Tools to Edit Faster

Tools to Edit Faster

This is a repost from an article on Filmmaker Magazine. However at the end I added some updated thoughts on PROCUTX.

Anyone who’s joined the FCPX bandwagon will tell you one of the main draws is speed (or at least I will). FCPX let’s you do things quicker. But how we interact with the system (and computers in general) has its limitations.

For years the standard of working with NLEs has been left fingers planted on J, K, L, right hand on mouse. It’s not a terribly bad way to edit. Doing it for years you build up a fast muscle memory, but there are still keyboard tasks that stretch the limit of what you can remember, along with the span of your thumb and pinkie.

Is there a faster way? We’ll look at two options, one an iPad app and the other a program to customize the trackpad.

PROCUTX

PROCUTX is a newly released app for the iPad that creates a control surface for FCPX. It’s from Pixel Film Studios, a company that makes some great FCPX plug-ins.

The app is on sale for $24.99 for launch, with a regular price of $39.99. Setup is easy — you install some free server software on your computer and a set of custom keyboard commands from PROCUTX.

The connection between the app and the computer is excellent. Scrubbing works in real time with no perceived delay.

The controls in the app are grouped based on task and cover a wide variety of areas. Front and center is playback with a dial for frame toggling. Above is a nice selection of options to adjust the speed of a selected clip. The left side of the app covers Compound Clips, Keywords, simple actions, and tool selection. The right is shortcuts for Import/Export, Auto-Correct, and Color Grading.

On the surface it’s a bunch of buttons for one-touch shortcut access, but to get to everything it offers you’d be doing a lot of finger contorting. To the new editor this can be a great time saver.

But I was interested in something that could replace either the mouse or keyboard while increasing my efficiency, and as of now PROCUTX can’t. It’s majorly lacking in control of making edits. The best you can do is use the blade tool, but to select anything you have to go to the mouse. Most notably absent is the ability to mark Ins and Outs as well as trim a clip to the time indicator.

One of the features I was most looking forward to was its color grading ability. It has button shortcuts to jump to either the color, exposure, or saturation control, which is nice. But as far as making adjustments it’s best for fine-tuning changes, not making broad adjustments like a color wheel. (I’ll say that this is a limit of FCPX and not PROCUTX).

For all the shortcomings of the app, keep in mind that this is version 1.0 and Pixel Film has been soliciting input and committed to actively releasing updates. One of the top priorities is adding more edit control, like Ins and Outs.

Also slated for the future are voice control and networking ability between multiple iPads to have a larger control surface. I’m curious what an entire iPad screen dedicated to color grading would look like.

However, PROCUTX really misses the mark in fully taking advantage of the platform it’s built on. Everything in the app could easily be duplicated with buttons on a piece of hardware. There’s nothing that takes advantage that this app runs on a display screen with multi-touch abilities.

Why dish out $1,000 for two more iPads when the interface could change based on the task at hand? Why have a button for every option when gestures could save hand movement and work quicker?

Bottom line — this is a great app for someone just getting started in FCPX but not a timesaver if you’re already good with the keyboard.

BetterTouchTool

BetterTouchTool is an add-on for your computer that lets you set any gesture to trigger any command for any program. For free.

BTT really shines on the trackpad, which can detect all five fingers, but it can also control the Magic Mouse, a regular mouse, the Apple Remote, and some Wacom tablets.

1All you do is pick a preset gesture (or record your own) and assign what key combination or action it should trigger when performed. You can make it global, meaning it works no matter what program is open, or program specific.

Here’s some examples of how I use it for editing — three finger tap triggers Space, so I can play/pause. With the same three fingers, while touching the trackpad, if I tap with the index or ring finger, it triggers the arrow key for the respective direction I’m taping, letting me skim frame by frame. Tap the top left or top right edge trims the clip. Pinch in or out to zoom.

What I love about this is it lets you enhance something you’re already using. It’s not another device to move to, it’s sitting right beneath your fingers.

Sure, it can’t do nearly as much as a full control surface. You have to be careful you don’t go gesture overboard, or else you’ll start triggering all sorts of crazy stuff inadvertently just from basic scrolling and usage. That said, here’s a good preset collection from Jason Chong with FCPX controls.

I started using it on my laptop and loved it so much I bought an Apple trackpad for my Mac Pro. Remember, this is a program for OS X, not FCPX. You can use it for any application.

Slated for release in late April is CTRL+Console, an iPad app that works on a variety of programs. It was successfully funded on Kickstarter towards the end of last year and is incorporating gestures into its UI. Interesting to see if this really will make you a better, faster, stronger editor.

Update

Since writing this PROCUTX has released a few updates. They added the ability to mark Ins and Outs but it still suffers many of the same issues from before in that it’s not organized in a way that’s context based on the task at hand, nor does it change the interface depending on what you’re doing. They need to take a page from Apple: skeuomorphism is dead.

Still waiting for CTRL+Console to go live. They said they’ve submitted it to the app store.

5 Filmmaking Tools That Kick Ass and Save Money

You want to get a top notch DSLR kit. What comes to mind when you need to buy and build this kit? Canon 5D or 7D, Zoom H4n recorder, Zacuto rig. What if I told you all of these (and more) have less expensive alternatives that provide an equal if not better user experience and quality footage.

This is a list that goes against the status quo, a head to head showdown of popular gear and its underdog alternatives. For some the price difference is a few bucks. For others, it’s thousands.

Every recommended piece of equipment I personally bought and own, usually after doing extensive research. Like saving money? Read on.

Panasonic GH2 vs Canon 5D Mark III

Panasonic GH2 – $679

Panasonic GH3 – $1299

Canon 5D Mark III – $3299

I love, love, love the GH2. I’ve had it for a little less than a year and it’s become my go-to camera, pushing out the solid Sony EX1. Amazing quality, wide range of lens adapters, fast and flexible touch screen monitor. No overheating. No clip limits. I’ve shot two and a half hour interviews on it, uncut, without a problem. I have very little complaints.

Out of the Canon lineup, the only camera I’ve had positive experiences with is the 5D. The 7D and T2i always become overheating duds, bringing production to a halt. And the full frame sensor of the 5D is gorgeous. But for maximum return of kick-assness to dollar spent, the GH2 can’t be beat.

Now unlocking a good portion of that kick-assness comes from hacking the camera, but it is extremely easy to do. The GH3, coming out in December, eliminates most of the benefits you got from hacking, so the kick-assness should come out of the box. High bitrate, timecode, audio in/out – it’s ready to shoot video, whereas video still feels secondary on Canons.

Zoom H4n vs Tascam DR-40

Tascam DR-40 – $149

Zoom H4n – $232

The Zoom H4N is the standard audio recorder paired with a lot of DSLR kits, and it’s great. But the Tascam DR-40 does everything the H4N does, has a much more solid build, and is about $100 cheaper. $100 that can be used for more toys.

Zacuto Stinger vs Gini Rig Extreme 17

Gini Rig Extreme 17 – $399

Zacuto Stinger – $2992

If you’re shooting handheld with a DSLR you’ll want some sort of rig. With the GH2, if I use a Panasonic lens it has a pretty good image stabilizer. But going handheld with my Nikon lenses and an adapter produces an unacceptable wobble.

Zacuto is the gold standard of rigs. Per ounce, it also trades at a higher value than gold. OK, not really, but they’re damn expensive. And I just felt kind of silly spending 2 – 3 times more than the cost of my camera on a rig.

Behold, globalization and the Gini Rig.

Made in South Korea (Gangnam, actually) the Extreme 17 is a huge bang for the buck. It’s all modular, but you get enough pieces to build a shoulder mount rig with two handles, counter weight, shoulder brace, camera cage, two flexible arms, AND a follow focus.

Ordering overseas I’m always worried about quality. Fear not, these parts are SOLID. Screws are tight, nothing wiggles. The follow focus has a nice weight and build. And the sizes are standard, so you can easily add a custom Zacuto or Red Rock part without having to buy the whole kit.

Two notes if you get this: Shipping is pricey. Budget roughly another $100, and make sure you get everything you want so you don’t have to order and ship again. Also, the rig doesn’t come with a lens ring for the follow focus (well, they have a holiday special where they’re throwing one in for free for now). They sell one, and like the rig it’s a nice build, but it’s a big hassle to put on and off. I’m planning on buying a pack of these zip tie focus gears.

Kino Flo Diva 201 vs Flolight Kit

Kino Flo Diva 201 – $892

Flolight 3 Light Kit – $549

I love Kinos. They produce great, soft light and keep the set and your subject cool. They’re also a fortune.

Browsing B&H, I came across a different brand of fluorescent rig. This Flolight kit comes with 3 fixtures comparable to the Kino Diva 200 plus stands, all for $550.

I just shot some interviews with them and I was very pleased with the results and light quality. Do they have the build of Kinos? No. There is no dimmer, but that was easily fixed with some diffusion. The website doesn’t list this, but they actually come with both 3000K and 5500K bulbs. And the fixture is compatible with Kino bulbs.

As for LEDs, I’d say stick to name brands like Arri or Litepanels. I bought one of those low cost fixtures and the light quality made people look ill without some gels.

Glidetrack vs Konova K3 Slider

Konova K3 Slider – $319

Glidetrack HD – $334

This one’s a close call and more of a cautionary tale. There’s lots of sliders out there, so this is a pretty competitive field and prices have come down.

My first entry into sliders was buying the raw parts from Igus. These parts are exactly the same parts that a lot of other sliders use, but only cost $150. However, it’s friction based. There’s no wheels involved.

My engineer friend, who was helping me drill the holes in the parts so I could use it with the tripod, laughed. He said it was going to get gunked up and stop working and that I needed something bearing based. He was right. (Though I did manage to shoot everything in this film on the slider, but not without a lot of creative applications of pressure and awkwardly contorting my body to keep it steady.)

So if you’re looking at a slider that doesn’t have bearings (like the Glidetrack above), beware.

Hunting for a new slider, I settled on the Konova K5. The whole unit is self contained, it’s bearing based, and there’s lots of available accessories for creative mounting and time-lapse control. I’ve been really impressed with the slider.

(I know, it’s not the K3 pictured above, but I’ve used the K3 and had the same positive experience.)

Bonuses

C-Stand and Flag Kit – I found Digital Juice to have the best price for these grip staples. Sign up for their emails – they run specials regularly, like $50 off and free shipping. It’ll save you some extra money on these items.

If you have a Costco membership, check out the electronics. Usually it’s consumer stuff, but occasionally they have some good finds. Right now they have GoPro HERO2 for less than Amazon.

Lastly, a shout-out for my favorite editor and one of the greatest bargains. FCPX is faster than anything else out there in so many ways. Whether it’s how you organize and find media or make edits, it just lets you get things done quicker. And for $300 it’s a steal and far cheaper than anything else out there.

 

Compound Clips Go Live

A while back while talking about why I like Final Cut Pro X, I devoted a whole post to Compound Clips. If you’re familiar with nested sequences, it’s like that but on steroids.

And there’s tons of ways you can use them. Up top is one way I’ve been using it while cutting Strike (bigger picture). The story has very definitive sections. I’ve been editing the assembly of interviews based on that. Now that I’ve whittled it down, I want to start reorganizing sections. So I grouped all the clips in a section into a Compound Clip. Now I have a birds eye view of the whole film, and can easily rearrange sections. Plus, I can also see where the bloat is and cut some more.

Just as easily as I created the clips I can ungroup them and restore my timeline.

FCPX 10.0.6 just came out. It’s got a lot of improvements, and one of the big ones is better Compound Clip (which I will now call CC) syncing. Up to now, you could create a CC in the Event, or on the timeline. But if you drag a CC from an Event to a timeline and then make changes in the Event, they wouldn’t sync to the timeline. Similarly, if you make a CC on the timeline, you can’t bring it to an Event.

10.0.6 changes that. Changes in an Event show up in the timeline. CCs on a timeline show up in the Event. Plus there’s lots more goodies. This Philip Hodgetts post covers them all.

Thunderbolt Skunk-Ape Drive Spotted at Apple Store

Update: LaCie responded with a link to the product on their website: LaCie Rugged USB3 Thunderbolt Series. It comes in the below mentioned 1 TB flavor, as well as 120 GB and 256 GB SSD. You can win one on their website here.

Was in the Apple store yesterday when I spotted something that seemed too good to be true. A LacCie Rugged drive with Thunderbolt, priced at $249 – Thunderbolt cable included!

This is what I’ve been waiting for with Thunderbolt – a portable, bus powered drive that doesn’t cost $400. I hadn’t heard anything about this drive, yet here it is, right in the Apple store. I would have bought it on the spot except for one thing – the drive was only 5400 RPM. Why go full throttle with Thunderbolt, only to kill the speed boost with a slow hard drive? Made no sense. And the Apple specialists didn’t know anything.

What’s strange is I can’t find this hard drive anywhere on the Internet. Not even on Lacie’s website. Or Apple’s. Was this stocked too early? Hopefully more will come soon, in a 7200 RPM flavor.

And so this will remain the Thunderbolt Skunk-Ape (Yeti or Bigfoot if you’re not in Florida).

Morris’ Interrotron meets Colbert’s Ask-o-Matic

Documentary filmmaker Errol Morris was on The Colbert Report last week, promoting his new book A Wilderness of Error. Among filmmakers Morris is also popular for creating his unique interview style and method. Dubbed the Interrotron, it entails two cameras with teleprompters, displaying the feed of each other. Interviewee on one end, Morris on another, the interview is conducted with direct eye contact recorded.

Colbert asked him about this and presented his own interview device, the Ask-o-Matic. Colbert’s device gives this technique a fresh, 21st century update utilizing iPads for a real, human connection. “It makes you more approachable, more likeable,” says Morris. Watch out future interviewees. You may be talking to an Ask-o-Matic before you know it.

But seriously, I’ve watched this three times and I still die laughing.

I do think there’s a way of adapting an iPad to the Interrotron. 2 iPads, 1 iPad teleprompter adapter, and FaceTime. Only thing is I’m not sure if there’s a way to connect without internet. Could get pretty data heavy if you’re on 3G or LTE.

While doing a Google search I did come across this KISS version of the device. EyeDirect Mark II. Little pricey and limiting on movement for the interviewer, but simple and no electronics, which means less to go wrong.

As for Morris’ book, A Wilderness of Error, I have to say I’m not familiar with the murder case of Jeffrey MacDonald. But after reading this NY Times piece on the book, I want to read it soley to watch Morris go to work in disecting the case and tearing apart the conclusions of the previously written books and 60 Minute special.

Do you think he’s innocent?”

“I do…one word – evidence.”

Pro Versioner Adds Dropbox Backup to FCPX

While there is a lot I love about Final Cut Pro X, there’s a few changes that I’ve had to find workarounds for. One is backing up project files.

I’ve posted before about my FCP 7 workflow with project files. I’d keep all my project files in a Dropbox folder, which would offsite backup my project files, make them available on the go, and save version backups.

FCPX has separate files for both your Event (where media is stored) and Projects (the timeline). It uses a folder hierarchy to store both the data for the Event or Project along with all the project media, such as render files, proxy files, and original media.

There’s no way I can store all that media in my Dropbox folder. The only file that’s changing is either CurrentVersion.fcpevent or CurrentVersion.fcpproject, but it must remain in the folder.

Enter Pro Versioner. Just drag your Project or Event into the interface, and Pro Versioner will automatically track the CurrentVersion file, maintain an auto-save vault, and even copy it into your Dropbox account.

For $59, it’s one of those features that you have to buy to add what used to be standard in FCP, but it adds some features like screenshots every time it auto-saves a version of your project. You can also set it to monitor a folder and automatically add new projects, however it kind of choked when I threw it my hard drive that keeps all my project files. So I’m just giving it projects one at a time.

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