Moving on up to Final Cut Express

So you've got your new AVCHD camera and its been working just great with iMovie.

You've made a couple of nice home movies and been happy with what you have achieved so quickly. So now you want to try some of those fancy things you've seen on TV or other people's videos. Fade a few different music tracks in and out during your video? Do something cool with picture-in-picture effects? Welcome to Final Cut Express.

This guide will show you how I use Final Cut Express in 'easy' mode. Using Final Cut Express in this way is actually faster than using iMovie. It also opens up all of the cool effects and methods possible with Final Cut, when you are ready. I'm not even going to give you the overview of the FC workspace. We'll just jump right in and learn on the fly.

Give yourself half and hour with this tutorial and you'll be up and running with Final Cut Express.

Copy your clips off your camera - don't use the Apple converter!

Please see our article on Managing HD Video for our recommended approach for this.

We strongly recommend that you take control of your video asset management, rather than letting Apple dictate the approach.

Convert your clips using VoltaicHD

Take the event you have just imported from your camera and 'Send to Editor' from FlamingoHD.

Open FCE and set your defaults

Open Final Cut Express and open the Final Cut Express -> Easy Setup... option.

This is where you set the default properties for the timeline. Choose the correct HD option from the drops downs.

You only have 2 choices to make:

  • are you PAL or NTSC? PAL is 50i while NTSC is 60i
  • are your clips 1440x1080 or 1920x1080? This depends on you camera and the mode you shoot in

Create a new project

Go to File->New Project.

Rename the default sequence (Sequence 1) to something meaningful to you. This is the name that the exported movie will be given.

Note that you can create many sequences within a FCE project. We'll only be creating one.

Once it is created, save (and name) your Project.

Import your clips

Go to File->Import->Folder...

This will load all of your clips from the folder into a 'Bin' in the FCE Browser.

Click on the down arrow next to the newly created Bin (i.e. Folder in the Browser) to look at the clip names. It should look something like this.

Do the 'rough cut'

This is where you preview all of your raw clips and either throw them out, or set in and out points (and sometimes creating sub-clips). The in and out points define the start and stop point of the clip that will be added to the timeline.

Some important short-cut keys for moving around in your clip:

  • Go to start of clip: Home key
  • Go to end of clip: End key
  • Start/stop playing: Spacebar
  • Back a frame: Left Arrow
  • Forward a frame: Right Arrow
  • Set in point: I
  • Set out point: O

A lot of the speed in editing under Final Cut comes from using the keyboard to control things rather than the mouse. Get used to these keys and your editing will be much quicker.

To do your rough cut:

  • double-click on the first clip in the list. This will open it in the Canvas window.
  • Start playing the clip (Space bar)
  • As you hit the start of the footage you want in your movie, press I
  • As you hit the end of the footage you want in your movie, press O

If you want to create a new sub-clip, set the in and out points that you want (as above), then press Apple-U. The new clip will be created below the original one. This is what you do if you have many sub-clips that you want to use from an original clip.

Build up the timeline

Once all of your clips are ready, add them to the sequence timeline.

Select all the clips and drag them to the timeline below. It should end up looking something like this:

This method of adding clips does not include any transitions. You can add them later as required.

Add pre/post slugs

Pre and Post slugs give you your fade in and fade out effects, if you want them.

Go to the Effects tab in the Browser and go to Video Generators, Slug.

Drag a slug down onto the timeline. Once the slug is on the timeline, select all the clips and drag them back to join onto the slug.

Add titles

Titles in Final Cut are done using the Text Video Generator. This is on the Effects tab in the browser, just below the Slug.

Add a Text element to the timeline just like you did with the slug. This time though, you want to add it above the clips you want the title to appear on. You are now working with video layers. This is where the power of editing with a real editing suite comes into play. Goodbye iMovie forever!

To edit the properties of the newly added Lower Third, double click on it, then go to the Viewer window and select the Controls Tab. You will see all the settings that you can play around with along with the two lines of text that can be displayed.


Now you've got a Full HD edited movie ready to go. Being HD, you want to watch it on a HDTV right?

You have a few options:

  • Blu-ray payer: use RevolverHD to convert your QuickTime movie into AVCHD and put it on a DVD which will play in compatible Blu-ray players.
  • AppleTV: if you have one of these you can publish to it. Note that AppleTV only goes up to 720p, so you movie will be degraded to half the resolution of full HD.

There you have it. If you follow these steps for your first few movies, you will have saved about 20 hours worth of reading manuals and watching the tutorial videos and wondering why its so hard.

Next steps:

  • read the Final Cut Express User Guide. Its a pretty good starting point for new features
  • look on YouTube. You will find plenty of short 'how to' guides.