NLE Tips – Proxy Hacks

Editors often think of the clip within the edit application’s browser as the media file. But that clip is only a facsimile of the actual media. It links to potentially three different assets on the hard drive – the original camera (or sound) file, optimized media, and/or proxy media.

Optimized media. You may decide to create optimized media when the original media’s codec or file format is too taxing on your system. For example, you might convert a media file made up of an image sequence into an optimized movie file using one of the ProRes or DNx codecs. When you create optimized media, that is often the media used for finishing instead of the original camera media. For sake of simplicity I’ll refer to original media from here on, but understand that it could be optimized media or original camera files.

Proxy media. There are many reasons for creating proxy media – portability, system performance, remote editing, etc. Proxy media is usually lightweight, more highly compressed, and of a lower resolution than the original media. Nearly all editing applications enable users to edit with lightweight proxy media in lieu of heavier, native camera files. When proxy media has been created, then the media clip in the NLE’s browser can actually link to both the original camera file, as well as the proxy media file. Software “toggles” in the application can seamlessly swap the link from one type of media file to the other.

The NLEs that offer proxy editing workflows integrate routines to transcode and automatically switch the links between proxy and original camera files on the hard drive. DaVinci Resolve 18 is the newest in this group with the addition of the Blackmagic Proxy Generator application. However, that tool only works with Resolve Studio 18 downloaded from Blackmagic Design’s website. The Generator is an addition to Resolve 18 and augments the built-in transcoding tools. In either case, you don’t have to use the built-in routines nor the Blackmagic Proxy Generator. You can encode proxies using different software and even different computers. Then you can attach those proxies to the clips in the editing application at a later time.

Creating external proxy media

Proxies can be created with any encoding software. I like Apple Compressor, which includes a category of presets specifically designed for proxy media generation. The presets can be modified according to your needs.  For instance, you can add a LUT and effects, like a timecode overlay. This makes it easy to know when you are toggled to the original or the proxy media within the NLE.

Before creating any proxy files, make sure that your original files all have unique file names. Rename any duplicates or those with generic file names, like Clip001, Clip002, etc. There are several key parameters needed for successful relinking between original and proxy media. These include matching names, frame rates, timecode, lengths, and audio channel configurations. Some applications let you force a relink when some of these items don’t match, but it will usually be one file at a time.

Frame sizes can be smaller, since that’s an aspect of any proxy workflow. For example, if you start with 4K/UHD original media, but you create half-size HD proxies. The embedded metadata in the proxy file informs the NLE so that the correct size is maintained when switching between the two. Likewise, the codecs do not need to match. You can have 4K/UHD ProRes HQ originals and HD H.264 proxy media (I prefer ProRes Proxy). The point is to have proxy media with smaller file sizes, which play back more efficiently on your computer.

When you transcode proxy media files in Compressor or any other encoding application, it’s best to render them into a folder specifically called Proxy. This can be anywhere you like, but it’s best to have it near your original camera files. If you have multiple camera file folders – organized by camera roll, day, camera model, etc – then there are two options. You can either have one single Proxy file for all renders or have a separate subfolder called Proxy within each camera roll folder.

Dealing with externally-created proxies in different editing applications

Final Cut Pro – There is a setting to switch between Proxy Preferred and Original/Optimized. When you create external proxies, highlight the original camera clips and relink to the proxy media in the Proxy folder(s). Once proxies have been linked, then you can seamlessly switch between the two types of media.

Premiere Pro – There is a similar toggle button accessible in the timeline tools panel. The linking steps are similar to Final Cut Pro. Highlight the originals and then Attach Proxies. Navigate to the Proxy folder(s) and attach that media. The toggle button lets you switch back and forth between media types.

DaVinci Resolve Studio 18 – This update changed the proxy workflow as well as added the Generator application. You can still use the older proxy generation method. If so, then set the encoding parameters and location in your project settings. If you encode using the Blackmagic Proxy Generator app or an external application, then it’s a different process. The advantage to using Blackmagic Proxy Generator is that you can set up watch folders for automatic encoding.

The default location when using the Blackmagic Proxy Generator app or Resolve’s internal routine places a Proxy subfolder inside the folder of each roll of original media. When that condition exists, then original clips added into the Media page automatically include links to both the original and the proxy media. In fact, the Proxy subfolders don’t even show up in Resolve’s browser when searching for media. When both types of media are present, then the Resolve clip icons reflects that duality.

When you transcode externally with Compressor or another app, then media placed into individual Proxy subfolders will also automatically link inside Resolve. However, if you render to a single, unified Proxy folder, then you’ll need to manually relink the proxy files to the originals in the Media page. Like the other two NLEs, you can do this as a batch function by navigating to the Proxy folder.

I hope these pointers will be a useful guide the next time you decide to use a proxy media workflow.

©2022 Oliver Peters

New Plug-ins Bring More Spice to FCP

Continuum FCP Units, Hawaiki Keyer 5, XTheme Tech

All editing applications benefit from third-party video plug-ins. Two of my favorite developers are Boris FX and Noise Industries/FxFactory. Over the years Boris FX has evolved into a powerhouse plug-in developer offering the most comprehensive effects packages on the market. FxFactory takes a different route. They develop their own plug-ins, but also serve as a platform and marketplace for numerous partner/developers. The result is a product mix that’s both diverse and eclectic.

Boris FX Continuum FCP Units

Boris FX Continuum Complete has been their flagship product for decades. It runs in many of the popular post production applications, including Avid Media Composer, Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects, Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve, and Apple Final Cut Pro and Motion. As I’ve previously noted, Continuum FCP differs from the other versions of Continuum and is sold as a separate product. Boris FX also breaks down some of the categories of Continuum effects into its Units products, which are subsets of the full version. These are packaged for editors and designers who don’t need or want all of what’s in the full version.

This summer Boris FX released the free BCC Looks package for Final Cut Pro editors. That was followed up recently with three new Continuum FCP Units collections: Stylize, Color Essentials, and Transitions. These are affordable collections sold with perpetual licenses. They include hundreds of presets plus Mocha masking with each effect. If you purchase all three, as well as pick up the free Looks plug-in, you’ll have a lot of what’s in the full Continuum for FCP bundle. However, you’ll need the full version for certain popular effects, like lens flares.

The installer you receive is for the complete Continuum suite. As you run it, you’ll be prompted for the activation code of each purchased Unit. You can opt to install only the licensed plug-ins or the full package, which means the non-licensed effects run in a watermarked trial mode. Adjust an effect’s parameters in the FCP inspector panel or open it in the FX Browser, where you can toggle through presets or customize the settings. Transition effects also use on-screen graphs for the effect’s velocity curves.

Boris FX has done a good job of curating the collections with plenty of useful effects. For example, Stylize features effects such as glitch, prism, gobo,  grunge, and more. Color Essentials includes many film effects, like film stocks, gels, bleach bypass, etc. Finally, the Transitions Unit offers a variety of zoom, glitch, glow, prism, and light leak dissolve effects. You certainly get a lot more with the full version of Continuum; however, the effects included within these Units collections are ones that you’ll use quite often. They complement Final Cut’s built-in effects palette, so you won’t feel like you’ve bought something that’s already in the native application.

FxFactory: Hawaiki Keyer 5

Virtual production has had all the buzz, but more often than not for budgetary reasons the fallback is green/blue-screen keying instead of a “volume” studio. To create a convincing composite, you need a top-notch keying plug-in. One of the best, just got better. The developers behind Hawaiki Keyer just upgraded version 4 to the new Hawaiki Keyer 5. This is offered through FxFactory and runs in Final Cut Pro, Motion, Premiere Pro, and After Effects.

The installation adds four plug-ins: HK5 (green), HK5 (blue), Comp Tools 5, and Slice 5. The first two are compositing effects specifically optimized for a green or blue-screen background. Comp Tools supplies all of the Hawaiki Keyer edge tools if you are using a different keyer. It will work as long as the keyer generates an alpha signal. Slice is an analysis tool. Green and blue-screen keying covers 99% of this type of compositing, but you can still use either keying effect if some non-standard background color was used. Hawaiki Keyer 5 offers a broad range of tools to adjust the key, edges, light wrap, and post-process color correction.

New features in version 5 are built-in cropping and shape masks with AI tracking. A common production situation is to shoot wide with the intent to isolate the subject on the green screen background. The shot often extends past the edge of the background cyc and may include crew or lighting or other elements that need to be removed. HK5 is optimized to even out the background for a cleaner key. It now includes tools to mask out all of the material other than what you are intending to key. No need to add additional masking and cropping effects, because these are built into the plug-in itself.

Shape masking uses AI tracking, which can be set to follow objects or faces (including multiple faces), using facial recognition. This is real-time and happens automatically without the need to first analyze the movement and generate a tracked path. As far as I know, it’s unique to have this function integrated directly into the plug-in. For my money, these new features along with the depth of the adjustments available make Hawaiki Keyer 5 the best green/blue-screen keyer plug-in on the market.

FxFactory: XTheme Tech

One major advantage to using Final Cut Pro and Motion is the ability to create your own effects and graphics templates based on the Motion Templates architecture. This has empowered a huge ecosystem of small developers to create free and paid graphics packages. Adobe’s Essential Graphics panel templates pale in comparison. There are many FCP templates, but few are designed with elements built to work together for a coherent look. The exception is idustrial revolution, whose XEffects plug-ins and tool kits are offered through FxFactory. These include professionally-designed social, sports, and news packages that are great for graphics-challenged editors like me.

idustrial’s newest is XTheme Tech, a set of titles, effects, and transitions. These matching elements are designed to be complementary and can be used as an elegant graphics package for any type of show. The tool kit is exclusive for Final Cut Pro and includes over 100 lower thirds, backgrounds, tracking callouts, panels, bars, transitions, and more. There’s also a demo project with examples of how to build looks. Elements from the demo timeline can also be copied-and-pasted into your own sequence.

The bundle includes 10 color swatch titles intended for inspiration. That’s pretty cool. Color accents and background colors can be easily modified in the inspector, which lets you experiment with your own color combinations. Copy-and-paste any of the colors from the swatches into the Mac color picker for use elsewhere. You can make parameter and text changes in the inspector panel, but also on-screen. That’s especially helpful when pinning control points for tracking callouts.

The type of plug-ins and effects that an editor might need can certainly vary from one production to the next. However, these newest updates from Boris FX and FxFactory are definitely worth looking into. As a collection, they form a versatile tool kit for any Final Cut editor and can elevate the quality of any production.

©2022 Oliver Peters

Colourlab Ai

An artificial intelligence grading option for editors and colorists

There are many low-cost software options for color correction and grading, but getting a stunning look is still down to the skill of a colorist. Why can’t modern artificial intelligence tools improve the color grading process? Colorist and color scientist Dado Valentic developed Colourlab Ai as just that solution. It’s a macOS product that’s a combination of a standalone application and companion plug-ins for Resolve, Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro, and Pomfort Live Grade.

Colourlab Ai is comprised of two main functions – grading and show look creation. Most Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro editors will be interested in either the basic Colourlab Ai Creator or the richer features of Colourlab Ai Pro. The Creator version offers all of the color matching and grading tools, plus links to Final Cut Pro and Premiere Pro. The Pro version adds advanced show look design, DaVinci Resolve and Pomfort Live Grade integration, SDI output, and Tangent panel support. These integrations differ slightly, due to the architecture of each host application.

Advanced color science and image processing

Colourlab Ai uses color management similar to Resolve or Baselight. The incoming clip is processed with an IDT (input device transform), color adjustments are applied within a working color space, and then it’s processed with an ODT (output device transform) – all in real-time. This enables support for a variety of cameras with different color science models (such as ARRI Log-C) and it allows for output based on different display color spaces, such as Rec 709, P3, or sRGB.

If you prefer to work directly with the Colourlab Ai application by itself – no problem. Import raw footage, color correct the clips, and then export rendered movie files with a baked in look. Or you can use the familiar roundtrip approach as you would with DaVinci Resolve. However, the difference in the Colourlab Ai roundtrip is that only color information moves back to the editing application without the need to render any new media.

The Colourlab Ai plug-in for Final Cut Pro or Premiere Pro reads the color information created by the Colourlab Ai application from an XML file used to transfer that data. A source effect is automatically applied to each clip with those color parameters. The settings are still editable inside Final Cut Pro (not Premiere Pro). If you want to modify any color parameter, simply uncheck the “Use Smart Match” button and adjust the sliders in the inspector. In fact, the Colourlab Ai plug-in for FCP is a full-featured grading effect and you could use it that way. Of course, that’s doing it the hard way!

The ability to hand off source clips to Final Cut Pro with color metadata attached is unique to Colourlab Ai. This is especially a game changer for DITs who deliver footage with a one-light grade to editors working in FCP. The fact that no media need be rendered also significantly speeds up the process.

A professional grading workflow with Final Cut Pro and Colourlab Ai

Thanks to Apple’s color science and media architecture, Final Cut Pro can be used as a professional color grading platform with the right third-party tools. CoreMelt (Chromatic) and Color Trix (Color Finale) are two examples of developers who have had success offering advanced tools, using floating panels within the Final Cut Pro interface. Colourlab Ai takes a different approach by offloading the grade to its own application, which has been designed specifically for this task.

My workflow test involved two passes – once for dailies (such as a one-light grade performed by a DIT on-set) and then again for the final grade of the locked cut. I could have simply sent the locked cut once to Colourlab Ai, but my intention was to test a workflow more common for feature films. Shot matching between different set-ups and camera types is the most time-consuming part of color grading. Colourlab Ai is intended to make that process more efficient by employing artificial intelligence.

Step one of the workflow is to assemble a stringout of all of your raw footage into a new FCP project (sequence). Then drag that project from FCP to the Colourlab Ai icon on the dock (Colourlab Ai has already been opened). The Colourlab Ai app will automatically determine some of the camera sources (like ARRI files) and apply the correct IDT. For any unknown camera, manually test the settings for different cameras or simply stick with a default Rec 709 IDT.

The Pro interface features three tabs – Grade, Timeline Intelligence, and Look Design. The top half of the Grade tab displays the viewer and reference images used for matching. Color wheels, printer light controls, scopes, and versions are in the bottom half. Scope choices include waveform, RGB parade, or vectorscope, but also EL Zones. Developed by Ed Lachman, ASC, the EL Zone System is a false color display with 15 colors to represent a 15-stop exposure range. The mid-point equates to the 18% grey standard.

AI-based shot matching forms the core

Colourlab Ai focuses on smart shot matching, either through its Auto-Color feature or by matching to a reference image. The application includes a variety of reference images, but you can also import your own, such as from Shotdeck. The big advance Colourlab Ai offers over other matching solutions is Color Tune. A small panel of thumbnails can be opened for any clip. Adjust correction parameters – brightness, contrast, density, etc – simply by stepping through incremental value changes. Click on a thumbnail to preview it in the viewer.

The truly unique aspect is that Color Tune lets you choose from eleven matching options. Maybe instead of a Smart model, you’d prefer to match based only on Balance or RGB or a Perceptual model. Step through the thumbnails and pick the look that’s right for the shot. Therefore, matching isn’t an opaque process. It can be optimized in a style more akin to adjusting photos than traditional video color correction.

Timeline Intelligence allows you to rearrange the sequence to group similar set-ups together. Once you do this, use matching to set a pleasing look for one shot. Select that shot as a “fingerprint.” Then select the rest of the shots in a group and match those to the fingerprinted reference shot. This automatically applies that grade to the rest. But, it’s not like adding a simple LUT to a clip or copy-and-pasting settings. Each shot is separately analyzed and matched based on the differences within each shot.

When you’re done going through all of the shots, right-click any clip and “push” the scene (the timeline) back to Final Cut Pro. This action uses FCPXML data to send the dailies clips back to Final Cut, now with the added Colourlab Ai effect containing the color parameters on each source clip.

Remember that Final Cut Pro automatically adds a LUT to certain camera clips, such as ARRI Alexa files recorded in Log-C. When your clips comes back in from Colourlab Ai, FCP may add a LUT on top of some camera files. You don’t want this, because Colourlab Ai has already made this adjustment with its IDT. If that happens, simply change the inspector LUT setting for that source file to “none.”

Lock the edit and create your final look

At this point you can edit with native camera clips that have a primary grade applied to them. No proxy media rendered by a DIT, hence a much faster turnaround and no extra media to take up drive space. Once you’ve locked the edit, it’s time for step two – the show look design for the final edit.

Drag the edited FCP project (new sequence with the graded clips) to the Colourlab Ai icon on the dock to send the edited sequence back to Colourlab Ai. All of the clips retain the color settings created earlier in the dailies grading session. However, this primary grade is just color metadata and can be altered. After any additional color tweaks, it’s time to move to Show Looks. Click through the show look examples and apply the one that fits best.

If you have multiple shots with the same look, apply a show look to the first one, copy it, and then apply that look to the rest of the selected clips. In most cases, you’ll have a different show look for various scenes within a film, but it’s also possible that a single show look would work through the entire film. So, experiment!

To modify a look or create your own, step into the Look Design tab (Pro version). Here you’ll find the Filmlab and Primary panels. Filmlab uses film stock emulation models and film’s subtractive color (CMY instead of RGB) for adjustments. Their film emulation is among the most convincing I’ve seen. You can select from a wide range of branded negative and print film stocks and then make contrast, saturation, and CMY color adjustments. The Primary panel gives you even more control over RGBCMY for the lift, gamma, and gain regions. Custom adjustments may be saved to create your own show looks. Once you’ve set a show look for all of your shots, push the sequence back to Final Cut Pro. Voila – a fully graded show and no superfluous media created in the process.

Some observations

Colourlab Ai is a revolutionary tool based on a film-style approach to grading. Artificial intelligence models speed up the process, but you are always in control. Thanks to the ease of operation, you can get great results without Resolve’s complex node structure. You can always augment a shot with FCP’s own color tools for a power window or a vignette.

The application currently lacks a traditional undo/redo stack. Therefore, use the version history to experiment with settings and looks. Each time you generate a new match, such as with Auto-Color or using a reference image, a new version is automatically stored. If you want to iterate, then manually add a version at any waypoint if a new match isn’t involved – for example, when making color wheels adjustments. The version history displays a thumbnail for each version. Step through them to pick the one that suits you best.

If you are new to color correction, then Colourlab Ai might look daunting at first glance. Nevertheless, it’s deceptively easy to use. There are numerous tutorials available on the website, as well as directly accessible from the launch window. A 7-day free trial can be downloaded for you to dip your toes in the water. The artificial intelligence at the heart of Colourlab Ai will enable any editor to deliver professional grades.

©2022 Oliver Peters

Free BCC Looks for Final Cut Pro

The Boris FX Continuum and/or Sapphire filters have traditionally been essential add-ons for many editors, regardless of NLE brand. The features of these filters are tweaked for the specifics of each host application, but in general, a BCC filter used in Media Composer can be expected to work and look more or less the same way in Premiere Pro.

Compatibility became more difficult for many Final Cut plug-in developers when Apple launched FCPX. For instance, the initial BCC version for FCPX was designed to closely mimic the other BCC versions, yet staying within the then-new Apple architecture. However, some filters never made it into the Final Cut version of BCC, because it wasn’t possible. Boris FX took a different approach in 2021. As I discussed in my review of Continuum FCP last year, the version sold for Final Cut Pro is a different animal than previous Continuum packages for Final Cut Pro, as well as other host applications.

This year Boris FX released the updated 2022 version of Continuum FCP for Final Cut Pro and Motion. Features of the 2022 version include GPU-acceleration for every effect, native operation on M1 Macs, HDR compliance, and more presets. However, the biggest new feature is the addition of Mocha and Pixel Chooser for planar tracking and masking within each effect.

The free Looks filter for FCP

While the update is nice, I wanted to look specifically at the free filter being offered. After all, most folks like free! Right? With the new update Boris FX decided to offer one of the filters for free, no strings attached. Sure, you can test out Continuum with trial versions, but this filter gives you very useful functions – and no watermark. It stands on its own, regardless of whether of not you get the full package. On the other hand, it also gives you a taste, which just may leave you wanting to get the rest of Continuum.

To start, simply register at the Boris FX website and you’ll be emailed a license code and a download link. The installer includes the full Continuum package. Read the installation prompts carefully if you only want to install the single free filter without also installing the others in a trial mode. Launch FCP and you’ll find the BCC+ Looks filter within the BCC Film Style effects category. Once you apply the effect to a clip, you can set up the parameters in the FCP Inspector pane or launch FX Editor, which is similar across multiple Boris FX products. There are 80 stylized presets in FX Editor’s lefthand browser pane, histogram and parameters are on the right, viewer controls for size and comparison spilt screen options at the top, and transport controls at the bottom.

Looks galore

The presets browser uses the current timeline image for each displayed look. Each time you move through the FX Editor timeline and stop on a frame, the preset thumbnails will be updated to the same frame as in the viewer. There are tons of variations from which to select. Once you find a look that you like, click Apply to close FX Editor. Now your FCP timeline clip is updated with that look. But it’s also easy to customize the look either by adjusting the preset or starting from scratch.

The BCC+ Looks filter is a full-featured color correction tool built around seven tabbed parameter layers within the plug-in. Processing is applied in this order, much like nodes in Resolve or layers in Lightroom: [primary] color correction, diffusion, color gradient, gels, [film] lab, grain, and post color correction. Each panel section uses slider controls, plus color pickers for gels and gradients. These parameters can be controlled in the FX Editor or directly from the FCP inspector pane without ever opening the FX Editor.

Let’s say you want a monochrome image with a color wash, diffusion, and some added film grain. If you used the native FCP tools instead of the BCC+ Looks plug-in, then this would require using several different effects in a stack. You still might not get results that look as good. Yet with Looks, it can all be done from a single pane straight from the inspector.

Although this filter is placed into the BCC Film Style category, it does not include any presets for specific Kodak or Fuji film stocks. You’d have to get the full Continuum FCP package to get those. However, there are some generic film emulation presets, like 8mm. If you open the lab tab, you do find options for bleach bypass and cross process settings. This, plus the grain tab, should be all you need to create some pleasing looks that emulate film. Quite frankly, I’ve worked with actual film in the past and most effects that claim to look like a specific brand of film stock never look right to me anyway.

Mocha

Even though this is a free filter, it still includes a proper version of Mocha designed to work with these effects. Launch Mocha with the Mocha Mask button, which then opens the clip into the separate and familiar Mocha editor. Masking and planar tracking work the same as with all other versions. You might not use Mocha often with this filter, since you’re typically applying looks and color correction full screen. However, having Mocha at your disposal does make it easy to isolate portions of the image if you want to apply a look only to a region, such as a person’s face.

In closing, remember that BCC+ Looks is designed for stylized treatment of the image. It doesn’t include some of the other bells-and-whistles of the Continuum plug-in set, like gobos, glitch and damage effects, lighting, transitions, or titles. You can certainly buy the whole package and add those effects later if you find the need. But if not, BCC+ Looks is a great way to get your feet wet with Continuum and Mocha. Did I say it’s free?

©2022 Oliver Peters

Generalists versus Specialists

“Jack of all trades, master of none” is a quote most are familiar with. But the complete quote “Jack of all trades, master of none, but oftentimes better than master of one” actually has quite the opposite perceived meaning. In the world of post production you have Jacks and Jills of all trades (generalists) and masters of one (specialists). While editors are certainly specialized in storytelling, I would consider them generalists when comparing their skillset to those of other specialists, such as visual effects artists, colorists, and audio engineers. Editors often touch on sound, effects, and color in a more general (often temp) way to get client approval. The others have to deliver the best, final results within a single discipline. Editors have to know the tools of editing, but not the nitty gritty of color correction or visual effects.

This is closely tied to the Pareto Principle, which most know as the 80/20 Rule. This principle states that 80% of the consequences come from 20% of the causes, but it’s been applied in various ways. When talking about software development, the 80/20 Rule predicts that 80% of the users are going to use 20% of the features, while only 20% of users will find a need for the other features. The software developer has to decide whether the target customer is the generalist (the 80% user) or the specialist (the 20% user). If the generalist is the target, then the challenge is to add some specialized features to service the advanced user without creating a bloated application that no one will use.

Applying these concepts to editing software development

When looking at NLEs, the first question to ask is, “Who is defined as a video editor today?” I would separate editors into three groups. One group would be the “I have to do it all” group, which generates most of what we see on local TV, corporate videos, YouTube, etc. These are multi-discipline generalists who have neither the time nor interest in dealing with highly specialized software. In the case of true one-man bands, the skill set also includes videography, plus location lighting and sound.

The “top end” – national and international commercials, TV series, and feature films – could be split into two groups: craft (aka film or offline) editors and finishing (aka online) editors. Craft editors are specialists in molding the story, but generalists when it comes to working software. Their technical skills don’t have to be the best, but they need to have a solid understanding of visual effects, sound, and color, so that they can create a presentable rough cut with temp elements. The finishing editor’s role is to take the final elements from sound, color, and the visual effects houses, and assemble the final deliverables. A key talent is quality control and attention to detail; therefore, they have no need to understand dedicated color, sound, or effects applications, unless they are also filling one of these roles.

My motivation for writing this post stemmed from an open letter to Tim Cook, which many editors have signed – myself included. Editors have long been fans of Apple products and many gravitated from Avid Media Composer to Apple Final Cut Pro 1-7. However, when Apple reimagined Final Cut and dropped Final Cut Studio in order to launch Final Cut Pro X many FCP fans were in shock. FCPX lacked a number of important features at first. A lot of these elements have since been added back, but that development pace hasn’t been fast enough for some, hence the letter. My wishlist for new features is quite small. I recognize Final Cut for what it is in the Apple ecosystem. But I would like to see Apple work to raise the visibility of Final Cut Pro within the broader editing community. That’s especially important when the decision of which editing application to use is often not made by editors.

Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve – the über-app for specialists

This brings me to Resolve. Editors point to Blackmagic’s aggressive development pace and the rich feature set. Resolve is often viewed as the greener pasture over the hill. I’m going to take a contrarian’s point of view. I’ve been using Resolve since it was introduced as Mac software and recently graded a feature film that was cut on Resolve by another editor.

Unfortunately, the experience was more problematic than I’ve had with grades roundtripped to Resolve from other NLEs. Its performance as an editor was quite slow when trying to move around in the timeline, replace shots, or trim clips. Resolve wouldn’t be my first NLE choice when compared to Premiere Pro, Media Composer, or Final Cut Pro. It’s a complex program by necessity. The color management alone is enough to trip up even experienced editors who aren’t intimately familiar with what the various settings do with the image.

DaVinci Resolve is an all-in-one application that integrates editing (2 different editing models), color correction (aka grading), Fusion visual effects, and the Fairlight DAW. Historically, all-in-ones have not had a great track record in the market. Other such über-apps would include Avid|DS and Autodesk Smoke. Avid pulled the plug on DS and Autodesk changed their business model for the Flame/Smoke/Lustre product family into subscription. Neither DS nor Smoke as a standalone application moved the needle for market share.

At its core, Resolve is a grading application with Fusion and Fairlight added in later. Color, effects, and audio mixing are all specialized skills and the software is designed so that each specialist if comfortable with the toolset presented on those pages/modes. I believe Blackmagic has been attempting to capitalize on Final Cut editor discontent and create the mythical “FCP8” or “FC Extreme” that many wanted. However, adding completely new and disparate functions to an application that at its core is designed around color correction can make it quite unwieldy. Beginning editors are never going to touch most of what Resolve has to offer and the specialists would rather have a dedicated specialized tool, like Nuke, After Effects, or Pro Tools.

Apple Final Cut Pro – reimagining modern workflows for generalists

Apple makes software for generalists. Pages, Numbers, Keynote, Photos, GarageBand, and iMovie are designed for that 80%. Apple also creates advanced software for the more demanding user under the ProApps banner (professional applications). This is still “generalist” software, but designed for more complex workflows. That’s where Final Cut Pro, Motion, Compressor, and Logic Pro fit.

Apple famously likes to “skate to where the puck will be” and having control over hardware, operating system, and software gives the teams special incite to develop software that is optimized for the hardware/OS combo. As a broad-based consumer goods company Apple also understands market trends. In the case of iPhones and digital photography it also plays a huge role in driving trends.

When Apple launched Final Cut Pro X the goal was an application designed for simplified, modernized workflows – even if “Hollywood” wasn’t quite ready. This meant walking away from the comprehensive “suite of tools” concept (Final Cut Studio). They chose to focus on a few applications that were better equipped for where the wider market of content creators was headed – yet, one that could still address more sophisticated needs, albeit in a different way.

This reimagining of Final Cut Pro had several aspects to it. One was to design an application that could easily be used on laptops and desktop systems and was adaptable to single and dual screen set-ups. It also introduced workflows based on metadata to improve edit efficiency. It was intended as a platform with third parties filling in the gaps. This means you need to augment FCP to cover a few common industry workflows. In short, FCP is designed to appeal to a broad spectrum of today’s “professionals” and not how one might have defined that term in the early 1990s, when nonlinear editing first took hold.

For a developer, it gets down to who the product is marketed towards and which new features to prioritize. Generalists are going to grow the market faster, hence a better return on development resources. The more complex an application becomes, the more likely it is to have bugs or break when the hardware or OS is updated. Quality assurance testing (QA) expands exponentially with complexity.

Final thoughts

Do my criticisms of Resolve mean that it’s a bad application? No, definitely not! It’s powerful in the right hands, especially if you work within its left-to-right workflow (edit -> Fusion -> color -> Fairlight). But, I don’t think it’s the ideal NLE for craft editing. The tools are designed for a collection of specialists. Blackmagic has been on this path for a rather long time now and seem to be at a fork in the road. Maybe they should step back, start from a clean slate, and develop a fresh, streamlined version of Resolve. Or, split it up into a set of individual, focused applications.

So, is Final Cut Pro the ideal editing platform? It’s definitely a great NLE for the true generalist. I’m a fan and use it when it’s the appropriate tool for the job. I like that it’s a fluid NLE with a responsive UI design. Nevertheless, it isn’t the best fit for many circumstances. I work in a market and with clients that are invested in Adobe Creative Cloud workflows. I have to exchange project files and make sure plug-ins are all compatible. I collaborate with other editors and more than one of us often touches these projects.

Premiere Pro is the dominant NLE for me in this environment. It also clicks with how my mind works and feels natural to me. Although you hear complaints from some, Premiere has been quite stable for me in all my years of use. Premiere Pro hits the sweet spot for advanced editors working on complex productions without becoming overly complex. Product updates over the past year have provided new features that I use every day. However, if I were in New York or Los Angeles, that answer would likely be Avid Media Composer, which is why Avid maintains such dominance in broadcast operations and feature film post.

In the end, there is no right or wrong answer. If you have the freedom to choose, then assess your skills. Where do you fall on the generalist/specialist spectrum? Pick the application that best meets your needs and fits your mindset.

For another direct comparison check out this previous post.

©2022 Oliver Peters