About Clips, Media Files, and Sequences

Understanding the details of Final Cut Pro project elements can help you transfer clip and project information in and out of Final Cut Pro during logging, capturing, media management, and project interchange.

Media Files

A QuickTime media file contains a number of tracks, typically one video track and one or more audio tracks. When you capture or import a media file into Final Cut Pro, a clip in the Browser is created which refers to the media file on disk. A clip has one or more clip items, each of which corresponds to a track in the QuickTime media file. When you open a Browser clip in the Viewer, each of these tracks appears as a separate tab, such as video, audio channel 1, channel 2, and so on. Clips that refer exclusively to audio files are called audio clips, and they are identified by a unique icon in the Browser.

Other common media file types you can use in Final Cut Pro are AIFF and WAVE files (for audio) and graphics file formats supported by QuickTime, such as JPEG, Photoshop, and TIFF.

Important: Media files are not clips, so you should avoid referring to your media files on your scratch disk as clips.

Types of Clips

Different types of clips are distinguished by the type of media files they refer to. For example, an audio clip is simply a clip that represents an audio-only file on disk. However, some clips, such as subclips, are distinguished not by the type of media files they refer to, but how they refer to them. For example, the definition of a subclip is any clip that refers to less than the total length of a media file. It doesn’t matter whether a subclip is a video clip, audio clip, or merged clip.

Here is a list of clip types available in Final Cut Pro:

  • Clip: Usually refers to a video file that may also include audio.
  • Audio clip: Refers to an audio file. This may be a QuickTime media file that only contains audio tracks, or an audio-only file such as an AIFF or WAVE file.
  • Still-image clip: Refers to a single frame of a media file, created using the Make Freeze Frame command in the Modify menu.
  • Graphics clip: Refers to a graphics file, such as a JPEG, Photoshop (flattened), or TIFF file.
  • Generator clip: Refers to a Final Cut Pro generator, which creates media such as shapes, colors, and bars and tone automatically. Generators do not have associated media files.
  • Subclip: Refers to a portion of a media file.
  • Subclip Parent: A clip from which a subclip has been made. Final Cut Pro provides commands that allow you to quickly view the subclip parent of a clip in a sequence. For more information, see Creating Subclips.
  • Merged clip: Refers to a video file and one or more audio files.
  • Multiclip: Groups multiple clips together as angles for real-time switching and cutting.

A subclip artificially limits the duration of a clip, to allow you to work with smaller sections of a media file. These subclip limits can be removed at any time so you can work with the whole clip. For example, if an original media file is ten minutes long, the Final Cut Pro Browser clip is also ten minutes long. You can make a one-minute subclip starting at 00:02:00:00 and ending at 00:03:00:00 and work with the subclip as if the media file were only one minute long.

A merged clip refers to more than one media file at once: one video file and multiple audio files (up to 24 separate audio files). You can create merged clips if you record picture and sound to separate devices during production, and therefore have separate video and audio media files that actually comprise a single clip. You make a merged clip by selecting a video clip and several audio clips together and choosing the Merge Clips command from the Modify menu.

Important: A merged clip is considered offline even if only one of its media files cannot be found. Reconnecting and recapturing merged clips may take several passes, one for each file.

A multiclip allows you to sync multiple clips together as angles within a single clip. The main reason to use a multiclip is to sync multiple camera angles together so you can cut between them in real time in the Timeline. However, you can sync any footage you want together in a multiclip, not just different camera angles. For instance, when making a music video, you could sync three different performances of the band playing and cut between them on the beat.

Clips Described by Their Properties

In addition to the clip types described above, clips can be further characterized by the following:

  • Relationships to other clips: Master, affiliate, and independent clips
  • Connection status to media files: Offline and online clips
  • Location in a project: Browser and sequence clips

These clip characteristics can describe any type of clip. For example, clips, subclips, merged clips, and multiclips can all be offline clips.

Clips Defined by Their Relationship to Other Clips

A master clip is the first instance of a clip imported or captured in Final Cut Pro. Master clips exist exclusively in the Browser, and they are used to manage multiple instances of the same footage used throughout your project. This is how it works: each time you edit a clip into a sequence, Final Cut Pro creates a new instance of that clip. This new sequence clip is not completely unique and self-sufficient, but actually gets most of its properties from the master clip it came from. This clip is called an affiliate clip because it shares properties with its master clip. Because master and affiliate clips share a single set of properties, changing a property in one place changes it everywhere. For instance, if you want to change a clip name, it doesn’t matter whether you change the name in the master clip or any of its affiliate clips. Since they all share the same Name property, all the clips now have the new name.

Most properties are shared between master and affiliate clips, but there are a few exceptions. The properties of affiliate clips that aren’t shared (such as In and Out points) make them useful for editing, while the shared properties (such as Name and Source) maintain a relationship with the master clip for easier media management. For example, In and Out points can be different in every affiliate clip so that trimming one clip doesn’t affect the duration of all the other affiliated ones.

The following properties are not shared between master and affiliate clips:

  • Comment A-B

  • In point

  • Out point

  • Duration

  • Description

  • Film Safe

  • Composite mode

  • Reverse Alpha

  • Thumbnail

An independent clip is a sequence clip that has no master clip, so it doesn’t share properties with any other clips. You can make a sequence clip independent at any time, although you usually shouldn’t unless you have a specific reason to do so. Independent clips are not updated by a master clip, so you can’t manage your media as efficiently.

Clips Defined by Media File Connection

An offline clip is any clip whose media file cannot be located, or whose Source property is empty. When you first log clips, they are offline clips because they have no associated media files. If the modification date of a clip’s media file changes in the Finder, or if you delete a clip’s media file, the clip becomes an offline clip until you reconnect it.

Clips Defined by Location in Project

A Browser clip is any clip which appears in the Browser. These are typically master clips, although they can also be affiliate clips.

A sequence clip is one or more clip items in a sequence. These are typically affiliate clips whose master clips reside in the Browser. In some cases, sequence clips are independent, meaning they have no master clips or other affiliated clips. You can distinguish a sequence clip from a Browser clip when you open it in the Viewer. The row of dots (sprocket holes) that appears in the scrubber bar of the Viewer indicates that the clip is a sequence clip.

Sequences

A sequence contains one or more video and audio tracks, which are empty when first created. When you edit a clip into a sequence, you copy the clip’s individual clip items to tracks in the sequence. For example, if you drag a clip that contains one video and two audio clip items to the Timeline, a video clip item is placed in a video track in the Timeline, and two audio clip items are placed in two audio tracks. In a sequence, you can move any clip item to any track, allowing you to edit and arrange the contents of your media files however you want. Clip items in a sequence (sometimes referred to as sequence clips) are usually affiliate clips, and are often distinguished from clips in the Browser (Browser clips), which are usually master clips.