Working With New Muscle Memory

15 06 2010

The new release of Avid’s Media Composer 5.0 has a ton of little interface changes in it, some of which initially made me crazy as I continually had to remember what they were (Steve Cohen has a great tutorial up on his blip.tv page which is well worth a viewing).

This got me to thinking about how most filmmakers who I know have to develop a set of learned reactions in order to their job properly. As editors we learn the NLE tools when we’re first exposed to them (whether it’s Media Composer, FCP, Premier, After Effects or any software tool) and develop a muscle memory about how to best use those tools. Keyboard shortcuts are just the most obvious examples of these, but even something as simple as figuring the best way to create an overlap or L-cut, where picture and track are not edited at the same frame. (Naturally, Steve has a great tutorial on a trick for doing this at the end of a sequence). Over the course of time, we build up a repertoire of methods and techniques that help us to do our job more quickly and efficiently, allowing us to think more and do the mechanics less.

But, like annual releases of cars, every new release of a piece of software introduces new features and it’s way too easy to ignore them and simply continue doing our work in the Good Old Way. This means that the NLE that is released in 2010 is not the NLE that I learned on in, let’s say, 2007 (though, truth be told, I learned my NLEs waaaay earlier than that — don’t ask). But we’re probably still editing with it as if it’s 2007.

In one of the editors’ groups that I’m a member of, I’m continually amazed at how many of us didn’t know the feature that another one of us is using. The same goes for many of my students at USC — the way that they taught themselves FCP in high school is the way they’re using it today — even though it’s changed since FCP5.

The problem, in my mind, is muscle memory. Our brain and body have been trained to think and act in a certain way, and it is damned hard to get them to work in any other way. It’s not a trait peculiar to filmmakers, of course. People drive the same route to work every day, have the same eating habits as they did when the got out of college, and maintain many of the same traits — for better or for worse — as ten years ago. It’s why my mother still can’t text people and it’s why we all misspell or misuse the same words year in and year out.

But that muscle memory tends to get in the way all too often and one of the chief responsibilities of a good filmmaker today is to keep on disrupting that muscle memory. If we’ve figured out an efficient way of lighting for 35mm film, we may need to relearn the methods when we move to HD-DSLR. Every time I finish a job it feels like I have to relearn the tools all over again.

And that’s because we do.

A responsible filmmaker must spend way more time teaching him or herself new technologies, new interfaces, and new methods before, during and after every job. At this past weekend’s EditFestNY conference, the editors of AVATAR talked about how the production was literally inventing the technology as they went along. By its very necessity, they had to create new muscle memories all the time. Most of us are not so directly challenged in our daily work, and we rarely are given leave by our employers to experiment. Our jobs reward doing things in established ways. There’s very little room for learning new methods and the mistakes that generally come with that exploration.

But, to my mind, the way in which we thrive as filmmakers is to continually put those shortcuts and workflows aside periodically and asking ourselves what could be done differently. We need to go to user group meetings, read blogs and view videos, to force ourselves to see how others work.

It’s how we’re going to keep useful to new employers and excited by our work.

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Speaking of user groups, the geniuses at the Final Cut Pro User Group (notably Mike Horton and Dan Berube) are putting on the first ever Supermeet in Boston later this month — June 25th to be exact. There’s going to be some exciting presentations there, including some CS5 and Canon HD-DSLR workshops (remember what I said about muscle memory). and it’s only fifteen bucks!!

You should hustle on over to the supermeet.com website and learn more about the program and the details about it. Supermeets are always a bundle of fun and, if you live in the Northeast, you should wend your way to Boston on the 25th.


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2 responses to “Working With New Muscle Memory”

17 06 2010
17 06 2010
RobShaver (16:39:55) :

A preview mode would be valuable on this comment system:(

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