Final Cut Expert Guide

Director Alfred Hitchcock once said, "Drama is life with the dull bits left out." In his day, creating that drama involved slicing film, hanging individual shots in fabric-lined bins, gluing those shots together, and scrawling on them with a grease pencil to call for effects such as fades.

Today, you can cut out the dull bits--or more accurately, assemble the interesting ones--using your Mac and affordable video-editing software. And for a growing number of professional and independent video editors and filmmakers, Apple's Final Cut Pro is the editing program of choice.

The $999 Final Cut Pro 2 (4.0 mice. ; Reviews , July 2001) has a wealth of features that approach those in editing workstations with five-figure price tags, such as Avid Technology's Media Composer family. Apple's latest release is as adept at working with low-cost MiniDV-format camcorders as it is at controlling high-end DigiBeta broadcast gear. It's suitable for creating both movies for Web sites and feature films for the silver screen. And its power is wrapped in an elegant, responsive interface that looks and works much like that of a high-end Avid system.

To help you take full advantage of Final Cut Pro's power, we've organized tips to use throughout the video-production process: setting up your system, capturing footage, editing, applying effects, and outputting.

Preproduction

The entire editing process will go more smoothly if you keep the demands of video editing in mind as you set up your system.

A Solid Foundation Although Final Cut Pro 2 will run on a 300MHz G3 Mac, it's much snappier on a G4 system because this version is highly optimized for the G4's Velocity Engine circuitry. A multiprocessor system is better still: a 533MHz dual-processor Power Mac G4 renders images faster than a 733MHz single-processor machine. Final Cut Pro demands a Mac with at least 256MB of RAM--and more memory will boost performance.

Have Enough Room All modern high-capacity hard drives meet the 3.6-MBps data-transfer rate that FireWire-based DV camcorders require. But that doesn't always mean you can get by with your Mac's built-in drive; DV-format video gobbles up 216MB per minute. What's more, a hard drive can have trouble playing back a project containing multiple audio tracks, transitions, and effects. As the drive's heads seek from one preview file to another while reading several tracks of audio, playback may suffer dropped video frames and stuttering sound, especially if the drive has been fragmented by the addition and removal of files.

Consider using a second, dedicated hard drive to store captured video. If you keep your System Folder and the Final Cut Pro application on one drive and your work on another, you'll reduce the need for seeking, improving your system's overall performance and lowering the risk of playback problems.

To direct Final Cut Pro to use a drive other than your startup drive for captured and rendered video clips, choose Preferences from the Edit menu and then use the buttons under the Scratch Disks tab to guide Final Cut Pro to your chosen media drive.

Use Another Screen Final Cut Pro can display your work on a FireWire camcorder's LCD screen, but it can do so better on a television monitor connected to the camcorder. Many analog capture products, such as Matrox's $999 RTMac ( www.matrox.com ), also hook up to an external TV monitor. A TV screen is preferable to Final Cut Pro's relatively tiny Canvas window for previewing your work, and it's essential for accurately assessing and correcting color. (For more on color issues, see "Crafty Color." )

You can even add a second computer monitor to display some of Final Cut Pro's many windows. To cut down on scrolling and zooming, put your Timeline window on the wider monitor and stash lesser-used windows on the other.

Arrange Your Windows Final Cut Pro provides several preset window arrangements that you can customize. You might use the Standard arrangement when logging and capturing video or working on a PowerBook; it provides large Viewer and Canvas windows. When you're in the editing trenches, switching to the Wide arrangement will give you a bigger Timeline window. The Viewer and Canvas windows are smaller in Wide mode, but if you're using an external TV monitor, this won't be a problem. The Standard arrangement, with its larger Canvas window, is always just a keyboard shortcut away: control-U.

You can also save your own window arrangements--handy if you're using two monitors, or if you simply prefer a custom window layout to one of Final Cut Pro's. Just press the option key and choose Set Custom Layout 1 or Set Custom Layout 2 from the Window menu's Arrange submenu.

Select and Modify Settings When you embark on a project, you must specify settings for audio and video capture, camcorder control, video playback, and more. Configuring these correctly is critical in avoiding problems such as dropped video frames or distorted or out-of-sync audio.

Final Cut Pro's settings are scattered across numerous dialog boxes, all of which have multiple tabs containing several options. Fortunately, Final Cut Pro 2's new Easy Setup options usually eliminate the need to venture into these dialog boxes at all. An Easy Setup is a collection of settings stored under a single name; when you choose one (via the Edit menu), Final Cut Pro applies a dozen or more settings in one fell swoop.

Final Cut Pro includes Easy Setups for several common production scenarios, but you may have to modify certain settings. To capture footage shot using 32KHz audio rather than the preferred 48KHz, for example, you'll need to select the DV NTSC 48KHz Capture setup and then click on the Duplicate button. In the dialog box that appears, choose 32KHz audio. Don't forget to edit the new setup's name and description to reflect your changes.

Stop Whining You've captured some DV-format video and disconnected your camera. Now every time you launch Final Cut Pro, it tells you that the "external device is missing."

To eliminate this annoying message, first choose Audio/Video Settings from the Edit menu. From the Device Control Preset pop-up menu that appears, choose Non-Controllable Device. From the External Video menu, choose None. Now click on the Create Easy Setup button, enter a setup name and description, and deselect the Enable Verification Of Device Control In First Start Dialog option. Finally, click on the Create button and type in the new Easy Setup's name.

You can use this setup when you don't want Final Cut Pro to look for your camera. When you reconnect the camera, simply switch back to your previous setting.

Capture Strategies

To edit video, you have to bring it into your Mac; here are some tips on Final Cut Pro's capture features.

Dropped Frames Many users who upgrade to Final Cut Pro 2 find that it aborts when capturing from a DV device. Because of a long-standing glitch with QuickTime captures, the Mac's FireWire interface often misses a few frames and duplicates others as it starts to capture DV. Final Cut Pro 2 interprets this as dropped frames and therefore aborts the capture.

To prevent this, tell Final Cut Pro to not abort on dropped frames: Choose Preferences from the Edit menu and deselect the Abort On Dropped Frames option.

If Final Cut Pro reports dropped frames after you've captured a clip, check the clip's properties (control-click on the clip in the Browser window and then choose Item Properties from the contextual menu). If you see an unusual frame rate, such as 23.483 frames per second (fps), instead of the proper 29.97 fps, chances are that a problem in your system--such as a heavily fragmented hard drive--is causing dropped frames.

Log And Capture Final Cut Pro's device-control features can save you hard drive space by logging and capturing only those portions of a tape you think you'll use. In the Log And Capture window, specify which clips you want and click on the Batch Capture button; then take a break while Final Cut Pro does all the work.

And to save time and spare your tendons, familiarize yourself with Final Cut Pro's keyboard shortcuts (see "Essential Keyboard Shortcuts" for a list).

By default, Final Cut Pro prompts you to name individual clips as you log them. If you'd rather name clips after you've batch-captured a group of them, deselect the Prompt option in the Log And Capture window.


Divide and Conquer You can use Final Cut Pro 2.0's scene-detection features, such as the DV Start/Stop Detection and Make Subclip commands, to divide DV footage into separate clips.

Love Handles If you disable the Abort On Dropped Frames option, consider padding your captured clips with handles that are a few seconds long. Final Cut Pro can add time to the beginning and end of each clip; if, as is likely, dropped frames occur at the very beginning of a clip, they'll be in the in-point handle.

To add handles, click on the Batch button in the Log And Capture window. In the resulting Batch Capture dialog box, be sure the Add Handles option is selected; then enter a timecode value in the adjacent text box to set the duration.

Alternative to Logging Final Cut Pro controls DV camcorders with aplomb, but most DV camcorders don't lend themselves to the demands of batch capturing. Delays of a couple of seconds each time the camcorder switches from, say, rewind mode to playback mode are common. And all that starting and stopping can take a toll on the tape-transport mechanisms in consumer-grade camcorders.

If you have sufficient hard drive space, it's better to simply capture large chunks of video all at once and then divvy them up into separate subclips . A subclip is a kind of virtual clip: it simply points to a section of footage in another clip, yet you can manipulate it as you can any other clip. Final Cut Pro 2 has some slick new features that make this process easy with a DV camcorder. You can even use Final Cut Pro 2's terrific media-management features to organize assets and reclaim hard drive space (for more on this, see " Managing Media.")

First, use the Log And Capture window's Capture Now button to grab a chunk of video; then drag the footage to the Browser window to save it. With the footage still selected in the Browser window, choose DV Start/Stop Detection from the Tools menu. Final Cut Pro will scan the footage and set markers at each scene break (see "Divide and Conquer").

To create subclips, select these markers and then choose Make Subclip from the Modify menu (or press command-U). Use the Browser window to give each subclip a descriptive name. Now you can open and work with any scene in the Viewer window by double-clicking on its name. And don't worry if you find yourself needing a bit more footage from the master clip; with your subclip selected, choose Remove Subclip Limits from the Modify menu to gain access to the entire clip.

In the Cutting Room

Among software-only solutions, Final Cut Pro alone provides the kind of industrial-strength editing features that serious video producers demand. These let you tweak edits with single-frame accuracy, manage the gigabytes that make up a large project, and more.

Edit Efficiently Video-editing programs don't force you to work in a linear, beginning-to-end fashion--that's why they're called nonlinear editors. You can trim clips either before or after adding them to the timeline. You can add transitions and other visual effects as you edit, or apply them at the end of the entire process. And you can tackle individual scenes in any order. Still, it's more efficient to perform editing tasks in a certain way. For example, we like to tweak the lengths of clips before they're added to the timeline. (Open a clip in the Viewer window, and as it plays, press I to set its in-point and O to set its out-point.)

Similarly, you might prefer to flesh out the overall structure of scenes by creating a rough cut in which the clips are in their final order but their lengths aren't precisely trimmed and no effects or transitions are applied. This lets you concentrate on establishing the rhythm of the project as a whole, and it eliminates the waste of rendering effects that may change later.

For some ventures, your editing will often be determined by the audio: with a documentary, for example, you might cut to show different scenes of a historic site as a narrator describes them. In such cases, lay out a rough audio bed first--for instance, add the final narrative audio to the timeline--and then edit your visuals to fit.

Managing Bins In Final Cut Pro, you can organize your media assets--audio and video clips, still images, and the like--into folder-like bins . Using multiple bins is a great way to bring order to the hundreds of assets that make up a lengthy project.

The nature of your undertaking will influence how you use bins. For a wildlife-documentary project, you might create subject-oriented bins: ocean shots, bird close-ups, and so on. For narrative films, each scene or act might have a separate bin. You could also make a bin to hold the original shots that you captured and later divided into subclips. You can put bins inside other bins, but don't go overboard: locating an item that's buried too deep can be difficult.

Final Cut Pro normally sorts the list of a bin's contents by name. The problem with this is that when you rename an item, it may jump to a different location in the list, becoming hard to find in a bin with many items.

If you want renamed items to stay put, you can sort your bins' contents by a different criterion, such as an unused label column. (To change the sort order, click on the heading of the column by which you want to sort.)

Sequence Strategies One Final Cut Pro advantage that you won't find in Adobe Premiere is the ability to divide your projects into multiple sequences , each with its own timeline. You can even nest sequences, putting one within another.

Nested sequences make it far easier to create certain kinds of special effects. An example: after editing your movie, you decide it would look better in letterboxed format. Instead of applying Final Cut Pro's Widescreen filter to every shot in your movie, you can just select them all and nest them in another sequence (choose Sequence: Nest Items). The new sequence will appear in the Timeline window as if it were a single clip, so you can apply the Widescreen filter to all its contents with just one trip to the Effects menu.

Nesting sequences also makes sophisticated compositing (combining video layers) possible. If you nest a series of shots in one sequence, it becomes easy to layer and otherwise modify those shots using Final Cut Pro's compositing and effects features.

Multiple sequences have other organizational benefits. Dividing a lengthy project into several sequences makes it easier to move edited scenes around within the larger structure of a project--especially helpful in documentary work, where you might want to experiment with different structures or versions. It's also valuable when you're editing a project while it's still being shot, since scenes can more eas-ily be rearranged as new ones come in.

Editing Shortcuts Final Cut Pro provides a dizzying array of keyboard shortcuts, but the most efficient technique is often a combination of the mouse and keyboard. Say you've specified the in- and out-points for a clip and you're ready to add it to the timeline. With the timeline's playhead positioned where you want to insert the clip, press F9, the keyboard shortcut for an insert edit . Now double-click on the next clip in the browser, set its in- and out-points, and press F9 again.

To use Final Cut Pro's current default transition between the clip you're adding and the one to the playhead's immediate left, press shift-F9. To replace the footage at the playhead (an overwrite edit ), press F10; tooverwrite it with a transition, press shift-F10.

Similarly, you can use the numeric keypad and the mouse to make precise edits. Say you want to perform a two-second rolling edit. (A rolling edit adds footage to one clip and subtracts an equal amount from the next clip, preserving a sequence's overall length.) In Final Cut Pro's tool palette, select the rolling-edit tool (or just press R). Next, select the edit point that separates the two clips. Finally, type -200 and press the return key.

The ability to type time-code values directly into the Timeline window makes possible all manner of tricks. To move a clip four seconds later, select the clip, type +400, and press return. To jump to the timeline's two-minute mark, deselect all clips (press command-D), type 2... (that's 2 followed by three periods), and press return.

Transitions and Effects

Of course, Final Cut Pro has the standard array of video transitions--dissolves, wipes, irises, and so on. But it also provides some productivity-boosting variations. And the strength of its video-effects and compositing features means you can often do without a dedicated motion-graphics package such as Adobe After Effects.

Optimize Your Display If you frequently work with a specific type of transition--dissolves, for instance--create a separate tab in the Browser window that shows only dissolves. In the Browser, click on the Effects tab, and then double-click on the Dissolve folder. Final Cut Pro opens a separate window containing just the dissolve transitions. Drag that window by its tab into the Browser window, and it becomes another tabbed window in the Browser. Now you can access dissolves simply by clicking on the Dissolve tab.

Customize Transitions and Filters Say you're working on a wedding-video project that uses a lot of Page Peel transitions between still images. Build your custom Page Peel with just the right curl, a splashy bit of highlight, and a backing that matches the peach-colored roses in the bride's bouquet. Now drag that transition from the Viewer window into the Favorites bin of the Effects panel. Rename it Peach Peel, and you can use it throughout this wedding project and future ones. To designate a default transition, control-click on your choice in the Effects browser and then choose Set Default Transition from the contex-tual menu.

You can also create custom effects filters. Apply the filter to a clip and tweak its settings as desired; with the clip selected, choose Make Favorite Effect from the Modify menu. Then go to the Effects browser and give the filter a descriptive name.

Watch As You Tweak When you're adjusting a filter's settings in the Canvas window, you can't see the effects of those adjustments on your video clip. The solution: drag the Video tab out of the Viewer window and create a separate window for it. This way, you can see results as you tweak the filter's settings.

Alternatively, you might want to drag the Filter tab out of the Viewer window and down to the Timeline window. This is useful if you plan to modify a filter's settings over time--for example, to have a clip get progressively blurrier. You'll have a wide Filters window in which you can set keyframes to animate the filter.

Falling Short You added a transition but didn't get the results you expected--perhaps you wanted a three-second cross-dissolve, but Final Cut Pro gave you one that's 2 seconds and 4 frames long.

This usually happens because there aren't enough video frames in the outgoing and/or incoming clips to accommodate the transition you wanted--a common source of confusion for Final Cut Pro newcomers. (For all the details and some transition tips, see "Making the Transition.")

Titling Final Cut Pro's titling features are not among its finest attributes. The titling effects, or text generators , can't use PostScript fonts, and they limit you to one font, size, and style per title. Nor will they let you manually adjust the spacing between characters--tuck a lowercase o beneath a capital T , for example.

Some text generators have an automatic-kerning feature that tightens up character spacing overall, but avoid it if your content will be distributed on VHS tape. Automatic kerning tends to space characters tightly, which can make them difficult to read.

Although its text generators are weak, Final Cut Pro's ability to combine, or composite, video layers makes it easy to create special titling effects. (For an example, see "Creating Video in Text.")

After Effects Plug-ins One of the best additions in Final Cut Pro 2 is actually a third-party product. Boris Script Ltd, an After Effects plug-in found in the Extras folder on the Final Cut Pro 2 CD, is a scaled-down version of Boris FX's Graffiti titler. It's a great tool with none of the limitations of Final Cut Pro's text generators: with it, you can mix and match fonts and styles, kern characters, and even set tabs to create small tables.

Titles That Span Clips It's common for a superimposed title to run for more than one clip--and a lengthy, scrolling title might span numerous shots. But applying Boris Script to multiple individual shots is a lot of work, and you can't do it for animated titles. What's more, if you change a shot to which you applied Boris Script, the title will disappear and you'll have to reapply it.

Here's a better approach: First, create a slug--a black clip that you can use as a placeholder for other clips or to perform special tricks--and add it to the second video (V2) track, above the clips that it will be superimposed over. (To create a slug, use the Generators area of the Effects browser or choose Slug from the Generators pop-up menu in the Viewer window.) Apply Boris Script to this slug. Next, with the titled slug visible in the Viewer window, click on the Filters tab and deselect the Composite On Original option. Now change the slug's duration to match the length of the clip or clips that the title will span. To fade the title in and out, use the opacity controls under the Filters or Motion tabs.

Output Options

The final step in production is to record your edited project back to videotape and compress it for Web or CD-ROM delivery--or perhaps both.

Use the Spacebar Final Cut Pro provides several ways to output to tape, but the easiest and most reliable is simply to put your video deck in Record mode and then press the spacebar to play your sequence.

Before you proceed, be sure all transitions, filters, and effects are rendered at the Hi-Res setting--lower-resolution settings you may have used to preview your work won't look good on a TV. If you have numerous audio tracks or effects, mix your audio down to a stereo pair to prevent stuttering and other problems caused by an overworked hard drive. (Choose Mixdown Audio from the Sequence menu.)

This method of outputting to video won't incorporate any extras, such as color bars, audio test tones, or countdown footage. If you need those--say, for a duplication house or a broadcaster--add them to the beginning of your sequence. This is another occasion when multiple sequences come in handy: you can create a standard "beginning of tape" sequence to insert at the start of a sequence before you record it to tape.

Print To Video A more sophisticated means of outputting a project is the Print To Video command. It will add extras such as color bars for you, and it can also record an identification message, called a slate , to run prior to the sequence's content. By default, the slate text is the name of the clip or sequence you're printing to video. To change it, choose Text in the Print To Video dialog box and then type in your desired text.

Another option is to use an image file for the slate: in Photoshop, create a custom slate with your company logo on it, for example; then choose the File option in the Print To Video dialog box, click on the file-chooser button, and select the file. You can even have an audio slate: in the file-chooser dialog box, select Sound Files from the Show pop-up menu, and then navigate to the sound file.

Although the Print To Video command offers more output options, we recommend using the simpler record-and-play approach--Print To Video isn't always reliable. Some users have reported dropped frames, others have encountered missing audio channels, and still others have described random glitches. Most Final Cut Pro gurus advise simply playing your sequence while you record it.

Edit To Tape Use the Edit To Tape output method for professional-level features, such as the ability to cleanly replace a shot in the middle of a tape without having to re-record the shots around it. Editing to tape requires a video deck capable of frame-accurate insert editing (a Betacam or DigiBeta deck, for example). These connect via an RS-422 serial interface and use different device-control protocols than FireWire-based DV devices do.

Go Beyond TV Final Cut Pro 2 includes Media 100's Cleaner 5 EZ, a scaled-down version of the $599 Cleaner 5 compression utility (4.5 mice. ; Reviews , February 2001). You can use Cleaner 5 EZ to prepare your video for the Web or for CD-ROM distribution.

Before you compress a sequence in Cleaner 5 EZ, choose Final Cut Pro Movie from the editing program's Export submenu (located under the File menu). In the Export dialog box, be sure that the Make Movie Self-Contained option is not selected--doing so will dramatically speed up the export process and save hard drive space. Note, however, that this requires the file you're exporting and its original media to be on the same machine. If you plan to do your compression on a different computer, select the Make Movie Self-Contained option. Then after you've exported the movie, open Cleaner 5 EZ and compress it.

The Last Word

Final Cut Pro has helped bring video-editing tools to the masses, but it hasn't changed the arts of editing and filmmaking at all. As you master this remarkable program, remember that every shot, every cut, every transition, and every effect should contribute to the story you're trying to tell. And bear in mind another of Hitchcock's famous quotations: "The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder."

Contributing Editor JIM HEID ( www.jimheid.com ) has been writing about digital video since 1991. TOM WOLSKY ( www.southcoasttv.com ) is a former producer for ABC News in New York and in London, England, and is the author of Final Cut Pro 2 Editing Workshop , coming soon from CMP Books.

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