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Avid vs FCP (nee niet alweer???)

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By Lawrence Jordan

After many years of working on the Avid Media Composer, and several years of working professionally in Final Cut Pro, Iíve come to the conclusion that the Media Composer is the digital equivalent of the Moviola, the primary tool of professional editors for generations. Final Cut Pro canít make this claim and here Iíll explain one of the reasons why.

Invented in 1924, the Moviola was an editing device used to cut celluloid film. It was originally designed to be a home movie projector, but when sales didnít take off, it was redesigned specifically to edit motion pictures. You threaded the film on the big, black (and later green) machine and you could run shots and sequences back and forth, pretty much until the sprockets wore out (and they did). The Moviola was a clackety, loud apparatus and if you werenít careful, you could catch your finger in the threading mechanism. Having done this personally on several occasions I can assure you it wasnít pleasant. My point being that editing on a Moviola was a much more physical experience than editing on a computer. This, of course, is true of so many of the work tasks digital technologies have replaced.

The physicality of cutting on a Moviola was also demonstrated by the fact that many editors stood at their Moviola. While reviewing the film, shot or sequence, the editor would mark the film with a grease pencil (a thick, greased-based marker, which you could wipe off the film) take it out of the threading mechanism and physically make your cut. This technique worked well and the modest machine was the de facto standard of the editing craft for many, many years.

However, the real magic of working on the Moviola was finding your cut point. Equipped with an actual hand-brake, it enabled you to find your cut point, and stop the machine on the exact frame you desired. This was (and still is) critically important. As an editor you become physically as well as mentally immersed in the material. Filmmakers talk about ďfeelingĒ the cut and Iíve known many editors who would sway with the rhythms of the action or dialog while cutting. It is almost like a dance, the film being your partner and when you were really in sync with your partners rhythms, you were really in the zone.

I know many readers are saying, so what does this have to do with Avid vs. Final Cut Pro?

Cut Point: The Moviola's Trusty Handbrake

Cut Point: The Moviola's Trusty Handbrake

Final Cut Pro has always suffered from something called ďlatencyĒ. Latency in digital editing simply means that when you attempt to mark or stop on a specific frame (i.e. Moviolaís hand-brake) the software takes a moment to respond. It can also be observed when you play something in the timeline and it runs out of sync. This is especially true with some of the newer compressed HD formats hitting the market and is a complete deal breaker for almost all professional editors. The worst part about latency is that it tends to break the flow or, once again, the rhythm of the work.

This is one of several reasons that 99% of all major motion pictures continue to be cut on the Avid. You can stop and mark on a dime with no latency. This is true when working in a cut sequence or simply trimming a clip. Avid editors have the added ability to mark in or out continuously, in rapid-fire succession if they choose without the software exhibiting as much as a flinch. This has held true since the first day I worked on the Avid in 1992. Many FCP stalwarts argue that latency isnít a problem. I donít want to burst their bubble, but Iíve been working in the trenches with the software for the last several years and it just ainít so. These folks have either never cut anything rhythmically or donít understand what it is.

Final Cut Pro is a terrific product, I particularly admire the fact that it has enabled so many to gain a deeper understanding of the editing craft. However, if it ever is going to grab a larger share of the studio filmmaking pie, it will have to address the latency issue as well as several other non-intuitive functions that hinder its adoption by the majority of professional editors.


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