For over a decade, Automatic Duck made the go-to tools for editors that needed to translate a timeline from one program to another. Its collection of plug-ins enabled more streamlined workflows for anyone working between Avid, Final Cut Pro (7 and earlier), After Effects and pro Tools. In 2011, the father and son team of Harry and Wes Plate, the duo behind Automatic Duck, pulled up stakes to join Adobe, effectively halting development of those early Automatic Duck products.
Flash forward to 2015 and Automatic Duck has returned with new tools geared toward the Final Cut Pro X user and a new partnership with Red Giant, maker of the popular Magic Bullet and Trapcode Suites, among other software for shooters, editors and visual effects artists.
We sat down with Wes and asked him about his time at Adobe, why they're resurrecting Automatic Duck, what new tools will be available, and how Automatic Duck's relationship with Red Giant will lead to more tools in the future.
RedShark News (RSN): About four years ago, you and your father, Harry, both joined Adobe. Can you bring us up-to-date on what you worked on while at Adobe?
Wes Plate (WP): I was in their marketing group. Six months after [joining Adobe], I got moved into product management and worked on a product called Prelude, which is an ingest and logging tool that's part of Creative Cloud and a nice companion to Premiere Pro. For about two years, I was part manager for Prelude and we also launched an app for the iPad called Prelude Live Logger, so I worked with the Prelude team and with the overall product management group, helping define a roadmap for that particular product as well as Creative Cloud in general. My father Harry worked on getting the plugin that we previously sold for After Effects, called ProImport AE, integrated; it's now built-in to After Effects. He also worked with the Premiere Pro team to get Automatic Duck technology integrated into Premiere Pro. The first CC release contained improvements to AAF import that made that made the AAF translation from Avid into Premiere Pro much more robust, based on technology Adobe licensed from Automatic Duck.
RSN: Was the impetus for resurrecting Automatic Duck the chance to work again with your father? Or did Adobe approach the two of you to revive the brand?
WP: Out of those two choices, it's definitely door number one. By the beginning of 2014, we had both left Adobe and we were taking some time to figure out what would happen next. My dad actually left Adobe six months before I did. Essentially, at that point, he was full-time retired. He was looking for something to do, because he didn't want to be full-time retired. And I was figuring out what I wanted to do next. While Adobe acquired technology from Automatic Duck, they did not acquire the actual business...and it's such a valuable brand, we thought "there has to be something that we can do." Around that same time, I was quite interested in learning more about Final Cut Pro X, because users were raving about how much it had improved and how great and fast it was, so I set out to experience that jolt of lightening that people were feeling...I set out to learn Final Cut X and I thought, "this is pretty cool." But, as an editor, I use After Effects in almost everything I do, so I started realizing there was a missing bridge from Final Cut Pro X to After Effects. That was the missing piece for what my dad and I would do next.
RSN: It sounds like your reasons to relaunch Automatic Duck parallel your reasons to start Automatic Duck in the first place: namely, that you had a need as an editor, you and your father developed a plug-in that filled that need and would be useful to the community at large.
WP: That's absolutely correct. We started this company because I, as an editor, needed a way to get my Avid timelines into After Effects back in 2000. The company started because of a real need, an industry need that I had that other editors had, and we parlayed that into a business. When we first started, we had no idea how difficult the problems were that we were about to tackle. Now, with that benefit of hindsight, we're able to work smarter and do a much better job...we started the conversation with Red Giant last year about how we could partner with them where they could spearhead marketing and customer support/sales efforts. It's much more of a partnership where we can focus on the stuff that we enjoy, which is development of the tool, and leverage their skills for sales and marketing.
RSN: Do you foresee Automatic Duck plug-in integration in Red Giant existing software suites or do you see your products in their own class, possibly with more plug-ins and being its own Automatic Duck Suite?
WP: Both we and Red Giant will try to figure that out over time. We've both expressed a great interest in expanding the tools that we have so that there would be an Automatic Duck Suite, perhaps Automatic Duck products integrating into some of their other suites. Those are things that we've had discussions about. Right now, we just have two products that we will be providing. As we develop the relationship over time, that will certainly also develop into new tools and ways that their technology can benefit us and ours can benefit them.
[Editor's Note: At this point in the interview, Wes took me through a brief demo of Automatic Duck's new plug-ins, Ximport AE and Media Copy. Upon exporting a Final Cut Pro X XML file, the Ximport AE plug-in will re-build that timeline in After Effects, making each clip its own separate layer. Plus, parameters such as dissolves, scaling, and positioning are translated, with the ability to make changes as needed. The demo also showed off how the settings for third party filters common to both applications, such as Red Giant's Colorista 3 in this case, will translate across FCP X and After Effects. The rebuilt-time was very quick and everything performed as it should. Media Copy, a revamp of an older plug-in, adds FCPX support. It also supports XML from Final Cut 7 and earlier and Avid AAF files. This plug-in is helpful when a project has to be handed off, say, from an editor to a designer, when you don't know what media files to send or if it's difficult to collect them all. Media Copy V4 takes the XML file exported out of Final Cut and then a user can specify a place for that media to go. This plug-in should be a very useful companion to Ximport AE. Both plugins ship on September 9th. Media Copy will be sold for $99. XImport AE will be sold for $199.]
Final Cut Pro X timeline
File Import Menu for XImport AE in After Effects
XImport AE Import Window
Rebuilt FCPX timeline in After Effects via XImport AE
Media Copy Window
RSN: Your classic plug-ins will be available again as free downloads. Why make those available again?
WP: The old tools are solving different problems than we're solving with the new plug-ins. Back in 2011, when we went to work for Adobe, we put those old tools up for free download, because we couldn't support them in the way we were accustomed to, so we didn't want to sell them and take money for something that we couldn't support, but we also didn't want the tools abandoned, so we made them available for free. Sometime last year, when the website was re-done, we didn't put it back up on the website because we thought "it's been years since we've had this stuff out there; maybe no one's using Final Cut 7 and maybe we can take this stuff down." And then, all we heard from the community is, "where is the old stuff; I need the old stuff." As we relaunch the website again, one of the things that we're adding back are those classic tools, ProImport FCP, ProExport FCP, those are the tools that would get you from Final Cut to Avid and Avid to Final Cut, and also the older version of the After Effects import plug-in that would work with After Effects CS5.5 and earlier.
RSN: In the coming months and in 2016, what can we expect from Automatic Duck?
WP: We do have some ideas of what we can do next. We are quite intrigued by the possibilities that Final Cut Pro X presents; FCPX XML makes a lot of things possible and it's an advantage for us because anything we do for FCPX XML is brand new development that doesn't rely on any technology that we've licensed to Adobe. We're looking at FCPX as an area that we're spending a lot of time developing solutions for. The partnership with Red Giant will also benefit the work that we do, because it will give us access to their expertise and we might be able to partner up on products that, all by ourselves, we might not have had everything we needed to make some workflows and solutions possible. I'm excited about what we'll be able to do both with Red Giant and opportunities that we see coming forward from the FCPX landscape.