First Flight: Final Cut Express (Part 3)

The aforementioned render looked good! My little demo contains side-by-side video, synced perfectly.

Already I’ve done one thing that’s impossible in iMovie: combine two video clips in the same frame. I can slap a “talking head” video box over an otherwise bland tourist panorama, or when I’m doing a drive-and-talk I can slide in a subtle little corner thing showing you what I’m talking about…on and on.

Good, good. Let’s go for Two Impossible Things before suppertime: multiple text items, placed in an arbitrary fashion. I want to identify the cameras responsible for each side of the screen.

Another example of something that’s pretty much dead-simple, but first I had to look something up. No obvious “add titles” tool or button or thingamawhassit anywhere in Final Cut’s UI.

Ah. Okay, once again it’s a tool that I can’t figure out until I go away and Google or check the manual, but once I have the answer, it makes sense. Text tools are in an “Effects” tab inside your project window. The project window contains video files, sound files, other sources of content…it sort of figures that as something that generates content, it’d be in there.

(A little button with a text icon in it. Visible. Anywhere. Y’know, Apple, that would have made sense, too…)

Okey-doke. Easy as get-out. Move the playhead to the spot where the title should appear, click the “Text” item, which you’ll obviously find in the “Text” folder inside the “Video Generators” folder inside the “Effects” tab. Drag it into the preview viewer, just as you would a video clip that you’re preparing for insertion.

Click on the viewer’s “Video” tab and you see that the tool has automatically placed the text where you told it to. I used the plain “Text” generator, which assumes you just want to splat it in the middle of the frame. Simple business to just drag it to the lower-center of the “Kodak Zi6” half of the screen.

Repeat for the Mino. Huh? The text has disappeared.

Ah, simple: looking in the timeline reveals that the “Flip Mino” layer is behind the video layer when it ought to be out in front. Drag, fixed.

Hmm. The “preview” I see here looks…ragged. Is it just giving me a quick render for position? It’ll look fine in the end product, right?

Need to render this out. I read comic books, return, and find that it all looks good.

Now I’ll export this as a Quicktime.

Once again I spot a holdover confusion from iMovie. I can export the movie as a Quicktime. Or I can export it, “Using Quicktime.” Two separate menu items, same apparent function. This needs to be made more clear.

The standard QT exporter is more familiar to me, so that’s what I go with (“Using Quicktime”). I select 720p settings, click the right buttons and…

Blimey! This will be ready in minutes? I know it’s just a 90 second clip, but “burninig” a ten-minute 720p project with these same H.264 settings in iMovie was almost an overnight endeavor.

Annnd we’re done. Open it in Quicktime Player annnnd…it’s crap:

It’s taken the original 16:9 aspect ratio, letterboxed it to 4:3, then converted THAT to 16:9 HD aspect ratio by squashing it.

Fut the wuck?

Oh, and it’s downsampled it from 720p to standard-definition, too.

Le Sigh.

Now I have a brand-new worry. I didn’t see an opportunity to tell Final Cut “Look, Skeezix: I’m doing HIGH-DEF editing. AYTCH-DEE.” I thought it had gotten the message when I started importing HD clips. Must I now worry that all of my content has been converted to this crummy state? Must I begin ALLLLLL over again?

Okay, I’m just going to export this into “YouTube”-ish dynamics (3:2, standard definition).

Good. In the sense that “I intended to do this and easily got Final Cut Express to do what I wanted it to do.”

But now I can’t go back to my “real” editing project until I figure out why this is in standard def, and successfully export an HD clip in 16:9 aspect ratio. Damn and blast.

I’ve just looked in the “Properties” window for this sequence and yes, Final Cut seems to think it should be 720×480. Why? I know I never made that choice. And now that I see that it’s wrong, I don’t see any spot in which I can say “1280×720, bonehead! Get it RIGHT!”

I seem to have found it, inside “Easy Setup.” Yeah, right…”easy”:

Okay, I’m willing to score this one as an Apple failure. I’m apt to use this app to edit all kinds of things. Is Apple seriously thinking that I’ll have to edit EVERYTHING at maximum 1080p definition — even the crappy little VHS videos I’m transferring in — just to retain the ability to edit ANYTHING in HD?

Is Apple seriously saying that the crummy consumer-grade iMovie ’08 is smart enough to think “Oh, he’s importing HD video…I should edit it as HD, then. Or at minimum, ASK” but Final Cut Express is just a cod-slapping moron?

Rrgh. This bit is needlessly complicated.

Now I don’t know if I can even use any of the stuff I’ve already put together in the “real” project. I’m looking through the UI and the manual, but I can’t find any place to say “See this existing project? With all of the HD clips? AYTCH-F***ING-DEE. RIGHT F***ING NOW.”


Okay. Dinner. I really need a break from this. What an idiotic thing to be dealing with.

10 thoughts on “First Flight: Final Cut Express (Part 3)”

  1. Slow, deep breaths, Andy…

    I’m not sure about the Express version, but FCP is smart enough to ask you, upon placing your first clip in any new timeline, if you want the timeline to match the specs of the clip. So if you drop a 720p clip in a SD timeline it’s smart enough to say, “Hold on there, cowboy. You really want to do that?” Perhaps Express doesn’t do this.

    Also, in FCP you set your sequence setings via the pulldown menu sequence:settings. Again, not sure how Express handles this, but in FCP you can alter a timeline after the fact.

    You may want to try creating a new HD sequence, then cutting and pasting out of your SD sequence. See how that goes

  2. Andy, thanks for a very interesting article, it’s very helpful and interesting. Just a quick note – (and I am sorry for being meticulous annoying) I guess this post was supposed to be titled “part 4”, not “part 3”, right?

  3. Final Cut (Express and Pro) can be a chore to learn. Sometimes it’s a chore to use. Something about Quicktime export really screws up when 4:3 footage gets exported as 3:2. It seems that Apple hasn’t properly figured out how deal with non-square pixels, even trying to pre-correct for it makes the image look fuzzy. Maybe I just don’t know what I’m doing.

    If you have a disc in the package that looks like it might be a tutorial, watch it. But it’s not really a tuturial, you just watch someone do something, they don’t offer the stock media for you to do the same yourself.

    If you just try using the program and get certain steps out of order, it just causes frustration. Easy Setup is something that should be done before creating a new sequence.

  4. Have you tried Option clicking the sequence, Properties -> Load Sequence Preset…? I’m looking at 3.5.1 but I think that’s what you’re after.

  5. I’m very confused now. It now says “Part 3” on my current refresh of the page; on the previous refresh, I swear it said “Part 4”.

  6. @Lanny Heidbreder: I am confused even more. I see “Part 4” when I’m looking at with from my Macbook Pro and it indeed does say “Part 3” when I’m opening it on my Macbook Air. I’m also seeing “part 3” when I’m looking in RSS feed on NetNewsWire.

    I’ve no idea what’s going on here. Web caches, maybe? (not that it matters anyway)

  7. FCP Express is a hobbled version of a pro app. Professionals need options. The choice of import format and editing format are kept separate by design.

    Here’s how it behaves in FCP, (possibly Express, too?).The Sequence Default preset is chosen by the user at first launch. When you start a new sequence timeline, if the first clip you drag to the timeline does not match the sequence preset, FCP will ask the user if you wish to change the sequence settings to match the first clip. In other words, the first edit ultimately defines the final sequence settings. Any changes to the sequence settings after this point will be met with limited success. For example: the rendering codec may be changed, but the timebase (29.97, 24p, 30p, etc.) can not be changed.

    The Select-All, Copy, and Paste into a new sequence… is a good choice for correcting unwanted sequence settings.

    FYI — editing HDV and H.264 codec material will require a lot of rendering! Transcode the footage to another codec during import (e.g. Apple ProRes) for better performance, at the cost of larger file sizes.

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