Hidden Final Cut Pro X Techniques

1. Adjustment Layers for video

Open Motion. Create a new Text title. Select, then delete the Text Layer. That layer that’s left behind represents everything underneath the text, and we’ll use it to our advantage. Save. Call the title Adjustment Layer and pop it in a new category called “Experiments” or some other unique name.

In FCP X, add that Title from the category you gave it. Put it above another series of clips — anything at all. Now, apply an effect or a colour correction to that Title, and it will apply to every clip below. You could even apply multiple copies in an Audition and switch between different looks for your whole edit. Fantastic. [Credit: Tapio Haaja on Creative Cow]

2. Audio-only transitions

Open Motion. Create a new Transition. This transition is a straight cut, but the standard audio transition is applied when you use it. Save, into a new “Experiments” category or similar.

In FCP X, just apply it when you want an audio-only transition. Standard controls in the Inspector will let you adjust the audio fade type.

3. Use advanced timeline features

A few related tips for those struggling with the new magnetic timeline. Remember: if you get frustrated with the default ripple-style behaviour of the timeline, just select the Position tool, and it’ll be just like FCP 7.

Connected clips are great, but you can’t apply transitions between two neighbouring connected clips. To make this work, select them both and choose Clip > Create Storyline or press command-G. Now you can transition between neighbouring clips, and there will be only one point of connection for the whole storyline. Leave gaps (shift-delete) to reveal the primary storyline underneath.

Limitations: three-point editing (choosing in and out points on the timeline) and Appending a clip only target the primary storyline. You’ll also have to specifically select the secondary storyline if you want to Insert or Overwrite there. Yes! Overwrite works; there’s no button, but the shortcut is D.

Lastly, you may sometimes wish to send clips up or down in the stacking order. Command-option-up or down will do this nicely, and will create gap clips if needed.

4. Use Ken Burns with Timelapse footage

The workflow here might not be too different, but it’s certainly easier than before. In QuickTime Player 7 (Pro), Open Image Sequence as usual, and choose the preferred frame rate. But rather than just cropping off the top and bottom of the image by exporting to 1920×1080, export a tall 2K QuickTime Movie. For Settings, choose ProRes 422 as the codec. For Size, choose custom, 2048×1556, and tick maintain aspect ratio with Letterbox. This is a 4:3 aspect ratio, a little squarer than a DSLR shoots, so you’ll have mild letterboxing top and bottom that we’ll crop off in FCP X.

Import the movie into FCP X. 2K is a supported resolution, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble with playback. Drop the clip into a timeline, select it, and press the Crop button in the Viewer. Crop will work if you only want to reframe, but Ken Burns should work well to allow a simple pan, tilt or dolly move. Zooming in a little is OK, but too much will cause blurriness, so if you want to blow the video up quite a bit, export from QuickTime Player 7 in 4K: 4096×3112. This will be slower, but you should be able to zoom it to 200% without quality loss.

5. Use hidden color correction keys

In FCP X, choose Final Cut Pro > Commands > Customize. In the search field in the top right corner, type “color”. You might like to add some keys to the top three commands: Apply Color Correction from Previous Clip, from Three Clips back, and from Two Clips back. You might also like to add keys to select the next or previous puck, and to nudge these pucks about.

6. Use Disk Images for extra media control

I was thinking this would work, yet Steve Martin thought a little faster and quicker. The quick version: use Disk Utility to create a huge “Sparse” image (sparse means it only takes up as much space as the media on it). Mount that image, then import your files to the image. When you unmount the image, any Events or Projects on that image will be inaccessible — good for projects you don’t want visible all the time when you don’t want to put them on an external drive. This is also a potential workaround for using unsupported disk types like Xsan. For much more info on this, read this article by Steve Martin.

If you have any more tips, send them on. If you’d like to learn the new Final Cut Pro X and you live in or Brisbane, Australia, head over to my training site, TrainingBrisbane.com.

Making Music in Soundtrack: The Basics

It’s easy to make your own music with Garageband or Soundtrack Pro. If you don’t have the budget to buy music, it’s essential to make your own to avoid copyright problems — and often quicker than searching through a library of “almost-right” music anyway.

The basic structure of Western music revolves around a rhythm, typically provided by drums and bass. Most songs work in rhythms that are a multiple of two, usually as groups of two or four loops, often changing on a multiple of four.

  • First, make sure Snapping is turned on (View > Snap should be checked).

The easiest way to get started with an original song is to audition a few drumbeats — to play them. There are many available to choose from, in many different musical styles.

  • Add a drum loop (we’ll call it “Drum 1”, and extend it across the entire timeline by clicking on the lower right-hand edge and dragging to the right. (Suggestion: “80s Pop Beat 10”.)
  • While Drum 1 plays in the timeline, audition several bass loops to complement the drums. (Suggestion: “80s Dance Bass Synth 02”.)
  • Drag the next loop (we’ll call it “Bass 1”) into track 2.
  • Extend Bass 1 across the entire timeline.
  • Reduce the volume of both tracks to approximately -9dB. This will give us room to add additional instruments without peaking (going higher than 0dB).

Now we’ll add a solo instrument to the mix. This is where much of the interest in a song comes from, and where most of the variation could be. This instrument might be a guitar, a synthesiser, or something else, but we’ll refer to “Solo 1” in these notes.

  • Play your composition so far.
  • Audition a few instruments and choose one that has several variations on a theme. (Suggestion: “Funky Electric Guitar Riff 1-49”.)
  • Add one of these solo instrument loops (referred to here as “Solo 1”) in track 3.
  • Position it at the start of the fifth measure, 5.1 on the measure ruler.
  • If it’s not already long enough, extend Solo 1 for four measures, to 9.1 on the measure ruler.
  • Pick a similar solo loop, the same length as or shorter than Solo 1. (We’ll refer to this loop as “Solo 2”.)
  • Add this loop to track 4 at 9.1 measures, and extend it for two measures only, to 11.1.
  • Duplicate Solo 1 (within track 3) by option-dragging it to 13.1 on the measure ruler. This should be immediately after Solo 2 finishes in track 4 — as if the musician is now playing different notes.
  • Reduce Solo 1 to half its original length.
  • Duplicate Solo 2 (within track 4) by option-dragging it. Position it immediately after the second instance of Solo 1 in track 3.
  • Select the second instance of Solo 2 and choose Clip > Transpose > +3. Transposing can add variation in a limited selection of suitable loops.

This structure now includes a pause at the beginning, a solo instrument, a variation in that solo instrument, a return to the original solo, then a variation on the second solo.

Your composition will probably need some work before being good enough to be given attention, though it could be OK as a backing track you hear now and again. For variety, we’ll now duplicate this structure and change it.

  • Select everything by choosing Edit > Select All (command-A).
  • Copy the entire structure.
  • Click at the end of the composition so far, in the first track, then choose Edit > Paste.
  • Creative rearrangement. Change the arrangement of the solo instruments — add a new pattern in the first four measures, transpose one or more loops, introduce new loops from the same family.
  • Split at least one track by selecting a loop at the end of a measure and pressing S. Letting a track rest now and again makes it sound fresher when it returns.

This basic structure can be varied and reused in many compositions. A little more info:

  • Western pop songs usually have an introduction (8 or 16 measures) followed by chorus and verse (each 16 or 32 measures).
  • A repeated chorus at the end is called a coda.
  • Within each chorus and verse, the harmony might change every one, two or four measures.
  • The end of a pattern is often different, to signify a change. This is called a fill.

Listen to as much music as you can, studying the structures used. Not every piece of music is a song; not every piece of music has or needs a rigid structure. However, knowing the basics will help you plan your music more easily — start working with the conventions and stretch them as appropriate.

Feedback is welcome. This tutorial was written some time ago for Soundtrack and has been heavily revised for Soundtrack Pro 3. The basic principles will also work for Garageband.

Obligatory plug: visit Motionally.com for all your Motion Template needs!

Canon 550D/T2i: Why not Log and Transfer?

Canon have released a plug-in to let you use Log and Transfer in Final Cut Pro. It doesn’t work out of the box with the 550D/T2i, but people have figured out  how to make it work.

I don’t recommend it. Why?

  1. It’s always a good idea to keep your original files. Metadata is important, especially if you’re building an archive for the future, especially if you have something like Final Cut Server to take immediate advantage of that metadata. It’s completely awesome to know exactly when everything was shot, automatically.
  2. You never gain quality by transcoding, and often lose something. ProRes isn’t going to lose noticeable quality, but it takes up much more space. One example: 32.2MB as shot, 86MB as ProRes. I’m not touching ProRes LT or anything else; quality is important and I try to avoid online/offline workflows wherever possible. And where’s my metadata gone?
  3. It’s possible to edit the native files if you need to save space and don’t need real-time effects. You can work in a native H.264 sequence with the native files — just be sure to set Field Dominance to None on all your clips before you start. Right-clicking lets you do them all at once, and do it before you add your first clip to a sequence and answer “yes” to the auto-conform prompt. Good for quick rough cuts or for editing long source clips down before conversion to ProRes.
  4. It’s dead simple to use a Compressor droplet to convert only the files you need. You don’t need any spare .THM files, you don’t need any kind of file structure, just the QuickTime movies that came off the memory card.

To me, it’s a miracle that we can just copy HD QuickTime movies off a disk and just play them. Why jump through all the Log and Transfer hoops we had to with AVCHD?

F-Key Options

Some odd Mac shortcuts you might not know. These all work if you’ve given the media keys (volume etc.) priority.

Option-Brightness (F1/F2) opens System Preferences > Displays.
Option-Expose or Dashboard (F3/F4) opens System Preferences > Exposé & Spaces.
Option-Volume (F9/10/11) opens System Preferences > Sound.

And one very few people will use:

Option-Eject opens the second optical drive on a Mac Pro.

The Pioneer Blu-ray 12x burner I bought is working out, though I do run a script to keep it from falling asleep. The script is:

on idle
do shell script "drutil info"
end idle

And it runs as an application (important).

But hey, it lets me burn Blu-ray discs ($4 each in lots of ten from here) through the Finder or through Final Cut at 10x. No coasters yet but I haven’t pushed it.

F-Keys Quickly

The function keys on the Mac are very useful in a few apps (Flash’s F5-8 and Motion’s F1-3 come to mind) but the rest of the time it’s probably more useful to have the media keys (volume, brightness etc.) up front. Yes, you can hold “fn” to get the other option, but that’s tedious. So is switching the priority in System Preferences > Keyboard all the time.

So, get a script to do it for you and use FastScripts to assign a shortcut key to it (F13, just above “fn”, is recommended). The only problem is that the posted script works on Leopard, but not Snow Leopard. So… here’s the modified script for 10.6:

tell application "System Preferences"
set current pane to pane "com.apple.preference.keyboard"
end tell

tell application "System Events"
-- If we don't have UI Elements enabled, then nothing is really going to work.
if UI elements enabled then
tell application process "System Preferences"
get properties

click radio button "Keyboard" of tab group 1 of window "Keyboard"
click checkbox "Use all F1, F2, etc. keys as standard function keys" of tab group 1 of window "Keyboard"
end tell
tell application "System Preferences" to quit
-- GUI scripting not enabled. Display an alert
tell application "System Preferences"
set current pane to pane "com.apple.preference.universalaccess"
display dialog "UI element scripting is not enabled. Please activate "Enable access for assistive devices""
end tell
end if
end tell

Convenient. Now you can use volume easily most of the time, but switch to the function keys for editing or animation.

Issues with Final Cut Pro 7’s Share feature

The best way to work with Compressor is to create a QuickCluster with the Qmaster System Preferences pane. If you tick “Share” next to “Compressor” and assign one instance per core, then “Start Sharing”, you should be set. Note that you may be able to start more instances than that, but be wary. My 4-core machine has 8 virtual threads, yet I can max the machine out with 4 instances.

So, all is well, right? Well, the new Final Cut Pro 7 has a “Share” feature which lets you keep working while Compressor does its thing in the background. (In FCP 6, if you sent directly to Compressor you had to wait for it to finish before you could continue work.) The problem is that FCP 7 doesn’t let you send to a QuickCluster. (It tries, but fails. For me, and documented here too.) If you can’t send to a QuickCluster, most of a Mac Pro’s CPU power is sitting there unused: maybe 300% of the 800% (100% being one thread) is used. More CPU power (600%+) is used by QuickTime Player, for goodness’ sake.

The solution, then, is to do exactly what you’d do under FCP 6. Ignore “Share”. Don’t “Send to Compressor”. Just export a full resolution QuickTime movie and give that to Compressor yourself. You can continue working in FCP (just as you could in v6) and Compressor will use as much horsepower as you’ve got.

I’m a little mystified as to why Apple would cripple such an easy-to-use, obviously useful feature. Maybe the performance hit doesn’t hurt so much on an iMac or MBP, but waiting while a Mac Pro sits even partly idle is just painful. Let’s hope they add just a little sprinkling of Grand Central Dispatch multicore-goodness across the whole studio and make this all go away.

Green Screen Tests

Hollywood Camera Work have kindly provided a series of free HD green screen plates, ideal to see if you really want to chase that future in compositing, to see how good you really are at keying, or to compare Final Cut’s keyer to Motion’s keyer, to AE’s keyer, etc. Nice stuff.

Motion or After Effects?

Short answer: Motion!

Sometimes I get a question about what Motion is like, from a user of After Effects. If that’s you, I refer you to this, which is not quite an After Effects vs Motion article.

A few of the listed negatives of Motion (linked parameters, depth of field, shadows, reflections) have just been rectified in the latest update (Motion 4, in Final Cut Studio 3) so there’s no excuse for not checking it out. Yes, After Effects has the users and the plug-in support, but if you use FCP, you’ve already got Motion. This is a little like the situation when InDesign started to come with Photoshop and Illustrator — it’s free, it’s at least as good as Quark, so why spend another $1000?

Motion integrates so well with Final Cut Pro I can’t recommend building, for example, lower thirds with After Effects. Save anything from Motion as a template and you can access it from Generators within FCP, change the text in FCP, play back in realtime and render on final export. No need to manage separate render files and there’s just a single file to change if the title template needs an update. Awesome.

While I freely admit I haven’t done anything serious with After Effects in years now, I can do in Motion everything I used to do in AE and a whole lot more (text effects, FCP integration, particles, replicator) besides. There are a few things I’d like in the latest AE (3D models, Flash vector output) but they aren’t essential to my workflow.

PLUG: Of course, if you’re an FCP editor who doesn’t have time to figure out how to use either program, just buy one of my templates from motionally.com. 🙂