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Variable Speed Retiming in Final Cut Pro X

Screen shot 2011-10-13 at 5.22.21 PM.pngSometimes, you need to change the speed of a video clip in your Final Cut Project.  Most of the time, you're changing the speed of the entire clip—slow motion shots, reverse playback, and time lapse effects all fall into that category.  That type of retiming, which we've historically called constant-speed retiming, is easy to perform in FCPX: with the clip selected in the Timeline, press Command+R (or right-click the clip and select Retiming) to display the Retiming bar.  

To speed up the clip, click and drag the notched indicator at the right of the Retiming bar.  As you "squeeze" the clip into a shorter time, it will play back faster; as you "stretch" it out to occupy a longer time, it will play back slower.  You can always use the drop-down menu on the Retiming bar to force the clip to commonly-used speeds, including –100%, which plays the clip backwards.

Sometimes, though, you would like to change the speed of the clip mid-clip.  For example, imagine a shot with a fighter throwing a punch.  For dramatic effect, you may want the clip to play quickly as the fist swings forward, then switch to slow-motion as the fist makes contact, then resume fast playback as the fighter's arm clears the frame.  In previous version of Final Cut Pro, you'd use the Time Remap or Speed Tool for complicated retiming like this.  Final Cut Pro X takes a different (but much more intuitive) approach.  More after the jump--
A variable speed retime starts the same way as a constant-speed retime in FCPX: show the Retiming bar above the clip in the timeline (by selecting the clip then pressing Command+R).  This is where you start to have options:

Best Option: Range Selection Tool
You can use the Range Selection Tool to do retiming kind of like the old Speed Tool in FCP7: select the portion of the clip that you want to affect, then speed it up or slow it down independently of the rest of the clip.

  1. Click to select the clip in the Timeline, then press Command+R to display the Retiming bar.Screen shot 2011-10-13 at 5.23.19 PM.png
  2. Press and hold the R key to temporarily activate the Range Selection Tool, and click and drag across the clip in the Timeline, selecting the chunk of the clip that you want to play at a different speed.Screen shot 2011-10-13 at 5.23.51 PM.png
  3. Press Shift+N to create a new, Normal-speed subrange in the Retiming bar.  The new subrange has handles of its own.  You can "stretch" or "squeeze" this new segment in the same way as you'd retime the entire clip: by clicking and dragging the textured edge of the colored Retiming bar.Screen shot 2011-10-13 at 5.24.33 PM.pngScreen shot 2011-10-13 at 5.28.19 PM.png
Note that Final Cut Pro automatically eases the speed transitions within the clip—in other words, it smoothly speeds up and slows down as it moves through different retime regions in the clip.  Unfortunately, we can't find a way to impose detailed influence over how extreme this smoothing is (like the Bezier handles in the old Time Remap paradigm)—if you can, please let us know in the comments!  In the meantime, we suggest using additional smaller retime regions if you need to influence Final Cut's speed smoothing.

Side Tip: In a shot like this one, where I've dramatically slowed down a portion, I might worry that the shot would begin to appear choppy, like stop-motion animation.  New in Final Cut Pro X, you can reduce this choppiness by using a super-high-quality algorithm called Optical Flow directly in your FCPX Timeline.  Just use the Retiming menu to select Video Quality > Optical Flow, and go get a cup of coffee while FCPX does the pretty time-consuming background render of the great-looking slow motion.
Screen shot 2011-10-13 at 5.26.42 PM.png

Fast Option: Preset Speed Ramps
Sometimes, you want the clip to simply speed up or slow down over the course of playback.  Before, you'd need to use the full power of the variable-speed retiming tools to this end.  Now, several basic variable-speed retimes are simple menu options from the Retiming menu, including "Instant Replay" which repeats the clip with independent retiming handles, and basic ramps:
Screen shot 2011-10-13 at 5.55.19 PM.png

Ugly Option: Blade Tool
We've had a number of students come through who had to figure out for themselves how to do a variable speed retime.  Their instinct—which makes good common sense—has been to use the blade tool to add through edits to the clip, then use the retiming bar to play each new little piece of the clip at a different speed.  This is NOT the same as using the Range Selection Tool or the Speed Ramps, for one important reason: since you've told FCPX to think of each chunk of the big clip as a separate clip, it won't ease the speed transitions between different segments.  In other words, it'll look jerky, like this:

Of course, you'll learn all this hands-on, plus much, much more, in our Final Cut Pro X training classes.  It's easier and more affordable than ever to come study short- or long-term in Orlando or learn on-site at your location.  The number's 866-566-1881, and we look forward to answering your call anytime day or night.
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