Author Talk: Richard Harrington and Robbie Carman on Making Video with Apple Final Cut Studio and Adobe Creative Suite
This interview is a transcription of the podcast, Richard Harrington and Robbie Carman on Making Video with Apple Final Cut Studio and Adobe Creative Suite.
Nancy Aldrich-Ruenzel: Welcome to another installment of Author Talk. I'm really fortunate today to be with two experts in the field of video and the Macintosh. I want to congratulate you both on your new book, Video Made on a Mac. The people I'm congratulating are Richard Harrington, who's a Certified Instructor for Adobe, Apple, and Avid; and an expert in motion graphic design and digital video; with a bio longer than I could read to you today. So, I'll jump to Robbie Carman. Robbie's another expert, part of the first generation of Certified Apple Final Cut Pro Instructors, and also teaches on DVD Studio Pro and Motion and Color. Richard, Robbie, welcome and congratulations.
Richard Harrington: Thank you very much.
Robbie Carman: Thank you.
Nancy: Why don't we start at the very beginning? Who was the book written for, Rich?
Rich: We decided that what we were seeing is that people who work on a Mac are very passionate about the Mac platform. For a lot of people, Mac has been part of their entire creative professional career. In my own case, I started using it back in college. People feel really loyal to the Mac platform, and it has unlocked a lot of opportunities for them to try things professionally. We said, "You know, a lot of people are moving into video, and there are a lot of video pros out there already. They love their Macs, and they want to be making great-looking video—professional video—whether they're professional photographers or video professionals or media professionals. Let's create a holistic book that teaches them how to use all the best software out there." Obviously, the two leading players are Adobe and Apple. Both of those solutions are wonderful, but when you put them together, it's even better. And there are also all sorts of other little things that really complete the whole experience.
Nancy: That's right, and that kind of software juggling between Adobe and Apple is something that people can use help with. I imagine you're helping those people do things like short movies or podcasting; what other things are they doing, those folks you're writing the book for?
Rich: What I see is that the book is taking a look at the whole video process. In the world of video, you have preproduction, production, and postproduction. The preproduction stage is the development, the creativity, the organization. Then you go into shooting, and then you go into putting it all together, and ultimately delivery. So the book says, okay, you're making professional video—or you want to make professional video—and looks at it for all genres. It's not tied to any one genre. It doesn't matter if you're making a podcast, a broadcast commercial, or a web video; or you're a photographer putting your video elements together. We address techniques that affect everyone. It starts with pulling everything together and getting organized, from budgeting and storyboarding to script writing, and then we move right into full professional production. Robbie did a lot of those chapters, on getting your camera set up right, getting good color, and getting your edit suite set up.
Nancy: Do I have to have a lot of money, or prepare to buy expensive equipment, reading your book?
Rich: The subtitle of the book is Using Apple Final Cut Studio and Adobe Creative Suite. So it depends on what your perspective of "expensive" is. This is not all iMovie and shareware, though some great plug-ins and things are out there. This book is assuming that you're using Creative Suite and Final Cut Studio.
Rich: When I started working in video, a nonlinear editing system was $250,000 and a video camera was $75,000 to $150,000. Obviously things have changed. We address a full range, from entry level things (the types of tools students are using) all the way up to the top broadcast gear. The book doesn't cut corners. It says, "Look, this is what's out there."
We make the following assumptions: You're on the Mac platform, and you're either using Creative Suite and want to add Final Cut Pro to the mix, or you're using Final Cut Studio and you have Creative Suite, and you want to know how they all tie together. It's not just about those two software programs; instead, it says, "Let's take a look at the whole process of making professional video." Along the way, we're gonna answer those hard questions of which tool in the toolbox is the right tool, how you should use it, how you move from one tool to another, and what these tools are good for.
The book itself covers a lot of workflow and great techniques, and an additional 50 training videos with the title go a lot deeper, on even more specific, great things you can do that are gonna impress your client. Some of the stuff is really simple: We've got free software that we call out, and useful utilities that cost $5 or $10. Of course, Final Cut Studio and Creative Suite are not cheap, but in the big scheme of things those are the tools that pros use, so you invest in them. If you spent the money on Final Cut Studio and Creative Suite, this book will actually show you how to get everything out of those tools, and all these things you missed. While it's a little bit of an extra charge, you're actually getting things that you probably didn't know how to use. You've already paid for them, they're in the box, but you're just leaving them on your system. You've never launched them, because you don't know how they work.
Nancy: So you've got to be a serious professional or a serious hobbyist. There are many people who have either the Adobe Creative Suite or Final Cut Studio—and many who have both. This will be a great way to get people introduced to using them together.
Robbie, why is making video on a Mac better than making it on a PC?
Robbie: Well, that's kind of a loaded question. [Laughs.]
Nancy: It sure is!
Robbie: As Rich mentioned, both of us have experience with the Mac platform, going back to the days when it was just this little beige box that was incredibly revolutionary, and it was the PC. I wouldn't say it's necessarily better, but the Mac platform has always been geared toward creative professionals. We see that, not only with the hardware and the power that the hardware has, but with the software products available for it. In fact, a lot of the software products from Adobe, for example, were available first on the Mac. Later, as the PC market grew, the software grew toward the PC side of things.
We prefer the Mac side of things and the Mac platform simply because we feel that it's still the best and most robust creative platform out there for both hardware and software to make video on.
Nancy: That [correlates] with the readership of our books. We specialize in Mac-related books much more than Windows books, and we see most of our creative community working on a Mac. So that doesn't surprise me. But can anybody tell if work has been made on a Mac versus a Windows PC? Is there anything that might show up in work, where you say, "Ah, I'm absolutely positive that was done on a Mac"?
Robbie: Sometimes there are. There are transitions in Final Cut Pro, or there's some looks that I might be able to create in Color, for example. But on the whole, no. The real power of the Mac platform is that it doesn't appear that you're working on just maybe even your laptop and a thousand-dollar piece of software. If you know the toolset well, it could look like the $100,000 piece of machinery that we were talking about earlier. That's what makes this platform really great. Because we can produce such high-quality, professional results on relatively modest budgets with a powerful set of tools.
Nancy: Great. Robbie, talk about some of the creative material covered in the book. I personally wanted to learn more about greenscreen, and I know that you and Rich covered many more creative techniques. Can you name a few, and then maybe Rich could name a few as well?
Robbie: Yeah, absolutely. Greenscreen's a big one; Rich and I both do a lot of greenscreen work, and we have a whole chapter devoted to it. The coolest thing about all of our chapters in the book is that we don't just focus on one software application. We take a topic, and then we say, "Hey, this is how we can work with it in Adobe Creative Suite, this is how we can work with it in Final Cut Studio; and then this is how we could do whatever task it may be, like greenscreen, and share between these two sets of software." But greenscreen is just one of the topics that we talk about. We talk about titling. We talk about color correction. We talk about audio work. So we cover sort of the broad range of creative things—or technical things—that creative professionals are gonna find in their everyday workflow.
Nancy: Great, great. Rich, do you have anything to add to that?
Rich: Sure. One of the chapters I really like is where we cover multi-camera editing. Whether it be podcasts, concerts, church events, performances—it's become very popular to shoot something with more than one camera. So it's a good example when we cover how you set up your cameras and get the color to calibrate, and what settings you should be looking for, where you put the cameras, and how you light this type of event. And then, okay, let's load the material. How do you organize it? How do you edit it? That's the whole idea of the book; it's very holistic. Then we make the hard decision, and we point out in this particular case, Final Cut Pro has a more robust multi-camera editor than Premiere Pro, but this is the one situation where Premiere is actually better because you can mix formats. So we help you decide which tool is right.
Similarly, back in the greenscreen chapter, not only how you light it and when you should use it, but we show you that Final Cut Pro is really fast for assembling the clips and getting everything in the right order, but if you just download a free little utility, you could export your Final Cut sequence, and then you bring it right over to After Effects. "Here's how you key it in After Effects—and, oh, this keyer won an Academy Award!" So start this way, but finish that way. We cover real practical things, too: You've got photos on your computer, and you're using Aperture or Bridge. Let's get your pictures organized, and how can we get them sized for video and move it across?
We even have an appendix that is really timely right now; it covers exactly how you take your footage from digital SLR cameras when you've shot video, and get it prepped and ready so you can edit it at the maximum quality with the fastest, easiest workflow. You know, people hear "workflow," and sometimes they think it's a dirty word, or it's going to be boring. This is not a book that's just theoretical; we get really active with, "What's the fastest, easiest way to get the best results?"
Then we intersperse lots of tutorials and training videos with fun, hands-on techniques: "Oh, I understand how this works, and wow, I can do this with it?" We're trying to massage both sides of your brain—the side that likes to save time and money, and the side that likes to make pretty things. The book actually addresses both, which I like, because it really helps you no matter where you are; whether you're a video pro, a graphics person, a photographer, or a designer, you'll find something in there, and then the book will pull you along in the right direction to help you move toward a more professional way of doing things. You can save time and money, and get better-looking results.
Nancy: The breadth of the book is just really outstanding. As you mentioned, that appendix—it speaks to me because I've got a DSLR that has video capability; once your footage is shot, you need to transfer it, and here's how you transfer it. And the book discusses card readers, hard drives, and renaming files—I mean, it gets in there with the details. If you need to buy one book on this subject, boy, this is the book.
Rich, you talked about workflow being kind of a dirty word because nobody really likes to talk about workflow, but it is so important. How are workflows different on a Mac as opposed to others? And do you have a personal favorite workflow?
Rich: The thing is, the Mac is an operating system designed for creative people. Because of that, it's loose and fluid. You can be in Final Cut Pro and have an audio CD loaded, and drag it right into your Timeline. Great—but you eject the audio CD, and the music is gone. I've seen people have graphics on a thumb drive, and they plug that in, import it, and… "Why is my sequence stuttering and crashing?" Because it's trying to read this big file off a USB drive.
Rich: So the book tries to balance these things and teach you the fundamentals. Things that you might think are boring, like the media management thing, it puts into perspective. Or, you know, "I'd like my stuff to look great." Well, that starts with having the right lighting and your monitor calibrated. So we teach you that. How can you make your color look fantastic if your monitor is miscalibrated?
Rich: Instead of making a dry, technical speech, there's lots of illustrations. We move you through quickly, saying, "You know what? We've been doing this since the beginning; both Robbie and I have been certified in Final Cut since the very first version." Same on the Adobe side of these tools; we've been using them forever, and we get the benefit of teaching people in all sorts of consulting and classroom situations and conferences.
We just sort of kept a running list for almost three years: What were the problems and questions from people that just keep coming up? And I really was paying attention at conferences like Photoshop World, when I was interacting with all these photographers moving to video, and what were their problems? We thought, "You know what? Let's just make this clear and simple. This is why we would do it this way, here's the best way we think you could do it," and make it really practical.
For the workflow we put in the book, which I really like, we spent a lot of time developing a workflow that will let you work in both Adobe and Apple applications without having to duplicate your media or do anything crazy. We teach you how to set up your folders and get your media in the right places, exchange files between all of these applications, without having long export times or duplicating things, and doing all this craziness. You save time and money, and you don't have to run out of hard drive space all the time. Everything was just built from this idea of what's the fastest, easiest, most affordable way to get things done, and have it look good? Which is a tall order, except we spent a lot of time working this and refining it, and we just took our best practices from having our own businesses and doing this for a living.
Nancy: So you and Robbie didn't have to duke it out on a favorite workflow?
Nancy: What was your favorite workflow, Robbie, and was it different? How's that process work for you to align?
Robbie: Yeah, no, Rich and I see eye to eye on a lot of this stuff, and we did, as we were writing some of these chapters, go back and forth about, "Hey, is this the best way to do this, or is it the best way to present that?" But I think that it's hard to nail down one workflow, because everybody's situation is gonna be different. And one of the things that I think this book does very well is that it presents to the reader how to think about workflows, right? Not, "This is the way that it has to work," but rather, "These are the things to think about when you're working on your own workflow."
Because the fact of the matter is that we can't cover every single situation that every reader or every creative professional is gonna have. But what we do particularly well in this book, I think, is talk about all the major concerns in developing a workflow—things to think about when you're shooting greenscreen. This is the process. When you're preparing a project for color correction and final output, this is the process. Same thing with archiving. So we go through the process. Along the way, we definitely do suggest some favorite things. But it's more about teaching people, or having people learn the way to think about workflow.
But, to answer your question directly, I thought one of my favorite things in this book from a workflow perspective is the whole chapter on tapeless media.
Nancy: Uh huh.
Robbie: These days, people are shooting more and more in tapeless formats, like Panasonic's P2, Sony's XDCAM, and even the Red One camera. Because that area of the industry is changing almost on a daily basis, we thought it was very important to present ideas in that chapter to really get people thinking about the important things that have to do with tapeless workflow. Things like archiving all their tapeless media, tools to facilitate that process, and so on. So I would say my favorite workflow discussion in this book would definitely be on tapeless media.
Rich: And I really liked Robbie's great chapter on review and approval. For when you're working on the project and you want to start sharing it with your clients, we came up with easily 15 different ways—from making a Blu-ray disc to embedding it into an interactive PDF (where people can add comments), to online services, to delivering to the iPhone. The amount of knowledge in that chapter took everything we've done for the last few years and said, "How are we getting stuff to clients, so we could speed up the turnaround time on projects and keep the clients happy?" The chapter covers the whole thing on how to really pull everything together to let your clients look at it, and then do final distribution. Robbie came up with some brilliant ways of getting stuff out there that are really easy, and some of them are even free—but nobody's using them.
Nancy: Ah, okay. And that's the chapter called what?
Robbie: That's "Review and Approval."
Nancy: "Review and Approval." So mark that down, folks who are listening. The two that you were talking about, Robbie, were "Working Tapeless"—without tape, that's really important—and then "Backup and Archiving." If somebody had only 15 minutes to dip into the book, those might be places to look, if they're interested.
Now, for the folks who are listening: Rich and Robbie have been in this business for so long, but they've been teaching. They're out there talking to people every day about this stuff. They know what the pain points are, and that's what makes this book so valuable. Because it's about what's happening today, what's current in the practice of this stuff. That's why I wanted to ask you, if you wouldn't mind, Rich, defining for folks what production is. What are the actual activities that are considered "production"? And then what are the activities that are considered "postproduction"?
Rich: Well, the line is definitely blurring these days. Just to set the record straight, we're big fans of doing preproduction before you do production or postproduction. Preproduction includes things like visualization, script writing, treatments, budget—where you get all the creative ideas out and gathered. But production is typically the acquisitions stage, where you're shooting video, recording audio, lighting—tasks of that nature. Where the line gets a little blurry is when you're shooting things like greenscreen, because you have to keep postproduction so much in mind, and you're often—as you're shooting—doing test keys right on set. Popping the footage out and checking it, or even taking a live signal and doing an initial placeholder key to make sure it works.
When you're shooting a multi-camera shoot, like a concert, you are definitely in the production stage, but you're thinking about editing: "Okay, is each source labeled, and have we identified the coverage? Do we have enough angles to tell our story of this live event that's happening?" What we're seeing is that it used to be really clear; you worked in production, or you worked in post. You were a button pusher in a dark room, or you were out there calling heavy gear and working. Now, the industry has changed, places are getting smaller, people (for competitive reasons) are having to pick up both sides of it, and we're seeing people working in a lot of areas.
Rich: We had a lot of focus on that idea: "How can post people communicate their needs to the production folks, and how can production folks make postproduction more efficient?" So production is the acquisition stage where you're shooting your images, acquiring your footage, lighting it, getting the good sound. Then postproduction is when you're pulling it all together with graphics, editing, color correction, sound mixing—sort of assembling the final pieces. So in the world of magazines, the production stage would be the writing and the photography stage, and the postproduction would be the layout and the distribution side.
Nancy: Okay. That's very helpful. If you had a crystal ball—three, four, five years from now, do you see those two functions blending and merging, and that becomes one person?
Rich: Well, it already has for certain places. It all depends on where you're working—if you're working at a communications department at an association, or if you're at a TV station, for example. There's a lot of TV stations where reporters are now shooting their own stories, doing stand-ups, and being the reporter—and then coming back and putting it all together. So, economic reality is that everybody is getting pinched to do more. The photographers are now processing their own photos and getting them handed out, sometimes doing the design work themselves.
What we have found throughout our careers is this. Robbie, for example, makes a good chunk of his living being a colorist. He's a fantastic colorist, and that's what he does. I do a lot of motion graphics and a lot of directing. We all have our specialties. You can be a specialist, have something that you love and you're passionate about and you're well known for, but the economic reality is that you have to be able to contribute to more than one stage or more than one part of it.
Even if you're not actually doing the job, just knowing what it takes to do the job makes you a better team member, makes you a better director to plan. If you're a producer, maybe you don't want to be an editor, but if you actually understand what it's gonna take to edit, even if you aren't actually interested in the interrogatory of being a button pusher because you're a producer, you would still learn a lot from the book. "What does it take for postproduction, and how should I be budgeting for this? What sorts of things can I do to make it easier for postproduction, so we're saving time and money? How should I shoot this so my edit will go faster? How can I calibrate my camera and my monitor for when I'm shooting, when I go into the edit suite?" Here's a novel idea: Wow, we didn't have to color-correct because we shot it right!
Nancy: Right, right.
Rich: The more you understand about the sides of it, the easier it is to fix problems, save time and money, and get a better-looking end video product.
Nancy: There you go. More preventive medicine these days, with a lot of talk about health care—and in the video business as well. You can prevent a lot of problems on the back end if you start with good stuff on the front end.
I'm amazed at how many hours of training you put on the DVD in the back of the book. I had no idea until I took a look at it before we started today, but it's five and a half hours! Can you tell me a little bit more about what's on the DVD that comes with the book?
Robbie: Sure, yeah. The DVD is a great resource. As you mentioned, we put about five and a half hours of training on there, Rich and I, from our classroom experience, conference experience, and that kind of stuff. We know that, to get the most information out there, it's a combination of the written word and the book (people want a reference for things), but there's also a certain set of people who learn solely visually, and then there's people like me, who are sort of hybrids. The video training doesn't replace any of the information in the book; it supplements it. We might take a subject further. In the color-correction chapter, we talk about the basics of primary color-correction, but then we have a couple of videos on the disc that take that concept further. So if readers want to learn a little more about that, they can.
Also on the DVD, we have exercise files for every single chapter. So everything that we do in the book in an exercise, step by step, the reader can follow right along. All the sources are high-def video, beautiful photos, and stuff that Rich and I have from actual production work that we've done over the years. It's not handcrafted stuff simply for a book—this is real-world footage, real-world examples that, in a lot of cases, Rich and I have taken from previous projects. So, yeah, the DVD is a really valuable resource in this book. I think if I were sitting there looking at the book on the bookshelf, not having written it, if I were the average consumer, the DVD and the video training on it, and the exercise files, add a whole lot of value to the book.
Nancy: Yeah, it sounds like it. Could be half the value of the book, but you really need the two together—the book, as I said, covers so much material.
Robbie: Yeah, absolutely.
Nancy: If I were to walk into your studio, Robbie, what tools would I see?
Robbie: Well, I've got a lot of gadgets. I'm sort of a gear-head. [Laughs.] I like all the technical stuff, so I've got lots of computers and that kind of stuff. But, as Rich pointed out, my main day gig, what I do from a creative standpoint, is I'm a colorist. What that means is that I take the final video project and do all the visual "sweetening," if you will, before the project goes on air. From a toolset point of view, I'm mainly a Final Cut Studio user, using an application called Color. In our facility, we also use some other Apple products that we touch on briefly in the book, like Final Cut Server, the digital-asset management program; we have an Xsan, which is a storage area network; so we have a lot of stuff from Apple, but then software runs the gamut—Apple, Adobe of course, and lots of freeware stuff.
Nancy: Great. How about you, Rich? If I walked into your studio, what would I see?
Rich: We're a multi-seat shop, and our main clientele fall into a few categories. We do a lot of stuff with nonprofits, and that ranges the full gamut from public service announcements to training pieces. We have some corporate clients, and we also do a ton of web video and educational series for a lot of other folks. We produce our own content, and some people know our podcast series that have me or other folks in it. We also produce a lot of web-based and outreach training for folks. Yesterday we were doing a live webcast for a pharmaceutical company—the whole range.
We have a studio with multiple HD cameras and shooting, so we have a lot of production gear, multiple edit suites, we're using Apple and Adobe tools. It depends on the project and the situation. We'll bounce between Final Cut Pro and Premiere Pro, depending on what the needs are, just like we bounce between After Effects and Motion, and oftentimes we're using them together for certain workflows, because they both have advantages. One of the things that we do a lot is use Motion, because it has great integration with Final Cut, where you can have "drop zones" where things get dropped in, or text is editable by the editor. We've used 3D software and After Effects and Motion to build the piece, but then it's all templated and handed off to the editor for ease of use.
So it's just a full range. We do everything from corporate to broadcast to web video. Most of my clients fall into the education or advocacy space. I started my life as a journalist; not every job is something that I feel wonderful about, but the vast majority of our clients are trying to make the world a better place, or teach people, or help people to be happy with their lives, so I tend to savor those clients.
Nancy: That's terrific. That goes along with the book, because it's going to educate a lot of people. A lot of students and instructors buy our books, and this would be an ideal book for adoption. If educators are listening, they've gotta take a look at this book!
Rich: It's definitely designed for visual learners, but there's a lot of source materials that professors can use to build their own lessons. It's got all that high-def footage—and not just random shots, but stuff from a PBS series, stuff from a multi-camera web shoot. They could take the lessons even deeper, and have great source material to build their classroom lessons around.
Nancy: We know they're all hungry for that source material.
I'm gonna end the interview—I know we could all go on all afternoon, because I share your enthusiasm for this field. But I heard, Rich, that you're launching a new podcast series around the book. Can you tell us what that's about and how we can find it?
Rich: Sure! As we mentioned, there are videos on the book. We're working with your guys at Peachpit, and they're taking some of those videos from the book and releasing them. To really give people an interactive experience, they're planning on taking some of the hands-on files from the book as well. So if people visit the book page at www.peachpit.com/videomac, they'll be able to experience the interactive podcast. On the book, the videos are in high-definition and everything else; with the podcast, you're getting a standard podcast size. But we wanted to give people a chance to really experience that.
As it goes along, too, we're gonna record some new, original things. So as new techniques arise or software changes, we're gonna keep the book up to date. We've got a blog that's gonna be launching soon, and it has some extra resources on it. Obviously, video and software keep evolving, but the idea of the podcast is that a lot of people hear "book," and because they had bad educational experiences, a lot of people in the video industry and the design industry don't think of themselves as "book people." This is a book that's comprehensive, but is designed for a visual learner—people who think visually, with lots of images to reinforce things, and it's hands-on with video reinforcement. So it's an active book, you're doing things. The idea with the podcast is that we're trying to say to people, "We get that 'book' is a scary word to some of you. It's okay; this is a complete educational experience." The podcast is a way to appeal to those folks, and it's supposed to be launching in October, so it will be coming out here, where you'll be able to get it.
Nancy: Fabulous. We'll look for it. It will be at www.peachpit.com/videomac.
Nancy: Great! Robbie, how can people reach you if they want to follow your website?
Robbie: The best place to reach me is just my personal blog, which is just robbiecarman.net. People can also call on me on Twitter, and that's twitter.com/robbiecarman. Drop to my email address, contact form's on my blog; people can always feel free to reach out to me if they like.
Nancy: Great. Rich, how about you? How can people reach you on Twitter and elsewhere?
Rich: I'm fairly web-present. Twitter.com/rhedpixel (RHEDpixel is my company name), and it's easy to find from there. There's also a fan page on Facebook with resources, and a book page on Facebook for the book. So if you just go to Facebook and type Video Made on a Mac, you'll find several people up there. Some videos are already up there for people to watch, book readers are sharing their experiences and asking questions of each other. We'd love to make that an active community. But we're sharing resources and things we come across. That's the great thing abut this industry: It just keeps changing. So if we find a really cool site for fonts, or when I came across this great utility that helps you get video formatted from the web to broadcast standards, we just post a link to it. It's an ongoing community. Robbie's on Twitter as well, as he said, so between those two places, Facebook and Twitter, for most folks that's going to be an easy way to keep in touch and explore new things about the book and about the subject in general.
Nancy: Right. And it's not just chitchat; the tips you're giving are real timesavers, so, readers, I recommend that you try to get to these folks' websites as often as you can.
I want to thank you both. This has been a really great conversation, and let's all continue the conversation on the blogs and Twitter, etc. And congratulations again on Video Made on a Mac.
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