[Frameworks] FInal Cut Pro X - Fred's Query

From: David Tetzlaff <djtet53_at_gmail.com>
Date: Wed, 29 Jun 2011 01:38:06 -0400


Let me try to answer some of your tech questions.

A video editing program is not analogous to MS Word or Photoshop or anything that creates a file of actual content in a certain digital format. Think of it as a super-elaborate AV version of iTunes. The first thing you do is cspture your video clips, say from s DV camcorder or transfering them to your hard drive from a solid state camcorder. This is like importing songs into your iTunes library. In video editing this is called your 'media.'

The software doesn't change the actual data, (the iTunes song, the AV analog of the TIFF file), in any way. What is does do is place it inside a 'container'. A container is NOT a format. It is a set of instructions that let different formats work together and interact with the OS. The most common containers are Quicktime (.mov) in Mac land and AVI in Windows land. Pretty much anything can be inside a container. The Photoshop analogue would be if when you saved your image, no matter whether you chose TIFF, JPEG, RAW GIF whatever, Photoshop put a kind of generic wrapper around it (not specific to Photoshop like a .psd), and saved it as 'fred.pix' regardless. So this file, whatever actual format you chose, could then be opened by any software that supports the .pix container, but could not be opened directly by software (say on a different kind of computer) that doesn't support the container, but would recognize the TIFF or JPEG inside if it were not in the container, or in a di
 fferent container.

So all of your media files are on your hard drive, and you start editing. The software doesn't do anything to those files. It creates a set of instructions about how to play them back in a very precise way. "Go to clip X, and do a two second fade in at 3:02:02 and continue until an out point of 3:31:10" It's like an iTunes playlist with a lot more detail. This is what the software saves as a "program file", in the case of FCP, a file labeled like 'fred.fcp'. There are no pictures or sounds in this file, just instructions.

All program file formats are and have always been proprietary. Only FCP can open an FCP file. However, 'professional' video editing programs have had the capability for awhile now to import and export the decisions stored in the program file, into some non-proprietary generic format - usually with the loss of a certain amount of information. For example, in the old FCP you could export your program file as a CMX style EDL, and in more recent versions of FCP you could export and import 'playlist' info in the form of XML.

This is what has been left out of FCP X: the ability to translate the choices you've made about what-cuts-to-make-where-etc. into a sort of computer Esperanto, which can then be translated back into another program's language. Premiere cannot open an FCP 7 file. FCP 7 can export an XML file of your edit choices that Premiere can understand and convert into a Premiere program file. Then Premiere can go your media files, and play them back in the same pattern you had created in FCP 7. More or less. It never works perfectly, but it gets most of it right. The minimal adjustments you need to make are sure better than starting over from scratch.

It's only fairly recently that this translation functionality became fairly-full-featured, and built-in to the 'professional' editing programs. Before that a third-party developer created a product called Automatic Duck that could understand FCP program files and Avid program files, and translate one to another. One way of looking at what Apple did with FCPX is that it just decided to cede the whole program file translation issue back to Automatic Duck or other third party developers. There are two problems though: 1) there's no way to do this NOW, no way to get an FCP 7 project file to open in FCP X, and no way to translate an FCPX project file into anything. 2) the way FCP X understands and keeps track of your editing decisions is so radically different from anything else that the creation of translation software will not be easy.

But again, none of this has anything to do with your media files, which are still just sitting on your hard drive as you captured/ingested them. All the songs are still in the iTunes library. You just can't get the new iTunes to read the playlist of your favorite party mix sequence you created in the old iTunes, so to speak.

> Does this mean that he original files of FCP projects will
> become unreadable, and that any way of saving them, such as DVD, will
> involve big losses?

No. First of all, any .fcp file from version 1-7 can be opened in version 7, which can export it as XML. So that's what people are saying, there's a way to get your old FCP projects into Premiere if you want to revise them, but no way to get them into FCP X. At least not yet.

Now, in the case of a DVD, we are talking about something completely different, with actual fixed sequences of pictures and sound on it. A finished product. To extend the iTunes metaphor, it as if you've had iTunes write your playlist to an audio CD. No video software outputs a finished product to a completely proprietary format. When you're done editing in FCP 7 you can send your finished piece back to videotape, either in the format it came from (HDV say) or some other tape format (HDCAM say), if you have the right 3rd party hardware to hook up that kind of machine. Different tape formats are different physically, but also different digitally in that they employ different codecs. A codec is what in video world is analogous to a file format like TIFF or JPEG or GIF or .doc or .html. Only rarely do we encounter video files in raw codecs (.mp4 would be an example). They are almost always wrapped in containers: mov, avi, flv (Flash) mkv (Matroska).

Apple decided that tape is all but dead, so there's no output to tape in FCP X, but you can still create a finished product in the form of a digital file in a wide variety of codecs ('formats') - as long as they're wrapped in Apple's container.

One of the reasons for containers like Quicktime and AVI is that codecs come and go, and containers embrace the old and new, keep them accessible to the OS and the software, and allow them to be converted. New codecs get added to Quicktime, but old ones don't get taken out. So if you have an output file you made of a Media 100 project in 1995, it will be Motion-JPEG wrapped in a Quicktime container. Quicktime Player will still play that back, and 'Quicktime Pro' or freeware alternatives, will convert it into any other codec in the Quicktime arsenal. Depending on what you're converting to what, some degradation might occur, but there are newer codec formats that bring any older file into the world of current software with no noticeable loss. (On the other hand, nothing will open the Media 100 project file, and if you hadn't exported it as an EDL, you can't go back and revise the project even if you still have all your media files... unless you can find someone with a working M
 edia 100 on an old Mac.)

To try to put this into a film metaphor, the digital output file is the release print, and the combination of program files and media files is your workprint, with all it splices and grease pens marks, plus all your mag tracks, plus all your trims from all of that cutting, which you can still go put back if you want to, but once you send it to the lab and get a release print, editing is more or less over and that's what you have.

So there are no significant 'release print' video file codecs that have become inaccessible or obsoleted. There are a couple minor exceptions that don't really matter, but anything that's on a hard drive is functionally archived until the hard drive crashes, which is why there are backup programs, high level RAIDs and so on.

Now, one of the things happening with FCP X is that the film industry is moving to high-resolution formats that exceed the abilities of Quicktime, our venerable container format. Specifically, Quicktime can't handle a true 4K image (in any codec). So Apple has had to create a new container thing called AV Foundation that will last for awhile, and also to figure out a way to get it to play nice with the old Quicktime containers, so we all get migrated to the new container system as transparently and easily as possible. Which is one of the reasons FCP X had to be completely rewritten, and why various features are not there yet or will never be there... But that doesn't obsolete files your old completed projects at all.

> Are there equivalent video files? avi? Should there be an attempt to establish an open source, lossless-as-possible video file format if there is not one now?

Again AVI is a container, and there can be really crappy ultra condensed NTSC in it, postage stamp size 15fps animations in it, or ultra high quality HD in it. But, whatever is in there, there's probably a way to get it out and into another container without changing the codec. (Some codecs exist only within one container, for example ProRes which is restricted to Apple-world).

Actual lossless (e.g. uncompressed) video is not owned by anybody, but it's a horrible waste of bandwidth since it doesn't look any better than contemporary high-end compression schemes. All codecs are owned by somebody, but that economics doesn't figure to the end-user - in this case, the filmmaker - only to the software or OS manufacturer that has to pay a licensing fee, (and few of the owners are so tight as to prohibit the Unix and open source people from playing with their toys). For example, pretty much everybody has some .mp3 music files, and all MP3 compression is based on a copyrighted technology called the Frauenhofer Psycho-Acoustic Codec, and somehow Frauenhofer gets paid a little royalty for all that use of his invention, but nobody's pull the plug on .mp3's. So there are enough video formats, available enough to any artist that nobody needs to think about creating another one.

(Now if you're Google/YouTube, it's a whole 'nother issue. But we're not, so I won't go into that end of it.

> Is the lesson here to never, ever use software that saves in file formats that are under the control of one corporation?

You mean, like develop a whole artform based on a material produced by a corporation with a monopoly position in that material, such that if this company folds or shifts focus, the future of the artform is in danger? Should people have stopped making 16mm films because Kodak WILL pull the plug sooner or later? I.e. 'no'. Nothing is guaranteed and besting the destructive erosions of time has always been and always will be a serious challenge.

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Received on Tue Jun 28 2011 - 22:38:18 CDT