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December 10, 2011
Video Editing

Fun Facts and Dates in Digital Editing ‘Firsts’

Digital video editing is only 26 years old, and has been mainstream for just over 15 years.  Let’s take a look at some interesting dates in recent history in the exciting world of video editing!

Many younger editors have only ever experienced their craft as a digital endeavor, but anyone who has been editing since before the mid-90s certainly remembers the days of analog — when Steenbecks and Moviolas ruled the post-production world.  As with many computer-related innovations, there have been staggering advancements in digital editing over the past 26 years (which is when the first all-digital video editing and compositing system was introduced by Quantel.)

Digital Editing Firsts: Fun Facts

Let’s take a look at some interesting facts and dates about the beginning of the world of digital editing:

  • 1985: Quantel released The “Harry.”  The Harry was the first all-digital video editing and effects compositing system.  Due to technical limitations, it could record and apply effects to a maximum of 80 seconds of 8-bit uncompressed digital video.
  • 1987: Avid Technology created the Avid/1 Media Composer.  It was designed using the Apple Macintosh II computer platform, as well as proprietary Avid hardware and software.  (Clarification from Avid pioneer, Michael Phillips, in the Comments section of this post:  The Avid/1 Media Composer was actually developed on the Apollo computer, which is where Avid’s founders worked before forming Avid as a company.  It was then built on the Macintosh II, which is what it shipped with in the company’s first official release in December 1989.) The Avid/1 Media Composer was a revolutionary design, but it was not the first NLE that used modern concepts like clip bins and Timeline editing (these were introduced with Lucasfilm’s EditDroid, a computerized analog NLE from the early 1980s).
  • 1989: Avid Technology publicly introduced the Avid/1 Media Composer at NAB to great fanfare.  The codec used for editing on Avid was the Motion JPEG (M-JPEG) codec, which became the primary video editing codec of the early 90′s.  It was not very high quality, but it worked fine for offline editing.
  • 1991Adobe released Premiere 1.0 for the Mac.
  • 1992: First feature film, Let’s Kill All the Lawyers, was digitally edited using the Avid.  Up until this point, only short-form videos and commercials could be edited because of hard drive capacity limitations.
  • 1993:  Media 100 entered the market as a low-cost digital video editing solution.  Media 100 offered steady advancements in compression technology, and continued to develop higher video resolutions focusing primarily via software innovation, rather than hardware.
  • 1994-95: By 1994, only three feature films had been edited digitally, but by 1995, the number had grown to hundreds.  This time has become known as the distinct shift in the digital editing revolution.
  • 1995:  The DV codec and IEEE-1394 (FireWire 400) brought huge advancements to digital video recording, capturing and editing.
  • 1996: The English Patient was the first digitally edited film to win an Oscar for Best Editing (edited by Walter Murch on the Avid).
  • 1999: Apple released Final Cut Pro, which soon became a chief competitor to Avid.  (Final Cut Pro was developed after Apple bought Keygrip, which had been a product designed for Macromedia by several ex-Adobe employees.)
  • 2001: The Rules of Attraction, was the first feature film edited using Final Cut Pro.
  • 2007: No Country for Old Men was the first Oscar-winning film edited using Final Cut Pro.  (Roderick Jaynes was also nominated for an Oscar in best editing.)

Your Digital Journey

Have you always edited digitally?  If not, where were you in your career when the digital editing revolution took over?  What do you miss about the days of flatbed editing?

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  • http://YourSite(Optional) Michael Phillips

    Just a few corrections…

    In 1987, Avid was founded and was first developed on Apollo computers where the founders were working before starting Avid (Bill Warner and Eric Peters).

    First Avid/1 Media Composer shipped in December of 1989. Serial # 000…01 was to Alan Miller.

    Let’s Kill all the Lawyers was the first feature film edited at 30fps with matchback. The first television series cut using matchback for the lists (MediaMatch) was “They Came From Outer Space.”

    The first feature film edited at 24fps native on an alpha/beta version of what was to become the Academy Award winning Avid Film Composer, was an indie called “Emerson Park” early in 1992 by Tom Ohanian and myself. The Avid Film Composer was released in August of that year and the first studio film to edit natively at 2fps was “Lost in Yonkers” by Steve Cohen.

    Other NLE’s during the 1990 onward were EMC2, Ediflex, Montage, EditDroid, Lightworks, etc. Avid and EMC2 were the first companies to use hard drives and compressed video while systems like Montage, Ediflex, EditDroid, CMX, etc. used either beta tape or laser discs or a combination of the two. Advantages of laser disc were great picture quality but only 30 minutes per side. A big advancement in laser disc editing was the two headed player that allowed one to play the video while the other “searched” for the next event to play.

    In 1994, 6 Avid employees were awarded an Academy award from AMPAS with several employees of Lightworks for the feature film nonlinear editing system. Only Avid was farther awarded again with an Oscar in 1999 for continued development of nonlinear editing for feature film production.


    • Ashley Kennedy

      Thanks for the clarifications on those points, Michael. No better person to weigh in on these details than someone who was right there when it was all happening.

      So just a couple of questions — it was developed on Apollo computers, but eventually shipped on Macintosh II computers?

      Thanks for the details on Film Composer and first big 24fps projects, as well as other key NLE players early on. Did they all dissolve, or did any other big companies take any of them over?

      Were you one of those 6 Academy Award winning employees from Avid?

  • http://YourSite(Optional) Michael Phillips

    Yes, the Avid/1 Media Composer did ship on Macintosh when it went out in December 1989. Media 100 (From Boris) and Lightworks (from EditShare) are the only two I can think of from that list that are still available for purchase or free download…

    And the six were Bill Warner, Eric Peters, Joe Rice, Patrick O’Connor, Tom Ohanian, and myself.

  • http://YourSite(Optional) Scott Simmons

    Nice post and an even better follow-up from Michael.

    Thanks Michael and I hope all is well in your world these days.

  • John Buck

    A great summary. If anyone wants to read the detailed story of
    digital editing, shameless plug here, I have just released a book
    called Timeline on Amazon and iBooks that contains interviews
    with all the key players. There is an excerpt at the blog , all about
    Avid leaving Apollo for Apple.
    Keep up the good work
    John Buck

    • Ashley Kennedy

      Thanks, John! Very interesting stuff — good work.

  • http://YourSite(Optional) David Harris

    The first feature film edited on Final Cut Pro was “George Washington” from 2000, directed by David Gordon Green, edited by Zene Baker and Steven Gonzales.

  • Brendan

    I cut deck to deck when I was in high school until senior year (01-02) when we got 2 Casablanca set ups. Then I went to college and we cut deck to deck for 2 projects before the professors literally threw the machines out and said no one’s going to ever use these anymore, forget about it. Then, my first editing job after college (2007) I cut for 6 months using deck to deck at a major cable news station before they finally switched the entire setup to digital and FCP. What a world!

    • Danny Greer

      The industry has arguably changed more in the last 10 years then it did in the 50 years before that. Thanks for sharing your experience!

      • Alban Egger

        Disagree. I believe the real revolution was in the 90´s, and it was not only the NLEs, but the DVCam revolution. Suddenly Productions became affordable, we started rolling hours of footage, because we could. The Switch from tape-deck-controls to NLEs was way greater than from one NLE to the next.

        • Danny Greer

          Good points. Thanks for sharing, Alban!

  • Matt

    “Roderick Jaynes” is an alias used by the Cohen Brothers.

  • RS

    You left out the EMC2 which was one of Avids main competitors in the early 90s. Also the Montage, which used about 10 Betamax machines for “random” playback. A lot of tv show like Star Trek Next Gen cut on it

    • Danny Greer

      Nice! Thanks for the additions, Ron.

  • Alban Egger

    My journey was different: 1994 – Amiga 4000 (25Mhz) with a MJPEG board by Applied Magic, which already allowed to edit BetacamSP. 1996 -switch to PentiumPro (200Mhz!) and Speed Razor as NLE. In 2001 Switch to FAST (later Liquid Edition). In 2005 Edius, in 2008 FCP in 2011 FCPX. What a journey.

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  • James Howard

    Is digital editing the same as non-linear editing in this discussion? If so, rewind to 1970 and CMX Systems. The CMX 600 was demonstrated at the 1971 NAB convention and went into production. Skip-field analog video was recorded on disks with system control via a light pen/CRT. This was an off-line editor not capable of a broadcast output, but so was the first Avid.
    Follow this link to see a demonstration:

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