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BlogExploring 360° video with Final Cut Pro XMonday, June 8 2015

I saw an interesting music video today from Bjork – another 360° ‘VR’ video, which prompted me to find out how to create 360° motion graphics using Final Cut Pro X.

If you view this video with the Chrome browser on YouTube, you can drag within the video to look around – left and right, up and down:

Use the cog settings control to increase the resolution to 2160p-4K.

I made this video by scaling a still equirectangular panorama down to 4320×2160 and importing it into a new 25p Final Cut Pro X project.

I then overlaid text on top, animating some of it.

Here is the ‘flat’ video – scaled down to HD from 4K:

Where I wanted text to appear ‘behind’ the initial position – where the left and right edges of the panorama meet, I created two copies of the same title, so it wouldn’t be cut off by the edge.

I exported the video as an H.264 encoded mp4 scaled to 3840×2160 with a data rate of 30 Mbps (more on YouTube’s video upload specs).

For YouTube to recognise that this 4K video was designed for 360° video, I opened the Final Cut output file with Google’s 360 Video Metadata application. The simple UI has a single button:

I clicked ‘Inject and save’ and saved a new file which I uploaded to YouTube.

Looks like I made my graphics too large, but if you avoid moving too far up or down on your background, overlaid graphics should work OK.

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BlogVisit the Apple Campus for a Final Cut Pro X presentation on June 26Thursday, June 4 2015

It seems that after years of very little access, Apple is opening up a little more. On June 26 members of the public will be visiting Apple’s offices to get an update on Final Cut Pro X. The kind of access that usually granted only to a favoured few is available to attendees of Future Media Concepts’ FCPX Creative Summit:

FCPX Creative Summit attendees have the unique opportunity to visit the Apple Campus in Cupertino and hear directly from FCPX product managers! You’ll get a unique perspective on how this video editing software has changed the industry and how it continues to innovate today.

Get an update from Apple Product Managers on the current release of Final Cut Pro X, exciting customer stories, and the thriving ecosystem of third-party software and hardware.

Representatives of Apple’s ProApps team have appeared at professional events over the years, but this event marks the first time a large group of professionals have been invited to visit Apple.

Future Media Concepts is a company that runs training courses in media production in the USA, Canada and online. They also organise post production events such as the Editors Retreat, After Effects World and the Creative Cloud Masters conference.

Livinia Smith, Future Media Concepts’ event marketing manager for the FCPX Creative Summit says that after running events for Adobe and Avid users for many years, recent improvements in Final Cut prompted them to turn to Apple’s software. The weekend of June 26-28 is just over four years since Final Cut Pro X was launched. Did that factor into the timing? “Future Media Concepts approached Apple about hosting an event dedicated to this platform. We both decided the date for the conference” says Smith.

Smith went on “Regarding the visit to the Apple Campus, when we pitched the idea to Apple, they saw value in directly interacting with this community of FCP users and they agreed to host a talk with the conference attendees in a lecture room at Apple.”

Peeking out over the parapet of a besieged castle

Although Final Cut Pro X and its companion applications Compressor and Motion have been very successful over the years, Apple hasn’t seen the need to publically involve itself with the user community. Compare their activities with those of Adobe and Avid – companies whose video editing applications were the traditional competitors of Final Cut Pro.

As well as constantly updating their websites with Premiere Pro and Media Composer case studies, their online activities include blog posts, tweets and Facebook updates with named staff members. They run support forums that feature contributions from software engineers. If a small user group somewhere in the USA gets in touch with Adobe to say they’re organising a meeting about Premiere Pro, there’s a good chance product manager Al Mooney will appear to give an entertaining presentation on his baby.

In recent years parts of Apple have been interacting a little more with the wider world. For example last year’s launch of Swift, a new programming language for developing OS X, iPhone and now Watch apps was a big surprise. Apple going on to launch a programming blog on Swift is even more of a surprise.

Anyone who visits the online forums discussing Adobe Premiere Pro CC, Avid Media Composer and Final Cut Pro X know that the harshest critics of most applications are those who use them every day for their livelihood. The combination of a long-established culture of Apple not sharing much information and the rabid nature of online power user debate means that it will be hard for the Final Cut Pro X team to change how they interact with the wider Final Cut community.

On the way towards a professional application community

Hopefully the ProApps team will be able to more directly support a Final Cut Pro X community. Online support would include

  • A buyers guide for third-party hardware and software
  • A consultants network
  • Continually updated training materials
  • A job board for employers and job seekers
  • Forums and discussion groups where the developers of the application itself can take part
  • Regular conferences so people can learn from each other and network

The majority of Final Cut users are individuals don’t need to set up complex workflows and never need to call on consultants. However, knowing that there is a robust community standing by makes trying a new complex application that bit less daunting.

Although this kind of community might seem at odds with the way Apple works, they have a model of their own they can look to: FileMaker. FileMaker is Apple’s professional database system. The FileMaker website has all the features I listed above.

It is interesting that Apple refers to FileMaker as a platform – as it is made up of an authoring tool, a server product and software that runs on Macs, PCs, iOS devices and in web browsers.

Perhaps the ProApps applications might end up as a platform/ecosystem too. I hope June’s FCPX Creative Summit is a step on the way.

Disclosure: I’m happy to say I’m presenting a couple of sessions on Apple Motion at the Summit.

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BlogFacebook=Coke, Twitter=Pepsi: If you’re No. 2, do what No. 1 cannotWednesday, June 3 2015

In “Odyssey” by John Scully, the former president of Pepsi described one of his main strategies when competing with Coca Cola. He turned one of Coke’s major brand elements and turned it against its owner. From 1923 onwards the Coca Cola company used a patented bottle shape to promote Coke. They put a great deal of marketing money behind associating its distinctive shape with Coca Cola.

Pepsi didn’t have a specific alernative bottle shape to promote in opposition to their rival. Instead of spending millions to add a physical packaging design to their brand, they used the flexibility of not having a specific shape to create different kinds of bottles. This flexibility made it much easier for Pepsi to sell bottled cola in locations not previously associated with soft drinks.

Chris Sacca has written an article suggesting what Twitter should do to compete:

Hundreds of millions of new users will join and stay active on Twitter, hundreds of millions of inactive users will return to Twitter, and hundreds of millions more will use Twitter from the outside if Twitter can:

  1. Make Tweets effortless to enjoy,
  2. Make it easier for all to participate, and
  3. Make each of us on Twitter feel heard and valuable.

Accomplishing this isn’t hard and there are obvious, concrete steps to fix it all. Done right, countless users new and old will find Twitter indispensable, use Twitter more, see great ads, buy lots of stuff, and make the company much more money along the way.

There are many interesting ideas in his post. Many of them are ways of using ideas from Facebook without becoming too much like Facebook: including providing views of the feed that aren’t in strict chronological order, and breaking up Twitter into multiple apps.

While Twitter is considering which of its baseline features to change, they should also think of doing new things that Facebook cannot.

You are not your social media

The base assumption of all social media networks is one person = one account. When you sign up for Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or Amazon, you create an account that represents your relationship with the social currency that the network manages: updates, pictures, videos and purchases.

Now that Apple want to make corporate attitude to privacy a major martket differentiator, I think Twitter could make it appealing for people to participate if they helped users be more than one person on the internet.

At the moment professional Twitter users know how to use tools like TweetDeck to maintain multiple Twitter accounts. Most TweetDeck users are maintaining accounts for different clients or departments.

I think Twitter should encourage people to have more than one Twitter identity. Each Twitter identity would be associated with the different lives people live:

  • Professional life (one for each area of expertise) – your place in a wider industry
  • Work life – what you are working on at the moment
  • Alumnus life (one for each instutution – be it educational or workplace)
  • Acquaintances life
  • Friends life
  • Family life
  • Personal life

The results of who you follow, who follows you, what interests you have, the tweets you write depend on whether which of these lives you are living.

The privacy promise that Twitter could offer is to never associate one identity with any of the others. If your family life identity searches for presents for a niece, there’s no need for your professional life identity to be connected to those searches. Also your friends won’t be interested in your professional opinion on an important industry issue. Also organisations who want to communicate with one identity will not be given access to any of its associated identities.

Twitter users will feel safer contributing to Twitter because it more accurately represents the way their different lives intersect with the world. Twitter could then talk about how many millions of identities access Twitter content each day.

Twitter would gain benefit from knowing what state a person is when using their service. Other apps and protocols would also be able to configure themselves depending on which Twitter identity is current. Amazon – or an upstart competitor to Amazon – should look different to me depending on whether I’m searching for professional, family or personal reasons. Wherever there is a ‘Tweet this’ button, there should be a UI to switch Twitter identities.

This would be very hard to explain to prospective users and hard to design, but the effort might be worth the reward.

Facebook’s “one account per person” is their ‘distinctive Coca Cola bottle shape.’ I hope Twitter turns this restriction against them helps people maintain a distance between their true selves and the ones they maintain on the internet.

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BlogAncestor of tomorrow’s personal robots: The Lily ‘throw and shoot’ drone cameraThursday, May 14 2015

Me in 2025:

“Ten years ago we didn’t have personal robots. We didn’t have physical digital friends like you do. One of their ancestors was introduced in 2015: A flying camera that you could throw into the air that would follow you wherever you go.”

Planet5D Blog’s exclusive inside look at the Lily self-flying, throwable waterproof camera drone.

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BlogApple creative apps architect Randy Ubillos speaking in LA and San JoseWednesday, May 13 2015

The Los Angeles Creative Pro User Group has announced that ex-Apple employee Randy Ubillos will be speaking at public events in May and June.

Until April 23rd Randy Ubillos was a very important member of Apple’s application software team:

His influence on Mac software started years before he joined Apple. He developed the first versions of the Adobe Premiere video editing software. Since joining Apple he’s worked on Final Cut Pro, iMovie and iPhoto amongst others.

On May 27, 2015 he will be appearing at the May LACPUG meet in Los Angeles. On June 26, he will be appearing at the Bay Area SuperMeetUp – a similar event in San Jose.

It isn’t common for ex-Apple employees to talk publically about areas of expertise they covered while working at Apple. Especially so soon after leaving the company. I guess this is either very bad news or very good news. The negative explanation is that Randy resigned because his vision for the future of Photos, iMovie, Final Cut Pro X and other applications he was involved with was too different from Apple’s plans. His resignation was interpreted by some as a sign that Apple are about to give up on their professional applications – including Final Cut Pro X, Motion, Compressor and Logic Pro X. The bad news would be that Randy feels embittered enough to almost immediately go public with problems at Apple.

The ‘good news’ interpretation is that Randy appearing in public is part of Apple loosening up – that they understand that it is a good idea if users understand more about the people and motivations behind Apple software.

The good news is that the agenda at the LACPUG website says that Randy will be talking about his enthusiasm for the idea of telling stories with video:

Randy will speak about his own moviemaking experiences and the power of video to inspire and document our lives. He will also provide tips and tricks for making your own movies.

That kind of talk could be designed to establish his bona fides for a new passion project supporting video literacy. A good sign is that he will also be joining post production experts to answer film making questions in a ‘Stump the Gurus’ session.

There’s no sign that he’ll be ‘dishing the dirt on’ or revealing Apple secrets about Final Cut Pro X, Photos and Aperture. Mike Horton of LACPUG specifically tweeted:

However, the fact that Randy is speaking in public so soon after leaving Apple is a good sign.

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BlogWill Virtual Reality change which stories we tell?Wednesday, May 13 2015

For a few years now I’ve enjoyed using panorama apps on my iPhone.

Occipital’s 360Panorama iOS app can teleport you into a panorama by using the iPhone’s accelerometers. Accelerometers detect where the phone is in 3D space and what angle it is being held at. 360Panorama uses this information to determine which part of a panorama to show on screen.

This means as you turn left and right (360°)…

  

up and down (180°)…

 

in real life while holding the phone, the panorama display updates to show you what you would see if you looked in that direction at the place and time the panorama was captured.

In a new VR music video iOS app from ‘Stor Eiglass’ by Squarepusher the same technology gives you the opportunity to look in all directions during a 3D animation. If you have a Google Cardboard viewer you can also experience the VR in stereoscopic 3D, but the 2D version works just as well. The app is also available on Android.

While playing the video, I could look ahead as I flew forward…

and look down to see what I was flying over:

I wasn’t able to choose the direction of my flight, the application flies through a virtual world, but was able to look around as things happened. As streams flew down from a tower…

…I could look up…

…or behind me:

VR: No director or cinemetographer scene framing, few editor edits

From a storytelling point of view, this kind of virtual reality means that the viewer/player/user chooses where to look: how to frame the scene. They choose what is important to look at. Part of non-VR stortyelling is the ability of cinematographer, director and editor to direct the audience’s view: “This is important,” “her reaction is important” and “don’t forget this.”

The point of VR is that a solo audience member takes control of where to look. They can even change aspect ratio if they turn their phone:

 

In-scene editing isn’t possible because the editor cannot juxtapose different camera angles with editing – the audience chooses the camera angle.

Another aspect of editing is possible. Structure-based edits can be done with staging. Structure provides the beginning, middle and end of stories.

Staging means that virtual physical boundaries between scenes act as edits.

In a city I fly towards a advertising billboard:

Flying through the billboard is a way of travelling between scenes to a new environment:

I can look back to see there’s no way back to the previous scene.

Why are these ‘staging edits’ important? They help change pace and mood, making storytelling possible, so that this scene takes place in the same story as the previous scenes:

New storytelling technology, new language, new stories?

The history of movies and TV is the history of technological developments informing the way we tell stories. Movies started off as single shots being shown to large numbers of people in public. As artificial lighting, editing, sound, colour, multitrack audio, model visual effects and computer generated visual effects appeared, the way we told stories changed – which informed the kind of stories we told.

Now’s the time to consider whether VR will affect way we tell stories and what stories we tell.

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