We Yak with Co-Founder Wes Plate About a Stack of New Tools Putting FCPX and AE on Track

Once upon a time, there was Automatic Duck. Offering timeline translation tools with names like Pro Import AE and Pro Export FCP, Automatic Duck's very popular plug-ins helped editors navigate among systems, moving sequences between otherwise incompatible applications with the help of the Duck's shaolin AAF, OMF and XML skills. Development of new products came to a halt in 2011, when Automatic Duck father-and-son co-founders Harry and Wes Plate joined Adobe, where they worked on building bridges between Premiere Pro and other apps. But now, Automatic Duck is relaunching with a new line of timeline translation tools for Final Cut Pro X and After Effects CC that are available through Red Giant.

Wes Plate told StudioDaily the time seemed right. He and his father had both left Adobe by early 2014, and Wes had taken a dive into Final Cut Pro X, which he was intrigued by. When he hit a workflow barrier, it got him thinking again.

"I had been hearing from different users that FCP X had become a meaningful, powerful, and fast editing system that people really shouldn't be ignoring, so I set out to learn it," he recalled. "I wanted to learn what those people knew that I didn't know. And I really liked it. But I discovered a roadblock. My workflow required something that didn't exist — I needed to get my FCP X stuff into After Effects. And that was the a-ha moment between Harry and me."

The Plates knew After Effects extremely well, had solid footing in FCP, and knew all of the ins and outs of XML. So they started work last spring with the aim of building a new bridge between FCP X and AE.


Ximport AE and Media Copy
The first product to come out of that effort is Automatic Duck Ximport AE ($199). It reads XML files created by FCP X and brings them into After Effects while maintaining scale, positioning and rotation settings, translating FCP X compound clips, and recognizing effects from third parties. (For example, if a clip has been graded using Colorista, the After Effects user will see the effect applied if Colorista is installed on their system, and will be notified if Colorista is not on their system so that they know they're missing something.) 

A companion product, Automatic Duck Media Copy ($99), reads an XML or AAF file, locates all of the media identified by that file, and then copies it to a destination specified by the user, whether that's on a local drive or on a network. It reads AAF files from Avid and XML from both legacy Final Cut and, thanks to a brand-new update, FCP X.

"We're really proud of [the new tools]," Plate said. "It's the kind of quality people are accustomed to from Automatic Duck, and it opens a new workflow for video pros from around the world."

Selling Through Red Giant
The partnership with Red Giant came about while the Plates were deep in the process of creating the new tools. They had a lot to do, and completely rebuilding a website and assembling a reseller channel seemed like too much to pile on top of it. Plate remembered a conversation he had with Trapcode's Peder Norrby about his partnership with Red Giant and figured a similar partnership on marketing and support could work for Automatic Duck. Red Giant agreed.

"They can make these products available to even more people than we did in the past," said Plate. "In the past, we've never had a way to do time-limited demos. One benefit of working with a larger company like Red Giant is they can do trials so users can try the software for 14 days and experience the power of the workflow."

When Automatic Duck originally went offline back in 2011, the Plates made their products available for free download — a boon, especially, to users who have been sticking with legacy versions of Final Cut Pro. At some point last year, those free downloads disappeared, and some of their more desperate users went into withdrawal.

The products are now back online, but this time there's a choose-your-own-price donation form built in to the page that allows users to make a voluntary contribution to the company. "Hopefully people can kick us a few dollars if they find those old products useful and valuable," Plate says.

Fun with FCP X
And what about that new version of Final Cut Pro, anyway? One of the most controversial pro video software launches of all time, it was widely ridiculed in the days, weeks, and months (and, let's be honest, years) after its release. We asked Plate why more editors should follow his lead and learn FCP X.

"As I've gotten to know it better, learning what it can and can't do, I'm extremely impressed," he explains. "It doesn't have as many limits as I expected. But it's a big challenge for users to wrap their brains around it. The metaphors are different from what pros are accustomed to. You have to forget everything you know and come to this with a clean slate. If you're willing to make that leap, some of the tools in FCP X are extremely powerful. One example is just speed — the ability to quickly go through material and put together a rough cut, super fast, that holds up well. A lot of tweaking still needs to happen, but I've been really happy with how quickly I can come up with a first draft.

"I have been telling people that in the last year or year and a half I have found myself having more fun editing than — I can't even remember the last time I enjoyed the editing process. But I was editing a fun project of my own at 2 a.m. thinking, 'I have to go to bed but I don't want to.' I was having a good time with FCP X, and that was eye-opening to me."