White Paper - From Avid to Final Cut Pro 4

August 11, 2003 (updated from September 2002)

The Changeover Challenge: From Avid to Final Cut Pro 4
Orientation 101 for Avid Editors

by Loren S. Miller

This is intended as a "Transition Aid" overview for you, the Avid user, which surveys some glaring interface and operating issues between the two systems, by no means complete, to help you get going in FCP3 or 4 as rapidly as possible and without too many surprises. I've written this in a fairly balanced manner, because I like and use both systems a lot, for different clients and workflows. Avid editors will know what features and operations I'm talking about and should follow right along in their open FCP workstations for best effect.

Please note: this overview is no substitute for professional FCP training! Even pro editors return to the classroom for solid grounding. You can now achieve real certification in FCP as you can in Avid, and they're both worth every penny.

The keyboard

In some ways encountering FCP was a wild and creative wakeup call-- and in others a rude assault on my parochial Avid body memory! Upon reviewing version 1.0 of FCP, immediately I cried out "Where's my J-K-L?" It's almost the first thing Avid editors look for in competing systems.

Lo and behold, next iteration from Apple, J-K-L keyboard playback arrived in FCP. (This has been the demonstrated trend of evolution in FCP since; the development team listening to and watching editors closely. Professional editors are even hired by Apple to assist in development requirements and gauge product efficacy. )

Those coming from other systems were very grateful for these "Steenbeck keys." Any Avid user who captures, or navigates the timeline using J-K-L plus I-O to mark, will have no issues here. E and R have other functions, however, and all other keys are different.

If you are keyboard-sensitive you'll discover a far richer key control structure in FCP, generally two levels deeper than Avid, (although I hasten to add, a new ability in Avid to map Command, Option and Control keys as well as Shifted keys is now available in XDV and newer high-end models.)

Well, once again, the team heard from users. In FCP4 you can completely remap the keyboard to work more like your Avid keyset-- so for example you can map E and R as well as I and O to In and Out should you desire. Unfortunately, importing settings directly from Avid won't work-- you'll have to spend a rainy Saturday doing remapping by hand, and while you'll discover some wonderful new flexibility in FCP, you won't find exact matches for many functions like Trim Sides, or switching to Segment Mode (because FCP is always in Segment Mode.)

Shameless plug: to help in remapping or just learning the rich default set, look into getting my FCP4 KeyGuide™ right here at LAFCPUG's store, at a special user group discount, to get you right up to speed (and to help support the group.)

Project, Windows, Settings, Browser and Bins

Avid editors coming to FCP will enjoy the same benefits from the Windows>Arrange menu as Avid editors get from Workspaces and Toolsets. Very customizable and save-able.

The Project Browser window is similar to the Avid Project window, except that more than one whole project can be loaded in FCP at a time. This allows you to drag/copy sequences, clips, stored effects or titles, from one project pane right to another, a real liberation. Avid's one-at-a-time design is of course part of its secret for predictable media management.

You may miss Avid's comprehensive Settings pane; be ready for that! Settings are easily accessed but are scattered in three or four different areas of FCP, depending upon your needs. There is an Easy Setup function to simplify matters. (FCP, I'm sorry to say, doesn't give you the kind of fine control over button shadows and shades of teal Avid offers. If this is a dealbreaker for you, get back on bottled water.)

In FCP 4 there are two major areas for preferences: System Settings and User preferences, a great improvement.

Avid users coming to FCP can expect a bin to hold the same sorts of material:

video and audio clips, subclips, sequences, graphic imports, saved effects and titles.

Avid editors can actually play each clip frame right in the bin, in Frames view, using J-K-L, sort of a "mini-movie." In FCP you drag the mouse to scrub over the selected clip frame in Large Icon view, with Shift-Control held down, to see any action and without audio. Still very useful for checking content.

In FCP 4 you'll find each window, including Bin windows, sports a new Toolbar area, which can be stuffed with a button representing any desired mappable command, if you're still heavily mouse-dependent.

Record / Capture

FCP Log and Capture is nearly identical to Avid's Record/Digitize tool, and should present little changeover challenge. Like Avid's, FCP's L&C mode lets you either log, then batch, or to Capture Now, which like Avid deposits the capture into your selected Logging Bin. Versions earlier than FCP4 required you to perform a "Naming Save" of the clip to the bin.

Pay particular attention to your Scratch Disks-- there's an access pane in FCP's L&C environment as well as under the master Preferences window. Certain housekeeping actions such as zapping the PRAM or unplugging a FireWire drive can reset your Scratch to your system disk and you'll wonder why you're suddenly dropping frames! You'll do a little more checking in FCP.

In FCP 4 however there is a watchdog at work. When you establish Scratch disks and then reboot with one or more set disks offline, you are warned the required disks are offline and asked to find them, reset them to something FCP can live with, or Quit. A very no-nonsense feature.

FCP Batch Capture behaves virtually identically to Avid, it just presents source tape requests differently, in a list window, which provides a handy history of the entire batch session and what's left to be done, by source reel.

In FCP 4, just as in Avid, you can capture across timecode breaks when you set the preference. If your tape has "iffy" timecode which drops in and out, you're not going to get much usability here-- system will break a clip into shreds based upon each break. There's a higher regard for good code in FCP4.

Media Manipulation and Management

In FCP 4, as in Avid, media management begins with a properly captured clip, and the clip architecture in FCP4 has been overhauled a bit to give you the kind of linkage you're used to in Avid. In native FCP4 projects, the first captured clip is the Master clip, and edited instances of it are Affiliate clips, all tightly linked to the Master-- change the name of the Master and a timeline Affiliate obediently changes-- as in Avid, but this works in reverse as well. Be aware that this new relationship is not automatically applied to imported projects created in FCP 3 or earlier, but can be established afterward.

If you desire different behavior, break the link by making a clip Independent of its Master. In FCP4, Subclips are created as new Master Clips, which is a good thing; they consolidate properly and not mistakenly instruct a capture of the same entire Master for each derivative subclip, which could happen in earlier versions if your Consolidate settings were off.

Avid users coming to FCP will be surprised to see how easy it is to manipulate timecode for a captured clip. In Avid, one must explicitly access the Modify command to change any important clip info: timecode, code format, source reel number. These are instantly changeable in an FCP bin, and yes, this can be a double-edged sword, so use it carefully, because you are changing the information stored in your underlying media file.

An accidentally deleted Browser clip is easily restored either by re-importing or just dragging the file from a media drive right to the Browser window from the desktop, which establishes a file pointer. This will strike a familiar chord with Avid users who restore accidentally deleted clips back to a bin from their Media Tool "total universe" window, but here it's on steroids. You can drag any acceptable format media file into the Browser: video, audio, graphic. You're advised to keep all such source files on high speed media drives for best playback.

In Avid deletion always occurs through a checkoff dialog with plenty of warning messages, because in some places like its Media Tool window, you can check to delete actual underlying mediafiles.

In FCP, there's no Media Tool window. You can unceremoniously delete anything you select from the Browser with the Delete key. For clips it doesn't matter, you restore them by re-importing or simply dragging in. In FCP you can easily delete underlying captured media through a Media Manager operation, from the Make Offline dialog, or from the Finder.

In FCP 4 perform a Reveal Master Clip command on any timeline clip to invoke a combination of Avid's Find Clip and Find Bin-- it'll reach right in and find the master clip, no matter how many sub-bins in which it's stored. It will Match Frame master originals for speed changed clips as well-- a neat trick.

For FCP render files, a separate tool called the Render Manager allows you to remove "unused precomputes"-- Avid talk for old render files which are accessed in its Media Tool along with everything else. Finding these is a little different. There is no "Select Media Relatives" and "Reverse Selection" commands to pull in the Media Tool window, and Sort is limited to column headings ascending or descending as opposed to Avid custom parameters. But the FCP4 Find dialog is rich-- you can now search for "unused effects," by project and find used media for selected sequences. Finds can also be cumulative, adding results of each search, for a more complete tailored result.

Decomposing clips in Avid has a relative action in FCP-- just highlight all the clips in a sequence and drag them to a new bin. Voila, decomposed sequence clips. Use Make Offline to disconnect them from offline-quality media, and they're ready for online batch redidging and relinking.

FCP Reconnect works pretty darn well these days, as good as Avid Relinking, almost as sophisticated as Avid when "loading media database," and it is semiautomatic. When bored, I often move whole groups of clips from one drive to another right at the Finder level, and when I reload FCP (and sometimes when it's already loaded, just to challenge it) FCP goes looking and finds the clips or alerts me that they're suddenly offline and asks me if I want to reconnect. You'll like that.

Avid users will feel right at home with FCP's Media Manager Consolidate functions. They are so well laid out they are self-explanatory. And for the most part, Consolidate works as expected.

In FCP 4 Consolidate operations will trim unused media even inside Nested items-- a major move forward.

The TimeLine, Targeting and Trimming

Avid's Blue Position Indicator becomes-- ready? The PLAYHEAD. Aha! In FCP it's a thin grey line, crowned with a yellow triangle which disappears during play.

Avid users Snap clips to Head or Tail while dragging with Command or Command-Option, respectively. The Snap feature in FCP 4 is a simple toggle which can however be temporarily overridden on the fly. There is no "Snap to Tail" function-- it snaps to clip edit points, the Playhead and markers (Locators).

An FCP Nest is kind of a hybrid between an Avid Submaster Effect and a Mixdown-- but it's always editable. When you "step in" and trim clips inside, the Nest properly ripples its overall duration in the master timeline.

Avid users expecting track autopatching, or the display of both source and record track lights along the left of timeline when a clip is loaded in a Viewer, will now find these in FCP 4. In fact, you can load a source with up to 24 tracks. The systems also share similar track locking, but targeting for editing differs.

Many Avid users will still find FCP4 track targeting to be plain annoying. It's a two-key process and requires too much puzzle-solving to be intuitive. The "base targeting" keys are F6, F7 and F8. You must rapidly add a track number to F6 to retarget video, and to F7 and F8 to retarget an audio pair. Landing a small plane might be easier, I don't know.

Avid editors will notice Trimming in FCP differs because there is no Trim mode, only a special Trim Edit window for many operations which can also be accomplished in the timeline itself.

In FCP 4's Trim Edit window, however you have JKL Dynamic Trimming, similar to high-end Media Composer "live play trim." I've seen many users work it well. Give this a try.

Although self-contained Loop/Trim Play doesn't exist, you can Play Around the current playhead position, and with the Playhead parked at an edit point which is also selected you can trim on the fly- center roll or side ripple edit-- using plus or minus keypad values-- just like Avid Xpress--while auditing a cut for change. And there is a healthy keyboard command set for trimming, looping, selecting edit points and cycling trim sides which in many ways surpasses Avid. There is as yet no ability to audit outgoing or incoming trim sides in FCP, so don't waste time looking for it.

In FCP 4 Avid editors will discover Add Edit during playback, which one uses on the fly when following musical or other beats. It works just like Avid's Add Edit-- it won't redraw the timeline till you stop playback. In earlier FCP, the closest approximation is Add Marker During Playback. You then backtrack over the markers-- from the keyboard, if you like-- and turn them into cuts with Control-V.

In addition, FCP 4 sports a finer control over timeline selection called AutoSelect, which allows you to establish track parameters for major edit operations-- including Add Edit. So you can actually slice selected tracks-- or all tracks-- on the fly. Incredibly useful as a :"multi-cam workaround" in slicing through multi-synched concert or interview angles which can then be peeled away to disclose the angle-layer desired.

Typing Numbers

Avid editor may recall the ability to convert a large typed value such as 300 from seconds and frames to just frames by adding "f" after the value and before pressing enter/return. FCP doesn't offer this; it treats large numbers like 300 literally by integer position, in this case to three seconds and zero frames, not ten seconds. However, as in Avid, you can easily switch your sequence timeline master count to frames in FCP and such keypad values will be honored, and you can use the keypad to move the playhead, a selected clip or any selected group, including the entire timeline.

The underlying timecode carryover function is pretty smart, too. Type 455 and FCP knows darn well you want to advance the Playhead (or a clip, or an edit point) five seconds and 25 frames.

Effects and Filter Editing

What will impress Avid editors most about Effects mode is that there is none. The nearest equivalent to the Effects Palette is the Effects bin window (Comamnd-5) and the nearest match to the Effects Editor window is the Filters, Controls and Motion panes sported in every clip Viewer window.

The whole Effects model in FCP is different. You use the Canvas for basic clip moves on any timeline-selected clip, such as scaling, cropping, distortion or rotation. Sensible! FCP's highly liquid clip manipulation model lies well beyond Avid's rigid modal operation. For instance, any timeline clip can have its opacity changed by dragging its Levels overlay line much like an audio rubberbanding control, and unlimited keyframes can be applied. Same goes for clip rotation, scaling, and filter effects-- all keyframeable, a la After Effects, in dedicated special Time Graph keyframe windows, which extend from each Viewer (Source clip) pane.

In FCP 4, the liquid model has added power with more positive keyframe manipulation now in the timeline. This is especially useful with the new built-in Time Remapping tool.

As in Avid, any effect, title, color correction or transition can be dragged to the Browser to be archived and later applied to any clip or group, or Nest.

There is as yet no way to explicitly park on the second video field of a clip, not without deinterlacing, thus no way to effect simple "in-house" dropout repair on legacy video captures as you can with higher-end Avids. Simple frame-painting tools you might be familiar with in Avid don't exist yet in FCP.

Working with multiple clips and transitions

As with Avid, you can "broadcast" one effect to many selected clips at once, including preset color correction and any other filter or transition, although the method in FCP for applying the same transition to multiple clips is not immediately obvious:

In Avid, while Edit mode is active, you intuitively Shift-select the multiple edit points you wish to dissolve, and then double-click the desired Transition icon in the Effect Editor, or for plain dissolves call up the Quick Dissolve function dialog, to broadcast the effect.

In FCP you first set your desired default transition and duration, then park the Playhead at the head of the group of clips to be dissolved or otherwise effected, select all the clips in the group and physically drag them to the Overwrite with Transition box in the Canvas, which redeposits the same group right back in the timeline track (assuming you've properly targeted it) with the default transition attached! It does have its "Think Different" kind of logic. The keyboard command for this action won't work; you cannot highlight the desired clips and go Shift-F10. Doesn't work. Yet.

Avid users will discover Real-time preview of effects and transitions to be about on par, some working better in Avid, some better in FCP. In either system, much depends on your engine and layer load. In new Mojo models of Avid, you're used to real-time going out the FireWire cable for live video review. In FCP 4, you get RT Extreme (Safe or Unlimited), which does much the same thing.

Keyframing Details

The model here is closer to After Effects.

Avid editors merely zoom out or in (Command K or L) to magnify a work area in a clip's Filters timeline window. This avoids "keyframe pileups" which make it impossible to select and edit keyframes. In FCP use Command-Plus or Minus to visually stretch out a clip timeline. Timecode is displayed above the time graph window as a guide to keyframe placement in time.

In FCP you can copy selected groups of keyframe attributes from one clip to another, using Copy, followed by Paste Attributes which offers checkbox selection of keyframe parameters you want duplicated. In Avid you select and copy/paste keyframes themselves. In FCP there is no quick way to slide or delete all the keyframes under a particular group, such as all keyframes in Crop or Distort -- you must go in, select or delete each and every subparameter (such as Crop Left, Right, etc.) or start over.

In a further departure from Avid, you can access effect and motion Keyframing right in your FCP4 Timeline, disclosing them with Option-T.

Audio Tools

In FCP 4, you'll (finally) discover pretty much the same Audio Mixdown tool you left in Avid, minus some extras. And it's live when you enable keyframe recording (Command-Shift-K), and as with Avid Gain Automation you can dynamically ride the volume over a track to deposit keyframes regulating the level to perform useful scratch mixes. As with Add Edit, these appear when your pass is complete. Eventually we can expect a hardware MIDI control surface such as J.L. Cooper's FaderMaster to make this even more fun in FCP.

Ganging tracks for identical gain treatment isn't happening yet in the Mixer Tool. The closest workaround will be to create a Stereo Pair for keyframe manipulation, then release the Stereo link after a gain automation pass-- the keyframes remain.

Avid's AudioSuite and EQ tools are currently far more interactive than FCP's; the filters are more responsive and their operation more intuitive. This reflects some leveraging of Avid's ProTools® division toolset.

Yes, timeline Audio level manipulation is virtually identical-- rubberband and ramp to your heart's content in FCP-- your video opacity is manipulated the same way!

Avid users will discover a familiar relative/absolute gain dialog (Command-Option-L) is available in FCP-- which allows wholesale adjustments to any selected tracks or groups of audio clips. The digital meters are accurate.

Avid's Audio Punch-In becomes FCP's VoiceOver Tool, and I think FCP's is better in operation, but Avid's is better in result. FCP has a nice countdown cue feature which facilitates easy live scratch narration or dialog replacement. But you have to explicitly save any VO clip in FCP-- it is a variation of Capture Now. In Avid, it not only appears within the desired In-Out range but gets deposited into the active bin. Otherwise, you have near parity.

There is however, no equivalent in Avid for SoundTrack, a new music looping component of FCP4 enabling some very elaborate loop orchestrations ideal for extreme sports videos, those hard-to-score craft process, cop chase and trade show montages. To be serious; it's an excellent temptrack tool for your chosen composer, helping establish a desired rhythm and even ideas for instrumentation, saving tons of time communicating musical preferences. SoundTrack seems a misnomer; there is more to audio than music. It will be even more powerful when it offers true soundtrack tools such as virtual Foley and spot sound effects for real sound design-- perhaps through an AVX-like plug-in architecture. And while several professional composers I know complain this product is stepping on their skill area, I think it simply protects them from those clients who don't need better.

Title Tool

Avid editors coming to FCP will miss some of the finer controls in the Avid Title Tool (brought to Avid by the makers of Elastic Reality), such as the ability to work right in the frame window and see how the title interacts with the clip background without leaving the tool. Avid users can vary line leading, kerning and character height right over the image, and are able to handle Postscript fonts without added plug-in support. In FCP they will enjoy slightly less interactive controls and way more design choices found in the bundled Boris Calligraphy plug-ins which more than make up for the lean built-in FCP titler. You can build a very decent credit roll in Boris Title Crawl and it will automatically key over any background action or color-- invariably you must render these, no different than Avid.

When a title in the Avid timeline is double-clicked it invokes the Title Tool in Effect mode, ready for editing. In FCP when you double-click a title it brings up the clip instance in a Viewer window. You access the text component-- either FCP's native generator or an applied Boris title generator-- from the Viewer's Controls tab. When you hit the Apply button in the Boris product your changes show up in the Canvas (Composer) window, and the title is real-time playback on fast systems.

Then there's LiveType, a component of FCP4 for special effects main titles (brought to FCP by the folks who made India Titler Pro). There's no equivalent in Avid for a system which enables you to spell out "Fun With Clay" in an animated font which shows two white-gloved hands forming every letter out of clay. Just no such thing. Be ready for that.

Avid's new MetaSync™ system (a flavor of XML and AAF format bridge strategies) will support fast multiple subtitle generation or prepared text batch import. Batch title operations are also available through third party solutions on both systems. MetaSync is also a way to orchestrate special control data with a video track-- such as which way the seats tilt or vibrate in a ride film. (Somebody's been visiting Douglas Trumbull's outfit!) In FCP4 XML and AAF are now supported but no fancy exchange name given them as yet.

Color Correction Tool

Avid editors coming to FCP will miss some of the Symphony-like CC matching layout, which with its neighboring clip matching layout is very smart design, but in FCP similar real-time CC bezel controls are available minus the Gamma/chroma levels curves boxes.

In FCP 4, a new FrameView option allows you to compare previous or next clips with the one you're working on, which places the two systems on near parity.

Codecs and File formats

Here Avid users will be impressed with FCP's selectable compression RT Offline P-JPEG codecs for real-time transcoding capture and playback for editing your miniseries at the beach. XDV currently has no capture codecs other than its implementation of DV25. For export choices using QuickTime, Avid users should feel right at home. There is tighter integration with DVD Studio Pro chapter marker export in FCP as well.

Graphic import limits into Avid for its Pan and Scan effect are 5000 pixels square. In FCP your imports are limited to 4000 pixels square. This still allows a photo scan rich enough to support up to a 5:1 zoom without softening, but for new SD widescreen and true HD formats you'll want to animate even deeper scans which take you beyond either import limit, so these are imported into the streamlined MovingPicture™ plugin for FCP (8000 pixel limit) or into After Effects®, which currently supports a workspace of 30,000 pixels.

Moving Bins and Sequences to FCP

FCP supports various import formats, including tab-delimited ASCII text batch lists, EDL's and the like. It is easy to import a properly exported Avid Bin into FCP-- there is even a third party free AppleScript system, the Sebsky Tools, to help facilitate ALE-to-FCP functions from Peter Reventlow: http://www.dharmafilm.com/sebskytools/. (He also provides scripts for transferring the other way.) You should expect all re-capturable elements in the bin to show up in your FCP timeline. Offline sequences go into the timeline like butter. All you do is recapture from your original sources, because as you probably realize, the two systems encode captured DV25 media differently. Graphic imports and audio which has been converted to DV source clips can also be relinked.

And because of the new support for XML and AAF metadata formats, www.automaticduck.com should soon offer a comprehensive Avid-to FCP solution, which they're actually previewing on the AD website. I was pestering AD for a year about a solution before discovering that, in FCP3 and earlier, there really were no 'code hooks' for the Duck to sink its bill into to accomplish the task. Should become a quackerjack transfer tool.


Digital Cut in Avid amounts to the same operation embodied in FCP's Print to Video/Edit to Tape operations and these are modal, because nothing else can occur while these are happening.

Print to Video in particular is FCP's answer to an Avid "crash assemble edit" but it offers lots of pro options for head/tail black, slating, custom countdown, you name it.

Edit to Tape is closest to an Avid's device-controlled, frame accurate Digital Cut and is used only with a video subsystem add-on, such as AJA's Kona, BlackMagic Decklink, Aurora Igniter, Cinewave or Digital VooDoo analog capture card, and utilizes control drivers licensed from Pipeline, Inc, which work exceedingly well with RS422-connected Beta analog and SDI decks. You can even repurpose your Avid RS422 cable.

The only problem is the same one on current Avid systems: you'll need a serial-to-USB adapter to connect that cable to your new G4 or G5.


Avid users coming to FCP will discover fewer dividing lines between operations but a few modes are still there.

In FCP, Capture mode is a generally separate activity, as it is in Avid. The Trim Edit window provides enough disruption to timeline editing that it could be called a mode, and some find it valuable just as they do "Big Trim" mode in Avid.

Segment mode? FCP is always in Segment mode!

Avid's broadcast-quality desktop Merdien-based onlining systems were first introduced around 1996; they have been tardy in entering the DV marketplace, while Apple introduced an affordable DV editing solution but has been tardy in providing a competing high-end desktop compositing/finishing solution featuring uncompressed video, but which is now available through working third party products optimized for FCP.

Today, FCP is being used in traditional Avid venues ranging from weddings and Bar-Mitzvahs to high-end commercials, corp/ed/NGO projects, network television series such as NBC's "Scrubs," to high-def PBS documentaries, to feature films edited by Hollywood heavyweights such as Walter Murch and Richard Halsey-- all because its hardware architecture can be changed and extended.

Avid users coming to FCP will truly love the more flexible effects possibilities, the 99 video and audio tracks, and larger variety of import and export options, and thus enjoy choice and expanded skill sets. Not to mention animated main titles shaped in clay.


copyright © Loren S Miller 2002

When he's not obsessing over differences between Avid and FCP splicing buttons Loren S. Miller is an award-winning longform editor and sometimes documentary producer. He's also written original feature screenplays, worked as project consultant, graphic designer, editing instructor. He is developer of ScanGuide Pro for photo scanning, and KeyGuides for major Macintosh media authoring software. Reach him anytime at lormiller@mindspring.com.



This article first appeared on lafcpug and is reprinted here with permission.
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