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Apple Final Cut Studio 2 (Bonus)

November 16, 2007
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This online bonus material supplements the Apple Final Cut Studio 2 review in the December 2007 issue of Electronic Musician.

Bundle Up

If you''re thinking about getting heavily involved with video or are already doing serious scoring work, then you''ll definitely appreciate the other tools in the Final Cut Studio 2 bundle. After all, major motion pictures are being edited with Final Cut Pro (FCP), and graphic artists all over the world use Motion in their work.

In addition to Soundtrack Pro 2, the FCS 2 package includes new versions of the Final Cut Pro video editor, Motion motion-graphics software, and the Compressor file-format encoder, as well as a version of DVD Studio Pro DVD-authoring software that is unchanged from the previous release. (Software for color correction, called Color, is also in the bundle, but I won''t be covering that.) The suite is very well integrated—it''s easy to move an audio file from Final Cut Pro or Motion directly to Soundtrack Pro for editing, for example, or to export a finished FCP project directly to Compressor for transcoding to MPEG format. For the most part, the programs also share a common look and feel.

The only printed manual in the box is a 4-volume set for FCP and a short setup guide for Color, so you''ll have to read the rest online or print them out. Be prepared to devote several hours (and quite a lot of hard-drive space) to the installation. A graphics card with 256 MB of RAM is highly recommended, and anything less than a 1.25 GHz G4 or Intel machine is pretty much a nonstarter. (If you plan to work with full HD-resolution video, you''ll need an even faster computer.) A dual-monitor system would also be very useful.

screenshot image of Soundtrack Pro

FIG. A: Final Cut Pro 6 is a hugely powerful multitrack video editor that offers musicians a chance to explore the world of high-end video. Many of the more common video-editing features will be familiar to anyone who has worked extensively with an audio editor.

Sound and Image

Final Cut Pro 6 is a hugely powerful video editor that supports an unlimited number of video and audio tracks. (For more details on FCP 6, see the review in the July 2007 issue of Digital Content Producer.) Like most video editors, FCP provides one display area, called the Clip Viewer, that shows the original version of your source video file, and another, called the Canvas, that displays a composite of all the clips that are used in your project, including any editing or processing (see Fig. A). In a typical work session, you''d import a video file, set an in and out point using the Clip Viewer, then drag the file to the Timeline and make any modifications you want.

You can mix and match files of different formats without preconverting or conforming them to a single spec (all files conform to the format of the first file you import), and the vast number of included filters (effects) offer creative options for giving your video a wide range of custom looks. Filters can be automated to change over time using keyframes, which are the equivalent of envelope breakpoints. A dedicated keyframe editor accessible from one of the tabs in the Clip Viewer lets you create unique curves for each individual keyframe segment.

Depending on your computer''s speed, you''ll usually need to render anything beyond simple effects or transitions before you can preview them, and the time this takes can be substantial. Rendering is also pretty much mandatory when you are layering several tracks of video. You can set FCP to autorender after some amount of idle time, or have it render in low res, which will speed things up. (Low res is adequate for previewing most composites or effects.)

Editing video has a lot in common with editing audio: dragging one clip on top of another automatically creates a crossfade, for example, and markers, Edit Decision Lists (EDLs), looping, and scrubbing will also be familiar concepts to EM readers. Moreover, you can perform many simple functions, such as comping different versions of a video or cross-dissolving (crossfading) two clips, without much effort. But like any high-end software, FCP 6 has a steep learning curve, and if “compositing modes,” “slugs,” and “lower-thirds” mean nothing to you, then you can expect a good deal of ramp-up time.

Of course, you wouldn''t need a program like FCP 6 to perform simple edits and transitions—the scaled-down Final Cut Express ($299 [MSRP]), which includes Soundtrack 1.5, would be a better choice, or you might consider Motion, which I''ll cover next.

screenshot image of Soundtrack Pro

FIG. B: Motion 3 is aimed at graphics professionals but will be of use to musicians who want to create animated logos or backdrops for their DVDs.

Motion 3

If you''re not ready to tackle a high-end video editor but still want to explore using graphics in your work, then Motion might be a good place to start (see the review of Motion 3 in the July 2007 issue of Digital Content Producer). Motion includes a huge library of graphic-design elements that you can manipulate in numerous ways and that you can animate to change over time. Open the Library folder, and you''ll find categories such as Shapes (stars, hearts, bubbles, and arrows, for example), Shape Styles (animated flocking birds, falling leaves, and inkblots, among others), and Image Units (sunbeams, stripes, checkerboards, and more). There are also tools to generate effects such as particles, clouds, or colorful swirly lines, and of course you can bring in your own assets—still images, videos, text, and audio, for instance—and use them to make flying logos, DVD menus, animated backdrops for music-video credits, and much more.

Motion''s interface offers a timeline containing audio and video tracks and a canvas view to preview how your final project will look (see Fig. B). One way to start out would be to load a template, import some of your own visual elements and perhaps an audio track, and then apply Behaviors to the visual materials. Behaviors are preset (and editable) motion paths and effects; you could use them to fly your band or studio''s logo onto the screen, have it circle a few times, then make it explode into a thousand pieces (no doubt you''ve seen similar effects dozens of times). All parameters of Behaviors can be keyframed, and you can combine multiple Behaviors to create ever-more-complex effects.

One Behavior, called Audio Parameter, will be of particular interest to musicians. You can use it to animate a visual element in time with a pulse in your music. Audio Parameter tracks changing amplitude peaks over the entire audible spectrum or over just a single frequency region (low, middle, or high) and uses the extracted data to build a set of keyframes. The keyframes then control time-varying changes in some parameter of an image—for example, its size, position, rotation, or color. You can control only one parameter per Audio Parameter, but you can easily assign several Audio Parameters to an image, each of which controls a different characteristic. For instance, a logo could flash on and off in sync with a pumping bass line while changing color in time to the music, or a photograph of your band could zoom in and out on the beat.

Working in Motion is much more interactive than working in Final Cut because most edits and effects require no rendering time before you can preview them. As a result, sessions go much quicker and you''re more inclined to experiment. The included source materials give you plenty of elements to start with, and combined with your own images, they will allow you to create some very interesting graphics for whatever uses you might have.

But Wait!

FCS 2 also includes several other programs that can be of use to musicians, including DVD Studio Pro 4, which has all the tools you need to make professional interactive DVDs. (In my view, the DVD is one of the greatest untapped creative resources around.) You could use it to author a standard-definition DVD that play videos from live shows in random order or that lets the user choose which camera angle to view a performance from. You might also create an interactive disc that offers a guided walk through your studio, showing different gear or areas of your facility, or build a disc that includes a link to bring viewers directly to a Web site.

Also of interest is Compressor 3, which is dedicated to delivering media in a vast number of formats. Standard-definition DVDs typically use either Dolby AC-3 or MPEG-2 encoding for audio, and Compressor can be used for either. What''s more, you can preview AC-3-encoded surround mixes directly from within the program. (Many authoring programs and most audio editors don''t support AC-3 playback.) It''s also good for generating files in formats that are Internet or iPod ready, or that might be suitable for portable phones and other devices. Note that neither DVD Studio Pro nor Compressor can produce files in the format needed for Blu-ray discs (Adobe''s Encore has that option).

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