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From An Editor's Perspective

10 Essential Tools for Editors on a Mac By Kevin McAuliffe

Let me first introduce myself.  My name is Kevin P. McAuliffe, and I am currently the Senior Video Editor at Bell ExpressVu in Toronto, Canada.  I have been an editor for 12 years now and in the last year, I made the switch from working on an Avid Media Composer and Avid DS/HD to working on Final Cut Pro HD on a Mac, and it has been a whirlwind of a year. 

I have been working on HD content for 4 years now, and have accumulated extensive knowledge in HD, but also extensive knowledge on the Mac, and I want to share the knowledge I have acquired by writing this series of articles looking at not only hardware and software, but offer my own personal perspectives on the post production world, and processes to help not only the newer editors, but to hopefully give experienced editors on all platforms, different perspectives on what they do, the projects they work on, and the tools they have at their disposal.  In most cases, I will be looking at things from a FCP Editor's perspective, but I have eight years of Avid experience as well, so don't think I'll leave all those editors out. With that said, I bring you what I feel are 10 essential tools that Mac editors should have in their toolkit.

10 Essential Tools for Editors on a Mac

Making the switch to Final Cut Pro about a year ago was one of the hardest decisions I've had to make as an editor.  I am not only a Senior Editor, but I am also responsible for purchasing hardware and software for editors to do their jobs to the best of their ability, so needless to say, the cost of an item and what it can do for my clients is the absolute top priority.  I am a firm believer in you get what you pay for, but I also believe that some of the best things in life are still free, so I have compiled a list of the top 10 essential tools that every editor requires on a Mac platform to do their job with the best possible quality, in the quickest amount of time.

10. Onyx  Free  http://www.titanium.free.fr/index.html

Nothing runs like a brand new computer.  Fresh out of the box, with only the bare minimum software on it.  But, the reality of it, especially for editors, is that most edit systems have so many little programs that do so many things and we are running them all at the same time because these days it's all about "multi-tasking," that our systems and programs get bogged down very quickly.  If I had a dollar for every time I've been told that if I'm having problems with FCP to just trash the prefs. . . well, I'd be sitting on a beach with my wife in Aruba right now. Sometimes your system needs a quick, but thorough optimization, without a complete reinstall. Onyx is the program to do it. Very simple to use, and lightning quick, Onyx has solved many problems that deleting the prefs for FCP havent. You will notice a jump in system performance right after the first use. Even if you are not a video editor, and just have a Mac at home, download and use this program. I would recommend running it once a week to keep your edit system in peak performance. 

9. .MAC Account  $200 (for 4 gig's of storage)  http://www.mac.com

Most people would wonder why I would put this on my list, but let me tell you that in the last year this has come in handy on many occasions. I don't use the account for email, as two email accounts for me is already too much, but what you will love this for is the fact that essentially you are buying an FTP server that can be accessed with an Internet browser from anywhere in the world. Now you or your clients can upload and download files for approval, files that need to be incorporated into a piece you are working on, or you can use it as an internal server to pass files back and forth to other editors using Mac's on your domain. I can't tell you how handy this has been in the last year. .Mac also provides you with an application that you can install on a Windows XP machine, so you can login to your FTP remotely, without a browser. 

8. Cyberduck  Free  http://cyberduck.ch/

Most people, of course, laugh when they see this on any one of my lists, but it's in my top 10 for a very simple reason.  Every editor needs an FTP transfer program and we don't want anything that is complicated. This one is good, and it is free.

7. Flip for Mac WMV Studio  $49  http://www.flip4mac.com

Unfortunately, for all us Mac lovers, we live in a Windows age. Everyone has Windows, and in a lot of big corporations, IT departments have computers locked up so tight, that you can't install programs like QuickTime without going through reams of paperwork. So, for all you editors who need a way to make Windows media files for client approval, here it is. Flip for Mac is inexpensive and simple to use. Once installed, Windows Media files will play back in the QuickTime interface, and creating them is as simple as doing an EXPORT>USING QUICKTIME CONVERSION in Final Cut Pro, or even easier is to open a QT file in QuickTime, and select EXPORT, and then select MOVIES TO WINDOWS MEDIA. Once you have selected your compression settings, sit back, relax and be ready for the client approvals to start rolling in.

6. Blu-Ray Burner  $1149  http://www.lacie.com/

Lacie's track record of quality products (External Firewire drives), and their willingness to go above and beyond to ensure customer satisfaction, coupled with the fact that us Mac users are finally getting our first good way of backing up entire projects, as well as now finally being able to put our HD content onto a medium for delivery, has me chomping at the bit to get my hands on one of these burners. Standard definition editors (especially editors who work primarily in DV25) now have a way to back up their projects, and when I say backup, I mean their media, graphics, audio, stills. . . essentially everything, for easy retrieval later, makes this almost a no- brainer. In dual layer mode, one disc will be able to archive 50GB worth of material, and with Toast Titanium, you will be able to burn HD movies, to be able to be played on a Blu-ray player at a later date. Of course, with new technologies, there is always a downside, and right now, the downside of this drive is that there is no way to author discs for Blu-Ray.  What I mean is that if you burn your movie to Blu-Ray, using Toast Titanium, it will fade up from black at the beginning, and fade to black at the end. Eventually, I imagine that programs like DVD Studio Pro, and iDVD will support this new burner, but for right now, this is an excellent way to archive complete SD projects onto disc for quick retrieval later.

5. Adobe Photoshop CS2  $649  http://www.adobe.com

I think this one is almost a given. Any editor who works in television needs a copy of this program. Which version you use, in my opinion, is almost not really relevant. Editors need Photoshop to resize still images for broadcast, create static plates, create mattes, and text layers to import into their edit program, and I occasionally use it to fix pixel problems with frames. No edit suite is complete without this program. 

4. Adobe After Effects 7.0 Standard  $699  http://www.adobe.com

Adobe After Effects has become the standard for motion graphics in television. After Effects can be used to create stunning graphics and animation for everything from the web to feature film work. The amount of plug-ins available enables you to create almost anything, and even if you aren't much of an animator, or you work in a facility that already has a graphics department that creates all your animations for you, having this program on your edit station will save you and your clients time and money. I can't tell you how many times I have received projects where something has been spelled incorrectly, or the render has been done wrong, and just having the capability to open the project, make a minor tweak, and re-render it quickly, saves me time and headaches, and my clients money, which makes them very happy. The other thing to remember is that edit systems are designed for just that, editing. I use After Effects to do a lot of simple lower third animations when I am working on an Avid. They are quick to create, they look great, and they render quick. Most people would be surprised that I didn't recommend the Professional Edition, which includes advanced keying and matting, motion tracking/stabilizing, and other useful tools, but you won't be, when you see what is next on my list.

3. Shake 4  $499  http://www.apple.com/shake

For anyone who does serious compositing, tracking, keying or anything else visual effects related, this is hands down the absolute best deal you will find. About eight months ago, Apple dropped the price of Shake from about $4000 U.S. to $499, which left most people stunned, and a lot disappointed.  Chances are that they are going to discontinue Shake in its current incarnation, but for now, all us Shake lovers are happy. Shake is the reason I didn't recommend the Professional edition of After Effects. Everything that the PE version of AE does, Shake does, and does it better, and when I say better, I mean world's better. Awhile back, I had to do a track of a tricky shot to place an image into a television, and I tried it on the PE of AE, and needless to say, a few days later, I finally was remotely happy with what I had created. When I made the switch to a Mac, I figured I would try the same thing again, but use Shake this time. Needless to say, half a day later, I was completely floored by Shake's tracker, keyer and compositing capabilities. For me, for an extra $200 over the PE, AE Standard and Shake should go hand in hand on every Mac Edit station. No questions asked.

2. Final Cut Pro Studio Bundle  $1299  http://www.apple.com/finalcutstudio

Final Cut Pro has now, in my opinion, become the standard for editing on the Mac. Don't get me wrong, as I was an Avid editor for 10 years, and I still do work on the Avid from time to time, but a few years ago, around the time of Apple's potential demise, Avid really seemed to distance themselves from the Mac, and have never really gotten back on board, which has left Apple the opportunity to step up to the plate with its own editing software. The reason the Studio bundle is on my list is that, believe it or not, there is a standalone version of Final Cut Express HD for $299, which is bundled with Livetype and Soundtrack, but if you are even remotely serious about editing, this is the program pack you need. For $1299 you get Final Cut Pro, Motion 2.0, Soundtrack Pro (Sound mixing, click/pop removal, music generator), Compressor (MPEG streaming, format conversions), DVD Studio Pro 4 (Professional DVD creation), LiveType (text animation generator) and Cinema Tools. All of these products are top of the line applications that allow you to deliver professional quality shows, DVD's and animations, and the seamlessness with which the programs work together is astounding.  FCP Studio is now Universal Binary, meaning that it will work on the new Intel Mac's, and the benchmarks have been impressive. Whether you are working on a MacBook or a MacPro Tower, buy this program, NOW!

1. Automatic Duck Full Suite  $1095  http://www/automaticduck.com

The gap has finally been bridged. For all editors who work in FCP, you never have to hear "Start on an Avid, Finish on an Avid" anymore. Wes Plate and Automatic Duck have created a way for Final Cut Pro editors to take OMF 2.0 exports of Avid projects, and import them into FCP for you to do an online. On the flipside, they have also created a way to export your timelines from FCP to send them to an Avid to do the same. Now, the choice is no longer up to the tech heads at these two companies as to how you start and finish your projects. I do a lot of HD onlining on FCP, and I can't tell you how many times I have been told by people that there is no easy way to take a list from an Avid and finish in FCP. Every client that I have talked to that has seen how FCP can now import Avid lists, is blown away. The great thing with this bundle is that you get Pro Export FCP (export your FCP project to finish on an Avid), Pro Import FCP (import Avid OMF 2.0's to finish in FCP) and Pro Import AE (export your FCP timeline, and open it in After Effects, as it was in your FCP timeline). If you off/online projects on FCP, and are dealing with different post production houses, you will expand up your client base immensely by purchasing this plug-in pack. 

Honorable Mention

Total Training DVD's   various prices   http://www.totaltraining.com
I wanted to make sure that I included Total Training in my countdown, even though it only made it into the honorable mentions. The training discs that Total Training provides are probably the best training you will find anywhere. Using Total Training for Photoshop CS2 as an example, Deke McClelland takes you through the complete ins and outs of Photoshop with 21 hours of training on 3 DVD's. I don't think you will find a classroom course in the world that will offer that much training for only $299. Whether it's Deke McClelland with Photoshop or Brian Maffit training you on After Effects, when you are done with these discs, you will have more than a solid understanding of the program, and will be ready to dive right in and start making magic!

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Kevin P McAuliffe is currently a Senior Video Editor working in HD post production in Toronto, Canada. He has been in the television industry for 12 years, and spends his days onlining on a Final Cut Pro HD. Kevin's high definition onlining credit list includes concerts for Coldplay, Sarah McLachlan, Barenaked Ladies, Snow Patrol, Sum41, Paul Anka, Il Divo and Pussycat Dolls, to name a few. Also, Kevin is an instructor of Advanced Final Cut Studio 2 at the Toronto Film College. If you have any questions or comments, you can drop him a line at [email protected]

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