New gear, same old issues

I started this the week after NAB, but am just now finishing it…

NAB has once again brought content creators some cool gear announcements and demos of upcoming products – software and hardware. News from Blackmagic design, Autodesk, Adobe, the Foundry, and others reminded me of why I gravitate toward the tech side of things – because the tools keep getting cooler and cooler (and they piss me off so they should get better – to make me happy). But with that excitement, we get the same old issues – where do I/we fit in with all this stuff. I struggle with this stuff because my place as an independent artist, educator, and professional practitioner makes me have to consider software and hardware tools from three different points of view.

  1. Independent artist – it’s all about accessibility (low cost or low entry barrier) and flexibility (can I achieve my goals with the tools even though I might have to work a little harder or think outside the buttons on the screen?)
  2. Educator – what is student success? Is it becoming a self-determined artist and a creative problem solver (and problem creator)? Is it being prepared to enter the professional workforce? Are those two mutually exclusive, is there a middle ground, or can one ensure the other?
  3. Professional practitioner – what level of interoperability and/or sharing do I need? Sometimes it’s just footage, which is easy. Other times its project or interchange files, which can be tough, since the industry sucks and will not standardize (I mean at an ISO level – no variations from vendor to vendor). Do my clients or collaborators expect me to use certain tools?

Why choose particular hardware and software tools?

  • Workflow and user experience (UX) – do I like to use it? Thousands of hours are spent using digital tools. Is it a joy or a chore? If it’s a chore, is it worth it, is there an alternative? Also, did you RTFM or are you doing things the hard way because you never really learned its workflow?
  • Interoperability – can I work with anything or anyone I want because it supports popular interchange pipelines.
  • Cost – can I afford it? Cost is always a factor – can’t get around it legally.
  • Features and end product quality – This thing does what I want or may want to do someday and its ability to create a quality product is satisfactory or better. What features are useful and what features are for filling corporate web pages? Features and UX should be judged together.
  • Industry acceptance – is this valuable? If so, is it measurable (who’s using it, do jobs require it, is it so unique that learning it requires special training)? If so, probably important. If not, probably not important.
  • Vendor/manufacturer – Does the product vendor offer support and timely updates? Does it support a lively community of users? Sets the agenda or tone rather than playing catchup – look to them for what’s next? Do I like the vendor/company and what they stand for and how they treat their customers? Does this matter? All companies EOL software and make their own hardware obsolete, seem distracted by parts of their business that don’t seem as important to me, and generally make decisions that are dumb or don’t take my needs into account.

The Artist | Educator | Professional in me don’t always think the same.

The independent artist in me wants to go FOSS (Free Open Source Software) and/or free (as in beer) tools and low-cost hardware to keep costs low and philosophy high. There are plenty of success stories for this route, but it is not without obstacles and often a need for a higher-level of technical savvy. I prefer Apple hardware and OS, but split hardware with Apple and home-brew PC/Linux to manage costs and put apps in their native environments as needed.

The educator in me wants to nurture the young artist and prepare him/her for the “real world.” Use popular tools that give the student flexibility after graduation – become an independent artist or go with an established company as an employee. I don’t necessarily believe in training for particular jobs though, so picking tools that a certain company uses is not important. I do believe that a student will ultimately be successful by learning process and evaluating workflows rather than just knowing what buttons to push. I also believe that they should be exposed to many ideas in tools and workflow so they don’t get entrenched in a certain way of doing things. The educator in me also has to work with a scale that is often hard for students and outsiders to understand – we don’t need 1 or 2 seats of a certain software application or even computers – we need 40 or more. Even at lower costs for edu, software and hardware can blow budgets pretty fast. It seems some companies take advantage of their popularity and stick it to us (Adobe), some add incentives for education (Autodesk), some are trying as hard as they can (the Foundry), and some make it easy (Blackmagic design).

The professional in me wants to keep in-step with his colleagues to make projects go as smoothly as possible by staying away from interchange formats and different tools. This also allows for growth in developing workflows and troubleshooting. For those projects that don’t share project files, I often use different tools than my collaborators, however. Professional gigs are few for me annually, especially the ones where I share project files. Since I don’t make much money from outside work, and it varies a lot from year-to-year, it makes no sense for me to invest in expensive software. BTW, I also don’t necessarily seek outside work since my day-job and life keep me busy most of the time.

What to choose? I am heavily biased by my independent artist and educator sides. One other problem I have is that I prefer to be nimble and move around easily. I’ll do projects using different tools just to see what it’s like – not everyone has the inclination, savvy, or time to do that. My students and colleagues on and off campus deal with choosing tools too and have different biases that drive their decision process.

Interestingly, on the hardware-side, we tend to be more forgiving and are okay with it. DSLRs for film/video production is just plain dumb, but we love to do it. The image quality, camera functionality for video, and UX are horrible, but for the price, it’s way better than we have ever had it – “at least it’s not DV or HDV.” We love to get all DIY about lights and rigging and special effects, but for software, we suddenly get territorial and almost religious about our tool choices – weird.

No conclusion for this post – just things to ponder – now get back to work.

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