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FCP Timeline Editing

In Final Cut Pro, the timeline window is the where editing occurs. There are many ways to edit. This is a basic editing tutorial for beginner, although for the seasoned editor you may pick up a few tricks you didn't know about.

Before editing, there are a few basic tools and concepts you should understand about the timeline window.

The position indicator allows you to drag through all the clips in your timeline. Notice, in the upper left corner of the timeline window, there is a tab labeled 'Basic Edit'. This shows the current sequence being displayed. Remember, it is possible to have multiple sequences in Final Cut Pro. Each sequence will show up as its own separate tab.


*If you haven't given your sequence a name yet, it will be labeled as 'Sequence 1'


To play forward in your timeline window, you can use the space bar. Remember, the canvas window will always represent what is in the timeline window. The canvas and the timeline windows are linked together.


Some important keyboard shortcuts in Final Cut Pro that will help you navigate within the timeline window are:

(L) - Play Forward (pressing again will speed up the play speed by 2X)

(J) - Play Backward

(K) - Pause

(spacebar) - Play or Stop

By holding down the K key and pressing L key or J key will cause the position indicator to play at 8 frames a second.


Visibility: Simply means whether or not you are actually able to see what is on a specific track. You can relate this to turning off your television set, even though the VCR is playing.

Target: When you begin editing, it signifies where clips will be placed on the timeline if you have multiple video or audio layers. In Final Cut Pro 5.0, Targeting a specific track is done by patching a source track on the left to the target track on the right.

Track Lock: Prevents a track from being edited or changed.


You can adjust the track height by clicking on the 'Timeline Track Height' icon located in the bottom left corner of the timeline window.


You can also use the keyboard shortcut (Shift + T) to toggle through the different track sizes.


One thing I recommend in Final Cut Pro, is to try and keep the tracks in your timeline large enough so that you can see. For basic timelines you will probably only use Video 1 and Video 2 with a couple of audio tracks. The smallest track setting will not display the thumbnail icons within an active sequence.

zoom_tool.jpg In the tools window, you can select the zoom tool. The keyboard shortcut to activate the zoom tool is the Z key. You can then drag out an area to zoom into using your mouse.

arrow_tool.gifYou should make it a habit to always click back to the arrow tool 'A', after your done with using a different tool. Most of the edit functions within Final Cut Pro can be done with the arrow tool.

At the bottom portion of the timeline window, there is a zoom slider bar. Dragging either end of the slider will allow you to zoom in and out of a sequence. The center portion of the zoom slider bar shows the area of the sequence being displayed. Dragging the center area of the zoom slider allows you to move to a new area.


Final Cut Pro offers an alternative way to zoom in and out of your timeline window. Using the keyboard combination of (Option + / -) will zoom in or out of the timeline window. Notice, by continuing to zoom in, you will evenutally be able to see one frame.


One invaluable shortcut you'll want to remember when using Final Cut Pro, is the ability to scale your entire sequence within the timeline window. To fit the entire sequence within the boundaries of the timeline window, use the keyboard shortcut (shift + Z).



Final Cut Pro supports the use of picture thumbnails within the clips in a sequence. Sometimes, it may be beneficial to add these picture icons within your sequence. It serves as a good visual aid when editing.

To turn on the thumbnail images in Final Cut Pro, go ahead and highlight the timeline window and navigate to the Sequence | Settings menu. (or use Apple + 0) A sequence settings box will appear.


Select the timeline options tab. Under the thumbnail display menu, select Name Plus Thumbnail.


This will turn on thumbnail picture icons within your Final Cut Pro sequence.

If you are working with sequences that are longer than a 2 minutes, you may find that the thumnbnail display will interfere with your ability to disinguish edit points within your Final Cut Pro timeline. For longer sequences, I reccomend that you turn the thumbnail display off.

To remove the thumbnail picture icons from the timeline, pull down the thumbnail display menu, and select Name instead of Name Plus Thumbnail.


The Final Cut Pro timeline will now only display the names of your clips, without a thumbnail picture.



Final Cut Pro allows you to create a storyboard, which is a very visual style of editing. It involves dragging and dropping clips directly from your browser window to the timeline window. It has its advantages and disadvantages.

Control click in the browser window and select View as Large Icons. Final Cut Pro will display all of your clips as large picture thumbnails.


One easy way to start editing is to grab individual clips and drag them directly to the timeline window.

In large icon view, a video only clip will simply show a picture icon to represent the clip. If a clip was recorded as video only, then it will only take up a video track. The same applies to an audio only clip, which would only take up an audio track. One easy way to start editing is to grab individual clips and drag them directly to the timeline window.

For audio only clips, Final Cut Pro displays a generic waveform icon. This represents that the clip has no visible picture attached to it.


If a video clip contains linked audio, Final Cut Pro will display a small speaker icon in the lower right hand corner of the picture icon. This means that both video and audio were recorded together during the capture process.


If a clip was recorded with video and audio, Final Cut Pro will lock these elements together. When these clips are dragged to the timeline, they will drag both the video and audio portions of the clip.

After you have arranged your clips in the browser window, you can select all of them and drag them to the timeline window. You can also use the keyboard shortcut (Apple + A) to select all the clips within the Browser window.


By highlighting all the clips and dragging them to the timeline, Final Cut Pro will automatically place them in order from left to right.


When starting out with the storyboard method of editing, it is important to note that the clips themselves have not been trimmed. Final Cut Pro will not allow you to place transitions between clips that have no handles. This means you will not be able to place cross dissolves or other effects between the clips in the timeline until they have been trimmed. The clips can easily be trimmed by using the arrow tool.

Another strategy when editing, is to drag clips from the browser to the timeline one at a time. In doing so, you may want to place your music or voice over clips into a sequence first. From the Final Cut Pro browser window simply drag each individual clip to the timeline window.

You may want to drag down your audio clips first. You can then use your audio track(s) as a reference for dropping in your video clips. Typically, in a basic sequence, audio should be placed on audio tracks A2 and A3. This will leave you room for a voice-over track, and clips that contain linked audio.



*New in Final Cut Pro 5.X, you can now display audio waveforms for clips by using the 'timeline layout menu'


You can also use the keyboard shortcut (Apple + Option + W) to toggle the waveform display on off.


Final Cut Pro allows you to lock any individual track. Make sure you lock any audio tracks that you want to stay stationary. This will keep them from moving out of sync with the video elements that you place above them.



There are two primary editing tools in Final Cut Pro. The insert or splice function, and the over-write function.

insert_edit.jpg When you see this symbol, it means you will be performing an insert or (splice) edit.

over_write_edit.jpg When you see this symbol, it means you will be performing an over-write edit

When dragging a clip to the timeline window it is very important to watch where you drop the clip. Inside each track, Final Cut Pro will display a (barely visible) horizontal dividing line. If you drag a clip above this line, an insert edit will be performed. If you drag a clip below this line, an over-write edit will be performed.


Clips in Final Cut Pro can be dragged directly from the browser window or viewer window. If a clip has IN / OUT points, only the marked duration will be carried over to the sequence. If you drag an entire clip to a sequence, it may have to be trimmed down when you begin placing transition effects such as a dissolve. If a clip contains linked audio, the audio will also be carried over to the sequence.


In this example, a 4 second clip ‘Colored Sailboat’ is placed directly over the ‘Sunset Clip’. This shortens the ‘Sunset Clip’. Notice, the black downward arrow that indicates an over-write edit will be performed.


Notice how Final Cut Pro performs an over-write edit, and the duration of the sequence stays the same as shown below. The 'colored sailboat' is placed directly over top of the 'sunset' clip, and it leaves the remaining 2 seconds.



Final Cut Pro also supports the insert edit or (splice function).

In this example, a 4 second clip named 'Colored Sailboat' is inserted between the two existing clips. The 'Sunset' clip is pushed to the right to making room for the 'Colored Sailboat' clip. Notice the black sideways arrow that indicates that an insert edit will be performed. Notice how the duration of the sequence has changed to make room for the 'colored sailboat' clip.



If your sequence has music, make sure you lock your audio tracks before performing an insert edit.


A key feature in Final Cut Pro is the ability to easily jump between edit points. To automatically snap your position indicator to the first frame of each edit point, use the up and down arrows on your keyboard. The down arrow will move your position indicator forward to the next edit point. The up arrow will move your position indicator backward to the previous edit point.



When using Final Cut Pro, it is sometimes easier to nudge forward or backward one frame at a time by using the keyboard equivalents.


The left and right arrow keys, will move the position indicator one frame forward or backward on the timeline. Pressing shift + (left or right arrow) will move the position indicator forward or backward 1 second at a time.


Before you begin moving clips around on the timeline, make sure the arrow tool is selected from the tools window. If your tools window is not visible on the screen, navigate to the Window | Tools menu.

One of the most important Final Cut Pro shortcuts to remember, is the A key. The A key will activate the arrow tool. Two important functions of the arrow tool are as follows:

  • The ability to highlight and move clips on the timeline
  • The ability to trim clips

    To move clips around in Final Cut Pro, simply click on the clip and move it left or right while holding down the mouse button. The arrow will turn into the over-write arrow, and will allow you to drag the highlighted clip to a new location.

    Here are some examples of how a clip can be highlighted and moved around with the arrow tool.


    When clips are moved around on the timeline with no modifier keys, Final Cut Pro will always assume that you are performing an over-write edit.

    Sometimes it may be difficult to move a clip one frame at a time. To force Final Cut Pro to move clips in smaller frame increments, hold down the command key when using the arrow tool to move clips around.


    By default, clips on the timeline have a magnetic property that snaps them together when you move within a few frames of another clip. This is helpful; because it will eliminate the time it takes to find an exact edit point when trying to attach clips together.

    Final Cut Pro defaults to having the snapping feature turned on. In the upper right corner of the timeline window you will find the snapping icon.


    The magnetic property of the timeline is called snapping. Without it, you would more than likely have small gaps between edits where you attempted to match clips together.

    Snapping can be turned on and off by clicking on the snapping icon, or by pressing the N key on the keyboard. You may find it may be easier to press the N key instead of trying to navigate to the small snap icon in the upper right corner of the timeline window.

    Mastering the use of the snapping icon is critical. There are many circumstances where it is difficult to navigate the timeline when this feature is turned on. By learning when to turn on or off the snapping feature you will improve your editing efficiency when working with Final Cut Pro.


    By highlighting a clip, you can move a clip forward or backward a specified duration by using the keyboard keypad. Here are some examples:


    +100 will move a clip forward 1 second.

    -100 will move a clip backward 1 second.

    Clips in the timeline will move forward the specified duration, unless blocked by another clip. Final Cut Pro does this because it always wants to try and keep your clips in sync. If a clip is blocked from moving farther forward, it will stop at the head of the clip that is blocking it. This graphic shows the 'Sailing ws' clip being moved 1 second forward.


    Remember, Final Cut Pro will give you a collision error if another clip is blocking the clip you want to move. This functions works best when moving clips that are already at the end of the timeline.


    When using the arrow tool, you can select multiple clips all at the same time by drawing a lasso or (marquee) around them. This is useful when moving clips that span across multiple tracks and you need to move them all at once.

    When using the storyboard method of editing, you may want to change the order of clips as they appear on the timeline. Since the concept of storyboard editing is to lay down a rough order of clips, this is a good time to make any changes to their order on the timeline. Performing a swap edit in Final Cut Pro is a tricky process, but once you master the concept, it is quite useful.

    To perform a swap edit, turn on the snapping feature by pressing the N key. Highlight and drag clip to its new location, and then hold down the option key. The overwrite arrow will then turn into a swap arrow. Then release the mouse button. A swap edit will be performed.



    Be careful when using the swap edit function. It will re-arrange the order of your clips in your sequence. Using the swap edit function in Final Cut Pro will cause clips to lose their relative position to other layers. This may cause problems if you have multiple layers that need to be in sync farther down the timeline.


    When lifting out clips in Final Cut Pro you have two choices. You can lift the clip straight out, or perform a ripple delete function. Highlight the clip you wish to remove and perform one of the following.


    Delete key: leaves a space or a gap

    (Shift + Delete): ripples the other clips from the right to close the gap.



    If the 'Sunset' clip is selected and the delete key is pressed, a gap will be left in its place.

    Using the delete key, will not change the duration of your sequence. Final Cut Pro will leave a gap that matches the duration of the clip that has been removed.


    If the ‘Sunset’ clip is selected and (shift + delete) is pressed, Final Cut Pro will ripple down the other clips to fill in the space.


    When referring to the delete key you need to be careful. There are actually two different delete keys. Using the small delete key underneath F13 will perfrom a ripple delete which is the same as (shift + big delete).



    If you need to remove a gap, control click in the blank space and select Close Gap. If the selection is unavailable, lock all of your audio tracks. Remember, Final Cut Pro will always attempt to keep your sequence layers in sync. This is why you may need to lock your audio tracks.


    If you need to remove a gap, control click in the blank space and select Close Gap. If the selection is unavailable, lock all of your audio tracks. Remember, Final Cut Pro will always attempt to keep your sequence layers in sync. This is why you may need to lock your audio tracks.

    Be careful when removing gaps when you have tracks below it that are locked, this is because you may end up adjusting the sync relationship of clips below the track you are adjusting.


    blade_tool.jpg The blade tool or the B key is a very useful Final Cut Pro feature. It can be used to break a clip into two separate pieces. This will add a transition point between the clip. These clips can then be moved independently.

    In this example, the ‘Colored Sailboat’ clip has been chopped into two separate pieces.


    Sometimes you may want to remove unwanted matching edit points. To remove a matching edit point, highlight the edit point with the arrow tool and press the delete key.


    As long as the arrow tool is selected from the tools window, you can grab the edge of any clip on the timeline, and drag it left or right. Final Cut Pro will show a yellow display box with the number of frames that you are dragging the selected edge of a clip from its original position. It will also display the clips new duration.



    A few restrictions of using the arrow tool within Final Cut Pro to trim are:

  • You can only lengthen your clip to its original duration, which is based on the original captured media. This duration represents a clips media limit.
  • You cannot extend a clip over top of another clip. It will stop at the edge of any clip that is in its way.
  • If a video clip has linked audio, both of the video and audio tracks will trim together.

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    Avid Xpress Pro / Media Composer Adding Locaters was the previous entry in this blog.

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