21 power tips & tricks to become a Final Cut Pro X professional
Navigating through Final Cut Pro X can be daunting if you’re new to it or even just transitioning across from previous versions, so learning the following tips & tricks will help you streamline the process and increase your productivity!
1. Storage and media
Let’s start with a few basics : store your media on an external drive that is fast enough to support video editing and streaming. As your media can be stored anywhere, don’t fill up your system drive with unnecessary clutter as it will slow things down when you’re editing (remember to try and keep your system drive around 10% empty or even 20% if possible so things run smoothly).
As we’re now well into the 21st century, use the fastest external drives you can get your hands on. USB2 and FW400 are not fast enough for todays practices, go for at least FW800 and USB3 or, even better, Thunderbolt if your Mac has the capability.
If you’re serious about editing, get a RAID set up to protect yourself against one of your drives dying on you mid-edit. RAID drives are faster and usually hold more data which is useful if you’re editing (remember that a single uncompressed 4K video frame is around 230mb at 10-bit depth!). Consider a RAID 5 array with a minimum of four hard drives as you’ll be able to edit pretty much in every format available (except 4K uncompressed).
2. RAM, CPU & GPU
Here’s a useful rundown on RAM, CPU & GPU:
Basically, the more RAM the better as you can run more processes simultaneously and, although a fast CPU is great for thread-hungry processes like rendering and exports, more RAM and a faster GPU is going to be better for editing quickly. A good combo of all three is obviously the best choice if you can afford it!
3. Colour effects & correction
If you plan on doing a lot of colour effects and correction etc., then make sure to use a codec that compresses media as little as possible as colour info is usually lost the more a codec compresses a file.
4. Simple backups vs flexibility
To make your life easier when backing up, import your media into a library. However, if you need to share your media between libraries (or with an editor for example), then it’s best to keep your media separate from a library.
5. Proxy files
If your system is slow, you might want to consider using proxy files as they are around one quarter of the resolution of native camera footage / optimised media. They’re also useful if you have a small amount of disk space or you are editing multi-camera footage.
6. Images within your videos
To work best within FCPX, try and keep your still images smaller than 10k pixels, keeping things no bigger than three times your project frame size is a good rule of thumb.
7. Maintaining quality
When you optimise your media, you’re not improving the look, you’re improving the editing workflow so that you can do things like export your videos faster. Bear this in mind if high quality videos are your primary focus as you probably don’t want to export a pixelated mess after all your hard work editing.
8. iPhone footage
As smartphones like iPhones become ever more powerful and useful as video cameras, you should get up to speed with the best way to import media from them quickly. Do so with a Lightning cable and Preview.
9. Final Cut Pro X Shortcuts
Part of being a power user (that’s why you’re here right? Or was it for this damn fine music?) is to become a wizard on the keyboard. Here are some of the most popular shortcuts:
- E : you can ‘append edit’ a clip from the Browser into the Timeline simply by tapping the E key
- Shift+Z : if you need to fit something into a window, this is your pal
- Cmd + B : use this to cut a clip at the position of the playhead
- Comma (,) and Period (.) : essential – use these two keys to move left or right one frame at a time
- Cmd + E : Export using the default sharing option
- Option + [ : Start the clip at the current playhead position (also known as Trim Start)
- Option + ] : Use this to end the clip at the current playhead position (also known as Trim End)
- Option + \ : Trim to the start or end of the current playhead position (also known as Trim to Playhead)
Why is the list so short!? Because you should assign your own shortcuts based on what you do most often. I do this in Logic Pro X when scoring music and it’s made me richer, better looking and have more friends. No, but seriously, check out the Keyboard Commands screen and start creating your own shortcuts, you’ll become a keyboard warrior in no time.
10. FCPX preferences and troubleshooting
If things aren’t running as smoothly as you’d like, start by:
- Checking how much free space you have on your system drive (try aiming to keep 20% free remember)
- Checking the speed of your drives (internal and external)
- Keeping the number of clips to less than around 3,000
- Lowering the number of projects you have in FCPX
- Look at what codecs are being used by stock footage if you’re using any (this is really important). If you’re not sure, try optimising the media
And remember not to delete FCPX preferences unless things really aren’t working properly. You should only get rid of preferences if you need to fix something, not to streamline your system / workflow.
11. Focus on audio quality
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – audio is REALLY important. Don’t neglect it and make sure you check your mix is not clipping – audio levels that you hear in a Compound Clip are not trustworthy (try to avoid CC’s generally) and when it comes to exporting your final project, the level should never exceed 0dB.
Remember that when you separate a stereo clip into two mono clips it alters the audio by 3dB in each channel – that’s important when you’re doing a mix as suddenly you’ll lose / gain too much volume. And while you can do some audio editing in FCPX, it’s far better to import audio into a tool dedicated to audio repair / mixing like ProTools or Adobe Audition.
12. Organising your workflow
A bit of housekeeping – place anything that you don’t want to shift in time straight into your Primary Storyline. For example:
- Dramas: try putting the principle dialogue into the PS
- Interviews: use those talking heads
- Music videos: as the music itself is the guide, use the audio track.
Remember that even though there isn’t a limit of how many layers you can stack in your timeline, in order to play them without glitches, you may need to render them (which can be done whenever via the Project Properties dialog).
13. Frame rates and frame sizes
Only change your frame rate when there are no clips in your timeline to prevent a nightmare later juggling with the main frame rate of your project and messing up all your edits. As for frame size, that can be changed at any time.
14. Stop snapping
Using the position tool to move your clips without them automatically snapping back together (highly frustrating situation solved).
15. Colour correction
Have you heard of video scopes? Make sure you use them when colour correcting as they can tell you a lot about your film if you pay attention. For example, if something needs to be grey, then it should contain the same amounts of red, green & blue.
16. Reduce noise
If you want to reduce the amount of noise in your video and things like blemishes on skin in close-ups, then try out blurring the blue channel.
17. Exporting tip
Remember that when you export from FCPX, it will be with the highest quality unless you’re working with Proxy files in the Viewer menus (meaning it will export Proxy files).
18. Adjustment Layers
Just like in Photoshop, these are essential and can be made in Motion or grabbed from the many places online that have them
19. Be safe, not sorry
Shit goes wrong. You know it, I know it. So get in the habit of the old days when editing tape and export an early version of your project (also known as a ‘banker’) which has a rough grade. Great as a backup in case something goes wrong.
20. Save snapshots before slicing and dicing further
Before editing big chunks of your project (or even doing multiple finite adjustments), create a Snapshot and be wise with your naming. For example, I tend to add the date in reverse for my projects i.e. using the UK format of dates like DDMMYY, a project on 27/06/16 would be named 160627 and then I’d give it a unique identifier for revisions i.e. 160627-projectname-rev01.wav and then 160627-projectname-rev02.wav etc.
21. Wave goodbye to waveforms
If you’re going to import new media, then try turning off waveforms whenever you can as the rendering slows down FCPX massively. Leaving them on the timeline is fine, but I’m talking about turning them off in your browser & inspector.
Ok, hope that was useful for all you FCPX editors out there! If you have more tips, let me know in the comments below and I’ll add them 🙂
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