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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

Assembling YouTube videos with Final Cut Pro

I’ve been editing video for a very long time. Since the days of wiring two VCRs together and pressing play on one and record on the other. I’m not a professional video editor and never will be, but I’ve been an amateur long enough to appreciate how far we’ve come from the days of two VCRs. (Sorry, people who grew up editing actual film—I never had the privilege.)

This year I made an effort to generate video editions of one of my podcasts, Total Party Kill. It led me down the path of using Final Cut Pro X more than I’ve ever done before. And while I know that Apple’s redesign of Final Cut made a lot of professional video editors very angry, as an amateur who needs a tool to bodge together Internet videos from a bunch of different sources, I’ve been floored at how easy it is to get the results that I want.

The timeline stacks audio and video clips on top of one another.

It starts with the timeline, into which you can dump just about anything you need—video, audio, graphics, you name it. The different levels of the timeline stack, so for visible objects (as opposed to audio files) you’re creating layers of objects that lay on top of one another.

For Total Party Kill, I need to take two different video files—video of our faces playing Dungeons and Dragons generated by Google Hangouts, and video of the map we’re playing on as captured via QuickTime Player from my web browser. In order to fit them together on a screen, I scale down the video of our faces and scale and crop the video from QuickTime Player.

The idea of scaling and cropping video seemed extremely intimidating to me, but once you figure out how to do it in Final Cut Pro X, it’s pretty easy. When you select a video in the timeline, you can click on its characteristics in the Video pane. Click the Transform tool to move and scale your video file—you can even just drag it around on the screen in the preview window. Click the Crop tool to crop your video.

The video pane (right) lets you move, crop, and scale video clips like the map capture selected at far left.

The shape of our D&D maps can vary quite a bit based on the rooms that we’re exploring, so the cropping I do on my map video varies throughout the entire three-hour-long session. To make different crops at different points, I use the Blade tool in Final Cut Pro. To use the blade tool, just type the letter b, and your cursor becomes a blade, ready to split any clip in the timeline into two separate clips at the place where you click. (Type a to return to a normal cursor when you’re done.) I use the Blade tool to chop my two video files whenever I need them to change their orientation, and then move and crop them as needed.

Another cool option is duplicating your video clip and using different parts of it in different places. My Google Hangouts video features a large image of the person who’s currently talking, and a series of thumbnails of everyone’s faces at the bottom of the screen. When I want to put them in different places, I duplicate my video in the timeline and crop each copy to only display the relevant portion. You can even do this multiple times, creating a big stack of duplicate videos, all with different portions cropped out.

The shapes of my Google Hangouts video and the map capture don’t usually fit together like pieces of a puzzle, so I bring in some graphics files to fill the space (and remind people what they’re watching). A quick trip to Photoshop generated a banner version of our podcast logo that I was able to drop in and fill a bunch of black space on the screen. I also brought in a transparent PNG file of the Incomparable logo, and dropped it in the bottom-left corner of the screen and set that object to a low opacity, replicating annoying TV-network bugs. Always be branding.

That leaves audio, which is also pretty straightforward. I was able to drag in audio files of the podcast’s theme song and position those properly, drop in a large video logo at the very start of the podcast as a title card, and drop in a high-quality audio file based on every participant’s local recording of their microphone rather than the muddy version recorded by Google Hangouts.

The end result is hardly a network TV production, but it’s a lot better than any of the source material on its own. And I was able to do it in Final Cut without too much of a learning curve.

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