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Apple's Richard Townhill discusses the latest FCP X release

September 23, 2011
Apple's Richard Townhill discusses the latest FCP X release CUPERTINO, CA — The newest iteration of the 64-bit FCP X was made available Tuesday as a free and full 30-day trial version featuring a number of, well let’s call them “requests,” from the professional community. Some of those included XML support, XSAN support, and something new called Roles. Another big “request” was multicam editing, and that is coming in early 2012, along with broadcast video monitoring.

Apple, for its part, wants it known that they are interested in providing a tool for the pro community and feel this 10.1 release starts to do just that. “We are excited to be able to prove to the professionals that we are listening to them and they are important to us,” says Richard Townhill. “We really are committed to this marketplace, and we really want the professional customer to continue to use Final Cut Pro as they’ve always done.”

With Final Cut Pro X, “we did something we thought was a real revolution in terms of professional video editing. At that time we said we were going to take feedback from our professional users and issue updates. Here we are less than three months later and we are making good on those promises,” he continues.

Will it be enough for the Final Cut Pro 7 users who felt abandoned by Apple back in June? Will the video editor who left a profanity-laced rant on my voicemail be sated? That is still yet to be seen, but if Twitter is any indication, there are hopeful users willing to give it a second look, but then again there are others who point to what’s missing — in addition to the not-yet ready multicam and video monitoring, there is the inability to open layered Photoshop files in FCP X (for that you would need to use Motion first and bring it back into the NLE.).

So why change something that was so beloved in the first place and release it without so many absolutely necessary tools for pros?

They say, “in order to take full advantage of the Mac hardware, we needed to completely re-write Final Cut.” And they are readily admitting it’s a completely different way of looking at editing. They also readily admit that they are relying on third parties to help fill gaps in their post production workflow, and promise more to come in a timely manner.

“We have a modern architecture and modern code base that allows us to act quickly and we have architecture on the app store, which allows us to deliver those components,” says Townhill. “In the past we were dealing with 12- to 18-month cycles on releases of Final Cut, but now thanks to the architecture of the application and the Mac App Store, it means we can move much faster.”

So here are some highlights from our conversation with Townhill, intended to give some background and insight into the app, but the beauty of it being available as a 30-day trial is editors can now judge for themselves whether or not it’s pro enough for them, without having to pay for the privilege.

Here are the top three additions made with pro users in mind, plus a bit more:

XSAN SUPPORT FOR COLLABORATIVE WORKFLOWS

Also new with FCP X 10.0.1 is the ability to support media, Events, and Projects on an XSAN. No longer do Events or Projects need to be stored locally. These new features allow media to be shared simultaneously by multiple editors, while Events and Projects can be shared between editors. However, only one editor can use an Event or Project at a time. FCP X provides a simple menu choice allowing editors to move Events and Projects into, or out of, the app.

XML IMPORT AND EXPORT
 
“Final Cut has historically had a very good relationship with third-party developers and we want that to continue,” says Townhill. “The new XML APIs inside of 10.1 are more extensive then they have ever been, there is much more rich metadata that people can get access to.”  He emphasizes that XML works both in and out.

He adds that in tests they have put Final Cut Pro into the production pipeline and use XML as the conduit to allow users to move content and projects between systems.

But can you import XMLs of FCP 7 projects into FCP X? No. “The formats are actually different, so this is a laws of physics sort of problem. The XML from FCP 7 describes just the project; the XML in 10.1 describes the event and the project (two sets of XML). Making those two work together with perfect fidelity is impossible because the effects stack in FCP X is new and improved at 64-bit and the Magnetic Timeline works much better than the old one.”

Basically, going from the old to the new would result in missing information.

MEDIA STEMS EXPORT
 
Another big request from pro users was the ability to deliver for broadcast, making sure audio channels are exporting into the right place and as separate files.

“In FCP X we improved the process with something called Roles. They allow you to assign a Role to a piece of media content when you import it into FCP X. The Roles then let you describe it as audio or video or an audio effect or dialogue or background music. They can be used in many ways, and can be used in editing to identify the different pieces of media that correspond to the role you are looking for. But most pertinent to our pro customers,” says Townhill, “is the ability to use those Roles while you are exporting. Now you can export all those different files and channels in one pass. The new export window has the ability, for example, to take all the audio files and make them a single AAF files or take the dialogue file and make them mono AAF file, take the stereo file and make it a QuickTime… you do it all in single pass, making process so much easier.”

Since the trial version has been available, we have heard of some bugs related to the Roles feature and others.

ALSO FOR PROS

Other additions to the software that will interest professional users: GPU accelerated export, which takes advantage of the extra processors in the Mac; the ability to set the starting timecode on the timeline; and camera import API.

“We wanted to get out of the situation where we're trying to sync our releases and our schedules with camera guys,” explains Townhill. “We wanted to give them access to the API and allow them to write the necessary plug-in to make their cameras work with Final Cut. All the camera vendors have been on beta.”

THIRD PARTY HELP

While Townhill believes “there is fairly good color grading in FCP X now that covers needs of most generalized editorial process,” he recognizes that some pros are looking for higher-end grading tools.  “Blackmagic has lowered the price on DaVinci color grading tools, which is fantastic because it’s a natural fit for Final Cut customers.”

He emphasizes that Final Cut Pro has always relied on third parties to fill in the gaps in our post production workflow, and says this will continue.

So what’s next? Townhill used the phrase, “We skate where the puck is going” …. FCP X is designed to work with modern workflows, so that means solid stage storage, so no tape-based or film-based storage. Modern digital production workflows mean file-based ingest, file-based distribution.”

For those looking to go to tape, he refers them to Blackmagic and AJA, who are already making tape-based virtual VTR type projects. “AJA is taking the stems export and XML and integrating it with their tape control so you can now lay off tracks that you want to take with their software. We think that is where ultimately broadcast workflows are going.”

AJA’s Jon Thorn had this to say:  “XML support is something AJA is interested in providing for our next-gen capture/edit-to-tape application. We are also interested in providing an XML workflow for our Ki Pro acquisition products to further improve their already leading support for Apple ProRes in FCP X. We have been working closely with Apple on the FCP X XML and we understand the significance of XML to the post production community.”

He says the new XML support in AJA products will likely come in the next few months when their new capture application, demo’d to the public at IBC, is released and when a new firmware version for the Ki Pro products, also shown at IBC, is released.

“Prior to this, and within the next few weeks, we will provide unique support for Roles that can be produced by Final Cut Pro X and audio stems produced by mixing applications,” explains Thorn. “This support will be part of our AJA VTR Xchange Version 5.1 capture/edit-to-tape application. This will be prior to the release of our all new version of this app, AJA Control Room, which will add the same functionality in time.”

Thorn emphasizes that “AJA is a strong supporter of Apple and specifically Apple's involvement in post production. We are already demonstrating our commitment to the future of Apple post production tools with our introduction of the only dual-port Thunderbolt-enabled audio/video I/O device for use alongside Apple's innovative new products.”

So there you have it. Apple is hoping that its information will be enough for pros to download the free trial and see for themselves. They are offering a white paper for those interested in migrating from FCP 7 to FCP X. And Lynda.com is offering training on that specific topic as well.

DOWNLOAD THE WHITE PAPER.   

NOTE: This isn’t a review of the software, just a news story reporting on the most recent developments.  I do want to hear what you think about the software after you’ve played around with it a bit… in a constructive, G-rated way.



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