Taking a Grand Tour of Final Cut Pro's Interface

You can expand your Final Cut expertise by taking a tour of its interface — namely its toolbar and the Browser, Viewer, Canvas, and Timeline windows, as shown in Figure 1. Keeping track of all these elements can seem daunting. But you'll see that there's actually not much to them, and they work together in an intuitive way.


Figure 1: The Final Cut interface.

By the way, Final Cut's windows may be arranged differently on your screen than the way they're arranged in Figure 1. To get your screen to look like Figure 1, choose Window --> Arrange --> Standard from the menu bar at the top.

The Browser

The Browser is the central storage depot for all the media used by your Final Cut project. Just think of the Browser as a big file cabinet. When you want to work with a file (or a clip of media), you open the cabinet (or the Browser window) and grab whatever you need.

There's a lot to know about the Browser, but here are the basics: When you import a media file into your project (either from your hard drive or by capturing it from video tape), it automatically appears in the Browser. Every piece of media in the Browser is called a clip (a video clip, an audio clip), but the Browser also lets you create bins, which you can use to store groups of related media clips. (Bins work a lot like folders on your hard drive.)

Besides clips and bins, the Browser window is also the home of any sequences you create for your movie — a sequence is a collection of clips — which you've edited together in Final Cut's timeline window. You use sequences to break a big project into smaller pieces; for example, you might create each major scene in its own sequence.

The Viewer

The Viewer window lets you look and listen to your media clips before you move them to Final Cut's Timeline. You can also use the Viewer to modify your media clips by using a variety of Final Cut's effects filters, superimposed titles, and animation effects. To open a clip in the Viewer, just double-click its name or icon in the Browser window.

The Timeline

Final Cut's Timeline window lets you arrange when your media clips will play in time. To better understand the Timeline, think of it as a sheet of music. Rather than place musical notes on the page, one after another, you place clips of video and sound and tell Final Cut how long to play each one; for example, play black for two seconds, play video clip A for four seconds, then play clip B for three seconds, and so on.

So how does the Timeline work? Stretching across the top of the Timeline is a bar with notches and numbers, which looks like a ruler. But those numbers aren't measurements of distance, they're measurements of time, increasing from left to right (for instance, five seconds, ten seconds, fifteen seconds, and so on). As you edit, you drag your media clips to the Timeline (a clip on the Timeline is represented by a solid-colored rectangle) and position them under a time value. That's exactly where, in time, the clips play in your story.

The Canvas

After you've edited your video and audio clips on the Timeline and want to see (and hear) how they all play together, turn your attention to Final Cut's Canvas window. The Canvas is where you watch your movie-in-progress as you've arranged it on the Timeline. Think of the Canvas as the Timeline's right-hand man: You make an edit to your clips on the Timeline, and then you play them in the Canvas window to see how they look. Then you make another tweak on the Timeline and check it out in the Canvas window again — and again, and again, and again.

The Canvas looks a lot like the Viewer. You do have the same play controls, but there are some differences. (For instance, you can perform some basic edits on the Canvas instead of the Timeline.) For now, all you need to know is that the Canvas lets you play, fast-forward, pause, and rewind through your Final Cut movie. 'Nuff said.

The tool palette

The tool palette is your standard, garden-variety palette, sporting a handful of tool icons that you can click at will. The tool you'll find yourself using the most is the standard selection tool (the plain ol' arrow at the top of the palette), which you use for selecting and moving media clips on the Timeline. To be honest, you can edit an entire film with this tool alone, but the others make that work easier. For instance, some of the handy ones let you select huge groups of clips at once, cut clips in two, or quickly magnify your view of the Timeline so that you can see what you're doing. You'll get to know all these tools soon enough.

If you see a little black triangle in the upper-right corner of a tool icon, more tool icons are hidden underneath it. These additional tools are all related, but do slightly different things. Just click and hold such an icon, and the hidden tools pop up for you to choose from.

Audio meters

Final Cut's Audio meters are supporting cast members, but they come in really handy when you're tweaking your audio to sound as good as possible. In a nutshell, the meters visually show you the decibel (dB) range of an audio clip (that's a fancy way of saying loudness). From there, you can set the volume levels of all the audio clips in your movie so that they don't overpower one another. The meters also show you when a clip of audio is too loud, which causes it to distort.

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