This cloud-based editing platform doesn’t want to replace your NLE, but instead complement it.
By Brady Betzel
In December of 2013 I wrote a review of the Forscene platform from Forbidden Technologies. Back then, I went into some detail about the product and how nice it was to be able to do a rough edit from just about anywhere, including my local Starbucks. Simply, Forscene is a cloud-based, nonlinear logging, editing, reviewing and publishing browser-based platform.
When I first got a look at Forscene, a little over a year ago, I admit I was a little put off by the interface. It had the look of the light grey Avid Media Composer setting if it was on a Windows 95 PC. While looks aren’t everything, looking good doesn’t hurt. Since that time, Forscene has taken a great step forward in terms of interface design. They have also improved the tools’
technical abilities. I will get to those upgrades shortly.
It seems that over the past five years broadcast post has been trying to expand out of its Los Angeles and New York footprints and allow editors, producers and, even, loggers to work from anywhere. From an iceberg in Alaska to the desert in Arizona, post pros are trying to master the monumental feat of true cloud-based editing. When working in a small group, this can pretty much be accomplished now, however, working with 10, 20 or, maybe even, 50 people over the cloud can be a challenge, both technically as well as in terms of asset management.
At the beginning of the cloud hysteria I was very skeptical, much like anything new I suppose. Building a story is/was always about bringing together many people from different viewpoints to build something that was interesting and intriguing. So alienating people by allowing them to edit from their couch, nowhere near a physical meeting place, seemed counterintuitive to me. What did intrigue me, however, was how cloud-based editing could help in the pre-post production process, and that is what I am focusing on for this review of Forscene’s latest release — how cloud-based editing, using Forscene, can shorten the post processes as well as allow content from the field to be quickly logged, edited into a basic string-out, reviewed and even relinked in Media Composer when the master tapes arrive back at the post production offices.
I tested Forscene on my Windows 8.1 tablet, and it worked great. It didn’t matter if I was at home on my private WiFi network or at Starbucks; I was always able to work with my content. In the latest release of FORscene, there has been updates to its iPad and Android functionality (I personally don’t have an iPad or Android tablet), editing enhancements with ability to view and edit up to 18 synced multi-camera clips, isolate different audio tracks from different clips in the actual multicam group, new publishing formats like MXF, and new ingest formats like Red and ProRes 4:2:2. There have been improvements in the media asset management and logging sides as well, but I am focusing on the editing side for this review.
Overall, Forscene works better than many cloud-based platforms I’ve used. The NLE is intuitive and can be learned within 30 minutes to an hour. Forscene even has some tutorials on their YouTube page to get you up to speed pretty quickly. I would suggest you ask someone like Jeff Krebs over at Forbidden to do a Skype tutorial of the interface; it was about 45 minutes long and afterwards I felt very comfortable with it. Without that tutorial I would have wasted some time reading manuals and finding my way around the platform. There is even a keyboard layout name “JK,” which are his initials. His layout is very editor friendly. The one thing that is a little different is how FORscene uses left clicks and right clicks to get to different menu options. In the end, it is an efficient way to get a lot of options to you, but it is a little hard to get going at first.
So why would someone working in a post house or in post on a reality show want to use FORscene when they are comfortable using Media Composer, Adobe Premiere Pro, or Apple FCP X? I think that FORscene can save you time and money in both getting dailies from the field shoot to the office faster, facilitate sending your interviews to be transcribed as soon as possible, as well as beginning a rough cut once your footage is loaded into Forscene.
There are working two options when using Forscene: One: Software as a Service, meaning you log into forscene.net and you are off and running. Two: an attached Linux-based server that is installed alongside your shared storage. The benefit to the attached server is that it is fast; you can upload to Forscene’s servers at four times realtime. To upload your footage you can use their web interface, or with the attached server you can set up watch folders to grab the media once ingested into your NLE and then upload in the background. One great thing about the Forscene service is that if you need 20 seats one month you pay for 20 seats, if you need 45 the next month you pay for 45, and if you scale back to 20 you only need to pay for 20.
Forscene is Java-based. The only downside to this is if you have a client that is not allowed to install Java onto their system — they won’t be able to access Forscene. While that may not seem like a problem you would run into, I have worked at places that are Mac-based and will not allow for Java to be installed, so it can be a potential problem if you interface with workers who can’t use your tools.
My first test was a gamble, I’ve worked on a few shows where producers felt like they needed to shoot iPhone video and wanted to edit it and/or just view it on a timeline. This time I logged into my FORscene account and uploaded a video directly from my iPhone 6. When uploading, it first compressed my video locally on my iPhone and then uploaded it. It was pretty cool to know that in a pinch you could potentially upload footage just using your 4G/LTE connection and your iPhone camera. The only rub is that if the frame rates don’t match, you won’t be able to edit it in the same FORscene sequence as your masters without transcoding first, so my advice is to run many tests. Hopefully mixed frame rate sequences are on the Forscene horizon.
Second, I wanted to check out the keyboard shortcuts. I really like how Forscene seems to have updated its default set of keyboard shortcuts to a more Avid-centric keyset. The obvious JKL — I and O — are there, as well as multicam switching options and many more. One of my favorite improvements is the integration of macros. If you have a set of keystrokes that you use often you can set those up as hot keys. I wish other NLEs (and by others I mean Media Composer) would integrate this… it could be a game changer.
One thing I don’t really care for inside of Forscene is the inability to make new sequences with a File > New Sequence or right click inside of the library window and click Create New Sequence. This is kind of a weird pet peeve for me, but being able to only make a sequence by throwing a clip into the source window and cutting it into the record side gets a little clunky.
Forscene does have a cool way of displaying audio and video data when looking for a very broad view quickly. Typically, waveforms represent audio in NLEs, Forscene has a unique approach with dark areas representing quieter audio and lighter areas representing louder audio. Visually, there is an interesting bar that shows almost a smeared version of the video, it gives a fast representation of where action happens without having to look at each frame or scrub through your entire video. At first I kind of laughed at what this was, but as I got comfortable with it I really wanted it inside of Media Composer — definitely something you need to see for yourself.
In the Field
Forscene is a frame-accurate NLE with a great logging and publishing backbone. If I was running my own TV show, I would definitely integrate FORscene into my workflow. Allowing producers/camera people in the field to upload proxy files from Sony XDCAM discs before physically shipping the discs back is a dramatic increase in productivity. Not only can you begin logging or transcribing fast, but you can begin a rough cut much sooner than if you had to wait for tapes/drives to be delivered.
If nothing else, your team will be within a day of watching dailies and can ask for pick-up shots or pick-up interviews within a reasonable time frame and not two weeks later when your principal cast members may have drastically changed their appearances or even refused to film.
I ran through an XDCAM proxy upload at Starbucks to a high-resolution conform on my Avid Symphony at home by exporting an AAF from Forscene, importing in Symphony and relinking to the high-resolution Sony XDCAM media I had on my local storage, and it worked great while maintaining the metadata — if offline to online always worked this way it would be a dream.
In the end, if you are heading out to NAB 2015 I would definitely give Forscene a good, long look. Even if you’ve seen Forscene before, you should check it out once more. If you think outside the post-production box a little, you’ll recognize how useful it could be. Again, it’s one of the best cloud-based NLEs I’ve used.
It also helps that Forscene isn’t trying to replace your NLE, but instead complement it. With the ability to export AAFs and import them into Media Composer you can quickly do a relink to your media to get up and running with string-outs made in Forscene or even new media pulls from a producer that is sitting in the edit bay next to you. With the ability to export markers (locators) to your Media Composer sequence you can integrate client notes within a matter of seconds rather than referencing a print out or an email with roughly close timecodes (which still can be done if you want to).