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A Guide to FCP X, Part 5: Transitions, Titles, Effects
Iain Anderson on Tue, September 4th 0 comments
New or transitioning to Final Cut Pro X? This 6-part series provides will get you editing like a pro. In part 5 Iain Anderson explores transitions, titles and effects. Check back tomorrow for part 6.

This is a 6 part series on using FCP X:

Part 1: Import & Organize

Part 2: Rough Cut Techniques

Part 3: Fine Cut Techniques

Part 4: Primary & Secondary Grading

Part 5: Transitions, Titles & Effects

Part 6: Export & Archive

Step 1 - Reframe with Transform

It's worth looking through your edit to check that the framing is good in every shot. Many shots can be improved with just a small push in, and if you find a shot that could benefit, it's easy to add. Click on the clip in the Project pane to position the playhead and simultaneously select the clip for adjustment.

Click directly on the clip, at the point you want to see

Click directly on the clip, at the point you want to see.

In the Viewer, press the Transform control in the bottom left corner, then drag one corner outwards, just a little, then drag on the image to move it into place. If you need to scale it more and the handles are no longer visible, use Command-minus to zoom out, adjust away, then Shift-Z when you’re done to reset the zoom. If you’re going to reframe like this, keep quality in mind. You can likely get away with a small scale-up, especially if you shoot in 1080p and most of your audience sees something smaller. If you’re going to routinely crop your shots (as David Fincher does) be sure to capture at a higher resolution than your final output.

A zoomed-out Viewer

A zoomed-out Viewer.

Step 2 - Add appropriate transitions

While it’s likely you’ve added a few transitions along the way, you may wish to revisit your edit and add or remove a few more. While straight narrative productions (hi, film school students!) generally use just straight cuts with the occasional cross dissolve or fade to black, the world of moving video encompasses many kinds of productions that embrace the fancy transition. Corporate video, sports, and kids programs are just three styles of program where many concepts are shown one after the other and fancy transitions are the best way to help it make sense. Sure, tell the story without transitions if you can, but don’t be afraid (or ashamed) to be more adventurous.

Crazy transitions aren’t all bad. Here’s one I designed earlier

Crazy transitions aren’t all bad. Here’s one I designed earlier.

That’s not to say that you should go nuts. The golden rule still applies: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Think of transitions as fonts. Just like you shouldn’t use more than three (or so) fonts in a document, you probably shouldn’t use more than three (or so) different types of transitions. And just like you shouldn’t use Comic Sans, you shouldn’t use Page Curl. Sorry.



Find the spots in your piece where you move from one concept to another — the equivalent of moving from scene to scene. That’s where a transition of some kind might be appropriate. Open the Transitions Browser, drag one on to the edit point, then tweak the settings: duration and anything else that the Inspector offers. Now Option-drag that transition to duplicate it onto any other edit points that need it.

The good old Option-dragging-copies trick, here shown from right to left

The good old Option-dragging-copies trick, here shown from right to left.

Step 3 - Add appropriate titles

Like transitions, you might have added some titles already — possibly subtitles. Now’s the time to open the Titles Browser, find the most appropriate titles for any opening credit, closing credit, and lower thirds throughout. In addition to a large built-in selection, there are a range of third-party titles out there (including some by me *cough* plug over *cough*) and you can change the font, size and position in every one. On top of that, it’s quite easy to modify existing titles — or create new ones — with Motion. Don’t settle for plain defaults, and even if you do nothing else, change the font to suit your production.

It really is this easy to start making a fancy title

It really is this easy to start making a fancy title.

Step 4 - Add generators beneath titles if needed

A simple technique if you want white text on a non-black background, use the Generators Browser under the Solids section to make one, then drag the Title above it to connect there. You could use other generators (Textures or Backgrounds perhaps) if you wanted something fancier.

A few exciting options

A few exciting options.

Step 5 - Apply effects to clips and/or to adjustment layers

Take a good look at your edit, and decide if you want to lend a certain look to any parts of it. We’ve already used Adjustment Layers to make scenes look as if they were shot at a certain time of day, or give a warmer vibe, but other filters can have a stronger, less subtle effect. If you need film-like grain, an overall sharpening, a sketch, vignette or identity-protecting blur, then add it now. Add directly to a clip, or to an adjustment layer to adjust everything beneath it.

Censor, applied to a clip

Censor, applied to a clip.

Which ones? The Blur section has Sharpen (of course!), Basics has Broadcast Safe, Crisp Contrast and Vibrancy, Light has plenty of artifacts on show, Looks has many heavy-handed grading presets, and Stylize has Add Noise, Film Grain, Censor (a pixelated circle), and Vignette, plus many more.

These are a few of my favorite things...

These are a few of my favorite things…

Step 6 - Apply Ken Burns to stills if needed

Don’t overlook Ken Burns. While the automated Pan-Zoom effect has been done to death, you can still use it sparingly, or simply as a subtle pan. Also use it to add pans to time-lapse movies — and if the original is oversized, you won’t lose any quality.

Panning over a time-lapse movie can introduce interest

Panning over a time-lapse movie can introduce interest.

Step 7 - Add extra music and sound effects

Though we mentioned adding music in passing, it’s time to consider adding some more to round out the mix. (Teaching you how to make music is way beyond the bounds of this paragraph, but there’s plenty of stock music out there, and plenty of help at if you want to make your own.)

Some places where music could be appropriate: a mood setting piece at the beginning, an energetic bridge under a transition-heavy montage, or a few sparse notes in a tense scene. Don’t overlook sound effects, either — they are easy to use and can have real impact. Use the Music Browser to find your track (in iTunes) or effect (in the Final Cut Pro library) then drag it below the primary storyline, where you need it. Adjust volume just like any other clip, then revisit the audio levels on any other clips playing simultaneously.

All these sound effects are available in the Audio Browser

All these sound effects are available in the Audio Browser.

Step 8 - Fix any remaining audio problems

For noise removal, you will want to hear just a single clip at a time, without any music behind. Select the clip you want to work on, then press Option-S (or press the S-wearing-headphones button) to Solo that clip — and now that’s all you’ll hear. Use the Inspector's Audio pane and its audio enhancement subsection to tweak the sound as you need to. When you finish tweaking, use Option-S again to restore normality.

Step 9 - Final audio fixes

You should have roughly fixed the dialogue’s audio already, remembering that for most productions, you should aim for an output level averaging around -12dB and peaking around -6dB — so watch the meters again now that you’ve got music in there. A clip’s waveform also shows a visual clue when getting too hot: it goes yellow. Red is definitely way too high, and yellow is probably pushing it, especially with more than one clip playing. As with your initial audio level adjustments, you can use keyframes or the Range Selection tool to tweak the levels, but you might be better served by automated options.

Just pretend “Loudness” says “Normalize”

Just pretend “Loudness” says “Normalize”.

In the Audio Enhancement tab, ticking Loudness is the closest we have to a Normalize command — and it can do quite well, despite its limited controls (Amount and Uniformity). For more demanding problems, you may prefer to use a compressor effect like AUMultibandCompressor. Try some of the presets, and watch the waveforms magically smooth out. (If you prefer, you could apply these filters much earlier in the process, but I like to sort it out at the end, for consistency.)

Before and After the AUMultibandCompressor

Before and After the AUMultibandCompressor.

The difference between the peaks and the troughs in a waveform is your dynamic range, and you’ll probably want all the dialogue in a fairly narrow range (i.e. at roughly the same volume) with no audible hiss or noise underneath. Easier said than done, but compression filters really can help to quieten any loud sections without affecting the quiet ones — or vice versa.

And that’s it — nearly. In the next and final section, we’ll look at exporting, compressing, sharing and archiving your hard work.

A Guide to FCP X, Part 6: Export and Archive

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