I was a little bit sad when I saw the news that Red Giant’s BulletProof had been quietly discontinued. It’s not surprising when you see the reason why: “BulletProof was never a popular product.” In other words Red Giant was losing money on the product and a product will never stay alive if that’s the case. This leaves a gaping hole in the production to post workflow. It may not seem that way but if you were using BulletProof as a full media prep and transcode tool then you can see that hole. Let me describe what this is and if you have the tool to fill this hole let’s tell the world.
Another goodbye article for a Red Giant tool
This isn’t the first time I’ve written a fare-the-well article to a Red Giant product. I posted this little requiem for Magic Bullet Grinder when it went extinct. Oddly enough it was the creation of BulletProof that saw the demise of Grinder.
I always thought that BulletProof was a great application that filled a much needed place between production and post to allow the editor to get a better organized set of footage in our spray-and-pray world of shooting many different cameras for hours on end. Yes it required someone to put in some time and effort working with that footage before it went to the editor but that time spent could save hours or even days in post. I have worked several jobs where we made extensive use of BulletProof’s metadata tagging capabilities (it is being used on a job as this article when to press) working around the bugs because there is no other tool like it. I even included BulletProof as a major part of my Moving Metadata from Production to Post class at NAB 2015.
When presented with the first BulletProof tab it could seem daunting but beyond the Catalog setup it really was quite simple. If you knew how to run an NLE at even a basic level you could figure out most of the interface.
There’s an FAQ on the Red Giant site with more about the discontinuation of BulletProof. Red Giant Software is a great company so they will do right by recent purchasers of BulletProof. They aren’t trying to rip anyone off and if you’re upset about not getting future updates I encourage you to read out to the Red Giant team. According to the FAQ removing BulletProof from the Shooter Suite is will reduce the price of that package by $100. They aren’t trying to gouge anyone out there.
Why didn’t people use BulletProof?
Because they were lazy?
BulletProof designer and Red Giant product guru Stu Maschwitz penned an eloquent essay on software design and what went wrong with BulletProof in A Hallway of Doors. I won’t try to summarize the article here as it’s a great read but in essence BulletProof had too many features and it most likely confused (or maybe scared) users. I’m sure there were many users who were turned off by BulletProof offering to do so much to help prep your footage.
It’s no doubt the lazy user would look at BulletProof and wonder exactly how much time do they really need to put into learning this new tool that they may not really need anyway. On the one hand the tabbed interface made BulletProof seemingly idiot proof but it was that other hand that wondered if it was indeed setting up all the catalog, import and export settings the right way.
I always thought BulletProof’s tabs made it easy to use, just move left to right through the tabs.
BulletProof’s interface design was meant to walk the user through the offload, logging and transcode process (via 5 tabs) in a straight forward way. While you could skip many of those tabs BulletProof made it feel like you should be using them. I guess the lazy user doesn’t even want to be presented with options they might have to learn.
I’m using they term lazy user partly in jest as there are many workflows that would never need 90% of what BulletProof could offer but even those workflows could use that last 10%. That’s what Red Giant made Offload for, putting that 10% into one application.
Because of the design?
The tabbed interface of BulletProof made it fun to use. You were presented with a lot of options, especially when it came to metadata entry, but by moving from left to right through the footage review process I don’t know how it could have been made any more straight forward. There were a lot of things you could do to the footage. I’m not convinced you needed such advanced color correction controls (other than the ability to add a LUT) before transcode but Red Giant had the technology so it made sense to include Colorista controls in their own tab. It also seemed like the Review and Refine tab could have been collapsed into one.
The biggest roadblock I saw (and heard about from several readers) came from the Catalog design that BulletProof used. BulletProof was described as Lightroom for video (by me any maybe others) and a central piece of Lightroom is the Catalog where it stores all your images and data. The catalog creation meant Bulletproof had a first step of creating and placing this catalog. There was a complex mode where you could choose folder naming, folder mode, color settings, metadata and keywords (shouldn’t metadata and keywords really be the same?) but even in the simple mode you could make sure a lot of these options were set … or not set. And then you could both Import the clips and Backup the clips.
While the Catalog, Import and Backup settings isn’t as confusing as it looks I can see where it could be a bit daunting to the new user who didn’t RTFM.
Early on in BulletProof’s life it seemed to require you create a new copy of all media in this Catalog it created. Later on an updated gave users the ability to ADD the media to a Catalog instead of COPY that media to a Catalog, leaving the media in place. This made BulletProof great for use exclusively in the edit suite and not just as an on-set DIT tool. That obviously didn’t bring enough new users on-board to keep it alive.
The other confusing aspect of BulletProof came during the Export tab. For the non-lazy user the confusion shouldn’t have come from the different export choices resolution, naming and/or burn-in timecode options but rather the choices in what to do with the metadata that was input on the Organize and Review tabs. Do you embed it? Save project file with metadata for your NLE? Both? If you do one does it negate the other? It took some rather extensive testing with these options on my part before we integrated BulletProof into a massive multi-week shoot (bugs and all) but we were able to figure it out and gain massive usefullness from this tool. So massive that I recommended it to a number of clients. So massive I did that NAB class around it.
It wasn’t completely clear how and where the metadata you exported would go and how that would get back to the NLE unless you studied it in the user manual. All the users did that right?
There were those bugs mentioned above: timecode not being written to the files, the XML not relinking properly but I always thought those were bugs that would be fixed.
— Matt Jeppsen (@mjeppsen) June 9, 2015
BulletProof could have benefited from some speed improvements as well. It took a downright eternity for it to show you all your media thumbnails in that Import tab. I would have been happy with just a list view. The Review and Refine could have been condensed down into one but I don’t think that would have been the different between BulletProof’s life and its death.
This was an unfortunate XML error that was never fixed you might encounter in FCPX. You could get around it if you worked hard enough.
When looking back on the design two years after its introduction I think the Catalog paradigm was BulletProof’s biggest Achilles heel. While the idea of being a Lightroom for video is a good one I think content creators interact with their still images in a much different way than they do video. With stills we want to come back to our photos over and over. Color correct, touch them up, tweak even more before exporting a final result. With video we want to get the stuff off the cards and into an NLE were we do all that tweaking and touching up. Lightroom is kinda like the NLE for still images. BulletProof would probably have been better off hiding its Catalog in the user’s Library folder (without duplicating the media there of course) and never bothering the user with it.
Because of all these constantly changing camera formats and the NLE’s ability to play them back natively?
This point is probably the one that had the most to do with the demise of BulletProof. As Red Giant says in their blog post: “due to the ever changing landscape of cameras and codecs, it required a significant amount of work to keep it up-to-date.” Work means money and no software maker is going to keep investing money in a product that doesn’t make it back.
This is Canon mxf media copied from a C300 backup and imported to a media drive in the original mxf format. Scene and Shot metadata was applied without transcoding.
For BulletProof to do its best work it wanted the user to transcode footage. We are living in a time when transcoding is seen now more as a luxury than the necessity it once was. As an editor I’ll take nice, buttery-smooth ProRes over any camera original format any day of the week but I well realize that isn’t always an option. Producers and DITs still often push back when I ask for offline transcodes when shooting on RED cameras since “Premiere will play back the RED files now.” Yes producers and DITs, I know Premiere will play back native R3D files now. It will play then back well (so will FCPX) but if you’ve ever tried to cut at speed using lots of layers, tons of scrubbing around the footage, multi-camera techniques and graphics then you know working with native R3Ds isn’t anywhere near as buttery-smooth as ProRes.
But BulletProof wanted that transcode to do its best work and show off its best features. Transcoding is a hard sell these days and I don’t think Red Giant did a lot to show the upside of transcoding with the application. I guess that goes to product marketing.
Because of BulletProof’s marketing?
BulletProof’s marketing might be a BulletPoint of its own as it didn’t seem that Red Giant really put much marketing muscle behind BulletProof. Spy Vs. Guy was a hilariously great short film but it didn’t do anything to highlight the many benefits of the tool it was shot to promote! There’s the behind the scenes film too but that just barely touches on what you could do with BulletProof.
I also never once saw the feature promoted that BulletProof could add metadata to camera original media without transcoding. That might have been an accidental feature and might not have worked with all camera formats but it could have been great option for some workflows. I haven’t found any other tool that is able to do this.
If you were to look through BulletProof’s full metadata support you saw that there are many places to add and tag metadata to your footage. If you then looked at something like Adobe Premiere Pro CC or Final Cut Pro X you saw a lot of metadata fields there as well but not a 1:1 correlation between BulletProof and those NLEs. That 1:1 relationship was impossible to maintain due to differences between the applications. But BulletProof could and did map that metadata to different fields in the NLE.
The best metadata mapping went to Final Cut Pro X as BulletProof would add a custom BulletProof metadata view to the Info Inspector. That worked really well.
It was a lot of trial and error to figure out what metadata went where in which NLE and that trial and error is something most users won’t go through. It would have been great if Red Giant had published some type of metadata mapping schema to show what BulletProof metadata fields went where in the different NLEs. This might not have made the product successful but it would have shown some very specific usefulness. That’s something I didn’t see in the short film or the user manual.
Hope for the future of metadata entry
It would be great if Red Giant could take the metadata tagging capabilities of BulletProof and add them into Offload. But that would add another layer of complexity so that isn’t going to happen. Maybe they could resurrect Grinder and add this metadata tagging capability.
That’s only a fraction of the metadata that BulletProof could enter. And if could enter this for an entire batch of files at once.
I think the ability to tag, sort and add metadata between the shoot and the edit can be huge timesaver for the entire process. Not only can it remove days of sorting and logging it can eliminate questions that post might have of the footage they have been given. No one seems to make notes anymore so if the footage an editor is given can be tagged and categorized then that can eliminate a lot of those steps. I’m not asking for production to do some of the work of post, it’s not about being a lazy editor, but rather to provide more data to post-production so we can do a better job. We weren’t on the shoot so we can’t always make heads or tails out of those many hours of footage without asking some questions. You’re giving us more and more footage, help us get thorough that footage in a better way.
That’s what BulletProof could do if used properly. At least until it was discontinued. But if you have it and it works keep using it as it’s still going run. In a follow-up article we’ll look at some of the tools left out there to add metadata during an offload and transcode step to get that into post-production. If you have any favorites please let us know in the comments below.