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.

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


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