Transitioning from iMovie '11 to Final Cut Pro X

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iMovie ’11 is a great application for getting started with video editing. It’s intuitive, it includes high-quality templates and simple effects, and it can handle most basic editing tasks. And since it comes as part of the iLife ’11 suite of applications included on every new Mac, the price can’t be beat.

Exit iMovie, enter Final Cut Pro X

But iMovie does have some limitations that you may bump up against before long. For example, you can add only one video effect per clip, and you can't adjust the effect. The green-screen keyer can’t be fine-tuned—it either works or it doesn’t. The tools for manipulating audio are limited, and editing is pretty much a drag-and-drop affair, which can be slow and inaccurate. If you're looking to expand your editing horizons, you may want to consider upgrading to Final Cut Pro X.

Just as an amateur photographer can move up from iPhoto to Aperture, or a budding musician can move from GarageBand to Logic, anyone who edits video can move from iMovie to Final Cut Pro X.

On the surface, the new Final Cut Pro looks and acts much like iMovie. Underneath, however, is a powerful, professional editing application with a deep feature set—which is why it costs $300. It can import iMovie projects, so you can take a project you started in iMovie and open it in Final Cut Pro. There, you can take advantage of a greater variety of adjustable titles, transitions, and effects; faster, easier editing with keyboard shortcuts; more-powerful color-correction and audio tools; advanced green-screen keying; multilayer compositing; multicamera editing; and a universe of third-party plug-ins.

Import a project

I created a short iMovie project from a shoot at a local winery. I used one of iMovie’s project themes, which includes title animations and transitions, and then adjusted audio levels, color-corrected a few shots, time-reversed the closing sunrise shot to make it look like a sunset, and added a music track. I also took advantage of iMovie’s Advanced Tools to add a cutaway shot over the interview clip.

Transitioning from iMovie '11 to Final Cut Pro X
The iMovie project: Note the Bulletin Board titles on the first and last clips, the transitions between clips, the cutaway shot over the middle clip, and the background music track.

To import this project into Final Cut Pro X, simply choose Import -> iMovie Project from Final Cut’s File menu, and then select the project you want to import. If you want to have access to the Event, choose File -> Import -> iMovie Event Library.

Transitioning from iMovie '11 to Final Cut Pro X
Final Cut Pro: Here’s how the same project looks in Final Cut Pro X.

The iMovie project, imported into Final Cut Pro X, comes complete with titles, transitions, the cutaway shot, and the music track.

Looks familiar, doesn’t it? Final Cut Pro X’s interface looks quite like iMovie’s. It uses the same concepts of events and projects; and many familiar iMovie functions, such as setting ranges, clip skimming, and the magnetic timeline, work in Final Cut Pro X as well.

The project appears in Final Cut Pro X exactly as it did in iMovie, including the project theme and the color and audio adjustments made in iMovie. Note, however, that Final Cut Pro X will not import iMovie’s movie trailers or animated maps.

Improve your video

Here’s one way you could use Final Cut Pro X to enhance your iMovie project. Final Cut Pro X’s Color controls lets you manipulate the look of your video far beyond what is possible in iMovie.

We’ll start with a shot that I color-corrected in iMovie, but with the correction disabled so that we can see the original. To do so, click the Inspector button at the far right of the toolbar or press Command-4, select the Video pane if necessary, and click blue the iMovie checkbox.

Transitioning from iMovie '11 to Final Cut Pro X

Enable the Balance feature

The first feature we'll use in Final Cut Pro X is called Balance. When enabled, Balance analyzes the brightness and color values of a shot, and then automatically adjusts those values as needed to create dark shadows and bright highlights, and to remove any color cast the shot may contain due to an improper white-balance setting. Balance is an all-or-nothing feature that you enable simply by clicking the Balance checkbox.

Transitioning from iMovie '11 to Final Cut Pro X

Final Cut Pro X’s Color Board

While the Balance feature can be a quick fix for a clip's basic exposure problems, it doesn't allow you to make any adjustments beyond simply turning it on and off. That's where Final Cut Pro X's Color Board comes in. With the Color Board, you have complete control over a shot's color, saturation, and exposure—and you can limit your adjustments to specific tonal ranges, such as the shadows, midtones, or highlights. To access the Color Board, click the circled arrow for Correction 1.

Using the Color Board, you can quickly give a shot a warmer or cooler feel, create a black-and-white effect, or even create a vignette effect by using the masking controls. You make these changes by dragging round "pucks" on each of the "boards". In this example, I've darkened the shadows, brightened the highlights in the Exposure pane, and increased the overall saturation to give the shot a more colorful, high-contrast look in the Saturation pane. You can use the Color pane, shown below, to change the overall color of a shot.

Transitioning from iMovie '11 to Final Cut Pro X

The end

With a familiar user interface and editing methodology, and the capability to import your iMovie projects complete with titles, transitions, and effects, Final Cut Pro X is a compelling way for iMovie users to achieve more-professional-looking videos—and have fun in the process.

[Mark Spencer is an Apple-certified Master Trainer for Final Cut Pro X and Motion. His tutorials are available at]

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