Life after Final Cut Pro

Sometime good things come to an end

I’ve made up my mind (final reason) to phase out all Apple products from my production pipeline: OS X, Final Cut Express and GarageBand (FCE 2.0.2 is now unusable, GarageBand 1.1 very close to unusable under Leopard).

I was thinking of investing in the Final Cut Studio package and new Apple hardware, but I really dislike Leopard, I dislike the way Apple treats its decade long customers, how they cheated me by selling me a buggy product like Leopard and made me loose valuable time (and money) by making me figure out on my own that Leopard never was ready for prime time on the PPC. This was most dishonest… Before that Apple had sold me a very noise iMac G5 – since bitten by Leopard I like to call it “my little Hoover” (Apple: ever tried sound editing…?).

That’s just it, folks! This is a goodbye from a platform I loved and promoted passionately (just ask any of my friends) over the course of many many years – I even made a bet with one of my best friends when things looked really bad for Apple in the mid-90’s. My friend said Apple would not make it, I was sure they would get their mainstream success sooner or later. My friend now ows me an apple, a McIntosh to be precise… Well, next time I see him I let him know that he may keep the wager – I have no more interest in it.

This was not an easy decision, but looking back Leopard was really the final reason. I had thought about alternatives for quite a while, but Ubuntu seemed not ready and I wanted to wait and see what Apple offers with Leopard: I was hoping it would be awesome and give me a good excuse to stick with the Apple ecosystem, the polished interface, its easy of use…

You can’t always get what you want

I let the Rolling Stones say this one for me:

You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you just might find
You get what you need

I wanted OS X and FCP but what I need is Ubuntu and a set of free and open-source apps that will allow me to replace the Final Cut Pro product line step by step over the coming months, possibly years: I am aware that today there is no finished open-source solution to FCP (we were introduced to Cinelerra at the TOSMI training last spring and unfortunately I was not convinced by what I saw, but I will have another look at it within the next couple of months).

What I plan to do now:

• document all free and open-source alternatives that seem attractive for high-end film- and video editing

• research, describe (write tutorials) and link to workflows and solutions in regards to open-source non-linear video editing and help bringing it to the mainstream

• help designing and developing (by giving feedback, discussing, bug testing) a free and open-source NLE of my choice

• discuss the possibility (and usefulness?!) of setting up a non-profit fund where film- and video editors worldwide can (if they wish anonymously) donate money to speed up the development of a fully featured, open-source alternative to Final Cut Pro

The last point will be a long term project, right now I’d say that the best existing open-source solutions seem about three to five years away from being able to compete on a feature-by-feature basis with FCP. But: I believe it is possible to start phasing out FCP of your production pipeline right now – read on for more!

“In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity”

… is my favourite Albert Einstein quote. So what opportunities brings me the fact that I am getting rid of Apple in favour of a free and open-source non-linear editing solution…?

cheaper, more customisable and expandable hardware (ever bought RAM from Apple…?)

a free and open-source operating system (I’ll probably go for Ubuntu) that is being developed and tested in all possible openness (so it’s less likely to have a wild leopard bite you in the neck when you just don’t expect it)

a wide range of high end free and open-source audio, video and 3D applications that can be customised in ways that closed-source commercial products like Apple’s Final Cut Pro just can’t be due to their closed-source nature

• the certainty that all my investments (bug reports, how-tos, donations, …) end up in a product that will always be available free of charge for me, for others and for future generations

total independence from a multinational corporation like Apple that currently can decrease my productivity by selling me buggy software while being totally dishonest about possible shortcomings of their product

support of an emerging Linux PC hardware market that brings cool design and usability to the former “beige boxes” world – this will further help with the adoption of Linux and speed up the process of frustrated Apple users like me migrating to the free software world

• Apple will have to try much harder to satisfy its user base and start innovating (instead of decorating) – competition is good for users on both sides

• I will be forced to learn new software and will have to solve problems along the way – perfect for improving my skills, deepening my knowledge

A start

Last summer the offline editing for my Blender made 3D animation Visual Machine no. 1 was done with Final Cut Express and it was onlined with the Blender NLE. Once I’ve got my PC hardware together and the latest Ubuntu is installed and configured, I’ll try using Kino for offline editing. I’ll keep testing workflows involving the Blender NLE (for onlining, possibly also for the actual editing). There are a couple of limitations you have to work around when doing this, but as I learn more about them I’ll be able to develop strategies and tools to overcome those limitations – one idea is to use (Python) scripts for automating certain cumbersome workflows – once tested those scripts could be shared in a handy library with the free software editing community and will allow:

• a highly optimised workflow within a particular app like Blender that currently might lack certain non-linear editing features

• the creation of a user friendly trans-apps workflow e.g. for combining the best of Kino with the best of Blender to have one package (incl. documentation) that can be distributed and promoted to e.g. Final Cut Pro users

I have done a bit of research already over the last two years while working on the P2P Audiovisual Guide and when collecting links for my remixlinks project. Now I have to figure out the whole thing in all its details, make tests, find solutions that work for me. But since my main project currently is a 3D animation and after that another one is already waiting, I will have to make this switch from the Apple to the Linux world in a series of smaller steps. Maybe by the end of the year I’ll have a first (set of) workflow(s) that I successfully tested and can recommend for production use – or maybe I will just be surprised by finding out what others already have in place and things will go much faster…?

Conclusion

I never really thought I’d come to this, but Apple messed up things with Leopard in an extreme kind of way (it’s not quite as bad as Vista seems to be, but for sure it feels like a Vista light) – and since Apple is not willing to listen (final reason) I have now come to the conclusion that it would be limiting or even foolish (and at least lazy) – to further rely on Apple when it comes to non-linear video editing.

6 Responses to Life after Final Cut Pro

  1. Roland says:

    Hi indiworks,
    Nice article. I have one thing to say: give Cinelerra a second chance.
    There is a lot of alternatives in open source world but none really as polished as final cut pro. For a lot of reasons, the developpers around the Cinelerra Community Version decided to rewrite the software. Maybe you could be interested to help them… This software will be named Lumiera and will try to be the best open-source alternative to proprietary nles ever. Your are welcome to join force with us.
    On the other tools for video edition : lot of alternatives exist too but they are not unified.

    If you need more informations on Cinelerra, Lumiera or other open video tools you can join us on irc://freenode.org/cinelerra

    Regards.

    Roland (wildhostile)

  2. vsworks says:

    Hi Roland,

    that sounds very interesting…

    Here a couple of thoughts to Cinelerra and how I would try to design a new version:

    We had a quite detailed presentation of Cinelerra at the TOSMI training and my main criticism is that it did not have non-overlapping windows and felt very heavy and cluttered. I’m not a coder, but the way FCP seems to be done is also only by using some kind of fake non-overlapping windows system. It does not have this incredible genius fast way that the context sensitive Blender window system has: you just move the mouse over a window and without even clicking you can apply a one key shortcut (e.g. not ctrl-a but just “a” for “select all”). This simple interface feature is huge! And there are many things that FCP does not have that would only require to have a closer look at how people actually work with their tools and what more efficient ways there might be for doing things…

    So this is something where an open-source alternative could possibly even *surpass* FCP:

    • for a start not by trying to clone all the many little features but by making the interface better! You might find that *you can get rid of some of the tools that you thought you needed*…! This is what is wrong with 3ds Max: the programme is so terribly bloated and the interface so inconsistent and individual parts are not talking to each other so that they had to invent many, many sets of new tools and buttons where I have a single one in Blender…! Simplicity really is the secret.

    (And since most people outside of the open-source world would not expect a slick and cool interface from an open-source app this would be a huge bonus when it comes to promoting it.)

    Apple outdid Avid when it came to simplicity and ease of use, it was not just the huge prize difference. The problem was that Apple kept adding features to FCP but the interface now feels as outdated as the Avid Media Composer felt to me when I had a closer look at it back around 2000. And this is because the FCP interface never really adapted to the new features and starts feeling to be as bloated as iTunes feels today…

    One reason why I started with Blender was because I got bored by what you could do with FCP: at one point I wanted to apply a set of filters to a music video – by exporting the video as a series of frames for use in the GIMP… In the end I had to give up because the only way of doing it would have been to do a lot of work by hand, frame by frame because:

    – there is no way to use the GIMP’s filters inside of FCP (and vice versa)
    – no way to combine the app’s features in a creative and modular way (maybe done like Blender’s Compositing Nodes system but only across a variety of compatible open-source apps that act like a plug-in networks for each other… Apple now has made first steps in that direction e.g. by allowing you to easily move documents between FCP and Motion – of course this is not a feature Apple tries to offers to other apps like the GIMP…)
    – the GIMP itself has this rather hard to understand scripting language, at least if you’ve never seen anything like it it does look intimidating… But the main problem at the time was that it seemed impossible to simply have a Script-Fu that automatically opens images from one folder and later saves the filter applied images to another folder

    • so some kind of inter-app functionality, a plug-in or even better a nodes system would be a great *long term* goal… And the step after that would be to allow to create real app mash-ups: take a tool from the GIMP and use it in the NLE – to create the perfect tool for the job…!

    I know, that’s asking for *a lot*, but since I’ve seen Blender and started learning it 22 months ago I really feel like I have seen the future of how creativity tools will be designed… An NLE is of course not a 3D app, but I don’t see much innovation in FCP, it now feels more like a dinosaur from the last century (which it really is).

    So thanks for your comment and I’ll drop by on that IRC channel tomorrow or so!

  3. David Cartwright says:

    What would be awesome is that your real-world experiences and recommendations are raised in the upcoming 8-11 May Libre Graphics Meeting that will bring together developers and other community members from Blender, GIMP, Inkscape, Scribus, Krita.

    More info on the Libre Graphics Meeting 2008 here:
    http://www.libregraphicsmeeting.org/2008/index.php?lang=en

    This recent blog post by Dave Neary outlines some of the significant advances that have been made in color management on Linux as a result of the synergies at previous Libre Graphics Meetings.

    http://blogs.gnome.org/bolsh/2008/04/08/libre-graphics-meeting-stories-colour-management/

    The workflow integration between applications you have outlined would be a massive step forward for Linux NLE.

    If there is anything you can do to promote these advances, Linux and FOSS users throughout the world would be most grateful.

  4. vsworks says:

    @ David Cartwright

    Thanks for reading, I’m glad you find my suggestions interesting. Since I am not a developer I am not quite sure if I am the right person to talk about these things at a technical conference… But I will post all my ideas and suggestions to this blog and try to talk to all those who are actually developing these tools. I think just the fact that the Lumiera developers found this blog entry hours after I posted it is a good sign! Some tools might not be in place yet, but I have no doubt that open-source can not only catch up with FCP but in the long run also can come up with a better product! If it works for 3D (Blender), why should it not work for non-linear video editing…?!

  5. Tomislav says:

    Hello indiworks;

    In 2006 I bought a MacBookPro laptop and have been using final cut pro 5 with it since then.

    I don’t think I’ll ever be buying Mac software or hardware again. Closed-source, over-priced, and horrid expensive support are some reasons, but mainly I can’t keep up with their planned obsolesence. At their rate, I would have to upgrade hardware and software every 2-3 years and that is just too much $$$.

    So, I think (Debian) Linux and open-source software is the way to go. I don’t have any real programming experience, but I was able to get a copy of Debian linux working on an older dell laptop. I definitely plan to slowly start switching projects over into Linux, but I am not familiar with any video/audio software for linux. Would you have any suggestions on which software to use and on what hardware?

    Mainly what I use in the FC suite is: Final Cut, Compressor, and DVD Studio Pro for dvd authoring.

    I would be interested in hearing about your progress on this issue & exploring more in depth Linux and A/V editing/working with it.

  6. vsworks says:

    Hello Tomislav,

    I would recommend checking out openArtist, based on Ubuntu it comes with the best audio/video apps Linux has, everything ready to use (as far as this is possible today with Linux…)!

    I’ve written about it here https://indiworks.wordpress.com/2009/12/06/openartist-4th-incarnation-out-now-includes-my-video-post-blend-presets/

    All my bets for the best video editing/compositing etc. all in one package that’s not only open-source but also works on all platforms are on Blender (2.5/6). You can use Blender already today of course for most of this, but once 2.5 is done they will have another open-movie project focusing on compositing/sfx. That should be done withing the next 12-18 months or so.

    “Planned obsolence” really nails it, yes, that’s Apple as I got to know them! They are also really just another greedy, child labour using company: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/apple/7330986/Apple-admits-using-child-labour.html

    Thanks for reading and good luck with the switch to open-source for video post!

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