Rethinking NLE design

digitalfilms by Oliver Peters

The launch of Apple Final Cut Pro X stood the editing industry on its collective ear. It also sparked some very interesting – and occasionally heated – discussions about what the design of a modern, nonlinear editing application really should be. NLEs that we all use today are a collection of terminology, tools, designs and workflows borrowed from different technologies.

Film editing was the first, so-called “nonlinear” editing method for picture and sound, because new clips could be spliced into the assembled sequence of clips. Those clips that followed would simply move down in order with a corresponding change in overall duration. You could build a movie, reel or scene in any order, since these were all independent pieces that you were free to re-arrange.

Videotape editing was “linear”, because edited sequences were locked to their recorded location on a master videotape reel. Ironically, the earliest tape editing involved physically splicing pieces of magnetic tape and was by definition also nonlinear – even if that wasn’t as practical as it was in film. Once electronic editing came about, clips were locked against time as a function of their recorded position on the tape, so making changes that altered clip order and/or program duration required the re-recording of all the footage that followed the point of the change. You tended to build a program in a linear fashion, from start to finish.

Although electronic, random-access, nonlinear editing had a two-decades-long evolution, most younger editors recognize the original EMC2 and Avid Media Composer of the late 80s as the starting point for today’s software-based NLEs. These two pioneering systems mashed up functions from a variety of disciplines and have become the basis for current NLE design. Insert or splice-in edits and roller-style trimming came from film, as did bins and clips. Overwrite edits, a two-up (source-record) window display and digital video effects came from linear video editing. Copy-and-paste methods came from general computing and word processing. We all understood this paradigm … until June 2011. read more...

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