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The MacBook Air as a Final Cut Pro video editing machine

Everyone is talking about the new MacBook Air that was announced by His Jobsness yesterday at Macworld 2008 in San Francisco. I think you'll find that the majority of people's initial reactions are not glowing and positive as is the buzz with most newly announced Apple products. Yesterday was a far cry from the fan fare surrounding the iPhone announcement last year at Macworld or even all-but-forgotten Mac Mini in '05. I'm a professional video editor so I'm going to be looking at the product from this specific professional point of view and trying to see where or if this could fit into any post workflow. Before you yell - yes, I do understand that this computer is clearly not "designed for" the video professional - but I still think it's a fair question and no doubt one that will be asked. It's not uncommon for a product designed for one thing to get adapted by a community and be used in ways the creators didn't originally envision. I did, after all, go over a year using a Macbook (not Pro) as my main editing system at home even though Apple doesn't officially support this for Final Cut before upgrading to a Mac Pro this year - and I cut some fairly high profile jobs on this with nobody knowing or caring. As for the MacBook Air - I haven't seen one of these in person yet I've only seen the specs, the keynote, and the pictures but I'll share my initial thoughts with you. First - a quick glance. I'll list the good and the bad, along with a score on a scale of 1 to 10 on how important that is for the video professional. THE GOOD: 1. Ultra portable and really thin. (2/10 comment: the difference in size and weight between say a MacBook Air and a MacBook Pro is probably negligible to an editor) 2. Apple-chic - will get stares. (2/10 comment: most editors I know could care less what their equipment looks like) 3. Can extend desktop to a 1920x1200 external monitor (9/10 comment: more or less essential to have an option for extra workspace with any serious creative app) 4. The solid state drive option should blow away traditional hard drive speeds, but you pay for it. (7/10 comment: disk speed is huge to most professional editors, but not all DV editors would ever tell the difference) 5. Cool new gestures with the trackpad (3/10 comment: Will you be gesturing with Final Cut Pro? Probably not. 6. Fits in an envelope? (no comment) THE BAD: 1. Limited connections, NO FIREWIRE. (10/10 comment: this is probably a deal breaker for 95% of you out there) 2. Non existent upgradability - no user replaceable hard drive or ram like the Mac Books (8/10 comment: 2 gigs of ram isn't bad, but definitely on the low end of what you'd want in an edit system) 3. No optical drive - installing software wirelessly sounds like a hassle (5/10: this effects probably any end-user equally. If you need to load something from a DVD, you need to use their other options) 4. Speakers are mono and apparently sound very thin (not surprising) (3/10 comment: not too huge as most laptop editors are probably using headphones or powered speakers) 5. No ethernet jack - but you can get an Apple branded USB external (2/10 comment: annoying, but no big impact on the video producer) 6. 4200 rpm drive on the stock option (7/10 comment: similar to my comment about the SSD drive - you'd like to see at least a 5400 if you're editing, preferably a 7200 drive) 7. Pricey! Yikes! (9/10 comment: even professionals love deals. What reasons would someone pick this over a MacBook Pro - especially given the price difference?) 8. The battery is internal like an iPod (5/10 comment: annoying, to be sure - but probably not a huge deal to an editor)

Let's tackle the first question that has already been asked on the forums - can this thing even run Final Cut Studio? My guess is that since spec wise it is more powerful than older G4 laptops that can run Final Cut studio and similar to my MacBook that is already running Final Cut Studio - then yes it should be able to install the software. You can forget about Motion and Color right off the bat as those applications have more demanding requirements for video cards and the MacBook Air comes with an Intel GMA X3100 graphics chip that just won't cut it with those programs. But I see no reason why Final Cut Pro wouldn't be able to install, launch, and run decently. But now we have to talk about the biggest thing from a post production standpoint that Apple left out and that is the lack of a Firewire 400 or Firewire 800 port. As most hobbyist and DV editors know - firewire is crucial for getting your footage onto your computer. Without a firewire connection this results in what I would guess is about 95% of the Final Cut Pro user base having no ability to load footage onto this computer. Without this connection the only way you can work with media (on the fairly limited internal hard drive mind you) is to transfer it over. This is not that difficult if you're shooting with a solid state camera such as the HVX200 or Sony PMW-EX1 and can bring it over USB (I think that's how footage is transferred from these cameras but I've never used one) but it's a hassle if you actually have to capture from another computer to use the MacBook Air. This is a glaring omission from the video editor's point of view - yet not one that is shocking considering who this computer is clearly designed for. This makes it clear that Apple has no intention of marketing this product to editors as their higher end laptops give editors most everything they need and more. Again, I'm looking at this from the standpoint of someone who might be potentially thinking about this option as an editor and I am not making the argument that the decision to leave out firewire is bad or saying "shame on Apple" for doing it - I am however just pointing out how big a deal that is for someone who maybe had the thought that this would be something they could use with ease for editing. Price would also factor heavily into one's decision to buy a system like this and I think when you see how much the MacBook Air is and start to compare it to a computer like the MacBook Pro the choice becomes clear. For $100 less you can configure a MacBook Pro system with a larger screen (15"), a faster processor (2.2GHz Core 2 Duo), a faster and bigger hard drive (120gb 5400 rpm), a DVD superdrive, a much faster graphics chipset (NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT 128MB), and all the ports you'll need (Firewire 400, Firewire 800, ethernet, ExpressCard34, multiple USB). What are you losing with the MacBook Pro vs the MacBook Air? It's just a little bigger and a little heavier - but that's it. Upon a thorough look - it is clear that the MacBook Pro is the computer of choice for the video editor. In fact, it's pretty silly to even think that anyone at all will adopt the MacBook Air for this purpose when the MacBook Pro is there with a lot more features and a smaller price tag - but inevitably I'm sure it will happen and I'd love to hear your experiences with this setup when you do get it up and running and your decision on why you went with this. I've been trying to figure out what application a computer like this might have in production where it would excel over a MacBook Pro and I'm having a hard time coming up with even one. Maybe as a lightweight and ultra portable screen for a teleprompter system - but even thinking of it as such is a stretch. Anyone else have any ideas? Please enlighten me with your thoughts! Well that's it - hope you enjoyed my thoughts on this. Again, I know that to some of you even opening up the discussion on this as a possible editing machine is probably high treason - but I think it's always a fair question to ask and some people might not really know the details on exactly what this machine is lacking and how that would effect the editor. I'll leave it up to the community though to take this product to a whole new level and do things with it I never thought was even possible. Maybe I'll take a look at the Modbook for video editing purposes in my next installment!


Posted by: Paul Escandon on Jan 18, 2008 at 8:18:03 amComments (1) editing, apple, final cut pro, macworld, computers
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Video tutorial - Final Cut Pro bleach bypass film look

Hey everyone -

I just finished my first tutorial here with a new site I am starting ProVideoSchool.com. Please check it out and feel free to comment. (not sure if I can do embeds here so if not, I'll post the direct links. Also, these and future video posts can be seen on my other blog site, www.paulescandon.com/blog)

http://www.paulescandon.com/blog/?p=21





The tutorial is how to achieve a quick and dirty bleach bypass look using nothing but the Final Cut Pro color correction filters.


Posted by: Paul Escandon on Jan 16, 2008 at 10:39:49 am editing, apple, final cut pro, youtube
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Shooting an NPPL Live paintball event next weekend

Next weekend I’m going to be travelling to Kansas City, MO to shoot an NPPL paintball event that is going to be broadcast live over the Internet on www.nppllive.com.  This is going to be the first time that I’m going to be working an event like this and I’m looking forward to the run-and-gun shoot, edit, and deliver process that we’re going to have going.

Basically, the event is streamed live over the Internet with a production switcher that I imagine handles 3 or 4 camera angles. Since there is down time during the day that would normally translate to dead-time if you’re watching the live stream, the producer Jayne Romyn ( a good friend of mine and producer of former Outdoor Channel series ‘Inside RC’, ‘Inside Paintball’, and ‘Circle of Honor’) had the idea to have me shoot, edit, and deliver short segments from the field that can be shown during these periods. We’ll probably do some interviews, some highlight/profiles or people there, some fun/humorous stuff, and whatever else she feels like throwing in.

I’m going to be shooting on a Sony Z1U (HDV camera) probably in DV mode and then be editing on my Macbook, and delivering in Quicktime. Then I’ll repeat the process and do it over and over again. I look forward to the opportunity as most things I shoot aren’t very high pressure at all. The event is taking place at Kemper Arena, September 21-13. Hopefully the weather is decent and the plane ride not bumpy.

 *Also posted at http://www.paulescandon.com/blog


Posted by: Paul Escandon on Sep 13, 2007 at 12:45:52 pm editing, apple, sony
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Post-NAB thoughts and musings - PART 1

I returned back home from Las Vegas and NAB on Tuesday night after spending 2 1/2 days in the City of Sin, my last few hours being spent at the wonderful Hofbräuhaus next to the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino where I, along with coworkers and friends, downed their great tasting German lager out of ridiculously massive 1 liter glass steins while enjoying what I have to imagine is "classic" Bavarian folk music. After having a few days back home to digest what I saw and learned (not to mention playing catch up on the current show I'm editing for the Outdoor Channel) I thought it would be a good time to share with everyone the goods on the trip.First of all, I went to NAB with a few goals - the first goal was to basically check out all the specific technologies and tools that directly pertained to what I do day-to-day (editing, motion graphics, color correction, et al) and get the latest dirt on the newest stuff coming out and why it is I need them (there's a naturally assumption here that I need everything new at all times :] ). The second goal was for me to talk to all the vendors that sell color-correction tools and to inform them that my work is planning on building up a color-correction suite from the ground up and to sell me the best you can on your product so that I can determine which system to recommend and also which system I want to spend hours and hours working on. The 3rd goal of mine was to just meet people and make connections and BS about industry stuff. I basically achieved every goal, with varying degree of success. I was able to check out all the products that in any way pertained to what I do and that's really the focus of this post. Without further back story, here is in order of what interested me the most, what my impressions were from the NAB floor.I. Apple Final Cut Studio 2It has to start with Apple. I spend more time using Apple software than anything else currently in this world (at least 40 hours a week) so obviously it concerns me greatly what they're coming out with and what I'm going to have to live with for the next year or so. I got to NAB on Sunday night so I had already heard the announcement about Color and Final Cut Server and all that, and of course I had to see it first.So I took the free bus to the convention center on Monday morning and was waiting with a herd of people at around 8:50am on the far end of the South Hall as we waited for them to open the show and give us admittance. After about 15 minutes they finally opened it all up, and it seemed as if everyone, including me in the front of the pack, made a mad dash to the Apple booth. Well okay, it probably wasn't as "mad" as it is in my head but it makes for a better story. Apple, to my surprise, had already started their first demonstration on the main stage in their gigantic "booth" when I got there. I honestly can't even remember what that first presentation was.. it's all a blur - I think it was just on the Studio 2 suite. The big thing I wanted to see was Color, and the Color presentation came shortly thereafter. The presentation was very easy to follow and very informative. I was personally amazed at all that this new component of Studio could do, and how this is exactly the type of software that I was hoping for and could put to use the instant I get it. The amount of control, the Color FX and the node base system around it, the 3d color histograms, the 8 secondary color correctors, the vignettes, and the integration with FCP was very well done in my opinion, and I couldn't wait to try it out. Fortunately, I was able to get in one of their Color classes that they were teaching twice daily on the right side of their booth and it was great to be able to use the interface first hand and explore the menus and see what it could do. There was an Apple dork that kept trying to correct me when I strayed from the tutorial from the lady that was giving the short tutorial, so I had to tell him to chill out and that I wasn't there just to follow along (although I did manage to keep up). All in all, I was thoroughly impressed with the speed and precision that advanced or simple color correction could be done. The "auto-correct" button was so awesome and, whatever the math behind it was, it seemed to instantly make any shot that you applied the setting to look better in my eyes. For quick and dirty fixes that don't really require or call for advanced color correction, or if your intention is not to become a color correcting pro, that "auto-correct" button is going to come in handy all the time.II. Adobe - Creative Suite 3 (Production Premium)The second on the list of products that impressed me was most definitely Adobe CS3. I wasn't expecting to see so many cool things with CS3 - and I never would have had it not been for an Adobe Pro who was set up in the Canon booth upstairs - Nathan Gentner - who gave me and my co-worker Rich a personalized tour of CS3 and all the awesome things that it could do. CS3's ability to open Quicktimes directly for edit has long been on my wishlist - and now it's finally here. You can open a movie, use the healing brush tool over a set of frames, and then save the file or send it to After Effects for more work. You can also do compositing straight from Photoshop - say for example you want to stick a static image behind some keyed out footage or green screen footage - you can do this in Photoshop now. Photoshop CS3's vanishing point tool (which I have NEVER used) can export all it's data into After Effects - this was exampled to me by taking a 2d image of a building, adding the vanishing point planes in PS CS3, and then sending to After Effects and adding a camera movement to similate a 3d movement... and the 2d image was suddenly 3d! It was amazing - and it was EASY! I couldn't believe it. Adobe Encore CS3's addition of Blu-Ray authoring peaked my interest (and I loved the title when it loaded... "Come for the Blu-ray, stay for the Flash") but what really got me excited was that you can now author a DVD, and with a click of a button send that same DVD movie structure directly to a Flash movie! That is something I've wanted for so long! I don't know of this ever being possible before... but I have wished that my demo reel could be turned into a movie so that I can show it on my website the way I authored it on DVD - I put so much time and work into it and wish I didn't have to replicate this work - now Encore CS3 preserves all your chapter markers and menus and plays exactly what your DVD looks like in Flash. I see so many uses for this in our production environment when I'm constantly burning a DVD to send to someone for approval or something - now, once I learn Encore, I can just make a flash movie and stick it on a web server, and boom!Now on to After Effects CS3 - this is an exciting looking product. I didn't get too far in depth with it but the new puppet tool was amazing in what it could do. I think it's going to open up a lot of animation possibilities. Okay, it's getting late now and I'm going to have to finish this later. Consider this, PART 1!

Posted by: Paul Escandon on Apr 20, 2007 at 10:46:06 pm photoshop, after effects, editing, flash, apple, nab, adobe, final cut pro
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Cheap cam phone images of NAB Exhibit Day 1

Well here are some images for those of you who aren't able to be here. I'll give my full verbal breakdown a little bit later... I'm too tired to get into it right now...

Posted by: Paul Escandon on Apr 17, 2007 at 2:41:09 am after effects, editing, apple, nab, adobe, final cut pro
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Google Desktop for the MAC: What files are really installed?

To all my fellow MAC user buddies out there, if you haven't heard Google has released the first version of their Google Desktop software for the MAC. I installed it last night and it has a pretty slick interface and is supposed to be a replacement (or competitor) for Apple's own Spotlight (which I admit to using less and less of since I started using Quicksilver). I haven't gotten a chance to play around with it since installing it last night but I always wonder when installing software that uses a proprietary installer, "what files are actually being installed on my system and how much space is this going to take?"

 Well fortunately, someone else asked the same questions and went very in depth in finding out precisely what Google is installing on your machines and where. It's pretty suprising, for there are some files that might cause some concern. Give the article a read to find out all the info.

-Paul E.


Posted by: Paul Escandon on Apr 6, 2007 at 1:54:24 pmComments (2) mac os, apple, google
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Digital Producer for Mason Zimbler in Austin, TX and freelance ESPN editor. Previously was editor and motion graphics designer for Outdoor Channel in California.
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