We finally have the latest upgrade to the reigning market leader in the professional postproduction market, Final Cut Studio 2009, and another fast-growing application, Final Cut Server 1.5. In this article I’ll go through the major new features and the real scoop on the upgrade path. I’ve actually produced several projects with the new version and have performed more than a dozen upgrades for my high-volume clients (colleges, government agencies, and independent studios), students, and in my own studio. Thus, I’ve had a chance to see the suite at its best and its worst. These new releases have kept me quite busy.
There has been no major overhaul of anything, just a few little touches applied to most of the applications that can save you a ton of time during your postproduction process. This is in line with what Apple has been doing for the past 3 years with Final Cut Studio (FCS). Although none of the new features, taken by themselves, represent anything mind-blowing, together they make for a faster, easier workflow that will save you a lot of time.
Even though it succeeds FCS 2, it’s not called Final Cut Studio “3” officially; Apple is calling it Final Cut Studio 2009, and this version is Intel-only. There was one last big software update to FCS 2 online in the form of a Pro Apps Support update just before the release of FCS 2009—that was the last upgrade made available to G4 and G5 owners. One thing being Intel-only leads me to believe is that FCS 2009 has some Snow Leopard technology sleeping under the hood, waiting to be unleashed. This technology most likely concerns performance issues, making it faster, using more RAM, VRAM, and GPU resources in all the pro apps across the board.
The other thing new in FCS 2009 is that it now reflects Apple’s conservationist bent. The FCS 2009 box is tiny compared to the old packaging. There are no more libraries of printed technical manuals. The manuals are all still downloadable as PDFs from Apple’s site. And Apple has instituted a new “Help” system that is universal across all of its apps. Accessible from the Help menu, it takes you to the universal Apple Help system, which is Spotlight-searchable, so you have access to the most important information. It’s full of great info, and it’s HTML-based, easy to use, and easy to update. This system is available for all the pro apps on the web via any browser at http://documentation.apple.com so you can access this information from virtually anywhere, any time.
Shortly after I installed FCS 2009, I also installed Snow Leopard and edited a half-hour project for a full day, sending from Final Cut Pro (FCP) to Motion, Color, Soundtrack Pro (STP), and back. I even output several versions throughout the day via the Share menu option and Compressor, continuing to work while both ran in the background. In my experience so far, roundtripping in FCS 2009 has been flawless and bug-free.
Apple has always said that when you’re upgrading, doing a fresh install of the OS and then FCS is the safest approach. In the past, there have been some minor bugs in certain FCS applications when it was run as straight updates rather than as fresh installs. Those warranted a fresh install for those not willing to work through the bugs; even so, Apple always fixed those glitches pretty quickly. It’s also important not to upgrade in the middle of projects; nor right away if you don’t want the initial glitches.
So far with this latest release I’ve done more than a dozen upgrades, have worked with FCS 2009 extensively on Snow Leopard, and have been getting a lot of feedback from my clients and students running 10.5. Of all the straight upgrades I’ve run, none have shown problems, and I’ve had no problems with my fresh installs either. I consider this the cleanest, safest, most bug-free upgrade FCS has ever had. And it installs faster too. The installs I’ve done take only about an hour and a half rather than the 4 hours it used to take. Snow Leopard takes just 45 minutes.
If you have to install FCS 2009 in large-volume environments like I do, use Disk Utility to make a disc image (uncompressed) of each of the seven installation DVDs. Put these in a folder called Final Cut Studio 2009 on a FW800 portable drive or on a public location on a network. Start the installer from the first image, and it’ll run much faster, without requiring you to change discs eight times. Making the disc images takes time, so this is not going to help unless you’re doing upgrades on multiple systems.
The one and only problem I encountered in all of these updates was on my own MacBook Pro. I opened a specific Final Cut Pro 7 project file and had a strange screen redraw issue. This issue seemed to disappear after doing a Save Project As and reopening the new project copy. For the cleanest possible install, there is a free software app called “Final Cut Remover” you can run to remove all or part of your older FCS version, as well as Final Cut Server (FCSvr). Then run the FCS 2009 installation. This method requires you to have both serial numbers from your previous version of FCS or FCSvr and the new version of your software. The serial number for the new FCS 2009 is on the back of the installation manual that comes with it.
In this new, tiny box are the seven installation DVDs, a slip of paper about Apple support options, an installation manual, and a booklet called “Exploring Final Cut Pro.” This “Exploring” booklet is great. It’s tiny, with tiny print, but all the info in it is more easily accessible via FCP 7’s Help menu. It’s a realistic way for a first-time user to pick up the basics quickly and start doing some simple work. Snow Leopard’s box is also super tiny, just thin enough for the DVD and a fourfold color brochure. All the docs are now online. The installation manual has some important information in it. The one major issue to be aware of is installing the “content” (audio, Motion, DVD Studio Pro) during an update. If you put your content in a custom location during a previous installation, you simply need to specify where the new content needs to go. Otherwise, it will go to a default location and assume you have no other content installed. This update adds content, so this is an important issue to be aware of.
Another notable upgrade issue is that LiveType is gone! If you loved LiveType as much as I did, you’ll want to run a straight upgrade. If you remove all the apps and do a fresh install, you will flat-out lose LiveType. LiveFonts and the text behaviors have been ported to Motion. But what gets me is that the wonderful and extensive library of animated backgrounds and templates in LiveType were not moved to Motion—this was simply dropped. This was a really bad move on Apple’s part. I could do some very nice tricks in LiveType, and make use of the awesome backgrounds and templates it had for quick, quality work. I guess learning Motion isn’t a bad thing, though. Let’s just mourn the passing of our old friend and move on.
QuickTime 10 (aka Quick Time X) is a really nice component of the new OS. It has a very iMovie-like Trim function and will export from Share in the File menu to iTunes, YouTube, and MobileMe accounts. Even with Pro, the Export options are gone, as of this writing. When installing Snow Leopard, tell the installer to keep QuickTime 7 (it will install QT X and move QT 7 to your Utilities folder) and continue to use it if you’re dependent on its Export options, like I am.
You’ll also want to specify SL to install Rosetta for older apps such as Studio Artist, which are still PowerPC-based (i.e., pre-Intel) code. If you don’t install Rosetta and try to launch a PPC app, it’ll tell you and offer to help you install Rosetta.
These concerns aside, the interface of QuickTime Player is nicer in QuickTime X. And the QuickTime preference window inside of System Preferences is gone. This scaled- back version of QuickTime Pro is a bad move in my opinion since the older version enabled me to do some customized transcodes more quickly and easily than I could in Compressor. And there’s not even a “Pro” version of QuickTime for sale on Apple’s site; there’s not even a QuickTime page, as of this writing.
We’ll see what happens, but this was one super-valuable tool that got shortchanged in Snow Leopard. So far, it’s the one and only major downer of my upgrade experience.
Final Cut Pro 7
There are a lot of tiny new features and changes in Final Cut Pro 7. I’ll cover only the major ones here, beginning with organization and colored tabs and markers (Figure 1, below). I’ve already found that assigning colors to my Sequences and Markers helps me a great deal. I can see so much information about my projects at a glance with this simple feature alone. I can right-click on a Sequence in the Browser and assign it a Label color.
Recently, during the 48 Hour Film Project competition, I assigned colors for indoor scenes, outdoor scenes, opening and closing credit clips, and my output Master Sequence. Since all the indoor scenes were in the same room and the outdoor scenes were in the same garden, it really helped having 10 different Sequences open in my Timeline window, and I was able to pick out which was which much faster than before. It may not sound like much, but it helped us make our deadline. And now that my age is forcing me to wear glasses more often at the computer screen, it really helps. Saving a second here, two seconds there, all adds up to saving major time at the end of the project.
The new Colored Markers are great too! You can color-code your Clip and Timeline Markers with eight colors, which helps you identify where specific events are in your Timeline at a glance. By default, Markers are now red and stand out much more in the Timeline window. Chapter Markers default to purple, Compression Markers to blue, and Scoring Markers to orange. You can change those default colors too. You can also go into the Project Properties window under the Edit menu and decide which marker colors are visible (and what they’re called) and which ones are not visible in the Timeline ruler. So if I’m working with Scoring Markers, I can set the application to show only those markers. If I’m working with Chapter Markers, I can set it to only show those. Markers are more powerful and uncluttered, and they can help save time throughout the edit.
The other great thing about Markers is that if you hold the Control key down and grab one (the playhead snaps to it), you can drag it left and right across the Timeline window ruler. The playhead snapping to it means you can see the timecode in the upper left of the window tell you exactly what frame you’re on while moving a Marker. If you grab a Marker in this manner and pull it down off the ruler, FCP will delete it.
The other major timesaver is the newly revamped “Speed Change” system (Figure 2, below), which has evolved far beyond the old “Time Remap” system. Right-click a clip (or highlight and use Cmd+J) and choose “Change Speed” to open a new tool window. To begin with, we now have an option to Ripple or not Ripple the rest of the Sequence when we change the speed of a clip. The Ease In and Ease Out (ramping up and down speed at the start and end of a clips) is very easy with icons you can select in the Speed Change window. In the Viewer’s Motion tab, the Speed section is much simpler than in FCP 6. When you toggle on the Clip Keyframes in the Timeline and right-click between speed keyframes (a “segment”), you can make some sophisticated speed changes very easily.
Digital Media Publishing
The other really great, timesaving feature of FCS 2009 is that Compressor doesn’t tie up FCP any longer. Most of the time, you won’t even launch Compressor. Apple has a new paradigm for working based on the idea of publishing digital media rather than encoding it. In the File menu, there is a new Share option (Cmd+Shift+E). The Share function (Figure 3, below) gives you access to presets (you can make your own presets too) that would be your most commonly used output formats. But it does more than just encode QuickTime files and leave them on your hard drive. The default presets FCP 7 comes with are Apple TV, Blu-ray, DVD, iPhone, iPod, YouTube, and MobileMe. Each is preset to give you the best encoding for that form of digital media publishing. The really cool part of this is the “publishing” part. Let’s say I choose YouTube and check the “Publish to YouTube” box.
A side drawer opens where I can enter the account name, password, title, description, tags, category, and an option to make the movie private or public. With all of this information filled out, I click the Export button and two things happen: The normal encoding of a file optimized for YouTube is created on my hard drive. But then, FCP automatically logs into my specified YouTube account, uploads the file, fills in all the information, and uploads the video—all in the background while I continue working in FCP 7. See the “publishing” idea in play here?
Another really nice new feature is Blu-ray “publishing.” I select the Blu-ray preset and check the “Create Blu-ray disc” box; the side drawer offers options to choose my output device (SuperDrive for AVCHD on DVD-5, Blu-ray burner if I have one connected, or my hard drive for staging the encoded files), a menu template, disc title, first play option when the disc is loaded, and options to use Markers as subtitles, add a background, logo graphic, and title graphic to the menu template for the main menu and the chapter menu. Granted, it’s pretty limited, as FCP 7 comes with only five menu choices, and it’s not a full-featured Blu-ray authoring application. It’s designed for quick publishing, not full-fledged authoring, and in my tests, it did the job very well, very fast, and very easily.
Why was this Blu-ray capability not put into DVD Studio Pro? Because that would be opening a can of software coding worms I’m sure no one wants to deal with. This is a nice feature, and we’ll see if Apple eventually revamps DVD Studio Pro enough to be a full-featured Blu-ray authoring tool. It would be nice, one day, to see Apple come out with a Blu-ray authoring option that is more feature-rich. But those who do need to produce Blu-ray Discs will find this new option in FCP 7 useful for many, if not all, situations. For the rest of the time, there’s Adobe Encore, which integrates with FCP very nicely for those who do need a more feature-rich solution.
Online Collaboration and Approval
The iChat Theater support in FCS 2009 is nothing short of amazing. I’ve tested it over the internet, but the really amazing test was done by an IT engineer friend of mine. He had to fly off on a business trip, and happened to have a flight with the new in-flight Wi-Fi service. He and his wife are working on a video project for the deaf. During the flight, he pulled out his MacBook Pro to work on the project. He got online, fired up iChat, connected with his wife who was online at home with iChat at the same time, and they collaborated on edits with very smooth, responsive playback on both ends. Let me explain how it works.
The host computer must be running FCP 7 and have a webcam. The client computer must simply have iChat; the cam on that system is optional. Once an iChat exchange is established between the host and client, with the host sending a video iChat session to the client, an iChat Theater Preview option appears in FCP 7 at the bottom of the View menu. Choose “Start Sharing” and the image from your webcam is changed to the image of your Canvas, if it is the active window. Play, pause, reverse, edit—the full Canvas window is shown on the client’s iChat window that would normally be your webcam. If you click on the Viewer window to make it active, the iChat Theater Preview switches to show the client side the Viewer window. It quickly and easily switches back and forth, and playback of audio and video are smooth and very responsive.
So now, distance is no obstacle to the collaboration and preview process inside FCP 7. As of this writing, some users are reporting on forums that this feature has trouble working properly on some Mac Pros, although mine with my ancient iSight camera works fine. Let’s hope Apple has fixed the issue before this review is printed.
Other features include closed-captioning support, global transitions (applying transitions to multiple edit points at once in a variety of powerful ways), native AVC-Intra support, faster renders (and fewer re-renders by far), SD title safe display in the HD Canvas window, floating and resizable timecode windows, and much more. All these features combine to make your postproduction experience more pleasant, efficient, and faster.
There are several features of Motion 4 that I’m using a lot already, including the 3D realistic shadow, reflections, camera depth of field control, and credit roll. Shadows and reflections can be controlled in terms of which surfaces create them and which surfaces show them, with a nice set of parameters. It’s amazing to watch the shadows and surface reflections move around realistically as you move your lighting and active camera around (Figure 4, below). The credit roll is amazingly simple and useful. No more guessing at the scroll rate to avoid screen flicker. You can scroll horizontally or vertically and set the speed automatically to adjust to your codec specs. You have a great deal of control over speed and other aspects, with a very simple and easy-to-use interface. Create a text box, apply the Scroll Text behavior, and you’re good to go. The other text behaviors are extensive. It’s almost everything you had in LiveType.
I do a lot of keyframing of my cameras to move them around the 3D space of my sets in Motion. I’ve gotten fairly good at it, but it’s still tricky to do it precisely. Motion 4 introduces a wonderful Framing behavior that has made my life much easier. I add it to a camera and it allows me to target a specific object on my 3D set. Once targeted, the camera automatically sets up to look directly at that object. I then adjust the very flexible parameters in the Framing behavior, set a keyframe, move down the Timeline, target a new object, and repeat. It really helps to set up your camera target areas much, much faster and easier.
I’ve worked only a little bit with Optical Flow (slow motion/speed change) so far in Motion 4. Apple claims it is very improved—from what I’ve seen, it is. It now works only on the section of your Master clip that you’ve specified with In and Out points, which saves a ton of time. When you’ve applied it to more than one clip at a time, you can set the order in which they analyze so that the clips you want to work with first are analyzed first—very handy. Again, there are numerous new features in Motion 4; other highlights include new text behaviors, a bad film filter, text generators, a glyph tool (from LiveType), and parameter linking.
Motion also has the same Share menu option that FCP has. So now FCP, Motion, and Compressor can do the same things along the Publishing paradigm Apple is trying to establish, which is really nice to have inside an application such as Motion.
Soundtrack Pro 3
In Soundtrack Pro (STP), the three tools I’ve used the most so far are the Voice Matching function, improved Normalization, and Quick Look. Voice Matching is really handy for getting dialogue recorded with two different microphones to match in volume level quickly (Figure 5, below). You can set Normalization levels to RMS or Peak levels, which gives you flexibility in how you adjust a clip. Quick Look—which works only with STAP (Soundtrack Audio Project) files, not STMP (Soundtrack Multitrack Project) files—lets you highlight an STAP file in a Finder window, hit the spacebar, and be able to play the file back right there, without launching an application.
I’m also beginning to explore the new Time Stretch tool. It’s very easy and very powerful, and it has potential to grow. Basically, if I have an FCP Sequence I’ve sent to STP, I can double-click the audio clip that is too fast, or slow, to open it in a waveform editing window. Choose the Time Stretch tool, highlight the area to be retimed, and then use one of two methods to retime it. The first option is to grab one edge of the highlighted area and simply drag it to shorten or lengthen as needed.
The second method is to choose the Time Stretch window from the Process menu (Figure 6, below). In this window, you can specify to change the timing by seconds, samples, one of three timecode specifications, or as a percentage. Then, you can specify a numeric value for that parameter and choose the algorithm used to perform the stretch. STP 3 comes with three Apple Time Stretch algorithms: Universal, Complex, or Percussive. This is a plug-in architecture, so we should see third-party plug-ins for the Time Stretch algorithms soon. I’ve worked with this tool quite a bit, and I find it much more flexible and powerful than in its previous workflow.
The best thing about the new Soundtrack Pro is that Apple finally fixed something that was a bit unstable before. When I send a Sequence from FCP to STP, sweeten it, save it, and export the .AIFF file, I can specify to send it back to FCP, and it actually works now. In my testing of it, it works pretty flawlessly.
The changes in Color are very worthwhile. The most important for most of us is that we can now send FCP Sequences that contain stills, speed changes, and Multicam clips to Color, which was not possible in FCS 2.
This way, once you do a Multicam edit, you can get the angles to match quickly and easily with the existing Color grading and matching tools. To me personally, this is huge! I can see clips (not text clips, though, but who cares about text clips?) on tracks above the V1 track now! This means no more PITA preparing before I color grade my Sequences. And the fit-to-window shortcut of Shift+Z works in Color now too! When I hit Ctrl+G to bypass my grades, text shows up along the bottom of the timeline that tells me I’m bypassing, so I don’t have to remember or guess anymore. These changes alone will save tons of time during postproduction.
The other improvement I’ve already come to appreciate is the improved rendering. Once I do a render pass, go back and make changes, only the changes re-render. I can also specify to render only my Beauty Grades (the grades I flag as my final work). Apple also lets you download a collection of 90-plus looks you can install and use in Color. Some of them are interesting, most are good places to start to really stylize your footage. But you’ll want to tweak most of them for your own use, which means being comfortable with the Color FX room.
Of course, there’s now 4K support and support for XDCAM HD 422, AVC-Intra, and the whole line of Pro Res flavors, including Pro Res 444 (pronounced “Pro Res Four By Four”). There’s also much better integration with Cinema Tools databases, improved DPX support, and integration with lower-priced control surfaces.
There aren’t a ton of changes to Compressor, but what has changed is very important. As stated before, taking your FCP Sequence to Compressor is now a Send To command and not an Export command, meaning that Compressor works independently of FCP, leaving you free to continue editing while Compressor works on your other projects. When you do submit a job, you can watch the progress without going to the Batch Monitor. You can watch the progress in the History window, which is a very nice touch.
Batch Templates use job actions and are pretty neat. They let you create a preset as usual and add a job action. Job actions are part of Apple’s move from an Encoding workflow to a Publishing workflow. A job action simply allows you to tell FCS 2009 to do something proactive with the file it encodes, such as publish it to a YouTube account automatically, load it into iTunes, run an Apple Script on it, and so forth. And Droplets have a nicer interface when you open them, more like the Share menu interface in FCP and Motion.
Another new feature worth mentioning is the ability to create Auto-detect presets. Let’s say I’ve tweaked a QT file to upload to my Ning.com network just perfectly. I can drag and drop that QT file onto the Settings window in Compressor; it will be analyzed, and Compressor will give me a preset that matches the QT file. I can then save that new preset as a Droplet if I wanted to.
Compressor now supports Image Sequences. These are folders of images, labeled in sequence, that make up a high-resolution video clip. Compressor will recognize them, import them, and allow you to add an audio clip with them. And finally, there is Blu-ray burning (Figure 7, below). It’s the same as you’ll find in FCP’s Share menu: simple, basic, but very useful for most users. You can also burn an AVCHD disc to DVD-5 media, or just save the Blu-ray files to a hard drive for burning a Blu-ray Disc via third-party software.
I have to conclude that FCS 2009 has enough new tools and workflow enhancements in it to make it very worthwhile. It will help the majority of postproduction pros get through their jobs faster and easier. Installed as an upgrade, it seems to run fine; I haven’t found any real bugs. There’s been no major reworking of anything, but again, Apple has added enough small enhancements to make life easier, faster, more efficient, and fun for the postproduction professional. The lower prices are nothing to sneeze at either.
But it won’t be enough of an improvement for everyone. If you’re strapped for cash, don’t sweat not upgrading at this moment. If you want to dive in and start using the new tools, go for it; there’s nothing to fear with this very clean upgrade. Final Cut Studio 2009, Final Cut Server 1.5, and Snow Leopard are proving to be very nice upgrades for me, my clients, and my students. They’re far from earth-shattering, but they’re enough to make our workflows faster, easier, and more fun.
Sidebar: Final Cut Server 1.5
Final Cut Server 1.5, like everything else coming out of Apple this time around, is not a major overhaul. But it has some neat new features that altogether make it nicer to work with, easier to administer, and more stable with certain network services. The one major issue to be aware of is that FCSvr 1.5 requires FCP 7. As you check out your older FCP project files, you’ll have to upgrade them to FCP 7 files to check them back in properly.
The most significant new feature is the ability to put Projects inside of Projects (Figure 8, below). This has helped my clients a great deal with organizing their workflow. So inside of one Project, you can call it “ABC Training”; you can have other Projects called “Video Projects,” “Training Manuals,” and “Stock Photos.” You can even put more nested Projects inside of those.
Another great feature my clients love is the Global Search feature. When you create a custom search, it’s not shared with all users globally. Performing searches is also noticeably faster too. FCSvr also collects much more metadata about AIFF, WAV, CAF, M4A, SDII, and AAC audio files. This also helps with faster, easier searches of your assets.
Image Sequences are now supported very nicely in a manner similar to Compressor. I can import a folder containing my Image Sequence, and FCSvr will offer me three options: import as individual assets, import as a Bundle asset, or import as an Image Sequence. This final option brings the Image Sequence in as a virtual single asset and creates a Pro Res proxy. I can use this Pro Res proxy to edit within FCP 7, or I can export the Image Sequence as its individual files, using an EDL in FCP 7 to reconform them to a full-rez clip online in FCP 7.
The new Pro Res (Proxy) format is fully utilized in FCSvr 1.5, and it offers faster editing options for those users on laptops and slower, non-Fibre networks. You can configure FCSvr 1.5 to use any of the new Pro Res formats, but the (Proxy) format is the default now.
With the addition of Active Directory support and the open Developer Extensions architecture, FCSvr 1.5 promises to grow even faster than before. It’s an amazing, very nice system for larger production facilities, as long as you have the system admin resources to manage it properly.
Ben Balser (benb at bbalser.com) is an Apple Certified Trainer and Support Professional based in New Orleans. Along with training and consulting, he also produces documentaries and educational material, and designs digital signage systems.