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Final Cut Pro X & Motion 5: Highlighting a Point of Interest

Check out our Final Cut Pro: Core Training: Compositing and Visual FX course!

If there’s one thing that helps you to get a point across clearly, it’s a simple way to highlight part of a video with a circle or arrow. With Motion, you can quickly and easily create an overlay element—a circle or an arrow—that you can use over and over in an edit in FCP X, with the flexibility to change the highlight element’s size, thickness, color and more. Let’s find out how.

Create a new Title in Motion, as usual

Create a new Title in Motion, as usual

Create a New Title

Start in Motion, and create a new Title, at HD resolution, and at whatever frame rate you usually work with (it won’t matter). While there’s nothing wrong with using a Generator for what we’ll be working on today, if you move into some more advanced highlighting strategies, you may want to change the underlying video — and you can only do that with a Title. Using Titles now means that all similar types of elements will be in the same place, which will help you in the edit later.

We don’t actually need the text or background elements for what we’ll be working on today, though, so press Command-A to select everything, then press delete.

Create a new circle, and make it orange

Create a new circle, and make it orange

Create a Circle

Choose the Circle tool, hold Shift to constrain width and height, and draw a circle in the middle of the screen, about half its height. In the Inspector, click the Fill off, and the Outline on, then set the width to about 20. Set the color to an obvious orange, then click on the Geometry sub-tab, and set the Radius to 300.

Be sure to get the positioning right

Be sure to get the positioning right

Head back to Properties and set the Position to 0,0. That’s the circle for now, an easy way to draw your viewer’s attention to part of the screen.

Both a circle and an arrow, targeting the same point

Both a circle and an arrow, targeting the same point

Create an Arrow

Choose the Line tool, hold Shift to constrain it to straight lines, and draw a line from the center of the circle, straight down to the edge of the circle. Under Style, set orange as the color, then set the Start Cap to Arrow. Now, let’s get precise with the numbers.

Head to the Geometry sub-tab and set Point 1 to 0,0, then Point 2 to 0, -300. In Properties, set the position to 0,0. Set the Arrow Length that appears to 900%. Because the arrow will now protrude past the center of the circle (our common target point), set the First Point Offset to 30% to compensate.

Yes, there’s an autosave vault, but no, it won’t save you every time

Yes, there’s an autosave vault, but no, it won’t save you every time

Save Early, Save Often

This is a good point to save your work, so press Command-S, then give it a name like “Circle + Arrow Highlighter” and pick a category. I like to use Experiments for works-in-progress, and then Clients for real jobs.

Linking properties together is a great way to keep things simpler

Linking properties together is a great way to keep things simpler

Link Important Properties Together

As we’ll be showing only the circle or the arrow, not both, we should keep things simple, and only show a single color choice in FCP X. We’ll use the circle as our “master” element, and link the arrow’s properties to it.

Select the Line, then look in Properties > Style, and right-click on the name of the Brush Color property. In the menu that appears after a brief delay, choose Add Parameter Behavior > Link. The Inspector now shows you the Link behavior, but it needs to be given something to link to.

Drag the circle element from the Layers pane, directly into the Source Object well (the blank box next to the word “None”) and it will hook up the matching parameter automatically. Changes to the circle’s color will now also change the arrow’s color.

When both links are in place, it should look like this

When both links are in place, it should look like this

Return to the Line’s Properties, then right-click on the name of the Width property and again choose Add Parameter Behavior > Link. Once again, drag the circle into the empty well to link the matching parameter. Press Command-S to save.

When the Rig is complete, it’ll look like this

When the Rig is complete, it’ll look like this

Rig up a Choice Between the Arrow and Circle

Rigs allow you to simultaneously change multiple properties with a drop-down menu, checkbox or slider. Here, we will control which element is visible by controlling their opacities with a rig.

Choose Object > New Rig, then click Pop-up in the Inspector. We need to record different setups into each of the rig’s “snapshots”, so look for the Edit Mode heading, and press the Start button. A floating window appears to remind you that you’re now in Rig Edit Mode, so make sure you only change exactly what you need to, and then stop.

We’ll make the arrow visible in the first snapshot, so select the circle, then look in Properties and turn its Opacity down to 0. Press Stop Rig Edit Mode in the floating window, then click back on the Rig. Select Snapshot 2 from the Pop-up menu, then press Start again. This time, select the line, then set its Opacity to 0, and press Stop Rig Edit Mode again.

We’ll now rename these two states. We’re on Snapshot 2, the circle, so press Rename and type “Circle”. Press return to accept the new name, then choose Snapshot 1, press Rename, and type “Arrow”. Finally, select the unused Snapshot 3, then press the minus button to the right of the menu to remove that option.

Drop Shadows

Getting there now. Select the Group that contains the Line and the Circle, then look at its properties and turn on the Drop Shadow. We’re activating this at the group level because it’s simply easier—no need to mess around with linking.

To keep it simple in FCP X, publish only the parameters you need to

To keep it simple in FCP X, publish only the parameters you need to 

Publish Important Properties

The important part: publish everything you want to be able to access in FCP X. Select the Rig, then right-click on “Pop-up” next to the menu, and choose Publish. Select the Circle, our master element, and under Shape > Style, right-click and choose Publish on Brush Color and again on Width. Also head to the enclosing Group and publish the Opacity, Blur, Distance and Angle of the Drop Shadow.

The published properties should be renamed for simplicity too

The published properties should be renamed for simplicity too

To rename some of these properties, click on Project in Layers or Timeline, then on Project in the Inspector. Here, you can double-click on a property name to rename it, so rename Pop-up to “Element”, Brush Color to simply “Color”, and the drop shadow parameters to include a “Shadow” prefix. Press Command-S to save again.

Optional fades that are immune from retiming issues

Optional fades that are immune from retiming issues

Add Optional Fades

Nearly there, but here’s a great finishing touch. Look in Library > Behaviors > Basic Motion, and find Fade In/Fade Out. Drag it to the enclosing Group. By default, this will take 20 frames to fade in or out, but change this now if you like (I prefer 10–15 myself).

Now, in the timeline view, move the playhead 1 second into the timeline. Click in empty space to make sure nothing is selected, then press M to set a green timeline marker. Move the playhead a little away from the marker, then double-click on the marker itself to edit it. From the Type drop-down, change to Build In - Optional.

We need to repeat these steps at the end, so move to 1 second from the end of your timeline, click in space to deselect all, press M, move the playhead away, double-click the new marker, then choose Build Out - Optional from the Type menu.

This step gives you two extra checkboxes in FCP X, letting you disable the fades you just added—ideal if you need to get rid of them, or use fades of a different length. These markers also lock the timing of the build in and build out sections—they’ll now always take the same amount of time to fade in or out, no matter how long or short you make the title.

Finally, the fun part—using the Title in FCP X

Finally, the fun part—using the Title in FCP X

Using the Title in FCP X

Launch FCP X, open the Titles browser, click on your category, and you’ll see your new Circle + Arrow Highlighter. Drag it to a timeline above some video, and then you’ll be able to use the Title pane in the Inspector to change between the circle and arrow, change the color, change the width, and everything else you published. To move it around and rotate it, you can use the built-in Transform controls. Look in the Inspector for the Transform section, then press the button to its right, next to “Show” or “Hide”. On-screen controls now let you rotate, scale, and move the highlighting element around the canvas.

And after tweaking a few things to produce an arrow

And after tweaking a few things to produce an arrow

Conclusion

There’s much more you can do with this technique: animating the elements, including text labels, using 3D-text-based arrows—it’s wide open. Probably the most important aspect of this, though, is that by making it easy for you to add clear instructions, you’ll be able to communicate more clearly to your audience. Having a wide variety of elements like this in your toolkit will make your job easier, and make you a star to your clients. Go for it!

Learn more about Final Cut Pro X here.

Check out our Final Cut Pro: Core Training: Compositing and Visual FX 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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