Using Effects, Filters, and Transitions

Final Cut Pro and other Final Cut Studio applications provide extensive effects capabilities for video, including common film effects such as dissolves, wipes, motion effects, titles, color correction, and compositing. If your final output uses standard broadcast SD or HD resolutions, these effects can often be included directly in the final output. However, if your output is going to be higher-resolution video for digital projection (such as a 2K DPX image sequence), if the output will be converted to film using a digital film printer, or if you intend to conform the original camera negative, these effects will generally be used only to preview the final effect, which will be created at a visual effects facility.

Effects and transitions are usually created for digitally edited film in the following ways (because of the changing and diverse nature of the industry, your actual experience may vary):

Special Considerations for Effects in a DI Workflow

There are a wide variety of approaches to working with effects when you are using a DI workflow. There are also an increasing number of third-party applications available that specialize in the various aspects of the process, such as tracking effect revisions.

Following is a list of issues that you need to be aware of while working on your project:

  • If you have not already created high-quality film scans of the parts of the video involved in the effect, you must do that first. You can use the optical list section of a film list to identify the film rolls and frames that need to be pulled and scanned. There are many methods you can use to generate that film list—for example, you can place all effects in their own track and specify that track when exporting the film list.

  • The digital visual effects facility generally provides the final effects using your final output video format and resolution. Make sure to retain all original metadata such as key numbers and timecode so the effects can be tracked back to the original film frames. Otherwise you must manually verify that the correct frames were used to create the effects, which can be time-consuming.

  • You need to create temporary versions of the effects to use in your offline edit of the program. In some cases, the visual effects facility may provide these. If so, make sure the facility knows which codec to use and your sequence settings so that the clips will not have to be reencoded or rendered. These temporary versions of the effects clips also need to have the same timecode as the original video clips.

  • The effects clips are often not tracked by the Cinema Tools database.

Including Titles, Supers, and Transitions in a Film Workflow

The following workflow shows you how effects, supers (superimposed images or frames), and transitions might be added to a film that is edited in Final Cut Pro. This is a very basic workflow, containing steps for including both opticals and contact-printed effects in your film, though you may have only one or the other.

Important: With the fast-changing, diverse nature of the industry, your best workflow option may be different from the workflow described here. Make sure you consult your lab for the most accurate instructions and options for your unique situation.

  1. Stage 1: Confirming Support and Needs with the Lab

    Depending on your budget, before you edit you should check with the lab (the optical house or other facility that will print your effects) to find out what it can offer. Often the lab has standard effects for you to choose from—custom effects may cost substantially more or not be available at all. The lab can also educate you about exactly what you need to provide.

  2. Stage 2: Creating Effects and Transitions in Final Cut Pro

    It’s helpful to experiment with styles and durations in Final Cut Pro. That way you’ll be confident in communicating what you need to your lab.

    Because you can export a separate cut list for each video track, you can add titles and superimposed images to multiple video tracks—for example, as alternative versions—and choose which to include in the exported film list.

  3. Stage 3: Exporting a Film List

    When you’ve finished editing your program, export a film list. See An Introduction to Film Lists and Change Lists for more information. The film list can contain a number of different types of lists. The optical list includes descriptions of transition, filter, and motion effects. You will also need to export a film list for each video track that contains titles or superimposed images. If you are going to have all of your transitions contact printed instead of having opticals created, choose “All are cuts” from the Transitions pop-up menu. See Dividing Transitions Between a Contact and Optical Printer for related information.

  4. Stage 4: (Optical Printing) Giving the Film List and Any Appropriate Footage to the Lab

    If you are having effects and transitions created as opticals, your lab uses the specifications and descriptions in your film list as a guide for creating the opticals. The lab needs relevant film footage from which to create the opticals. The optical lab may want you to provide interpositives, or the lab may print the interpositives. The lab may also request a videotape of your movie to use as a reference. If you’ve made a workprint, you can provide it to the lab as a reference, or you can give the lab a color copy (“dupe”) of the parts of the workprint that contain the opticals. Discuss the options with your lab. See About Interpositives for more information about working with interpositives.

  5. Stage 5: (Optical Printing) Adding the Opticals to Your Project

    Transfer the opticals using a telecine, add them to the database, capture them into your sequence, and export a cut list.

    If you are having opticals created for your film, this step is ideal because it provides a cut list that most accurately documents the opticals, and because it allows you to preview the opticals in your sequence and see if you like the way they work.

    Alternatively, if you have a workprint, the negative cutter may be able to use it as a guide for cutting the opticals into your film so that you don’t need to transfer them to video and create a new cut list. Make sure to check with your negative cutter to find out what is required.

  6. Stage 6: (Optical Printing) Giving the Optical Negative to the Negative Cutter

    Assuming you have screened the opticals and are happy with them, give the optical negative, along with the original camera negative and your entire film list, to the negative cutter. With the film list (and the workprint if there is one) as a guide, the negative cutter cuts and splices the effects into your film.

  7. Stage 7: (Contact Printing) Giving the Film List to the Contact Printer

    When the conformed negative is ready to be printed by the contact printer, make sure the contact printer is given a film list that includes information about your titles and supers and any transitions you want printed into the film.

    Note: The negative cutter makes a list of printer cues, including transition needs, and this list is given to the printer with the cut original camera negative.

About Interpositives

Because the original footage is negative, the whole film must be printed from negative images in order to result in a normal, positive film image. This means you want your opticals to be negative when they are spliced into your original camera negative. The optical lab typically uses a low-contrast film print (of the relevant parts of the original camera negative) called an interpositive as the raw source footage from which to assemble the opticals. After the opticals are assembled from the interpositive, they are printed as optical negatives that can be spliced into the original camera negative.

Usually, before the final interpositive is created, one or more trial prints are made with the guidance of a color specialist to find the proper combination of exposure and color balance.

Note: In some cases, when opticals need a very stable image (as with images behind text), a registration interpositive is required. Registration interpositive printing minimizes unwanted lateral film motion in the optical printer gate. The optical lab will tell you when a registration interpositive is needed.

Contact Printing vs. Optical Printing

Choosing between contact printing and optical printing depends on several factors. The good news is you can have some effects created one way and others another way. Here are factors you may want to weigh:

  • Saving original footage: Contact printing requires the original camera negative to be cut and spliced. Optical printing essentially results in a new negative being made, so the original footage can be used again elsewhere.
  • Previewing: If your transitions are printed on a contact printer, you don’t have the option of seeing the finished transitions before the negative is cut, but if they are printed optically, you do. After they are printed, transitions and motion effects may not appear exactly as they did within your digital editing system. If you want to know exactly how a transition is going to appear in the finished film, have it made optically before finalizing the cut. Then, transfer the optical to video. You can edit the transferred optical into your digital program to see how it will look.
  • Cost: If you have standard-length transitions and there are a lot of them, it will probably cost less to have them printed on a contact printer.

    Although optical printing has the advantage of resulting in a new negative being made that you can edit into your digital program to see how it looks and include in your cut list, the optical’s negative must first be transferred to video at an additional cost.

    It’s a good idea to compare quotes for having your transitions printed in different ways.

  • Length: Contact printing requires that the length of the transition be one of a set of standard lengths, whereas optical printing does not. Cinema Tools identifies the set of standard lengths for 24 fps or 23.98 fps media as 16, 24, 32, 48, 64, and 96 frames in duration. Cinema Tools identifies the set of standard lengths for 29.97 fps media as 20, 30, 40, 60, 80, and 120 frames in duration. (Make sure to check with your contact printer about the standard lengths required for different frame rates.)

Comparing Quotes

To get quotes to compare costs of contact and optical printing, you need to export two versions of the film list.

To export different film lists to give to the printers for quotes
  1. In the Export Film Lists dialog, choose “All are cuts” from the Transitions pop-up menu to export a film list for a contact printing quote.

    Note: See An Introduction to Film Lists and Change Lists for details about the Export Film Lists dialog.

    Figure. Transitions pop-up menu in the Export Film Lists dialog showing "All are cuts" being chosen.
  2. After exporting that list, choose “All are opticals” from the Transitions pop-up menu to export a film list for an optical printing quote.

    Figure. Transitions pop-up menu in the Export Film Lists dialog showing "All are opticals" being chosen.

Dividing Transitions Between a Contact and Optical Printer

You can have standard-length transitions created by a contact printer and the rest of the transitions created as opticals.

You do this by exporting a film list in which standard-length transitions are listed as cuts for printing on a contact printer, and nonstandard-length transitions are listed as opticals.

To export a film list supporting both contact and optical printing
  • In the Export Film Lists dialog, choose “Std are cuts” from the Transitions pop-up menu.

    Figure. Transitions pop-up menu in the Export Film Lists dialog showing "Std are cuts" being chosen.

See Exporting Film Lists Using Final Cut Pro for more information about generating a film list.