December 8, 2011

How Final Cut Ended up at Apple: an Excerpt from John Buck's 'Timeline: a History of Editing'

Did you know Final Cut wasn't actually an Apple product but a Windows program written by Macromedia that Apple purchased? Did you know Apple purchasing Final Cut was a result of Adobe rebuffing Apple over a Mac version of Premiere? Did you know Apple was in danger of going under when it purchased Final Cut? Even if you already knew all of these things, the particulars of how Final Cut ended up in Apple's hands is a fascinating story for anyone interested in video editing. John Buck's $4.99 book Timeline: A History of Editing (also available on iBooks) tells the full tale. There's also a Volume 1 book, which covers editing up until the digital age. Let's take it back to 1998:

In the days after Randy Ubillos’ Final Cut demonstration at the 1998 NAB, Macromedia’s stock climbed as analysts speculated on the company’s future. Computergram magazine signalled the first of many rumblings about Final Cut’s future.

Macromedia Inc hasn’t been saying very much about its next generation Final Cut digital video editing, compositing and effects tool since Compaq Computer first previewed it at NAB. But the hype machine is now beginning to build up for the tool, which is due to be launched during the first half of this year on Windows 95, Windows NT and Macintoshes. Rumours suggest that Apple Computer now very much focused on the digital content creation market, is very interested in the tool, which uses its QuickTime 3.0 technology, even to the extent that it was considering buying the tool outright.

Final Cut’s product manager, Tim Myers recalls:

We were pretty unsure about whether a move to Apple at that time was going to be a good thing or a bad thing. It certainly wasn’t in its second wave of success, far from it and it was very questionable whether they were going to be able to pull it off. And a lot of us were thinking if Apple is struggling just selling computers right now why would they want to support and sell an editing product?

Project manager Will Stein had moved to Macromedia from Apple, and now it seemed he was headed back there.

I will be the first to admit that I was not crazy about the idea of going back. The Apple I left (under Gil Amelio) felt like it was going down fast. Apple under Steve (Jobs) felt like it had a chance, but the company had been severely damaged.

Over the ensuing weeks, Isaac Babbs and Andrew Baum spoke with Steve Jobs and Phil Schiller ( a former staffer at Macromedia) about the acquisition of the Final Cut intellectual property. It seemed that a one off payment from Apple would secure the Macromedia software assets, however for the project to be a success somebody needed to convince the Final Cut team to stay together, and continue coding and building the product. Andrew Baum recalls:

We agreed pretty quickly that we were going to make a deal on the software. Steve then asked to have all the engineers and other people involved with the project over to Apple to talk with him.

Will Stein recalls:

I remember getting a call from Rob Burgess at home on a Saturday morning. Rob told me the deal with Apple looked like it would go through, but that getting a critical mass of the development team on board was going to be part of the package. Since some of our senior engineers were predominately Windows developers, we anticipated this being a tough sell.

Baum continues:

Of course you have to remember that Apple itself at that stage was not in great shape, this was pre-iMac. But Steve talked us through some of his plans especially his ideas around FireWire, which involved the unreleased laptop code named Pismo. It would have FireWire on the motherboard and be released as the PowerBook G3.

A sale to Apple would allow Macromedia to recoup the $10m that it had spent creating Final Cut. Isaac Babbs recalls the deal:

There are no ifs, buts or maybes. Because Macromedia was now totally focused on the Web, it would sell Final Cut or shut it down. But the deal did seem to happen magically. Steve Jobs had decided he wanted to make sure people could edit video on a Mac and he wanted them using QuickTime. Serendipitously we had one of the best editing products in development and it was QuickTime based.

Because Randy Ubillos had become good friends with Apple’s QuickTime leader Peter Hoddie, and Director of Engineering Tim Schaff over a number of years, Jobs probably knew more about it than anyone outside of Macromedia.

Baum is clear in his recollections of the sale.

If Apple hadn’t decided to buy Final Cut then, it would not exist today, it was that fine a line.

Babbs adds:

Steve was smart enough to see the value in Final Cut, and he executed the desktop video-editing paradigm to perfection. It was a brilliant move by him.

Final Cut would be perfect to drive sales of larger and more expensive Macs, but Jobs had new consumer Macs in development that would use Firewire I/O for the first time. He knew that the technology would make for a paradigm shift in desktop editing so he decided to ship a video editing application with the new computers.

Jobs approached Adobe Systems, and asked them to create a consumer version of Premiere that Apple could bundle with the unreleased Mac code-named Kihei. With Apple’s future still uncertain, and Premiere sales growing on the Wintel platform, Adobe said no.

As a result Jobs decided to build the app with an in-house team, and he turned to Sina Tamaddon. With the acquisition of NeXT Software, Tamaddon had joined Apple as thehead of Worldwide Service and Support, then the Newton Group before Jobs asked him to lead a new division called Applications.

Another NeXT alum Glenn Reid had moved away from contract work to be VP of Engineering at Artifex Software. He returned to the office one day to find a surprise.

There was literally a message on my answering machine from Sina Tamaddon’s assistant at Apple, and when I called her back she wouldn’t say what it was about. I didn’t really want to go work at Apple. I said, ‘tell Sina that if he wants to hire me, forget it, because I’m happy with what I’m doing’. Sina at the time had a business card that stated his role simply as, ‘Office of the CEO’. He was indeed Steve’s right arm in creating what became the Applications Division, which is now many hundreds or thousands strong.

Reid decided to take the meeting.

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Steve Jobs held a news conference to make a watershed announcement. He announced the first iMac.

I am incredibly thrilled to tell you that Apple is getting back into the consumer market.

Jobs proudly unveiled the iMac, an all-in-one device made of translucent plastic that looked very different from any other personal computer that had shipped.

Apple has created a worthy successor to the original Macintosh as a fully integrated computer. No separate monitor, no rat’s nest of power cords and no external drives necessary.

The new machine drew equal amounts of praise and criticism for Apple’s decision to embrace the emerging USB interface, drop all use of floppy disks, and not include a Firewire port. While Apple had no plans to add disk access, it was quietly preparing a FireWire enabled iMac.

Elsewhere at Apple company lawyers had completed the due diligence process on the Macromedia Final Cut deal, and cleared up all issues concerning the use of picture icons (picons) in the editing interface for a potential breach of the Montage patents owned by the Haberman family.

It was time to go public.

On May 11, 1998 MacWEEK reported that Apple had bought the Final Cut code.

The hand-off includes the technologies in Final Cut, the long-awaited QuickTime 3.0-based video editing package from Macromedia. However, sources cautioned, Apple has not yet determined whether it will ship Final Cut in its current form.

Spokesman Russell Brady told the press that Apple had acquired:

…technology and engineering resources from Macromedia, that will broaden Apple’s effort to make QuickTime the cross-platform digital media and digital video standard.

MacWEEK believed that Apple had convinced the thirty plus staff from Macromedia’s audiovisual division to continue coding and building Final Cut at Cupertino.

Sources said Randy Ubillos, lead developer on Final Cut and the original author of Adobe Premiere, has moved over to Apple.

The Final Cut team continued to work from the Macromedia offices for a short period before transferring to Cupertino. Steve Jobs held a welcoming for them in the executive offices at Apple on June 1st 1998. Will Stein recalls:

Steve had the entire development group meet him in the boardroom at Apple to discuss the acquisition. It was a great meeting, and most of us left feeling more optimistic about Apple as a company, and Apple as a good fit for Final Cut.

Michael Wohl remembers:

Steve said, “We’re going to give you a $50m advertising budget. What do you think of that?” And I thought, well there’s probably only 15,000 users out there so that’s $3 grand per person!

While Apple was keen to embrace digital video, Macromedia was happy to be out of the game. It had transitioned to new applications like Flash and Dreamweaver, that now accounted for 20 percent of the company’s sales. CEO Burgess had picked the move to a soft platform ahead of his peers. Despite the acquisition Isaac Babbs remained at Macromedia.

It was a great time, and I guess I was the custodian of Final Cut for 17 months. My job was done, there wasn’t a role for me at Apple, and I was dedicated to Macromedia and perfectly happy to move onto other things.

Although Andrew Baum had worked to oversee finance for Macromedia’s Audiovisual division, his broad understanding of Final Cut, and its sales potential was a sought after skill for Apple. He recalls:

When we first went over (to Apple) DV wasn’t even really in the cross hairs of the team. It was to get a shipping product out the door.

Baum would go from guiding Final Cut into Apple’s hands, to a position where he oversaw worldwide marketing activities including advertising, collateral, event participation and promotions, web site content, and press activities.

Of course once we were at Apple that changed, and I ended up working on some of the DV development under the threat of being immediately fired should anyone find out exactly what it was I was doing. I couldn’t work with anyone outside the group.

No one else at Apple.

Period.

Tim Myers, the Macromedia Video Products Product manager recalls the move.

When we started, Apple were still looking like a fifty fifty chance of being around for very long.

Then came another unexpected decision from a former ally in desktop publishing, Adobe. The Final Cut group had barely settled into their new office when Apple management met to consider a request by Adobe to shut down the project. With the Macromedia transaction completed and now public, it was only a matter of days before the makers of Premiere, made their displeasure of a rival editing software package on the Mac known to Apple.

Despite the rebuff on making a consumer version of Premiere for the upcoming FireWire iMac, Steve Jobs was in a tough position. In order to placate one of the largest makers of Mac software, Apple presented a business case to Adobe that argued Final Cut was drastically different to Premiere, and ultimately beneficial for the desktop market overall. Adobe software products, and should the dilemma escalate, Apple could lose a critical supply partner and re-ignite fears of bankruptcy.

Eventually Adobe Systems backed away from its threats to Apple’s newly acquired Final Cut.

When an employment agent acting for Apple approached Mike Mages, he saw an opportunity to leave.

Once the opportunity to go to Apple came up I leapt at it. I was familiar with the KeyGrip work and had read the one line corporate announcement about the acquisition of a team from Macromedia so I knew what I was getting into. I also knew Tim Myers from his brief stint at KUB and had met Randy Ubillos on a few occasions. Apple was in a big resurgence and I wanted to be part of that.

Free to pursue the evolution of the product Randy Ubillos and the team set themselves a goal of launching at the January 1999 Macworld conference in San Francisco. They hired a consultant to re-work the user interface, while maintaining the back-end KeyGrip code. Andrew Baum explains:

We started to evolve the use of DV, we scrapped the PC version and re-designed the UI dramatically - and for the better. We fine-tuned the use of QuickTime and the Mac O/S. Of course when Steve Jobs says something has to be done by a certain time, it gets done.


Excerpted with permission from John Buck's Timeline tumblr. The full book is available on Amazon and iBooks.

Your Comment

16 Comments

The real question for me is why should I even care of FCP's history at this point with the route it is going down. Keep FCP going the way it should. I'm already hearing though the grapevine that schools that teach video production are dropping FCP and going over to Premier.

December 8, 2011

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joe A

I think the future of Final Cut is is good hands. The new update has some truly fascinating features and in the grand scope of things a real game changer. In the meantime while the updates come to make it more robust, FCP7 hasn't up and vanished. I don't know of any NLE editor nowadays that doesn't use multiple workflows/software for projects. For friends and contacts that work in post-production and for myself, software never gets in the way. It's always been about content and final product.

December 8, 2011

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mgbfilms

Yes, but the topic is specifically about software - not content.
I haven't use FCPX but I'm happy with vegas. Dunno why people aren't switching to that. I had a Premiere license but I found the interface got in the way of my workflow.

December 9, 2011

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I truly like FCPX. No rendering to preview effects, animations, build in motion graphic engine from motion (with generators!), text effects, the fact that you can build your own libraries of effects and settings... yes, the new timeline is sometimes a bit annoying but once you learn new tricks you'll love it... well, i do.

It seams to me that these days anyone who whats to sound like a professional has something bad to add on to FCP discusion. I work as a UI and UX architect and personally big WOW! to apple for such a bold move on frontend tweaks... Bold! Bold move!

December 8, 2011

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Tom

Macromedia made some great software, definitely pioneers. No surprise that Final Cut was their brain child.

December 9, 2011

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Theres no getting round the fact that FCP is a ****ing disgrace. They're chopped the arms and legs and HEAD off over 10 years of solid development and what had become an industry standard tool. It's had it's heart ripped out as well as the skeleton and is now something you can buy through the Itunes store.

Quite frankly an utter embarrassment. . . . and no -no - it's not about 'giving FCPX. excuse me, IMOVE PRO "a chance" FCP was already a race horse getting better with every update, now it's a blind cripple with a prosumer future.

nice.

December 9, 2011

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james

Almost completely agree. Only question is...are Prosumers the future!?!

December 9, 2011

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If Final Cut dies, I might actually shed a tear. Ten years ago I walked into a charity media centre and got hours upon hours of free training on FCP. It was my route in to having a shot at making money through filmmaking - as I'm sure it was for many people. It'll be a sad day if it goes belly up - I've worked on pretty much every system going (and at least one that's no longer going) and for me it was still the fastest and friendliest way of translating ideas into an edit.

But who knows... maybe FCPX will become something amazing...?? Right????

December 9, 2011

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i think apple is no longer interested in the prosumer market. the know that they can earn much more money with consumer stuff like iphones or imacs or even apps. they stopped final cut and they will stop the mac pro line. it´s a clear decision that we have to accept. there are other that take care about the pro market. final cut 7 is a very old software. i mean old in the age of computers. maybe it´s ok for today but in 2 years you can not close your eyes anymore to the advantages of guys like adobe, which update their software every year. which support for example red epic footage before u can even buy the camera. even if their are some things you miss with this tools you can be sure that they will become better every year. and you can also be sure that final cut 7 will be dead in a few years. final cut x is designed be imovie guys and i think the did just what they were supposed to do.

December 9, 2011

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ben

You hit the nail right on the head there Ben.
A lot of "pro" Mac users are burying their heads in the sand about this.
They assume that because they were there in the lean years when they were keeping Apple going that Apple owes them something - well unfortunately Apple are a lifestyle product first and foremost now and in the world of big business money talks.

As a freelancer I've used pretty much every NLE out there over the years on Mac and PC, but personally ran a Mac at home. I recently made the jump to a HP Z Series and it wipes the floor with ANY Mac I've used.

It's time to accept the inevitable - Apple doesn't need your custom anymore and as such you will find they no longer need to support the niche "pro" market.

January 20, 2012

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altnetid

hahaha only because they can't afford good platforms to handle a much superior product (FCP X)

December 9, 2011

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Randy

FCPX is great! And it's got future written all over it- not like all the whining 'pros' and wannabes who've spent so much time and money learning the archaic ways of the early years of digital NLE systems, and who now dread the idea of a hundred million pimple faced competitors for the lofty editors chair. Who needs so much access to filmmaking be so easy? Why with a DSLR and FCPX anyone can give 'er a go!

I started in the good old days of upright Moviolas and I think FCPX is great and will keep getting better

December 16, 2011

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David Harris

Hi Has anybody worked with products from Avid yet? Such as media composer or the pinnacle products? and why is it so hard to find a prosumer video editing program for the mac?

I'm actually thinking about going back to pc

January 12, 2012

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Victoria, IMHO the Avid family has always been the best NLE purely because of it's work flow.
They were complacent and dropped the ball a few years ago when Apple were innovating with FCP, but they seem to have pulled themselves together and now actively listen to their users (unlike some other companies!)

Not sure about Pinnacle since the Avid buyout. It looks like it may be prosumer at best, but they used to do a very competent HD broadcast system.

Avid's biggest problem is the cost. There used to be a free DV version and Xpress which basically did the same as MC but without a few little features - but it was a good way of capturing the market. Apple has that sewn up now. (Although when FCPX stumbled onto the market you could get Avid MC at a reduced rate if you presented your FCP license)

It's a shame more first timers can't get their hands on it because FCP users are used to that cumbersome work flow that when they get on an Avid they find it alien and dismiss it.

In actual fact it's still the daddy!

January 20, 2012

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altnetid

I have been using Pinnacle Studio 14 for a while now. It crashes quite often, is slow and does not have any of the bells and whistles I would like. But it only cost $100 so I cannot complain too much.

January 21, 2012

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Richard

I seem to recall Apple had a falling out with Avid back in the 90's when Avid were pushing their product on PC. This is why they actively sought out their own NLE system.

I also seem to remember hearing that until FCPX that the code was so old that it still had references to Macromedia and KeyGrip.

January 20, 2012

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altnetid