and at a much lower price than before,  released using a new licensing and distribution system for creative software. 

This is the first major sign of what is going to be, in my opinion, a turbulent couple of years in creative software, which will have repercussions throughout many branches of the creative arts.  

Opinion on FCPX #96578

To begin with though. Using the new Final Cut has been a slightly frustrating revelation, I agree with everyone else, not having XML and legacy FCP 7 import is a royal pain, and one that will (hopefully) be fixed quickly. Apple have proven this rapid pace of development already this year, Garageband for iPad when it was released wouldn’t work with Garageband for the mac, thats now fixed, so I am not worried about these issues getting resolved, and I wouldn’t be surprised when OS X 10.7 Lion gets released that FCPX gets some of these missing features immediately.

If I am honest, its nice to be creating only new projects in FCPX at the moment rather than pondering why my showreel didn’t import correctly from premiere, which no doubt will be an issue I will face soon enough.

You noticed I said I was importing FROM premiere, rather than the other way round. To be honest for my workflow which is primarily in the digital and DSLR space, Final Cut Pro X is perfect for me, and while some of the UI quirks and file management (can I specify folders rather than drives for my events/projects/whatever they are called?), will be ironed out, both with use and investing in some training.

The fundamental new part of FCPX works for me, its gets me to my footage straight away. Decent keyword access, even on a rudimentary level is a joy to use when working with clips, and I quickly got the hang of the new commands.

Oh and its fast - properly, handily fast, and now has comparable motion tools and comping tools compared to premiere.

However, let’s not kid ourselves as well that FCPX is magic either. For example, while rendering does happen in the background and thats fantastic. It’s still HAPPENING and even on my new 2011macbook pro, setting a clip to retime using optical flow is still going to be a time suck before you can use the footage properly.

FCPX is like when video appeared on DSLR’s - its not perfect and in many ways some of its limitations aren’t quite ‘pro’, but the broadcast market has come to the Canon 5D, 7D, etc., rather than the other way around because of the ease of use, and most importantly the price that these cameras were available at.

In the case of FCPX the price means that I can standardise myself and my other collaborators on one app and that’s worth the comparatively small price of admission. As its allows creatives who weren’t familiar with NLE’s a new output tool for their creativity.

At £179.99 it’s seen by non editing creative’s as acceptable value for money, whereas the old price model, which is still applicable to Adobe and Avid, meant that these same creative’s couldn’t justify the expense for an app they didn’t want to specialise in. 

App store is disruptively brilliant.

The other key thing about FCPX that should not be ignored is the fact thats it’s exclusively on the App Store

As an avid user of Aperture, I was delighted to see it on the app store. 

I bought Aperture 3 before the app store existed, and was happy to pay over £100 for an app I use practically everyday. When I saw it was £45 for the same version of Aperture on the day the mac app store opened, I jumped for joy. 

I didn’t get angry at the fact that I had lost £60. I loved the fact that at such a disruptive price, an app I used would suddenly explode across the mac platform, it also showed the fact that Apple was going to commit to its further development.

Notably, Motion 5 was released alongside FCPX. 

I bought it for £30, from everything I hear, its motion 4, with the ability to publish/link straight into FCPX through templates, Motion was already able to do 60-70% of the work after effects could do - and its now £30. The last time Motion was released as a standalone it cost £200.

I want to see another large creative app developer on the app store, I would personally love luxology to release modo 6 on the app store, which would explode its user base. But I have a feeling that if any of the big 3d apps come to the app store, Maxon will be first with Cinema 4d. 

Whoever, gets in first trust me will get a lock in, and Cinema 4d is good enough and easy enough to learn, that if it dropped its price by the factors that we are seeing in the app store, that it would explode this capable app’s user base and potentially become the dominant 3d platform on the mac. 

Easier to commit to smaller developers.

Skectchbook pro, Aperture, Pixelmator, Acorn, fcpx, Motion are being bought up on the app store, by scores of creatives who can justify the cost and they all offer the same 70-80% of the toolset that the traditional industry standard Adobe offers.

 If your prepared to mix and match your apps, your easily capable of accessing creative tools that Adobe doesn’t offer, for example the HTML 5 animation package Hype. 

The reason for this is that there is a much easier commitment to smaller apps, through the app store’s purchasing model and updates mechanism. Scrivener, the app that I am using to write this article is a good example of why the app store is great for both developers and user’s. 

I have known about Scrivener for ages, but never got round to buying it, I could never remember the developer’s name and besides, you would have had to deal with a pay system like kagi, or sagepay, and then what about updates, admittedly this has got better, with most small apps managing themselves, but its still fairly tedious managing small apps and their updates (istat menus and texpexpander are my two worst culprits). 

The app store kills this problem dead! I buy the app once with one click, no matter the app publisher and its immediately available for all the macs I use, for free, and updates for my apps are all handled through the app store interface, all of a sudden app management is a thing of the past, as is storing the disk images.

Price cuts alone don’t just work, its the entire app store ecosystem thats a win. If you look at the discount that happened earlier in the year on Project Messiah, while a lot of us bought it, it turned out that if your on the mac, forget about this app as the support and development is practically non-existent.

One creative market that may have to change is plugins. 

I can see plugins becoming standalone apps. Personally, I would prefer this.

For example, Aperture’s plugin system is horrid, as your creating a duplicate file. I would rather just export the image into an app. 

Some Plugin makers are starting to do this, but experimenting first on iOS,  Nik Software’s snapseed for iPad, takes the best bits from its plugin suites and has made a beautiful friendly and incredibly powerful image enhancer, for £2.99. I would love to see this app come to the mac, and with Lion the gestural controls are there to not need to change the way it works too much.

Sculptris and the new creative app pricing

Another app was released on the Mac last week. Not on the app store however, sculptris by pixologic. Although I am yet to have anything more than a cursory play, this free app is a phenomenally easy to use 3D sculpting application, and has direct connection into Zbrush through Goz, or through into other 3D apps using OBJ.

This is huge. A proper sculpting workflow can be had for free, in the same way sketchup (to a point) and more importantly Autodesk 123D, allow free ‘trainer’ apps into the 3D space. Sculptris does this implicitly by having the ability to hit one button and send your model natively into Pixologic’s ZBrush, where its more expansive toolset can be used.

Don’t get me wrong though, sculptris is a fully cabable app, and some of the work that is being shown is great, and like FCPX your straight in and making stuff, which could never be said for ZBrush.

Also with the release of Blender 2.5 and up, we are really seeing a viable contender  into the full 3D space from a free app, who knows I may actually use it, now I can make sense of the UI.

iOs model is leading the way

Mobile is taking over the internet and on the mac, and in many ways removing the ‘geek’ from creative apps. 

The tools that Apple offers have enabled developers to take a device and transform it especially with the iphone 4 (due to its camera) and the ipad 2 (due it’s size and power) into a new exciting, intuitive, creative platform. 

At the meantime keeping the majority of the apps at a price point that is shockingly good value for money from a jaded creative designer’s point of view, and with a much wider audience this means more money for the developers. 

It also means that apps are becoming much more focused in their use, and buying a suite of apps that work from the shared repository of the iOS’s device photo library, if your creative app is image based is so much easier for the non geek creative to get their head around.

Not all Pro app makers are Adobe - Thank God!

At the other end of the scale, there are companies who live in the high ground of VFX , which apparently FCPX doesn’t anymore, who get the new creative tool market and are leading it. 

The best example I can think of is the Foundry

Although they make the not inexpensive Nuke, (which they bought as a raw product from the leading VFX house Digital Domain), they offer several ways to get into Nuke. 

First they have a free Learning edition, which allows artists to get up to speed on this wonderful compositing app very quickly, you can rent the app for smaller period of work (adobe does renting now too, but still inflates its european prices, and its free offering is time limited to 30 days). 

The Foundry is allowing its users to use the app when they need but still offers options to keep the artist engaged through the PLE and other support and community offering’s during downtime, until the artist to make a full license commitment, and this makes as a creative professional like the Foundry a lot and now see them as the   leading pro app developer in the creative space moving forward.

Also with apps like Mari and Storm, the Foundry did make Beta’s and Alphas fairly widely available for artists to get up to speed quickly on these tools, and with Storm especially offer it at a price (£250) which will reward early investors as this app as it hopefully becomes a new player in the NLE space (reading tea leaves etc, but how cool would a Foundry editor be……..very cool that’s what!)

One App Designers!?!

Still though despite all this we are plagued by designers who are too app specific, and the last week has shown the ugly side of that.

A professional editor, is an amazing person, especially when a professional editor is accompanied by assistant editor who will properly log and make sure all footage is available, and when a professional editor has a suitable edit rig, nowadays built around Avid’s Media composer, Final Cut Studio and even in the case of the BBC and other’s,  Premiere. 

To watch a pro editor at work, especially during the online stage is a privilege, as these amazingly talented people demonstrate their talent at a craft like a grand prix driver hurtling around the track in his F1 car.

Formula one cars (and drivers), however, are fragile things, which without the correct infrastructure, fail, and only work on one kind of very special road. So out of their refined environment, they have a hard time working.

Thats a bit harsh you may say, and if I am honest yes it is, but the amount of vitriol towards Apple about FCPX including a petition, (yeah that’s gonna work…..) has taken me aback considering where the creative app landscape is moving.

I am shocked at so many people saying that they have invested their business on Final Cut Pro, at what point does basing your business on one app from a company with a track record of appearing to cut its nose off to spite its face (looking at you iPod Mini, or more pertinently iMovie 6) seems logical? 

Your completely at the behest of some other person’s thought process, and if hat other guy is Steve Jobs, well now he is nothing if not single minded and decisive.

Apple is not alone, look at Adobe with premiere on the mac, which was effectively and literally missing in action throughout the noughties, Premiere CS5 is a great app, one which I had switched away from FCP7 due to the inflexibiltiy of FCP to deal with different content. Let us also remember that Premiere for a long time was a steaming piece of “ahem” that I was glad not to see on the mac platform, but when it came back and was better than Final cut, I did my training and switched, but it wasn’t that I had suddenly forgotten how to use Final Cut

The main point that I am ranting around, is that I have found in my career, that there are a lot of ‘One App designers’, whether, its CAD software, 3D, Graphic design or in this case editing software, and I have always found this mindset frustrating. 

Why only know Autocad, when you want a job that uses microstation, why get lost in Cinema or Maya, when modo can make better models, or why learn to animate only in modo when Cinema or Maya can do that better.

In my career I have created video for professional creative projects in Premiere, Final Cut Pro, After Effects, Nuke, Final Cut Express, IMovie and even Keynote, nine times out of ten the app was determined by the people and teams I was working with rather than having the app try and do something it can’t, (ever try doing slides in final cut pro - don’t!)

I have never understood why creative professional’s get blinkered in one workflow or one app stream when with a bit of effort (and yes even paying for training) you WILL find new methods of working and therefore creating. The more you do  the more your work gets done efficiently and I bet more enjoyably too. 

As you start to understand what app is good for one thing and one for the other, the skill and your talent blossoms as you get more than the sum of those respective apps parts, and its this which will help make you unique as a creative.

Picthforks - really?

Apps are just tools, in fact having designers build apps can be fantastic, as we see by the foundry and its suite of apps derived from the high end of creative need. 

We, as creative professionals are going to have accept that our tools are in a constant state of flux, and thats fantastic. To become beholden to another piece of software is always going to be dangerous and blinker’s the ability to see the alternative’s. However, I hope that Apple will help ease the transition from FCP7 into FCPX, with updates.

 The sheer level of anger over the launch of FCPX has been undeserved, and in many ways belittled the idea of creative people learning to adapt, and its not like Final Cut Pro 7 ceased to exist on user’s machine. FCPX is here, its good, its different, and its still young, it will get better, and we should welcome its arrival as the arrival of  a more exciting, faster, easier and cheaper way of getting the software tools to enable our creativity.

Comments always welcome and would be good to get someone else todo the writing for a bit ;)