Attempting to Level Up

Not sure anybody is interested in a colophon, but for this video (and the one about working from home), I jumped in to the newest versions of Final Cut Pro X and Motion 5. I like Motion 5. I can’t stand Final Cut Pro X. While some things are faster in the new Final Cut, it is not without flaws; some teeth gnashingly serious, others more nitpicky.

Before I get to the apps, I wanted to talk a little about how we made the video. I had wanted to rent or buy a slider. I haven’t worked with one, but everybody I’ve talked to and all the videos I’ve watched say sliders are really useful for doing tracking shots. The ones I was looking at were too expensive for me. We’d probably use it a few times and never again, so renting is the way to go. For the living room video, I ended up not renting a slider. I found a cheap dolly and used it for several of the tracking shots in the video. It wasn’t as smooth as a slider, but with Heather’s help, we got a couple of shots that I was pleased with.

As part of this shoot I also wanted to rent a mini-crane so we could get some overhead shots of the sweet new furniture. After some research, I found a local company to rent the crane. The one they carried is the Glidecam Camcrane 200. This was key in getting many of the shots in the video. We didn’t have a fancy head for it, I just attached an older tripod head to the crane and then the camera rig to tripod head. Got it balanced and it worked really well. Pretty straightforward. The crane isn’t that expensive, but I figure we’d rarely use it and if we needed to shot more swoopy shots, we can always rent it again. The rental included a set of light but very sturdy Manfrotto legs. It took a few hours of practicing shots to get the hang of the crane. The small size allowed for movement around furniture and almost all the way up to the ceiling. The BOOM shot we rehearsed about a dozen times before shooting and even then, because of the head unit I have, we had to manually pull focus, raise the crane and swivel the head. It was a workout. I’m mostly happy with the results.

For editing, I used the new Final Cut Pro X (FCPX) because I did this video using it and it was really fast to edit clips together. FCPX is designed for doing exactly what we do: short videos on a digital SLR. I can’t imagine anybody doing an entire feature length movie in it. But for our needs, it works very well. There are some wrinkles and hacky interface stuff that needs to be addressed, specifically, the strange way FCPX sometimes lets you move things around and sometimes it doesn’t. It can’t handle multiple monitors in a reliably usable way yet. If you stash your event browser on the second monitor, there is all kinds of hell previewing clips there and having the event browser clip play instead of the main timeline clip. Pretty weak sauce in 2011. While FCPX is faster to make edits for me than the previous version, it feels like what Final Cut Express should have been about 3 years ago. Since I’ve spent time in iMovie I hit the learning curve awhile back in terms of previewing clips, scrubbing them and adding them to projects.

A massive problem that needs to be addressed yesterday, is setting In and Out points for clips. On a multi-day edit? I wanted to fly to Cupertino myself and start talking to anybody who would listen about how dumbed down the event browser is. In the event browser, you set your points, but as soon as you add your clip to the project timeline, the event browser loses the in and out settings. Very little of the information in the list view of the event browser is useful. For some workflows, losing edit points for clips could be the single deal breaker stopping people from using this new version in a professional setting (or any setting, really). I cannot imagine somebody trying to move from Final Cut Pro 7 (FCP 7) to this. My heart goes out to you if you have tried to use FCPX in a professional setting. I’m being very serious. At least Apple lets you continue working in Final Cut Pro 7.

In terms of workflow, I found it faster to copy the video files from the camera to a hard drive, preview them in the QuickTime Player app and trim inside of the player and do a “Save As…”. I worked this way because FCPX, despite the background rendering and clip synchronization (when you sync a video source to a separate audio source), will absolutely bog down if you throw a dozen or more 1080p video clips at it. And when I say bog down, I mean you need to walk away from the computer, because trying to work on anything will be an exercise in frustration. By trimming down the files, it saved a ton of time for me in rendering as well as knowing which synchronized clip was the correct version. So speed and sanity. The synchronizing of clips is pretty sweet. Unless you have a clip that has two or more outside audio files. You will sync up the clips just fine, but the idiotic event browser doesn’t indicate which synchronized clip was generated most recently.

In FCP 7, I had a plugin that would read the video files off the Compact Flash card and transcode the clips into the very sweet ProRes Apple 422 format. It would append the new clips with a timestamp so an editor would be able to know which set of clips was the one needed based on file name. That’s professional power. Near as I can tell, FCP looks at the project settings and transcodes the video into whatever size the project is set in the background. I don’t know this with absolute certainty, so I could be entirely wrong. It just seemed like making the project preferences 720p yielded a quicker time-to-edit than did leaving the project settings at 1080p.

In review: Some edits are faster in the new Final Cut.

Problems exist with:

The Event Browser. In FCPX it tries hard but ultimately fails. I’m sure I’m not doing it entirely right, but it’s buggy (especially with two monitors) and I needed to get shit done. By pulling in pre-trimmed/shortened clips, I was able to start editing fairly quickly and the background rendering wasn’t as large a time hit. The other reason to use pre-trimmed clips was that marking In and Out points was an exercise in futility. Once you drag your clip into the project, you lose your In and Out points.

Media management in FCPX is deeply flawed. Like Apple’s other pro apps, you are forced into doing it Apple’s way and for most people, it might not be a big deal, but if you are doing a lot of projects where your project hard drive fills up, I can see a bag of hurt coming down the pike. While there are workarounds, a pro shouldn’t have to dive into obscure folders to remove events and projects from an app to archive them or take them to another machine to edit. Very hacky, time consuming and dumb. By contrast, Logic Pro and Motion will create a project folder and copy every asset you need into that project folder. A project folder that you told the app where you wanted to create it and the name of the folder that you typed. For an app like iMovie, this isn’t an issue. For a pro with several active projects, this needs to be fixed right away. Letting the user decide the location of the project folder seems a lot more capital-P-pro to me and I’m right there with any editor who has a beef with FCPX’s media management.

No roundtrip editing with Motion. This is a killer feature in Final Cut Studio that I used all the time. I didn’t realize how much I used the ability to right-click an edited clip from the timeline in FCP7 and tell it to send to Motion and a new Motion project would open with my clip in it. I couldn’t see any way to do this with Motion 5 or FCPX. Major downgrade there in functionality. The “integration” between FCPX and Motion? iMovie templates that you can tweak a bit in Motion.

Dual monitors. BUGG GGG G G GY.

Crossfades are a pain in the ass. Think natural scrolling only supremely unnatural. Even iMovie is easier.

Things I like:

Sending straight to the new Compressor from FCPX uses all the cores your machine has. Nice. Much faster rendering. Very pretty monitoring app as well.

Faster handles in FCPX. But the handles are missing for video strength. In FCP 7, you could fade a clip with a couple of quick moves. But audio fading was more painful, compared to how FCPX does it. Very slick. Wish FCPX used the same UI for video fades.

FCPX seems like it is made for people who might work in corporate video (but not super large corporate video; it’s not Pro enough to handle a video longer than a few minutes.

There are lists miles long and deep that catalogue the lack of features in the new Final Cut. I’ve added my few, but I could go on a bunch after these last few weeks. I think for any future project, I’m going to roll back to Final Cut Studio 7. If Apple is going to cripple a great app, they have every prerogative. And I’ll look for something else to do higher level work. It’s not pretty out there right now in terms of competition, but there’s a real market opportunity. I don’t think Apple gives many shits about video pros or people trying to be more pro at this point in time.

Damn. Sorry about that rant.

On to Logic Pro. I’ve spent a few of weekends with my head under the headphones noodling about. I’ve lost track of time and space, it’s that good. While I’m sure real pros have their opinions about Logic Pro, I’m digging on it pretty hard. In order to work in Logic Pro, I recently bought an M-Audio Axiom Pro 61 (the version with Hyper Control). The keyboard talks really well with Logic. I’m amazed at the power and depth of having a studio in a box. I so wish I was a teenager sitting in front of this app. Astounding to consider that for the price of a computer and a few hundred bucks you get a 1000x return in terms of outboard, mixers, virtual instruments and recording capabilities. So amazing. While I don’t have a lot of plugins, the stock instruments and presets are pretty sweet and I’ve had a blast programming sounds, tweaking effects and getting back in to composing music.

I didn’t write the two pieces specifically for Heather or for the above video, but when she heard them, she pushed pretty hard for me to use them. The quieter one was written with a soundtrack in mind. The louder one was me diving into Logic and liking what I came up with. I’m going add a disclaimer that for many of you, I understand if this music isn’t your “thing” or what you “like” or even “dig on”.


[audio:] [audio:]


Boom One

Boom Two

Thanks for your patience with the long-windedness.