Posts Tagged ‘ Final Cut Pro ’

Review: iChat Theater and FCP7

This week I got to undertake editing and consulting with Final Cut Pro 7’s iChat Theater option.  It’s definitely been an interesting experience.

When using the iChat Theater mode, you and (from what I’ve learned so far) the other party must both be signed into iChat.  When one of my test runs was with someone running AIM on a Mac, they couldn’t video chat.  Turn on iChat Theater from the View menu in FCP, then start a video chat with the person you’re looking to partner with.  If you’re the one editing, ignore the chat window.  You have better things to do, and your mic will be picking up your voice anyway.  You can also turn on timecode for the chat, so as the video plays and stops, the viewer can see the timecode of the frame.

If you’re on the receiving end, you’ll see whatever video is being worked on – either from the timeline or a raw clip in preview mode.  You won’t see bins, timelines, or tools, just the video.  This means you can see what the cut is looking like and provide feedback, but you can’t see what’s going on in the program while your editor makes those changes.  It is however, hugely helpful.  I was able to preview and entire short film to one of my chat participants, and the quality on his end was reasonable to excellent through the experience.  In my other chat I was consulting on an edit I couldn’t be physically present for.  I had excellent video until I took a break and started streaming a documentary from Netflix.  Not wanting to loose my place, I kept the player open when returning to my chat and noticed a definite degradation in video quality due to my rather overtaxed processor.

Audio from both of my tests was good.  I had some audio problems when I was overtaxing my processor, but when I did what I was supposed to – give over the majority of the system to FCP, audio quality was great.  The participant not editing is audible through the entire chat.  I don’t talk when I screen footage, so I have no idea if you can talk while you’re playing video.

As an editor, the consult was a bit frustrating because there were times I wanted to grab the controls and help out.  That’s not what this tool is for though.  This tool is a way to screen footage to a director or another party who can’t be physically present in the room with you.  It’s not the same as sitting them down in your office – in my case, the living room – and letting things play out on a larger screen.  However, it’s worth it to be able to get live, real-time feedback from key people.

I also attempted a screen share during the chat I was consulting on.  The visual quality of the tiny FCP controls was alright, but attempting to play video back this way is simply too much for a 2-way Wi-fi connection to handle.  If you need to show someone how to apply a specific effect or setting, this would be a workable solution.  However, if you’re trying to preview a rough cut, you’ll quickly run into problems here.

Overall, FCP’s iChat theater option works will for what it’s designed to do – showcase the video.  If you’re looking for more hands on remote collaboration, you’re going to be disappointed by it.  So far, there’s no real workable solution for remotely patching a second person into a computer for editing unless your in a fully networked facility.  A wired ethernet connection may be able to solve some of the quality issues I found during my screen share attempt, but this computer runs off of wireless, and an ethernet connection isn’t an option in my set-up.  So there you have it.  If you haven’t tried out the feature yet, give it a runaround.  It’s a helpful little guy.

The Challenge of Learning New Skills

I’ve set some very high goals for myself this summer.  I’m not taking any classes towards my Master’s Degree, as they aren’t really offering any of the ones that I want.  Instead, I’m focusing on heavily diversifying my skill set.  In the past 2 weeks I’ve acquired Adobe CS4 Design Premium, and Avid MediaComposer 3.5.  My goal for the summer is to gain a familiarity with Avid, since I will be using it to do some rather advanced editing in the fall.  I am also aiming to become proficient in Photoshop and Flash over the summer, and to build a familiarity with Dreamweaver, so I can give my site a truly custom layout.  Wordpress themes are very  nice, but I feel that they aren’t really suited to building a site that will really amaze people.

Photoshop has not proved much of a challenge yet.  However, upon starting Avid today, I was immediately faced with the fact that learning this new editing system will not be easy.  For someone who has been editing on Final Cut Pro for 8 years, it’s quite a culture shock to suddenly start using a completely different system.  I now understand the frustration editors must be feeling when their companies switch systems.  (Some major stations in my area have switched from Avid to FCP due to cost issues.)  I’ve built an extremely efficent workflow in Final Cut, which is in part due to the fact that their user interface has been very consistent .  I’m personally hoping they keep it the same in the next version as well.  It just works beautifully.  While I have no doubt that I can build an equally efficient workflow in Avid, I know that the initial culture shock is going to really set me back initially.  I’m used to being a pretty darn good editor, and I’m a bit uncomfortable with the idea that I’m not on Avid.

Regardless, I’m determined to push forward with it.  I have all my source footage from Issues, Season 1.  I’m planning to gain practice by recutting some of the episodes and trailers in Avid.  I already know what the final composition of those pieces should look like, so I feel I can really focus on the interface and learn it.  It’s much more symbol driven than FCP, which is the first thing I’ve noticed.  When I have the $550 it takes, I’ll sign up for the online training that will get me extremely proficient with the system.  For now, I’ll muddle through on my own.

I think one of the principle challenges to editors expanding their skill sets and really diversifying their abilities is cost.  I could not have afforded to do any of what I’m doing right now (learning Avid, Photoshop and Flash) if it weren’t for my rather unique circumstances.  My employer does quite a lot of business with Adobe, and as such, was able to secure copies of CS4 Design Premium to give to employees who had completed Adobe training in the past.  And I was able to buy Avid MediaComposer 3.5 utilizing their extremely generous academic discount.  My employer also affords me discounts on PeachPit Press training materials.  PeachPit also offers discounts to customers who have shopped with them in the past, independent of my employer’s affiliation with them.  That means the total cost for CS4, Avid MC, and Adobe’s Photoshop and Flash training books was $300, which I was able to fund with my tax refund, so it means no additional debt for me.  (Which is good – I’m still paying off my camera.)

My situation, which I wouldn’t wish on anyone because it’s not financially sound or healthy at all – has afforded me a rare opportunity to work with the best software out there for little to no cost.  By contrast, most editors must pay hundreds or thousands for training on these systems.  The one piece of advice I would offer to all of them to is utilize self-paced, independent training if they own their own software.  $550 will give you a year of access to Avid’s training resources, including all the classes you need for MediaComposer certification.  Apple and Adobe’s training books give you media to practice with, and typically cost $30 to $50 per book.  It puts training much farther in reach than classes.  (Apple’s cost ~$600 each, and Avid’s can run upwards of $2,000.)  It let’s you work at your own pace, which I find invaluable when I’m learning new software.

Another option is to think about taking some money and subscribing to Lynda.com.  A Lynda membership runs ~$375/year.  With it, you get unlimited access to their training library.  I have access to it through a work account, and have been highly impressed by the video based training they offer on Apple and Adobe products.  They offer a truly amazing range of training.  Like the books, Lynda gives you media so you can work along with the instructor with their premium membership (which is the price I quoted above).

Know of another good, affordable means of training yourself?  Feel free to leave a comment.  I’ll post them to my site and share them with my groups on LinkedIn so we can start building a decent database of options.

Children & Final Cut Pro

Sorry for the lack of updates the past 2 days.  Hit a very busy patch where I wasn’t home, and updating from the iPhone can be difficult.

As a trainer at an Apple Store, I teach people everything from turning on a computer and using a mouse, up to how to create movies and videos using FCP.  One of the more interesting things I’ve discovered is that some families with training memberships are using the membership on their kids.  Yesterday I met with a teenage boy who is fully proficient at iMovie and is planning on moving up to Final Cut.  (I recommended Final Cut Express to his mother, as he has no use for the other programs in FCS.)  We spent the hour talking about how to chroma key, and why blue and green are the usual colors for chroma keying.  One particular boy genius I have is about 7.  He is such a master at iMovie that his parents and I did a test session to see if he was ready to start using FCE.  The result:  a 7 year-old’s attention span isn’t long enough to deal with a complex program like FCE, so he is working on other iLife programs for now.

Training kids and teenagers in Final Cut is always tricky.  I started using FCP when I was 16, but it was offered as part of a Television Production course sequence my school had.  I got to practice shooting, lighting, sound, and editing every day for 2 solid years.  (Junior and senior years of high school.)  That kind of continuity made me so good at Final Cut that when I started college, I successfully got my Communication Studies department to convert from Adobe Premier to Final Cut Pro, and then ran the suites for 3 years as a student employee.  I trace my proficiency with Final Cut to the fact that it was something I used on a daily basis for several years.  I’ve also taught Final Cut for several years – first as an instructor for the NJ Governor’s School of the Arts, and as a support system for faculty in my department – and now I teach it at Apple.

But teaching children a program like Final Cut, whether Express or Pro, is tricky at the store.  We only see these kids at most for 1 hour, once a week.  That doesn’t allow for a very detailed curriculum, which I think kids need.  I won’t make the argument that kids don’t have a need or use for Final Cut.  After 3 years of working with high school students in the Governor’s School, I know that they have the capacity to produce some absolutely amazing projects.  I do think they need a structured plan of how to teach them.  It’s one thing to work with editors, producers, and camera operators.  They already have a sense of what they need to know.  However, with children, you’re responsible for building a foundational knowledge of how video and film work, as well.  What do you think?  How do we approach the phenomenon of children in the editing sutes (or calling the shots, or behind the camera, etc.)?

Using Consumer Programs as Supplements

Last month I did something I haven’t done in, well at least 6 years:  I editing a piece in iMovie.  The last time I had used iMovie previously to this was in my junior year of high school – back in 2001 -2002.  What I used it for was to create a fun, playful little promo to help raise money for the web series I’m working with.  It was the perfect supplement to Final Cut Pro 5, which is what I used to edit the show proper.  Why?

1.) I shot the promo on my Canon Vixia HF-10, which records to AVCHD.  Final Cut 5 isn’t really set up for AVCHD, so iMovie is a great way to capture and store the footage.

2.) Themes.  iMovie ’09 has a few playful little themes that you can apply to your movie.  My series is shot in and centers around a comic book shop.  So the promo is made to look like a comic book.  Transitions slide from panel to panel, and generally make the promo more lighthearted than it would have been.

3.) Priorities.  I was still working on the episodes at this time, and didn’t want to derail FCP, which spent the last 8 months being set up for the series.  I cut and exported the promo in the span of about an hour.  And exported to full quality.

4.)  Features.  Many consumer programs have features previously only found in the pro-level programs.  iMovie ’09 offers image stabilization, and is faster about it than FCP 6, which, let’s not forget, I don’t currently own anyway.  I’ve exported clips to iMovie and sent them back to FCP in stabilized form.  Works like a charm.

5.) Price.  I was able to upgrade to iLife because it only costs $80.  I haven’t been able to upgrade to FCS 2 yet because I lack the $650 to invest in it.  Besides, I’m waiting for the NAB conference like everyone else to see if Apple somehow unveils FCS 3.

I also use a combination of Aperture and iPhoto in dealing with stills from the show.  Aperture is great for quickly sorting the best photos and offers greater tools for really tweaking them before publishing them to the web site.  But iPhoto ’09 has Faces, which has made it incredibly easy for me to start creating albums for each actor, so they can all have their stills to do what they will with.  None of these consumer applications could ever replace my pro-apps.  The difference in functionality is simply too great.  However, they are very useful when incorporated alongside the pro-apps.  Especially since they can help you survive the larger gaps between updates to the professional applications for a reasonably small price.