Simplicity

df_simplicityThe ongoing battle in all areas of the tech sector has focused on the conundrum of simplicity versus complexity. The central question being, whether or not a professional application needs to be complex by its very nature. We’ve seen this in the Final Cut Pro X arguments and we will see it again with the new Mac Pro. Clearly everything Apple has been doing for many years, is to enhance the user experience by hiding some of the complexity under the hood.

This recently has come home to me in several ways. First, when Apple launched Final Cut Pro X a little over two years ago, some of my acquaintances on the Pro Apps team made this comment in regard to the streamlining of user settings compared with FCP 7. They pointed out that they would no longer need to field those tech support calls from confused users. Although I’ve always found this versatility useful in FCP 7, I do recognize that what they were saying was quite true, as the myriad of user format options was overwhelming for nearly all beginning and casual users. By streamlining this, FCP X allows users to quickly dive in and start editing – with the added benefit of lower support costs for Apple.

I recently had my 2009 Mac Pro repaired at a local Apple Store. This took a longer-than-normal amount of time and towards the end, I was calling the Geniuses every other day to find out what the hold-up was. In those conversations, the tech on more than one occasion noted how complex the Mac Pro towers are and how long it takes to run the proper diagnostics in order to truly isolate and repair a hard-to-define issue. In the end, the repair was well done and they were more than fair. In fact, the final bill was so low that I’ve come to realize the Genius Bar service simply can’t be a profit center for Apple. It is, in fact, part of Apple’s holistic approach to the customer experience. From a corporate point-of-view, this means that pressure has to be on quick repair and lower operating costs. Under this concept, wholesale board swaps – even when it amounts to using a bazooka to kill an ant – are far cheaper than component-level electronics repair. With that philosophy, the design inherent in an iMac or new Mac Pro, is bound to yield rewards for Apple in the cost of operating its Genius Bar repair service.

Another variation of this is software. As part of the repair, certain components were replaced that tie into how software, like plug-ins, is serialized to a particular machine. In essence, my machine was now internally viewed by some of the licensing as a different computer. To clean up some of these issues – and to do an upgrade to Mavericks – I opted for a completely clean installation of the OS, coupled with re-installation of all applications and re-authorization of all necessary software and plug-ins. No migration. It’s the sort of thing that can do wonders for your machine’s performance, but it’s also something everyone avoids. This took two-and-a-half days. As I went through this process, the easiest part by far, was re-installation of any Apple application. Not only was this simple, thanks to the App Store, but some of the older apps that were installed from discs, were then subsequently upgraded to App Store versions. The second easiest was Adobe using Creative Cloud. Again, log-in and download the applications you want to use. Among the plug-ins, FxFactory (and their associated partners) was easy, because they, too, have adopted an App Store-style model.

If you look out at the greater world of computing, the macho-tech experience of dealing with towers, peripherals, add-ons and more is waning for all but the most complex set-ups. Naturally, if you are going from a large investment in these add-ons to a new Mac Pro with Thunderbolt, you are going to need to buy some adapters, docks, etc. to see you through the interim transition. But look around you. The reliance on such peripherals is the exception and not the rule. Most users are on laptops. If they have a tower, it’s probably not much more that the stock set-up. Mac users have migrated to all-in-one iMacs. Tablets are everywhere. I almost never take my laptop on the road anymore, unless I need it for actual production. My iPad is more than adequate. All of this means that for the vast majority of users – including pros with demanding requirements – the hardware is fading into the background, because simpler solutions are powerful enough to get the job done.

My dad used to repair TVs. He worked through an era when component-level troubleshooting gave way to circuit board/module swaps. While the pieces might have been more expensive, the cost in labor was less for complex problems. Fast forward to today and there probably isn’t a single flat panel that we buy, which has much if any ability to be repaired. Computers are following that same path and so is software.

This will scare many. I used to write simple autoexec.bat files in the DOS days. These let me create a menu page with a table of contents for the applications I used. Typing in the number of the application from that list would launch the software and when done, would exit back to this menu page. I certainly have no need, nor interest in doing that with any modern OS. It was a skill set based on the needs of a cruder technology, but is now as obsolete as setting up a 2” Quad VTR. Tinkering with your computer or software falls into the same realm as shade-tree auto repair. You can do it on a ’57 Chevy, but you certainly can’t do it on any modern automobile. To some this may have seemed like fun. To me, I’d rather get on about with the business of using the software/hardware to achieve results.

©2013 Oliver Peters

 

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Southeast Creative Summit

df_summitJust a quick reminder that the Southeast Creative Summit is just around the corner.  I’ll be involved as part of the upcoming Southeast Creative Summit in Atlanta, October 25-27. It’s a jam-packed agenda put together by the good folks at the Atlanta Cutters Post Production User Group. This will be a solid weekend of workshops, sessions and presentations, complete with Saturday nights’ Atlanta Creative Ball social event. All located at the Sheraton Atlanta Hotel. The workshops cover a wide range of topics, including editing, color correction, sound design and the business of post production.

Click here for more details and event registration.

I hope to see you there. Cheers!

©2013 Oliver Peters

Photo phun

I’m strictly an amateur when it comes to photography, though I still like to take my share of snapshots. Sometimes I’m lucky. As a holiday break I decided to play around with a hodge-podge of images – some from holiday times or winter locations and others not.

These were processed through Lightroom and Photoshop as well as the photo plug-in versions of Tiffen Dfx and Magic Bullet Looks. On some of these I was going for rich images, some for effects and others a pseudo painterly look. Although these were all still photos, the same looks and processes are applicable to video color grading and stylizing effects.

Click on any image to see an enlarged view and to scroll through a filmstrip view of all. After the New Year I’ll be back with more standard film and video fare.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

A season for giving

The holiday times mean many things to different people. For some, it’s a religious festival. For others, a time of reflection and to concentrate more on family. As many have said, it’s a time of giving. Along those lines, a solution for many that is more in keeping with the sentiments of the season, is to give to a favored charity rather than putting more items under the tree.

A few years back I edited a documentary entitled, “Blindsided” about a teenager (Jared) who had gone blind from a little-known disease – Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy (LHON). The documentary has aired a number of times in the subsequent years on HBO and HBO Family, but for me it struck a special chord. As an editor, colorist and writer, eyesight is especially valuable and it’s hard to imagine living without it.

The research into the disease is moving into an important phase and is in need of additional funding. If this post equally strikes a chord in your heart and you are able to make a contribution, then I’m sure they would appreciate your support.

LHON Research Project c/o Development Office
Bascom Palmer Eye Institute
P.O. Box 016880
Miami, FL 33101-6880

Click this link to learn more about LHON.

Thank you and Merry Christmas!

Oliver Peters

A milestone

Over the past 24 hours, this blog crossed over the 1,000,000-views-mark since its start in March of 2008. Quite a few of you have commented to me during this time about how helpful you find a lot of these posts. I appreciate the feedback and thanks for the comments. I’m certainly glad that these musings are useful as you navigate the confusion that often surrounds post production. From its inception this blog has served as a repository for things that I write elsewhere, as well as additional thoughts, ideas and tips that are best presented in this forum. And I intend to continue along those same lines. Here’s wishing you the best for the upcoming Thanksgiving and the holiday season.  Cheers!

A note to iOS5 iPad readers

This is a quick housekeeping note. If you follow this blog on an iPad, you already know that some WordPress-hosted sites, such as this one, use an alternative format for mobile devices, like the iPad. The Home page displays a small grouping of headers for the latest posts. When you click on one, it loads an optimized screen in the foreground. That was working fine in iOS4, but apparently for now is broken in the iOS5 version of Safari. The first post selected will flash, but still load, however, subsequent selections never load.

I recommend the following solution if this happens on your iPad. At the bottom of the Home page is a toggle to View iPad Site or View Standard Site. Select View Standard Site. Safari will remember this setting when you return to the blog. Since the theme I use employs a page width and column structure that is a bit awkward on iPads, use the Safari Reader function. Select a post from the sidebar and when it loads, click the READER button in the URL bar. That post will open in a format that’s easy to read on the iPad.

Thank you.

Rise of the Preditor

Producer + Editor = Preditor. It’s a word that seems to generate derision from many traditional, professional editors. The concept that one person can and should handle all of the aspects of post is characterized as a “jack-of-all-trades and a master of none”. While that may be true, it doesn’t change the fact that many news operations, reality TV shops and broadcast creative services departments are adopting the model. That’s based on the concept that producers and editors can merge job skills and that the combined role can be handled by a single individual.

What is often described as a “professional editor” is really a concept that only applies to Hollywood, unionized workplaces or to the short slice of time when linear videotape editing was the norm. During the 1970s – 1990s, video post production was handled in very expensive edit suites. The editors originally came out of the engineering ranks and were considered more technical than creative, since part of their job was making sure that broadcast standards were met.

This evolved and attitudes changed around the introduction of Avid’s original nonlinear systems. These early units were quite expensive, so although the editor roles were creative, the business model didn’t change much from the linear operations. With the entry of Apple Final Cut Pro, the last decade or so has been viewed by many as a “race to the bottom”. The tools are cheaper than ever and it is perceived that no specialized skills are needed to operate the editor’s toolkit.

If you look at this outside of the scope of major film productions or those three decades and go back to the way standard small-to-medium market film production was handled before the ‘70s, you will see that the concept of a preditor actually predates the modern video world. In fact, most filmmakers would have been considered preditors. In the days when every commercial, corporate film (then called “industrials”), news story or documentary was shot and posted on film, it was quite common for the cinematographer, editor, director and producer to be the same person. They required a lab for some of the finishing services, but by and large, one person – or a very small team – handled many of the roles.

Many TV stations had an in-house “special projects” producer, who was often a one-man-band filmmaker doing small feature pieces or investigative journalism. The days of a news reporter/photographer driving around with a Canon Scoopic or Bolex 16mm film camera on the front seat are not that far removed from the modern video journalist shooting with a small handheld video camera and cutting a story with FCP on his laptop. I see this model proliferating throughout the video production world. I would suggest the concept of the “traditional professional” is in decline – to be replaced in larger numbers by the “new professional”. That’s who Apple and Adobe are servicing in the development of Final Cut Studio and the Creative Suite. Clearly it’s the focus of Final Cut Pro X.

Avid, Autodesk and Quantel are still trying to hang on to the old definitions and make their margins on the niche that is still working in that space. The larger fortunes are in addressing the needs of the “new professional” – the preditor. After all, if you define “professional” by the delivery of the end product (documentaries, broadcast news, sports, commercials) – rather than by the number of years a person has worked in a specialized position – then is the person who put it together any less professional than an experienced, seasoned pro?

This is even true in the feature film world. The Coen brothers have received several nominations for best editing Oscars. I’d bet they don’t view their knowledge of Final Cut as being at the same level as a so-called “professional” editor who might be an expert in manipulating the software. Yet, I doubt anyone would consider them as anything other than film professionals and talented editors.

Clearly my heart is on the side of the seasoned pro and I do think that in many cases that editor will deliver a better product. But in the end, I’ve seen enough compelling pieces edited by less skilled individuals who had a great vision. I suppose you can call that “good enough”, though I contend that’s really the wrong way to look at it.

So in this new model, what sort of technical skills should a person have? What advice is there for people about to enter college, are now in a college program or early in their career? First, I would offer that many college “digital media” programs are probably a better starting point than the more traditional “film programs”. Of course, that’s not a blanket statement, as many schools are adjusting their curriculum to stay relevant.

A model I see popping up a lot is that of a hands-on producer who shoots his or her own projects. Typically this is with HDSLR, P2 or XDCAM camcorders. The editing tool of choice is Final Cut – although in many instances, FCP is only used for a basic rough cut for the base layer of video. Then the project is actually finished in After Effects. You would think that Motion with FCP or Premiere Pro with After Effects would be the better choices. Although true, many shops decided on FCP a while back and Premiere Pro has yet to achieve similar street credibility as a professional editing tool. Likewise, Motion never gained the sort of commercial success that After Effects has.

If you are trying to plan out your future – regardless of your age – these are the five skill sets you need to master for success as a “new video professional”:

Producing – Learn everything you can about project organization, budgeting, directing talent and, in general, running an efficient location shoot or studio set.

Production/camera – Learn to be a one-man-band on location and in the studio. If you have a crew – great. But, you personally need to understand lighting, sound and the basics of cinematography. With the new file-based technology, this includes camera-specific data wrangling functions, whether that’s RED, P2 or something else.

Editing – Learn Final Cut Pro and Final Cut Studio inside and out. Don’t stop at editing. Make sure you know how to use Color for grading and Soundtrack Pro for mixing. Make sure you extend that learning to Final Cut Pro X. Don’t limited your skills to this one tool. Schedule learning excursions to Avid Media Composer, Adobe Premiere Pro, Grass Valley EDIUS and others.

Finishing/graphics – Since After Effects is the tool of choice for many, you really need to understand how this application works and how to get from FCP (or another NLE) to AE and back.

Encoding/delivery – This is the last stage and more delivery is file-based than ever before. You no longer have a duplication technician or VTR operator to fall back on. It’s just you. So this means you need to understand how to encode for the web, DVD, Blu-ray and various other client deliverables.

Whether you view the “new video professional” as the modern preditor or the filmmaker of five decades ago, it’s the same basic concept. What was old is new again. No need to complain. Time to learn, adapt and grow! Or get out of the business and run an ice cream truck!

©2011 Oliver Peters