Cutting Edge

Having dipped his toes in the shallow waters of iMovie, editing novice Gareth Mason dives into murkier depths and wonders if he can stay afloat…

Apple Macs have a reputation for user-friendly interfaces which let creatives get on with the clever stuff without worrying their illogical heads over more tedious PC affairs. Having recently bought a £1,200 iMac with a deficient CD burner and an internet connection which needed umpteen visits from a Mac expert to get it working – my Mac-mania is now compromised. But one feature which didn’t cause me any grief was iMovie – instrumental in my decision to upgrade from the minuscule capacity of my eight-year-old Power Mac to the graphite Billy Whizz sleekness of its more muscular graphite descendent.

Fortunately, iMovie’s hype did not follow the company’s ‘three simple steps’ sales pitch for, say, building an internet home page. With this, Step 1 seems to involve going off for a year and learning HTML before moving to the next ‘simple’ step. With iMovie, you really can just get on with it. This means cutting and pasting my less-than-pro quality footage into a crudely effective home movie with enough effects, transitions and titles to brush it up and half-impress your (non-technical) friends.

Mastering iMovie takes little time because its features are limited and, to its credit, it is intuitive in that good ol’ Mac way. As such, it doesn’t take long before you want to use features such as control of clip audio levels and more complex ones without which your movies will forever be marooned in amateurville. The relevance of making this monumental step up to Final Cut Pro (FCP) is based on choice. Or lack of it. In Macland, the borders are distinct so there are no convenient stepping stones to bridge this gulf. So how did I cope in the deep end?



To get Final Cut Pro 2 running, the following system requirements are advised: a Mac with 300MHz or faster processor coupled with a MAC 9.1 operating system (not Mac OS X), QuickTime 5.0, 192Mb of RAM (256Mb for real-time processing), 20Mb of disk space for installation and one or more SCSI drives. Don’t worry about QuickTime as 5.0 is supplied and easily installed with the package. My iMac is of the ‘fastest’ G3 variety. It’s equipped with a 600MHz processor, 256Mb of RAM (double the spec but currently cheap as chips) and plenty of space left over from my voluminous 40GB of hard disk memory.

I settled for this model rather than the 500MHz model below it on the basis that I might later regret not doubling up the hard disk capacity. Regardless of the need to massively upgrade your RAM from the clearly inadequate 64MB common to the 500MHz model – anyone with experience of video editing will tell you how quickly 20GB of hard disk can disappear as your footage mounts up. With five minutes of digital video taking up around 1GB of space I’d filled up 15GB in no time. This said, my system carries out all the operations in both iMovie and FCP with ease, which when you’ve investigated the myriad possibilities of FCP, seems to make it worth stepping up to the top G3. This is a relief as FCP is sold as optimised for the current generation G4 engine and as an enthusiastic amateur I’d already reached my budget limit.



Opening the box, you’ll find CDs for installation, Peak DV audio editing software, Cleaner 5EX for streaming video for the internet and a tutorial CD. The manual is scarily bulky at 1,435 pages and accompanied by a more svelte tutorial book, which is replicated onscreen. Faced with this mass of material, I decided to work my way through the 108 pages of tutorials after spending some quality time with the main manual getting a feel for the system’s capabilities. While skim-reading the manual allows only the shallowest dip into a very deep pool of knowledge, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I was able to pick up.

Clearly the right people have been put to work as it answered many of those questions you were afraid to ask. Not only that, it explained simply and clearly more general concepts such as the difference between on- and off-line editing, the significance of timecodes and definitions of say, techy audio terms like ‘dynamic range’, ‘signal-to-noise’ and ‘overdriven audio’. This successfully treads the fine line between informing clearly and comprehensively, and patronising the reader. As a reference tool to the budding editor, it will prove invaluable, particularly as it includes a wealth of hard, and rarely superfluous, data. In short, it explains the ‘whys’ as well as the ‘hows’.

The tutorials were a natural extension of this knowledge, without which, I’d have been lost. Working my way through these over a couple of days was invaluable. To progress further, I’ll probably need to do it again, but with the basics covered, the next time will be considerably faster. Whether the system is intuitive is a moot point – there’s simply so much, you need someone (or a 1,400-page book) to hold your hand. Installation was a breeze taking barely ten minutes despite my installing QuickTime 5 as well as FCP. Registration, memory allocation and initial set-up were all made without hitch.

In fact, at no point did the software offer any problems. Around now, I was offered several choices for resolution and quality of captured footage. While DV’s transfer rate is fixed at 3.6Mbyte per second – the options refer to FCP’s ability to also capture analogue footage with the right card installed.


Down to work

Once done, we launched into the tutorials, broadly divided into Acquiring media, Basic editing, Compositing and Effects, Audio Editing and Distributing Media. Already this distinguishes itself from rivals such as Adobe which produces two programs, Premier (for editing) and After Effects, from the one-stop solution offered here.

The main interface uses two monitor screens. The left hand one is the Viewer and dragging clips from this to the Canvas brings up options such as Insert, Overwrite and Superimpose. Clips can also be simply dropped on the timeline for basic assemble editing, below this is the inevitable Timeline, and a Browser in which you can access filters, transitions and effects. Talking of which, transitions and effects can be performed in real-time with the appropriate processing card.

It’s only when you start delving into some of these browser folders that you realise how much is available. In the browser, and elsewhere, these folders are found within tabs while yet more is revealed under the standard drag and drop menus. To be fair, there’s a lot of crossover between this overwhelming mass of functions, just as there are modes of operation ie between keyboard shortcuts (the likely choice once you’re familiar with the program) and the onscreen controls. The only memory problems were with my own and when I was occasionally stumped by an instruction in the tutorials – I was often rescued by the description shown when placing the cursor above the control.

In the Compositing and Effects section, adding shadows, opacity and motion paths ratcheted up the technology in inverse proportion to my ability to keep up. Not difficult, just too much information for someone whose grounding is in iMovie. Titling and transitions didn’t seem much more complex than what I was used to though, perhaps, these functions are more likely to attract a gimmicky depth of choice in more basic programs. This may be the opportunity to do my fine-tuning in Photoshop now that I have a computer capable of working efficiently in it. But I think that’s probably enough learning for now.

Financially, Apple Mac’s can’t compete byte for byte with their PC rivals. The reasons for favouring it are more to do with your profession (publishing, graphic design etc) and other less tangible reasons such as culture, habit, and design and operational philosophy. So, your purchase of FCP is inextricably bound up with your reasons for having a Mac. The combined price of both would be, in my case, the best part of £2,000. Any PC fan will be delighted to point out that the more competitive PC market will offer you much better deals in terms of both hardware and a huge variety of software packages catering for all levels and budgets. But FCP is aimed squarely at the converted. And it offers great value when compared with much of the opposition bringing professional quality software significantly closer to the masses. An impressive, if daunting, package and one likely to keep me gamely occupied for some time.

What Camcorder magazine 2002