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Video Filters

Final Cut Pro's video filters are similar to Photoshop's filters or After Effects' effects. Filters modify the overall image in some way - blurring or distorting, changing the colors, creating transparency or giving a stylized look to the image. Final Cut ships with over 100 video filters and you can add more (from third party companies) or even create your own (using a built-in scripting language/environment called FXScript). They can be applied to any still image or video clip and their settings can be changed over time.

Applying filters

Applying a filter to a clip is much like applying a transition - you can do it from the effects menu or the effects tab of the project browser. To do it via the effects menu, first select a clip on your timeline that you want to apply the filter to. From the menu bar select Effects>Video Filters and choose a filter to apply from one of the various subcategories. The filter will automatically be applied to the clip you selected.

To drag and drop filters onto clips first click on the effects tab of the browser window and then toggle open the bin labeled "Video Effects". This will show you a list of subcategories such as Blur and Distort in which the filters are grouped. Open the bin for the category you want, select a filter and drag it to a clip on the timeline, to the Viewer window (if you have the clip you want to apply the filter to open there), or the Canvas window (if the clip you want to apply the filter to is currently visible there). Once you drop the filter it will be applied to your clip.

You can apply as many filters as you want to a clip - each one will be added on top of any others which are already there, and the effects of all applied filters will be combined. The order in which you apply filters to a clip determines the order in which they are processed. This is important because it can significantly affects the end result of the filters.

For example, if you place a letterbox filter on a clip it will add black bars to the top and bottom to make your video look like it was shot in widescreen. If you then add a blur filter it will not only blur the video but also the edges of the letterbox effect, which is probably not what you want. Put the blur on first and the video will be blurry but the letterbox edges will still be sharp.

Previewing Filters

To see the result of your filter, place the playhead on the timeline over the clip with the filter - you will be able to see a preview of the filter in the canvas window. Depending on the filter and the speed of your computer you may or may not be able to preview the clip in real-time by playing your movie. The render indicator bar at the top of the timeline will be green for clips with filters that can play in real time, orange for clips that may play at reduced quality or frame rate (if you have Unlimited RT turned on), and Red for clips that must be rendered to see the effect. Any time the playhead is placed on a clip with an effect you will see the single frame rendered at full quality.

Sometimes you want to be able to preview an effect but don't want to wait for the entire clip to render. The keyboard shortcut Option-P will play your sequence displaying every frame. This means when there is an effect or transition that can't play in realtime playback will slow down to allow every frame to be displayed. This isn't useful for timing, but it lets you get a better idea of how the video will look without having to render it all. This also won't play audio because it can't be kept in sync with the video playback as it slows down. If you go back and preview the same clip again it will usually run faster the second time through because it caches the preview from the first time.

Another option for previewing a small segment of your clip is the Quickview window. From the menu bar select Tools>Quickview and a new window called the 'Tool Bench' will open with a tab called 'QuickView'. At the bottom of the window is a slider which lets you choose how long a preview you want - from 2 to 10 seconds. When you hit the play button (above the slider) it will preview every frame in the window from whatever point in the timeline your playhead is at. Once it hits the preview limit (set by the slider) it will loop, usually faster than the first time because it is playing the cached version of the video. If you have a lot of effects and the preview is running slowly you can drop the resolution using the drop-down menu in the upper left hand corner of the window. At half resolution it will take 1/4 the time to render the preview, and at quarter resolution it will take only 1/16 the time - of course the trade off is that your video will look very pixelated and you won't be able to see much detail.

Filter Settings

Each filter has it's own set of controls which you can change to get different results. To access these controls, double-click a clip on the timeline that has a filter to open it up in your Viewer. At the top of the Viewer window you will see a new tab called filters. When you click on this you will see a list of the filters applied to this clip as well as the controls for each filter. You can turn filters on or off by clicking on the small checkbox next to each filter's name. You can change the order of the filters by clicking on a filter's name and dragging it up or down in the order. You can also remove filters simply by selecting the filter you want to remove (just click on it's name) and press the 'Delete' key.

Of course you can also change the filter settings in this tab. To see the results of your changes, make sure the sequence playhead is on the clip in the timeline so that it is visible on the Canvas; any changes you make in the filter tab will now be immediately updated in the Canvas window.

There are far too many different filters to cover all of them and their individual controls here - the best way to get a feel for what they all do is to try them out, change the controls and see how the effects change. You can also look in Volume III of the user manual for a listing of all filters or got to the Help Menu in FCP and choose 'Final Cut Pro HD Help" for a pdf version of the user manual. The effects are listed beginning on page 135 of volume 3.

Changing Filters Over Time

You've already learned the basics of keyframing on the timeline in the audio mixing lecture. You can change filter properties over time just like you mix audio levels using the pen tool with the timeline overlays. However, filter and motion keyframes are not overlaid directly on the video track; they actually have their own track which is normally hidden on the timeline. To reveal it, click on the button in the lower left-hand corner of your sequence window which has two bars (a short green and a longer grey), the second button in from the left. This will cause a new track to drop down below each track on your timeline - this is where you can keyframe effects just like mixing audio levels. However, this track is used for a lot of different parameters, so you have to select which one you want to work with. Control-click (or Right-click if you have a two button mouse) on the new track below the video clip. This will bring up a contextual menu which lists all the filters at the top and a bunch of other motion parameters below (we'll talk about those next week). For now, select the filter you want to animate and then choose the parameter (some filters have only one, some have many) that you want to work with. Once you do this a thin line will appear on the track.

From this point it works just like audio mixing. Use the pen tool (or hold option while using the arrow tool) to add points to the line. Drag the points up or down to change the value at that point in time. Hold the Apple key while you drag to change the value more slowly as you drag(for greater precision). Preview your clip to see how the filter changes over time. When you have that property set the way you want, control-click to select another property or filter to change and repeat the process until the effect changes the way you want it to.

This will get you started with using Filters - there's not a whole lot more to it than this, it's a fairly straightforward topic. However, we'll be going deeper into the keyframing process and looking at different ways to work with keyframes next week. For now, this basic method of working with them on the timeline will get you started.