Why is there an offline/online editing distinction in 2015?

Saturday, 08 August 2015

When I first started learning about computer-based non-linear editing, I understood that early NLEs were designed to replace part of the process where the work print is being prepared. The work print was the edit that would eventually act as a list of instructions for a negative cutter to combine the camera source footage into the final edit.

When computers were first introduced into post production, there was no chance that they would be powerful enough to work with original camera footage throughout the process. The term ‘offline’ in ‘offline editing’ comes from the world of technology meaning that the source media wasn’t being worked with. 

Now that computers are powerful enough to work with source media throughout the process, why is the distinction made? the online/offline distinction is mentioned in a new Avid blog on assistant editor Tom Doggart and his work on Aardman animated features including ‘Shaun the Sheep Movie’:

The offline edit in feature film production is becoming less relevant, as software and increasing processing power is enabling editorial to be in control of their own DI, VFX and grading, right up to DCP creation.

Those who create workflows incorporating Adobe, Apple, RED and Blackmagic Design products over recent years would agree with that.

Now that Media Composer can directly handle modern source footage, Avid are starting to blur the offline-online distinction.

The distinction probably remains because the financial model for post production hasn’t kept up with technology. Post production houses still have expensive hardware and software to pay for. That means they need to market these ‘solutions’ to post-production supervisors.

That means a studio feature film edited using Adobe Premiere or Final Cut Pro X is thus ‘finished’ on Quantel hardware, when it could have been onlined with DaVinci Resolve on a Mac or PC.

Even when post budgets are under stress, people still trust process A that costs more than process B. Price is a signifier of how ‘professional’ the hardware, software and staff seem.

The danger for the post houses, high-end vendors and specialist freelancers is that the correlation made between process price and final results might vanish at any moment. All it takes is for one or two post supervisors to realise what is possible to do with truly modern tools, post houses and freelancers.

Already being said by editors around the world: “What do you mean ‘who’s doing the finish?’ I’ve just done it.”