FCP X: Still Images and Frame Rates

Posted on by Larry

Charlie Silverlock sent me an interesting question this week. He writes (in part):

I created a layered Photoshop PSD and imported it into FCPX. I set the project timeline to a frame rate of 25p to match the main footage. When I open the PSD either from Browser or from Primary Storyline, the frame rate shows as 60 fps, not 25 fps. Worse, the clip is 12 seconds in the Primary Storyline, yet when opening the PSD to edit layers it adjusted itself to a 4 second duration. What’s going on here?

The answer lies in how Final Cut Pro X handles still images. Let me explain.

Still images do not have a frame rate – because they are only a single frame. (You have to have multiple frames playing sequentially for the concept of frame rate to make sense.)

But, because Final Cut is a video editor, when a still image is imported into FCP X, Final Cut assigns it a default frame rate of 60 fps as a placeholder. Here, the top image is for an imported layered Photoshop document and the bottom image is from a PNG file. Both are assigned a default frame rate of 60 fps. Both are also listed as progressive images because, by definition, stills are not interlaced.

In Final Cut Pro > Preferences, we can set a default duration for all imported still images. The preset is 4:00 seconds. (While this is easy to change, I tend to leave this preference alone and adjust the duration of each still during editing.)

However, frame rates don’t become real until a still is edited into the Timeline. Here, for example, is a Project with a 25 fps frame rate.

When a still image is edited into a Project, Final Cut will render (calculate video for) the still to match the frame rate of the project. So, while our still was assigned a 60 fps frame rate during import, Final Cut will render the still at the frame rate that matches the Project.


Charlie also wanted to animate different layers of the still image as part of his project. This also requires a different technique.

When a layered PSD file is imported into FCP X, Final Cut creates a special kind of compound clip – indicated by the layered icon in the top left corner of the Browser image – allowing us to modify each layer.

NOTE: This is only true for layered PSD images, not JPEGs, PNGs, or TIFFs.

If we double-click the PSD file in the Browser, it opens in the Timeline, allowing us to add keyframes, effects, even visibility changes for each layer. But it does so for the duration and at the frame rate of the Browser clip.

For example, in the screen shot above, notice that the duration is 1:00:00, which matches the duration of the Browser clip. But the rules change when a clip is edited into the Timeline.

In this screen shot, I’ve edited the same still into the Timeline with a 3:00 duration.

To modify a PSD file which is edited into the Timeline, double-click it. This opens the graphic into a special Timeline where we have access to every layer AND at the frame rate and duration that matches the clip in the Timeline.

Make whatever changes you want, then click the small left-pointing arrow in the top left of the Timeline to “Go Back” to the original Project.

FCP X will then render that still image to match the Project settings and incorporate all the changes you made to the PSD file directly.


Don’t worry about the initial frame rate assigned when you import a still image.

Don’t set keyframes using Open in Timeline once you’ve edited a clip into a Project

When you need to modify a PSD file in the Browser use Open in Timeline.

When you need to modify a PSD file after it is edited into the Timeline, double-click it.

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