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Walter Soyka
Software criticism
on Mar 30, 2015 at 12:24:10 pm

Reading these last few "film school" threads on theory and criticism has made me realize that a lot of what we do here is software criticism: trying to figure out the meaning and message of each new release, trying to fit each new release into our understanding of the body of work of its "author," as if it were a film and we could apply the same critical theories. Less about the tool itself and more what idea the tool is an expression of.

I think the idea of software criticism is just as valid as film criticism, but I wonder if we need to revise our critical methods. We speak of Apple, Adobe, and Avid almost add if they were auteurs. Is this a senseless anthropomorphization, or is there something to the idea of company as author? What exists in the developers' minds and what do we read into after the fact? What role do the individuals in the development teams play?

Walter Soyka
Designer & Mad Scientist at Keen Live [link]
Motion Graphics, Widescreen Events, Presentation Design, and Consulting
@keenlive [twitter]   |   RenderBreak [blog]   |   Profile [LinkedIn]


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Gary Huff
Re: Software criticism
on Mar 30, 2015 at 1:09:14 pm

[Walter Soyka] "Is this a senseless anthropomorphization, or is there something to the idea of company as author?"

I think, more often than not, it's the former. Easier to think in monolithic terms as opposed to the reality of the push/pull amongst a decidedly large team of individuals each responsible for tiny pieces.


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Michael Phillips
Re: Software criticism
on Mar 30, 2015 at 1:47:02 pm

I can only speak to my experiences as the product designer at Avid from 1990 through ~2002'ish (when my role changed). At the time, there were two product designers as they were called. It was important that these roles were individuals who were editors, and come with production experience. My experience was all film based, film production and workflows, while Tom Ohanian came from a video and facility background editing corporate, commercials, news,etc. We acted as the intermediary between all the customers and engineering to "translate" what is meant when an editor says this, or what does it mean when an engineer says this. Then we write up design docs as to how the function/solution should be enabled, work with engineers to make it even better as they understood what could really be done with the code base, then worked with the customers in beta for final. Our experience in the entire production allowed us to see what was happening before it got to post, and how to best prepare for what happened after post as part of a workflow solution.

A small example of this; many people asked why IN and OUT were defaulted to E and R on the keyboard in addition to the more obvious I and O keys (as long as you spoke English). It is because there are more right handed editors in the world based on averages, their right hand is on the mouse, and your left hand naturally fits at the keyboard where your fingers fall on the E and R keys. Two of the more common functions being done on the keyboard at the time. The early years of NLE was a fascinating time to be on that side of the business. But even working full time, I still produced and edited features as it was a complete circle of using what was develop in a real scenario, as well as coming up with new ideas and solutions as you edited and be able to go back in and tweak and invent.

I learned an awful lot from the engineers, who are extremely creative in their own right. From what I learned on what was possible, I was able to co-invent the first digital 24 frame editing system named the Film Composer. A lot of work went into that, not just capture and playback at 24, but the metadata and list management, audio pullup/down, ABCD, and how it applied to both NTSC and PAL at the time. This eventually led to the first Universal Mastering solution with Symphony in 1999 when picture quality finally reached uncompressed and the ability from a single sequence delivery PAL and NTC with progressive and interlace, 16:9 and 4:3 at a time when HD cameras were just at the dawn of their arrival on the scene.

Can't really speak to how the process works today - I am sure they have similar type individuals in similar roles, regardless of company. But the market pressures today are far more varied in needs and distribution, so the feature sets seem to be more IT than what can be done to take storytelling to the next level. I believe there is still more to be done in that space.


Michael


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David Mathis
Re: Software criticism
on Mar 30, 2015 at 3:25:03 pm

I remember seeing and hearing about Film Composer while a student at The Art Institute of Dallas. We had two Media Composer systems on the old pizza box Mac computer. I think After Effects was a young buck at the time. Back then storage was not cheap and not much either. Went to class then saw a film next door, we were next to the General Cinema which is now part of the school. Sadly the one by the mall was torn down a few years later, a relly nice theater. Those were the days. We also were shooting on S-VHS and Betacam SP, and had the linear editing system. Times have changed, so has the workflow.

Perhaps we might be critical of technology as a whole, not just software. Think back when the new Mac Pro came about. That along with companies being proprietary with their equipment and ones that have gone rental only. My two cents.


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Richard Herd
Re: Software criticism
on Mar 30, 2015 at 3:30:22 pm

[Michael Phillips] "your left hand naturally fits at the keyboard "

I end up turning the keyboard all around depending on what I'm doing. When I type, obviously, it's regular. Using the keyboard for me while editing includes moving it clockwise or counterclockwise as I proceed, turning it around and in various angles so that I can hit the keys I need. As a guitar player, I tried using it like a keytar before (ha!) but it made mouse moves ridiculous.

Overall: Keyboard on the left, mouse on the right, wacom on the far right.


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Michael Phillips
Re: Software criticism
on Mar 30, 2015 at 3:40:30 pm

That sounds about right. Keep in mind that this was 1990 and most offline creative editorial was still flatbeds, even in the high end commercial market that bought the first Avid/1 Media Composers. Computers themselves were not an everyday thing, so the transition from a flatbed to a keyboard was an important move from a comfort factor. The point being that creative editor UX was also part of the design going into these systems.

These days, there are so many offerings, and users growing up on game controllers, mobile devices, and such that there is a lot to consider. There is no one perfect device, yet, but combining technologies will still be the way to go for a while.


Michael


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Simon Ubsdell
Re: Software criticism
on Mar 30, 2015 at 1:51:02 pm

Fascinating post.

But why has no-one yet mentioned Roland Barthes (let alone Derrida) here?

Simon Ubsdell
tokyo-uk.com


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Richard Herd
Re: Software criticism
on Mar 30, 2015 at 3:51:07 pm
Last Edited By Richard Herd on Mar 30, 2015 at 3:51:24 pm

[Simon Ubsdell] "But why has no-one yet mentioned Roland Barthes (let alone Derrida) here?
"


At first I laughed pretty hard at that. It would't be so bad if some of the corporate types applied post structuralist critique to their inventions. Keyboards and mice (as mentioned above) are silly peripherals. I would love to see adobe actually make a device for NLE.


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Douglas K. Dempsey
Re: Software criticism
on Mar 30, 2015 at 4:39:44 pm

Avid posted an interview with Alan Bell on editing Hunger Games, and I believe he used a programmable game controller, a touch screen and a mouse ... with keyboard mainly for text/data entry. Wild.

As for early NLE keyboard mapping to reflect flatbed editing, I was told the J-K-L layout was inspired by the KEM buttons even more than the Steenbeck controller? A friend who was a KEM editor told me that the buttons were so ergonomically ingrained in his muscle memory that he would sit at a dinner conversation, become bored with someone's storytelling, and find that his left hand, resting on the table, was twitching, trying to punch the fast forward button!

Which brings me to Randy and the FCPX interface. Much as I enjoy using X, I DO wonder about the editors who were consulted, versus a design that reflects the pure, creative expression of a single software designer.

Doug D


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Michael Phillips
Re: Software criticism
on Mar 30, 2015 at 4:52:58 pm

You are correct. JKL was the keyboard equivalent of the KEM - another good example of that "transition" from one tool to another. JKL was suggested by Steve Cohen at the time. Even flatbeds had their differences between KEM and Steenbeck. There are so many approaches to storytelling that can affect how a solution gets developed. I believe that that genres themselves can suggest different approached, narrative versus documentary, versus montage, etc. The design goal was always to keep the eyes focused on the image, and not the tools which speaks to the game controller approach. Those devices are designed to always have you watching the screen, not the hardware interface.


Michael


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Herb Sevush
Re: Software criticism
on Mar 30, 2015 at 7:53:04 pm

[Michael Phillips] "Even flatbeds had their differences between KEM and Steenbeck."

and the flatbed Moviola as well. And editors had distinct preferences between them. There is no difference in emotional pitch between NLEs then there was between the various flatbed proponents ... the more things change, the more they remain the same.

Herb Sevush
Zebra Productions
---------------------------
nothin' attached to nothin'
"Deciding the spine is the process of editing" F. Bieberkopf


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Richard Herd
Re: Software criticism
on Mar 30, 2015 at 7:19:08 pm

I saw the game controller thing. I would still like one designed for video editing. Some actual industrial design would be nice.


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Jeremy Garchow
Re: Software criticism
on Mar 30, 2015 at 7:26:40 pm
Last Edited By Jeremy Garchow on Mar 30, 2015 at 7:26:56 pm

[Richard Herd] "I saw the game controller thing. I would still like one designed for video editing. Some actual industrial design would be nice."

Isn't that what Lightworks controller is for?

http://www.redsharknews.com/post/item/422-when-is-a-console-not-a-console


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Richard Herd
Re: Software criticism
on Mar 30, 2015 at 7:30:47 pm

That's cool too, but that's UI on an iPad. I would like something industrial design-y. Camera guys get all their nifty form factors. Where's mine?


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Jeremy Garchow
Re: Software criticism
on Mar 30, 2015 at 7:45:05 pm

[Richard Herd] "That's cool too, but that's UI on an iPad."

Scroll down a bit on the page. There's a big picture of the LIghtworks controller.


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Richard Herd
Re: Software criticism
on Mar 30, 2015 at 8:01:23 pm

DOH!

Groovy controller.


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Jeremy Garchow
Re: Software criticism
on Mar 30, 2015 at 5:02:49 pm

[Walter Soyka] "I think the idea of software criticism is just as valid as film criticism, but I wonder if we need to revise our critical methods. "

It is valid, but I think that film and software have two very different goals, and therefore different decision making processes in what essentially brings the medium to 'market'. Film is widely understood as a visual art or cultural commentary, and most of the time, a form of communication or source of entertainment.

Can the same be said for software, especially NLE or video design software? Am I wondering about the existential problems of designers when I try and open a multiple page PDF in Illustrator without scrubbing the internet for a javascript that will do just this very action?

I'm not condemning, I'm just asking, as I think the framework around which film and software are conceived (and to what end) is important.

[Walter Soyka] "We speak of Apple, Adobe, and Avid almost add if they were auteurs. Is this a senseless anthropomorphization, or is there something to the idea of company as author? What exists in the developers' minds and what do we read into after the fact? What role do the individuals in the development teams play?"

I would think individuals have important roles, but how much are they allowed to do within the current framework of more mature applications that are on the market today?

If there's a younger developer that is hired on to help further the development of any application, can they do what they want? Perhaps they have great ideas to make Photoshop less destructive, but can't due to the nature of the program or without blowing up the entire application (like you mentioned in another thread)? What role do they have? At what point does the individual have control, or is the code base of the software itself in control, after years and years of writing and rewriting?

What responsibility, really, do developers have to support older versions? Because certainly, carrying legacy workflows in order to preserve older documents created in decades gone-by, must inform the design of the current version? Who is responsible for that and what are the values by which they make that judgement call?


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Douglas K. Dempsey
Re: Software criticism
on Mar 30, 2015 at 7:29:37 pm

So I'll ask again, does anyone know if Randy Ubillos is more or less responsible for the non-traditional interface and feature design for X, and what editors were consulted during initial development? In the general press, he is often presented as the "auteur" of FCPX.

Doug D


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Michael Gissing
Re: Software criticism
on Mar 30, 2015 at 11:04:12 pm
Last Edited By Michael Gissing on Mar 31, 2015 at 12:27:36 am

Having dealt directly with Sony, Yamaha, dSP and Fairlight in their software development cycles, I can tell you that the bigger the corporate structure the less individual is the software. I was surprised to find at Yamaha there were two independent teams working on digital mixing desks who had never met until I visited. And that was a result of me producing some VHS tapes showing comparisons between their two digital mixers. Out of that came the O2R mixer.

In smaller teams like dSP & Fairlight there are a smaller group of software writers who are very much artists and can respond directly to user feedback. I have watched them code and there is an art to it. Just like film there is an enormous amount of fiddly work that goes into making something seem to flow. Watching software finesse was like watching an experienced editor tease out the story and make everything seamless. So I agree with Walter that there is a lot to compare. However, I think the audience for media is probably more savvy of the process and better able to offer critique that with software.

I think in my experience it is fair to see big companies compared to the studio system and small software companies to Indie makers.

As for keyboards, well I still scratch my head when I compare keyboard based ergonomics to dedicated controllers. The QWERTY has to be one of the poorest designs for editing or graphics. I hate grading without something like a Tangent wave.


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Robin S. Kurz
Re: Software criticism
on Apr 1, 2015 at 6:40:29 am

[Douglas K. Dempsey] "does anyone know if Randy Ubillos is more or less responsible for the non-traditional interface and feature design for X"

He is "Chief Architect for Video Applications", yes. And rumor has it, that one day, according to Josh Mellicker, "while going through his footage he realized that the standard UI paradigm of Avid/Premiere/Final Cut/Vegas/Liquid/etc. (all somewhat similar in media management) were not an ideal environment for the very first step in post-production: organizing raw footage." A need or "epiphany" from which, yes, iMovie '08 initially sprung to life from. The rest is history as they say.

In a broad sense I guess you could say that iMovie (in terms of its paradigm and various features) was a secret "public beta" for the fine-tuned development of X. Until iMovie v10, where it IN FACT became a miniature version or FCP X, or basically the new "FC Express" if you will. Kinda the reverse of the previous development path.

- RK

____________________________________________________
Deutsch? Hier gibt es ein umfassendes FCP X Training für dich!


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Douglas K. Dempsey
Re: Software criticism
on Apr 1, 2015 at 1:56:21 pm

Thanks Robin, very interesting. And you are insightful in seeing iMovie v10 as the new FCExpress, rather than the popular and dismissive barb of calling FCPX "iMovie Pro."

Doug D


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Robin S. Kurz
Re: Software criticism
on Apr 1, 2015 at 2:54:39 pm

[Douglas K. Dempsey] "rather than the popular and dismissive barb of calling FCPX "iMovie Pro.""

Well, yes. Anyone with so much as half a technical clue will know, that X and iMovie had absolutely nothing to do with each other on a technical/code level until v10, where iMovie in fact followed X and not the other way around. Anyone actually (still?) obtuse enough to make that "observation" is merely committing an ad hominem book-by-its-cover judgement and only embarrassing themselves. ;)

- RK

____________________________________________________
Deutsch? Hier gibt es ein umfassendes FCP X Training für dich!


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