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Organic Animation In Final Cut Pro X

Check out our Final Cut Pro: Titles, Effects and Compositing course!

Moving media assets in various ways across the frame of our video project is referred to as animating them. Simply moving a visual element from point A to point B won’t look natural. Physics affects objects in the real world: gravity, friction, inertia, etc. In this article, I’ll demonstrate how these movements can become organic.

Step 1 - Project Set Up

I’ll start with my Bucket Dan game trailer as my example. I had to use these techniques with the movement of titles and other elements to make them seem like their movements were realistic. As per figure 1, you can see that I have a background and a title.

Figure 1

Figure 1

Step 2 - Basic Animation

With my playhead at the start of my background clip, with my text graphic above it, I’ll select the text graphic in the timeline. Command-4 to the Inspector and set the scale to zero, keyframe it. I’ll also set a keyframe for Position with X and Y at zero. Simply click the keyframe diamond to the right of the scale parameter (Transform block in the Video tab of the Inspector). I’ll move the playhead about 2/3 the way into the clip, set the scale parameter to 100+ in order for it to fill the screen. Once I set the first keyframe, any changes to that same parameter after that automatically sets a new keyframe. If needed, I’ll move the graphic up/down or left/right so that it is centered. Again, this new keyframe should mark automatically.

Figure 2

Figure 2

Step 3 - Introducing Inertia

That moves my text from point A to point B, but not naturally. Let’s add the property of inertia. That means big heavy things start moving slowly, then faster, then full speed, then slow down until they stop. 

With the text graphic clip selected in the timeline, click the Transform Overlay button at the bottom left of the Viewer, so that it is blue. You’ll see controls to effect the clip directly in the Viewer. At the top left are the keyframe controls. You can click the diamond, turn it yellow to create a new keyframe, click a yellow one, turn it gray to remove a keyframe. You can click the arrowheads left and right to jump between keyframes. I’ll click the left pointing arrowhead to get to the first keyframe we created. 

When I now look at the very center of my Viewer, I see a white circle, the keyframe so to speak. I can right-click that directly in the Viewer to change the keyframe “interpolation”. Linear means start, travel, end all at the same speed constantly. Smooth means start slow, speed up, travel at normal, constant speed, slow down when getting closer to the end more and more. This is often called “ease in/out”. Changing the first keyframe to Smooth is all I need. I’m creating an Ease In behavior, but no Ease Out.

Figure 3

Figure 3

Step 4 - Reactions

With my title graphic clip still selected in the timeline, I’ll use Command-5 to open the effect browser, the Distortion group, double-click the Earthquake effect. In the Inspector’s Video tab, look in the Effects block for Earthquake. Set Amount to 0, Layers to 3. Move the playhead slightly before the title hits the stopping frame, I’ll keyframe Amount to zero. On the frame where the graphic is keyframed to stop, I’ll keyframe my Earthquake amount to about 30. About half way from there to the end of the clip, I’ll keyframe Amount to 0. So when the title graphic hits the stopping point, it rattles and shakes as if it hit an invisible wall.

Figure 4

Figure 4


You can see that with a few keyframes, for the right parameters, in the right places, you can quickly and easily enhance animated media assets with more realism. This can, in the right situation, add the professional polish your projects deserve. Here is the resulting effect to fully illustrate what I’m driving at.

Download Bucket Dan for FREE for iOS here.

Check out our Final Cut Pro: Titles, Effects and Compositing course!

Ben Balser

Ben Balser | Articles by this author

Ben Balser studied educational psychology at Loyola University, and after retiring from a 20+ year IT career, now produces, consults, teaches, and rents equipment for media production as a full time job. As an Apple Certified Master Trainer, he ran the Louisiana Cajun Cutters FCP user group for 8 years, taught post-production at Louisiana State University and has lead their annual teen filmmaking bootcamp. He teaches currently for AATC facilities across the USA and for The Orchard Solutions. He has consulted for higher education, government, broadcast and private production facilities.


Mar 18, 2014
Alan McKay
I've been looking for intro-level tutorials on how to do simple animation. I have GIFs of peoples heads that I want to roll into the frame and pile themselves up into a pile.

Anyway, you lost me at "keyframe it" without an explanation of how to do that. I have so far learned what a keyframe is, but darned if I have found out yet how to make one.
Mar 19, 2014
I did mention that you click the keyframe diamond to the right of the parameter. Click on "Figure 2" to enlarge it, and read through the paragraph above it again.

You'll see the keyframe diamond in the Inspector pane, to the right of each parameter, and it shows up when you hover your mouse cursor over it.

When the Timeline playhead is on a frame that is NOT keyframed, the diamond will be gray. If the frame has been keyed, the diamond will be yellow next to the paramter(s) that are keyed for that frame.

Michael Wohl's course here at mPV covers keyframing quite well.

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