The monthly excerpt from John Buck’s book, ‘Timeline’. Available at iBooks and Amazon

in the months after Steve Jobs debuted the Macintosh, Paul Brainerd was trying to raise money for his software start-up. Brainerd and a small team of ex-Atex employees worked out of a Seattle apartment developing a PC based program that allowed complex pages of mixed graphics and text to be built then viewed on screen as they would appear when printed, something later tagged ‘what you see is what you get’ or WYSIWYG. Brainerd had visited 49 venture capital firms across America to try and secure funding, without luck. The company that was instrumental in transforming Apple’s future fortunes was down its last $5000 when Vanguard Associates took Brainerd’s 50th meeting. In an era (Microsoft was still private) when it was normal to back a hardware company but not a software firm, Vanguard’s directors ( themselves ex Apple staff) could see the potential of Brainerd’s newly named Aldus and approved a first round financing deal. Despite the significance of the eleventh hour funding, it was a subsequent visit from an Apple Computer employee that enabled Aldus to create desktop publishing. Brainerd recalled later: He (the Apple rep) came and visited us in our first six weeks of being a company in a little studio apartment below the Pike Place Market and loaned us two prototype Macintoshes. He didn’t know us from Adam. After a week of experimenting with the new Mac, Aldus switched their focus from IBM to Apple.
Seehorn and EPIC code

Larry Seehorn had moved to CVS with that company’s acquisition of his EPIC-1 editing system. He called his former associate Loran Kary.

Larry called me and asked if I wanted come over to CVS to be his assistant and work and test the EPIC-1 and at the same time learn the de-bugging process. At the time Larry was working with Kevin Fitzgibbons, the main software developer, who lived in Boston. Kevin had helped develop the software on the west coast and then moved to the east coast. I took the job and settled into this routine where the two of them would work between 6-9pm eastern (3-6pm west coast time), debugging the EPIC editor code. To lighten his workload Larry trained me up on how to debug over the telephone!. Kevin didn’t have a computer or an EPIC-1 system at the other end, all he had was a print out on paper of the code - and not always the latest version! He would talk to us on the phone and say ‘set a break point here and then do this.. and when you hit the break point tell me what the registers are, tell me what you see’ and then we would reply from Sunnyvale. Then from Boston, Kevin would say, ‘Ok I think it’s this’, and then he would give us some Assembly code, that we would enter, manually. We could actually punch in patches into this minicomputer, hand assembling it. We’d type in the octal, run this patch and see if Kevin’s idea worked or not and report back to him over the phone what was happening

Seehorn and Kary used a Teletype machine, fronting a Data General Nova system programmed in Octal. It had a paper tape and 8-inch floppy disc interface. Kary continues:

After a while I learnt how to hand assemble code and test it and reporting to Kevin in Boston and then when we would get something to work I would enter that into the development system make it be part of the program and then load it again the next day. That’s how I came to learn how to program the EPIC. I decided I wanted to ‘learn’ the entire EPIC program. Various people like Kevin and Larry had contributed various components but no one person knew the whole system. There was no cross reference for instance, there was just a bunch of modules without an operating system every line of code was hand written. There was no documentation, no guide so I set myself the goal of reading the whole program, diagram it and flow chart it. I wanted to learn what the whole program did by reading it and testing it…. just because I found it so interesting, it was what I loved to do and it was challenging and fun. I’d become a programmer of editing systems.

Loran Kary had mastered the necessary skills to debug the EPIC when something unexpected happened. Larry Seehorn wanted to make other products, such as a system designed to automate studio functions and allow smaller broadcasting stations to have the ‘look and feel’ of much larger broadcasters. Management wanted him to focus solely on the EPIC editing system so Seehorn quit CVS.


Timeline: Digital Edition – by John Buck

A new history of editing, editors and the machines they used.

TimelineDigital Edition contains never before seen photographs, video material, original brochures and animated patents, as well as audio clips and exclusive interviews that document the lives of editors and the craft of editing from the very beginning. 

From scissors and cement in the hands of Griffith and Méliès through editing Ben Hur on the Moviola, to Scorsese and Schoonmaker creating Woodstock on a KEM flatbed and onto digital nonlinear with the CMX600. 

This digital version of Buck’s highly regarded original Timeline, is designed specifically for the iPad and gives the reader an exhaustive and compelling read. The layered content gives an enriched view of the evolution of editing, and includes an instant glossary to provide additional material even when reading offline. image

Timeline is a must for anyone studying film, working as an editor or with an interest in a behind-the-scenes look at the industry’s native craft.

This is the best history of film/video editing development I’ve ever seen in one place. 

Ralph Guggenheim, ex Lucasfilm Editdroid

It’s like taking a time machine back into the pioneering days of non-linear. 

Stuart Bass, editor of Scrubs, Pushing Daisies, Arrested Development

Now available on iTunes 

Published by Enriched Books and Tablo


The monthly excerpt from John Buck’s book, ‘Timeline’. Available at iBooks and Amazon

May 1990

Apple Computer was due to hold its annual developer’s conference in San Jose, and trumpet what it believed would drive sales and engage third party developers. The hot topics would be Object Oriented programming, CD-ROM authoring, HyperCard and a new Finder. However Apple CEO, and now head of R&D, John Sculley had decided to announce something extra. 

Tyler Peppel was managing Apple’s new product development including concepts such as a sports wristwatch, a desktop phone with touchscreen  and a joint venture portable electronic book with Toshiba. He had convinced Sculley to make a move into multimedia, and then managed to secure backing and some resources for Project Warhol.

In the weeks leading up to WWDC, Apple’s VP of Networking and Multimedia Donald (Don) Casey directed the marketing department to create a profile for Project Warhol. What would become one of Apple’s great success stories needed an official, and distinctive name. Duncan Kennedy, an Apple product manager and early company evangelist, recalls:

Tyler Peppel had the attorneys at Apple checking out different names with the Quick prefix, and the one that we liked was QuickTime because this really was about time-managed events but there was a problem with that.

The U.S. company Tektronix which was one of the world’s largest makers of test and measurement instruments like multimeters, analyzers, and signal generators had already registered the name Quicktime. Tyler Peppel recalls:

Tektronix owned the name QuickTime, and we began to negotiate with them to see if they would relinquish it.

Kennedy continues: 

In the meantime the lawyers came back to us with an alternative, QuickStream. Tyler just rolled his eyes and said “That sounds like (urine)”, but it was called QuickStream for a few days until Don Casey finalised the agreement to buy the name QuickTime. 

A few weeks later WWDC began, and attendees were told about Apple’s plans for the coming year. All went as predicted by the trade press until Don Casey took the stage, and introduced a new product called QuickTime. He told a surprised audience that Apple had created a new multimedia document architecture:

a system wide time coding to allow synchronization of sound, animation and other time-critical processes. 

QuickTime would provide developers with a common interface for controlling media devices and ways to produce media-data streams, and Casey hoped the new architecture would be delivered to developers by the end of the year. 

Casey announced that QuickTime would allow the Macintosh to be the premier platform for digital media, and in doing so pre-empt Microsoft’s release of multimedia extensions to Windows 3.0. 

In his own summary at the conference, John Sculley promised:

…the next generation of breakthrough applications will be on the Mac. 

Sculley did not mention that work on QuickTime had not even started.

Eric Hoffert was a founding member of Project Warhol and now QuickTime. He became the project leader and in turn the patent-holder for many software-based image compression algorithms, recalls:

I do remember after WWDC when Don pre-announced QuickTime that many of us were surprised and also asking each other, ‘So what is it exactly that we need to deliver?

More on QuickTime’s history

Steve Jobs at iMovie

It is a little inconvenient

Videotape recording is very useful in television broadcasting but editing it is not as easy as editing motion picture film.”

So began the 1967  SMPTE paper of a team from Japanese broadcaster NHK that included engineers Yasushi Fujimura, S.Iwamura, Aogu Matsumae, Tsuguo Ohtani, and K.Matsuoka.

It described ‘an automatic video tape editing splicing system that had successfully been used to cut 84 programs. Over a period of two years, NHK had developed a system that used a process computer, two 4-head VTRs and a dedicated control panel.

The output of studio cameras was dual recorded onto a 2” tape and a second helical scan VTR with the associated recording address signals. An engineer used the helical deck to edit with because it offered greater control with still frame, fast spooling and reverse operation than the Quad master. The editor played back the rushes only, and pushed a ‘cut-in’ and ‘cut-out’ button at the desired ‘in’ and ‘out’ points using a single monitor.

The address pulse for the edits was automatically picked up and stored in the memory of the computer, however the editor was unable to watch the edited sequence immediately. 

The computer used the decisions on its drum memory to transfer the required scenes from the original 2” rushes tape to a new blank master tape, shot by shot. If changes were required, the entire sequence was erased, and the process had to be started from scratch.

The NHK submission to SMPTE contended:

“Nevertheless the pilot study proved that this was not critical. However, it is a little inconvenient.” 

Read more at Amazon or Apple


Lucasfilm Compeditor

The Lucasfilm Editing Division team continued to experiment. In doing so they were by their own admission, very much followers of the thinking espoused by Fred Brooks in The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering. Brooks believed that adding personnel to a software project that was late in its development cycle, made it later. Brooks’ observations were based on his experiences at IBM where to speed development, he mistakenly attempted to add more workers to a project falling behind schedule. Brooks also contended within his book that prototyping is a crucial element of the design process and that product designers should be prepared to implement new or difficult concepts, and then to throw them away:

…the question is not whether to build a pilot system and throw it away. You will do that. The only question is whether to plan in advance to build a throwaway, or to promise to deliver the throwaway to customers… Hence plan to throw one away; you will, anyhow.

Ralph Guggenheim and his boss Ed Catmull knew that they needed to create many iterations of the edit system and then throw them out to ensure they got it right. Guggenheim recalls:

Ed (Catmull) and I agreed, we didn’t know how to make one of these things, so we needed to create at least 2 or 3 iterations of the design and the code done before we could understand it or grapple with the problems. Let alone before we could show it to professional editors. 

The editing project team started to investigate how they could prove the concept. Guggenheim defined the development extents:

what are the basic elements that people need to use when they’re editing? And sure enough it wasn’t necessarily the same feature set that the CMX style systems gave you. It was actually really basic things we needed to deliver. Being able to split an edit, being able to extend a shot at the head or the tail, instantly and being able to preview an edit without delay and without committing to it.

Just as Adrian Ettlinger had discovered a decade before, the path to acceptance by editors and therefore the film industry at large led back to the traditional film editing systems by Steenbeck, KEM and Moviola. Lucasfilm needed to not only mimic their editing workflow but also their ease of use. The opinion from some film editors wasn’t always positive. Ralph Guggenheim recalls:

Some detested the idea of a computer-based replacement for their film machines. They liked their flat beds. One guy even explained to me that he would always get a better sense of the rhythm of his editing by hearing the splices clicking through the gate of his Moviola than he ever would from what we were proposing.

Read more at Amazon or Apple


News on Avid Studio at Corel

One of the key developers of Avid Studio App for iPad has spoken about the product’s plan at Corel, after its recent acquisition from Avid.

Jim Sugg told the Timeline Group discussion:

Our dev team is now at Corel, and Studio App for iPad development continues, along with our other efforts……

More here

Media 100

The monthly excerpt from John Buck’s book, ‘Timeline’. Available at iBooks and Amazon

After announcing Media 100 to the press in January, John Molinari and Gary Godin from Data Translation demonstrated the new system to 1992 NAB attendees. Molinari recalls:

We spent a good two years (1990-1992) proving it couldn’t be done. It was obviously technically difficult and very challenging. Then we launched the ‘proof of concept’ in 1992 at NAB. But it was a bittersweet moment. 

Editor John Delmont remembers:

It’s kind of interesting how you can track a company’s progress by the size of their trade show booth. In the beginning, they were so small they didn’t even dare to go on the NAB floor. It’s such a huge investment in money and personnel and they didn’t even have a product yet. The first year they showed up they had a hotel suite. 

It was in the Hilton right next to the trade show, but it was definitely an off-Broadway affair. The card was shown to prospective resellers in the living room part of the suite. 

They said, “Here’s the prototype card. Do you want to hold it?”.

John Molinari recalls:

We had something that worked as a demo but it was not a real product. The mechanics, with all due respect to the engineers, who worked so hard on it, were unsound.

Tony Molinari recalls the problems with Media 100’s early release.

They tried to get the editing product to work, internally. It just didn’t work. Of course the hardest thing to make work was the interaction of software and hardware. To make it do the things it needed to do. Moving around video in real time at that quality level, displaying the video on a computer screen and a video monitor wasn’t easy. Especially with an open system approach, using off the shelf hardware from Apple and hard drive manufacturers.

John Molinari recalls:

We knew after NAB ‘92 that we had the right idea but we would have to go back, and start again to realize it. What we had was a completely failed technical implementation and it was never going to work right.

After NAB, John Molinari was asked to report to Data Translation’s Board of Directors. As General Manager of the MultiMedia group, he knew that the Media 100 editing product was far from being a shipping product. He recalls:

I was sure, after that, the project would be cancelled. I thought I was going to be fired, and being the boss’ son wasn’t going to save me. 

The complete behind-the-scenes Avid story is available in John Buck’s book, ‘Timeline 2’. Available at iBooks and Amazon.
More stories here 
Are you sure this is the best system there is?

The monthly excerpt from John Buck’s book, ‘Timeline’. Available at iBooks and Amazon


Bill Warner flicked through the Yellow Pages and rang around to find a company in Boston who had online editing suites, and asked for their pricing for computerised editing, and after creating a projected cost, Warner convinced his boss to pay for the GM video to be edited at Video Troupe. After shooting the video, Warner took his collection of ¾” rushes, VHS tapes and slides down to the post facility. He had assumed that computerised meant that the system was Having been involved in the computer industry and having cut some internal videos, Warner thought that he would be able to ‘run the session’ and learn the professional edit system as he worked.

I asked them if I could edit my own project. And they tilted their heads funny and went “mmm”. I didn’t really make too much of that and they walked me down to the edit room and sat me down at the system and said 

“Well ok, P is play R is rewind and space bar is stop”. 

And I went “what do you mean rewind?” 

They replied “Well that rewinds the tape decks” 

I said, “What do you mean tape decks? This is a computerized system right?

They said, “Yes”

I said, “Why do you have tape decks, don’t you have video stored in a digital form? 

And the guy just paused and said, “What are you talking about?” 

I said, “What are you talking about? This is a computerized editor right? 

He said, “This is the top of the line CMX computer editor. It’s the best there is”

So I asked him, “If it’s the best, what’s so great about it?”

And he said proudly “its frame accurate”

And I couldn’t believe it

I said, “My Panasonic back at Apollo is accurate to plus or minus 1 or 2 frames”

He replied, “Yes but this is frame accurate and you can rebuild your program from an edit decision list”

I was dumbfounded and then they asked me 

“When do you need your 20 minute video complete by?

I said “Tomorrow

They were shocked and replied. “You’d better call your people and tell them you there’s no way you can be ready by then, forget it”

And I said, “I’m not forgetting it”

Warner went back to Apollo and worked all night to create an offline edit. The next day he returned to the postproduction house, and created an online master using a CMX system. Still troubled by the previous day’s experience, he asked one more time.

“Are you sure this is the best system there is?”

And they said, “This is it. Get used to it”

I was bewildered. I just thought something like an Avid existed somewhere and I didn’t know about it. 

Then I just figured that any day now someone would do this, a digital editing system. Surely it’s just a matter of minutes and I’ll wait. Meanwhile the rest of 1984 went by, 1985 went by…

Unknown to Warner something was happening. 

The complete behind-the-scenes Avid story is available in John Buck’s book, ‘Timeline 2’. Available at iBooks and Amazon.
More stories here 
On Randy’s computer

The monthly excerpt from John Buck’s book, ‘Timeline’. Available at iBooks and Amazon

July 1992

Nick Schlott was porting code to enable Adobe Premiere to run with Microsoft’s Video for Windows (VFW). 

Premiere for Windows was to be based upon VFW and of course that wasn’t released yet, so we were under Microsoft NDA’s and we would travel up there periodically to see what they were up to. They had started after QuickTime and therefore were trailing behind and of course QuickTime was no good to me on the PC, so I wrote my own file format for playing back video. I had to make it work at 1.5mb/s. 

And back then I was young and worked long long hours and I could program as fast as anyone I knew, some was good code, some was not so good but I needed to be quick early on to get my head around the task.  We had to create a huge amount of infrastructure for the Windows version that we took for granted on the Mac, like the Macintosh’s QuickDraw API. That had to be written almost from scratch. 

Schlott hired consultants who had worked on Supermac’s Videospigot to replicate the Mac toolbox.

I wrote as much of that performance-enhancing code (Premiere/Win 1.0) as I could before VFW was complete and then we had to shoe horn the VFW stuff in, once it was available from Microsoft. 

Despite Adobe’s growing size with products like Photoshop, the Premiere team was small. Schlott recalls the differences in programming then, and now. 

Of course there are people within a company like Adobe whose job it is to get the final version of an application like Premiere and ship it and store it and so forth but on a day to day basis, if you were to ask anyone where the latest build of Premiere was? The answer would be “On Randy’s computer”. That simple. Of course it’s different now but back then it was…different. Teams of people on Photoshop and Postscript, and two of us on Premiere. 

One programmer on the Mac, and one on Windows. Every now and then I would come across something in Randy’s code and go ask him how he had done it and it would be a very Mac type of solution he had engineered and I would go away and try to come up with something similar in the Windows world. 

The complete behind-the-scenes Adobe Premiere story is available in John Buck’s book, ‘Timeline 2’. Available at iBooks and Amazon.
More stories here