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When the two Steves started Apple back in 1976, they dreamed of making a computer that people could use as a tool to change the world. In 1999, Apple released Final Cut Pro—a program worthy of the founders’ vision. A worldwide community has formed around this tool, and people are making movies who weren’t able to before. Final Cut Pro changed the way stories are told, because it changed who’s telling them.

In 2003, Apple debuted Final Cut Express, a lower-cost, entry-level, nonlinear editing and effects program built using the same code base as Final Cut Pro 3; followed by Final Cut Express 2, which is based on Final Cut Pro 4—are you starting to see a pattern here?

This book covers Apple’s third program version, Final Cut Express HD 3.0, known as Final Cut Express HD (or just “FCE HD” to its friends and fans). FCE HD offers a light sprinkling of refinements throughout the program and another significant bump in real-time performance. FCE HD’s big news is indicated in the application’s name change: Limited high-definition video (HDV) capture, edit and output via FireWire—without an additional hardware card.

FCE HD also ships with two significant helper applications—LiveType, an animated titling program, and Soundtrack, a kind of musical Erector Set you can use to generate custom tracks from loops. LiveType and Soundtrack had previously been available only to Final Cut Pro users.

This book, Final Cut Express HD for Mac OS X: Visual QuickStart Guide, is adapted from my Final Cut Pro HD for Mac OS X: Visual QuickPro Guide. This edition describes the operation of Final Cut Express HD. I’ve carefully revised the Final Cut Pro HD material to accurately reflect the way Final Cut Express HD works, so if you are using an earlier version of Final Cut Express, you might want to seek out a copy of an earlier edition.

Who should use this book

Final Cut Express HD for Mac OS X: Visual QuickStart Guide is designed to be used by intermediate to advanced Mac users with a little basic knowledge of video editing terms and procedures; explaining basic video production and editing is beyond the scope of this book. Final Cut Express (FCE) is designed to be easy to use, and it’s simpler than Final Cut Pro, but it’s still a professional-level video editing and compositing program. If you are not new to the Macintosh, but you’re completely new to video editing, consider some basic training in the fundamentals of video editing before you plunge into this program. If you haven’t done so already, try Apple’s free iMovie program—it’s a great way to get a taste of basic video editing in a stripped-down program that’s a lot easier for beginners to use.

What’s in this book

The first part of the book starts with a quick feature overview of the entire program, followed by hardware setup, program installation, and preferences specification, and it ends with a chapter devoted to FCE’s project structure and clip handling.

The next section introduces the Capture, Browser, and Viewer windows—the tools you use for capturing, importing, and organizing media in preparation for an edit.

The third part of the book details the variety of ways you can use FCE’s editing tools to assemble and refine an edited sequence. This section covers basic editing procedures and the operation of the Timeline, Canvas, and Trim Edit windows.

The fourth section is devoted to using the program’s special effects and compositing tools. You’ll find an overview chapter plus chapters devoted to creating motion effects, using filters, and creating titles and other generator effects.

The final section includes two chapters on finishing your FCE project: one discusses rendering techniques and strategies; the other lays out your options for outputting a final product.

How to use this book

This guide is designed to be a Final Cut Express user’s companion, a reference guide with an emphasis on step-by- step descriptions of specific tasks. You’ll encounter the following features:

  • “Anatomy” sections introduce the major program windows with large, annotated illustrations identifying interface features and operation. If you’re not a step-by-step kind of person, you can pick up quite a bit of information just by browsing these illustrations.

  • “FCE Protocol” sidebars lay out the protocols (the programming rules) that govern the way Final Cut Express works. These sections are highly recommended reading for anyone interested in a serious relationship with this program.

  • Sidebars throughout the book high-light production techniques, project management ideas, and suggestions for streamlining your workflow.

  • Tips are short bits that call your attention to a neat trick or a cool feature, or warn you of a potential pitfall in the task at hand.

Learning Final Cut Express

Here are some tips to help you get up and running in Final Cut Express ASAP.

Basic theory

Two sidebars, one in Chapter 1 and another in Chapter 4, are referred to throughout this book. You don’t absolutely have to read these to operate the program, but understanding some of the basic concepts underlying the design of the program will make Final Cut Express much easier to learn.

What Is Nonlinear Nondestructive Editing?” in Chapter 1 explains how nondestructive editing works and how it affects the operation of Final Cut Express.

FCE Protocol: Clips and Sequences” in Chapter 4 explains the protocols governing clip and sequence versions, which are key to understanding how Final Cut Express works.

FCE is context sensitive

The Final Cut Express interface is context sensitive, which means that the options available in the program’s menus and dialog boxes can vary depending on any of the following factors:

  • The external video hardware attached to your system

  • The setup configuration you specify when you install the program

  • The program window that is currently active

  • The program selection that you just made

The logic behind the context-sensitive design is sound: to simplify your life by removing irrelevant options from your view. However, because the interface is context sensitive, the menus and dialog boxes in your installation of Final Cut Express may occasionally differ from those in the illustrations shown in this guide.

Keyboard commands

Final Cut Express was designed to support a wide variety of working styles ranging from heavy pointing, clicking, and dragging to entirely keyboard-based editing. More keyboard commands are available than those listed in the individual tasks in this book. You’ll find a comprehensive list of keyboard commands in Appendix B.

Shortcut menus

Final Cut Express makes extensive use of shortcut menus. As you are exploring the program, Control-clicking items and interface elements is a quick way to see your options in many areas of the FCE interface, and it can speed up the learning process.

Refer to the manual

Final Cut Express 1 did not come with a printed manual; Apple has partially remedied that situation by including a 100-page (more or less) printed program overview. The most comprehensive FCE reference document is still the onscreen help document, Final Cut Express Help. This 992-page PDF is installed with FCE and is accessed from FCE’s Help menu. FCE HD features are covered in New Features in Final Cut Express HD, a 16-page PDF.

Apple’s manual is a valuable reference tool, but be warned: you’ll occasionally run across stray references to Final Cut Pro features that don’t exist in Final Cut Express, or FCE features that don’t operate as described. I’ll occasionally refer you to specific sections of the official manual that cover a topic in more detail than this book can accommodate. (Still, Apple did miss a few items covered here, and unlike the electronic-only manual, you can scribble notes in this Visual QuickStart Guide.)

Check out the Knowledge Base

Apple posts a steady stream of valuable Final Cut Express articles and updates in its online Knowledge Base. The company also posts information about FCE “known issues” (that’s corporate-speak for bugs) as Knowledge Base articles. See Appendix A, “Online Resources,” for information on locating the Knowledge Base.

The Web is your friend

Using the World Wide Web is an essential part of using Final Cut Express. Apple, as well as the manufacturers of the video hardware you’ll be using with Final Cut Express, relies on the Web to inform users of the latest developments and program updates and to provide technical support. You’ll find a starter list of online resources in Appendix A and specific URLs sprinkled throughout this book. There are some great sources of information, technical help, and camaraderie out there. If you get stuck or encounter difficulties getting underway, go online and start asking questions. After you’ve learned the program, go online and answer questions. Helping other people is a great way to learn.

Where to find more information

Check out Appendix A, “Online Resources,” for a list of helpful web sites.

Go forth and experiment

If you’re new to video production—or even if you’re experienced but new to Final Cut Express—it would be wise to test your brand-new DV post-production system on a short, noncritical project before you plunge into that feature-length masterpiece that haunts your dreams. By knocking out a series of short projects, you build up your skills quickly as you learn from your mistakes. Have fun, keep moving, and don’t be afraid to experiment.

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