Improving your FCP chops

It’s time for New Year’s resolutions. Hopefully one of yours will be to improve your editing efficiency. That can usually be accomplished by diving a little deeper to learn some of the tools that you might not use on a frequent basis. I’ll quickly cover a few highlights in Apple Final Cut Pro that might be useful to you.

Cover Flow – One of the advantages of FCP is to be able to use Mac OS as an extension of your editor. You can browse media clips in the OS and then simple drag or import selected movies into your project. Cover Flow is one of four ways to display folder contents, but it’s great for video clips, once the folder has buffered.

Source side color correction – FCP allows filters, such as color correction, to be applied to clips loaded into the Viewer. Once applied, a filter stays with the master clip unless removed. Every time you cut a clip with an embedded source effect into the sequence, the filter will have already been “pre-applied” to that clip in the timeline. It’s a great way to match camera angles in a multi-camera show, BEFORE grouping them into a multiclip.

QuickTime references as sources – QuickTime reference movies may be brought into an FCP project as a source. The QT reference contains no media, but is merely linked back to the media of other files. This is potentially dangerous in an FCP workflow, because the file location cannot be moved without disrupting the reference. Nevertheless, it can be useful if you are careful. For instance, I have used it with double-system-sound clips recorded using a Canon 5D and a Zoom H4n. I used PluralEyes to sync the dailies and then labeled the resulting sequences for the person on-camera. These newly synced sequences were then exported as reference files and re-imported into my project. These were now my source media for all on-camera dialogue clips – a process that worked well throughout the edit.

HD/SD Videoscopes – Be careful when you change between SD (NTSC/PAL) and HD sequences to make sure that your videoscopes change accordingly. The SD or HD designation will be displayed in the corner of the window. If it’s wrong – an SD scope for an HD timeline – the video levels displayed WILL NOT be correct. Usually FCP tracks this, but sometimes, you need to give it a jolt by first selecting the appropriate Easy Setup for what you want it to be, then exit and re-launch FCP.

Render all sequences – Here’s a quick short cut to rendering a batch of sequences. Close all open sequences first. Then highlight them in the FCP browser and choose the Sequence/Render All pulldown menu item.

Find Next / Find All – The timeline can be searched with the Cmd-F keystroke, which enables Find Next and Find All options with definable parameters. For example, depending on how you labeled your clips, it can be a great way to find all clips from a certain camera.

Batch Import – The FCP “batch import” function isn’t as obvious as in Avid Media Composer. It is primarily available for clips that were brought in via Log and Transfer, such as XDCAM, P2 or RED. If you have a number of P2 clips that are off-line and need to be re-ingested, simply select the clips and choose Batch Capture. The Log and Transfer window will open instead of Log and Capture. Mount the appropriate media and the rest takes care of itself.

Media manage to consolidate – Final Cut’s Media Manager is the much-maligned way to process your project at the end of the session. It can be used for both the transition from rough-cut to finishing, as well as to keep just the clips that were used in the final edit. The latter is equivalent to Media Composer’s “consolidate” feature. Select the sequence and right-click for Media Manager – choose Copy, define “handles” and create a new project. This will create a new FCP project with just the clips that were in the cut plus a bit of extra media (“handles”) on either side of each cut. In order for this to work properly, video clips must have reel and timecode information, otherwise the entire length of the clip will be copied.

Audio frame rates and speed – Final Cut deals with imported audio based on sample rates and it will adjust the imported audio sync based on the project frame rate. For example, if you change between a whole (24, 30, 60fps) and a fractional (23.98, 29.97, 59.94fps) frame rate project, FCP will get confused. Let’s say you typically work in NTSC (29.97), but now have a PAL (25) project. The same 48kHz AIFF file will be imported differently into an NTSC versus a PAL project. Typically it will be in sync and won’t require rendering in one, but not the other, of these two projects. That’s even though the AIFF has no embedded timecode and both sequences are set to an audio sampling rate of 48kHz. The trick to getting this right is to change your Easy Setup to the new target rate prior to importing the new audio. When changing from a fractional to a whole frame rate project, like NTSC to PAL, I follow this steps. Close all open projects. Pick a PAL-appropriate Easy Setup. Close FCP. Re-launch and start the new PAL project.

Timelapse – The HDSLR cameras like the Canon 5D and 7D have opened the door to new creative options, like in-camera, still photo timelapse and stop motion sequences. It’s best to deal with these outside of Final Cut, by converting them first to a QuickTime movie. After Effects, Compressor or QuickTime 7 are good options. I like QT7 because you can easily play around with various frame rates. Import an image sequence at a desired frame rate, such as 6fps; then export a rendered movie at 29.97 (or 23.98 or 25fps – depending on your project). Since you are using high-resolution stills, you have the added benefit of being able to add camera-style moves to the timelapse. I will often resize the images first to get them into a manageable size (such as 2500 pixels wide) before building the motion clip. It is possible to export a QuickTime reference file from QT7, import that into After Effects, Motion or Final Cut in order to add the camera moves. Then render and export the final clip, which now becomes the actual source for the edit session.

Speed Tool – Although some editors downplay the FCP7 release, it added a few features I constantly use. One of these is the revamped Speed Tool. The old way of working with speed ramps never made sense to me and I invariably edited these as successive variable-speed clips. The new Speed Tool makes in-timeline manipulation a pleasure. Simply open the Clip Keyframe bar (bottom left corner of the timeline window) to gain access to the Speed Tool controls. From there you can change the speed, add speed keyframes within the clip to vary the speed in segments, plus ramp the in and out points.

Track Tool – My FCP timelines are very much a scratch pad. The Track Tool is essential for moving later clips out of the way. Use the T key for a single track or Shift-T for all tracks past the cursor location. It’s a quick and easy way to move the back end of the sequence out of the way to create working space. Then close the gap when you are finished.

Attributes – The ability to copy, paste and/or remove clip attributes is one of the features than I enjoy most about Final Cut. I use it most with motion tab effects (size, position, crop, opacity, drop shadow) and filters. It’s an essential part of my workflow. I invariably use a lot of effects filters. This is the easiest way to set up a group of filters on a single clip and apply this “filter stack” to a series of subsequent clips without needing to go to a menu, bin or browser.

Playhead sync – FCP often invokes discussions about NLE modality. I happen to think that FCP actually is modal in some of its functions. One of these is playhead sync. When toggled to “open”, the timeline loads into the viewer, giving you direct access to sequence clip parameters like size, position, filters and color correction. As such, you can use it in much the same way as Media Composer’s Effects or Color Correction modes (or Toolsets). For example, if you wish to move along your timeline – adjusting color correction or filter settings as you go – simply switch the playhead sync to open and select the filters tab in the viewer. Now the parameters of each timeline clip are immediately available as you advance to that clip. No double-clicking required!

Extend – This is a fast trim function, which is designed much like Media Composer’s Extend. Simply highlight a cut (or the edge of a clip), move the cursor forward or backward to the frame you want the cut changed to and hit the E key. Voila – the cut has jumped to the cursor location and the clip ins/outs have changed accordingly.

Mix automation – If you are tired of rubber-banding keyframes, then why not use the mix automation? Click on the Record Audio Keyframes button in the Audio Mixer and then you will always be working in the “touch” automation mode. This means that if the timeline is playing, any move you make on a track fader is active and will write new audio level keyframes. The level will hold at the last keyframe written for the remainder of the track or clip; however, if there is an existing keyframe at the end, the level will gradually increase or decrease to match that point. Hardware control surfaces from Mackie, Avid/Euphonix, Frontier Designs, Presonus and others may be used to manipulate these virtual faders if you find mouse-mixing to be fatiguing.

Multiple transitions – The last cool FCP7 feature I’ll mention is the ability to add multiple transitions to a series of timeline clips in a single step. Select the range of clips to which you want to apply a common transition. Drag the transition from the Effects folder and hover over the selected clips, so that all (not just one) stay highlighted. Drop the transition and it will be applied to all the cuts surrounding this range of clips. I like to add small (:02 to :04) audio dissolves to all of my dialogue edits. This is a great way of doing that in a single step – saving a huge number of keystrokes.

As a reminder, the “What’s New” 2009 Ripple Training tutorials cover many of the new features added to Final Cut Studio and Final Cut Pro 7. Click here and here for some additional Final Cut Pro editing tips.

Hope this helps. Enjoy the New Year and happy cutting!

©2010 Oliver Peters