Better editing with custom screen layouts

One of the handy features of modern NLEs is the ability to rearrange the interface around specific editing tasks. Changing the user interface windows for editing, mixing, color correction or effects will make easier work of any session. Adobe Premiere Pro, Avid Media Composer and Apple Final Cut Pro are all designed with a similar bin, window and timeline layout that offers infinite possibilities to customize the UI, including keyboard and button commands. These are easily stored as user preferences. My examples come from various FCP configurations, but you could easily do the same thing with any of these NLE leaders.

Click any of the images to see an enlarged view.

This first image is my most common layout. I tend to work on symmetrical, dual-screen systems, so these examples are all from layouts created on dual 20” monitors. I prefer bins on the left and editing windows on the right, but that’s easily swapped on most systems. In this example, I leave the tool bench up with scopes and mixer as tabs for quick access.

Symmetrical isn’t the best for everyone, though. I’ve occasionally worked with mixed sizes, like a 24” and a 20”. In that case, I’ll center the larger monitor and offset the smaller one to the left. This is also common when working with a laptop connected to an external screen. I like this layout because it centers your main working screen, leaving the left screen for bins or other tools when you are working in other applications.

This layout moves the scopes and mixer to either side of the canvas window. I’ve reduced the viewer size and placed it left. The effect of this layout is to focus more attention on the timeline and the edited image, rather than source images. This particular configuration would work well with asymmetrical screen arrangements.

Now I have made the canvas completely fill the right screen. I’m not in the full screen mode, yet, because I want to have access to the scroll bar and edit controls.

One typical characteristic of Avid Media Composer and Symphony is the triptych window layout created when you enter the color correction mode. A similar layout is possible in FCP by using extra frame viewer windows. I’ve opened two instances of the frame viewer, as well as two instances of the video scopes. This lets me see a previous/current/next display along with only the scope selections I want to use. The key to this layout is to move the viewer window to the center of the screen (under the canvas window) and set it to the filter tab (or color corrector window when that is used). In order to make this work operationally, set your canvas playhead sync to “open”, which displays the active timeline within the viewer, as well as the canvas.

This is a layout designed to focus your attention on mixing. The viewer is closed, so you concentrate on the mixer panel and the timeline.

Sometimes you just want a big timeline. Remember that you can set your timeline to a filmstrip view and you can also open and display the clip keyframe indicator. This will give you a quick schematic of when filter, opacity, speed and motion tab effects have been applied.

Same as the previous example, except the filter bars have been hidden and the track sizes expanded.

Most NLEs offer several ways to view your content. In FCP you get list and icon views and bins can be opened as separate windows or tabbed in the project browser. Media Composer offers a similar “tabbed” function if you enable “superbin”. This example shows four open bins set to a list view with thumbnails. It’s a view that concentrates on editing.

This sample is the same as above, except the bins are set to icon view. Of course, each bin can use a different setting, so some can be lists, some icons, and so on.

This screen grab is from a system set to full screen display using the right hand monitor. It’s an ideal way to screen your work for a client when you don’t have an external broadcast monitor connected. The function works the same in FCP or Media Composer. I have moved the active windows for mixer, canvas and timeline to the left screen so I have access in case tweaks are needed. This way I don’t need to exit the full screen mode for edit changes.

One thing that may frequently bug you in adjusting motion tab and filter settings is the small size of the timeline portion of the window. Because the controls take up most of the window space, you are left with a very small portion in which to see the keyframes. In this layout, I’ve moved the canvas to the left and the viewer to the right. The viewer fills the width of the screen, but is set to the motion tab. As is our color correction “mode”, this works best when you are working with the playhead sync set to “open”. The point is to be able to concentrate on keyframes in the timeline, much as you would in After Effects.

Effects can be accessed from the top pulldown menu or from the folders in the effects tab. Since these can be opened as separate windows, just like bins, you can position the effects folder closer to the timeline for faster drag-and-drop application of filters.

This is similar to the previous layout, except that I’ve broken out effects categories into individual open folders. For example, if I’m doing a color grading pass, I might want quick access to a variety of filters, not just the basic FCP 3-way.

This is another example of creating a triptych view. Same as in the color correction layout, I have two frame viewers open set to previous and next edits.

If you’d like to see more of the timeline, then simply spread it across both monitors, as in this example.

Most FCP editors like to move content from one sequence to another through copy-and-paste. You can have multiple tabbed sequences in the timeline window, but many Avid editors working in FCP miss Media Composer’s ability to toggle between the record and source timelines. An alternative in FCP to the tab system, is to break out the sequence into its own timeline window. To make this work, you must also break out that same sequence from the canvas. Now you can actually work with two open sequences and see both the timeline and the associated video at the same time.

Here’s another example of an improved method for working with filters. Many filters have a long set of parameters that exceed the size you’ve set for the viewer window. As a result you do a lot of scrolling in that window to access and adjust the settings. In this example, I’ve moved the viewer to the left screen and sized it to fill the screen vertically. Since I’m concentrating on various effects in the timeline, I’ve set the canvas playhead sync to “open”.

Here’s the same image, except I’ve clicked to the filters tab. This reveals much more of the settings than if I were only using a smaller portion of the screen in the more common side-by-side display format.

These are just a few of the many possibilities for designing screen layouts to improve your efficiency. Most NLEs, especially Avid Media Composer, Adobe Premiere Pro and Apple Final Cut Pro, offer such features, so don’t be too shy to experiment.

©2010 Oliver Peters