Ease of Use is a Problem?

I work with complicated software and various engineering and hardware problems every day. Such is the life in post production. The average consumer should not have to deal with the issues I deal with. That is why there are software bundles like iLife to make things easier.

Christopher Dawson, technology director for a Massachusetts public school district disagrees. He thinks software like iLife is too easy and impairs students:

It simply hands so much to the students that they struggle with software (whether Windows, Linux, or even pro-level software on the Mac) that isn’t so brilliantly plug and play. Yes, iLife rocks in many ways, but the level of spoonfeeding it encourages actually makes me think twice about using it widely, especially at the high school level.

So his argument is that some software is difficult to use, therefore easy software should not be allowed.

When working in a professional setting, yes, you need to understand your tools inside and out to better understand how to get your work done. I see the effect lack of knowledge has all the time with edits we get back from freelance editors working in Final Cut Pro at home. We get 16:9 anamorphic footage edited letterboxed in 4:3 sequences, tapes captured as stereo instead of split-mono,  extraneous use of layered plugins to achieve a “look,” 24 layers of video with 76 layers of audio, most of which are empty… the list goes on.

That said, these are technical problems and not creative ones. When you’re in school (especially high school), little should stand in the way between the creative vision that is in your head and the final result, including software. There’s no reason for students to know NTSC frame sizes, what 3:2 pulldown is,  or the difference between RGB and YUV, that is, unless they want to learn more. In which case, let them grow out of the simple software and use the more advanced packages.

As for the assumption that using easy software causes students to struggle with more compliated software? I’ve been on both sides. Many, many times, it doesn’t matter what you’re used to, complicated software is still complicated.

If high school students are having trouble picking up “pro-level software on the Mac,” it’s not because they’re used to plug-and-play. There’s a reason it’s called “pro” software ((For the record, I started out on Media100 as a freshman in high school, then moved to Premiere & Final Cut Pro my junior year. I would’ve killed for something like iMovie where I didn’t need to make sure I captured my video as Motion JPEG-A through the Aurora card for it to play back out successfully)).

[via Daring Fireball]

Red delays Scarlet and EPIC

In an announcement on the Reduser forum this morning, Jim Jannard of Red Digital Cinema has stated they are no longer working overtime to push the release of Scarlet and EPIC. These cameras are still in the pipeline, they have just moved to a more typical development schedule.

I see no reason to continue to pay for rapid development and pushed schedules when the world is not ready to buy our product in the quantities that justify our urgency.  […] Retail camera sales are currently off 40-50%.

While it may be a blow to those who were hoping to get their hadns on one of those cameras once they were pre-announced, I can completely understand their decision. If the volume of sales won’t be there, it doesn’t make sense to push development as hard as they probably were.

Jon Chappell of Digital Rebellion highlights why this isn’t such a big deal, which I completely agree with. There may even be an upside. This may translate to more Red One sales, which could mean more support for the Red One in post. We’re getting there with RAW support in FCP, AE, and Premiere, but it could stand to be improved… especially 4k support in FCP.

Adobe is not abandoning the Mac

Yesterday, reports surfaced that Adobe is removing their booth from Macworld 2009 next January. In a statement to Macworld, an Adobe spokesman said “Adobe has decided to shift its focus at the Macworld trade show this year. Macworld is a valuable industry show and we will still be an active part of it with members of our product team involved in Macworld tracks, including a full day of CS4 demo sessions with Adobe evangelists on Wednesday, January 7.”

Now, for some reason, many people seemed to miss this statement and the knee-jerk reaction was that a.) Adobe is slowly abandoning the Mac platform ((If you want to look for evidence that Adobe takes the Mac platform for granted, look at Flash performance or render times in After Effects.)), b.) they did not want a public face at the event for fear of complaints over CS4 (?), or c.) both.

First of all, Adobe is simply removing their booth, not their presence. As stated, they are still hosting demo sessions and involved in several seminars. Secondly, this mirrors what Apple themselves are doing with regard to trade shows.

In February, Apple announced it would no longer be participating at NAB. Unsurprisingly, several took this as a sign that Apple was abandoning the pro-video market. Afterall, Final Cut Server, their collaborative workflow manager and asset management solution which was announced at NAB 2007, had yet to be released, QuickTime updates were plaguing stability of their video apps, and updates seemed to be few and far between. (Two months later, Final Cut Server was released and recent updates to their pro video apps have been mostly trouble free.)

In reality, Apple was simply shifting focus (sound familiar?). They later stated that they were participating in fewer trade shows and instead using different outlets, such as their website, brick & mortar stores, and smaller self-hosted events to reach the public.

Back to Adobe. Is it really any surprise that Adobe would be doing something similar? In light of the recent economic climate, it makes sense to scale back. This was later evidenced in a press release covering their Q4 performance:

The Company cited weaker-than-expected demand for its new Creative Suite 4 family of products that began shipping in Q4 in North America and Europe as the main cause for the shortfall in fourth quarter revenue.

Adobe also announced the implementation of a restructuring program, and has taken steps to reduce its headcount by approximately 600 full-time positions globally.

Again, this makes sense. Marketing is one of the first areas to be hit by slow economic times; companies often cut their advertising budget first. This directly affects agencies and creative houses who use, you guessed it, Adobe software. Jobs are often cut and the endless search for ways to reduce spending begins. Upgrading to CS4 was most likely deemed unnecessary for many creative departments.

So, Adobe is cutting spending (and jobs), not support for the Mac platform.

AE CS4: Leopard vs Vista

Being a Mac guy who works with After Effects, this news really bothers me. Keven Schmidt at Creative Mac benchmarked renders in After Effects CS4 on Mac OS X and Windows. The result? AE still renders faster in Windows, by roughly 1.2x. Now, AE has traditionally rendered faster in Windows, but now that we’re on v9 and OS X has been around for 8 years, you’d think there would be significant improvements. Kevin about sums it up:

Either Adobe isn’t tuning After Effects on the Mac at all, or tuning the buhjeezus out of the Windows versions. Hell, even single process rendering on Vista generally spanks multiple processes on Leopard, for the love of Pete.

This, coupled with the continued sub-par performance of Flash on the Mac really makes me doubt Adobe’s commitment to the Mac platform.  Are they still bitter about Final Cut Pro eating into Premiere sales back in 1998 & 1999?

As a side note, the other takeaway from the post is that enabling multiprocessing in AE doesn’t save much time in either platform. For longer renders, it may help, but for those intermediate small batches, you may be better of sticking to single processes. This is something I’ve suspected for a long time, and I’m glad to see some numbers on this.

Flash on the iPhone? (again)

Flash Magazine is reporting that Adobe is indeed developing Flash Player for the iPhone. It appears they have a team working on development, if the report is to be believed. I would note, however, the language used here: Flash Player, not Flash Plugin.

The Flash many have come to know and love (or hate) is embedded in websites and loaded with a browser plugin. As far as I know, Safari on the iPhone has no plugin architecture. I see three outcomes here:

First, Adobe is developing Flash Player as a separate browser, possibly based on Webkit. If you know you are going to a site that uses Flash, you launch the Adobe built browser. Obviously, this isn’t the ideal situation as users would now have two different browsers to use depending on the site technologies.

Another option is to have Flash behave similar to QuickTime on the iPhone. When a user browses to a site with Flash, an icon is displayed which the user can click to launch the content in the Flash player. This might work, but there are two caveats: Only for sites built entirely in Flash or that use Flash for content purposes (think video and games) would benefit. Sites that just incorporate Flash into certain portions, like navigation or animated elements would either break or lose their intended design. Second, Adobe would have to be working closely with Apple for this implementation, which clearly isn’t happening. If they were partnering with Apple in this way, they would be either definitive in ther colaboration, or completely tight-lipped. Not these in-between quotes which continually pop up.

The last outcome, and perhaps most probable: this just won’t happen. I think Flash on the iPhone is the new Duke Nukem Forever.

[via lifehacker]

It is up to us to build amazing things

As you may or may not have heard, Adobe’s Creative Suite 4 was released this week. Some new features in After Effects and Photoshop have my curiosity piqued, but it is doubtfull I’ll take the plunge into this latest incarnation anytime soon. (That is, not until the post houses and clients I work with begin to use After Effects CS4. Hell, I still have After Effects 6 installed just in case someone still uses that version.)

Of all the posts I’ve read on the web regarding the new version, Andrew Cramer at VideoCopilot.net has the most solid advise I’ve seen:

If you look at the big picture, After Effects 6.5 has enough capability to create things that would stop time and newer versions regard this as well.  After effects is a compositing application and it is up to us to build amazing things. No new feature is going to do that for us…

Though I’m waiting to see that in the feature list of CS5: “Amazing Builder™ — No designer needed!” Actually, scratch that.

We tend to get caught up in the latest featuresets and plugins ((Don’t get me started on Trapcode plugins. Yes, I do use them. But for the love of God, Particular, 3D Stroke, and now Form do not instantly make your animations and designs ‘teh awesomes.’)) and can forget that they are just tools. And without us and our imaginations, they just sit idle.

Now I’m tempted to fire up that copy of After Effects 6.5… just because.