Following on from a patent for media collaboration for professionals, Apple have recently applied for a couple of video editing patents. Note that I’m not interested in whether such software features should be patentable, I’m interested in what these ideas could mean for future software.

Smart transitions

The first patent is about applications automatically selecting a transition between clips based on content, metadata or ‘sideband data’.

…based on the analysis and/or comparison of adjoining video clips, or adjoining portions of video clips, a transition type may be selected. The transition type may be selected based on rules defined for particular content characteristics, such as motion characteristics, temporal characteristics, or color characteristics, or a combination of content characteristics

The patent includes some examples showing the choice between a hard cut and a crossfade:

For example, if it is determined that the content of adjoining video clips is temporally proximate (i.e., was captured on the same day), a hard-cut transition may be selected for transitioning between the adjoining video clips. If it is determined that the content of the video clips is temporally distant (i.e., was captured on different days), a crossfade transition may be selected for transitioning between the adjoining video clips. If it is determined that the content of the adjoining video clips contains a high amount of motion, a hard-cut may be selected for transitioning between the adjoining video clips. If it is determined that the content of the adjoining video clips contains a low amount of motion, a crossfade transition may be selected. Moreover, if it determined that the color characteristics of two adjoining video clips are similar, a hard-cut transition may be selected; if the color characteristics are different, a crossfade transition may be selected.

The patent mentions that the rules of which transitions to apply to which video clip combinations can be set using application preferences.

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The current version of Final Cut Pro X provides a limited range of resolutions and frame rates for projects.

This post shows how to edit timelines at any frame size and frame rate. Frame rates that Final Cut Pro X can edit and export range from less than 1fps to at least 1200fps:

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Here’s a filter which uses the name of a clip’s reel to define which font to use when drawing text. It is a bit of a bodge, but it might save you a lot of time.

Once you have installed the plugin*, here’s how you use it:

1. Choose ‘Slug’ from the generators menu:

2. Apply the ‘Text – Reel Font Alex4D’ filter (which is in the ‘Text’ folder of ‘Video Filters’)

3. Make sure the pixel aspect ratio setting of the filter matches the pixel aspect ratio of your Sequence. Have a look at ‘Settings…’ in the ‘Sequence’ menu:

Make the same choice from the pop-up menu in the filter settings:

You need to do this because there is a fault with FxScript, the plugin programming language which means filters can render differently depending on whether you use Safe or Unlimited RT to render your sequence.

4. To set the font the type uses, right-click the Slug clip and choose ‘Item Properties:Logging Info…’:

Enter the name of the font you want to use in the ‘Reel’ entry:

5. Now you have a prototype clip, you can use it elsewhere in your project as much as you want, you can drag it to the browser, option-drag it along the timeline, blade it to divide it into two. As these clips will remain affiliated, you need only change the font named in the Reel of one instance of these clips for them all to change.

6. When you change the font in one of the clips, the reel name (i.e. the font to be used) will change in all the affiliated clips. However, Final Cut will not know that the clips need to be re-rendered. You need to force the clips to be re-rendered. First select one clip and choose ‘Reveal Affiliated Clips in Front Sequence’ to select the other clips with the same font:

While they are selected, disable and re-enable the visibility of the clips. You can do this quickly by pressing Control-B twice, or choose ‘Clip Enable’ twice from the pop-up menu:

Download Alex4D Reel font

*To install the plugins, download the ZIP document, extract the file and copy the ‘Reel font Alex4D.fcfcc’ file to

Your Startup HD/Library/Application Support/Final Cut Pro System Support/Plugins

(Your Startup HD/Users/your name/Library/Application Support/Final Cut Express Support/Plugins for Final Cut Express users)

The filter appears in the ‘Text’ filter category.

Visit my Final Cut home for more plugins and tips

If you find this plugin useful, please consider donating as a sign of your appreciation. Thank you.

The latest Mac rumour is that Apple will announce a multitouch trackpad for desktop Macs.

For this new device to be useful, Apple needs to define how multitouch works when you don’t look at what you’re touching, but need to be accurate. At the moment, you can use MacBook touch pad gestures for a variety of commands (previous page, next page, scaling), but these instructions don’t require accuracy of fingertip positioning.

In order for us not to look at the ‘magical’ touchpad we’re using with our Macs, we need to know where our touches would land in the user interface of the current application if we touched the pad in a specific position. That means we can look at the monitors we already have, but still get the benefits of multitouch manipulation.

In August of 2007, Apple patented a multitouch interface for a portable computer that uses a camera to detect where a person’s hands are before they touch the trackpad or keyboard.

Illustration from Apple's 2007 Multitouch patent featuring a camera detecting where a user's hands are when not touching the trackpad.

Now that we have a device for detecting where our fingertips are, Apple need to update the UI guidelines to allow for multiple cursors (one for each fingertip) and let fingers not touching the trackpad still send a ‘hover’ message to user interface items.

For example, they could use filled and unfilled circles to show where fingertips are. Unfilled to show where fingertips are hovering over the trackpad, filled to show contact:

A screenshot from Final Cut showing a fingertip touching one edit and another hovering over a different edit.

In this Final Cut example, one fingertip is touching an edit, another is hovering over a different edit. To select more than one edit, editors hold down the option key and click additional edits. In a multitouch UI, the editor could hold down a fingertip on the first edit and tap the other edits to extend the selection:
Final Cut screenshot showing four edits selected

The hovering fingertip circles could also show the context of what would happen if the user touched. Here’s an example from Avid:
Mockup of multitouch UI extensions to an Avid screenshot.

Here the editor has their left hand over the multitouch trackpad. The index finger is touching, so its red circle is filled. As we are in trim mode the current cursor for the index finger is the B-side roller because it is touching a roller. The other fingers are almost touching. They are shown with unfilled circles with faint cursors that are correct based on where they are on the screen: the middle and ring fingers have arrow cursors, if the little (pinky) finger touches, then it would be trimming the A-side roller.

Once you can directly manipulate the UI using multiple touch points, you’ll be able to get rid of even short-lived modes. I wrote about gestural edits back in 2007.

Ironically, once Apple does provide multitouch UI extensions to OS X, then the concepts of hovering, ‘mouseenter’ and ‘mouseleave’ can be added to Flash-based UIs for those using multitouch devices. Oh well!

Watching ‘Hustle’ on the BBC this evening, I noticed a ‘good enough’ day for night shot.

It was made obvious by a transition directly from the day version of the setup:

To the same shot colour-corrected to look like night-time:

Click the shots to see bigger versions.

They used a flat monotonous sky to pull a key, but they ended up letting quite a lot of the tops of the trees floating in mid-air. Some of the house roof details vanished too.

They even added an owl hoot to the soundtrack to sell the idea. To imply that they had crossfaded between two shots, they moved the second shot down a little so that the whole image changed.

For the budding colourists, you can use these images as before/after references on how to change a day shot to look as if it were shot at night.

If you’re in the UK, you can see the the original episode for the next few weeks. Spool to (27:51).

In which I show evidence that Apple hasn’t given up on Pro Apps, and suggest why they aren’t in any hurry to update them.

Given recent upgrades for other editing software, Final Cut users have been increasingly frustrated with a lack of news of updates from Apple.

Today’s announcement of a very minor update for Final Cut Pro (to version 6.0.6) will be the main topic of conversation on the web and user group meetings in the weeks to come (such as the London SuperMeet on Thursday).

Some are saying that Apple have given up on editing software, and want to spend more time being a consumer products company.

I think that is unlikely. It is more likely that Apple isn’t releasing a new version until it is ready. As they don’t consider any other editing software as competition, they are letting technology trump marketing this time around.

In the 90s I used to beta test Director for Macromedia. It was long enough ago that we would get a care package every fortnight with 15-20 floppy discs. These would unstuff to be a new version of ‘Spike’ or whatever the codename was for the beta of Director 4, 5 or 6 we were testing. Every time we thought the programming team had only a couple of months left to squash the bugs we’d pointed out (as opposed to needing to sort so much that they’d never get it done), they’d send us a letter saying “Thanks for your help, we release in three weeks; please find a T-shirt enclosed.”

Macromedia needed to release at the next Macworld, or NAB or Comdex or whatever. The bugs were going to be fixed in version X.0.1 or 0.2.

But what is the evidence that Apple is still invested in Pro Apps such as Final Cut?

Apple is still looking for people to shape the future of Pro Apps

If you go to and search using ‘Pro Apps’ as the keyword, you get four listings:

Software Development Engineer Posted 9 Jun ’09
Sr Human Interface Designer, Pro Apps Posted 13 Jan ’09
Sr Visual Interface Designer, Pro Apps Posted 13 Jan ’09
Video Editor Product Designer, Pro Apps Posted 18 Nov ’08

These job descriptions tell a tale: The features and user interface of the next version of Final Cut were locked in November 2008. While the beta programme and bugfixing continue, it was time to hire an editor who knows about software development to join the team. He or she would be the person with real-world experience to communicate with the programmers the ways people in post production work up until now.

They didn’t find anyone who was quite right for that job, so they created two new job descriptions based on the previous one, but each looking for someone with more formal human interface design training [“Degree in interaction design, human factor and/or visual design (or equivalent).”]

Those jobs are still open, but on the 9th of this month, they posted the job description for someone to continue to develop the software behind the Pro Apps documentation system. A good time to hire someone new would be once a load of documentation for Final Cut Studio has changed.

Apple is working with external plugin makers on developer mailing lists

Although they can’t comment on unannounced products, if you follow the postings, they imply that version 6.0.6 will not be the last version of Final Cut.

For example, someone from the Apple team wrote this:

Sometime in the last year or two, I surveyed FxPlug developers and asked about which features they’d like to see, and one that came out near the top was “create windows in the UI.” If this was a feature you were looking for, can you remind me what it is that you need from it?

Although this might pique the interest of Final Cut users, I wouldn’t advise wading through the mailing list for nuggets for future features. You won’t find anything specific – certainly nothing committed to or worth basing your plans on.

Software development isn’t like pregnancy. It takes a different amount of people every time. This time it has taken a lot longer because Apple have had a ton of work to do. The current assumption is that Final Cut has had to be re-written from the ground up. Code written back in 97 and 98 has to be junked to get rid of the rats nest of additions and modifications over the years.

What about new features? I want them now!

I’ve already blogged about a great feature to add to Final Cut Studio which wouldn’t depend too much on existing or new code. You can bet that any feature that extends and re-enforces the Apple Pro hardware and software ecosystem will get priority.

The place to contribute to Final Cut Pro 7.5 and 8, therefore, is on user group sites with a lot of history. If you go the the LAFCPUG forum, they have a sticky topic that’s been around for years: ‘FCP Feature Requests’. If you think you have an original idea for a feature, read all the posts there first. If it hasn’t come up there, add a post on the end…

I don’t think Apple have given up on Pro Apps. The only problem they (and we) have is that they don’t consider Avid and Adobe proper competition any more. Premiere will forever be associated with enthusiastic amateurism, and Avid has only just passed Final Cut 6 feature-wise (in the eyes of FCP users) – which isn’t good enough for people to switch. If Apple felt more pressure from them, maybe we’d get new versions sooner. Competition is the only thing that will make Apple move more quickly.

Remember: Final Cut Studio is to high-end Macs what iTunes is to iPods/iPhones. Why would a few million dollars a year in software development not be worth all that hardware margin?

In which I take an Apple patent and suggest that it could form the basis of a new collaborative on-location application for the cloud, iPhone and iPod Touch for TV and film makers.

Storyboards are fine in principle, but crews need to use enough setups to cover enough angles to capture the drama so that directors and editors can later tell the story in ways that that they didn’t plan.

The recent patent granted to Apple is more about shoot planning than storyboarding. Instead of creating a comic-book simulation of a potential film, it helps movie makers plan how to cover the action in a scene.


In a potential ProApps product, Apple imagine using the script to plan where characters will stand, how they’ll move and where the camera will be to film it, and possibly where the camera will be when getting different close-up, medium and wide shots.

Another aspect of this patent (according to the text at the World Intellectual Property Organization) implies that the output of this system wouldn’t be paper printouts to go with script sides. As at least two of the authors are from Apple’s iPhone team, maybe this system is about creating and maintaining a model for how production will proceed.
A model that location managers, art directors, set dressers, continuity people, crew, caterers, actors and the post-production team will have continual access to using digital technology – on browsers and iPhones (which may be in Airline Mode some of the time).

This tool should have post-production uses too. It might replaced lined scripts. For an explanation of lined scripts (and how they are used with Avid’s ScriptSync feature), read Oliver Peters’ article on his blog.

Instead of lines showing number of setups and number of takes being written on the script, the editor will be able to look at the footage captured in the context of the scene in 3D-space. It’s interesting that Apple might now attempt to introduce new organisational techniques that supplant the methods used over the last 75 years.

As an aside, this is the first patent that reminds me of a book. If it comes to pass, this system will help you plan your film following the tenets of Daniel Arijon’s Grammar of the Film Language – a useful director’s text from 1976 (check out the positive reviews on Amazon).

Given the nature of modern production techniques I wonder if the job or second assistant camera and apprentice editor might be combined in the near future. Any problems with digital files need top be caught at any stage in the process.

This could be the job – loading the solid-state memory onto the camera, where once the camera would need unexposed negative in 1000 ft reels. Once the memory is used up, the loader needs to load it into a computer or separate storage device and load a backup onto a different device. Once these copies are demonstrably OK, the storage device is erased in preparation for loading onto the camera again. Then the loader could go to the editing system and load the footage onto the computer.

The reason why it could be a good idea to use the same person, would be to safeguard the information associated with each take. The setup number, take, camera number, frame rate, scene name and timecode can be incorporated into each digital file from capture to final grading.

Due to scheduling and budget considerations, there are no apprentice editors and few second assistant camera people on many productions. It’s up to the editing and camera team to work together as if they were combined into one person. Especially as it is the job of the assisting team to create the environment for the editor to edit, to make artistic decisions – to make sure they need not know the ins and outs of the newest software upgrades and bugfixes from Apple, Avid, Adobe, Panasonic and Red.

To edit drama, we need to understand acting for film. Almost twenty years ago I saw a film acting masterclass presented by Michael Caine. One of the first things he said is:

[1:12] – “What we do, we actors in the movie, hang on to each other’s eyes. That’s the most important thing in film: eyes. If you are fair and have blond eyelashes like I have, you wear mascara, because if you have blond eyelashes, you might as well be in a radio play.”
[4:30] “If I look at you and I blink, it weakens me… If I don’t blink, it makes me strong”
[5:40] “Listening is what acting is all about in movies… ‘Think of extraordinary things to say, and decide not to say them’ – that’s the greatest piece of advice I could give to someone who wants to act in movies.”

If writers write to help actors act this way, and editors capture these aspects of actors’ performances, we’ll have great films.

While the BBC leaves this on the web, watch the rest of the show on YouTube. It is an hour long. Part 1:

Here are the links to the following parts: Part 2 · Part 3 · Part 4 · Part 5 · Part 6

This evening the winners of the British Independent Film Awards were announced. Slumdog Millionaire and Hunger won three each.

For those in below the line positions, there was a catch-all award: that for Best Technical Achievement. The nominees were:
Wardrobe – Michael O’Connor – The Duchess
Cinematography – Sean Bobbitt – Hunger
Editing – Jon Gregory – In Bruges
Music – Harry Escott, Molly Nyman – Shifty
Cinematography – Anthony Dod Mantle – Slumdog Millionaire

The winner of Best Technical Achievement in British Independent Film is… Sean Bobbit, for Hunger.

Of course these people are just as artistic as actors, directors and writers. It is just that the film marketers haven’t come up with a way of describing what these contributors do in general that encompasses the thousands of creative decisions that go into each film. That is because it is convenient for the studios and media for the director of a film to represent all the non-writing and non-acting contributions to a film. It’s part of making it seem as if the director is the author of the film.

Editing is a special case when it comes to awards amongst all the ‘technical’ categories. How can anyone judge editing? Any ability more than competent is almost impossible to compare. As long as their editing isn’t obviously bad, how can you tell how good an editor is? Did they take perfect footage and make good scenes out of it, or did they rescue a film from disaster?

The only way to judge editing would for each film offering itself up for an award would make all the footage for a scene available to the judges. Then peers could judge which of the scenes was most effectively edited given all the footage at hand.

In practice the Oscar for Best Achievement in Editing is given to those editors hired to work on films that are in the running for Oscars, possibly not for the best editing of any film in a given year. But that Oscar is a good enough target for me!

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