Tag Archives: Apple Final Cut Pro

First Impressions: Apple’s new iMac Pro

This London-based video editor gives it a ride

By Thomas Carter

Over the last few days I’ve had the chance to play with the new iMac Pro from Apple. I’m a professional editor at Trim Editing in London, where I cut high-end commercials, music videos and films. I was really excited to see how this new machine, and the upcoming version of Final Cut Pro X (10.4) NLE, could benefit us here and what sorts of things it might be able to achieve.

The Design
This thing looks like an iMac, no doubt about it. It’s the same all-in-one form factor we’ve become accustomed to, but in space grey. I love this design, and I’m a sucker for anything that nears a matte black finish. It’s pretty incredible to have a machine this powerful essentially living inside a display, and it looks great in the edit suite, especially as it comes paired with a space grey keyboard, mouse and trackpad.

Space grey aside, the only external tweaks are around the back — there are four USB 3 ports, four Thunderbolt 3 ports, a 10GB Ethernet port and large “Vader-like” vents to help cool the eager internals. While those Thunderbolt ports can support two additional 5K displays, what I’m most excited about here is the 10GB Ethernet port. We can now directly attach our LumaForge Jellyfish shared storage without the need for Thunderbolt conversion.

One last point, because I know I’d be asking this question. Can you buy the keyboard, mouse and trackpad separately? Sadly, apparently you cannot. But if you can somehow justify spending $4,999 on a space grey keyboard, mouse and trackpad, at least you’ll get a free iMac Pro!

The Performance
As I said, I’ve only had my hands on the machine for a couple of days, so I haven’t had the chance to run a full-blown editing job through it yet. But it’s abundantly clear to me that this thing is a beast. It’s by far the fastest Mac I’ve ever used, and according to Apple the most powerful they’ve ever built.

Thermal cooling

The machine I had access to featured a 10-core 3GHz processor, 128GB memory, 2TB SSD and Radeon Pro Vega 64 graphics with 16GB memory. The internal SSD is ridiculously fast. When I tested the speed I got 3021MB/s write and 2465MB/s read. And for anyone who knows what it means (not me) the GeekBench 4 score on the processors was 37003.

But let’s forget the paper specs for a moment. Here are a few real-world editing tests I ran:

A feature film has been cutting here at Trim over the past few months, so I took the opportunity to hijack the project to see what the export speeds were like. A ProRes HD file took 2 minutes 34 seconds, which is pretty great for a 90-minute timeline. But compressed H.264s are far more common for me as an editor when dealing with upload and review of my cuts. My biggest frustration with all previous Mac Pro machines was that their H.264 export speeds always seemed terrible. This is due to the fact that “workstation-class chips” don’t have the hardware-acceleration necessary for these tasks. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that Apple seem to be bypassing these limitations somehow, and the iMac Pro is also delivering fast H.264 exports. I have no idea what they are doing behind the scenes to achieve this, but it works and will save me hours in encoding time.

Next I decided to push the resolution right up and see how it might handle a ludicrous 8K timeline with footage shot on the Panavision Millennium DXL. With 8K ProRes 4:4:4:4 files, the iMac Pro played the sequence back perfectly. Even after adding a couple of color corrections and a blur to the clips it still didn’t drop a frame. I should add that this was playing back at better quality and without rendering. I’ll repeat that once more. 8K. Color correction. Blur. No Rendering. No “1/4 quality” BS. No frames dropped.

Yes, 8K is an impressive number, but I was also interested to see how it might handle a less friendly codec like R3D, a notoriously heavy codec for computers to decode/debayer and playback at full quality. The maximum I managed to test here was 5K Red RAW footage in a 5K timeline. Again, best quality and unrendered. Adding color correction, resizes and titles didn’t cause the machine to drop frames. The sequence played through smoothly, which is nuts.

Trim Editing

While this last test is really impressive, there aren’t many real-world jobs where I’ll be storing an entire film shoot of Red RAW rushes on my internal SSD. So I also checked how this played out on external storage. I’m happy to report that loading the same media onto our Jellyfish shared storage and accessing it over direct-attached 10Gb Ethernet gave me the same results.

These tests really blew me away. They aren’t necessarily going to be everyday scenarios for most people, or even me, but they make it possible to imagine editing workflows in which you’re working at close to the highest quality possible throughout the entire process… on a desktop computer. A space grey one. It’s going to be really interesting to see how the rest of the company reacts to this computer moving forward. While we mainly deal in offline workflows, we have begun to look at possibly taking on more conforming, online, grading work in-house. It’s not hard to conceive that the iMac Pro could be the tool to bring all these elements together for us in a streamlined way.

The Bottom Line
While I really haven’t had enough time to do a deep dive, it’s clearly the best Mac I’ve ever used — it’s stupidly powerful and great to work on.

Thomas Grove Carter

But who is it actually for? Clearly not everyone. It’s quite obviously a pro machine and it comes with a price tag to fit — $4,999. If you’re a pro user who needs a Pro Mac, it’s probably for you (and you can get your hands on one starting December 14). If you’re already an iMac user but you need more power, it’s probably for you too. If I had to make a wildly uninformed guess, I’d say this will be more than enough computer for 90% of pros.

There will still understandably be a number of places where this machine will not be enough, and I don’t mean it’s lacking in power — if you’re someone who needs rack-mountable, user-expandable hardware, this may not be for you.

For me, if an equally powerful Mac Pro existed, I’d still chose this iMac Pro over it, because I love the all-in-one compact design and the way it sits in my edit suite. I can’t wait to use the iMac Pro for genuine work and really put it through its paces. I’m excited and slightly dizzied by its power, and the potential that power has for delivering amazing work.

Also, did I mention that it’s space grey…


Thomas Grove Carter is an editor at Trim Editing in London, where they cut commercials, music videos and films. Follow him on Twitter @thomasgcarter.

Agent of Sleep: The making of a spec commercial

By Jennifer Walden

Names like Jason Bourne and James Bond make one think “eternal sleep,” not just merely a “restful” one. That’s what makes director/producer/writer Stephen Vitale’s spec commercial for Tempur-Pedic mattresses so compelling. Like a mad scientist crossing a shark with a sheep, Vitale combines an energetic spy/action film aesthetic with the sleepy world of mattress advertising for Agent of Sleep.

Vitale originally pitched the idea to a different mattress brand. “That brand passed, and I decided they were silly to, so I made the spot that exists on spec and chose to use Tempur-Pedic as the featured brand instead. I hear Tempur-Pedic really enjoyed the spot.”

In Agent of Sleep, two assailants fight their way up a stairwell and into a sun-dappled apartment where their altercation eventually leads into a bedroom and onto a comfy (albeit naked) mattress. One assailant applies a choke hold to the other but his grip loosens as he falls fast asleep. The other assailant lies down beside the first and promptly falls asleep too.

LA-based Vitale drew inspiration from Bourne and Bond films. He referenced fight scenes from Haywire, John Wick and Mission Impossible too. “Mostly all of them have a version of the action sequence in Agent of Sleep — a visceral, intimate fight between spies/hired guns that ends with one of them getting choked out. It was about distilling this trope, dropping a viewer right into the middle of it to grab them and immediately establishing visuals that would tap into the familiarity they have with the setup.”

Once the spy/action foundation was in place, Vitale (who is pictured shooting in our main image) added tropes from mattress ads to his concept, like choosing a warmly lit, serene apartment and ending the spot with a couple lying comfortably on a bare mattress as a narrator shares product information. “The spies are bursting into what would be the typical setting for a mattress ad and they upend all of its elements. The visuals reflect that trajectory.”

To achieve the desired cinematic look, Vitale chose the Arri Alexa Mini with Cooke anamorphic lenses, and shot in a wide aspect ratio of 2:66 — wider than the normal cinemascope. “My cinematographer David Bolen and I felt like it gave the confined sets and the close-range fist fight a bigger scope and pushed the piece further away from the look of an ad.”

They shot in a practical location and dressed it to replicate the bedrooms shown in actual Tempur-Pedic product images. As for smashing through the bedroom wall, that wasn’t part of the plan but it did add to the believability of the fight. “That was an accidental alteration to the location,” jokes Vitale.

The handheld camera movement up front adds to the energy of the fight, and Vitale framed the shots to clearly show who is throwing the punch and how hard it landed. “I tried to design longer takes and find angles that created a dance between the camera and the amazing fight work from Yoshi Sudarso and Cory DeMeyers.”

In contrast, the spot ends with steady, smooth shots that exude a calm feeling. Vitale says, “We used a jib and sticks for the end shots because I wanted it to be as tranquil and still as possible to play up the joke.”

Production sound was captured with a Røde NTG-2 boom mic onto a Zoom H5 recorder. The vocalizations from the two spies on-set, i.e. their breaths and efforts, were all used in post. Vitale, who handled the sound design and final mix, says, “I would use alt audio takes and drop in grunts and impact reactions to shots that needed a boost. The main goal was that it felt kinetic throughout and that the fight sounded really visceral. A lot of punch sounds were layered with other sound effects to avoid them feeling canned, and I also did Foley for different moments in the spot to help fill it out and give it a more natural sound.”

The Post
Vitale also handled picture editing using Apple Final Cut Pro 7, which worked out perfectly for him. Editing the spot was pretty straightforward, since he had designed a solid plan for the shoot and didn’t need to cover extra shots and setups. “I usually only shoot what I know I will use,” he says. “The one shot I didn’t use was an insert of the glass the woman drops, shattering on the floor. So structurally, it was easy to find. The rest was about keeping cuts tight, making sure the longer takes didn’t drag and the quicker cuts were still clear and exciting to watch.”

Vitale worked with colorist Bryan Smaller, who uses Blackmagic Resolve. They agreed that fully committing to the action film aesthetic, by playing with contrast levels and grain to keep the image gritty and grounded was the best way of not letting the audience in on the joke until the end. “For the stairwell and hallway, we leaned into the green and orange hues of those respective locations. The apartment has a bit of a teal hue to it and has a much more organic feel, which again was to help transition the spies and the audience into the mattress ad world, so to speak,” explains Vitale.

The icing on the cake was composer Patrick Sullivan’s action film-style score. “He did a great job of bringing the audience into the action and creating tension and excitement. We’ve been friends since elementary school and played in a band together, so we can find what’s working and what’s not pretty quickly. He’s one of my most consistent collaborators, in various aspects of post production, and he always brings something special to the project.”


Jennifer Walden is a New Jersey-based writer. Follow her at @audiojeney on Twitter.

Apple updates FCPX, adds shared libraries, more

By Amy Leland

There exists within the post world a deep schism. On one side are those who use Final Cut Pro X, appreciate it for what it is, and want to know more about it. On the other side are those who see it as “iMovie Pro” and disdain all discussion on the topic. Full disclosure: I have always fallen firmly in the first camp.

When FCPX was first released in June of 2011, besides being a professional editor, I was also an Apple Certified Trainer (in FCP, Motion and Color), and out of necessity figured out this new product as quickly as possible to meet the demand of those wanting to know more. Along the way, I positioned it in my own work as my go-to tool for any of my independent freelance projects, and most recently for the feature documentary that I am directing and editing. I recognize that it isn’t the right tool for all editing jobs. But sometimes it is the best tool for an editing job.

interface-copyLast week I had the opportunity to attend a demo of the new FCPX 10.3. For those who are using it and others who have an open mind, there are some exciting new features and updates. I don’t think anything I say will sway the minds of those who decided long ago this product isn’t for professional editors and isn’t worth their time. And for those whose hesitation was, it’s too different, well it’s still different. It’s just a new different.

Audio
The thing that really stuck out to me was the streamlining of how audio works. There are both interface and under-the-covers changes to audio mixing and organization. The big news is the use of Roles, and how that applies to audio. FCPX introduced the idea of Roles in the very first update to the app just a few months after the initial release. Roles allowed for identifying types of audio in a way that would aid in multichannel exports and stems. But this version is the first to fully take advantage of them for streamlining the editing process.

There is now more comprehensive support for doing things like color-coding clips based on Roles for visual cues in the timeline. There is also a new concept called “audio lanes.” This is still the world of the magnetic timeline. I am a fan of the magnetic timeline, and that functionality is the biggest reason why my workflow in FCPX is typically far faster than it is in any other app. But it has always been a bit frustrating to get the audio beneath the magnetic timeline to make sense visually. Now, with audio lanes, audio in different roles can be displayed in distinct visual troughs (NOT tracks) that make it far easier to look at the timeline and see exactly what is there. With a single click, lanes can be turned off and on. The flexibility for display in different stages of the work process is fantastic.

The interface as a whole has also undergone the biggest overhaul it has had since the initial release. It looks, quite simply, cleaner. The color scheme has been flattened and darkened to allow the video content to take focus. Some onscreen controls have been moved to places that, upon reflection, do make more sense. Though having used the product for five years, I expect to have some moments of feeling a little disoriented while I get used to the changes. I look forward to seeing how the adjustments further streamline the process.

Motion
One change I am particularly excited about might seem like a small thing, but it will save me one of the biggest headaches I tend to experience in my FCPX work. I’m a big fan of custom Motion content. I create my own custom titles, transitions and effects for almost every project I do. I also use Motion publishing to bring effects specific to Motion into the FCPX interface. The only problem is that, up until now, all of that custom content lived in the Movies folder of the user library in the OS. There was no option to customize that location or store things elsewhere. More times than I can count, I would move a project from one hard drive to another, or consolidate a project to a portable drive to work on while traveling, and discover I’d left my custom Motion content behind. Those offline media icons made me nuts.

In 10.3, there is now a user preference for storing those custom Motion projects inside of an FCPX library. If the Motion project is specific to a particular FCPX project, I can store it in that project’s library. For things I have created to be more universal, I can now create a central library that can travel with any of the other work I’m doing. It’s a small change, but a really important one.

More
Many of the other changes, while relatively small details, are important ones. After years of user requests, we finally have selective “Remove Attributes.” (FINALLY!) FCPX will now also natively accept MXF-wrapped ProRes files. For those of us who go back and forth between editing systems, and do a lot of work in Avid, this will be a real time saver.

There is also a new effect in the FCPX effect library called “Flow,” a transition similar to the Fluid Morph in Avid or the Morph Cut in Premiere. I have to say, as I often experience with effects in FCPX and Motion, it just works…better. Unlike Avid where I often have to finesse the frame count to get it to work right, and then render before playback, this just drops in and works. I love it.

Shared Libraries
And finally, for those whose biggest hang-up about FCPX is shared media/project use, there is now support for shared libraries on SMB 3-compatible storage systems. There is also a new white paper out from Apple about managing the media and libraries that includes workflows for a shared storage environment. This is an aspect of the update I haven’t had the time to test fully myself. But the workflow outline in the white paper makes sense. It isn’t a fully shared work environment like opening bins from other projects in Avid. It seems more analogous to the Media Browser in Premiere, but this seems to have the potential to open up the idea of collaboration much better than before, and is something that I find pretty exciting. The “In Action” section of the FCPX website profiles a commercial post house in London called Trim Editing that is using this workflow. I imagine this won’t be enough to convince all of the skeptics. But it definitely feels like a big step in the right direction, and I look forward to working this way myself.

Summing Up
This is definitely a major update to an editing tool that was already more robust than it often gets credit for being. Those who are already on board should see a lot of good things here to reward their continued usage. Best of all, by releasing this major update as 10.3, and not as a new version 11, this update is a free one for anyone who already owns the app. That may be the best news of all.


Amy Leland is a filmmaker and editor in Brooklyn, New York, whose editing credits include Bravo, NFL Network and CBS Sports Network. She can be found on Twitter @amy_leland and on Instagram @la_directora.