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Transitions can smooth out the abruptness of a straight cut. Final Cut Pro ships with over 70 transitions built in and applying them to your video is a fairly straightforward process. The harder part can be resisting the urge to use too many or all of the transitions in FCP - at some point the audience may start paying more attention to the transitions than to the video itself.

Applying transitions

There are several ways to apply transitions in Final Cut. Before you apply a transition you need to make sure there is enough media in the two clips to perform the transition. Since you apply a transition to the cut in between two clips, you need to have some excess media on each clip which goes beyond the in or out point. This excess will be used in the transition - if there is none, the transition cannot be applied. If you try to apply a transition and it doesn't apply or it appears very short (1 frame long) it means you've set the out and in points of one or both clips too close to the end of the original source material. Double-click on each of the two clips and check the out point on the first clip and the in point on the second clip - if they are closer to the end of the original media than 15 frames there won't be enough to generate a full 1 second transition.
Menu Command
Start by selecting a cut on your timeline - the cut will highlight with a dark grey bar (1). From your menu bar choose Effects>Video Transitions and select the desired transition from the list of choices. The transition will be applied to the cut and appears as a grey bar that looks sort of like a scroll (2). The transition overlaps the two adjoining clips and comes in at a default duration of 1 second. You can change the duration by grabbing the edge of the transition with the arrow tool and dragging it in or out, just like you would with a clip. To remove the transition simply select it and hit the Delete key
Keyboard Shortcut
Once you've selected a cut you can use the keyboard shortcut Apple-t to apply a transition to the selected cut. This shortcut applies the default transition, which is a cross dissolve by default but can be changed in the effects browser (described in the drag and drop method below)
Drag and Drop (from the Effects browser)
At the top of your browser window is a second tab behind your project tab which is labeled "Effects". If you click on this you will be presented with a set of folders for transitions, filters and generators (we'll cover those later in the class). If you toggle the arrow next to the "Video Transitions" folder you see another set of folders. Each of these contains a variety of transitions which you can browse through. When you find the transition you want you can simply drag it down to the timeline and drop it on a cut between two clips where it will be applied just like the previous methods. In the browser window you can also change the default transition. Simply select the transition you want to make default, then from the menu bar select Effects>Set Default. You can also control-click (right-click on a two button mouse) and choose "Set Default Transition" from the contextual menu that pops up.
Transitions don't have to be applied to cuts between two clips - they can be applied to the beginning or ending of a clip when there is no other clip immediately before or after it. In that case they will simply transition to black, i.e. a dissolve will fade the video out to black.


You'll notice that above each transition on the timeline you see a thin green bar (3). This indicates that the transition can be processed in real-time by your computer when you play it back. If the bar turns red the computer cannot keep up with the transition and you will need to render it in order to play it back - from the menu bar choose Sequence>Render Selection or Render All. After it renders the red bar will turn blue and you can view the transition.

By default Final Cut will only render some effects in real-time (their names are bold in the effects menu) and require all others to be rendered. This mode is called "Safe RT". If you want to try to render everything in real time you can click on the small button in the upper left-hand corner of the timeline labeled "RT" and choose "Unlimited RT". However, if your computer isn't fast enough some effects may play back in slow motion. The render bar above these transitions will be orange to indicate that they may not play back in real time. From the same "RT" menu you can drop the playback quality to "low" in order to speed up effects and transitions that are overloading your processor.

Unless you have a very fast computer (i.e. dual-G5) you'll need to render all effects before recording back to tape - the real-time effects are just for previewing on your monitor.

Editing Transitions

Some transitions are fairly simple - a dissolve for instance. Others have a variety of parameters which you can change to customize the transition to your own needs. If you double-click on a transition on the timeline it will open up in the viewer window and give you access to a variety of controls for customizing the transition: On the lower half of the window you will see controls for changing the various parameters of the transition (1). In this example it's a page peel transition where the first clip peels away to reveal the second. You can change the radius of the peel, add more or less highlighting on the edge of the peel, change the direction (which corner or edge it starts on) and add an image to be placed on the back of the 'page' as it peels up. You can also edit the transition's duration and position at the top of the window (2) in a similar manner to editing it on the timeline. The primary difference is that this view allows you to see the 'overlap' between the two clips and the media which is being used before or after the cut for each clip. Finally, just below the transition there are two sliders (3) which allow you to change the percentage of completion for the beginning and ending of the transition. Usually you will want a transition to start at 0% and finish at 100%, but there could be instances where you want it to start part way into the transition itself, and these sliders allow you to do that.

Saving Transitions

Once you've customized a transition you don't need to start all over the next time you want to use that same custom transition. Final Cut allows you to save a customized transition as a "favorite" which you can then access easily at any point in the future. You can either open a transition by double clicking on it in the timeline (as in the above example) or by double clicking one of the standard transitions in the effects browser tab. Customize the settings in the viewer window, then drag the transition (by clicking on the hand/scroll icon in the upper right of the viewer window (4)) into the favorites folder in your browser. Now you can apply this same transition any time in the future - it's saved as a preference in Final Cut, not as part of your project, meaning it will be available in any future project as well.

That covers most of the things you'll be doing commonly with transitions in Final Cut. The main thing to remember with transitions is not to over do it in your projects. Watch some television shows and keep track of how many transitions you see - you'll find that they mostly use dissolves and straight cuts, with an occasional wipe now and then. The guideline I use is to ask whether the transition enhances the cut by accenting the video in some way, or if it simply is being stuck on because it's 'cool'. If it's the latter it tends to be more distracting than useful.