A Matter of Handles

Posted on by Larry

[ This article was first published in the June, 2007, issue of
Larry’s Final Cut Pro Newsletter. Click here to subscribe.
Updated in December 2008. ]

Brian Pshyk, from Calgary, writes:

Every so often when I try to apply a cross dissolve between 2 clips (one a video clip and the other is a motion created piece) the transition defaults to a 1 frame transition and I cannot increase its length. The effect stays on the timeline as 1 frame in duration. Is this a known bug?

Larry replies: Nope. It’s a lack of handles.

Handles are extra video before the In and after the Out. They are only relevant for Timeline clips. When you apply a transition, say a 30-frame dissolve, between two clips in the Timeline, during the course of that dissolve, Final Cut displays video from both the out-going and the in-coming clips. Both are on screen at the same time.

Handles Image

In this illustration, the gray area represents the extra video, or handles, after the Out of the top clip and before the In of the bottom clip. The X illustrates where both images are on screen at the same time during the dissolve. The calculation for a handle is that it needs to be 1/2 the length of your transition. Thus, a 30-frame dissolve requires 15-frames handles on each clip.

Handles Image

However, if one of your clips doesn’t have any handles, as illustrated here where the bottom clip has no extra video before the In, the dissolve doesn’t have enough extra video for both clips to appear at the same time during the dissolve.

So, Final Cut sets the duration of the dissolve to the longest amount of time that video from the two clips overlap — in other words, one frame.

Handles Image

The easiest way to see the handles for a clip is to double-click it to load it into the Viewer and look at the how much video there is before the In and after the Out.

Note: Final Cut allows you to alter the start point of your transition so that it can:

Handles Image

You can make these timing adjustments either by dragging the transition icon around the edit point, or by double-clicking the transition icon to load it into the Transition Editor and adjusting it by clicking one of the three triangles at the top.


Martin Baker, of Digital Heaven in the UK, adds:

A bit more on the way FCP adds transitions:


When applying a standard transition with Cmd-T or through the Effects > Video Transitions menu, FCP will always add a centre aligned transition. So say you have an edit point where the outgoing clip has 10 frames of handle and the incoming has 5 frames. If you try to add a 30 frame standard transition using Cmd-T or Effects > Video Transitions then FCP will automatically resize the transition duration to 10 frames.


All well and good, however the second graphic shows a more confusing situation where the outgoing clip has 15 frames of handle and the incoming has 0 frames. Since the overlap is 15 frames, the logical result would be a 15 frame transition starting at the cut point but that’s not what happens. In this case FCP will put in a 1 frame centred “mutant” transition which is impossible to change to ‘align at start’ and hence the duration can’t be changed. The solution is to drag the transition from the Effects Browser to the start of the incoming clip where a 30 frame transition will automatically be changed to a 15 frame ‘starting at’ transition.

Larry replies: Martin, as usual, you say it even better than I can and with a British accent. Thanks!

UPDATED – December 2008

Handles, extra video before the In and after the Out of a clip, are essential for trimming and adding transitions. However, that doesn’t mean they are easy to understand.

As Steve wrote:

I have been putting a few page peel transitions between clips, all of the clips are similar. The transitions worked fine on all of the clips except one, it only showed the transition for a split second (1/60th to be exact). I went into the durations setting for that one transition and typed in 1 second but it wouldn’t allow me to change it. What should I do?

Larry replies: Steve, the problem is that whenever you add a transition between two clips, it needs extra video before the In and after the Out. By default, this extra video is equal to one-half the length of the transition. So, if your transition is 30 frames, you will need 15 frames of extra video before the In and after the Out at the point of the transition.

That small 1-frame icon is the giveaway that one of your two clips doesn’t have enough handles.

If you have a transition that doesn’t have enough handles, you can use the Ripple tool to move the offending In or Out, thereby shortening the clip and providing sufficient video for your transition.

To learn about how the Ripple and Roll tools work, read this:

Trimming Your Edits with Ripple and Roll


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One Response to A Matter of Handles

  1. […] Each shot is graded and then rendered out individually, with handles. (What are handles?) […]

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