Final Cut Pro X: Track Based Editing

There is nothing more identifiable with Final Cut Pro X than its "trackless" Magnetic Timeline. There is also nothing more divisive among video editors. Tracks (Avid, Premiere, FCP7) versus the fluid Magnetic Timeline (FCPX).

Tracks in Final Cut Pro X? Why yes! You most certainly can efficiently and effectively edit track-based in
Final Cut Pro X, if you'd like to, and its easy to do. Don't listen to anyone saying "That's not the way Final Cut Pro X is supposed to work" because it does, it's easy and efficient.

Final Cut Pro X uses tracks in the mulicam editor.





If you want to use Final Cut Pro X and you'd like to edit track-based without the Magnetic Timeline (or use tracks along with the Magnetic Timeline) you can with the Position tool and Storylines/tracks.


Let's get started with track based editing. In Final Cut Pro X, make an Event and import into it the media that you'd like to edit track-based. Select your Event and then go to the File menu and choose "New Compound Clip" or use the keyboard shortcut Option - G. This will create a new Compound Clip in your Event. I'm using a Compound Clip timeline to simplicity this tutorial but this would also work in a Project Timeline.


Here I've named my Compound Clip "tracks" and left the Video Properties to "Set based on first video clip".


Right click on your new Compound clip and choose "Open In Timeline" or just double click it.


This will open a new empty Compound Clip Timeline.


In the Event Browser, select any clip and add it to the Compound Clip Timeline. 
This clip is a placeholder and can be replaced or edited later.

In the Timeline, select this clip and Option drag it up to make a duplicate above the first clip. 
Make sure the beginning of both clips align and are at the start of the Timeline.


Right click on this top clip and choose "Create Storyline" or use the keyboard shortcut Command - G.


The new Storyline track has a gray header bar above it. Right click on the clip inside of this Storyline and choose "Replace with Gap" or press the forward Delete key. In FCPX, gap clips in a Secondary Storyline are transparent and will allow what is below them to show through. You can make this Gap Storyline track any length that you'd like by dragging its end to the right (longer) or to the left (shorter).


To make a custom project length, select the gap clip inside of the Storyline (not the Storyline itself) and right click and choose "Change Duration" or use the keyboard shortcut Control - D. Enter your custom length in the toolbar Timecode field and the Storyline will conform to the length of the gap.


From here on out I will be using the term track for Secondary Storyline.

Select the track header (not the Gap clip inside of the track) and choose Edit > Copy. Then move your Playhead to the beginning of the Timeline and choose Edit > Paste as Connected Clip or use the keyboard shortcut Option - V.


Repeat this procedure to make as many tracks as you'd like. Any track only has to be as long as the last clip inside of it so you can have different length tracks. You can also select attached clips at the same vertical level and use the shortcut Command - G (Create Storyline).


To add tracks below the Primary Storyline, like FCP7 audio tracks, just Option drag a track copy there.


Once you have your tracks set up as you'd like, select your Compound clip in the Event Browser (or a Project in the Project Library) choose Command -D to make a duplicate of it to use as a template for future track based editing.


Now let's do some editing in our tracks. One of the neat things about track based editing in FCPX is you don't have to select a track (or use autoselect as in FCP7) to target a track for your edit. In whichever track your skimmer is located the edit will be performed at the skimmer location. Make sure Clip Skimming is checked on in the View Menu.


The main edits that you would use to place clips in your tracks are Insert, Overwrite and Append. Select your clip in the Event Browser, select an in and out point if needed, place the skimmer at the location of the edit in the track and then perform your edit. D is the keyboard shortcut for Overwrite, which will not change your track length. For some reason, there is no toolbar button for the very common Overwrite edit. To Insert a clip at the skimmer location, use the keyboard shortcut W. Or you can select your track, place the playhead and click the insert Button in the Timeline toolbar.


An Insert edit will ripple your track length and make it longer by the same length as the clip you inserted. If you want to edit Video only or Audio only, change the drop down menu or use Option - 2 for Video Only and Option - 3 for Audio Only before you perform your edit.


To Append a clip, place the skimmer anywhere in the track and press the E key. Or you can select the track and use the Append button in the toolbar. This will place the clip at the end of the track regardless of the skimmer location in that track. Append will make the track longer by the clip amount.


Once your clips are edited into your tracks, you can continue to edit them the same way you can a clip in the Primary Storyline. For example you can freely move them left or right in the track using the Position tool (P key). You can also drag clips up or down from track to track. If you use the Select tool you will have magnetic editing properties in your tracks.


You can Slip a clip in a track using the Trim tool and click hold and drag in the clip left or right...


...or slide a clip with the Trim tool and Option key. You can also trim their length by edge dragging and the track will ripple accordingly.


You can drag a clip from the Event Browser to a track clip and Replace it or make an Audition. 
You can also drag a clip from the Event Browser with the Position tool and place it anywhere you'd like in the track.


For some reason you can't enable or disable a Storyline in FCPX but you can solo them. Just select the track or tracks and click the solo button in the toolbar or use the keyboard shortcut Option - S. You can also disable individual clips in the tracks.


While editing, you can effectively turn a track "off" by soloing other tracks.


This is Walter Murch's FCP7 Timeline that he showed at the Boston Supermeet in 2011. It had 22 Video tracks and 50 Audio tracks. He even used blank tracks to subdivide clip groups. To subdivide either audio or video timeline clips in FCPX, use a title or a generator across the entire length of the timeline. You can rename the divider track to your liking.


You can also use Roles and keep the clips assigned the same Roles organized in a specific track or grouped between dividers. This keeps Roles clips visually organized in a single area rather than vertically all over the place. If in a track, you would be able to turn the Role clips track on or off via the Index Menu. You could also organize titles, lower thirds, audio effects, music dialog, etc each in their own tracks or subdivided groups.


Most, if not all, FCPX editing techniques should work OK when using tracks.

FCPX has a Position tool to override its Magnetic Timeline and Secondary Storylines which are tracks.
These tools are readily available in FCPX. You won't break FCPX or have to perform a hack if you prefer to edit with tracks.

Video editors are not a monolithic bunch and have many different editing techniques. For example, Walter Murch edits standing, not sitting. Some editors prefer editing in tracks and some like the magnetic Timeline of Final Cut Pro X.

If someone says "Everyone must edit this way" or "You can't use FCPX that way" they are quite mistaken.

Is tracked-based editing in FCPX better than using the Magnetic Timeline? I don't think that one way is better than the other and find both ways usefull. You can also use a track to have true Timeline markers versus FCPX's clip based markers.

So there you have it, track-based editing in Final Cut Pro X.



Copyright © 2013 Richard Taylor. All rights reserved.
Apple and Final Cut Pro X are registered trademarks of
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