Change Agents

In the nearly 20 years since its founding in 1993, @radical.media has grown into one of the world’s largest and most awarded production houses. They are the top producer of commercials in the U.S., with clients including Nike, Intel, and Dos Equis. The company is also responsible for acclaimed TV shows like Iconoclasts (Sundance Channel), concert projects for Drake, Arcade Fire, Jay-Z, and Britney Spears, and the 2012 Oscar-nominated documentary Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and resulted in the release of three men on death row.

As distinctive as the company’s list of clients is the way it works to represent them. From the beginning, @radical.media has been known for relentlessly pushing technology to advance the brands and artistic visions of its clients. One of its signature tools is Final Cut Pro, which has anchored its innovative digital video workflow for over a decade. In the latest stage of that evolution, the company decided to switch its entire New York City post-production facility to Final Cut Pro X.

Transmedia Driven

Given the scale and scope of that work, the company’s recent decision to switch was one of the most fundamental changes it could make. Housed on several floors of a large industrial building near the Meatpacking District in Manhattan, @radical.media employs a core staff of more than 150 global employees as well as hundreds of specialized freelancers. So the cutover to Final Cut Pro X required careful planning and thorough testing.

“I loved the new editing model. Things are fluid and simpler and more efficient for me. I can just focus on the craft.” According to @radical.media CTO Evan Schechtman, the change was driven by a clear business need. “We’ve been using Final Cut Pro for over ten years, and this new version is as revolutionary as the first,” says Schechtman. “Because we’re a transmedia company, we need to be able to tell a client’s story regardless of platform. That means being able to take footage that comes to us in all formats and standards and use it in projects that must play at the highest quality everywhere. With its highly optimized native editing engine, Final Cut Pro X solves that problem, allowing us to hit the ground running on every project.”

Schechtman notes that the company has already moved 25 percent of its current projects to Final Cut Pro X, including a high-profile campaign for Grey Goose Vodka and recuts of the film celebrating the 25th anniversary of Paul Simon’s Graceland.

Kick-Starting the Workflow

The switch to Final Cut Pro X has already strengthened the workflow from front to back. On the short list of top benefits is speed. Liz Mason, managing director of @radical.media, says that for the first clients whose projects were edited in Final Cut Pro X, “Speed is the first thing they notice.”

Much of that acceleration was realized even before the editors touched the files. As assistants brought in master files from sources ranging from webcams to high-end ARRI ALEXA digital cameras, the new Content Auto-Analysis capability in Final Cut Pro X scanned the files in the background and created metadata that made the initial organization much faster. Processing the footage, which involved speed effects, transitions, frame-rate converting, and rendering, went much faster because the application fully leverages the 64-bit architecture of OS X. And the keyword engine and skimmer allowed assistants and editors to move through media quickly and tag it with custom range-based keywords.

“Final Cut Pro X allows us to take in all the different kinds of formats we need to use to do the interesting and cutting-edge stuff that we do for @radical.media,” says Mason. “And the footage is processed so quickly up front that we never have to wait. That’s one of the reasons we were willing to dive in so soon on actual projects.”

@radical.media Chief Technical Manager Randy Main credits some of that upfront speed to one of the most pervasive new capabilities of Final Cut Pro X. “The crucial feature for us as we organize at the beginning of a project is metadata tagging. It’s allowed us to speed through that process faster than with any other nonlinear editor I’ve ever worked on.” Main reports that the editorial assistants are “in a state of bliss because they’ve never had a more sophisticated tool set to do their job.”

Cy Christiansen edits the Grey Goose commercial in Final Cut Pro X.

Accelerated Edits

Schechtman says that the front-end speed carries over to the actual editing process: “The mantra of Final Cut Pro X, it seems, is that nothing stops the flow of editing. The entire UI has been streamlined and really gets to the key components of what editing is about. There’s just an exponential increase in speed, performance, and fluidity.”

Grey Goose

One of the first @radical.media projects to benefit from these new capabilities is a high-energy, stylized commercial for Grey Goose for the release of a new flavor called Cherry Noir. “That’s a pretty big high-profile campaign to try new software on,” says Schechtman. “And Final Cut Pro X delivered.”

The spot, which was produced and directed at @radical.media, was shot on location in New York City using the ARRI ALEXA camera and recorded both ARRIRAW and Apple ProRes 4444 formats. The footage was delivered to @radical.media on G-Technology G-RAID drives and immediately backed up to RAID 5 drives and LTO-5 tape. Footage was then ingested into Final Cut Pro X and transcoded to Apple ProRes Proxy for editing.

For client-driven edit sessions, the editor used Auditions to quickly cycle through different effects on the same shot. After the video was edited in Final Cut Pro X, it was exported to DaVinci Resolve and Autodesk Smoke on the Mac for color correction, effects, and finishing. Using Marquis X2Pro, the project was converted to an AAF file for import into Avid Pro Tools for sound mixing. The project showed @radical.media how well the XML export capability of Final Cut Pro X worked with the rest of its post-production ecosystem for color correction and visual effects. 

“With a new app, it’s really important that it integrates seamlessly with our finishing tools,” says Main. “And Final Cut Pro X really shined in that aspect.”

Schechtman adds: “It was a massive thing to prove to ourselves, that we can leverage this unbelievably fast and fluid storytelling tool and still go to the other professional tools that we prefer to use to round out our facility.”

Documentary Projects

@radical.media is also cutting a series of long-form documentaries in Final Cut Pro X. These projects combine video shot on ARRI ALEXA, Canon 5D Mark II, and Sony PMW-EX3 cameras with extensive archival footage of nearly every format, frame rate, and size, which the editors cut together to craft the final videos. “That’s the nature of the world we live in when we’re telling documentary stories,” says Schechtman. “And it’s a perfect job for Final Cut Pro X.”

Schechtman notes that the scope of the projects required a different editorial workflow. “These large vérité-style projects really speak to how multiple editors can look at the same pool of materials to tell their stories. We’re a shared storage environment with a very large Xsan implementation. A wonderful thing about Final Cut Pro X is that it’s aware that we have centralized shared storage and lets us use that storage in a new way. The fact that Xsan is built into OS X Lion and Lion Server means we’re not buying copies of Xsan for every computer. That’s huge for us.”

Among the editors assigned to the projects was Cy Christiansen, who edited a video using Final Cut Pro X for the first time. “I loved the new editing model,” he says. “There are fewer interface encumbrances, so things are fluid and simpler and more efficient for me. I can just focus on the craft. Trimming feels like a better implementation than ever before. And as I moved clips around, the Magnetic Timeline kept things where they needed to be. For me, it’s a whole new path, and it works really well.”

More Change

Given the positive results of the switch to Final Cut Pro X, Schechtman is confident in the new direction they’ve taken and is not shy about recommending it to others.

“In my career, I’ve seen very few really significant changes in our business,” he says. “Final Cut Pro X is definitely one of them. As a tech professional, I’ve benefited from embracing these changes, and I think everyone needs to embrace this one. Or it will pass them by.”