FCP X: Animating Timeline Effects

Posted on by Larry

Keyframes are at the heart of all video animation; though, in some cases they are hidden in a Motion behavior or pre-built effect. In this tutorial, I will show you how to add keyframes in the Final Cut Pro X Timeline to animate an effect.

Here’s the finished effect — text keyed over a blurred background. In this example, the background image will start in full-focus. Then, after two seconds, the text will blur in, while the background blurs out.

This is a dramatic way to make sure your audience reads the text. This effect is used frequently in titles and full-screen info graphics.

Here’s how to create it:

1. Start by editing your background clip to the Primary Storyline. (Thanks to Pond5 for the use of this clip.)

2. Make sure nothing is selected in the Timeline, then type [plus key] 200 [Enter key]. When nothing is selected, typing a positive number moves the playhead to the right. Typing a negative number moves the playhead to the left. Entering 1-2 digit numbers moves frames, while typing 3-4 digit numbers moves seconds and frames. In this example, typing “200” moves the playhead two seconds; we don’t need to add punctuation.

The playhead is now positioned where we want the background to start blurring and the title to blur in.

3. To allow us to find this spot again, type M to set a marker. A marker is NOT necessary for this effect, but it helps us to keep our place.

NOTE: To jump to earlier markers in the Timeline, type Control+; to move to later markers in the Timeline, type Control+’

4. Open the Effects Browser (type Command+5) and locate the Gaussian blur effect. This is my favorite blur effect.

NOTE: I find it easiest to find effects using the search box at the bottom and typing just the first few letters of the effect name I am searching for. However, you can also select the Blur category to find it there.

5. With the background clip – the one in the Primary Storyline – selected, double-click the Gaussian blur effect to apply it to the clip. Or, you can drag the effect on top of the clip.

6. Notice that the entire clip become blurry. Now we need to add keyframes to control where the blur starts and how quickly the clip becomes blurry.

7. With the clip selected, type Control+V (or Clip > Show Video Animation). This displays the Timeline keyframe editor. Enlarge the Timeline, if you want, so you can see the entire keyframe editor – this last step isn’t necessary, but makes the process of navigation easier.

NOTE: Built-in effects are listed at the bottom of the stack, closest to the clip. Clip effects are always displayed at the top of the editor.

8. Click the small box in the top right corner of the Gaussian effects box – displayed at the top of the editor – or double-click in the blue Gaussian effects box, to open it.

If you look very, VERY carefully running horizontally across the center of the box is a thin black line. This is the keyframe line. (It would be REALLY helpful if this line were easier to see!)

9. To create a keyframe Option+click the black line where you want the keyframe to appear. (If you double-click the line, the Gaussian box will close. Um, don’t do that.)

10. Because we want the blur effect to fade in, we need two keyframes – the first indicates where the effect starts, the second indicates where the effect ends. For this example, let’s say we want the effect to take one second. So, add another keyframe one second after the first keyframe.

11. We are through the hardest part. All we have left to do is adjust the keyframes to achieve the level of blur that we want. In this example, I want the image to start fully in focus, so the first keyframe is set to 0 – that is, zero blur is applied to the clip. To set this, I dragged the first keyframe all the way down.

NOTE: To change the timing of a keyframe, drag it left or right. To change the amount of a keyframe, drag it up or down.

12. The default setting of 50% is too much for me, I want something a bit more subtle. So, I set the second keyframe to 30%.

What I’ve just done is set two keyframes that will automate the blur from 0% to 30% over a duration of one second, starting two seconds from the beginning of the clip.

NOTE: You can place keyframes anywhere within a clip. Virtually every effect can be keyframed – the only one that can’t, that I know of, is color correction. There is no limit to the number of keyframes that can be applied to a clip, so you can have an effect change constantly as a clip plays.

13. Double-click inside the blue Gaussian effects box in the Timeline to close it – or click the small dark blue box in the upper right corner. This is the same way we opened the effects box to add keyframes.

At this point, we could hide the Video Animation editor, but, because we want to synchronize the blur of a title with the blur of the background, we’ll leave the animation box open a bit longer.

14. Open the Titles Browser and search for the Blur title. Drag it to the Timeline so that the title starts at the first keyframe, which is indicated by the clip marker.

15. Here are my settings for the Blur title. In the Title tab, I:

In the Text tab:

At the bottom of the Text tab, I tuned on Drop Shadows by clicking the checkbox, then revealed the settings by clicking the word Show.

Then, dragged the text down using the Viewer to touch Title Safe.

NOTE: Here’s an article that describes Title Safe.

Here’s what the effect looks like in the Timeline.

This is the finished effect. And here’s a QuickTime movie (1.9 MB) you can download so you can see what this looks like in real-time.

This effect tends to be more effective if it goes more slowly.


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3 Responses to FCP X: Animating Timeline Effects

  1. Peter P. says:

    Thank you so much for opening up the mysteries of keyframing to me. I learned how to get to a lot of the controls that were part of my normal motion control regimen in FCP7.
    This program is a tough nut to crack.
    Well explained.
    Peter Pierce

  2. Sam Comer says:

    Is there no way to extend the keyframes beyond the borders of a clip? For example, if i want the move or scale to begin before, and end after, a transition so that it’s smooth. This was easy in FCP 7 and in Premiere … simply drag the keyframes left or right until they were outside the edge of the transition. Here, in this viewer, it appears that the keyframes are confined entirely within the clip area.



  3. […] a good deal of power behind it as well. It’s not immediately apparent, but there is a lot of automation that can be done to the many attributes and effects, which is very encouraging as there is a lot of […]

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