Ever since its introduction as a QuickTime-based, non-linear video-editing app at NAB in 1998, Final Cut Pro has come a very long way.
Napoleon Dynamite, Cold Mountain, Jarhead and, more recently, 300 and David Fincher's Zodiac are just a few of the many feature films that have been edited in the application, and it continues to gather momentum as more and more production studios - both film and television - buy into the Final Cut ethos.
Final Cut Studio, released in 2005 as the successor to the Apple Production Suite, brought together Final Cut Pro 5, DVD Studio Pro 4, LiveType 2, Motion 2, Soundtrack Pro and Compressor 2 - in a bundle of apps aimed squarely at the pro market. And now, two years later, we have a new version (albeit with not all applications upgraded).
Looking at what's new in Final Cut Studio 2 there's no better place to start than Final Cut Pro itself. Oozing class, power and flexibility, FCP6 has an interface so intuitive a child could use it. Okay, maybe we exaggerate, but it really is that good. Final Cut Pro 6 is at the heart of Final Cut Studio 2, and focuses mainly, but not exclusively, on video formats.
Formats in video editing can be both an editor's best friend and worst enemy. For instance, if you have many formats, say a mixture of SD, HD, NTSC and PAL, you'd normally have to convert media into one format before editing.
FCP 6's Open Format Timeline aims to solve this problem, enabling you to mix and match source material, combining different formats and broadcast standards on one timeline, without transcoding. And all this is in real time, using FCP's genius scalable architecture, Dynamic RT, where the software adjusts the amount of real-time functionality depending on the processing power of your Mac.
So, whether you're using a MacBook Pro or 8-core Mac Pro, Final Cut Pro will perform real-time processing of footage and effects according to your system.
The other big format-oriented addition comes in the form of Apple ProRes 422. Adding to the already massive format support, ProRes 422 will be, if it's all that Apple is making it out to be, revolutionary for editors collaborating over a network or individuals working in the field, wanting to maintain HD quality without huge data rates or file sizes.
In fact, Apple claims that ProRes 422 features uncompressed HD quality at data and storage rates lower than uncompressed SD. It's a valuable addition to Final Cut Pro, and a format that will undoubtedly become very popular with professional film and video creatives.
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Moving away from formats, SmoothCam is an addition to FCP that looks like being a great feature. It automatically smoothes shaky shots while preserving standard camera moves. It's a technology borrowed from Apple's compositing app, Shake, and with background processing (meaning you can carry on editing while it does its job) it should take the pain out of stabilising wobbly footage.
FCP 6 also includes over 25 new FxPlug (the real-time effects format found in Motion) filters, improved audio in the form of soft Normalize and Gain controls, integration with Soundtrack Pro 2 (including 5.1 support - but more on Soundtrack in a bit), and what Apple calls "deep integration with Motion 3".
So let's move on to Motion - the flash one in the FCS gang. First of all, from FCP you can now load up editable Motion templates, complete with video drop zones and text fields - meaning you don't need to leave FCP in order to update content. Motion on its own, however, looks to be a remarkable bit of kit, with a new 3D multiplane environment.
Apple is obviously aiming to take the pain out of 3D motion graphics, with drag-and-drop camera behaviours enabling you to dolly, truck and orbit around a scene, as well as the ability to adjust individual cameras, lights, layers and motion paths using multiple viewports (as in a traditional 3D modelling/animation app), and add particles, spatters and text behaviours.
You can also use a graphics tablet to paint vector-based strokes in 3D, using brushes you've designed yourself. Rounding off the fun stuff, another great feature is the ability to drag and drop behaviours onto text to animate it in 3D.
The business side of Motion adds to FCP's SmoothCam functionality with further tools for correcting shaky shots, and what looks like being a rather neat Audio Behaviour module, enabling you to closely match an animation to audio. Dynamic retiming behaviours are here for quickly creating speed changes in your footage, and point-tracking and match-moving functionality takes the guesswork out of adding complex animations.
As equally an exciting release as Motion 3 is Color. Previously known as Silicon Colour's FinalTouch, before Apple acquired the company last year, Color is a professional colour grading app - in other words a tool for giving your footage the right look and feel at the end of the editing process, depending on your project and target audience.
In typical Apple fashion, there are lots of preset 'looks' - 20 to be precise - that can be dragged and dropped to grade your footage as well as the ability to combine these to create custom effects. And yes, you can save out looks and apply them to other projects.
You can even import grades created by professional colourists or editors. Plus, for editors new to grading, Apple has kept the interface as similar to FCP as possible - using a timeline and the familiar colour scopes. Also very Apple-like (and subsequently user-friendly) is the task-based workflow, which organises the grading process into eight rooms.
Soundtrack Pro 2 takes care of the audio editing in FCS - an element that is so often overlooked by amateur filmmakers. A new single-window, multi-track editing interface looks to make workflow more efficient, taking the pain out of selecting takes, removing noise, adding effects and music and so on.
Surround mixing will please the pros no end, and a useful-looking surround panner dialog gives a visual representation of how sound is panned in the surround field. A new three-up video display promises to make it easier to synchronise sound effects and dialogue to video, and a Multitake Editor enables you to handily view all your takes simultaneously in a single window.
As with the rest of the tools upgraded in the suite, Soundtrack Pro 2 looks like being a solid addition. But there's one app we haven't talked about, of course. And that's DVD Studio Pro. The reason is it hasn't been updated in this release.
Don't get us wrong, DVDSP is a brilliant application for creating professional-quality DVDs, it's just that there's nothing new to talk about - but we wish there was (for instance, Blu-ray authoring support would be nice, even though Apple hasn't released a burner yet).
You also get Livetype 2 (not updated in any way), an updated encoding app in the form of Compressor 3, the latest version of QuickTime Pro and no doubt absolutely loads of other assets and tutorials.
In short, Final Cut Studio 2 is a great bundle for any professional or keen amateur filmmaker - especially at such a reasonable cost.