Managing Migration: Finding Your Way in Final Cut Pro X
Editors moving from older versions of Apple Final Cut Pro to FCP X find that quite a bit of reorientation is required. Standard terminology and editing practices have been changed. It’s time to break the ice and understand what makes FCP X tick.
Events and Projects
In the past, an FCP “project” was the main session file that contained the data for edited sequences and bins. The “capture scratch” folder was the hard drive location that contained your media. Final Cut Pro X organizes clip information, media and edits into two libraries: Events and Projects. The data for these can be stored on your internal drive or any external hard drive. An Event is analogous to an FCP 7 bin or folder. It could have been called reel, bin or tape, but any of those names is borrowed from legacy workflows, so the term Event is as good as any.
Events contain the source clips, and the Event Library in the FCP X interface is tied to the Final Cut Events folder on your hard drive. When files are imported from a location on your hard drive or from a camera, the media can be either copied or transcoded to the Final Cut Events folder. If you choose not to copy the media, then only an alias appears in the Events folder, which in turn is linked to the actual media file in another location. Although edited sequences can be stored in an Event, it’s best to think of an Event as an accumulation of source media and treat it as such.
In an effort to make media management more robust, Apple uses unique file identifiers for media (or aliases) inside an Event folder. Media that is linked but not copied is subject to going offline if you move, remove or alter the source media files. This includes files that are altered by Adobe applications if they embed XMP metadata into the imported files. If you use both FCP X and Adobe applications, disable the XMP functions in your Adobe preferences.
Edited sequences (Projects) are accessed from the Project Library. As with Events, the Project Library connects to corresponding Final Cut Projects folders on your hard drives. You can have as many Projects as you like, and they may be stored in folders within the Project Library to reduce clutter. Since FCP X is constantly saving and has no “save as” function, duplicate your project as you build versions of a cut. This process is identical to duplicating sequences in FCP 7.
Everything that’s in your Final Cut Events and Projects folders is active and opens each time you launch FCP X. If you don’t want everything to show up, there are five strategies for media management.
Folder management in the Finder. FCP X is tightly integrated with the operating system, so create “Inactive FCP Events” and “Inactive FCP Projects” folders on your hard drives. Manually move specific Event and Project files in and out of these folders as needed at the Finder level. Anything not visible in the default folders will be hidden from FCP X.
Event Manager X. This is a small utility developed by Intelligent Assistance that does the same thing as folder management in the Finder, but in a more automated fashion. It presents the user with an Event/Project panel (not unlike Avid’s start-up screen) that can used to manage the active files for the next editing session.
External drives. By default, FCP X stores Events and Projects in the user’s Movies folder, but files may be saved on any other drive just as easily. Editors used to working with removable drives may choose them as the save location for Events and Projects. When the drive is unmounted, these files aren’t available to FCP X.
Disk images. One “cheat” is to create virtual disks using Disk Utility. These disk image files can be mounted and unmounted as needed. Organize your sessions onto these disk images and then mount the appropriate one when you are ready to work with a particular client or session.
Add SAN location. Final Cut Pro X offers access to SAN folders as separate locations. This method is similar to mounting and unmounting disk images, except that you are gaining access to a portion of the shared storage and then later releasing it. It’s designed to work with file-level SANs, like Apple Xsan, but does not appear to work with some volume-level SAN solutions.
Organizing Your Clips
Within FCP X, the Event is the highest level of organization, and you can use as many Events as you like. FCP X uses a system of Smart Collections and Keyword Collections for clips, much like Apple Aperture. Smart Collections can be set to filter data based on nine metadata types, such as rating and date. Set a Smart Collection to display Favorites and then any clip (or portion of a clip) marked as a Favorite within the Event will show up in that Smart Collection.
Keyword collections can be used exactly like a bin of subclips in FCP 7. For example, create a Keyword Collection for a location, such as Florida. Then drag all the clips shot on location in the Sunshine State to the “Florida” icon. (You may assign a keyword to a hotkey and click it rather than dragging files.) The clips now appear in that Collection as well as in the Event, where they have been tagged with the “Florida” keyword. You can also select ranges within clips and assign keywords to those ranges in the same way you create subclips in other NLEs.
Now go through the clips and reject any completely bad takes and set your Event Browser to “hide rejected.” Much like Avid’s “custom sift” function, you can use the show/hide rejected or favorites function to control which clips are visible within your Event.
Lastly, Collections can be stashed into folders within the Event.
You can effectively use Final Cut Pro X to tackle large productions, like a TV show or documentary or feature film, using these methods of culling footage.
The Unified Viewer
One sticking point for some editors is the lack of a dual-viewer source/record (or viewer/canvas) window layout. Final Cut Pro X uses a single “unified” viewer that will display both source and timeline clips as you skim over footage in the Project or Event Libraries.
If you miss that second viewer for your source material (something Apple intends to change in the next update), then simply set your Event browser to list view instead of icon view. When you do that, a single filmstrip is maintained at the top of the browser that displays any clip selected from the list. Arrow up or down using the keyboard cursor keys to move through the clips in the list. Simply skim over the footage in the filmstrip to get a good idea of its content. The ability to quickly preview footage without specifically clicking and playing clips is one of the benefits FCP X offers editors to speed up their sessions.
The Spine of Your Project
The biggest editing change in Final Cut Pro X is in the construction of edits on the timeline. Tracks are gone—and with them targets, track selection and others. In some ways FCP X is more like a Moviola or KEM than previous NLEs, or even linear edit systems. The Project timeline is based on a Primary Storyline typically consisting of synced audio/video clips. The complexity of these clips is hidden within the clip container, which will look the same whether there are one or eight audio tracks. When you edit to the Primary Storyline, you are building the “spine” of the edit, much like what editors call the A-roll or a “radio cut.”
Cutaway shots that illustrate script points or bridge edits—your B-roll footage, but also sound effects and music—are edited as Connected Clips. These are attached above or below the Primary Storyline. Multiple Connected Clips can be strung together into a single Secondary Storyline. This would be desirable if you want transitions between these clips. The Secondary Storyline would be connected at the start of the first clip in the string.
Unlike in FCP 7, a clip can be audio-video, video-only or audio-only, regardless of its position on the timeline. Audio clips can be placed above the Primary Storyline, for example, and video clips below, or vice versa. Since there is no rigid ordering system for video and audio tracks, any clip on any level can contain audio and/or video content. Visibility does honor a stacking order in that what you see on the output is determined by a top-down priority. That is, higher clips cover clips that are below them.
Rather than being locked against time as on a standard track-based timeline, FCP X clips are linked to each other in a parent-child relationship. In a traditional NLE, the editor has to juggle track patching, track selection and edit types with every edit. With FCP X, the equivalent functions are controlled by simple edit commands, which determine where and how a clip is edited into a Project’s timeline. Since clips are linked by connecting points, when you move a clip around on the Primary Storyline, the Connected Clips that are hooked to it move as well and stay in a synced relationship to it.
In order to get access to more complex clips, such as those with multiple audio channels or Compound Clips (nests) with several video clips inside, clips on the timeline can be expanded, broken apart or the audio detached. Each feature offers different behaviors appropriate for various situations, so review these to see how they work. For example, when a clip is broken apart, individual audio tracks will appear as separate Connected Clips hooked to the picture on the Primary Storyline. You can access and control these individually, but you can also inadvertently throw them out of sync without being able to automatically correct that error.
Magnetic Versus the Position Tool
The default behavior for clips on the timeline is to be “magnetic” when the Select tool (“A” key) is enabled. This means you can freely rearrange clips on the Primary Storyline and Connected Clips will move around accordingly. Clips snap in at the cuts without unwanted overwrite or insert edits occurring, and no gaps (slugs or filler) are created. You are elastically changing the order of the timeline clips.
If you don’t like the magnetic behavior, you can work in a more traditional mode by clicking the Position tool (“P” key). When you move clips around in this mode, the timeline behaves in a fashion similar to FCP 7. Move a Connected Clip and it moves where you place it. Do the same with a clip on the Primary Storyline and it moves where you want, but it overwrites part of the adjacent clip and leaves a gap where that portion of the clip had been. Attached Connected Clips stay linked and move with the Primary Storyline clip.
Final Cut Pro X is far more complex than most editors who’ve only taken a casual look give it credit for. This article only scratches the surface of understanding how to make the most of it. Ripple Training and MacBreak Studio are excellent training resources. I also highly recommend Edgar Rothermich’s series of visual manuals for Final Cut Pro X and Motion 5, which are available at Amazon.