Nesting in Final Cut Pro

Posted on by Larry

[ This article was first published in the February, 2010, issue of
Larry’s Final Cut Pro Newsletter. Click here to subscribe. ]

Nesting is the process of placing one, or more, sequences into another sequence in the Timeline. Nesting has been a part of Final Cut Pro for many years, but is often not well understood. Since this feature is both powerful and useful I wanted to talk about it with you today.

The last time I wrote about nests was in December, 2008, when I showed how to use nests to provide clean dissolves between two chroma-key shots. (You can read the article here.)

This time, I want to talk about nests more generally. There are four principle reasons to use nests:

1. The create a master sequence (like a show) from a group of sequences (such as individual scenes).


2. To a apply a single filter, or motion effect, to a group of clips in such a way that when you change the filter, or motion, settings, it changes across the entire range of clips.


3. To process a motion effect for a clip before a filter is applied to it.


4. To create image sizes for effects that are different, and generally larger, than your sequence image size.

This article talks about the first three options – the last deserves its own article in the future.

There are two ways to edit a sequence from the Browser into the Timeline:

1. Drag it into the Timeline as you would drag a clip.


2. Drag it into the Viewer, if necessary, set an In or Out, then edit it to the timeline as you would a clip. I generally edit sequences via the Viewer.


Note: A benefit to setting an In or Out in a sequence before editing it to the Timeline is that if you change the duration of the clips inside the sequence, the duration of the nested sequence does not change.

In addition, you can create a nest within the Timeline by selecting a clip or group of clips, then choosing Sequence > Nest Items (or typing Option+C).


Many times, in an effort to keep sequences manageable, longer programs and movies are edited such that each scene is a sequence, rather than creating the entire film in a single sequence. This allows you to organize very complex projects more easily, navigate within a sequence faster, and keeps a project from become overwhelming.

However, when the time comes to create a show master, you need to consolidate all these different sequences into one. Nesting makes that easy.

For instance, here, I have created a sequence containing a program composed of four separate sequences. Each sequence is an Act, which I edited individually. I added a blank section between each act to allow for commercial breaks. Notice, also, at the end of the sequence I added a slug. Slugs are audio and video black. What the slug does is tell FCP to play black at the end of the sequence for the duration of the slug.

You create slugs from the Generator menu in the lower right corner of the Viewer.

Note: When there is a gap between clips, FCP automatically inserts audio/video black during playback. But at the end of the sequence, FCP will stop, unless you add a slug. I generally add 60-seconds of black at the end of any sequence that will ultimately be laid back to video tape. If the sequence is for the web, I often add one second of black to be sure my final shot properly fades to black

The nice thing about using nests to create a show master is that no matter how messy your individual sequences are, your show master remains nice and clean and organized. This makes it easy to get timings, and make sure you’ve included all the scenes in your show.

If you are laying back to tape, you may also want to include color bars and tone, along with a slate at the top of the show. The industry accepted standard is 60-seconds of bars and tone, 10-seconds of black, 10-seconds of slate, 10-seconds of black, then the start of your program.

You can find bars and tone, along with a full screen text clip you can modify for the slate, in the Generator menu at the bottom right corner of the Viewer window.


Sometimes, you want to add the contents of a sequence into another sequence, but convert them back into individual clips, not as a nest.

An easy way to do this is to drag the sequence from the Browser to the Timeline, then, as your mouse enters the Timeline window, hold down the Command key. This converts (or deconstructs) your nest back into all its individual clips.

Pay attention to the shape of your cursor as you drag, to determine if you are doing an insert edit (arrow points right) or an overlay edit (arrow points down) with the clips.


Another common use of nests is to apply a filter to a group of clips. Now, you could do this easily without using a nest by selecting the clips and applying the filter to the selection.

The problem with this is that if you need to change the filter settings, you need to do so one clip at a time. The benefit of this approach is that you can change the filter slightly for each clip.

The benefit to using a nest is that you essentially have a single “master” filter whose settings apply to all the selected clips. You can then adjust the effect for all those clips just by changing one filter. The limitation to using a nest is that the filter settings must be the same for each clip.

Note: I keep using the word “filter.” However, this technique works for any combination of filter or motion effects.

Common situations where using a nest can be very helpful is in color correcting a group of clips to achieve a certain look, sizing a group of clips to all be the same size for a background effect, or adding a blur filter to make the text above the blurred clips more readable. There are many other ways you can use this technique, as well.

Here, for instance, I’ve selected three clips.

Go to Sequence > Nest items to convert the clips into a nest. (Remember, a nest is just another name for a sequence contained in another sequence.)

In this dialog, I named by clips “Blurred background clips” so I would know what I was doing with the nest. (You can use any name you want as long as it helps you to stay organized.)

Notice how the group of clips has been replaced by a slightly different color for the clip. This is a nest — a sequence contained inside another sequence.

To see the clips contained in a nest, double-click the nest. It opens as a new tab in the Timeline. to make changes to the nest, open it and change the clips inside, as you would any other sequence. Your changes are reflected automatically back into the nest.

Select the nested sequence in the timeline, not the clips contained in the nest, and apply an effect. In this case, I’m applying Effects > Video Filters > Blur > Gaussian Blur.

Here’s the tricky part. To adjust the filter, Option+double-click the nested sequence in the Timeline to open it into the Viewer. If you just double-click it, you’ll open the nest in the Timeline. We need to adjust the filter setting, which means we need to open the sequence in the Viewer.

Once you have the nest open in the Viewer, you can adjust effects as you would any other clip.

Repeat this process — Option-double-click to open a nest into the Viewer — whenever you need to adjust your effect settings until you have the effect you want.


When I was being trained as an instructor for Final Cut Pro 3, I was shown this next trick. It is still be best way to illustrate this problem.

You may not have reflected on this, but Final Cut Pro has a very definite method when it is creating effects. First, it processes anything in the Controls tab. Then, it starts at the top of the filter tab and moves down until all filters have been processed, one after the other. Finally, it moves to the Motion tab, starting with the top setting and moving down.

Most of the time, this processing order is fine. But, sometimes, it can trip you up. Here’s an example.

Let’s say you want to create a clip that is both reduced in size and blurred. Normally, you would apply a Gaussian Blur filter, and reduce the scale of the clip in the Motion tab; in this case, I used 50%.

The problem is that while the center of the clip is blurred, the edges are sharp.

Hmmm… this is not what we want. I want the entire clip to be blurred, including the edges.

However, since FCP processes all filters first, it starts by blurring the clip. When it then goes to the Motion tab to reduce the size of the clip, all the blurring is complete, which means the edges remain unblurred.

Hmmm… this is not what I want. So, to fix this, we need FCP to first reduce the size of the clip, then blur the clip.

Here’s how.

Double-click a clip to load it into the Viewer and change its size. In this case, I’m scaling it to 50%.

Next, select the Timeline and be sure your clip is still selected, then choose Sequence > Nest Items.

Give your sequence a name that tells you want you are doing to the clip and click OK.

In the Timeline (notice the nest is now a slightly different color blue) select the nested clip. Apply the Effects > Video Filters > Blur > Gaussian Blur filter.

Option-double-click the nest to load it up into the Viewer and adjust the Blur settings. In this case, I used a setting of 40 so you can really see the effect. Notice that both the clip and the edges are blurred.



There are a few things to note about nests:

1. Audio may not properly transfer from the clips inside the nest to the sequence containing the nest. If that happens to you, select the nest in the Timeline and choose Sequence > Render Only > Mixdown to remix your audio.


2. Nests are dynamic. Changes you make to the clips in the nest are automatically reflected in the sequence containing the nest.


3. If you set an In or an Out in a nest in the Viewer before editing it to the Timeline, changing the duration of the clips in a nest won’t change the duration of the nested sequence.


4. However, if you drag a sequence from the Browser to the Timeline, the nest become dynamic. If you shorten the clips in a nest, the sequence containing the nest will shorten. This would be similar to rippling a clip. HOWEVER, if you lengthen the clips in a nest and the nest is followed by another clip, the length of the sequence containing the nest does not change. FCP does this to prevent knocking downstream clips out of sync when the duration of a nest changes. If you want to lengthen a nest who’s duration has changed, you need to do so manually by dragging the right edge of the nested sequence.


5. Render files are stored in the sequence. So, if you render the clips inside a nest, you will need to re-render the sequence once you nest it. Render files are stored inside the sequence that contains the nest, not with the nest itself.


Nests are very powerful tools you can use to organize your sequences or easily create effects that would be very hard to do any other way.

UPDATE – FEB. 28, 2010

Loren Miller writes:

About nests– remind folks they should *never* cut into a nest– it duplicates the contents and swells memory requirements for the sequence. (I checked with the team about this to confirm it). Every time you slice into a nest– thinking it’s a quick way to extract an undesired chunk in the middle– you create two containers of the same clips. I’ve called this the Sorcerer’s NestMess Syndrome– after Mickey as the Apprentice in FANTASIA, duplicating brooms with buckets ad infinitum.


First came to my attention several versions ago when a client presented a feature rough cut with many slices in nests– and we were getting regular Out of Memory alerts!

Larry replies: Thanks, Loren, will do.


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One Response to Nesting in Final Cut Pro

  1. Thomas says:

    I am editing a city sponsored event and have 11 layers of video at one point throughout the program. I’m getting huge QT reference files when exporting. i noticed that the 3 video layers that I have, some of the video clips are overlapping. Could that be part of the reason I’m having such long and large exports? I’ve since consolidated the 3 layers of video down to one now that I have picture locked, so I’m hoping that helps with rendering.

    And also, does nesting help with consolidating space, both storage and editing. For example, if I nest 11 tracks down to one, am I impacting the final size of that clip once exported? And will it speed up my rendering time by nesting clips?

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