Secret Tips and Tricks for Final Cut Pro X

Commentary2.jpgMost of the time, one of my articles goes into depth on a single subject; however, not this time. Instead, this article has tons of small tips to make using FCP X easier. And, hopefully, you can add a tip or two of your own in the comments.

Think of this as a collection of mostly unrelated thoughts.

MEDIA

Media and libraries can be stored anywhere; provided its fast enough to support video editing.

USB 2 and FireWire 400 are not fast enough.

Because I like keeping media and libraries separate from the operating system, I recommend storing media and libraries on a separate drive from the internal boot drive.

Generally, the more a codec compresses a file, the more color information is lost. If you plan on doing lots of color effects or color correction, use a codec that compresses media the least.

For simplicity, import media into a library. This makes creating backups a lot easier.

For flexibility, store media separately from a library. This makes it easier to share media between libraries and/or editors.

Proxy files are 1/4 the resolution of camera native or optimized media. They are designed for slower systems, limited disk space, or multicam editing.

Final Cut Pro X prefers still images that are smaller than 10,000 pixels on a side. I recommend images no larger than 3x your project frame size.

Optimizing media does not make it look better, it just helps it edit more efficiently and export faster.

You can import media from your iPhone to your computer using a Lightning cable and Preview.

How big is an uncompressed 4K video frame? About 230 MB at 10-bit depth. (That’s a SINGLE frame!)

STORAGE

More RAM is better than a faster CPU. A faster GPU is better than a faster CPU.

A hard disk is either empty or full. I don’t know why, it just happens.

Always keep at least 10% of free space on any drive you use for anything; 20% is even better.

RAIDs are better than single drives because they are faster, hold more, and protect your data in the event a drive inside it dies. As you get serious about editing, budget for a RAID to add to your system.

SSD drives are far faster than spinning media (the new name for a traditional hard disk). But they cost more and don’t hold as much. If you can afford them, buy them. If not, a RAID 5 containing at least 4 spinning media drives allows you to edit virtually every format except 4K uncompressed.

As frame sizes increase, file sizes increase geometrically:

UHD is 24 TIMES bigger than standard definition video!

SHORTCUTS

If you edit as a hobby, keyboard shortcuts are helpful, but not mandatory. If you edit because someone else is paying you, using keyboard shortcuts will allow you to get home to your family at reasonable hours.

My Top 5 Keyboard Shortcuts:

Some of the coolest keyboard shortcuts are not assigned. Explore the Keyboard Commands screen to create your own shortcuts.

TROUBLE-SHOOTING

Don’t trash FCP preference files unless something is not working properly. Trashing prefs should only be used for repair, not preventative maintenance.

If FCP is acting sluggish, check:

EDITING

Final Cut prefers fewer than 3,000 clips be stored in a library.

Put whatever you don’t want to shift in time into the Primary Storyline. For dramas, put principle dialog; for interviews, put talking heads; for music videos, put the audio track.

Don’t believe the audio levels you hear in a compound clip.

In fact, use compound clips sparingly.

There’s no limit to the number of stacked layers you can create in the timeline, though you may need to render them to play them successfully.

Render file settings can be changed at any time using Project Properties.

Frame size can be changed at any time, however, frame rate should only be changed when no clips are in the Timeline.

Changing the frame rate will mess up all your edits.

Multicam editing does not allow audio mixing between tracks, nor combining images from different angles. It is simply a high-speed cutting utility.

The position tool is your best friend. It allows you to move clips without them snapping back together.

AUDIO

Audio levels should never exceed 0 dB when exporting the final project.

Separating a stereo clip into two mono clips changes the audio level by 3 dB in each channel.

If you need to do audio repair or serious mixing, send your project to ProTools or Adobe Audition.

Final Cut calculates audio levels and effects at 24-bit. (Your camera records it at 16-bit.)

Sample rate determines frequency response. A 48k sample rate exceeds normal human hearing.

EFFECTS

Fast cutting with hand-held cameras tells me that either the editor has no story to tell or the people on camera have no talent.

Buy plug-ins. Support smaller developers who are committed to the Final Cut Pro X platform.

To see two or more images on screen at the same time, they must be stacked; unless you are using drop-zones.

Always use video scopes when color correcting anything. Its amazing what they can tell you if you pay attention.

Want to reduce video noise, or skin blemishes, in a close-up? Blur the blue channel.

Equal amounts of red, green and blue equal gray. More importantly, if something is supposed to be gray, then it must contain equal amounts of red, green and blue.

A good story with characters you care about is worth about the same as a $100 million effects budget.

EXPORT

Final Cut always exports at the highest quality, UNLESS you have Proxy files checked in the Viewer menu. In which case, it exports proxy files.

Compressor is an essential tool for Final Cut. Motion isn’t essential, but it is really helpful.

If you sit more than 5 feet away from a 50″ 4K TV set, you won’t see the additional resolution provided by 4K media. It will look the same as 1080p. 4K still sounds sexy, though.

SUMMARY

Final Cut Pro 7 is a great editing tool. But one day, after an OS X upgrade, it will totally stop working. Time to say good bye; or stop upgrading.

Creativity doesn’t come from the tools you use, but the user of the tools.

Anyone can be creative. But to be creative on deadline, under budget and with people looking at you, THAT takes a pro.


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18 Responses to Secret Tips and Tricks for Final Cut Pro X

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  1. Will Schwarz says:

    Hi… thanks for naming your favorite keyboard shortcuts but, for the uninitiated, I’m thinking it might be helpful to indicate what each shortcut does.

    Best,
    Will

  2. Tom Wolsky says:

    “Multicam editing does not allow audio mixing between tracks.” Really? Can’t you show all the tracks, expand, and adjust levels between any tracks in the multicam clip?

    • Larry Jordan says:

      Tom:

      Multicam audio gets tricky. You can not expand a clip to see all audio channels from all angles in the Timeline. So, in that case, the answer is no.

      You can, after a multicam clip has been edited into the Inspector:

      * Select the clip containing the audio tracks you want to access
      * Go to Inspector > Audio > Channel Configuration
      * For all audio channels, including those that are disabled, Uncheck “Use Event Clip Layout.”
      * Change all multicam clips to Dual Channel Mono
      * Enable all audio channels in the Multicam clip
      * Go to Clip > Expand all Audio Components

      At this point, you will now hear and can adjust each audio channel separately.

      While this works, it seems to me easier to simply create a separate audio mix.

      Larry

  3. This list is golden! You never disappoint and I thank you!

  4. While I agree with most of your points, I still like editing 4K footage internally (on my 1T SSD of stage on my MacBook Pro). It is simply much faster than an Raid.

  5. Larry – you said, “Audio levels should never exceed 0 dB when exporting the final project.” Perhaps you should have said, “Audio levels should never exceed 0 dBFS when exporting the final project.”

    0 dBFS is assigned to the maximum possible digital level.for example, a signal that reaches 50% of the maximum level at any point would peak at -3 dBFS i.e. 3 dB below full scale.

    http://en.wikiaudio.org/Decibel_full_scale_(dBSF)

    • Larry says:

      Park:

      This is true, but not helpful. The audio meters in FCP X measure audio on the dbFS scale, so you statement is true. But nowhere in the FCP X interface would anyone find the term “dBFS.” For this reason, I just used dB.

      While it is critical that audio levels not exceed 0 dB during export, I recommend mixing so that peaks are bouncing between – 3 and -6 dB when mixing for the Web.

      Larry

  6. Pat says:

    “Don’t believe the audio levels you hear in a compound clip.”

    THANK YOU, LARRY!

    All this time, I thought it was just me.

  7. Perhaps it would be helpful to descrive the level differences between a DAW and FCP. As you know, Digital Betacam has a reference level of -20 dbFS while you recommend -3 to -6 when editing in FCP. If you send your audio track to a DigiBeta, it will appear hot and possibly not match audio recorded directly to DigiBeta. Certainly audio sent from a DigiBeta to FCP will seem low.

    • Larry Jordan says:

      Park:

      Explaining how audio works between analog and digital devices requires FAR more than a “Tips and Tricks” comment.

      You are correct, in that a DigiBetacam deck uses a -20 dB reference level. But you can’t directly compare an analog level to a digital level. They are not measured the same way. Especially because most broadcasters expect average levels, and FCP X measures peak levels.

      This gets really complex in a hurry. However, in an all-digital environment, my suggested levels work fine for web and simple mixes.

      Larry

  8. Eladio Perez says:

    I am so grateful for your instructions, Larry. I have learned a lot from you! Thank you and may the Lord continue to prosper you in the talents that He has given you. Praise the Lord for wonderful people like you, who without regards, share what the Lord has given you.

    May God bless you!

  9. JimiJeans says:

    It would be cool if Final Cut Pro brought back a good way to media manage clips and projects. My libraries sometimes grow 400 – 500 gb when finished. Sometimes i like to save the timeline in project format from a completed timeline. It would be a very nice thing if Apple integrated the FCP7 media manager into FCPX. Larry please put in a good word for the peasants! Some of us need some help with archiving these monster projects we want to save for future needs!

    Thank you,
    Jimi Jeans

    • Larry says:

      Jimi:

      Happy to put in a good word for this with Apple. This is a very popular request.

      Also, let me recommend you send a message to Apple directly using the Send Apple Feedback menu inside Final Cut.

      I have been told on many occasions that Apple reads and acts on these suggestions.

      Larry

  10. Vishwa says:

    Hello Sir,

    Thanks a lot for all the information you share all the time.
    Can you please help me with this, “Want to reduce video noise, or skin blemishes, in a close-up? Blur the blue channel.” Can you let me know how I could do this.

    Thank you.

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