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Creating 3D Symbols in Final Cut Pro X and Motion 5

Check out our Final Cut Pro: New Features Explored course!

We looked at the 3D text feature in our article on the FCP X 10.2 update, but there’s more to it than meets the eye. It’s possible to use this feature to create 3D symbols, which you can use to create animated 3D backgrounds, diagrams and more. Let’s dig in. 

3D Text recap

While there are new 3D title templates in FCP X 10.2, you can use any of the existing 2D titles as a starting point as well. 

Just tick that checkbox into blue, and you’re in 3D.

Just tick that checkbox into blue, and you’re in 3D.

All you need to do is activate the 3D Text checkbox, and you can then configure depth, angle, materials and much more. So how do you introduce symbols? 

Dingbats to the rescue

Dingbats are the way to go. There are several dingbat fonts included with OS X, including the venerable Zapf Dingbats and well-known Wingdings and Webdings fonts originally found on Windows. 

Built-in or third-party, dingbat fonts give you many options.

Built-in or third-party, dingbat fonts give you many options.

It’s also possible to find other dingbats in many other fonts that cover extended ranges of the Unicode character set. The colorful Emoji characters don’t work, though. 

Activating the character palette

In olden times, you might have used the Keyboard Viewer and remembered special keystrokes (like Option-Shift-K for the Apple logo in most older fonts) but these days there are simply too many dingbats to be able to type them all. These days, the easiest way to type strange symbols is to use the system’s Character Palette.

Head to Apple Menu > System Preferences. Choose Keyboard, and with the Keyboard pane selected at the top, you’ll see a “Show Keyboard & Character Viewers in menu bar” option below. Check the box to make it active.

The Character Viewer is the one you really want.

The Character Viewer is the one you really want.

In your menu bar, you’ll see a new symbol. Switch back to FCP X, then clicking the new symbol to reveal a new menu. Finally, choose to Show Character Viewer.

Symbols from built-in fonts

Categories on the left side of the window help to narrow down your search, so start by clicking Pictographs there. You’ll see many, many symbols that could be of use, including clouds, hearts, planes, crosses and more. 

Here’s the Character Viewer with an arrow highlighted.

Here’s the Character Viewer with an arrow highlighted.

Arrows contains many useful options too, including pointing hands and curved arrows, while Math Symbols contains a number of handy types of circles. Boxes become cubes, circles become cylinders, and everything else just pops into that third dimension.

Font variations

To use these new characters, edit your 3D title by double-clicking the text area in the Viewer, then double-click on the symbol you’ve chosen to “type” it in. Critically, though—you’ll need to pay attention to the Font Variation on the right hand side. Your current font might not be able to display the current Unicode character, and it may or may not be able to automatically fall back to a font that does. To be safe, choose a specific character from the Font Variation area of the panel to reveal which font it uses, then change the font in FCP X to match. Easy.

The Apple Symbols version of the cloud is a little smaller than most of the other fonts here.

The Apple Symbols version of the cloud is a little smaller than most of the other fonts here.

This is especially important when you dig into the Dingbats category. Within that area, each symbol is only available in a particular font, and only within a private are of Unicode. You’ll definitely have to match fonts to make these work. 

Finding third-party dingbat fonts

For truly exotic options, you’ll have to delve into the wonderful world of custom dingbat fonts, most of which are free.

Alas, this lovely star font seems to have been orphaned.

Alas, this lovely star font seems to have been orphaned. 

Many dingbat fonts just put the characters on the regular keyboard, so you’ll have to refer to a cheat sheet (if they provide one) or just type random letters and numbers until you find the right symbol. It’s not the end of the world, though: random typing can give serendipitous results. 

Creating original dingbat fonts

To take things to the next level, and to offer 3D titles to your clients, you’ll need to create custom fonts with your own graphics, and you’ll need Adobe Illustrator or another program that can export SVG files. There are many websites that offer this functionality right now, and while they work in similar ways, we’ll use glyphter.com. This site lets you make fonts for free, though the free service will only let you store one font in your account. You can pay to store more. 

 

Turn strokes to fills and clean it all up, then export to SVG.

Turn strokes to fills and clean it all up, then export to SVG.

First, you’ll need to create a simple black shape for each symbol you want in your font. Close open paths, unite separate objects with Pathfinder, and convert all strokes into fills. (That last step is found in Illustrator as Object > Path > Outline Stroke.) Complex shapes can cause problems, but Pathfinder and using only fills will usually sort it out.

When you’ve exported your SVG files, drag each symbol onto the character of your choice, and it will upload and be placed automatically. You can also add other symbols from several pre-made symbol sets on the right-hand side of the window.

Drag pre-made symbols or SVGs to characters, then download your font.

Drag pre-made symbols or SVGs to characters, then download your font.

When you’re happy, download the font with the button in the title bar, then find it in your Downloads folder and navigate to the TTF font file. Finally, double-click it to open it in Font Book, and click Install Font. In FCP X, you can now use the new font immediately.

But wait!

Because this is a dingbat font, you’ll need to remember which key is attached to which symbol. Take a screenshot of the Glyphter window with Command-Shift-4, then Space, then clicking on the (hopefully-still-open) Safari window. You may need a few to capture all the characters. 

Limitations

The big one is that while you can assign different materials to different edges of a 3D text object, you can’t have different materials on different parts of the front face. It’s one object, so one color. (If you were feeling tricky, you could perhaps use multiple shapes for different parts of a complex logo, but I suspect it would be hard to work with.) 

Two objects, one all bevel and one with no bevel.

Two objects, one all bevel and one with no bevel.

However, a workaround can give you an object with an outline in a different color: use multiple copies of a text object, one with Front Edge set to Round Ring, and a lower one set to Square. You’ll have a separate border and fill to play with, at least.

A second issue is that it’s not possible to keyframe the 3D rotation or position of 3D text with FCP X alone. However, you can create the animation in Motion, or simply publish rotation and position parameters, to allow keyframes to be set in FCP X.

Conclusion

The 3D text feature has opened the doors to much more than simply 3D text. While extruding a 2D shape has obvious limitations—this is hardly a 3D modelling app—it’s also enough to get many jobs done. You don’t have to use it every time, but you might be surprised at how effective it can be. Good luck!

A whole heap of famous public domain symbols, together in a font at last.

A whole heap of famous public domain symbols, together in a font at last.

Bonus Download!

The symbols that went into the Airport font shown above are from the public domain AIGA symbols. As a thank you for reading, please use and enjoy them as a font too.

Airport Symbol Font

Check out our Final Cut Pro: New Features Explored course!

Iain Anderson

Iain Anderson | Articles by this author

Iain Anderson is an editor, animator, designer, developer and Apple Certified Trainer based in Brisbane, Australia. He has taught privately and in tertiary institutions, and has freelanced for Microsoft and the Queensland Government. Comfortable with anything from Quartz Composer to Second Life and Final Cut Pro to Adobe Creative Suite, he has laid out books, booklets, brochures and business cards; retouched magazine covers and product packaging, shot and edited short films and animated for HD broadcast TV, film festivals and for the web.

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