Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Beginnings of iMovie

I just ran across an email exchange between me and Steve Jobs from 1998, in which the very beginnings of iMovie are envisioned.  It was from a discussion before I was hired into Apple to actually build iMovie.
I was ridiculously long-winded, and Steve was very terse.  That's how it was. Many years later I saw him typing an email and understood why he was always so terse: he was a very slow, two-finger typist!  I know, hard to believe.
Here is the email, unedited.

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From: Steve Jobs
Date: Mon,  8 Jun 98 12:32:41 -0700
To: Glenn Reid
Subject: Re: questions

I'd also love to just drag special effects on my video timeline and have
it know what to do.  Automatically find the nearby splice and install the
transition effect perfectly and all automatically.


Steve


X-Sender: rtbrain@206.184.139.133
In-Reply-To: <<9806060028.AA00332@ni-master.pixar.com>
Date: Fri, 5 Jun 1998 18:37:46 -0700
To: Steve Jobs <
From: Glenn Reid <
Subject: Re: questions

>I think Avid Cinema is the closest and best thing out there.  Can
>we do better?

Depends on what "better" means.  Obviously one could go way off
the deep end on features but not get it right (there are lots of
examples of that :-)

The biggest hurdle, I think, is conceptual: to make people believe
they can do this themselves and that it's not complicated.  Desktop
publishing was an easy leap for people because it was only a little
more complicated than a typewriter, which they understood.  By
contrast, 3D has never caught on because nobody thinks they can do
3D, and to a large extent, they're right.  Too damn complicated.

Video is right in between stovetop publishing and 3D: it's possible
to bring it to the masses, but it has to be dirt simple.  Avid
Cinema is close to being that.  I like their top-level approach, which
is four steps:  1) Storyboard, 2) Bring Video In, 3) Edit Movie,
4) Send Movie Out.  It doesn't get much simpler than that, unless
you get rid of Storyboard.  They have a fair number of editing
tools, a timeline, and other things that resemble video editors
more than they resemble stovetop publishing, and I'd be tempted
to simplify those even more.

What I think is needed is the "SimpleText" of video.  It doesn't need
to do much other than let you read in some movies, do some splicing
and editing, and write it back out.  Get rid of the dead time, the
places where you said stupid things right into the microphone, etc.,
and send it to grandma.

The hardest thing about editing video is finding the stuff you
want on a tape and getting rid of the stuff you don't want.  There's
no magic to that: it's just grunt work.  We might be able to do
some guesswork to find the transition points, but it would only
be guesswork.

The key will be to find a conceptual leap that thinks of video
differently than ever before.  If you've ever looked at the "Variations"
dialog in Photoshop; something like that.  Instead of giving you
a dialog box to adjust RGB (who knows if a picture needs "more red"
or "more magenta" by looking at it?) they show 10-12 variations
that would result from adding blue, magenta, etc, and you just click
on the one you like.  It then shifts your choice into the middle
and lets you keep clicking to improve the image by choosing the one
you like the best from the variations presented to you.  It's brilliant.

I think there's still some room for this king of conceptual leap
in video editing: something simple and elegant that makes finding
what you want easy.  The only thing that comes to mind right now
is a kind of "binary search".  You show two points in the video
and let them click somewhere between, as in "I think it's a little
after the birthday hat, but the backyard stuff was quite a bit
later":

   "birthday hat"                                          "back yard"

   |---------------X------------------------------------------------|


You click around where the X is and it narrows down the search again
and again, until you find the end point.  It could be quasi-animated
or aided by guesswork somehow.

Anyway, I'm digging in too deep, but I think there is room for
innovation and simplification.  I'm guessing, from talking with
Sina and Will Stein, that what you're after is the Democratization of
Video Editing, the simplest and most obvious tool yet for doing
basic editing.  It seems like it could be done.


Glenn

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