The Pro App Paradox (Part 3)

Writer’s note: more an exploration of ideas and rabbit hole of links, than a coherent argument.

Featured image: tweet in reference to the introduction of Apple‘s iOS app: Cards.

In the final part of this series I will explain why content creation tools are the antithesis of Apple’s design philosophy.

From The Pro App Paradox (Part 2). Written over 7 years ago!


Major” motion pictures are “logistically complex [projects] and difficult undertakings, much like waging a small war.” Therefore the software tools used to tackle these complex problems will have more in common with architectural and medical software, than anything used to consume motion pictures.

3D Modeling

Screenshot-2018-6-29 Maya Editor overview
Screen Grab from the Autodesk Maya’s webpage.
Revit Structure Revit Autodesk
Just kidding, this is Revit. Also by Autodesk, but for architects.

Compositing

Screenshot-2018-6-29 Features of Nuke Foundry.png
Screen grab from Nuke’s webpage.

Traditional Nonlinear Editing

Screenshot-2018-6-29 Media Composer - Video Editing Software - Avid
Screen grab from Media Composer’s webpage. Used by 90% of motion picture editors.

Now let’s compare that to Apple’s websites for…

Final Cut Pro X

Screenshot-2018-6-29 Final Cut Pro X
Clean interface for daaayys…
Screenshot-2018-6-29 Final Cut Pro X(1)
Screen Grab from Final Cut Pro X’s webpage.

iMovie

Screenshot-2018-6-30 iMovie
“But you can’t make editing mechanical,” the Avid curmudgeon.

Keynote

Screenshot-2018-6-29 Keynote
Apple’s webpage makes using Keynote look like fun!

There is an inherent tension between complexity and simplicity. Apple is erring on the side of simplicity. (Link, Link, Link, Link, Link, Link. Each of those is worth a read BTW!) And because of that they are making software that probably won’t ever be used for complex tasks; like making Thanos awesome!

On the other end of the spectrum, the motion picture industry accepts the role of the Vfx Editor. Although I think those days are numbered. Hiring a person to do something that computers are way better at doing is inefficient and soon enough Adobe’s Toggle Proxies and Fusion Connect are going to be better than pension payments.

But here is the thing; I don’t think Apple is wrong.

IMG_0956
From Google’s June 26th Los Angeles Media Summit

At a recent Media Summit Google hosted a panel with three interesting players in the Vfx space. All are moving away from infrastructure: Sony is moving towards virtual workstations in the cloud. The Mill already renders everything on the cloud. And the Foundry’s new cloud platform, built on top of GCP, is using Machine Learning to calculate accurate bids, among other things.

You don’t need to read tea leaves to see that there isn’t much long term value in creating a killer workstations anymore. Making killer thin clients is where the future is at for Apple. The interesting question is going to be: so what happens to the file system?

Final Cut Server REVISITED

Look at what popped up on my #Timehop feed today:

I don’t remember the exact problem that prompted this Facebook status update, but it reminded me of my very first post about Final Cut Server in the previous version of this blog. It’s worth revisiting, with an updated commentary at the end:


What is Final Cut Server?

by DKG on 2/2/10

I am often asked, “What is Final Cut Server?” And until last week I struggled to answer this question. The unveiling of Apple’s iPad made it all clear to me:

Final Cut Server is Apple’s attempt to abstract away the file system for digital creative work.

What does that mean?

Think about an iPhone. On the iPhone you never need to worry about where you’re installing an application. Just open the App Store, click “install,” and ‘pop’ the new app appears on your home screen.

In the ideal Final Cut Server installation, the editor, the assistant editor, and the producer never need to access the file system. No more asking the graphic artist in which sub-sub-subfolder did he save the newest graphic open.

And once you understand Final Cut Server replaces the Finder it becomes easier to see the true value of FCS. It also becomes easier to understand some of FCS’s other features, such as version control and annotation. I’ll discuss those features at a later date, because I really want to drive home the point on the benefits of an abstracted file system.

John Gruber at Daring Fireball compared the future of Apple computing to the automatic transmission:

Used to be that to drive a car, you, the driver, needed to operate a clutch pedal and gear shifter and manually change gears for the transmission as you accelerated and decelerated. Then came the automatic transmission. With an automatic, the transmission is entirely abstracted away. The clutch is gone. To go faster, you just press harder on the gas pedal.

That’s where Apple is taking computing. A car with an automatic transmission still shifts gears; the driver just doesn’t need to know about it. A computer running iPhone OS still has a hierarchical file system; the user just never sees it.

From my experience the most time consuming and creativity-sucking aspect of digital collaboration in post-production happens to be finding and managing the files themselves. I can not count the number of times I’ve accidentally imported a graphic from the wrong folder and later had to swap it out because an assistant editor saved it in a different, but equally logical sounding folder.

Final Cut Server attempts to alleviate this problem by removing the question, “where should I save this file?” I am certain that Apple’s intended consequence is to free the digital artist from the technology so they can focus on their real work, creation.


I still hate the file system, and I’m in good company. I’m currently reviewing Blackmagic Design’s “Definitive Guide to DaVinci Resolve 14“.  The author dedicated a significant amount of time reminding the reader of the difference between the media file and the representation of it in the project.

  • Pg. 35: “It is also important to understand that the clips are not copied, moved, or transcoded when you import them. DaVinci Resolve is completely non-destructive; it simple links to the unaltered files in their current locations on your hard drive.”
  • Pg. 48: ” Don’t worry, changing the Display Name does not change the filename on your hard disk.”
  • Pg. 84: “The project contains only the metadata for clips and timelines. It has no media associated with it.”
  • Pg. 88: While describing a ripple edit: “The audio and video tracks of the clip are removed, or extracted, from the timeline, but not deleted from the bin or your hard drive.” (emphasis mine)

This speaks volumes to the difficulties the average computer user has managing files. If you spend any time managing Avid Media Composer projects, you’ll see that even seasoned editors struggle with file management, evidenced by miscellaneous assets or render files created on the system drive.

This also confirms my own firsthand experience teaching nonlinear editing. My students almost intuitively always understood editing concepts like insert, overwrite, and trim. It was the importing, exporting, and media management that tripped them up.

I think people struggle with file management because the digital world doesn’t accurately map on to the physical world. Physical objects can’t exist in two places at the same time. But with things like Smart Folders and Smart Bins there is no reason something can’t be in two places simultaneously. But this is a conversation for another day…

The Pro App Paradox (Part 2) REVISITED

In my previous post I wrote about the demise of Shake and XServe. Now we’ll see how the future of editing is bearing down on us unexpectedly.  Just look at YouTube Video Editor and Avid’s “edit anywhere” technology preview. Notice what these lack? A filesystem.

I used to teach nonlinear editing at a University and from my experience students had the most difficulty in three areas:

  1. input: digitizing footage into the NLE.
  2. output: exporting a finished project.
  3. file management.

Once the footage was ready for editing, the cutting and trimming came easily. The current barriers of entry for nonlinear editing are technical. And the future belongs to whoever can eliminate them.

Final Cut Server was Apple’s attempt to abstract away the filesystem in order to make editing more accessible. But abstracting the filesystem away on the desktop is difficult for multiple reason. People are used to downloading files and putting them on a “media drive”.  But if Final Cut Server were moved into the cloud… well suddenly the file system isn’t a problem anymore. Just like…

Word processing! Document management and sharing used to be the province of your computer and the sneakernet.  Then Google Docs put it all in the cloud and now problems such as “where is the most up-to-date document” are a thing of the past.

Writer’s note: Sadly, old habits die hard. I’m still surprised by how many of my peers continue to lose data because they refuse to use Dropbox!

The future of editing will be like this. Xsan, Avid ISIS, and similar SAN solutions are stopgaps.  We’re really only waiting on the bandwidth.

Writer’s note: And we’re still waiting…

Apple is the one company that won’t hesitate to kill a technology on the decline before the rest of the world is ready. They did it with the floppy drive, they’re doing it with the optical drive. If the future is going to look like Avid’s “edit anywhere” Adobe’s Project Rush why develop and support the stopgap?

Writer’s note: In hindsight I overestimated the availability of high speed, low latency bandwidth in the United States. Sadly the situation is only getting worse. Also, my loathing of file management is just as strong today as it was eight years ago. If technology, especially in the motion picture industry, has failed us. It is in this realm. That Apple would lean into the file system on their iOS platform truly caught me by surprise.

In the final part of this series I will explain why content creation tools are the antithesis of Apple’s design philosophy.

Note: Revisited September 27, 2018.