Sunday, April 17, 2011

Why I'm probably switching to AVID

There is a scene in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas where the protagonist finds himself inadvertently at a district attorney’s convention. Hunter describes a surreal experience that causes both himself and his faithful lawyer to flee.

The NAB Super Meet was not an entirely different experience.

A giant room was filled with 1700 crazed Final Cut Pro editors because Apple people were going to give a first time ever sneak preview of the next version of Final Cut Pro software. I use Final Cut too, so I was interested and grateful to be along for the ride. In somewhat geeky world of post-production, this is a hugely historic moment… at least until the next bit of editing software is released.

Seems while I’ve just been enjoying editing, other editors had been busy whining that nothing dramatically new had happened with the software in the past 4 years. I confess that I don’t understand.

Let’s keep in mind that this is a computer program. Not a rock band, or a famous comedian or film director. It was a power point presentation about software.

The screams of excitement reminded me of the day I worked for the CBC as a production assistant, holding back a mob of 12 to 14 year old girls from some Canadian Idol winner; a whole lot of what seemed to me misplaced ecstasy.

But then I don’t hoot and holler about computer programs. Sometimes I’ll curse and scream at the computer… but to worship it? Nope. Not this editor.

The interface has been totally re-worked and it looks more like iMovie than a professional video editing system… but there are professional looking features promised. The idea of being able to match colour scenes from one clip to the next seems cute, and there is something called “the magnetic timeline” which should allow for easier moving of clips without overwriting other tracks.

I never had a problem with reading what was going on with the timeline such as it is now. Made me want to heckle “What is wrong with you all? The timeline isn’t that difficult to view… It isn’t broken. What are you trying to fix?”

In fact, the new timeline seems to have abandoned tracks all together and things are nested and move around in a way that should I make the move to Final Cut X, will likely add more confusion that practicality.

I didn’t heckle. I was an observer on the sidelines along with other software folks. Being invited to attend for free, I felt obliged to quietly watch the insanity and keep my thoughts to myself (until now, safely tucked away in my little home office). Like Hunter S. Thompson, I was a ‘hired geek’, not even a tech writer. Unlike Hunter, I was not inebriated in the least.

Also, 1700 plus Apple cult members… sorry, I mean fans, is a lot of angry people to fight off. Just walking into the venue, my companion and I were asked for extra tickets and ran into scalpers at the door.

Again, this wasn’t a Pixies concert. It was a computer program. Nothing was under the seats Oprah style. Just a demo that those of you not video editors would look at and be utterly confused as to why people were screaming their heads off like early Beatle fans about going from 32 bit to 64 bit processing.

Much of what I saw made me feel very apprehensive. I don’t mind learning new things, but with all the automatic features to improve work flow, I feel much like most of the other real world editors did the next day; it will take some time to figure out how to turn off all these cute features.

It might make routine editing tasks faster though. Maybe I will be able to rush through the wedding videos that pay my rent faster. I don’t want to seem like a snob or a luddite.

There was no mention of log and capture, and it was also speculated by many that video tape ingest would be abandoned completely by Apple. This is a bad thing for me, because I still love my DVX-100 standard definition camera.

Living with a librarian/archivist makes me that much more sensitive to the constant and rapid move forward of technology while ignoring the past. I do hope they don’t forget that not everyone has a tapeless work flow, and that hard drives do fail, there are still tapes in archives, and some broadcasters, like the one I visited in Sierra Leone and even Shaw’s community channel here in Vancouver, still use good quality tape cameras.

No mention of any of the other programs in the Final Cut Studio family. What happens to Motion, DVD Studio and Soundtrack Pro? With the new features and the aim at a different sort of market, perhaps they will just be worked into one program to do it all. That would probably be a bit messy, like those Swiss Army Knives that get out of control and try to include every possible tool until you can’t actually put the knife in your pocket, never mind use it.

The list price is said to be 299$ in US dollars. That is significantly cheaper than the current price of over 1000$, which means, as so many feared, that Apple is looking to corner the rapidly growing crowd of sort-of-professionals. They call them pro-sumers and at the NAB show such a word is said somewhat dismissively by most. It is where the money is right now.

So at the end of this post, I’m no further ahead as to what all the fuss was about. I feel much like the editors I talked to the next day at the conference; a little hurt and concerned that my favorite editing software had been taken away from me. A lot of people are talking about moving to Adobe’s Premier Pro or Avid. I won’t be upgrading until and only if, it proves to be all that is promised and remains a professional product. There will be bugs and a steep learning curve.

Another justifiable fear is that with all the automatic work done as your footage enters the editing system, it could be that everyone’s videos start having the same look and feel to them. I’m not sure that my fear is reasonable, but I’m one those few that think something was lost when most of us abandoned film for digital. Sometimes a slower work flow forces more thought as to what you are doing.

Change for the sake of change is rarely wise… but we shall see come this June.

The next day I went to the Avid booth, and after being ignored for a while, due to the number of suits around me, a girl behind a desk said hello and asked if I was interested in anything. When I said I was thinking of switching from Final Cut due to attending the big reveal the night before, I was taken under the wing of a more senior sales person. It was as if I had wandered into a Porsche dealership and eventually admitted that despite my jeans and t-shirt, I am, in fact, a millionaire race car driver. Sometimes it is nice to have your ass kissed, and I was even offered a very attractive deal on software that would normally cost me over 2 grand.

If I have to re-learn an entire editing system anyway, I might as well look to Avid since so many production companies and film makers still look at that company as the industry standard. I have a free demo for a couple more weeks and a tutorial DVD to work through. There is a certain prestige with being an Avid user, I learnt. I’ll have to report back on what I really feel about Avid; if it is like going from a Volkswagen to a Porsche. (That is a really tired analogy. My apologies. I don't really know all that much about cars.) Such is the life of a post-production geek.

If you are still curious about this, and if you’ve read this far, you must either be a fellow nerd, a very good friend, or are just too bored to find a cat video on YouTube, you can watch the insanity from this link. Experience what I did with a few fast forwards at the boring bits, and at a more reasonable volume.

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