Cut Lines: Using Speed Controls in Final Cut Pro 7
Posted Dec 8, 2009

This month we'll look at the brand new speed controls in Final Cut Pro (FCP) 7. In Final Cut Pro 6 and earlier versions, the speed control function was called Time Remapping, but now it's just called Speed Change. It's also much easier and faster. We have four tools to work with: the Change Time window, the Speed Tool in the Timeline window, the Clip Keyframe control below each track in the Timeline window, and the Speed section of the Viewer window's Motion tab. We'll look briefly at each one and how they work. Using these four resources together can help you achieve complex speed changes and ramp them up quickly and easily.

Changing Speed in the Time Change Window
The first speed tool we’ll look at is the Change Time window (Figure 1, below). To access it, highlight a clip in the Timeline, right-click on it, and choose Change Speed from the pop-up shortcut menu that appears. You can also highlight the clip and use the keyboard shortcut Cmd+J. In this window you can control the speed of the clip by Duration, which keeps the clip’s current In and Out points on their specified frames but changes the time duration that occurs between those In and Out points. You can control the speed by the playback Rate, set as a percentage—50% being half-speed slow motion, 200% meaning playing back at twice normal speed, for example. You can also select the Reverse check box to make the clip play backward. This is handy for situations such as when a slow zoom in should be a slow zoom out.

Fig1 Accessing the Change Speed Window in FCP 7

Next are the ramp options. You can set the start of the clip and end of the clip separately. The four options for each are as follows: Linear, which creates a constant speed change; Curve, which creates a speed ramp, bringing the speed from one setting to another, changing over time; Curved Centered, which sets the speed ramp keyframe inside the clip so that you can ramp up and down to either side; and Custom, which is useful when you have a customized, complex keyframe configuration.

With the Curve option, you can specify the number of frames the start and end keyframes take to ramp the speed up or down. Not all options are available all of the time. Depending on the state of the clip and its current speed keyframes, some may be active (black icons) and some may be disabled (gray icons).

Finally, we have three check box options. The first is the new Ripple Sequence option. When it’s checked, it will ripple the sequence, meaning that when you set a clip to 50% speed and click OK, the clip will become twice as long, pushing everything in the sequence to its right—far enough to the right to allow it to expand. With the box unchecked, the clip will retain its original duration while the playback speed changes (Figure 2, below). This means, in essence, that the Out point of the clip will be readjusted to accommodate this operation.

Fig2 Ripple Sequence speed change before & after: clip duration remains the same

Working With the Timeline Speed Tool
Our second speed control tool is the Speed Tool in the Timeline. To access it, locate the tool palette in the fifth layer from the top (the one containing the Slip and Slide tool), select the Speed Tool (which looks like a stop watch inside of brackets), or use the keyboard shortcut sss. With this tool you can grab any edit point in the Timeline window and drag it left or right. This will increase the speed of the clip being shortened and decrease the speed of the clip being lengthened. What’s happening here is that the Out point of outgoing clip and the In point of the incoming clip remain locked to their original frames, but the time it takes to play between them is being shortened (sped up) or lengthened (slowed down).

Figure 3 (below) shows the edit being done by dragging the edit point to the left and the results afterward. Notice that the outgoing clip is now playing at 102%, and the incoming clip is playing at 98%. This acts like the Roll Edit tool, with the result being a change in playback speed, not any changes in the Out and In points of the clips.

Fig3 Before and after dragging the edit point to the left

Tracking Clip Keyframes
To use the Clip Keyframe tool, simply turn on Clip Keyframes in the Timeline. You can do so by clicking the Clip Keyframes button in the lower left of the Timeline window (Figure 4, below) or by using the keyboard shortcut Option+T. You’ll see the keyframe section of the Timeline open up, and the Time Indicators show up as evenly spaced notches in a band at the bottom of each clip’s keyframe area (see the February 2007 installment of Cut Lines for details about keyframing in the timeline).

Fig4 Turning on Clip Keyframes in the Timeline

Now just move your mouse over the timing indicators to turn the icon into the Pen tool automatically. Click to place speed-change keyframes where you want them. Then you can click and drag to move them, right-click on them to remove them, or click in between them to make speed changes to the Speed Segments in between the speed keyframes.

When a Speed Segment plays slower, the notches are spaced further apart; when it plays faster, they are closer together (Figure 5). Imagine them being representative of the actual frames in your clip
(which they are, although they’re not literally the exact number of frames). If you see any notches turn red, that indicates a section of your clip that is playing in reverse.

Fig5 Making linear speed changes with Speed Segments

Using the Motion Tab Speed Section
The fourth tool is the Speed section of the Motion tab in the Viewer window. In FCP 7, this area has been vastly simplified and made much easier to work with. To use it, double-click a clip in the Timeline window to open it into the Viewer, go to the Motion tab, and, if necessary, click the disclosure triangle for the Speed section. Here you’ll see the usual keyframe graph, a percentage numeric data field you can type into directly, and a keyframe diamond for creating keyframes.

In the graph area, use the P keyboard shortcut to change your mouse cursor to the Pen tool. With the Pen tool, you can click and set keyframe points. You can also position your playhead on a specific frame and click the Keyframe Diamond to create (or delete) keyframes on the graph. You can then use the A keyboard shortcut to return to your regular Arrow (Selection) tool. Now you can drag up and down, or left and right, to adjust your keyframes. Dragging the Arrow tool left and right simply moves the keyed frame to a new position in the Timeline, where dragging it up and down effects the speed changes of the clip’s playback in between that specific keyframe and the ones directly before and after it.

You can also right-click on the keyframes in this graph to remove them or to change them from Corner points (hard angles) to Smooth points (Bezier handles added to create curves), as shown in Figure 6 (below). When working with this keyframe graph, the numeric data field will show the percentage of playback of the specific frame the playhead is currently on.

Fig6 Choosing Smooth points (instead of Corner points) for your keyframes

Mixing it Up
When you understand all four of the available tools, you can begin to use them in combination with one another to easily, quickly, and efficiently create complex or subtle speed changes to individual clips that can enhance the effect your videos have on your audiences. One issue to note: If you have a Nested Sequence (a sequence inside of another sequence), the Clip Keyframe and Speed tools won’t work. You can make only constant speed changes by using the Change Speed window. And if you open the Nested Sequence in the Viewer window (by right-clicking the Nest and choosing Open In Viewer), the Speed section in the Motion tab will let you keyframe variable speed changes to a degree. Also, any speed changes made to a Nested Sequence will require full rendering for playback no matter what codec you’re using.

I hope that if you’re inclined to do speed change effects with your videos, this new approach to speed changes in FCP 7 will help you work faster and have more fun with these types of effects. Remember to zoom into your Timeline and in the Motion tab keyframe graph to allow you more detailed and subtle control over these effects. Until next time, rock your edits!

Ben Balser (benb at is an Apple Certified Trainer and Support Professional based in New Orleans. Along with training and consulting, he also produces
documentaries and educational material and designs digital signage systems.