(In which your host visits Apple and finds Enlightenment.)
I went to Apple. Despite the presentation, I found out what I needed to know.
Before we go any further they want to dispel some rumours. I am now sure that they are not abandoning the professional market. They are not dumping Logic. The new look of FCPX doesn’t represent a dumbing down of the software. Nor is the retail division taking over the professional division. That’s all BS.
The pity is that much of the furore could be avoided if they would just stop talking like North Korean Central News. Because Final Cut X does represent a forward looking paradigm. Just hopelessly marketed in Jobspeak and not tested in the real world.
First I was shown the pre-canned demonstration. Yes, I know that Apple is the leader in NLE. Yes I know that Final Cut arrived around the same time as DV. I have seen the car race footage plenty of times. Can we please talk about my particular needs?
Nope. The presentation was going to be made and all bullet points ticked off. Apple are so ‘on message’ that they ran as if I was 200 people. So I just sat back and watched it again, keeping my story lines and compound clips magnetised, taking in the practical needs. Two days later I clicked & suddenly thought WHY THE HELL DIDN’T THEY JUST SAY THAT IN THE FIRST PLACE! Well they did. Just not to me, as much as to their phantom 200 audience. My own subconscious had to translate it.
I’ll give you an exaggerated comparison. Suppose the whole of YouTube was all one videotape. The bit you wanted to watch was 23 hours and 15 minutes ‘down the tape’ and so you fast forwarded to the bit you wanted and played it from there. The next clip was at 7 days, 13 hours and so you fast forwarded to that and so on. Sound stupid? Yes, and yet that’s the way we think when edit on a time line – as if we were using tape. We use timecode and bins because that’s the history.
Instead YouTube has many small clips (< 10min) that we sort by filters and keywords and jump between them making playlists. And that’s more how Final Cut X is supposed to work. Load up your footage and it starts by auto tagging, for example with face recognition, hue etc. You then define the sections that have semantic meaning – the example given was ‘splashing water’. Tag those and they become a new folder. Your project becomes a semantic web.
Bring those clips down into the storyline. Snap clips or side stories to the main storyline. Instead of scrubbing, jump through the timeline by selecting from the metadata over at the left. You’re not cutting a clip so much as you’re arranging a report from a database – which has as much to do with Filemaker as Final Cut. In a world where assets and storage are exponential the idea is not one of cutting but gate keeping.
Now this sounds brilliant in theory, but right now it’s really clumsy. For a start they’re still trying to conform everything into ProRes by background rendering (versus Adobe’s reply where they assemble mixed resolutions of MP4 straight off the camera card). Final Cut X is very much ‘of the moment’ in that it fulfils current engineering challenges – not based around file management in the OS, not bound by physical volumes, non linear, semantic etc. But the actual file organisation must be rigid for the apparent file organisation to be flexible. Once you’re inside it all seems fine. Outside, in reality, the way that the files are managed is unusable by our systems.
(At some point OSX might become completely free of folders, and group files by searches and tasks. It will then be a super version of Sugar. I don’t know if that is really a great idea, but software companies keep having it.)
They have forgotten that people need familiar metaphors. Pro Tools is a big tape recorder when there’s no actual need to be a tape recorder – but people are happier for that. SONY Vegas has most of the benefits without the drawbacks – it is exceedingly fast, gives real time previews, has a database system, and yet it follows the familiar metaphor. If Apple had made a variant of Vegas the world would sing their praises.
Having completed the demonstration we got into questions. While acknowledging my requests, the reps followed the now familiar reply: each time Apple moves everyone adapts. We will adapt to their ideas, or else.
And that was really the crux of the meeting. They want to play chicken, which works great with individual users. But I can’t steer an entire university, revise IT structures that have taken 2 or more years to put in place. I can’t retrain myself, to then retrain my staff, then have them retrain the students in time for next semester. And why the hell would I want to? It won’t make better art.
FCPX stemmed from bleeding edge engineering, it has met reality, and now needs a rethink about what is needed rather than what is clever. In a few years it will be ready.