Edit suite floor plans

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My past articles on edit suite and facility design have focused on equipment and construction tips. For my last post of 2012, I’ll take a look at some layouts that might play into designing your next editing man (or woman) cave. In the linear days, suites used to follow the “bridge of the Enterprise” philosophy, with lots of lights, buttons, knobs, scopes and screens. Newer bays, centered around the nonlinear software world, are more homey and technologically minimalist. Here are six designs that might offer some inspiration.

These floor plans and renderings were generated in Autodesk Homestyler, a free, web-based, interior design application. You’ll have to excuse the fact that Homestyler is limited to generic sprites for furnishings, so I’ve used office desks for consoles and laptops for the editor’s station. Nevertheless, I think you’ll get the idea without too much imagining. (Click on the images for an expanded view.)

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Edit Suite Design 1

In most of my sessions, it’s a rarity for the client to supervise the entire process. When they do show up, it’s to review and offer notes, but typically no more than an hour or two at a time. This layout is based on placing the editor at the front of the room, with clients in a comfortable, living room-style seating area towards the back. All are viewing the same centered screen on the front wall. There’s a work space to the side for printers, coffee service and writing.

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Edit Suite Design 2

The second room is similar to the first, except that here, a producer’s desk replaces the sofa. This layout works in a smaller space, but is designed for projects where the client/producer is an active part of the editing session. So, the desk, rather than a sofa, is more appropriate.

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Edit Suite Design 3

One alternative approach is to move the client seating area into the front of the room with the editor behind them. All face forward towards the same central screen. This layout works best when the editor’s station is elevated or the seating area is lower in a pit-like portion of the room. (I couldn’t figure out how to show that in the software.) I first saw this idea at Videotape Associates (Atlanta) years ago and the idea stuck. You could further theme the room with such touches as a fireplace and other living room accessories.

This layout works well for facilities that do a lot of ad agency work. The clients are there for the whole session, but not actively involved in everything the editor is doing. They have their own space and then can focus on a cut when the editor is ready for them to do so.

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Edit Suite Design 4

This is similar to Design 3, except that the client seating is central, with the editor turned 90-degree to the side of the room. I’ve seen this layout a few times in film editing environments. The seating area functions as a mini-screening room for the director. Of course, the editor has to turn to view the screen. Most of the time during actual editing, the editor is watching the desktop monitors anyway, so this really isn’t much of a problem.

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Edit Suite Design 5

This room combines space for an actively involved producer with additional client seating in the rear. All face forward, but the editor and producer work side-by-side on an angled console. This provides working space for the producer without encroaching into the editor’s space. By angling the console, you also encourage more face-to-face communication. There’s no need for the editor to constantly turn around to get input nor for the producer to have to watch the back of someone’s head.

In addition, I’ve designed the floor plan with non-parallel walls. This adds a design touch, as well as provides for a better audio monitoring environment.

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Edit Suite Design 6

The last variation is an idea originally popularized by Optimus (Chicago). Back in the linear edit days, their suites featured consoles where the editor and producer sat on opposite sides for direct, face-to-face communication. Each had their own set of monitors, so it was possible for the producer to see what an editor might be referring to.

This floor plan is a take-off on that idea, with a larger seating area in the back. The screen is at the front – in the line-of-sight for the seated clients – but at 90-degrees for the editor and producer.

©2012 Oliver Peters

FilmConvert

With the proliferation of digital video cameras, everyone has been trying to make them look more like film. Assuming that your camera shoots at the right frame rate and offers film-like motion blur and highlight handling, the rest gets down to grain and colorimetry. That’s where various software tools and filters come in. A new film stock emulation application is FilmConvert, from New Zealand-based developer, Rubber Monkey Software. They are best known as one of the early developers of processing and rendering software for the RED One camera, but have now expanded that expertise into tools designed for a wider appeal.

FilmConvert is available as a standalone application and as plug-ins for Adobe After Effects/Premiere Pro (Windows or Mac), Photoshop and Apple Final Cut Pro X/Final Cut Pro 7/Motion. The standalone FilmConvert Pro goes beyond just film emulation to include a powerful three-way color corrector and render management. The software works with QuickTime files and native RED .r3d files from a RED One or EPIC. It also supports roundtrips between FilmConvert and your NLE using XML and EDL files.

(Click any of these images for expanded views.)

Film stock emulation

At the time of this writing, only the film emulation module is available in the plug-in versions. (Rubber Monkey plans to add color correction to the filters in the near future.) To create the film stock emulations, the developers analyzed scans from a variety of color and black-and-white motion and still photo stocks made by Kodak, Fuji, Ilford and Polaroid. By shooting color charts with these various stocks, they were able to engineer custom color curves that enabled them to produce digital camera images, which closely resemble the same appearance as these scans. That color science forms the basis of each film stock preset.

FilmConvert Pro and the FilmConvert filters work slightly differently from each other. The standalone version allows you to set the initial color profile of the image as either a default sRGB or as StatusM Log – a flat setting similar to ARRI Log-C, BMD Film or RedLogFilm. If your camera file was already encoded with a flat gamma profile, then leave the viewer set to sRGB, so you don’t apply a log curve twice. Thanks to their work with the RED cameras, native .r3d files can be imported and are automatically detected, so that the “as shot” metadata may be applied. Native Canon and other specific digital cameras (GH2, Alexa, C300 and the Blackmagic Cinema Camera) are currently being profiled by Rubber Monkey engineers. The After Effects plug-in includes a pulldown menu to select the camera profile as a starting point for any adjustments, but log-to-video conversion must be done with other filters. There are no camera profiles in the FCP X version of the filter, yet.

The film emulation module itself includes the same controls for all versions. These break down to exposure and color temperature sliders, the film stock selector and a percentage slider for how much of the emulation colorimetry to apply. Grain is added by adjusting a percentage slider for the amount of grain and selecting the film type that determines grain size. 35mm Full Frame would be the finest level of grain, while 8mm would be the coarsest. You can zoom the viewer for a 1:1 pixel view, which will give you a better sense of how the grain will actually look on your image.

Color correction tools and RED in FilmConvert Pro

FilmConvert Pro includes a color correction toolset as part of the standalone application. The color correction module includes color balance wheels and luma sliders for shadows, midtones and highlights. There’s a saturation slider and a levels pane for black, mid and white points. Between the color corrector and levels, you get much of the same horsepower as the primary grade settings available in any high-end color corrector. FilmConvert comes with a series of presets, like “70s Home Movies” or “Matrix”, but you can also create and save your own. Any of these may be applied to clips on your timeline.

You won’t find the typical RED color science and debayer settings seen in Redcine-X Pro or some of the RED SDK importers. Rubber Monkey explains their approach this way, “For extract settings with .r3d, we choose the best extract settings for our emulation. If the user changes the extract settings then the starting point will be different and it will throw out the film emulation. If our film emulation is applied at 100% you get an sRGB film emulation, not a variation of a RED colorspace – so the actual input color space is not quite significant in this case. The .r3d debayer always uses the size that is greater than (or equal to) the size being rendered. So if you are rendering to 1080p, then we will render at 1/2 debayer. Basically we made it so that we are always scaling down, never up, but also going with the fastest debayer that would not sacrifice quality.” FilmConvert Pro also supports the RED Rocket card for hardware-accelerated rendering of .r3d files.

Render management

The FilmConvert filters work like any other plug-in, where the host application controls how the media is sent to the plug-in and then the subsequent renders. The standalone version includes its own render management tools. Render options include QuickTime (H.264, MPEG-4, ProRes or uncompressed) and image sequences (DPX or TIFF). The default export sizes can be up to 2048×1152 (or larger custom sizes) with fit width/fit height/stretch controls. This is great for RED projects that are rendered into HD or 2K formats.

There are two workflows to handle renders. The first is to simply import one or more clips into FilmConvert Pro, apply the look you want for each clip and set these up to render as complete, individual clips. The other option is to edit the footage first without effects in an edit system and then export an XML or EDL file for the completed sequence. FilmConvert Pro will import the file and locate the clips. In the case of RED camera files, you can choose to link to .r3d files instead of QuickTime .mov files that may have been used for edit proxies. Each clip is loaded onto FilmConvert’s timeline with markers for each section of a clip that was used in the edited sequence. Unfortunately, you can only apply one setting to the full clip. If it was an outdoor shot and you used a portion that was overcast and then a later section of the same clip where the sun came out, there is no way to split the clip in order to have two different adjustments.

When you render these clips as QuickTime movie files, the complete duration of the file is rendered, but images are only rendered for the sections that show up in the EDL or XML file. The rest of the file appears with a placeholder graphic. Rubber Monkey took this approach to maintain one media file when multiple portions are used in the edit – rather than to render separate, shorter clips for each portion. A single media file keeps the same file name and is easier for applications to relink. New, multiple media files require an additional naming convention – such as appending a numeric suffix to the file name, like .001, .002, .003, etc. – in order to preserve unique file names. The latter method is how Resolve, SpeedGrade and Baselight handle such renders. This requires the generation of new EDL, AAF or XML files so that the media can be correctly relinked in the roundrip back to the NLE.

Rubber Monkey promotes its render prowess and speeds were good on my 8-core 2.26 GHz Mac Pro. I don’t have a RED Rocket installed, so a 4K 16:9 RED file (exported as a 1920×1080 ProRes file) took about 20 minutes for a clip of 4933 frames (about 3.5 minutes of footage). By comparison, 1080p QuickTime files rendered at near-real-time speeds – some faster, some slower. In most color correction applications, you can specify the length of render “handles”, where the clip gets with an additional second or two of media at the head and tail of the exported clip. It appears that FilmConvert adds five frames to the head and six at the tail (24fps clips), but there’s no place to increase that or to set a custom length.

FilmConvert Pro doesn’t support i/o hardware like AJA or Blackmagic cards, so you are making color correction judgments by viewing the interface on your computer screen. By eye, I would say that the display within the FilmConvert interface looked a bit “warmer” and more saturated than an exported file viewed in QuickTime Player X (not surprising), but also as compared with FCP X. It tended to look closest between FilmConvert and FCP 7. If issues such as SDI monitoring and clip control are critical for your workflow, then one of the NLE plug-ins might be a better option than the standalone application, especially once this plug-in gains color correction controls.

I’m sure as the application matures, some of these missing features will be addressed – along with better documentation. Rubber Monkey is also working on an OFX plug-in to cover Vegas, Scratch and Nuke users. Whether a plug-in or the standalone version is right for you depends on your need. Do you just want to augment a few shots or build a pipeline around this look? The film stock looks are spot-on and if you want something vintage, then the Polaroid emulation is really nice. If you want your digital media to come closer to the look of film, FilmConvert is definitely worth the investment.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine.

© 2012 Oliver Peters

Cloud Atlas

Every once in a while a film comes along that requires a bit of reflection to get the full meaning. Often you need several screenings to find all the clues and story details that you might have missed the first time. Cloud Atlas is such a film. It’s based on the multi-threaded, best-selling novel by David Mitchell and becomes the latest theatrical release by writer/directors Andy and Lana Wachowski (The Matrix trilogy). The Wachowskis are joined by co-writer/co-director Tom Tykwer (Run, Lola, Run) for a unique three-director production endeavor.

Cloud Atlas was originally thought to be un-adaptable as a film, but thanks to a script that earned the blessing of Mitchell, the three were able to make that a reality. The film is broken into six eras and locations (1849, 1936, 1973, 2012, 2144 and 2346). It features an ensemble cast whose members each play a variety of different characters within different parts of the story. The locations range from the South Pacific to the United States and Europe to a futuristic version of Seoul and finally a post-apocalyptic Hawaii. Instead of telling this as a series of sequential short stories, the different time frames are continually intercut. The audience is following six narrative episodes at once, yet taken together, the flow and story arc really become a single story. It’s as if the film proceeds by weaving in and out of six parallel universes.

Connections

In broad strokes, Cloud Atlas is about freedom, love, karma and the connective fabric of the universe. Each person has elements of good and evil and talents that they use, which come out in different ways. The actors portray different characters throughout the film who may be heroes in one era, but villains in another. The yearning for freedom or love by a character that starts in one part might manifest itself in another character at a different time and place. Cloud Atlas is partially a reincarnation story. It plays on the sense of déjà vu, except that in this story, the experience that the character thinks has happened (like meeting someone) actually happens in a future life.

The scene structure of Cloud Atlas is crafted so that what would otherwise be single scenes in a standard drama are actually split among several different eras. Action that starts in 1849, for example, might be continued in a smash cut to 1936. Although the audience didn’t see the complete linear progression of what transpired in either, the result is that there’s both a carry-over and a residual effect, making it easy to mentally fill in the blanks for each. To help the audience connect the dots, there are several plot points and clues tying one era to another – sometimes in very obvious ways and at other times only as a reference or shot in a montage.

The task to pull this all together fell to veteran German film editor Alexander Berner (Resident Evil, The Baader Meinhoff Complex, The Debt, The Three Musketeers). Berner is a partner in the Munich-based editorial facility Digital Editors, which he helped start twenty years ago as the first all-digital facility in Germany. He had cut Tom Tywker’s film Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, but had never worked with Andy and Lana Wachowski before. They hit it off well and Berner was tapped to cut Cloud Atlas.

The film was shot in sixty days at various European locations with the three directors splitting up into two production units. The Wachowskis covered the 1849 ocean voyage, the 2144 rebellion in Neo Seoul and the events “after the fall” in the 24th century. Tykwer captured the stories of composer Frobisher (1936), journalist Ray (1973) and London publisher Cavendish (2012). For Berner, this meant double the amount of footage compared to a “normal” film, but without any more time to deliver a first cut. With the help of assistant editor Claus Wehlisch, Berner was able to keep up with camera and deliver his first assembly – complete with temp sound effects and score – two days after the shooting wrapped.

Crafting the mosaic

Alexander Berner explained the experience to me, “Andy and Lana had never worked with me before, so they didn’t really know what to expect. I think they may have had some initial concerns, since they hadn’t really seen anything cut up to that point. I had only sent a couple of assembled action scenes to them while they were filming. During the entire first assembly, it was all left up to Claus, a fabulous editorial team and me. We took a Christmas break and then started to do the fine cut in January.  I like to present a first assembly that’s a very watchable movie. I had assumed we’d sit down and review the whole film and then start making changes. When Andy, Lana and Tom saw the first reel they were all relieved at how good it looked and played, so we decided to dive right in at that point.”

The first assembly ran nearly three-and-a-half hours and it only took Berner about ten weeks to lock the picture at its final 172 minute length. Berner continued, “The first cut really followed the script, but the final film is a lot different in actual structure. The script is faithful to the book, but only about fifty percent is the same, as we had to cut out portions and extra characters that would have simply made this film too long. That was all with David Mitchell’s collaboration. I view the script as the ‘color palette’ and the edit is where you ‘mix the paint’. The footage from production came in a very scrambled fashion, so the only way to build the first cut was to follow the script. Once the three directors came in, then we had a chance to re-arrange scene elements or change line readings made necessary by the restructuring. Our main focus was to make sure we maintained the right emotional bow within a scene, even though we might start the action in one era and carry it forward into another. It was important to be able to tell these six stories as one big movie with one big emotional thought.”

According to Berner, every scene that was shot for the film is in the final cut, although sometimes the essence of it only survived as a shot within a montage or as a single, short scene. Just enough for the audience to follow the story or see a connection. I asked Berner his take on working with three directors. He responded, “At first I thought ‘What is this going to be like?’ Maybe each director would concentrate on only their scenes. In fact, it was a collaboration with everyone contributing and really a very harmonious and productive experience. We’d usually watch a scene and if it was OK or only needed a few minutes of tweaking, then we’d proceed to ‘mangle’ it into the bigger picture.”

The musical thread

One unusual aspect to Cloud Atlas is that co-director Tom Tykwer was also co-composer with Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek. A key element is The Cloud Atlas Sextet, the life’s work of the 1936 composer in the Frobisher narrative. This melody becomes a re-occurring piece throughout the film that helps bind eras together. For example, it’s part of the 1936 storyline, but then re-appears on a vinyl LP found by journalist Luisa Rey in a 1973 San Francisco record shop. The music itself becomes the score under these scenes, which binds the emotion together. You linger on the memory of the era you just left, while continuing into the next.

Some editors like to cut to temp scores, but that’s not Berner’s style. He explained, “I don’t like to cut a scene to music. Often this forces a pace that becomes gimmicky. I like to cut based on my internal sense of rhythm and then, with the right music, it all magically works. I try to avoid temp music, because it often doesn’t work well. If I know who the composer will be ahead of time, I’ll often lay in music from his previous scores to get a good feel for how the film will work. With Cloud Atlas, Tom gave us versions of many of the tracks ahead of time. This enabled me to cut in music that was far more representative of the final score than is usually possible.”

Editorial balance

Watching the film for myself with an editor’s eye, it felt that the six narratives were reasonably balanced in their screen time. Berner told me there was no conscious effort to do that though. He continued, “It’s great that it felt balanced to you, but we were just trying to follow the emotion. If you actually measured the time, they aren’t equal. I do use Walter Murch’s trick of posting scene cards on the wall, which helped us greatly. Andy, Lana and Tom liked to re-arrange these to get an idea of the flow and it also helped to see which scenes had been deleted. At the end of the day, we’d always update the positions of the cards on the wall to reflect the current cut at that point.”

Alexander Berner cut the film on a Unity-connected Avid Media Composer system. He initially started on version 6.0 software, but ended up reverting to 5.5, because of reliability issues with Unity. Berner said, “I’ve been cutting on Avids for about twenty years and I generally love the software. In this case, version 6 dropped some color correction features that I needed, so I when back to the previous version. In narrative post, you don’t need a lot of fancy features, so the earlier software version was just fine. I’ve tried ScriptSync a few times, but never really ended up using it. In fact, I drive my assistants crazy setting up for it and then in the end, it just doesn’t fit my style.”

Thirteen visual effects companies tackled the 1,000-plus shots. Although this wasn’t overtly an effects-driven feature, the make-up prosthetics ended up getting a lot of digital love. Frank Griebe and John Toll were the two directors of photography for Cloud Atlas. It was shot on film and ARRI in Munich handled the lab work and the DI finishing, providing a seamless integration of these disparate elements.

Cloud Atlas represented a very unique challenge for Alexander Berner. “Every film has the usual challenges – working with a new director or cutting the film down to time. In this case, I’m probably the very first editor who’s ever worked with three directors on the same film. What’s truly unique, though, is that this film has several different genres and each has to be represented at its best. There’s action, comedy, a love story, intelligent dialogue, period drama and a thriller. Each one has to work as well in this film as if it were a single-genre film. As an editor, that was quite fun and maybe a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I realize though, that young people really respond to this approach, so maybe we’ll see a lot more of this style of film in the coming years.” Alexander Berner’s next film is another collaboration with Andy and Lana Wachowski – Jupiter Ascending – currently in pre-production.

(Additional coverage by Post magazine may be found here.)

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / Creative Planet Networks

©2012 Oliver Peters

Apple expands Final Cut Pro X

On the same day Apple launched the iPad mini, the fourth generation iPad, a refresh of the iMac line and the addition of a 13” MacBook Pro with Retina display, Apple also quietly released the 10.0.6 version of Final Cut Pro X. By the end of the day, the App Store lit up and the various online forums were buzzing. The Pro Apps engineers made good on the bullet points that were pre-announced at NAB – dual viewers, multichannel audio editing, MXF plug-in support and RED camera support. Plus, there were a number of feature and interface changes to round it out – many of which appear to be in direct response to user feedback.

The four bullet points

Dual viewers. The Unified Viewer was a huge shock when FCP X was first released. As you move between a source clip in the Event Browser and the project’s edited timeline, the Viewer display toggles between these two images. You now have the option to change this behavior by opening a second Event Viewer window. Source clips show in the Event Viewer while the main Viewer only displays the project timeline image. You cannot skim or scrub with the mouse directly from within this window. In a two-monitor configuration, you have to skim the thumbnail or filmstrip of the event clip on one display, but watch the viewer on the other screen. It’s a bit disconcerting for muscle memory and some editors, who initially clamored for it, have found it less useful than they’d hope. There is also no way to gang source clips and timelines together. Having this second viewer does add some cool new features, like the ability to have scopes with each viewer. These can be displayed in a horizontal or vertical arrangement. The good news is that you have the choice between single and dual viewers depending on your task.

Multi-channel audio editing. To prevent audio from slipping out-of-sync due to user error – and to reduce timeline clutter – FCP X keeps clips as combined a/v sources. Until this release, if you shot an interview and used two audio channels for individual microphones, you could not separately edit or mix levels on them, unless you broke the audio out as separate clips. Then you risked the possibility of accidentally slipping them out-of-sync. With this update, audio channels still stay attached to their source clips, but you can expand the clip in the timeline or inspector to reveal multiple audio channels. This enables renaming, editing, volume and pan control for each individual audio channel. Unfortunately, there’s still no global audio mixer panel as many had hoped for.

RED camera support. The RED user community has been very vocal about wanting native edit support for their REDCODE camera raw, compressed media format. Until now, Adobe offered one of the few native editing solutions. With 10.0.6, Apple has more than met that challenge. There’s native file support at up to 5K sizes, plus you can transcode to an optimized ProRes4444 or ProRes Proxy format for a more fluid editing experience. With FCP X’s unique architecture, transcoding happens in the background, so you can start with the native files, which in turn are automatically replaced by the optimized or proxy files when ready. Edit with proxies for a lightweight load on your system (like laptop editing) and then switch to the optimized or native files for the final output. Or simply stay with the native files throughout, if that’s your preference.

The RED Rocket card is supported for accelerated playback, transcoding and rendering with full resolution debayering. Software-based renders, exports and generating optimized media will also be at full resolution, but much slower. In order to enable RED support, you’ll need to install the latest RED plug-in. The RED Rocket card also requires a firmware update. Both may be downloaded for free from RED’s website.

The best part is that you now have direct access to the RED camera raw color settings from within FCP X. Click “Modify RED RAW Settings” in the Inspector window and a floating heads up display (HUD) pops up with adjustment sliders. Select one clip or a group of clips in the event browser and change the settings for a single clip or for all by adjusting one HUD panel. Native .r3d files in a 4K project played well on my Mac Pro, thanks to multicore playback. Performance seemed comparable to what I see with Premiere Pro on the same computer. Given Apple’s optimized/proxy media workflow and the ease of adjusting raw settings, I feel that now FCP X offers the best option for cutting a RED-originated production.

MXF plug-in support. Final Cut Pro X has now added native support for MXF camera files, like Panasonic P2, Sony XDCAM and other MXF formats. Previous FCP X versions rewrapped these files into QuickTime movie containers upon import. As with FCP “legacy” versions, the 10.0.6 update now lets you use plug-ins offered by Hamburg Pro Audio and Calibrated Software for direct access. This enables native use of MXF files and facilitates end-to-end MXF workflows, such as the DPP digital delivery standard in the UK, when Hamburg Pro Media ships their AS-11 Import and Export product.

A few surprises

There are a lot of other changes throughout the application. The engineers added more metadata (like a whole slew of ARRI ALEXA and RED camera metadata), changed a number of interface functions, updated the XML format and added 42 new effects, transitions, titles and generators, including a drop shadow filter and a one-step freeze frame.

Several of these changes are big for users. We now gain back the ability to copy and paste clip attributes. You may paste specific effects, individual filters, transforms and audio parameters to one or multiple clips on the timeline. There’s a new range selection function. Many editors had asked for “persistent in and out points” – basically that a source clip holds the last in/out marks made by the user. Instead, Apple opted to place multiple marked ranges in a fashion similar to range-based Favorites, which may take some getting used to. For instance, if you mark two ranges within a single event clip and then decide to reject the clip (with the event browser set to “Hide Rejected”) you are now left with three clips instead of one. Those three clips represent the leftover, unmarked sections of the one original clip. In order to prevent this, you first have to mark the whole clip (the X key) and then reject it (the delete key).

Connected clips have been a learning experience for many. The benefit is that you can move a group of linked clips simply by moving the one main clip on the primary storyline. Sometimes you don’t want this, such as, when you want to move a sound bite clip without moving the attached B-roll cutaway shots. Holding down the grave/tilde key as you move, slip or slide a primary storyline clip keeps any connected clips in their original place and prevents their movement.

Previously, the process for importing media files was different than the import module for camera media. This has been combined into a single-window interface. Media can be previewed in a filmstrip view from this window, regardless of whether it’s from a camera card or a file on your hard drive. If the file comes from a camera card or a mounted volume (such as a disc image made of a camera card), then you additionally have the ability to select ranges within the file for import. Once imports have started, the window may be closed, allowing you to continue editing, while the import happens in the background. Commonly used areas, like a shared folder, may be dragged to a Favorites area of the window.

Lastly, the Share menu has been moved and streamlined. This is where you export media. It may be used for master files, as well as batch processes, like DVD creation or Vimeo uploads. You may use the existing presets or set up your own, but now there’s also a Bundle function. This is a folder of presets designed as a job batch. For example, if you always need to create three versions for your client – a master file, an iPhone review copy and a YouTube upload – set up a bundle with these presets and you are ready to go. There are other enhancements to Compound Clips, Markers and Multicam, as well as faster rendering performance that I won’t go into. Suffice it to say that this update has a lot in it, so it’s well worth diving in to explore.

Things to know before you update

Final Cut Pro requires OS 10.6.8, 10.7.5 or 10.8.2. I was already on 10.7.4, so the bump to 10.7.5 was easy through Apple’s software update. If you opt to go with 10.8.2, then it’s an App Store purchase if you’re using an earlier OS or an App Store update if you are on an earlier version of Mountain Lion (10.8 or 10.8.1). Running this OS X update also enables an update of Safari and Aperture (if applicable). Once you are on either of these OS versions, then the App Store will let you update FCP X, Motion and Compressor, from earlier installations. These are free updates if you already own the applications and, like all App Store purchases, are valid for up to five personal computers on a single Apple ID.

I’m running a three-year-old Mac Pro and five-year-old MacBook Pro and FCP X works fine on either. Obviously performance is better on the tower, but as most folks have noted, the newest MacBook Pro and iMac models are best overall, thanks to their i5 and i7 processors. On my Mac Pro, I tested two GPU cards – my own ATI 5870 and a Quadro 4000 on loan from NVIDIA for reviews. FCP X runs best with the ATI card, thanks to OpenCL support. I built a six-layer 1080p timeline with color correction and five 2D picture-in-picture transform effects. The timeline played in real-time (high quality) without dropping frames using the ATI 5870, but choked when I tried the Quadro 4000. It turns out that card is not on Apple’s compatibility list (the older FX4800 is), even though it’s the only NVIDIA card sold at Apple’s online store. That’s a shame, because the Quadro 4000 is the better card for DaVinci Resolve or the Adobe CS6 applications. In fact, Resolve 9 is unusable under Lion with an ATI card (but supposedly fixed with Mountain Lion), as it puts glitches into the highlights of the picture. For FCP X, the Quadro is fine, but the ATI is better.

Final Cut Pro X 10.0.6 seems to be a relatively benign update in how it interrelates with other hardware and software. Most of the AJA and Blackmagic Design products work well with it. The exception at launch is any of the Matrox MXO2 units. Expect driver updates from all of these companies. I’ve tested the update with a Decklink HD Extreme 3D card in a Mac Pro and an AJA T-Tap on a Thunderbolt-enabled iMac and MacBook Pro and they each worked well. This update also bumps up the XML version to 1.2 and exposes a lot more metadata. If your workflows use one of the XML utilities like Xto7 and 7toX or relies on a roundtrip to DaVinci Resolve, then make sure you have updated those applications. Resolve 9.0.3 supports the new XML format and FCP X 10.0.6.

Be aware that this update has changed a lot of under-the-hood items, most notably project audio channel configurations. When you first launch FCP X after the update, existing projects and events will be updated. Usually this will be fine, but it’s not without occasional anomalies, some of which affect performance. For example, I’ve found that the audio changes in one of my project timelines caused the response time to be slower between hitting the space bar to play and having it actually start. A brand new project was fine. I have one project where levels and panning change through copy-and-pasting. Very frustrating!

In addition, a number of fresh bugs have cropped up. Some users, myself included, have experienced render problems. In my case, I have seen several projects that randomly render or export with a number of corrupt frames. When I repeat the rendering, the place of corruption is often in a different location each time. To be safe, wait for a lull in your workload before updating. Also to be fair, users on the newest iMacs running 10.8.2 seem to be happiest and report the least issues.

Final Cut Pro X 10.0.6 is generally a solid upgrade that may be the turning point for many professionals. I’ve been editing most of my broadcast and corporate projects for months in FCP X. For the most part this has been a successful endeavor – these newest issues not withstanding. Yes, it’s different, but it’s also growing and evolving. Apple is addressing issues and concerns, so make sure you use their software feedback site. Changes in this version are a direct answer to the needs of professional editors. No software is perfect – and this update is not without its flaws – but it checks off many items that may have been objections before. At least now, folks who’ve been sitting on the fence can judge Apple’s commitment by the progress made in FCP X to date.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / Creative Planet Networks

©2012 Oliver Peters