Avid to FCP: A brief Primer for Avid Editors

September 23, 2001

The Changeover Challenge: From Avid to Final Cut Pro
Orientation101 for Avid Editors

by Loren S. Miller

This is intended as a "Transition Aid" overview for you, the Avid user, which focuses primarily on some glaring interface and operating issues between the two systems, by no means complete, to help you get going in FCP as rapidly as possible and without too many surprises. I've written this in a fairly balanced manner, because I like both systems very much, for different reasons. Avid editors will know what features and operations I'm talking about and should follow right along in their open FCP workstations for best effect.

Please note: this overview is no substitute for professional FCP training! You can now achieve real certification in FCP as you can in Avid, and they're both worth every penny.

The keyboard
In some ways encountering FCP was a wild and creative wakeup call-- and in others a rude assault on my parochial Avid body memory! Upon reviewing version 1.0 of FCP, immediately I cried out "Where's my J-K-L?" It's almost the first thing Avid editors look for in competing systems.

Lo and behold, next iteration from Apple, J-K-L keyboard playback arrived in FCP. Those coming from other systems were very grateful for these "Steenbeck keys." Any Avid user who captures or navigates the timeline using J-K-L plus I-O to mark, will have no issues here. E and R have other functions, however, and all other keys are different.

If you are keyboard-sensitive you'll discover a far richer key control structure in FCP, generally two levels deeper than Avid, (although I hasten to add, a new ability to map Commnand, Option and Control keys as well as Shifted keys is now available in XDV and newer high-end models.) Look into getting my KeyGuide™ for FCP right here at LAFCPUG's store, at a special user group discount, to get you right up to speed.

Project, Windows, Settings, Browser and Bins
Avid editors coming to FCP will enjoy the same benefits from the Windows>Arrange menu as Avid editors get from Workspaces and Toolsets. Very customizable.

The Project Browser window is similar to the Avid Project window, except that more than one whole project can be loaded in FCP at a time. This allows you to drag/copy sequences, clips, stored effects or titles, from one project pane right to another, a real liberation.

You may miss Avid's comprehensive Settings pane; be ready for that! Settings are easily accessed but are scattered in three or four different areas of FCP, depending upon your needs. There is an Easy Setup function to simplify matters. (FCP, I'm sorry to say, doesn't give you the kind of fine control over button shadows and shades of teal Avid offers. If this is a dealbreaker for you, get back on bottled water.)

Avid users coming to FCP can expect a bin to hold the same sorts of material:
video and audio clips, subclips, sequences, graphic imports, saved effects and titles.

Avid editors can actually play each clip frame right in the bin, from J-K-L, sort of a "mini-movie." In FCP you drag the mouse to scrub over the selected clip frame, with Shift-Control held down, to see any action and without audio. Still very useful for checking content.

Record / Capture
FCP Log and Capture is nearly identical to Avid's Record/Digitize tool, and should present little changeover challenge. Like Avid's, FCP's L&C mode lets you either log, then batch, or Capture Now, which unlike Avid requires an explicit save to your target bin.

Pay particular attention to your Scratch Disks-- there's an access pane in FCP's L&C environment as well as under the master Preferences window. Certain housekeeping actions such as zapping the PRAM or unplugging a FireWire drive can reset your Scratch to your system disk and you'll wonder why you're suddenly dropping frames! You'll do a little more checking in FCP.

FCP Batch Capture behaves virtually identically to Avid, it just presents source tape requests differently, in a list window, which provides a handy history of the entire batch session and what's left to be done, by source reel.

Media Manipulation and Management
Avid users coming to FCP will be surprised to see how easy it is to manipulate timecode for a captured clip. In Avid, one must explicitly access the Modify command to change any important clip info: timecode, code format, source reel number. These are instantly changeable in an FCP's bin, and yes, this can be a double-edged sword, so use it carefully.

Be aware however that you're not changing the code of your underlying QuickTime DV media file any more easily than you could an OMFI Mediafile, and that a botched clip is easily restored either by importing or just dragging the file from a media drive right to the Browser window from the desktop, which establishes a file pointer. This will strike a familiar chord with Avid users who restore accidentally deleted clips back to a bin from their Media Tool window, but here it's on steroids. You can drag any acceptable format media file into the Browser. You're advised to keep all such source files on high speed media drives for best playback.

In Avid deletion always occurs through a checkoff dialog with plenty of warning messages, because in some places like its Media Tool window, you can check to delete actual underlying mediafiles.

In FCP, there's no Media Tool window. You can unceremoniously delete anything you select from the Browser with the Delete key. For clips it doesn't matter, you restore them by re-importing or simply dragging in. In FCP you can delete underlying captured media through a Media Manager operation or from the Finder.

For render files, a separate item called the Render Manager allows you to remove "unused precomputes"-- Avid talk for old render files which are accessed in its Media Tool along with everything else. You will note there is no "Select Media Relatives" and Sort is limited to column headings as opposed to Avid custom parameters, but the FCP Browser Find dialog is rich.

FCP Reconnect works pretty darn well these days, as good as Avid Relinking, almost as sophisticated as Avid when "loading media database," and it is semiautomatic. I often move whole groups of clips from one drive to another right at the Finder level, and when I reload FCP (and sometimes when it's already loaded, just to challenge it) FCP goes looking and finds the clips or alerts me that they're suddenly offline and asks me if I want to relink. You'll like that.

Avid users will feel right at home with FCP's Media Manager Consolidate functions. They are so well laid out they are self-explanatory. And for the most part, Consolidate works as expected. Elements to avoid however include Nested regions, which MM doesn't properly track into, (and somehow that sounds familiar) and subclips require a carefully set variation of Consolidate options to properly trim them to reflect sequence use. Otherwise, when you try to redigitize your sequence the system may go looking to capture giant master clips for each and every subclip, whichsort ofdefeats consolidation.

The TimeLine, Targeting and Trimming
Avid's Blue Position Indicator becomes-- ready? The PLAYHEAD.Aha! Yes, it's still blue.

Avid users must adjust to the Snap feature as a simple toggle in FCP which cannot (yet) be temporarily overridden. It's on or it's off when you tap the N key. If you hold the N key down it'll oscillate between states and you might get lucky!

As in Avid, editing within an FCP Nest (an Avid-like Submaster which contains pre-edited content collapsed into one video track and optionally a stereo pair) properly ripples the Nest duration in the master timeline.

Avid users expecting track autopatching, or the display of both source and record track lights along the left of timeline when a clip is loaded in a Viewer, will not find either. The systems share similar track locking, but targeting for editing differs.

Many Avid users will find FCP track targeting to be plain annoying. It's a two-key process and requires too much puzzle-solving to be intuitive. The "base targeting" keys are F6, F7 and F8. You must rapidly add a track number to F6 to retarget video, and to F7 and F8 to retarget an audio pair. Landing a small plane might be easier, I don't know.

Avid editors will notice Trimming in FCP differs because there is no Trim mode, only a special Trim Edit window for many operations which can also be accomplished in the timeline itself.

Although self-contained Loop/Trim Play or Live J-K-L in Trim mode doesn't exist, you can Play Around the current playhead position, and with the edit point selected you can trim on the fly- center roll or side ripple edit-- using keypad values-- just like Avid Xpress--while auditing a cut for change. And there is a healthy keyboard command set for trimming, looping, selecting edit points and cycling trim sides which in many ways surpasses Avid.

A capability Avid editors may miss in FCP is Add Edit During Playback, which one uses on the fly when following musical beats. The closest approximation is Add Marker During Playback. You then backtrack over the markers-- from the keyboard, if you like-- and turn them into cuts with Control-V. Currently more time consuming than Avid.

Typing Numbers
Avid editor may recall the ability to convert a large typed value such as 300 from seconds and frames to just frames by adding "f" after the value and before pressing enter/return. FCP doesn't offer this; it treats large numbers like 300 literally by integer position, in this case to three seconds and zero frames, not ten seconds. However, as in Avid, you can easily switch your sequence timeline master count to frames in FCP and such keypad values will be honored, and you can use the keypad to move the playhead, a selected clip or any selected group, including the entire timeline.

The underlying timecode carryover function is pretty smart, too. Type 455 and FCP knows darn well you want to advance the Playhead (or a clip, or an edit point) five seconds and 25 frames.

Effects and Filter Editing
What will impress Avid editors most about Effects mode is that there is none. No Effects Palette and separate Editor window. You use the Canvas for basic clip moves on any selected clip, such as scaling, cropping, distortion or rotation. It relaly works! FCP's highly liquid clip manipulation model lies well beyond Avid's rigid timeline-based effect application/editing mode. For instance, any clip can have its opacity changed by dragging its Levels overlay line much like an audio rubberbanding control, and unlimited keyframes can be applied. Same goes for clip rotation, scaling, and filter effects-- all keyframeable, a la After Effects.

Effects editing is contained in Filters and Controls tabbed panes within each clip opened in a Viewer, which reveals a keyframe editing timeline for each effect parameter. You can manipulate effects in a clip or, after editing it into the timeline, into the "clip instance" lying there. Just double-click it to bring it into a clip Viewer and move to a tabbed Filters or Controls pane. Different, decentralized effects world.

As in Avid, any effect can be dragged to the Browser to be archived and later applied to any clip or group, or Nest, (which Avid editors know as a Submaster effect).

As with Avid, you can "broadcast" one effect to many selected clips at once, including preset color correction and any other filter or transition, although the method in FCP for applying multiple dissolves to clips is not immediately obvious:

In Avid, while Edit mode is active, you intuitively Shift-select the multiple edit points you wish to dissolve, and then double-click the Dissolve icon in the Effect Editor or call up the Quick Dissolve function dialog.

In FCP you first set your desired default dissolve or other transition and duration, then park the Playhead at the head of a group, select all the clips in the group and physically drag them to the Overwrite with Transition box in the Canvas, which redeposits the group right back in the timeline track (assuming you've properly targeted it) with the default dissolve/transition attached! It does have its "Think Different" kind of logic.

Avid users will discover Reatime preview of effects to be about on par, some working better in Avid, some better in FCP. In either system, much depends on your engine and layer load.

Keyframing Details
The model here is closer to After Effects.

Avid editors merely zoom out or in (Command K or L) to magnify a work area in a clip's Filters timeline window. This avoids "keyframe pileups" which make it impossible to select and edit keyframes. In FCP use Command-Plus or Minus to visually stretch out a clip timeline. Timecode is displayed above the mini-timeline window as a guide to keyframe placement in time.

In FCP you can copy selected groups of keyframe attributes from one clip to another, using Copy, followed by Paste Attributes whichoffers checkbox selectionof keyframe parameters you want duplicated. In Avid you select and copy keyframes themselves. In FCP there is no quick way to slide or delete all the keyframes under a particular group, such as all the keyframes in Crop or Distort -- you must go in and reset or delete each and every subparameter (such as Crop Left, Right, etc.) or start over. But remember, FCP hasn't yet reached its five-year release maturity cycle and already we're complaining about arcane keyframe issues?

Audio Tools
In FCP you won't find an Audio Mixdown track tool, not yet.

Avid's AudioSuite and EQ tools are currently far more interactive than FCP's; the filters are more responsive and their operation more intuitive. This reflects some leveraging of Avid's ProTools® division toolset.

Yes, timeline Audio level manipulation is virtually identical-- rubberband and ramp to your heart's content in FCP-- your video opacity is manipulated the same way!

The Gain Automation tool in Avid, which records manual level changes on the fly and from it deposits a raft of keyframes, is not a feature of FCP just yet.

Avid users will discover that both relative and absolute gain is available in FCP-- which allows adjustments to any selected tracks or groups of audio clips. The digital meters are accurate.

Avid's Audio Punch-In becomes FCP's VoiceOver Tool, and I think FCP's is better in operation, but Avid's is better in result. FCP has a nice countdown cue feature which facilitates easy live dialog replacement. But you have to explicitly save any VO clip in FCP-- it is a variation of Capture Now. In Avid, it not only appears within the desired In-Out range but gets deposited in a bin. Otherwise, you have near parity.

Title Tool
Avid editors coming to FCP will miss some of the finer controls in the Avid Title Tool (brought to Avid by the makers of Elastic Reality), such as the ability to work right in the frame window and see how the title interacts with the clip background without leaving the tool. Avid users can vary line leading and character height right there, and are able to handle Postscript fonts without added plug-in support. In FCP they will enjoy the similar controls and way more design choices found in the bundled Boris Calligraphy plug-ins which more than make up for the lean built-in FCP titler.

Neither system supports fast multiple subtitle generation or prepared text batch import, but these are available through third party solutions on both systems.

When a title in the Avid timeline is double-clicked it invokes the Title Tool in Effect mode. In FCP when you double-click a title it brings up the clip instance in a Viewer window. You access the text component from the Viewer's Controls tab. When you close the Viewer your changes show up in the Canvas window, and the title is RealTime on fast systems.

Color Correction Tool
Avid editors coming to FCP will miss some of the Symphony-like CC matching layout, which with its neighboring clip matching layout is very smart design, but in FCP similar realtime CC bezel controls are available minus the Gamma/chroma levels curves boxes.

Codecs and File formats
Here Avid users will be impressed with FCP's selectable compression RT Offline P-JPEG codecs for realtime transcoding capture and playback for editing your miniseries at the beach. XDV currently has no capture codecs other than its implementation of DV25. For export choices using QuickTime, Avid users should feel right at home. There is tighter integration with DVD chapter marker export in FCP as well.

Graphic import limits in Avid are 5000 pixels square. In FCP your imports are limited to 4000 pixels square. This still allows a photo scan rich enough to support up to a 5:1 zoom without softening, but for new SD widescreen and true HD formats you'll want to animate even deeper scans which take you beyond either import limit, so these are imported into After Effects, which currently supports a workspace of 30,000 pixels.

Moving Bins to FCP
FCP supports various import formats, including tab-delimited ASCII text batch lists, EDL's and the like. It is easy to import a properly exported Avid Bin into FCP-- there is even a third party free Applescript to help facilitate ALE-to-FCP functions from Peter Reventlow: www.dharmafilm.com/applescript. (He also provides scripts for transferring the other way.) You should expect all re-capturable elements in the bin to show up in your FCP timeline. Offline sequences go into the timeline like butter. All you do is recapture from your original sources, because as you probably realize, the two systems encode captured DV25 media differently. Graphic imports and audio which has been converted to DV source clips can also be relinked.

Digital Cut in Avid amounts to the same operation embodied in FCP's Print to Video/Edit to Tape operations and these are modal, because nothing else can occur while these are happening.

Print to Video in particular is FCP's answer to an Avid "crash assemble edit" but it's done more gracefully and offers lots of pro options for head/tail black, slating, countdown, you name it.

Edit to Tape is closest to an Avid's device-controlled, frame accurate Digital Cut and is used only with a a video subsystem add-on, such as Aurora design's Igniter, or Digital VooDoo analog capture card, and utilizes control drivers licensed from Pipeline, Inc, which work exceedingly well with RS422-connected Beta decks. You can even repurpose your Avid RS422 cable. The only problem is that you'll need a serial-to-USB adapter to connect that cable to your new G4.

Avid users coming to FCP will discover fewer dividing lines between operations but a few modes are still there. In FCP, Capture mode is a generally separate activity, as it is in Avid. The Trim Edit window provides enough disruption to timeline editing that it could be called a mode, and some find it valuable just as they do "Big Trim" mode in Avid.

Segment mode? FCP is always in Segment mode!

Avid's broadcast-quality desktop Merdien-based onlining systems were first introduced around 1996; they have been tardy in entering the DV marketplace, while Apple introduced an affordable DV editing solution but has been tardy in providing a competing high-end desktop compositing/finishing solution featuring uncompressed video, but which is now available through working third party products optimized for FCP.

Avid users coming to FCP will truly love the more flexible effects possibilities, the 99 video and audio tracks, and larger variety of import and export options, and thus enjoy choice and expanded skill sets.


copyright © Loren S Miller 2002

When he's not obsessing over differences between Avid and FCP splicing buttons Loren S. Miller is an award-winning documentary producer and editor, screenwriter, project consultant, graphic designer, editing teacher, and developer of ScanGuide™ Pro for photo scanning, and KeyGuides™ for major Macintosh media authoring software. Reach him anytime at LorMiller@aol.com.


This article was originally published at LAFCPUG and is reprinted here with permission.
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