Is the Suite Sweet?

One big question for the next phase of digital post production is whether developers ought to focus on building a suite, or whether an all-in-one application makes more sense. And the more I think about this subject, the less I understand it. Yes, there’s an obvious distinction between a big all-in-one program and a group of smaller, separate aps that do the same thing. But if you look at it more closely the edges blur.

Microsoft popularized the suite with Office, but even there it has rolled together functions that others deal with separately. Entourage integrates all the functionality of Apple’s separate Mail, Calendar and Address Book programs, and Word includes more and more desktop publishing functionality that used to be handled exclusively by Quark or Pagemaker. If you expand the definition enough, every application on your computer could be seen as part of a suite that is hosted by the operating system.

When it comes to digital media, Avid began life trying to roll as many functions as possible into a single app. Editing, visual effects and sound were all included. Final Cut started with that model, too. But now Apple offers Final Cut Suite, and Adobe offers CS3, with Audio, DVD and VFX tools. Avid now includes AvidFX, Sorenson Squeeze, SonicFire Pro and Avid DVD, though the last two only work on Windows. (For more about the Avid suite see Frank Capria’s recent post on the Source/Record blog.)

So is a suite better than a powerful all-in-one environment? The more I think about it the more this looks like the wrong question. The real issue is integration — how the different modules, whatever you call them, work together to produce a consistent, responsive environment that best supports the editor’s creativity.

Case in point: I just finished a show with Media Composer and did the titles with Apple Motion (details in this post). I enjoyed using Motion and loved all the things it let me do. But I had to do deal with two sets of media and two separate timelines, I had to do way too much importing and exporting, and I had to manage two different projects.

That’s a key issue — if the elements of your suite are working on the same data then they should all be accessible from the same timeline. Importing and exporting should be instantaneous and invisible.

Another key issue is look-and-feel. AvidFX looks like a much-improved way to do titles, and it works on MC data nicely. But it doesn’t look like the MC.

This points to one big advantage of a suite — not for editors but for software developers. It’s easier to create because you can buy the separate apps, put them in one box, and advertise a long list of capabilities. The key question for editors comes down not to what’s in the box, but how well the parts fit together.

However you package the tools, what I want in an editing environment is the same. I want a powerful editing application with great trimming tools (ie. MC) and great segment tools (ie. FCP), I want integrated titling and vfx in the main timeline with minimal rendering. I want professional 5.1 mixing and sound editing — again, in the same timeline. And I want the ability to make a basic DVD without creating a separate project to do so. I don’t want to have to conform sound elements to my own picture changes. And I don’t want to have to export and import to create titles or effects or simple DVDs.

Each of the three companies has succeeded with parts of this, but nobody does it all — yet.

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2 Comments on “Is the Suite Sweet?”

  1. Frank Reynolds Says:

    Recently, I was working on a job editing a 35mm feature film on Final Cut Pro, and I was using Cinema Tools as well. I’ve noticed that, starting with Final Cut Studio 1, FCP and Cinema Tools got much more integrated but in many ways they are still two separate programs. While I was working on the recent feature, I was wondering if it would be so hard to completely integrate Cinema Tools’ functions completely into FCP. But then I got to thinking: how much longer will the Cinema Tools capabilities be necessary? I realize that the film-vs-digital discussion is a wholly other topic to discuss that I don’t want to get into here right now, but for the sake of argument I could fully imagine one day where it is possible that camera rolls, key numbers, cut lists, reverse-telecine, etc., are just not factors anymore in moviemaking. So on that day we would simply just stop using the Cinema Tools program and move onward. Now, if those capabilities were fully integrated into Final Cut Pro, it becomes a thornier issue. Should those capabilities remain in Final Cut Pro, becoming a dead weight and taking up drive space, knowing that 99.9999% of the users will never use them? Or should Apple get rid of them altogether, ignoring those very few people who *might* have a use for Cinema Tools? If Cinema Tools remains a separate program, this is not an issue.

    And I could imagine the same for DVDs. Right now it might be hard to believe that one day DVDs will become obsolete, but they will. And on that day, do we want our Avid and FCPs saddled with DVD-making capabilities that are now dead weight? Wouldn’y it be easier to just uninstall DVD Studio Pro or Avid DVD and then use the program that we would need for whatever the new popular format is? (Blu-Ray Pro?)?

    This doesn’t mean that I’m pro-suite or anti-single app. I do realize the inherent advantage of having effects and titling programs integrated into the editing program; unlike making film cut lists or DVDs, titles and effects are more essential in the day-to-day creating of the actual project. It just occured to me that maybe there are a few apps that should remain separate.

    Frank Reynolds

  2. Steve Says:

    Frank,
    Good points. Sure, we can envision a time when nobody will capture on film. But we’re going to be doing some kind of DI conform for many years. And we’ll need some way to track that data, whatever it looks like. And more than ever we’re going to need the ability to track changes.

    The idea that separating code into separate aps makes the applications easier to maintain is only partly true. EDL Manager and Film Scribe do not get updated all that often and they come with lots of bugs. You have to actually do the maintenance — no matter how you’ve got the code segmented.

    I’m inclined to believe that with modern compilers it’s pretty easy to segment the code the way you need to, and that if putting everything together makes the resulting program more logical and intuitive for users then you should do that.

    I’m pretty sure that I don’t want a full DVD authoring application inside my MC or FCP — you are creating a completely separate thing, namely the DVD, and that argues for a separate ap. But visual effects and titles? Or sound? You are talking about tools that work on parts of your primary show. If they remain separate, the integration has to be perfect.


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