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Media Theory Software

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…