Graduate to Final Cut Express

Today's Best Tech Deals

Picked by Macworld's Editors

Top Deals On Great Products

Picked by Techconnect's Editors

You've put in your time and mastered iMovie. You're finally ready to graduate to the next level. But instead of going directly to Apple's Ivy League video editor, Final Cut Pro, you can now get a professional video-editing program -- Final Cut Express -- for a third of Final Cut Pro's price. With the same interface and many of the same features as the revered video-editing institution, the $299 Final Cut Express (   ; May 2003) offers the higher education you've worked so hard to prepare for. If you've just advanced from iMovie to Final Cut Express, or if you're considering that course, take this opportunity to see how the iMovie tasks you're already familiar with are accomplished in Final Cut Express -- and see the cool new features you'll gain.


If you're used to iMovie, you may feel disoriented -- and somewhat intimidated -- by Final Cut Express's interface. Unlike iMovie, which provides one tidy window, Final Cut Express starts up with four windows, a Tools palette, and an Audio Meters palette (see "Editing Suites"). But once you're acquainted with all the parts, you'll see that the two interfaces aren't that different after all. (And like iMovie 3, Final Cut Express runs only in OS X.)

Timeline As in iMovie, the timeline is where you assemble your clips in the order in which they will play back.

Browser Like iMovie's shelf, Final Cut Express's browser is the storage center for all your clips and media files. The browser can also include bins, folders that can contain other media, and sequences, the collections of clips you assemble in the timeline (see "Why Upgrade to Final Cut Express?" for more on sequences). The browser is also one place to access Final Cut Express's built-in effects, just as iMovie's effects are displayed on its shelf.

Viewer and Canvas Final Cut Express displays your footage in two windows: the Viewer window is where you edit individual clips, transitions, and text titles; the Canvas window is where you play back the sequence you've built in the timeline, and where you edit motion effects. These two windows do the same thing as iMovie's one monitor, but don't let that flummox you -- many professional editors look at iMovie and wonder who stole the second monitor.

Capturing Footage

Before you use either program to edit video, you need to transfer raw footage from your camcorder. While iMovie offers one method, Final Cut Express has two: Capture Now grabs an unbroken stream of video, and Capture Clip grabs one clip at a time. To begin capturing footage, open the Capture window by selecting File: Capture or pressing 1-8.

Capture Now Like iMovie's Import feature, Capture Now records footage from your camcorder onto your hard drive until you manually stop the capture operation -- for most people, this is the simplest and best choice. Using the transport controls in the lower left corner of the Capture window, locate the beginning of the footage you want to capture. Click on the play button to start the camcorder's playback (or press the play button on the camcorder itself), and then click on the Now button at the bottom right corner of the window, in the Capture area, to start recording footage (see "Capture This"). When you're finished, press the escape key to stop capturing; this also stops camcorder playback.

Unlike capturing footage with iMovie, this approach stores all your captured footage in one big lump in the browser -- individual clips aren't automatically created at each scene break. But after you capture a clip, you can simply select it and choose DV Start/Stop Detection from the Mark menu. The program will scan the footage for scene breaks and create a placeholder, called a marker, for each. To view the resulting segments, control-click in the browser and choose View As List from the contextual menu that appears -- in general, a list view is a better, more functional choice.

Markers don't actually split your footage into multiple clips; as far as Final Cut Express is concerned, you've captured one long clip. To work with the separate scenes as individual clips (as in iMovie), select each marker in the browser and choose Modify: Make Subclip. You can then drag individual subclips to the timeline to assemble your movie.

Capture Clip Slightly more complicated, Capture Clip illustrates a fundamental difference in the ways iMovie and Final Cut Express approach video editing. Instead of blindly capturing all the footage on your camcorder's tape, Final Cut Express lets you specify a range of frames to capture as a clip -- you do this by setting an in-point (the clip's start) and an out-point (the clip's end).

This approach has several benefits. You get one clip that can be added to your sequence (as in iMovie), and you're not filling your hard drive with footage you won't use. And if you need to recapture that clip from the original source tape (for example, if you lose the clip's media file), Final Cut Express can locate and grab the exact frames you specified -- tomorrow or a year from now. The downside is that Capture Clip's implementation in Final Cut Express is somewhat tedious.

Use the transport controls to review your footage, find the beginning of a clip you want to capture, and then click on the Mark In button (or press the I key) to set the clip's in-point. When you reach the end of your clip, click on the Mark Out button (or press the O key) to set an out-point. With the in- and out-points defined, click on the Clip button (located at the bottom right corner of the window, in the Capture area). In the Log Clip dialog box that appears, give your clip a distinctive name (and enter a note if you want). Final Cut Express rewinds the camcorder to the first frame and records the clip to your hard drive. Repeat these steps for each clip you want to capture. To minimize repetition, consider using Capture Clip to grab a long section of footage and then employing DV Start/Stop Detection to create subclips.

Editing Clips

You'll always end up with more footage than you need for your final movie -- Francis Ford Coppola shot 230 hours for the 3-hour film Apocalypse Now. Although you probably won't be stacking DV tapes to the ceiling, you will need to pare down your footage, and that's one area where Final Cut Express excels -- even if the process seems cumbersome at first.

In iMovie, you select a clip and then whittle it down to what you want to use by splitting or cropping it -- like carving a figure out of a bar of soap. If you realize later that you need 2 more seconds at the end of your clip, you can either find the portion that you trimmed away (unless you cut it out entirely) or resuscitate the original, uncut version (by choosing Advanced: Restore Clip and starting over again).

Final Cut Express will make you wonder how you lived with such a limitation. As you can tell from the Capture Clip feature, Final Cut Express encourages you to abandon the idea of slicing up clips and to embrace the concept of using in- and out-points to define a clip's usable portions.

Visual Editing Suppose you've captured a clip of your family vacation in Vermont, and you want to use just the portion of your family at the roadside. First locate the clip in the browser and double-click on it to display it in the Viewer window. Then position the playhead at the point where your family turns to the camera, and press the I key to set the in-point. Move the playhead to where you want the clip to stop, and press the O key to set the out-point (see "Ins and Outs"). To add the clip to your movie, click in the Viewer window's image area and drag to the timeline -- only the frames between the in- and out-points will appear. Note that the entire clip remains intact. If you need to fine-tune your edit, you can easily adjust the in- and out-points by moving them along the scrubber bar or by repositioning the playhead and setting new points.

Time-Code Editing Say you have a 12-second clip that you want to use just 6 seconds of. If the first frame you want to use begins at the 3-second mark, position the playhead at the point where the time-code indicator (the field in the upper right corner of the Viewer window) reads 00:00:03:00 to set the in-point. You want a 6-second clip, so move the playhead to the 9-second mark (00:00:09:00) -- or type +600 while your cursor is in the Viewer window -- and set the out-point. You've specified the middle 6 seconds as the clip's duration.

If you want to edit your clip but maintain its length, hold down the shift key while dragging one of the points to move them both, a process known as slipping. When you do this, the Viewer window shows the first frame and the Canvas window shows the last frame -- one benefit of having two monitor windows.

Nondestructive Editing Final Cut Express has another advantage when you're editing clips -- true nondestructive editing. In iMovie, you're always working with one clip entity (unless you copy and paste to create a duplicate). The clip you split or crop is the same one you drag to the timeline to add to your movie. Final Cut Express, however, always works with copies of clips -- the clip you just dragged from the Viewer window to the timeline is now separate from the clip you first double-clicked on in the browser (and both clips still point to one media file on your hard drive).

This means that you can reedit the clip in the timeline without disrupting the clip in the browser (and vice versa), and you can create an unlimited number of clip copies to experiment with. To avoid editing the wrong clip, always display the clip you want to edit by double-clicking on it in the Viewer. In the preceding example, you'd double-click on the clip you'd moved to the timeline, not the clip in the browser, to reedit.

So why is this an advantage instead of an annoyance? When you have an entire source clip available for editing, it's easy to tweak the clip to suit your needs. For example, if that 6-second clip in the timeline needs to be 8 seconds long instead, just double-click on the clip in the timeline; then, in the Viewer window, move the out-point 2 seconds to the right -- the clip's duration will change in the timeline.


Applying transitions in Final Cut Express is similar to that process in iMovie -- you choose a transition from a list and drag it to the timeline. But Final Cut Express arranges its transitions a little differently from iMovie, categorizing them by type and storing them in folders under the Effects tab in the browser. To apply a transition, click on the Effects tab and then click on a folder's expansion triangle -- for example, the Video Transitions folder's. Choose a transition, such as Cross Dissolve, located in the Dissolve subfolder, and then drag it to the space between two clips in the timeline.

In Final Cut Express, you also use in- and out-points when applying transitions. In the case of dissolves, the frames outside the in- and out-points are blended with frames from adjoining clips. This ensures that the portion of the clip you defined using in- and out-points is fully visible when the transition finishes (it also means that you need enough extra frames in the adjoining clips to accommodate the transition). By comparison, iMovie overlaps portions of adjoining clips -- this means, for example, that if you want to transition between a clip of your family and a clip of your baby's first steps, applying a Cross Dissolve transition between them could obscure those important steps in the blended section. As a result, adding a Cross Dissolve in Final Cut Express does not reduce the length of your movie, as it does in iMovie.

Easier Cross Dissolves Since Cross Dissolve is probably the most frequently used transition, Final Cut Express also offers an easier way to apply it. Position the playhead at the point where you want the transition to appear, and then drag a clip from the Viewer window to the Canvas window, instead of the timeline. When you do this, an overlay appears in the Canvas with options for applying the clip; drop the clip onto Insert With Transition, and Final Cut Express adds a Cross Dissolve transition with your clip.

Editing Transitions As you might expect, you have more control over editing transitions in Final Cut Express. In the case of Cross Dissolve, iMovie lets you change only the effect's duration (by selecting the transition and then adjusting the Speed slider in the Trans pane).

In Final Cut Express, double-click on the transition in the timeline to edit its attributes in the Viewer window. The transition appears sandwiched between the preceding clip (above it) and the following clip (below it). To change its duration, click and drag its left or right edge. You can also choose the point where the transition will occur between the adjoining clips by clicking on one of the three buttons marked with triangles: Start On Edit obscures more of the preceding clip, Center On Edit balances the clips equally, and End On Edit obscures more of the following clip. Other transitions contain more controls -- for example, the Iris options include attributes such as color, border size, and placement of the transition's center point.

Adjusting Audio Levels

In iMovie 3, clicking on the Edit Volume button displays audio line levels that can be dragged up or down to change volume -- a big improvement on previous versions. Final Cut Express uses similar line levels as the main method of changing clip volume.

Changing the Volume Click on the Clip Overlays button in the lower left corner of the timeline to reveal controls similar to iMovie's. To change the volume of an entire clip, click and drag the line. If you want to change the volume at different points within the clip, select the Pen tool from the Tools palette (or press P), click on the line twice to create two new audio keyframes, and then drag one of the points to adjust its volume (you need at least two points to make this type of adjustment; otherwise, you'll change the entire clip's volume).

For more control, double-click on the clip to display it in the Viewer window, click on the Audio tab, and then pick the channel (left or right) you wish to edit. Use the Pen tool on the line levels to adjust volume. To make a clip completely silent, drag the line to the bottom of the channel's window.

Creating Titles

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but sometimes you need the words themselves -- and that's where titles come in. In Final Cut Express, you create titles with text generators, which offer more controls than the title effects in iMovie's Titles pane. To access the text generators, go to the browser's Effects tab, open the Video Generators folder, and then open the Text subfolder. There you'll find a handful of title effects such as Crawl and Scrolling Text.

Generate Double-click on a text generator to open it in the Viewer window, enter your title in the Text field, and use the settings to define the title's appearance. Titles generally use two Viewer tabs: Video previews the title and Controls contains all the sliders and pop-up menus you'll need. If you want to see how the title looks as you change its settings, without having to switch back and forth between the tabs, drag the Video tab out of the Viewer to display it in a new window.

Apply Drag the title from the Effects window to an empty video track on the timeline (this is usually just above the active video track); you could also insert the title in your main video track, but putting it on its own track gives you more flexibility and lets you preview the title with the video footage in the Canvas window. To edit it later, double-click on the clip in the timeline and make adjustments in the Controls tab of the Viewer window.

Beware The outer regions of your screen aren't television friendly -- choose View: Title Safe to display an overlay in the Canvas window showing the outer edges of where you can safely place text. Also, even though there appear to be far fewer title styles available in Final Cut Express than in iMovie, remember that you can use Final Cut Express's motion controls to animate and distort text with a high degree of variation.

Exporting to Tape and DVD

Once you've finished editing your movie, you'll want to share it with others, typically by exporting it to a DV tape in your camcorder or to DVD.

Save to Tape Saving your movie to a DV tape gives you a high-quality print that doesn't occupy dozens of gigabytes on your hard drive; if you're planning to get film prints made or to have an external service create a DVD for you, some companies will use the tape as the master copy. In iMovie, saving to tape is a simple matter of exporting the movie and choosing To Camera from the Export dialog box. Final Cut Express has two methods. For either one, make sure your camera is in VCR, VTR, or Play mode, not Camera mode (the mode name depends on the camera).

The standard route is to choose File: Print To Video. This option has the benefit of letting you add extra material to the movie stream -- color bars, clip information, a countdown, and black frames before and after the movie. The more efficient route is to set your camcorder to record and then start playing the movie in the Canvas window. This option is handy when you need to dump footage to tape for testing purposes.

But for some camcorder owners, Final Cut Express doesn't automatically enable the camcorder's record feature (something that iMovie does easily). The solution is to start recording on the camcorder manually and then to use one of the two methods mentioned previously. Alas, there's another problem: many cameras don't have an obvious record option in VCR mode. But that does not mean it's not there. Look for a button marked Rec-Pause (Line-In), and press it; the camera will go into pause mode. Then press the camcorder's Play button to enable its record mode. You may need to do this using the remote control that came with your camera.

Burn to DVD Getting your movie onto DVD is an easier prospect in Final Cut Express, but not as simple as iMovie 3's direct link to iDVD 3. Choose File: Export: Final Cut Movie. From the Include pop-up menu, choose audio, video, or both. If the Make Movie Self-Contained option is selected, Final Cut Express will create a fresh copy, including all the media files, on your drive; otherwise, it will create a much smaller movie that references the original media. (If you're burning the DVD on another machine, make the movie self-contained; if your Mac will do the burning, deselect this option.) Click on Save to export the movie; then import it into iDVD 3.

Final Cut Express also has a DVD-chapters feature much like iMovie 3's iDVD Chapter Markers. To define a chapter, position the playhead and choose Mark: Markers: Add, or press the M key. A new marker is created (of the same variety that Final Cut Express makes when running the DV Start/Stop Detection feature mentioned earlier). Press the M key again to display the Edit Marker dialog box, give the marker a name, and then click on the Add Chapter Marker button. When you export your sequence as a Final Cut Movie, select Chapter Markers from the Markers pop-up menu. Once imported into iDVD 3, your markers will appear as DVD chapters. Note that chapter markers will also work with DVD Studio Pro, although the encoding is done directly from Final Cut Express using Apple's MPEG-2 encoder.

The Last Word

Even after you've mastered iMovie's simple interface, Final Cut Express can seem a bit frightening. But once you understand that Final Cut Express offers you a more professional and precise editing environment than iMovie, you'll see that time spent learning how to use Final Cut Express is an important investment in your moviemaking future.

1 2 Page 1
Page 1 of 2
Shop Tech Products at Amazon