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January 2009

To help you to fine-tune the editing process there is a selection of tools provided in the toolbar in the Final Cut Pro (FCP) interface. For the moment let's cover the essential tools. When expanded there are a total of 22 tools available to the editor - however, many of these are for the advanced editor. There are five essential tools one needs to understand to edit a production. Once these are understood then you can move onto the more complex areas.

The toolbar (left) and the expanded toolbar (right) in the Final Cut Pro interface.

The five essential tools are as follows - the Pointer, the Arrow, the Razorblade, the Magnifying Glass, and the Pen. To the left of this text you can see the toolbar of Final Cut Pro as it appears in the interface. To the right is the toolbar with all of the tools extended. To reveal the entire toolset, you just click on the small arrow next to each of the tools. For the beginner, my advice is to forget trying to learn everything and learn that which is most important. The tools discussed below provide you with the ability to edit any project to a very high standard. While knowing all of the tools will be an advantage, one can actually achieve most things with the five essential tools named above.

© Rick Young

Click here to watch a video about Essential Editing Tools in Final Cut Pro.

At the top of the toolbar is the Pointer - which is also termed the 'Selection' tool. This lets you move shots in the timeline and is what I refer to as the 'home tool' - meaning this is the default tool that is always selected, except when using the functionality of one of the other tools. If you choose another tool - once you have achieved the result you are after then set yourself back to the Pointer to continue working. The keyboard letter for selecting the Pointer is A.

The Pointer (selection tool) and the Arrow (select track) tool.

The Arrow or Select Track tool - this is used for selecting an entire track of material. Click and everything forward of the Arrow is selected. Individual or Multiple tracks can be selected. If you click to expand this tool you will see options for forwards, backwards and the ability to select all tracks are presented. The shortcut to access this tool is T. Press T more than once to cycle through all of the options this tool offers. One can choose select forwards, backwards, in both directions, or select all all tracks forwards or backwards (if working with multiple tracks of video and/or audio.)


The Expanded arrow tool - note that everything in front of the arrow is selected.

The Razorblade - the Razorblade is used for cutting up shots in the timeline into smaller pieces. The duration of any short is determined by the 'in' and 'out' points set during editing. To reduce the duration of a shot one can slice it with the Razorblade and then remove the unwanted material. The letter B is the shortcut to access this tool. Press B twice to achieve the 'double-Razorblade' that will cut through all tracks.

The Razorblade tool (left) for cutting up shots in the timeline, whilst the Magnifier tool (right) lets you zoom in to expand or zoom out to contract the timeline.

The Pen tool is for adjusting audio levels and for setting transparency within a clip.

Magnifier - this lets you zoom in to expand or to zoom out to contract the timeline. It lets you home in on the exact part of an edit you are working with. The letter Z is used to access this tool. Press Z twice to zoom out. You will notice the Magnifier displays a + (plus) symbol to zoom out in the timeline and a - (minus) symbol to zoom in and contract the timeline.

Pen tool - used for adjusting Audio levels and for setting transparency within a video clip. P is used to access this tool.

Putting it together

It's all well and good to explain what the editing tools do, but what one really needs is to understand how to use these tools and how they work together. Rarely are the tools used in isolation. The editing process is achieved by editing shots and sounds together and then fine-tuning the edits through the use of the editing tools. The tools - be it the Pointer, Arrow, Razorblade, Magnifier or Pen tool - will be used in combination with each other and also in combination with the other features provided in the Final Cut Pro interface. It is only when one understands how these tools work in combination with the rest of the facilities in Final Cut Pro that one can use them effectively and completely.

For editing, of the five tools pointed out as being most important, three of these are crucial. These are the Razorblade, the Magnifier and the Arrow tool. And don't forget the home tool - the Pointer. This is the tool you will use more than anything else.

Using the Razorblade - select the Razorblade from the toolbar or simply press the letter B for Blade. Your cursor will turn into a Razorblade. Click in the middle of a shot in the timeline - you will notice that the Razorblade cuts through video and audio, video only, or audio only depending on where you click, and whether the audio and video is linked (see below for more information on linking). You can cut through several sections of the timeline with the Razorblade, then highlight sections and remove by pressing delete. You can close a gap in the timeline by control clicking in the gap and selecting 'Close Gap' - or one can highlight clips and drag the clips together. Alternatively use the Arrow/Select Track tool to highlight all clips forward or backward; then drag to close the gap.


After the Razorblade has cut sections out you can close gaps in the timeline by control clicking in the gap and selecting 'Close Gap'.

Clips can be linked or unlinked by choosing Linked Selection from the Modify menu. Linked clips, when selected, have video and audio married together. With unlinked clips video and audio can be moved separately. Click Linked Selection under the Modify menu to toggle between Linked on or Linked Off. Linked Selection can also be toggled on or off by pressing the symbol at the top right of the timeline.

Using the Arrow/Select Track tool - press the letter T or choose the Arrow tool with your cursor. Your cursor becomes a forwards facing arrow. Click in the timeline and you will see you can select the entire track of material. Press T again and you can select the shots in the timeline in the opposite direction. Press T again and you have arrows facing in both directions allowing you to select and entire track, audio and video, or audio or video only if clips are linked.


Arrows facing in both directions allow you to select and entire track, audio and video, or audio or video only if clips are linked.

Using the Magnifier - press the letter Z and your cursor turns into a magnifying glass. Click in the timeline and the representation of shots cut together is expanded, continue to click and you can expand down to the level of individual frames, if you wish. Press the letter Z again, or click the reverse magnifier in the Toolbar - and when you click in the timeline the representation is contracted rather than expanded. None of this has anything to do with the duration of the material you are working with; it is simply the representation of how the clips are displayed.

By expanding the timeline, zooming in one can work with absolute accuracy, by contracting the timeline and zooming out one can get an overview of all the clips in the timeline and choose to remove or re-order sections. If one presses Shift + Z all of the material in the timeline is condensed into the available space.

Remember, once you have worked with any of the tools return to the Pointer the Selection Tool - this is the 'home tool' and is activated by pressing the letter A or by clicking on the Tool Bar. This tool is used to select and reorder clips within the timeline, or to highlight and delete - simply click on a clip with the Pointer and press backspace to delete. Or highlight a clip and press Shift + Delete together and this will automatically delete the clip and close the gap in the timeline at the same time.

Get down to Editing

Believe it or not, the information presented so far is most of what you need to know to edit within Final Cut Pro. Of course, this is the technical knowledge, or the mechanics needed to work through the editing process - the creative side to editing is something which needs to be developed and learned, largely by having an eye for editing rather than reading about it or by watching an instructional video.

Here are a few more tips to help you along the way:

© Rick Young

Click here to watch a video about Editing by Dragging in Final Cut Pro.

Moving edits in the timeline

Edits can be moved around in the timeline by picking up a clip and shifting it to where you want it to be. By default an overwrite edit will take place - thus writing over the portion of the timeline where you have moved the clip to. One could move all clips forward in the timeline - position the clip where you want it to be, and then move the other edits back to close the gap. However, there is a better way.


A straight vertical arrow indicates an overwrite edit will take place.

If one picks up the clip with the Pointer Tool and moves the clip whilst holding the alt/option key, then the result will be an Insert edit. This is indicated by a bent arrow where the edit is taking place. Just to be clear - move a clip by dragging with the Pointer and an Overwrite Edit will take place - drag a clip while holding alt/option - and an Insert edit will take place - thus slotting the clip into place and pushing clips ahead of the clip you are inserting forward in the timeline.


One can choose to switch on or off what is called 'Snapping'. Snapping means when scrubbing through the timeline the yellow scrubber bar will be magnetically drawn to each of the edit points, which can be very useful - however, it can also be useful to switch this facility off, particularly when working on a compact timeline with many edits. To switch Snapping on/off click the button next to Linked Selection.


A bent arrow indicates an insert edit will take place.

The Snapping off icon.

Paste Insert selection.

Cut, Copy and Paste

Just like working with a processor shots can be cut, copied and pasted within the timeline - the conventions are the same - Apple/Command +C for Copy, Apple/Command + X for Cut, Apple/Command + V for paste. This lets one work quickly and move single shots or vast chunks of edited sequences, including video and audio, from one location to another. Furthermore, one can also choose Paste Insert - which has the effect of Inserting what is being pasted rather than overwriting the material into the timeline. To Paste Insert choose Shift + V.

Working with multiple sequences

A great facility in Final Cut Pro is the ability to work with multiple sequences, or timelines, at the same time. To create a new sequence choose Apple - New Sequence. A new sequence will then appear in the Browser. Look to the timeline - the new sequence is then visible as a tab next to that which has already existed.

Name the sequence in the browser and the corresponding name will appear on the tab in the browser. Edited material can then be copied and pasted between sequences, allowing you to edit different sequences which can then be joined together whenever you wish. You could therefore choose to edit the beginning, middle and end separately, and combine these whenever you choose.

Extending/reducing clips by dragging

Drag the end of a clip and you can extract available media (if there is nothing in its way) - drag the other way and you can reduce the duration of the clip. This provides a quick and easy way to adjust the length of clip and to see quickly how much media is available to work with. The available media is determined by what was recorded to hard drive during the capture process.

Drag and Drop editing

The editing we have done so far has involved marking the 'in' and 'out' points in the Viewer/Canvas and performing either Insert or Overwrite edits. One can also edit by dragging a clip from the browser and into the timeline, or by dragging from the Viewer to the timeline. The duration of the clip will be determined by 'in' or 'out' points marked in the source clip - and you can easily control the edit to be either Insert of Overwrite according to whether you drag the cursor to the base of the timeline - which will give a Overwrite edit - indicated by a vertical arrow - or if you drag the cursor to the top third of the timeline which will give an Insert Edit - indicated by a horizontal arrow. Release the clip and the edit will then take place.


Overwrite edit (vertical arrow) and Insert edit (horizontal arrow).


Rendering is the process by which each of the frames of a sequence are built. It is not always necessary to render - however, if effects are introduced, or titles added, or if the original images are manipulated in any way, then the material will need to be rendered. For ease of use I would suggest switching on all the render controls. Go to the Sequence menu and select Render - there are several colour-coded options. Select each of these consecutively to switch these on, on being represented by a tick next to each colour. When working, if you see any of these colours at the top of the timeline this means the material needs to be rendered for final output. You may well be able to work without rendering, due to the real-time capabilities in Final Cut Pro.


The Render Audio and Video selection options.

To render simply select the Sequence menu and invoke the Render command by selecting Video or both for Audio and Video. Unless you are working with many track of audio then audio will not need to be rendered for playback.

You can choose to Render Selection - part of the timeline defined by 'in' and 'out' points, or you choose to Render All - everything that needs Rendering. You can also Render Only - which means you select a colour to render and Final Cut Pro will now render everything in the timeline of that particular colour.

Working with high-end formats

Final Cut Pro is designed to work with all video or film formats. However, whilst getting this material into Final Cut Pro is workable via FireWire or DV, DVCam or HDV other high-end formats may require specialist capture cards. When working with Serial Digital Interface (SDI), for example, one may need to look at hardware built by third party manufacturers.


The Blackmagic Decklink HD Extreme card offers SD, HD and 2K video with SDi, HDMI and analogue connections.


The AJA Video Systems IO HD allows for real-time conversion to Apple's ProRes codec in hardware via a variety of inputs, including SDI.

Two highly regarded and well-known manufacturers are Blackmagic Design and AJA. Whilst DV/DVCam and HDV are suitable for many projects, the high-end world of video will require higher standards of video acquisition. These formats can be edited with Final Cut Pro and the hardware needed is available at very affordable prices compared to the cost of high-end equipment only a few years ago. A point worth making is that while the third party hardware may be needed for capture and monitoring of the video signal - the operation of the editing within Final Cut Pro remains unchanged. Final Cut Pro works the same regardless of which format you edit with.

© Rick Young

Click here to watch a video about Working with SDI.


The SDI outputs on Canon's XL H1 camcorder.

The Canon XL H1S, XL H1, XH G1S and XH G1 professional camcorders all feature HD-SDI, which allows for a pure uncompressed video feed direct out of the camera. This makes these cameras suitable for studio environments and multi-camera shoots where a high level of quality is needed.

To find out more about the Canon video products mentioned in this article or to try out or purchase Canon video products, contact your nearest Canon video dealer. For contact details just click here.