FCP 2 Book Excerpt - Addendum FCP 3

December 24, 2001

Final Cut Pro 3, Final Cut Pro 2 and You.

Addendum to the book:
"Final Cut Pro 2 - for FireWire DV Editing".
Focal Press
Book By Charles Roberts

The age of digital tools has ushered in a vicious cycle of upgrading that can change the software we use and write about much more quickly than books can be printed. This Addendum contains new features sets found in FCP 3. Most changes in well-designed software are generally tweaks to the workflow, and you will find that the book you have purchased, (book excerpt Final Cut Pro 2 - for FireWire DV Editing) will be just as useful in its information.

Final Cut Pro 3

On December 8th of 2001, Apple Computers announced the upcoming release of Final Cut Pro 3. New upgrades for software packages always take us a little by surprise, but this one came very quickly for a lot of us. Before we start bemoaning the inevitability of software obsolescence, let's take a quick look at what the new version contains, what new features were added and what the upgrade really means to the editor on the ground, especially new editors who are just entering the world of non-linear editors.

One of the more comforting things about Final Cut Pro is that it is reaching maturity as an editing application. In the first few versions of FCP, from 1.0 through 1.2.5, every update (and they were all free updates back then, sigh...) was a major one. The screens and menus themselves might radically change on very basic and fundamental levels every few months as the programmers stretched what the application could do and concentrated on workflow enhancements (a 25 cent word describing the PROCESS of editing, the way you edit using FCP, the wauy your project moves through each stage of production in the application).

I have to tell you it was exciting to watch and be a part of, because it was like watching a child grow up, watching it learn which tools the editor needs and where they should be found in the FCP interface. It was nice as well to know that the FCP team at Apple was listening to us and adding functionality where we said we needed it. It never failed that the new features we clamoured for for six months would magically appear in the next update, like an Xmas present or an unexpectedly large income tax return!

I say that FCP is reaching maturity, however, because the last two version upgrades, from 1.2.5 to 2.0 and from 2.0 to the anticipated 3.0, have been rather different in this respect. The interface (the windows, menus, tools, the most basic parts of the application) have stabilized into a very 'Final Cut Pro-like' format. Two and a half years ago, FCP looked a little weird to generations of Avid, Media 100 and Premiere trained editors, but today, it seems robust and intuitive, even to new users. The complete set of tools is there, well-honed and suited to the task at hand. Everything is where you need it, easy to find and learn to use.

In the jump from 2.0 to 3.0, there is very little change in the basic structure and functionality of FCP from the previous version. Unlike other upgrades, the lion's share of feature inclusion is at the very advanced end of its functionality. Outstanding color and luma correction tools, off-line real-time options, audio punch-in capability, advanced chroma-key (After Effects, look out!), and many others make this upgrade a real challenge to the competition. Its almost scary what you can do inside this one application. As I say in the book, never so much capability for so little cost...

But make no mistake. These are, with few exceptions, advanced features. The basic feature set, the way that you set up a project, capture video, edit it and output it to tape is pretty well solidified. The interface for doing these things has only been gently tweaked in a few places to make it sing. But it hasn't changed, and that is comforting. It means that our little editor is hitting stride. It means you can bet that in five years, you will still be using the same conventions to edit with that you do today. Stability equals permanance equals more time working and less time figuring out a new interface for an application you have been using for years.

That doesn't mean that FCP won't grow and gain new feature-sets as time goes by. As you will see in FCP 3, there are unbelievable new tools showing up right now, and they will continue to show up as long as Steve Jobs hangs onto the current crew of code-slingers. But it means that you can depend on FCP to look, act and edit like the FCP you already know for the rest of your natural-born life. Avid, FCP's foremost competitor in the non-linear video editing market, built much of its success on this stability and continuity of interface. Editors want to work, they want to edit, not to read manuals.

Mac OSX AND Mac OS 9.2.2 Support

That said, let's look at a few of the changes. The first and most important change is that FCP 3 is approved for Mac OSX. This is a critical change for all of us, and will have a lot of implications down the road for what FCP can and cannot do. Mac OSX and its predecessor, Mac OS 9.X.X, are very different. Although FCP 3 can run under both operating systems, they are fundamentally different. Users coming from the Windows world may remember the leap from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95. The change is that profound. The way that you save files, the way that you access media and the way that you interact with your computer is very different under the new Mac OSX.

For us old Mac-heads, this will take a little getting used to. Mac-users get pretty cranky about changes in the operating system, but hang in there for a few years and you'll begin to see why Mac OSX is a necessity. For new Mac users, you will probably never realize how much the system has changed in just one year. To cut to the chase, though, Mac OSX support is a major change. New Macs are shipping with Mac OSX pre-installed. If you have a copy of my book, you will see that (at the time of writing) "Mac OSX is not currently supported." So much for timeliness of the press.

But FCP 3 will work just as happily under Mac OS 9.2.2 as under Mac OSX. The processes for project setup detailed in my book are still correct under 9.2.2 with a very few minor exceptions. For those who still use lots of applications not currently running in Mac OSX (like Photoshop, for instance, to name a big player), running 9.2.2 will still be a requirement for a while. My recommendation to all users is to have both. You can have both Mac OS 9.2.2 and Mac OSX installed on your Macintosh, and you can have both the Mac 9.2.2 and Mac OSX-compliant versions of FCP 3 on the same computer as well. Each version can open each other's project files and you will find that switching back and forth is as easy as rebooting your machine. Use whichever one you need in whichever Mas OS you happen to be in (the 9.2.2 version will not run in Classic mode, either use the Mac OSX version or reboot to the 9.2.2 OS).

What Mac OSX support will change for us is that certain processes, like saving and setting scratch disks, will need to be altered. Since Mac OSX has protected memory, you can no longer set memory allocations as is suggested in my book. Nor can you turn off Virtual Memory. The nature of the multi-user functionality of Mac OSX makes the process of saving project files a little cock-eyed, at least for old-school Mac users. In an addendum that will appear on this site soon, I will detail those changed processes. Make sure to check back for that.

For the Mac OS 9.2.2 version, the material in my book is still accurate, since the OS change from 9.1 (what was current at time of writing) and 9.2.2 are essentially unchanged in regards to system settings and project set up procedures. The pictures may be a little different here and there, but the process is pretty much the same. A short addendum already exists here Final Cut Pro v.3.0 for Mac OS 9.2.2, an ambitious beginning... detailing the few minor setup changes to look out for.

Autosave Archive

One of the things that has changed in the FCP 3 upgrade that will be important is the inclusion of Autosave Archiving. In my book, I gave reasons for not using the FCP 2 Autosave feature and provided a process for project backup that makes Autosave unnecessary in the long run. FCP 2's Autosave was only really functional for recovering projects in the event of a crash. It didn't allow you the ability to create a regular archive of versions of your project that you could return to if you decided you didn't like the last three hours of work.

FCP 3 institutes a much more robust system of project backups in the Autosave Archive. Periodically, at a frequency you choose in the preferences, FCP saves a copy of your project in an archive folder. Then instead of just resaving the same file again later, it saves a new copy later on while you work. As this Archive of past versions builds up in the Archive folder, you get a real record of where your project has been. You can open it up in whatever stage you want, either two hours ago or two weeks ago (depending on how you set the preferences). And even better, you can revert your project back to the way it was then from WITHIN FCP, without shutting it down or opening up a new project. Much more convenient.

This Archive should not be seen as a replacement for a regular backup strategy, like the one I suggest in my book, though, and, when combined with that strategy, will yield a bulletproof system of project backup. Never lose anything again, no matter what happens to your Zip disks or hard drive (or client's tendency towards flip-flopping on what they want you to produce!)

Real Time Effects

This one is bound to confuse folks. FCP 3 includes some realtime options for FCP editors, but those come with a few caveats, and the caveats are not insubstantial. First, what is 'realtime'. Realtime is a term that means changes to your clips and sequences which do not require rendering in order to playback correctly. If you apply a transition between two clips in a sequence or if you apply an effects filter, the clip or sequence it is applied to must be rendered in order for it to play back and for you to see the results. This is because video does not exist yet for the clips after you change them with a transition or effects filter. When you render them, video is created that displays the effects you applied.

Now realtime effects implies that, through whatever means, effects you are applying do not have to be rendered to playback correctly. We call it realtime because each frame that is played back is being rendered just before it plays back. Thus the rendering that must take place is fast enough that it is accomplished while the clip is being played back at realtime, or the video frame rate (29.97 frames per second for NTSC and 25 frames per second for PAL).

As you can expect, this requires a lot of processing horsepower from the G4. As those of you who have used editors in the past know, rendering means watching a progress bar slowly creep across the screen, even slower if you're in a hurry! That's because it is creating video for each frame. Part of the render time is in creating the effect you want to see. The other part is just in compressing the frame (see my book for the long explanation of these terms and ideas). With FCP 3, the operating system, the standard hardware on the Mac and the FCP code is souped up enough to actually perform this rendering on the fly now. As such, realtime effects are included in the FCP upgrade...

With A Few Caveats (ahem).

First, realtime effects are only available on Macs that have G4 processors that have 500 mHz or faster processors. In machines with slower procs, or G3's, the option is absent in the application.

Second, the effects are limited to specific common transitions and effects. These can be very useful and handy, but don't expect to see realtime chromakeys anytiime soon. For the exact list, check the Final Cut Pro website or your manual if you already own FCP 3.

Third, and most importantly, these realtime effects are for preview only. They will not pass out to Firewire so that you can watch them on a video monitor the way you would with clips that do not have to be rendered. Any video that goes out the Firewire tube to your deck or camera must still be rendered. These previews are to be viewed on your computer screen only.

This is the clincher for a lot of people, and whether or not realtime effects means much to you depends on what you edit. If you need realtime playback of dissolves and other transitions to get timing down cold, but watching your edits on a fullscreen video monitor isn't important, this feature would be very handy. You will still have to render to get your stuff out to tape, but you won't have to render the same transition fifteen times to see that it lasts long enough. Realtime previews, even though restricted to the computer monitor would be invaluable

If you MUST see video out to a true video monitor to work (and many of us must for various reasons) then the realtime previews may not be such a bonus after all. If you do a great deal of straight cut (or editing without transitions) or your effects work is mostly using less common effects filters and Compositing Modes, the included realtime effects suite won't net you much benefit.

In short, realtime effects are only going to be useful for specific groups of people. I can certainly foresee a time in the near future when the processor speeds on Macs allow not only realtime effects of more than just common transitions, but also realtime effects that are not merely for preview on the computer monitor. At the rate that Apple is developing hardware and software, that acheivement may be sooner than we all think (making yet another edition of this book necessary!) But that time is not quite here yet, and we have to determine as editors whether features will speed us up or stand in our way. The best method, as usual, is to experiment and see if it works for you as a tool. You, the editor, are the final judge of your tools.

Just A Quick Listing

This is not an exhaustive listing of the new features in FCP 3, just a quick listing of some of the more important inclusions and alterations that have an impact on new users. Check out the Final Cut Pro page at Apple's website for a listing of them all. Many new features like Waveform Monitor and other scopes, Audio Punch In, more effects and other good stuff make the upgrade worth every penny of the once-again very low price. The main thing to remember is that the Mac you have, the FCP application you have and the DV equipment you have are a key to creativity that will continue to grow.

FCP is resilient enough to meet even the most demanding editing circumstances.The more you grow as an editor, the more you will find out about FCP features you weren't even aware of. Work through my book, make lots of great work and try stuff you you haven't tried yet. Don't just stop at my book; read everything you can about editing. There are great resources out there, many of which are listed on my links page. In particular, check the FCP Article Index of Ken Stone and the Los Angeles Final Cut Pro User Group for up to the minute articles on FCP 3 issues.

And, hey, drop me an email and let me know about what crazy projects you created with your tools. Like Ralph Fairweather mentions in the Foreword to the book, its the "Eureka"s that really make FCP such an affirmed crowd-pleaser over and over again. We make the proof that its a revolutionary tool. I'm looking forward to hearing from ya!

December, 2001.

Charles Roberts is Assistant Professor of Video and Digital Media at Fitchburg State College, and a regular contributor to 2-Pop (Creative Planet's Digital Filmmaker's Resource Site)

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