Has Apple’s Color Been Merged Into Final Cut Pro X?

“The Tao of Color Grading” was named and born from a simple question: Why do professional colorists work the way they do and how can we pass that knowledge forward?

The Tao of Color mission is NOT to explain every button, knob, and lever…

The ‘Tao Of Color’ mission is to explain ONLY the buttons, knobs, and levers we *actually use* – and explain how and why we use them the way we do.

Apple’s latest release, Final Cut Pro X presents something of a challenge for us – since no one has actually used the software (beyond a small hand-picked group)… so how does this website evaluate the color grading abilities of FCPx X v1.0 immediately after its release?

I’ve decided to frame this initial review this way: Has FCPx absorbed the color correction tools of Apple Color (which seems to have been End Of Life’d) and are they faster and more powerful than those of FCP 7?

For the uninitiated, Apple Color’s advantage over color correcting inside FCP (or almost any other NLE) can be stated thusly: Color allows you to work faster, with better results, often at higher quality. It’s a simple value proposition (and is also true for DaVinci Resolve (by the way, training for Resolve 8 is forthcoming)).

For the purposes of this Overview, I’ll limit my considerations to:

Does the FCPx native color correction workflow allow us to work faster with better results when compared the FCP 7 color correction workflow (I’ll leave quality considerations for after I’ve had more time on the app)? And while answering that question, we’ll take a quick tour of the new features and do some one-to-one comparisons.

Where do we start? Easy – we start with the fundamentals: The color processing model.

The Big (Color) Picture

In the world of video color grading – there are two widely used color processing models: ‘YUV’ (technically in digital workflows it’s usually defined (sometimes incorrectly) as Y’Cb’Cr’  - but YUV is close enough for this conversation) and RGB.

Final Cut Pro versions 1 – 7 were based on YUV. FCPx is based on RGB. What does this mean to the colorist, in practical terms?

‘YUV’ Color Processing (Before FCPx)

In YUV, brightness adjustments dramatically effect Saturation – but Saturation and Hue adjustments have essentially zero effect on Brightness (except on extreme adjustments). Why does it work this way? It’s based on math. In an upcoming video series I’ll be demonstrating this in detail.

For now remember this: Until June 21, 2011 (the day FCPx launched) my advice to anyone color grading with the Final Cut native filter set was to start with your brightness / contrast adjustments, then work your color / hue adjustments, then bounce between all of them to fine tune. It’s a fast, efficient workflow choice that minimized us chasing our tails.

RGB Color Processing (After FCPx)

Final Cut Pro X changes this advice. In RGB color models, it doesn’t really matter which controls you start with since Brightness / Contrast / Hue / Saturation all interplay with each other. It’s more of a juggling act. While I still prefer to start with Brightness / Contrast adjustments there’s no mathematical reason to impose my preference upon new colorists. I have a strong personal opinion about it… but it’s just an opinion.

Incidentally, Colorists who prefer how Red Giant’s Colorista II responds to their inputs will feel very at home in the FCPx color model (assuming they also like the new Color Board), since Colorista does its math in RGB (as does Apple Color and DaVinci Resolve).

In many ways, the YUV color model is appropriate for mouse-driven interfaces where only one input can be adjusted at a time. In FCPx’s RGB color model (where tweaking one parameter forces continual re-tweaks of other parameters) – having an iPad at your side with something like Nattress’ $25 Chromagic iPad app (when it works with FCPx) should be a big help to mouse-driven FCPx colorists.

Initial Tao’ish Impressions

When it comes to interfaces, Tao Colorists give a lot of weight to color-neutral, dark interfaces. Why? Because Tao Colorists are annoyingly principled about non-controlled light sources. For a decade, FCP’s bright, light interface was an annoyance.

FCPx scores high on first impressions: The interface is dark, muted and with the filmstrips turned off, not overly colorful.

 

Welcome to the new Final Cut Pro X

Welcome to the new Final Cut Pro X (click to enlarge)

(Note: while writing this blog post and collecting screen shots – I noticed that as I selected between different panels on the interface, their background brightness changes to indicate it’s the active panel. This behavior seems to be messing with my contrast perception of the picture – making me think I made a contrast tweak when I didn’t. It’s very bizarre and I’m not sure if it’s really happening or I’m just tired from the lack of sleep following all the FCPx action  (put another way – it’s like sitting in a train when the train across from you starts to move but you’re not sure if it’s you or the other train that’s moving – that’s what it feels like. K-Razy, yes?).)

Analyze for Color Balance

Importing the footage from the Tao Of Color Masterclass series, I had FCPx analyze for color balance.

 

Highlighting the Import Options

FCPx took about 45 minutes to import, analyze, and transcode 18 minutes of h.264 HDSLR 1080p footage.

Results were pedestrian (apparently, I’m not the only who doesn’t care for the Autobalance results). With this flat, balanced HDSLR h.264 footage Auto Analyze had no trouble expanding out contrast… and that’s where it stopped. On this project, saturation adjustments aren’t made (and they are needed):

 

Wipe between Camera Original and Auto Balanced shot

Which side of this wipe is Auto Balanced? Which is the camera original? (click for full size)

What’s interesting is that the autobalance doesn’t seem to take into account the facial recognition. Given that skin tones fall into such a narrow range, there’s a huge opportunity for a facial recognition algorithm to feed color data to the Analyze for Color Balance function to make for some potentially outstanding initial grades. Hopefully Apple will consider implementing this in future updates (not to mention the folks working on DaVinci Resolve).

Frankly, I’m not particularly surprised at the results… analyzing and color balancing images is a high-function skill that computers are still mastering. My problem with the Analyze function is it’s toggled nature: On or Off.

The Balanced Indicator

Auto Balanced is either On or Off - and its settings are inaccessible.

Either you use the data, or you throw it away. There’s no way to go in there and tweak the settings… or to see what exactly the Analyze function did. Nor can I decide re-order the Analyze function in the filter stack – which I might want to do if it’s crushing blacks a bit too much and I want to dig out some of that detail.

The Analyze function is a little too All-or-Nothing for my tastes.

But – it doesn’t hurt anything either. It’s totally non-destructive. I’ll be advising clients and students to turn on this function when ingesting, since it’s easy enough to turn off while color grading.

Scopes

FCPx has video scopes (yay!). But there’s no way to turn off their colors (boo!).

 

The colorful RGB Parade Scopes (click for full size)

Of course, it’s purely a personal preference – but when grading I don’t want interface elements influencing my color perception… colored Parade scopes just aren’t necessary once you get used to them. Here’s to hoping the Pro Apps team agrees and allows for monochrome scopes.

I couldn’t find a 2-up display to show both a Waveform and a Vectorscope. Hopefully that’ll be enabled in future updates.

Otherwise, the scopes draw well and are easy on the eyes. And they have many options:

Waveform Options

The Color Board

This is the heart of FCPx’s color grading toolset. Apple calls it the ‘Color Board’ – which initially confuses colorists who have control surfaces like the Wave or Artist Color. Unfortunately, no – FCPx 1.0 does not support external color grading surfaces.

The Color Board has three tabs: Hue, Saturation, 'Exposure'

At first glance, the Board looks very slick. The controls are big (unlike the FCP’s 3-Way Color Corrector in which the target controls were very small). The color wheel is gone, replaced by a linear strip that echoes the powerful Hue controls in Apple Color and the forthcoming release of DaVinci Resolve 8.

I believe it’s this interface (and it’s similarity to the Hue Curves) that had many pros believing (hoping, praying) that Color is being merged into FCPx.

Unfortunately, the Color Board shares none of powerful controls of Apple Color’s Hue Curves but contains several of its shortcomings. My take-away: The relationship of the Color Board interface in FCPx and the Hue Curves in Color are strictly superficial.

But I don’t want to leave it there…

I want to dig a bit deeper…

Let’s look at the Color Board from two different User Sets:

The Young Gun

The FCPx user who’s just being introduced to color correction will find the Color Board self explanatory. In five minutes they’ll have it down cold. When they want more of some thing (say, Saturation in the highlights), they drag the control points up. When they want less of some thing (say, a Red color cast in the shadows), they drag the control points down.

Terrific. Easy. No need to head to the user manual.

Couldn’t be simpler.

But this website (and this blog) is about training professionals to use their tools to much greater effect than adjusting Saturation and correcting color casts.

Essentially, Apple has broken down a complex tool into it’s minimum viable configuration (something at which Apple designers excel).

The result: Unknowingly… beginner ‘Young Gun’ FCPx users are being locked into a mental model of color grading that is an island all its own.

Re-stated: Apple killed the color wheel paradigm in FCPx – and these Young Guns may never understand how the color wheel works or why pulling out those Red overtones are introducing Greens (which it does in the Color Board – and as it should… color science being – science). And when they step out into almost every other NLE or Color Grading app in existence – they’ll be starting from scratch since there’s no common reference point between the Color Board and anything else on the market (before you flame me on this comment, I address this in the next section).

There’s another problem with the ‘linear color wheel’ – lines have end points, but hues spin in a circle. When you want to get to a hue on the other side of an endpoint, in FCPx you’ve got to drag all the way across the line to the other end, watching your colors spin madly.

In the grand scheme of life, this may seem nit-picky.

But the color wheels in grading apps aren’t an abstract concept. They’re based in color science… in math. As you learn to use a color wheel you’re being unwittingly introduced into concepts that apply to almost every color grading workflow out there.

The Color Board throws that all away for a simple, easy interface aimed at (literally) the first-time user. Frankly, it’s designed for the David Pogue’s of the world – users who never stray far from presets and have no interest in turning the niche of color grading into a marketable skill much less into a valuable talent (which is the whole point of the ‘Tao of Color’ and the perspective of this blog).

Criticize FCP 7′s 3-Way Color Corrector (3WCC)… but a beginner could take the muscle memory they learned while making hundreds and hundreds of adjustments in the 3WCC over many years, and immediately apply them to Apple Color, DaVinci Resolve, or Avid Media Composer. The same will never be said for FCPx’s Color Board.

The Experienced Hand

For those of us who have been using the color grading tools of FCP, Color, Resolve, Avid, After Effects, Color Finesse for any amount of time – we can take the (up to) 10 years of muscle memory we’ve developed while grading on a color wheel… and throw it away.

I’m not saying we won’t adjust to it.

I am saying we will have to rethink every single tweak we make. It took me 3 minutes to do a basic black balance on my first shot. I was laughing at my ineptness… until it wasn’t funny anymore.

For the editors out there saying… hey bud, that’s true for us pre-FCPx editors as well… remember this:

The Color Wheel isn’t some stodgy old notion of how to manipulate colors – again – it’s based on math, the additive color model, and the way opposing colors work and how light mixes together. It’s not some artisan design choice… or some digital version of an analog workflow – it’s a visual representation of underlying physics. And it’s one of many ways color scientists have developed to help people like us see and manipulate color of light that vary in brightness, vividness, and hue.

The simple, powerful color wheel (from FCP 7's 'Color Corrector' filter)

If you’re going to throw away a visual model of the physics of mixing with light, you might want to do it in a way that improves upon it and makes our jobs easier… rather than shrink the craft to its single most common denominator.

The Color Board Interface

We’ll also be doing a lot more clicking in FCPx (although you’ll save a bunch of clicks by mapping most of the Color Board commands to the keyboard).

 

Mappable Commands (using the "Color" sort filter) - click to enlarge

Below I’ve placed the FCP 3-Way Color Corrector next to FCPx’s three Color Board tabs:

Upper right - FCP 7's main color correction filter. Remainder are FCPx's Color Board tabs. (click to enlarge)

Notice that the Color Board has added Shadow / Mid /  High controls. And those added controls are present on EACH of the Hue, Saturation, and Exposure controls. This is a powerful upgrade. Exactly what I’d expect in a ‘next-gen’ product.

But notice also that FCP 7′s 3-Way Color Correction filter contains 80% of the power of the Color Board – and does it within a single window. The Color Board requires 3 tabs to give us those Shadow / Mid / High controls. More powerful? Yes. But I can look at the 3-Way and know exactly what’s going on in that instance of the filter with a simple glance. The Color Board requires me to cycle through 3 tabs to make the same determination.

So – we get more power, at the cost of speed. The exact opposite of what happens when you’re working in an app like Color or Resolve – where complexity is offset by exponential factors of speed and power (granted, they do require an external input device (a colorist control surface) to realize those full benefits).

Here’s a positive note on the linear Color Board: Several other filters have been rolled into the Color Board – the global hue controls of the 1-Way Color corrector and the various ‘Hi / Lo’ Saturation filters are now just a tab away, rather than separate individual filters. By my count at least 4 of FCP 7′s color correction filters have been rolled into the Color Board.

Odds and Ends

  • Stacking multiple grading filters is easy and works as expected. But it’s not possible to reorder them, which would be very useful.
  • The masking tool works well – but if there’s tracking that can be applied, I haven’t figured it out yet.
  • The eyedropper for making selections works well but is very very basic and a little confusing at first. FCP’s 3-Way HSL selectors are much more powerful… at the cost of complexity. In FCPx I can’t figure out how to narrow the selection to only Brightness or only Saturation or only Hue data (or some combination of those three) – which makes pulling clean accurate selections in FCP 7 much easier than in FCPx.
  • I was also surprised that hovering over number readouts and scrolling the middle-wheel or dragging across the numbers don’t do anything. This would have been a great way to make more precise adjustments.
  • Adding multiple correction filters is MUCH faster than in FCP 7.
  • The biggest single omission is the RGB Balance filter. For years this filter has been the bazooka in my pocket, allowing quick easy control, specifically targeting color casts in precise regions. In FCPx, it’s gone. And there’s no equivalent replacement.
  • Also gone – Broadcast Safe. But I never recommended using it anyway – so I don’t count that as much of a loss. Others will disagree. UPDATE – The Broadcast Safe filter IS in FCPx.  To find it: Open the Effects Tab -> Select ‘Basics’ -> It’s next to Black & White. Note: It has FAR less controls than the FCP 7 variant and one instance will only limit Luminance or only limit Saturation… but not both. (Hat Tip: Jonathan Eric Tyrrell)

Initial Reactions, FCPx v1.0

Selfishly it’s not my initial reaction that I’m interested in. It’s YOUR initial reaction I’m interested in.

If you know how to use the RGB parade to do a basic balance on your shots… I’d love for you to test it out and let me know what you think by posting in the Comments section below! Did it flummox you as much as it flummoxed me? Please share your experiences.

My initial reaction here on the Tao…

Apple Color is NOT rolled into FCPx, as I’ve read many people speculate the past few weeks. In fact, nothing can be further from the truth.

And while FCPx color grading is potentially more powerful than FCP 7, the decision to abandon the color wheel and split Hue, Saturation, and Exposure controls into 4 panels is likely to result in slower grading.

At first blush, FCPx’s updated color grading tools are much simpler than FCP 7s. But they’re not more powerful. Filters are missing, HSL selections are dumbed down, the mental model is designed for the newly initiated – not the installed user base.

These flaws subtract from the new integrated interface. And even my enthusiasm for the integrated HSL selection tool is tempered by its simplicity. I can’t state I prefer FCPx over FCP 7 – or the other way around. It’s a coin flip.

That said:

Yes, a professional-looking color grade can be obtained with the Color Board. I have no doubt about it. And FCPx will train many skilled artisans to use its toolset and use it well and for good effect… And I will develop training for those people who want to approach the craft of color grading using the toolset Apple has developed for FCPx.

But the muscle memory being developed is one that’s only useful within the FCPx walled garden. In Apple’s desire to create a truly unique tool they threw away an industry paradigm (the color wheel) without replacing it with something more powerful. It may be simpler to initially use but it won’t build the foundation you’d hope it would if you want to eventually grow out of it.

Today, Day 1 A.X. (after FCPx): My professional opinion as a Colorist (who spent 2 years grading on Avid Symphony followed by 4 years grading in FCP on the 3WCC and another 5 years in Apple Color and, this year, DaVinci Resolve):

Disappointment mingled with a strong dose of Missed Opportunity.

Color correction in FCPx is simpler for the David Pogues of the world to grasp, initially – but it comes with some serious drawbacks for anyone who wants to take color grading to the ‘next level’. Or who wants to build a skill set that can help them grow into dedicated color grading apps.

Besides the fact that FCPx’s color grading filters are always only a keystroke away: Command-6 – the strongest feature in FCPx are the Shadow / Mid / Highlight controls but the UI is spread out forcing lots of tabbing.

Where does this leave me?

Well, on Friday I’m diving into FCPx to start conforming the 14 minute short film used in Tao of Color’s Masterclass training program. And then I’m going to re-grade the entire film in FCPx. At the end of that process – I’ll report back if my opinion on these initial thoughts change… and then start developing an FCPx training add-on to the Tao’s Color Grading MasterClass series.

Final Take-away (of my Initial Reaction)

I give Apple high marks for taking a chance. On that score they get an A+

FCP absolutely needed an overhaul. Heck – the entire NLE industry needs to rethink their interfaces and workflows.

But when it comes to the craft of Color Grading – FCPx 1.0 is not doing anyone any favors. The tools have been given the gift of finesse (with all the Shadow / Mid / Highlight control points) while simplifying them so much it’s probably not worth the cost.

Add the fact that a very powerful filter is missing (RGB Balance) – and I’m not impressed. (UPDATE: I’m also completely side-stepping and totally discounting the fact that there’s no actual way to output through a Decklink, Kona, or Matrox solution… don’t get me started…)

I reserve the right to change my mind after getting some real experience on it (and certainly after Apple releases a few updates). But my enthusiasm and initial high hopes that perhaps, maybe, please Apple Color has been migrated into FCPx – those wishful thoughts are throughly, completely dispelled…

Your Next Step

Import a shot into FCPx, use the RGB scopes to color balance using FCP’s Color Board, and report your thoughts back to this blog using the comments below. I’m really interested to see if people agree with me. Or not.

Happy Grading!

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ProApps Users: Apple is Speaking. Are you Listening?

[Note: There's some good reader reactions in the comments. Be sure to scan them.]

There’s been much consternation over the past year about Apple’s commitment to Final Cut Studio – and what it means to post-production video. As someone who specializes in Final Cut Studio workflows, I’ve spent a lot of time pondering the state of Final Cut Studio and its commitment to me and my business.

Notwithstanding occasional proclamations of the upcoming Final Cut Pro 8′s totally tremendous awesomeness and chocolate’y melt-in-your-mouth’ness – I’m going to discuss the one thing I know is absolutely true…

FCP’s past success has unshackled the post-production community’s need for FCP to be  successful in the future.

What do I mean? Come, walk with me . . .

Three Signs of Final Cut’s Waning Influence

Sign #1. NAB 2010: Avid and Adobe had landmark releases in 2010. These releases were significant enough to keep Avid competitve and tag Premiere Pro as being a viable FCP alternative.

  • Avid finally broke away from its ‘film editorial’ heritage and incorporated the “cut, paste, swap” freedom that so many FCP editors value. And they did so without dumbing down Media Composer. Avid successfully walked a tightrope.
  • Adobe has super-charged Premiere Pro (PP) targeting FCP’s reliance on Quicktime and ProRes’ “one codec to rule them all” attitude – which requires upfront transcoding (and downtime).
  • Both Avid and PP outperform FCP’s mixed-format, mixed-framerate, timeline – Avid does it with superior quality, PP with superior performance and convenience.

Sign #2. General Purpose Computing on Graphics Processing Units (GP-GPU): In 2010 several high-end apps have appeared on the Mac that rely heavily on the GPU for their video processing. CUDA on nVidia cards (nVidia’s proprietary programming language) is the highest  profile example of a GP-GPU – it is one of the cornerstones in Adobe’s “Mercury Engine” and give Premiere Pro it’s amazing real-time performance.

GP-GPU technology also powers Autodesk’s high-end finishing system Smoke on a Mac and BlackMagic’s high-end color grading system DaVinci Resolve on a Mac.

[Sidebar] Snow Leopard (10.6) opened up the use of OpenCL, an ‘open source’ graphics library (supported by both nVidia and ATI graphics cards) – but currently Final Cut Studio isn’t OpenCL-aware and doesn’t derive any of the raw horsepower from the graphics card as, say, Premiere Pro does with CUDA. Because of this, to date FCP feels sluggish and it seems as if it’s not keeping pace with the performance improvements you’d expect as the years roll onward. At this point, the best FCS will probably do in Version 8 is catch up to the rest of the crowd.

The upshot of this GP-GPU revolution? High-end, high-performance solutions can unshackle themselves from niche computing platforms and vastly expand their audience by letting off-the-shelf GP-GPUs do the heavy lifting. The result, Autodesk Smoke slashes its price by 90% and releases a software-only version. DaVinci Resolve slashes its price by 90% and releases a software-only version.

The big boys are jumping into this pond – and are making big-boy splashes. Powerful, throughly professional content creation tools are finding their way onto Mac towers and laptops.

Sign #3. In 2010 Apple didn’t show up at any of the trade shows… and no one noticed. This is pretty damning. Apple’s absence is a given. It’s expected. It’s not worth remarking upon.

It hurts their credibility.

Watching What Apple Does

A lot of pros complain about Apple’s secrecy.Don’t be fooled, they are talking to us every day, all the time. They do so in their actions. Lets look at some of those actions:

“Real Artists Ship”

That is one of my all-time favorite quotes. The fact that it’s attributed to Steve Jobs, the leader of my favorite company, is just icing on the cake. To me, the quote says: Professional artists set deadlines and then abide by those deadlines. Deadlines set amateurs apart from professionals. Professionals ship. Amateurs endlessly dither.

At first, there was only one iPhone. The first iPhone. Now,  we’re on iPhone 4. This implies, there will be an iPhone 5… and an iPhone 6. And Apple has clearly and consistently established a timeline for when we’ll see these new iPhones. They are committed to the iPhone and their actions leave no doubt about it.

In fact, Apple has committed so completely to the iOS platform that they had to label a recent technology preview, “Back to the Mac” – and reaffirmed their commitment to the Mac OS by… setting a release date for the  update at the end of the summer 2011.

They set a deadline. They are now committed. They will ship.

By contrast, what version iPod are they shipping? Does anyone remember? When do new iPods get released? Do you have an idea? I sure don’t. iPods get updated when they get updated. On Apple’s schedule – with no ship dates announced or implied.

What do you think: Which product do they give a higher priority? iPods or iPhones?

Apple’s actions speak loud and clear as to their commitment to their products.

Apple’s Commitment to Final Cut Studio

What about Final Cut Studio?

The first version of the Studio package was released in 2005. It was called Final Cut Studio.

In 2007 Final Cut Studio 2 was released. That release included Color, a color grading application which 6 months earlier had cost $20,000. Apple bought the product and bundled it into FCS 2 – without a penny of a price increase! That’s a big commitment. They seemed on top of its game.

In 2009 Final Cut Studio was released.

NOT Final Cut Studio 3. Just plain old Final Cut Studio – which still causes confusion to this day, since that was what they called the original Studio package just 4 years earlier. Apple dropped the numbering. It even created a bit of confusion on their Road Shows where presenters had to explain that there is no Final Cut Studio 3.

Clearly this whole, ‘lets drop the numbering’ attitude is not a company-wide phenomenon. the latest release of iLife is named, “iLife ’11″. The latest release of iPad? iPad 2.

Final Cut is treated more as the iPod than the iPad.

Yes, Apple has spoken loudly – no longer can we expect Suite-wide upgrades. Individual apps will see upgrades – but the Suite as a whole? Probably not.

Heck, in the 2009 release – Color, just 2 years after it was folded into Final Cut Studio, only saw enough developer attention to garner a .5 upgrade with no significant feature upgrades (beyond new codecs). Even if Color sees a major upgrade in 2011, it’s tough to see how it can overcome nearly 4 years of no significant movement and catch up with its new competitor, DaVinci Resolve.

Pricing Matters

Apple revels in its profit margins. They have the highest margins in the computer industry. They do that by offering amazing products – at decent prices. They don’t compete on price, they compete on value. They provide a ton of features for any comparably priced product from their competitors. And where they can charge a premium, they do: iPhone.

Final Cut Studio runs strongly against this culture. Sure, for years FCP was an amazing value – but only because it was So. Damn. Inexpensive.

Final Cut Studio gained market share based on a price-slashing model.

Is it hard to believe that Apple execs don’t notice this? That this doesn’t annoy them? Sure, FCP has market share in the NLE niche. But at what price? And at what opportunity cost elsewhere in the company?

Many pros argue that Final Cut Studio is a loss-leader, making up in caché what it doesn’t gain in profit. And that might be the case. But no one likes to throw money at loss leaders.

Apple might throw just enough cash and engineers to keep it relevant.

Maybe.

2011 will tell us that much, at least.

[UPDATE: Carey Dismore has pointed out in the comments that they likely sees significant returns on the sales of Upgrades of FCP and that it is NOT a loss leader. That's probably correct. The point I'm making here isn't if Apple sees FCP as a money maker - but that their Final Cut pricing strategy is to undercut the competition... which seems to run counter-culture to the way Apple runs the rest of its operations.]

[UPDATE: An astute point from Martin Baker - "Hardware is certainly priced at the premium end but I'd say Apple have a pretty consistent history for aggressive pricing on software...which they can do because the cost of production is negligible. Look at the pricing on iLife, iWork, Logic, Aperture, even OS X, Of course there's also nothing better than high quality affordable software to help drive sales of that higher margin hardware!" ]

Marketing Matters

Back in 2002 when I started my company, specializing in Final Cut workflows for high-end projects – I did it with the confidence that Apple would market the snot out of Final Cut Pro. I wouldn’t need to tell my clients about Final Cut – Apple would do that for me.

And that’s exactly what happened.

Did you notice in 2009, Final Cut Studio’s new version was barely featured on their website? Combine that with their expected absence at professional trade shows and soon we’ll have clients asking, “Remind me again, why Final Cut?”

Apple IS Speaking

Adding all this up, this is what I think Apple is telling us: You’ll get what you get, on a timeline of our choosing, dictated by non-Pro App considerations – and not all apps in the Studio will be given equal priority.

Final Cut Studio is not a priority.

I’m not saying they’re killing Final Cut Pro or sees no value in the Suite. Their actions are saying they no longer see ProApps as a priority – either in terms of revenue or marketing value.

As post-production professionals, can we confidently rely on Apple to keep churning out the tools we need to stay competitive?

And even if this release of FCP 8 is ‘unicorns and rainbows’ – are you confident they won’t sit on it for another 4 years before the next ‘unicorn’ release? Meanwhile… the competition keeps marching forward.

The Silver Lining:

You Can Safely Ignore All Of The Above

If there’s one thing I’ve learned running my own business – no one cares about your business or your career they way you do.

As we survey the NLE landscape there’s an app for every market, at every level of quality, and at amazing prices – even while staying on our favorite platform: the Mac OS.

For producers and editors, Premiere’s real-time performance will knock your socks off. If you need support for professional tape decks and delivery, Avid continues to knock the socks off FCP. Do you specialize in delivering commercials or broadcast programming? Smoke on a Mac. Is your niche color grading? DaVinci Resolve. All of the aforementioned? They run on a 2008 Mac or later.

We. Have. Choices.

In the 2000′s Apple triumphed with Final Cut Pro. Their slash and burn pricing model has fundamentally rocked our business – for good and ill.

What Apple started in our business will go on. Every few months we find another high-end app slashing pricing and moving away from dedicated hardware solutions.

Media Composer, Premiere Pro, Smoke on a Mac, Resolve on a Mac, Quantel is starting to dabble in this arena (on the PC side), heck LightWorks has gone friggin’ Open Source.

It doesn’t matter if we are happy (or not) with the next release cycle of Final Cut Studio – we have choices today that didn’t exist 5 years ago. Thank you Mr. Jobs.

And if FCP’s success was merely bedding for its ultimate demise? If FCP turns into iMoviePro?

Pros adapt. Pros migrate. An Overwrite is a friggin’ Overwrite no matter the NLE we use.

We can rejoice in the world FCP ushered in… and then we move on.

And if FCP 8 turns out be as sexy as a Ferrari and as functional as a tractor? Hooray for us.

Just remember – Apple is speaking to us all the time. You only need to watch them.


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Joe Owens Interview, Part 2

“The Banker’s Pass – with a Dash of Tobasco”

Joe Owens is the Owner / Operator of Presto!Digital Colourgrade, located in chilly Edmonton, Canada.

Joe Owens

After getting his start as a camera shader over 30 years ago and now a full-time colorist for over 17 years – Joe’s a well-established presence in his Edmonton market. But his influence is felt around the world – as the leader in the Apple Color forum helping ‘newbies’ (and well established professionals) negotiate the delicate balance between technology, art, and business.

He recently finishing color grading 2 documentaries for the CBC network,  12 1-hour episodes of “Blackstone” for APTN / Showcase HD and 12 episodes of “Pet Heroes” for CMT.

Yes, Joe’s a busy guy.

Joe was kind enough to spend some time with me in my New York office (with sirens and horns) and share his experiences and thoughts of moving from the early days of analog videotape to ‘big iron’ telecine to non-linear digital color grading systems.


In Part 2 of Joe’s Interview we discuss:

  • The original “Final Touch” 2k grading app
  • The “Dark Art” of color grading
  • Colorist ‘thumbprints’
  • Joe’s favorite colorists
  • Creating ‘looks’ in the early days
  • Working with plug-ins & presets
  • When is “good enough”
  • Getting consistent in your grades
  • Client workflows
  • Joe’s office setup
  • Creature comforts
  • The physical setup of a colorist and the client
  • The 3 pillars of color grading
  • The impact of desktop color grading tools
  • How to know when a client is *your* client
  • The business mindset
  • Final comments on the layout of a grading suite

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Listen Now 

Part 1 | Part 2
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More Interviews

Show Notes:

This interview is part of an on-going interview series with the movers, shaker, and thinkers involved in the field of professional color grading for moving images. When I have new episodes to release, they are released on Tuesdays. To be notified you may follow me on Twitter (@patInhofer), via our RSS feed, and on iTunes.

You can find more interviews here: TaoOfColor.com interview series homepage.


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