Tutorial Review

Jan. 2001

Reviewed by Doug Lindeman

FCP pic


Understanding Final Cut Pro is an information-packed appreciation of FCP. Its value as a learning aide to the new user is entirely determined by whose definition of "new" you are using. If you are a seasoned linear editor or a convert from another non-linear platform, you'll be able to gather enough information to cut your own path through the briars, brambles and woods without incurring any serious injuries. If you are an FCP user who has only navigated the timeline for a few dozen hours you'll certainly deepen your comprehension of the system and will return to the keyboard with a fancy new set of tools and tricks. But if you are an unwary green recruit who bought into Apple's "Be your own movie studio" plug-and-play campaign.. well, here's some upbraiding for your hubris.

Understanding Final Cut Pro is a five tape series that powers through (1)set-up, (2)log and capture (3)editing tools and technique (4) effects (5) compositing, output, an appendix, and an update on FCP 1.2.5. I won't belabor the counterproductive downside of providing a tutorial for a non-linear, digital tool in the form of a very linear, multi-tape because a rep from the Understanding Final Cut Pro production company, Magnet Media informs me that a DVD version with an indexed t.o.c. is in the works.

The narrator/instructor of the series is Evan Schectman, the co-founder and operator of NYC based Outpost Digital. The tutorial shoot is simply and economically designed. Evan is at an FCP console equipped with a G4, two RGB monitors, an NTSC monitor, a Beta deck, and a Targa board. The session was taped with one camera in a fixed-position, which is resituated perhaps four times. Evan's audio, captured with a lav, is clean and balanced. It looks like a three-light set-up was used for the shoot. The editor of the piece cuts to close-ups of equipment and shots of the monitors for demonstration purposes. Jump-cuts or fade in/ fade out dissolves punctuate the sections, title cards over background music are used to introduce or re-iterate key points.

Pretty basic stuff. These minimal production values are compromised as camcorder shots of the monitor screens are utilized, which frequently creates scan bars and the occasional reflection of the camera lens. Screen shots are severely missing.
Evan is a very knowledgeable and capable instructor. His delivery is always clear and concise. The script is well-penned; in fact, it is occasionally eloquent in its lucid descriptions of certain difficult technical processes.

Understanding Final Cut Pro 's major and most glaring shortcoming is in its failure to exactly identify and address a specific audience. The opening is clearly skewed towards newcomers to the world of DV, as it introduces the concepts of non-linear editing and Firewire. "dB" is defined as "a decibel, or a measure of sound." I expected the series to gradually familiarize the viewer with FCP. However, Evan begins the instruction by walking us through the process of setting preferences ­ step by detailed step.

Again, the information Evan provides is accurate, informed, and will ultimately be invaluable to a seasoned operator. For example, we are told that FCP offers up to 99 levels of undo. "This is a linear level of undo and the more levels of undo you have the more RAM FCP will take." He then reviews auto-saving. Good points are made: Auto-save doesn't kick in until after you make your first "save"; check an auto-save file after a crash by opening it from your project file folder prior to opening FCP. (If you instruct FCP to open an auto-save version upon re-launching the program the auto-save elements will be incorporated as the current version. This means you might lose certain key edits in your earlier, original version of the sequence).

These are sterling points, but I can't imagine the uninitiated receiving them as anything less than a triple blow in the face from a sledgehammer. Most people who are looking for FCP instructional tapes are probably trying to figure what those funny buttons are on the black window that says "viewer".

The uninitiated are probably completely lost by now. The thought of some confused and overwhelmed newbie then being told about multi-frame trim size is positively scary.

Evan continues to hurtle forth. The weak and inexperienced will be crushed and will fall by the wayside. Those of you who are still alive will absolutely benefit from the rest of this boot camp. His demonstration set-up uses a Targa card, which is an instructional "first", as far as I know. For those of you who are coming on board from the world of analogue capture, you'll be given equal time in discussions of preferences, the nuances of playback offset, TimeCode offest, VITC /LTC, sequence presets, and offline capture.

The editing segment uses a documentary-in-progress about the life of an NYU Medical School student. Again, there is no denying Evan's command over FCP. Gems abound. I didn't know that if I "option-click" on some desktop screen space, the system defaults to "finder-hide others". Or that if the source size is scaled up above the size of the viewer window, I won't get 30fps playback to the NTSC or canvas window. And here is one for the pundits - an undocumented feature: With the timeline selected, hit command-option-w to show waveforms. Hats off to Evan.

The tips continue to come fast and furious, all the way to the use of ease-in / ease-out to soften the head and tail of a motion path. However, a ton of information can make for a weighty experience if it isn't given loft. This loft should come in the form of (1) logically organized materials and (2) better visual aides. Apropos to (1), the cart is frequently placed before the horse in Understanding Final Cut Pro. For example, bin selection is currently shown before the browser is introduced. Apropos to (2), despite Evan's easy eloquence, he would be readily assisted by the contributions of a graphic artist when he discusses things like the import of square vs. rectangular pixels.

Conclusion: As it stands right now, Understanding Final Cut Pro isn't of much use to a new user. More advanced operators stand to benefit the most, although they rarely schedule time for further study of a software they basically know.

Before Magnet Media publishes to DVD I hope they consider upgrading, reorganizing and augmenting the content. Understanding Final Cut Pro will never be all things to all people, but with a bit more work it could become a handy resource for a lot of us.

copyright © Doug Lindeman 2001

All screen captures, images, and textual references are the property and trademark of their creators/owners/publishers.


(This article was originally published at LAFCPUG and is reprinted here with permission.)