Why Does Video Editing Software Look The Way It Does?

Larry Rosenzweig
CEO, Cquence
March 31, 2021    ~3 min read

Have you ever wondered why editing programs look so similar? Out of all the similarities, the most obvious overlap between editing programs is the horizontal timeline. Let’s find out why.

Visually speaking, digital time moves left to right. That’s the way it’s been for the last 20 years of editing for audio (ex: Pro Tools, GarageBand, Audacity) and video (ex: Avid, Final Cut, Adobe Premiere).

Avid Pro Tools (left) and Final Cut Pro X (right)

But this hasn’t always been the case. Dating back to actual film, the “vertical pulldown” was overwhelmingly the dominant axis of motion in cinematography and how celluloid initially recorded the moving image. And later iterations of celluloid filmmaking eventually leveraged the “horizontal pulldown”, which was seen in IMAX, VistaVision, and some 35mm consumer and professional still cameras.

The significance here is that the “vertical vs horizontal pulldown” affected how the story was logistically edited.

Editing using the film's vertical orientation of the negative pulldown.

And this nugget of information matters. As the storytelling medium evolved from film to digital, so did the editing platforms. The digital revolution empowered human editors to interact with software and new user interfaces, like the horizontal editing timeline. 

Unlike film and tape, digital editing programs were revolutionary because you could perform non-destructive edits to your source material (as opposed to the physical act of connecting film or tape together in the sequential order of the story you’re telling). Ultimately, this lent very naturally to developing a horizontal editing timeline for digital editing programs.

Adobe Premiere Pro is an example of a digital horizontal editing timeline.

But the world has changed a lot since NLE video editing platforms were first popularized. Even 10 years ago, smartphones and tablets were very new and consumption habits were still finding their way. And we’ve come a long way since.

Not only do we consume content across all types of mediums today, but the types of content have shifted so radically that these digital editing programs were not well-designed to power our next generation of video creators. Twenty years ago, video production basically meant TV, commercials, music videos, or movies.

Today, video can be placed almost anywhere for any purpose by anybody. And we’re seeing a rapidly growing market of video creators who build very successful businesses through multi-channel brands featuring all kinds and lengths of video content — from 15 second Tik Toks to 15 minute YouTube video essays.

Anybody can create meaningful video content for platforms like YouTube (left) and Tik Tok (right).

Nobody seems to be questioning the editing timeline today...well, except us. We have some questions.

For today’s video creator, it will be faster to search, read, and assemble your stories vertically. Not horizontally. When you consume video content on social media, you already consume it scrolling down. When you read content from news or blogs, you read scrolling down. And when you search google, you view the results scrolling down.

Vertical scrolling to consume content on social platform.

As a result, the Cquence editing timeline is vertical today. Why did we do this? We set out to create a newer thing — we’re not adding functions or changing buttons. We’re reimagining the video creation experience, from top to bottom. Full-stack video creators deal with new challenges in 2021, and we believe vertical timelines support today’s video creators.

For example, one YouTuber using Cquence loves dragging and dropping relevant clips from the transcript into the timeline because it’s really easy to digest both vertically. And a Twitch streamer creating video on Cquence really enjoys rearranging the clips in the vertical timeline because it’s as simple as rearranging cards on a Trello board.

One day, we may offer a horizontal timeline option as well. And we recognize the vertical timeline is different from what you’re probably used to today. But “storywatching” is already vertical, so why isn’t “storytelling” vertical too?

The lines are blurring between the "storywatching" and "storytelling" experience.

The platforms adapt to the times. Be at the forefront of video creation with us by signing up for Cquence today.