The news of the FCP X 10.2 release this week got pretty drowned out by all the noise at NAB. Naturally, new camera announcements always draw the most attention, and with the internet exploding with new gear reports every two minutes a lot of news got swept under the rug. That said, the new iteration of FCP X is actually quite impressive and worth taking a look at if you missed it the first time around.
FCP X 10.2 is clearly intended to be a major upgrade and Apple have managed to pack in a lot of new features that I certainly didn’t see coming. They also neglected to add some features that I was almost certain would be integrated this time around (more on that later). Even still, the overall responsiveness and stability of it seems to have improved noticeably, and ultimately it feels like a step in the right direction. Before I jump into my thoughts in more detail, here are the official updates from Apple:
Introducing 3D titles
• Beautifully animated and easily customizable 3D text
• Simple templates to get started quickly
• Cinematic templates with built-in backgrounds and animations
• Large collection of text styles to create stunning looks in one click
• Customize your titles with hundreds of combinations of materials, lighting, and edges
• Additional controls let you adjust environments, shadows, and more
• Instantly convert any 2D title to 3D
• Open any title in Motion to add multiple lights, cameras, and tracking
• Display up to four video scopes simultaneously
• Apply super ellipse Shape mask to any clip
• Apply Draw mask to any clip, with options for linear, bezier, or B-spline smoothing
• New Shape and Color mask controls for every effect
• Instantly display the alpha channel for any effect mask
• Save custom effects as presets for quick access
• Color Board merged into the new Color Correction effect
• Rearrange the processing order of Color Correction effect
• Improved keyframing with better motion smoothing
• Improved optical flow for beautiful slow motion on a wider range of content
• Better performance of FxPlug plug-ins and built-in effects that use multiple frames like Visual Echo and Trails
• Panasonic AVC-Ultra codec family
• Sony XAVC-S
• Import Sony XAVC and XDCAM formats without separate plug-in
• JVC H.264 Long GOP
• GPU-accelerated RED RAW processing with support for dual GPUs
• Support for RED RAW anamorphic formats
• Smart Collections can be used at the event and library level
• Import window consolidates all options into single sidebar
• GPU rendering when using Send to Compressor with support for dual GPUs
As I mentioned above – generally I am impressed. On paper the specs looked solid right off the bat (although surprising in some ways), but after having actually used FCP X 10.2 to edit a project today I can really appreciate what was done. The 3D titles inside of X are extremely well integrated and light years past the titling capabilities of other NLEs. Although they have been implemented in a very simple and intuitive way (even users who don’t know 3D can pick it up quickly), their functionality is actually quite powerful. And while 3D titles weren’t a major request by most FCP X users, they are a welcomed addition to the FCP X eco system.
While you aren’t going to have as much control as you would in a dedicated 3D program, FCP X allows you to adjust all of critical settings that you need for 3D work. The lighting, environment, shadows, materials, and other key settings can be easily adjusted in the inspector as seen in the picture below. The titles also come with preset animations that are actually quite slick and can easily be customized. The ease in/ease out functionality is spot on, and if you are inclined to fully customize/keyframe your animations, that is of course an option too.
For the type of very limited 3D material that I would ever need to generate, FCP X has me covered. I am by no means a 3D artist and I would typically collaborate with others when I need any sort of 3D work done… But from here on out I will be able to generate completely original 3D titles that look gorgeous if I am in a pinch. In a way, that’s really what FCP X is all about. It gives you the tools to get pretty much anything done (from your offline edit to color to titles, and everything in between), all in one package. Yes, there will still be a need for dedicated color, titling, vfx, 3d, and other software – but not every project necessarily needs to go that route. Certain projects could benefit immensely from keeping the finishing work contained inside FCP X.
Just about everything listed in the ‘Advanced Effects’ section above is pretty awesome, and many of those updates address a lot of previous issues or plugin requirements that are no longer necessary. First off, being able to view multiple scopes at once is critical for proper color work. This small but powerful feature opens up the ability to truly use FCP X as a finishing tool effectively, without slowing down your workflow .
Perhaps even more impressive though, is the new ‘Draw Mask’ tool. This essentially allows you to drop a mask effect onto any clip and literally draw a mask with unlimited control points, just as you would in compositing software. What’s even better though, is that you can keyframe the control points too – again just like a proper compositing program. This means that (if you were inclined to do so) you could technically rotoscope in FCP X.
The color correction system works completely differently now too. The actual layout of the color board is the same, and they haven’t reverted back to color wheels – but the way in which it is used is different. Rather than the color settings being built right into the inspector tab on every clip, you need to first add color correction as an effect to your footage and then make your correction. At first when I saw this change, I didn’t quite understand it… I sort of liked having my color settings easily accessible and didn’t want to have to drop an effect on every time I wanted to grade a shot. But after a while of using FCP X this way, I got used to it and really started to prefer the new setup. Especially once I started using the Command + 6 shortcut to add a color correction effect quickly and easily to any clip.
The benefit of this new approach to color is that different corrections can now be reordered inside the inspector. Those of you that understand color correction will know why this is so important, but for those of you that don’t – In a nutshell, being able to reorder your grades gives you more control over your final product and can help you work much more efficiently. Especially when other effects are involved. It’s great that Apple has integrated this concept as it’s something that will help improve the functionality of the color tools immensely.
Apple has also added some much needed codec support to FCP X (as listed above) which will be a relief for many shooter/editors working with those formats. Today, I was editing some native RED RAW footage and noticed a massive speed improvement over the previous iteration of X. I didn’t test the render times or playback performance in detail, but I did notice an obvious improvement when working with the RAW media.
What We Still Need
All of the features listed above are truly excellent, but not everyone necessarily needs them… This is especially true of 3D text and custom masks. Personally I do like the new tools that Apple has included in FCP X and will absolutely be using them in the future, but I also want to see some other much needed functionality added in future updates. I’ve narrowed down 3 basic feature requests that I believe would make FCP X that much better for any type of power user.
Here they are, in no particular order:
1. Audio Mixer Based On Roles
I am all for the no track system, and it has definitely made me a faster editor. However, when it comes to audio things can sometimes get a bit messy. I’ve never had any major issues working with audio in FCP X, but that is the biggest area for improvement in my opinion. There needs to be a proper audio mixer integrated to take advantage of some of the amazingly powerful Logic plugins, and it should be based on roles. In other words since there are no tracks, having the ability to mix down your audio based on roles (dialogue, music, effects, etc.) would really make things simple. Many users such as myself have been wanting this for a while, and I was hoping to see it in 10.2.
2. Key Frames For Color Correction
As a colorist, it has always annoyed me that FCP X doesn’t give me the ability to key frame my color correction settings. I primarily use DaVinci Resolve to color, and even though there are undoubtedly hundreds of color features that Resolve has and FCP X doesn’t, key framing is one of the only ones that matters to me within the constraints of FCP X. Many of my projects are going to need to be sent to Resolve regardless, but some projects could easily be colored in FCP X… And in those cases I am often forced to send them to Resolve simply because I need the ability to key frame. This doesn’t seem like it would be a huge challenge to implement, so I really hope to see this in a future update.
3. Scrolling Timeline
This is a very simple request, but one that could vastly improve the user experience on FCP X. Again, I know I am not alone in wanting the timeline to scroll while being played so that the playhead remains on the screen at all times. There are many instances where I need to keep a close watch on the playhead while reviewing footage, and right now my solution is typically to zoom all the way out and then back in once I have stopped the playhead. This isn’t ideal, as even that extra small step or two can add a decent amount of time to an edit session. There are also times when you might not want a scrolling timeline, so having the ability to toggle timeline scrolling on and off would be a lifesaver.
I am generally quite happy with FCP 10.2, even though the feature update was much different than I would have expected. I would have guessed that at least one of the requests I listed above would be present in 10.2, but am still hopeful they will be implemented at some point in the future. Regardless, the added functionality of the new 3D titling system, masking, codec support, and performance improvements are excellent and will make my day to day FCP X experience far better. I am also happy that this update (like all of their updates so far) is free. The $299 that I spent 4 years ago has gone a long way.
No NLE is perfect, but for the type of work that I do – FCP X usually comes the closest. It has come a very, very long way since it was first released and still feels more intuitive than any other editing platform I have used. Is there room for improvement? Tons. But the same could be said about any piece of software. Whether you like FCP X or not, there is no question that Apple has a very clear direction for the software in mind – it may just not line up with what you’re looking for from an NLE.
As most of you know, Adobe recently announced some exciting new features coming to Premiere Pro too, and I will be sure to post my two cents on that shortly as well.
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