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'Iron Man' Editor Develops a '21st Century Moviola' For the iPad

Iron Man Edit ipad screengrab - H 2013
TouchEdit screenshot

Dan Lebental's new TouchEdit app is designed for pros as well as video enthusiasts.

Jon Favreau’s go-to editor Dan Lebental -- whose credits with the director include Iron Man, Cowboys & Aliens and Elf -- started his career editing film, and he loved it, even when he cut his finger. “It was such a badge of honor to touch film,” he said. “I realized that is one of the things we lost. I miss interacting directly with the media.”

Two and a half years ago, he got his first iPad, and found the touch screen means he can again “touch film.”

Driven by the potential of the new capabilities at his disposal, Lebental began designing an editing app that he himself would use to cut a movie -- what he described as a “21st century version of the Moviola” that brings back the simplicity of film editing while incorporating the latest advances in mobile technology and cloud-based services.

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“We are at the dawn of the professional program coming to the iPad and other mobile technology,” Lebental said. “I thought there had to be a more efficient way to make movies [with the new technology at our disposal]. This is a way to lead with the way we are going to be working.”

Lebental’s development is called TouchEdit, a frame-based editing app for the iPad with a “retro aesthetic," which is a simple, professional tool that could also be used by video enthusiasts. He plans to cut Favreau’s next movie with it. And he is aiming to make it available in the foreseeable future on the App Store for an introductory price of $50.

Noting that editing once involved scissors and cutting film, he said, “The core [of TouchEdit] is to be that simple.”

The clean interface includes a source and record “monitor,” as well as two “filmstrips” -- one for the source material and one for the edited sequence. Use your fingers to scroll the "film" and drag and drop a frame into the edited sequence, which can be viewed either in landscape or portrait. It can also collect metadata such as timecode, and uses the same media formats that the iPad currently supports.

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One of the tools in the app is “grease pencil,” which allows the user to mark in and out points on the frames as would be typical in film editing. It also supports up to eight channels of stereo sound.

Lebental related that his goal was not to include every tool, but the essential ones that would allow for quick and easy use. “About 85-90% of the tools that I use to do huge movies are in here in some shape or form,” he said.

With the concurrent explosion of cloud-based services, Dropbox and other such options are a viable way in which to download footage into the app. It’s not hard to see how this app could become a part of a collaborative, mobile production model that could include dailies to editing to review and approval.

Lebental has developed the initial version 1.0 of TouchEdit as a standalone editor or as a satellite tool to another professional editing system. He is already working on upgrades to the feature set.