Apple Final Cut Pro Adobe’s New Competition

To say that any one software editing program will be the only one you’ll ever need is a pretty big statement to back up, but Apple’s come pretty darn close with Final Cut Pro. This software package provides easy but comprehensive editing tools and a multitude of adjustable filters and compositing effects that can be used to create stunning visuals. With Final Cut Pro, a DV camera, and a Macintosh G3, you can have a complete editing system for around $5,000. Well, then how good of a program could Final Cut Pro be? Probably some slow, just the basics, pseudo-clone of Adobe Premiere, right? Wrong.

What I came to see is that Final Cut Pro is one of the most in-depth video editing and 2D manipulation packages out there. It is a powerful program; outstanding and sometimes a little overwhelming, but altogether not just another “editing” program. As Final Cut Pro is so in-depth and, not in a bad way, complex, I feel that it is only necessary to point out what I feel are the most important features and ask you to take my word that it is a capable “editing package.”

As this was my first experience with Final Cut Pro, I went into it with no expectations and with the curiosity of an ambitious wide-eyed editor just graduating from film school. So I started from the beginning without diving into any large complicated projects.

Installation was easily performed from one CD-ROM. After that, I opened up the manual and went through the tutorials. The tutorials were very concise and explained clearly how editing in Final Cut Pro works. After that, I had a pretty good idea of how to navigate my way through the program.

Also, there is Power Start CD-ROM from the company Straight Scoop Enterprises which includes a hardware overview, a tutorial and a resource guide for Final Cut Pro. This particular CD-ROM was very informative and even fun. It was this CD, in fact, that sold me on a lot of the ideas that Final Cut Pro offered. Now I felt ready to start with my own project.

Log and Capture

I work almost exclusively with the DV format, so the fact that Final Cut Pro, or rather the G3 Macintosh, doesn’t have any component in and outs didn’t bother me. However, if you do need component I/O, Final Cut Pro is certified compatible with Pinnacle System’s Targa 1000 and 2000 capture and output cards. Also if you haven’t got a G3, you can purchase an Apple Firewire Kit for Macs that don’t have built-in Firewire capability. For the purposes of this particular project, I downloaded DV through the Firewire input built into the G3 using a Sony GV-D300 portable DV deck.

The log and capture windows are very intuitive and self explanatory. What I found to be very pleasing is the excellent communication Final Cut Pro had with my DV deck through the Firewire, even allowing me to pull up exact points of reference by simply typing in a timecode number. Batch digitizing was made easy through simple log and capture dialogue boxes. I could name the clip, write comments, and there’s even a box that can be checked if you want to mark a log “good” for batch digitizing only the best clips while logging a tape. Final Cut Pro also includes a Waveform and Vectorscope Monitor which is essential in a professional setting.

Editing

The editing interface for Final Cut Pro consists of four windows. There is the Browser, the Viewer, the Timeline and the Canvas. The Browser is where all the clips and sequences are organized and is basically the heart of your project. The Timeline is where clips are worked with in the sequences. When clips are selected, they are seen in the Viewer where in and out points can be made and then be placed in the sequence using different editing methods such as insert, overwrite, replace, fit to fill, superimpose, or simply drag and drop; whatever suits your personal work flow method. All work done in the timeline can be seen in the canvas window.

One of the best features with Final Cut Pro is that it constantly outputs a signal through the Firewire so that viewing the sequence through an external monitor

was possible while I worked on my project. This is a very important feature, usually reserved for higher-end editing packages, that allows me to see exactly what appears on a TV screen without having to go through a “preview” command.

What I first found was that the default setup of the interface seemed a bit cramped. The Viewer and the Canvas windows are considerably large, which is nice, but left me with a tiny Browser where my clips where organized and a small Timeline where the blunt of my work is done, and I like a nice big timeline that takes up at least one quarter of the screen, personally. However, Final Cut Pro’s interface is very user-definable.

I was able to set up the interface in a way that better suited my work flow and I was able to define other presets like the number of undo’s, automatic save, multi-frame trim size, render ahead, snapping, etc. The Browser can even be set up to show thumbnails of all the clips which can be played and shown within the Browser window. The ability to customize the user’s desktop makes Final Cut Pro more approachable, especially to long-time users of other editing packages.

Using the tool palette, the editor can have precise control over how a sequence is manipulated. The palette provides tools that allow an editor to select individual tracks or all tracks, make cuts, zoom in and out of

a sequence, perform slip or roll edits, add keyframes, distort and crop clips, etc. These tools can also be accessed easily through simple hotkeys.

This innovative feature allows the editor to take full advan-tage of time and work flow. The more I worked in Final Cut Pro, the more I found myself taking advantage of the keyboard shortcuts to mark ins and outs, add transitions and perform different editing functions which in other applications I haven’t often been inclined to because they were not as intuitive.

Compositing and Effects:

If I was asked to describe Final Cut Pro in the simplest way, I would say, “It’s Adobe After Effects with excellent means to edit video.” That is to say that Final Cut Pro allows the application of various filters and effects to clips in the same manner and more importantly control, as AE. In fact, Final Cut Pro can even use After Effects filters within its interface like Boris AE, DigiEffects AgedFilm or Cinelook. The video filters available in Final Cut Pro are almost identical to what you would find in a standard version of Adobe After Effects. You can manipulate filters by applying keyframes and adjusting sliders in the Viewer screen. These filters can even be previewed on an external monitor.

The most impressive thing about these AE-like filters is the incredible control of compositing that Final Cut Pro can offer to any editor. Compositing is one of the most commonly used effects in video, but few editing programs give the control necessary to create acceptable mattes. In Final Cut Pro, an editor can apply a chromakey, adjust the colors, and use a matte choker to produce great looking composites.

The great thing about having all these effects in one package is first, it reduces the need to switch between different applications and second, it allows you to see more clearly how effects will be edited into a sequence, avoiding unnecessary rendering.

Final Cut Pro can even draw and animate masks like AE and read alpha channels created in other programs. The pen tool in the tool palette can be used to adjust motion paths and add or delete keyframes in animated layers. All of this can be done with precise control, allowing editors to experiment and learn to manipulate and create stunning images.

One of the more advanced features is the ability to customize your own effects by using the FXBuilder. This feature allows the editor to create their own effect by using components from other available effects and FX-Script, which is the programming language used by the FXBuilder. This feature is definitely useful if you are partial to consistently using many filters to create a desired effect for a clip. Instead of reapplying the same filters over and over, an editor can create a custom effects script that will automatically apply the necessary filters and adjustments within. If one is not partial to programming then this may take a while to learn, but imagine being able to create a whole set of customized scripts and being able to transport your personal one-of-a-kind effects to any Final Cut Pro system.

As for the Rest:

As the rest of Final Cut Pro goes, it proves itself as an efficient nonlinear editor, providing all the necessary tools to work in a professional environment. Final Cut Pro is capable of 99 tracks of audio and real-time mixing up to eight tracks with sampling rates from 8-48 kHz and more than twelve audio filters including an EQ.

An interesting quirk is that there is no audio monitor during editing or output to tape, so having an external mixer or monitor will be necessary to ensure optimum audio levels. When outputting to tape it is only necessary to render any effects and transitions. There is no need to compress the whole sequence or “make movie” before printing to tape. However, there are promises of soon-to-be-available hardware components that will provide Final Cut Pro with powerful realtime features that will eliminate rendering processes further. This should boost the validity of this software package in a high-end professional market.

Bottom Line

What it means to me to be a non-linear video editor, is to say that if I can think it, I can make it. What’s great about the state of digital video editing today is that for the most part the statement remains true, depending on your budget. However, for a lot of us in the independent production world, we are limited to what is affordable, and that sometimes makes our creativity limited to the software’s capabilities.

I know that when I’m editing, I thoroughly enjoy thinking of an idea and saying to myself, “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if I did this!” and then figuring out how to create that particular visual. Many times I’ll end up using three or more programs to create the desired effect. I believe the arrival of Final Cut Pro is going to dramatically increase the level of quality and productivity of digital media from independent producers, small post-production houses and even high-end full service studios. Apple is opening new doors to creative tools. Time will tell if people are willing to use them.

Header Image by Valeri Pizhanski

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