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FCP X: Blend Modes for Titles

Plain text is often enough for a simple title, but a splashy opener needs more, and you can create really terrific effects by playing video inside text. There are a few ways to do that if you’re in Motion, but in FCP X, you’ll be doing it with blend modes. Here, I’ll show you how to display video inside text, while other videos play behind that same text.

All about Blend Modes

In the Video pane of the Inspector, you’ll find Blend Mode at the top

In the Video pane of the Inspector, you’ll find Blend Mode at the top

While Blend Modes have been used in Photoshop for many years, they’re not so widely known in video. That’s a shame, because they can be used for many purposes, including masking, enhancing contrast and excluding dark or light areas. By default, clips on a timeline use the Normal blend mode at 100% opacity, and you’ll see the clips at the top of the stack. If you change that top clip’s opacity or blend mode, you’ll also see clip(s) sitting below it, and while opacity is easy to understand, blend modes aren’t always straightforward.

In FCP X 10.3, the Blend Mode dropdown has moved to the very top of the Video pane in the Inspector, in the Compositing section. The Blend Mode menu is split into categories of related options, and they are:

Normal: the top clip’s video is shown unaltered

Subtract, Darken, Multiply, Color Burn, Linear Burn: the top clip will darken clips below it in various ways. Multiply usually works best for adding darker areas.

Add, Lighten, Screen, Color Dodge, Linear Dodge: the top clip will lighten clips below it in various ways. Screen usually works best for adding bright elements like sparks and flame.

Overlay, Soft Light, Hard Light, Vivid Light, Linear Light, Pin Light, Hard Mix: the top clip is applied to lower clips in a way that usually increases contrast. Overlay usually works best with a variety of elements, and reducing opacity is often a good idea too.

Difference, Exclusion: the top clip is mathematically removed from the clips below in slightly different ways. Useful for spotting the difference between two clips.

Stencil Alpha, Stencil Luma, Silhouette Alpha, Silhouette Luma, Behind: the top clip is used to mask the clips below, and this is our main focus here. Behind is a special case and we’ll look at that too.

Alpha Add, Premultiplied Mix: used for tweaking alpha (transparency) information.

All about Masking

Normal text on the top, Stencil Alpha applied on the bottom

Normal text on the top, Stencil Alpha applied on the bottom

While most of those blend modes are used to make clips look different, the Stencil and Silhouette options are the key to putting video inside text. To decide what parts of the lower clips are visible, Alpha uses the top clip’s transparency while Luma uses its brightness. If the top clip is white text with a transparent background, either option will work fine.

Stencil shows video where the top clip is white (or visible) and hides video where the top clip is black (or invisible). Silhouette does the opposite, hiding where white (visible) and showing where black (invisible). For our purposes here, Stencil Alpha will work well.

Position your video elements

This glittery background was free, but you can shoot your own too

This glittery background was free, but you can shoot your own too

To get started, you’ll need some video that’s going to look good when it plays inside text. If you’ve downloaded any dust, glitter, flame, out-of-focus lights, paint or similar stock shots, this is their time to shine. It’s possible to use a clip which starts out black, then introduces a brighter element that stays on screen, but it’s easier to find (or shoot) a clip where a constantly moving background fills the frame. Use flame if you want crazy, clouds if you want gentle, or water for anything between.

There are many suppliers for these types of shots (Rampant Design, motionVFX, VFXmarket and more) so take a look through their catalogues. Here, I’ll be using Rampant_4K_Bokeh_001 from Rampant Design’s free 4K clips. Create a new project at your preferred settings, then add your effects clip to the primary storyline. If necessary, use the Transform controls to position the main part of the effect (the flame in this example) over the area you’re going to put the text. 

Create and customize your text

Use the Custom title to create your title

Use the Custom title to create your title

For maximum control, I’ve long been a fan of the Custom title, found in the Build In/Out category. This title lets you access many of the built-in text animation properties that Motion provides, and by avoiding presets, you’ll ensure your work doesn’t look like everyone else’s.

From the Titles browser in the top left part of the FCP X 10.3 interface (or the bottom right in 10.2) drag a copy of the Custom title into your timeline, above your video clip. To customize your Custom title, head to the Title pane (the first icon) in the Inspector, then set In Opacity to 0, In Duration to 60, and In Spread to 5. The In Unit Size is already Character, so your title will now gently appear, a letter at a time. Head to the Text pane (the second icon) then increase the size and choose a nice thick font, like Avenir Next Heavy. Type whatever text you like, and make the duration as long as you need. Trim the duration of the video clip to match the text. 

An alternative: if Custom isn’t fancy enough, another good option here is to add the Basic 3D title, turn 3D off in the Text pane, then head to the Title pane and choose the Tumble Zoom Down option in the Animation Style drop-down. It’s certainly fancy, but you may have seen this effect before.

Isolate the masked text

Here’s the layout of the text and video

Here’s the layout of the text and video

Head to the Video pane of the Inspector (the third icon) then choose the Stencil Alpha blend mode. The text now shows through to reveal the sparkly, glitter, smoky area behind. Cool, right? You can experiment with placement of the text and of the background, with the duration of the animation, and much more.

If you need to show a different part of the video clip, you can use the Trim tool to slip it in time, but hold the ` key (to the left of the 1) as you do so, to stop the connected title from slipping along with it.

Isolate the mask with a compound clip

To isolate the mask, you can create a compound clip

To isolate the mask, you can create a compound clip

All we need to worry about now is the background. Plain black can work well, but if you were to put another clip underneath these ones, you’d discover that the Stencil Alpha on to the text applies to all the clips beneath it. How do you stop that? One option is to select both the text and the video clip beneath and choose File > New > Compound Clip. A compound clip will isolate the Stencil Alpha mask, leaving you free to put this element above whatever you want.

A sneaky alternative

Just set that top clip to the Behind blend mode, and you’re done

Just set that top clip to the Behind blend mode, and you’re done

If you’d rather not mess around with compound clips, there’s another way. Place the background clip above the text and its fill in the stacking order, then change its blend mode to Behind. This way, the background video will be sent to the back, despite its position at the top of stack. It’s very sneaky, and a great technique.

More ideas

The snow here is set to the Screen blend mode

The snow here is set to the Screen blend mode

Take it further! Experiment with text outlines and fills at different levels of grey, with the Stencil Luma mode. Place more clips on top, using the Screen blend mode to only let the light shine through and reducing opacity to limit the effect. Use a shape instead of text to mask your video by using the Shapes generator. Duplicate a clip on top of itself and apply the Overlay blend mode at reduced opacity to increase its contrast. Add transitions too.

Conclusion

Yep, that’s a plane in a dingbat font

Yep, that’s a plane in a dingbat font

The masking techniques here are just a starting point for complex opening titles, but because they’re not widely known, you can easily create an effect that people haven’t seen before. Explore your options next time you’re between edits, and you’ll find it easy to make something that will wow clients and family alike. It doesn’t even take much effort. Enjoy!

Learn more Final Cut Pro skills with the AskVideo library of courses here. 
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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