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In my travels, I’ve had to do a fair number of Automatic Duck project conversions. While I was learning this process, I found that there wasn’t much good information containing tips and tricks about making this process smooth. Especially now with the exodus from Apple because of FCPX, streamlining this process is more essential now than ever. I don’t propose to know all the answers, but I thought it was high time somebody started putting down their experiences so that we can start working towards some kind of a “Best Practices” document. I’m humble about my experience here, but I will say that I’ve done it a fair amount and I think my tips are good. I’d love to hear what you think. Please leave a note in the Comments section and tell me what I got right or wrong.

Quick note: What I’ll talk about here is transferring between Avid and Final Cut Pro, because that’s what I have experience doing. However, since Adobe After Effects workflows are prevalent nowadays as well, I’d love to hear about your experiences there. Please, leave comments.

WHAT IS AUTODUCK?

Automatic Duck is shorthand for a number of programs developed by Wes Plate as a way to move editor sequences between Avid/Apple/Adobe products. Now that Wes has joined Adobe, his programs are now thankfully free to download. The apps are basically plugins for Final Cut Pro 7 and Adobe After Effects, so you’ll need one of these apps (as well as Avid Media Composer, if that’s part of your workflow) in order to transfer your footage.

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Okay, just a quick tip I worked out yesterday while I was trying to organize dailies for a documentary I am working on.  The producer/directors had organized everything I needed to build out the Avid project on a hard drive: hours and hours of Quicktimes, all sorted out by subject or location.  I was going to import them in one fell swoop, but I needed some way to organize the media once it came into the Avid.  As it was, all the media arrived in one big bin.  This is where the UNC File Path comes in.

For those who don’t know, the UNC File Path is short for Universal Naming Convention and is basically a piece of metadata that tracks the folder directory location of every imported piece of media into Avid.  This is how, when you go to batch import, the Avid remembers where your imported Quicktime came from.  It records it in the UNC File Path.

So back to where I was.  Now that I have all my Quicktimes imported, I needed a way to display the UNC File Paths so that I could organize the media into separate bins.  The hard thing about this situation is the the metadata will not display in every type of Avid project.  Currently, I’m working in an SD 29.97 project since most of my media is HDV and DV.  When I go to my Bin Headings…

…and I try to select UNC File Path, it’s not an option for me.

Ahhhh! Why, Avid, why?  Why do you torment me by knowing this information and not displaying it?!?!?

Never fear, though.  When it comes to the task at hand, the Avid will give me everything I need.  Currently, the UNC File Path will only display in a 24p Avid Project.  “But Rob, my project isn’t a 24p project?”  No sweat!  In current versions of Avid Media Composer, you can still open and view video media of any project frame rate in any other project frame rate.  That means that you can still take a copy of your bin and move it into a 24p Project, view everything, organize it into any order you want, and move it back into your native project when you’re done.

Do like I do: create a 24p project with the Film radio box checked.  I called mine UNC File Path, so that I can keep it forever.

Now, make a copy of your bin that has the media you want to see the UNC File Path for, and copy it into your new 24p project.

Do the same thing as above: go to select your Bin Columns, and then, like magic, it appears.  Yay!  Go to town!

Now a quick caveat to this tip.  Thus far, I have not been able to make the Avid display this bin column in every type of project.  My tip is limited to bin and clip organization.  If for some reason you need to create any media, do NOT do it in your 24p project.  Sort the master clips into new bins and bring it back into your native resolution project.  Sure, it’s not perfect, but it’s better than what I was doing before I figured this out.  Happy Editing!

PS – Oh yeah…hey Avid!  Can you fix this please?  I shouldn’t need a work around.  Lovingly, Rob.

A quick thought before I get into my rant: don’t you just hate it when your day job takes you away from something you really want to be working on?

Right after Apple’s well-documented, well-staged NAB presentation of the new features of FCPX, I went right to WordPress and started drafting an article with the title: “What if FCPX is not awesome?”  I then proceeded to go right back to my 60-hour-a-week gig with little time to think about blogging.  Smart, Rob.  That was months ago.  Now that I’m back to funemployment, all I can think is how I wish I had finished that article.  Instead, I’m here with my late-to-the-game opinion.

The thoughts I wanted to get down on paper the internet were a few musings on how big a gamble it was for Apple to completely re-write FCP and how many changes it could create in our industry if it was a flop.  I wanted to talk about how, if indeed FCPX was indeed not awesome, it was going to tarnish Apple’s reputation as a company of not only great consumer apps like iPhoto but also high-end professional ones like Final Cut Pro and Logic.  I was going to prognosticate that Adobe and Avid would be jumping for joy, but I was also going to say how worried I was if suddenly our entire post-production ecosystem is devastated.

So now I say, with no great joy and without getting into too much more hyperbole: FCPX is not awesome.  I won’t go into listing out how FCPX has major problems.  Chances are, if you ended up here, you already know most of the issues.  If you need a refresher, check herehere, here, here, and here, and read a simple list of what it simply does not do anymore here.  Or you can just watch this video made by Conan O’Brien’s editing team (shouts to @robtheeditor and @ddandthecups) which basically sums up everything you need to know about the consensus opinion:

So then where does this leave us?  Well, for starters, disappointed.  I have been using Final Cut Pro since 1.0, the very beginning.  It was my first real introduction to non-linear editing.  Hell, I did ten times my film school projects in my dorm-room on FCP than I ever did on any of the school’s editing stations.   I certainly knew more about FCP then Avid or Adobe when I left school.  FCP was a welcomed addition to the marketplace because it was relatively inexpensive, easy to use, and robust.  To see it now neutered, that’s a hard pill to swallow.

But we’re here now, so eventually we must reach the last stage of grief: acceptance.  We must accept that now there is one less professional-grade editing software on the market.  Our baby has been put out to pasture.  But lo-and-behold, part of me actually feels relieved and excited about the future of post-production.  Could it be that Apple has actually helped us?  “But Rob, whatever do you mean?” you say.  The key is this: barriers to entry.

About a year ago, I wrote a two-part piece on getting into the Motion Picture Editor’s Guild (Part 1, Part 2).  In it, I wrote about inexpensive non-linear editing systems and the problems that poses for making a living as an editor:

Experience aside, one once needed access to extremely pricey equipment to be able to hone one’s skills and practice as an editor. This provided an extra barrier to entry for anyone trying to get into the business. With the introduction of [Final Cut Pro], it has become easy for any person with about $5000 to be able to create a broadcast-capable editing system. […] That has made it easy for young kids in high school and college (I’m speaking about yours truly and many following after me) to learn the skill of editing quite easily.

But today, it seems the tide as shifted back somewhat.  Not completely, but somewhat.  At the time I wrote that, the $5,000 number came from my loose budgeting around a Mac laptop, a copy of Final Cut Studio 3, some extra RAM and peripherals, and maybe some hard drives to boot.  I was not considering the $2500 price-tag for Avid Media Composer or Adobe Master Suite.  It seems now, though, that my math should be adjusted, because I would never call the current version of FCPX broadcast-capable.  And given that math, it seems that a broadcast-capable edit suite just went up in price.

In the past, many new post houses and editors chose Final Cut Pro over Avid or Adobe because of budget.  There were always small arguments to be made for which fit the required workflow the best but, in truth, all three basically provided the same functionality.  The exception to this was that FCP cost much much less.  Since the release of FCPX, though, the paradigm has changed.  Now, I’d be willing to bet that the average beginning filmmaker will spend their money on the new FCPX while most professionals and production companies will focus on Media Composer and Premiere.  And why shouldn’t they?  FCPX is easy to use and does a lot of thinking for you, while Adobe and Avid provide support for nearly every type of production and the architecture of the software is scalable up to the largest projects.  But, because not every level of editor requires the same software, us professionals can breath a sigh of relief about some young kid with a Mac and FCP asking for half our rate and thusly eating our lunch.  It’s not that easy anymore.

Before, someone could buy FCP7 and cut their home movies on it while reading the press about how Walter Murch and the editors from The Social Network used the same software to edit Oscar-winning films. (Side note: has anyone interview these people about for their thoughts on FCPX?  Can someone please get on that? Send me a link!)  While that was great to imagine, believing that was simply drinking Apple’s Kool-Aid.  Not all editors need the same software.  Here’s an example: in-the-field documentarians and journalists don’t need a particularly robust editor.  They just need to get their footage in, view it, tweak it, and spit it out fast to Youtube, CNN iReport, and so on.  They don’t need advanced media-management tools for dealing with terabytes of footage.  They don’t need power-windows and secondary color-correction effects.  They don’t need the ability to export data and sequences for Pro-Tools, Resolve, or Smoke.  And now there’s software to serve their needs.  This is good.

But this new version of Final Cut Pro is also good for editors who need more advanced tools, in the way that it pushes professionals to harder-to-reach software.  There used to be two levels of software: consumer and professional.  Now, though, Apple has created a new class of software that requires an intermediate-level knowledge of editing and post, but not a mastery.  And so, for those of us out there who are required to be masters, the talent pool just got smaller.  And that’s also a good thing.  Now, I don’t need to look over my shoulder as much, wondering when the next development is going to take away the need for an Assistant Editor, or whether some new hotshot film director is just going to cut out the need for an editor entirely and cut their projects themselves.  Apple is revolutionizing the prosumer market, and there’s no shame in that.  From where I sit, the more prosumers we have, the more it separates me from everyone else.

PS: Just caught this as I was writing this, from the ever-excellent Revision 3 show Film Riot.  It’s another good primer on the good and bad of FCPX, and recommends it exactly to who the software is targeted to: the beginner.   Please let me know what you think in the comments.  I’d love feedback on my thoughts.  Also thanks to @therealjimhall for his feedback.

One other small post-script: I fear for the life of Aperture and Logic.  If I use those programs on a daily basis, I’d be very afraid of this trend.

Okay, so it’s been a while since I’ve written because I’ve been just too busy.  In that time, I’ve traversed the country multiple times for work and that thing they call a life that I try to fit in between projects.  I learned about the 3AM commute home by train in NYC (it takes a while).  I also learned that Virgin America is a godsend (thanks Google for free WiFi).  And that independent film has funding trouble (I doubt I’m the first to have this revelation).  But these are all just excuses for not writing more here.  I’ll now try to ease back into writing regularly by starting off with a small review…

Last week I started up on a rather large film project that requires I use multiple CPUs with multiple monitors at the same desk: for my Avid, FTP, and personal stations.

This is where the simple open-source utility from The Synergy Project is invaluable.  Originally demonstrated to me by my buddy Jacob Shea (who is an excellent composer FYI) this small program allows me to control all three computers using one computer’s keyboard and mouse.  All that it requires is that all the CPUs in question are connected to the same network.  Getting it to work is a little buggy, as is most open-source software, but once you get there, you’ll never want to be without it!

As utilities go, it’s very intuitive.  Because of the networked control, I am able to move back and forth between computers as if they were all running off the same CPU.  Gladly, though, they’re not, so I can harness each computer’s processing power for different functions without any hassle moving between different desks or keyboards.  It’s just that simple.  And while it seems like a small invention, you’d be amazed at how much more productive you can be without needing to move around so much.

It’s really a simple process.  Follow this link to download SynergyKM.  From there, install it on each computer you want to be able to control remotely.  Open your system preferences to gain access to the SynergyKM settings.  On your host computer, select the “default” location so you can make sure to save the settings.  Follow these two windows as guidance:

 

In the Server Configuration menu, hit the “+” symbol to create computers to access.  Enter the names according to your user’s Sharing name.  You’ll have to enter this for both the host computer you’re on and the client computers you want to access with the keyboard.  (Note: Spaces in the name should be typed as hyphens.)  No need to attack Server Options, but at least you know it’s there.

Next, on your client computers, use the following images as guidance.

Enter the hostname that matches your server computer’s Sharing name.  If you’re having trouble connecting, make sure the name displayed next to “This computer’s Screen Name” is the same on the server side for each computer.

And from there, voila.  You can now use your host computer’s keyboard and mouse on every computer you’ve set up with SynergyKM.  It’s fantastic.  Huge love to the developers!

So this week at NAB Avid released details about their upgrade to the Media Composer editing system.  Talk about gamechanger.  Avid now allows for dragging and dropping in the timeline, native Quicktime AND RED support (and I’m not talking about Quicktime Proxies here), solo and mute buttons in the timeline, a much stronger user interface, I could go on…  Hey Apple and the uninspired team at Final Cut Pro: now that Avid has co-opted all your awesome features, what about you maybe making some of your own innovations?

It’s been a long time coming for Avid.  Granted, none of these improvements would have ever come had Apple not entered the market.  The Cupertino computer giant does deserve that credit.  But when it comes to making decisions about what software I’d use on my next job, any argument against Avid has officially been nullified for me.  I used to have an expression: Final Cut Pro is a great editor on top of a crappy media manager, and Avid is a so-so editor on top of an awesome media manager.  Today I officially put that to rest because Avid has proven that they are willing to change.

As for Final Cut Pro, I can’t say the same.  It’s been months since I purchased my upgrade to Final Cut Pro 7, and I have to say, I’m not about to open the box and install that POS on my computer.  Sure, there are quality cosmetic changes to the editing system, like the introduction of ProRes Proxy and 4444 and the colored locators that trim with your edits, but that masks the fact that Final Cut Studio 3 actually runs SLOWER than Final Cut Studio 2 [link 1] [link 2].  And Avid already has the best project-sharing functionality, so tell me what I should choose Apple next time around?

Apple entered the market strongly and has done great things to bring professional editing to the people.  But the truth is Avid has responded by doing laps around Apple while Apple is distracted by their innovations at the consumer level.  It’s high time that Apple either sh*t or get off the pot when it comes to Final Cut Studio.  Sell it or fix it.  I’m tired of dealing with this.

UPDATE: Ask and ye shall receive.  No sooner than I write this post do I see and article from MacSoda that quotes the almighty himself Steve Jobs as saying “The next release will be awesome.”  Scanning through the comments, there’s a mixture of excitment and true disbelief as to whether that is indeed true or simply spin.  Color me undecided, but at the moment, I’m still waiting for something more than Steve’s curt emails.

If you disagree with me, please comment.  Check out the first comment left already by Zach Fine, who presents an excellent rebuttal about the FCS3 upgrade and makes some great points about workflows and benefits.  I still disagree about the state of Final Cut Pro, but hey, he’s a smart guy and he makes some great points.

Imagine this scenario…you’re an assistant editor, it’s midnight, you’re at home, and all of sudden the director calls.  They want to have a DVD of the current edit for the film you’re working on ready first thing in the morning.  This is about the time when you have that sinking feeling because you know you’re headed back in to the office…an office which is across town.  And on top of that, it needs to have burn-in on the picture because it’s going to go to a vendor after he’s done.  A few years ago, this would’ve meant you’d be packing your bag to spend the a short sleepless night on the floor under your editing bay.  But no longer, faithful A.E. – we are now saved.

Enter LogMeIn, the great series of programs that allow you to remotely manage your computers from any Internet connection.  While its not quite fast enough to play back video (hopefully that’s not too far away) you can certainly navigate all your assistant duties from your remote connection.  From managing media to encoding Quicktimes to anything you can imagine, you can do it all without needing to be there.  All you have to do is create an account, download and the program, and presto!  You can visit that computer from the internet.

It works with Windows and Mac, is incredibly secure with AES 256-bit encryption, and best of all, they have a FREE VERSION!  While LogMeIn offers many different products, but if you’re a handy Assistant Editor such as myself, and you’ve got an iDisk or some other type of cloud storage, then all you need is LogMeIn Free.  Also, if you’ve got $30, it is also totally worth purchasing LogMeIn Ignition for the iPhone or iPod Touch.  Now you can remotely log in to any computer you’ve registered with LogMeIn, as long as you’ve got an iPhone and an internet connection.

Obviously this is not a new concept.  VNC remote management has been around for a long time.  But this has a few twists I think make it the best.  First of all, the entire list of your available computers is right in front of you when you log in, and you don’t have to worry about IP addresses and other such networking information.  Second, it works seamlessly on both Windows and Mac, so you only need to pick one app to do the job.  Lastly, it’s all user-friendly, with one of the best iPhone apps I’ve seen for remote management and truly helpful options when it comes to the desktop mirror.

I can’t count the different ways this product has saved the day.  One day, an editor called because she needed me to help her find her project files, which had been moved from their current home on her hard drive by no fault of her own.  Went to LogMeIn.com, logged in to her computer, and found the file.  Bam, five minutes, day saved.  Another time, I was on a day trip on a Saturday when a director wanted to come into the editing back to screen the film.  He could press play, but I didn’t want to walk him through the hour of rendering that needed to take place to prep the film.  So I logged in from my iPhone, strung out the reels, and rendered the film.  When he got in, all he needed to do was hit play, and it was ready to go.  To finish up on the story I started at the top, to save the day, I strung out the reels, applied the burn-in, and send the Quicktime Reference to Compressor, all in the same amount of time it would’ve taken me were I sitting right there, and went to bed rested.  In the morning, I ran the MPEG-2 through DVD Studio Pro, and the DVD was ready before the director even showed up.

Do yourself a favor and go download this right now.