ProTools versus Photoshop

If you are a Photoshop user this article is a great read: Photoshop is a city for everyone

In 1991, the year after I finished Film School, I moved to Auckland to start work as a trainee sound editor and it coincided with the studio owner buying ProTools 1.0 – he’d been using SoundTools for a year or two, syncing & laying off to multitrack tape, in lock to a UMatic video deck. During that first year I’d read about Photoshop and saw an ad for evening classes at one of the local polytechs, so I went along & started to learn to use this incredible new program (hi Guy if you’re reading this!) At the time it was a revolution, unlike anything I’ve seen since – this was literally the dawn of being able to digitally manipulate media!

But the one thing that I do not take for granted is how I basically have learned to use both programs – Photoshop & ProTools, incrementally. I appreciate that most people learn by first working out what is the bare minimum required to achieve their immediate task. But for me it was more the learning that occurred when each new version of the application was released. While software releases now tend to be adding or refining non-essential features, back then the changes were huge in scope. Entire techniques that we take for granted now simply weren’t possible until version X.Y was released. Now these apps basically do everything you could want from them & to start learning them from scratch is a far more convoluted task…

But looking back its also fascinating to see how the user interface has evolved, for example compare the Photoshop toolbar:

If you weren’t around at the time watch this german demo video of ProTools 1.0, running in OS6 on a Mac IIfx with a total of 8MB of RAM…

So both Photoshop & ProTools are what you would call ‘mature’ apps – they have been around for over two decades and as they have maintained and evolved their functionality, a very large number of people have come to earn a living using specifically these apps as a crucial part of their business and their creative output. Which is why that article is so interesting, as it describes both the individual user perspective (“put all of the stuff I use right on top in the user interface”) and the developers (They have a rule in the hiring process: if someone claims to be a Photoshop “expert,” they terminate the interview. Photoshop is too big for experts.) < – I love that sentiment and would say the same of ProTools.

But I don’t intend this comparison of ProTools and Photoshop to be a metaphor, I’m interested in the views of anyone who is experienced with both apps. What features of Photoshop would be useful to you in ProTools?

For me there are two that immediately spring to mind: Actions and Layers

Actions is a great feature in Photoshop and allows automation/scripting of a series of actions, which can then be applied to any number of source files. So eg if I have 600 photos from a timelapse that I want to open, rotate, crop, apply a filter & then save as a new file, I do it once while Actions observes/records & then it makes it available as a repeatable action. This is basically leveraging the existing featureset of the app, and i would suspect requires a developmental discipline and overview that maybe be mroe difficult to achieve in ProTools,a s there are other simpler audio apps that are scriptable as batch processors…. With ProTools the only way I’ve found to do such things is via third party apps like Quickeys…

Once you get used to Photoshops Layers its a feature thats hard to do without, it rapidly becomes a fundamental part of so many techniques. While we already layer sounds in ProTools via tracks that isn’t how I see layers could/would work in ProTools – it would be on a clip basis. So eg I apply pitch shift or EQ or some other Audiosuite process to a region on a track. I’d like to be able to access the unprocessed clip from a stack of layers on the track in the same position… But also potentially combine layers in different ways – not just as ‘audio being mixed together’ but also in other ways….

Your ProTools feature request?
I would hope everyone who uses ProTools knows about IdeaScale which is a platform for both feature requests and bug reports. And while AVID tend to happily remind us on each new release, how many of IdeaScales most popular feature requests have been implemented, it can also be very frustrating waiting patiently literally for years for what would appear a basic feature development to be acted on…. My biggest feature lag nag is currently number six in the most popular feature request:

1. Freeze tracks
2. 64 bit app
3. Folders in Region List
4. Channel strip presets
5. Offline bounce to disk
6. Marker improvements
7. Bypass all plugins for a track
8. Phase switch on every tracks
9. Bounce to .wav and mp3 at same time
10. Include a “Bounces” folder when creating a new session

Its interesting that four of the top ten are all directly related to basic file output functions… My wish for Photoshop layers in ProTools is kind of related to #14: Clip Based Effects, but I also want the direct access & interaction between layers that Photoshop has…

Anyway, moral of the story: GO & VOTE!


6 Responses to ProTools versus Photoshop

  1. Dan says:

    When I saw the System 7 screen I thought you were going to be writing about TurboSynth. 😉 Oh still my heart…

  2. Eduardo Vaisman says:

    After using Pro Tools since version 3 with NuBus cards to version 9.0.6 (16 years) I switch to Reaper and I never looked back.
    It has “Actions”, “Layers” and every item in the request list mentioned above plus more, I’ve been using it for a year and I’ve seen my workflow improving.
    Pro Tools is still an industry standard and probably will be for few more years, but as I say, VHS was the standard for video for many years and that doesn’t make it any better.

  3. Andrew says:

    I’ve been in music 30+ years now, but just got into doing some visual art in the last couple of years. I was amazed at how my music background informed my progress in visuals, and how the visual gave me new ways of processing the music. I still find myself reversing “blur” and “reverb” all the time!

    Totally agree with you about layers. The the part of layers that fascinates me is how one layer can modify another – two images blending together in different ways to make a total picture not found in either of them. If I could do that with sound, I’d be in heaven! I keep thinking I can get a vocoder to make it happen, but every time I try I’m disappointed by the result.

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