FCP 7: Create a Picture-in-Picture Effect that Moves

Posted on by Larry

[ This article was first published in the June, 2009, issue of
Larry’s Final Cut Pro Newsletter. Click here to subscribe. ]

One of the fun things about teaching is helping students discover concepts I’ve known about for a while, but are new to them. That thought is the foundation for this technique – getting a piece of video to move around the frame. Along the way, I’ll try to illustrate some techniques that some experienced users may have forgotten.

This tutorial has several parts:


When you are building an effect in the timeline, the order in which you stack clips makes a difference.

Clips on higher tracks are in front of clips on lower tracks. In other words, the stacking order of your clips determines foreground and background.

For instance, here I have a gold background clip on V1 and a foreground clip of a snowboarder on V2.

By default, all clips in Final Cut are 100% full screen and 100% opaque. This means that when two clips are stacked, the upper clip totally blocks the clip(s) below it.

Therefore, if we want to see any background (lower track) clips, we need to adjust the highest level clip first. This can be done using a variety of tools (such as cropping), filters (such as mattes), or settings in the Motion tab.


Probably the easiest way to see both clips at once is to change the size of the top (V2) clip.


Note: By the way, the reason I refer to clips using V1 or V2 is that is the label of the track on the left side of the Timeline. I refer to tracks based on the right-hand track labels in the Patch Panel.

So, to change the size of a clip, double-click it to load into the Viewer, and click the Motion tab. There are ten different setting groups in the Motion tab. However, the three that get used the most are:

There are several ways to change the size of a clip:

In this case, we’ll make the V2 clip smaller by changing its Scale to 40%.

Important note: The highest quality of any video clip is when it is scaled to 100% or smaller. Scaling above 100% very quickly degrades image quality — especially for standard-def images. Try really, really hard not to enlarge clips beyond 100%.


To change the position of a clip within the frame, you need to know how Final Cut positions it in the first place. Final Cut positions clips based upon the CENTER of the image. And it uses as its starting point the exact center of the frame – a point it labels 0,0.

Putting an image at a Center of 0,0, means that the center of the image is exactly in the center of the frame. And, if the image has a scale of 100%, that means that the image will be centered in the frame and fill the frame.

Note: It is possible to move the Center point to a different location than dead center by altering the Anchor Point. The Anchor point is the point around which an image rotates or scales. By default, this is at the center of the frame (0,0). However, moving the anchor point is a subject for a future tutorial. For now, we’ll leave it at its default setting of 0,0.

So, to change the position of a clip, we can enter new values in the Center data entry box. The left-hand box controls horizontal position, and the right-hand box controls vertical position.

Negative numbers in the left-hand box move an image left. Positive numbers move the image right. Negative numbers in the right-hand box move an image up. Positive numbers move the image down.

So, to place a 4:3 NTSC DV image so that the center of the image sits in the middle of the far left edge of the frame, the Center would be -360, 0. To place the center of the image in the middle of the bottom edge of the frame, the Center would be 0, 240. Up and left are negative numbers, down and right are positive numbers.

Note: For those of you following along at home, I’m working with 4:3 NTSC DV – because it allows me to use screen captures small enough to fit into this newsletter. A 4:3 NTSC DV image is 720 x 480 pixels.

For our example, let’s tuck it in the top left corner of Action Safe by moving the image to -180, -120.

Here’s an easier way to move an image. Go to the far right pop-up menu at the top center of the Canvas, and switch it to Image+Wireframe. This allows you to grab an image in the Canvas and drag it where you want it to go.

Other things you can do with Arrow tool in the Canvas in Image+Wireframe mode include:

Note: Using tools from the Tool palette, you can also Crop and Distort an image. In fact, the Distort tool also allows you to move the Anchor point by simply clicking and dragging.

However, for me, the easiest way to move an image is to click the cross-hairs next to the Center data entry boxes. Notice how it turns a darker shade of gray?

Now, simply click, hold, and drag the image in the Canvas where you want it to go. This way, I don’t need to worry about the Canvas pop-up menu setting. I can move the image and see the numeric read-out in the viewer as I move the image. Plus, many other filters and settings use this same icon to set position.


Um, wait a minute. What’s Action Safe and what are these blue rectangles doing here?

To display both Action and Title Safe, go back to that same far right pop-up menu in the Canvas and select “Show Title Safe.”

Action Safe – the outer rectangle – is 5% in from all edges of an image and represents that portion of the frame that is often lost when images are displayed to an analog device, such as CRT televisions and projection systems (both digital and film).

Title Safe – the inner rectangle – is 10% in from all edges of an image and represents that portion of an image that is often lost on older CRT televisions, which tend to enlarge images as the TV set ages.

It is considered good practice to keep all essential action (actors and movement) within the Action Safe boundary. Further, it is considered REALLY good practice to keep all essential text (titles and logos) within the Title Safe boundary.

But wait just a minute, I hear you saying. This is the new world of digital television — LCD and LED displays — and the Internet; surely we don’t need to worry about this stuff now.

Well, much as we would all like to believe that we are past all this, it just ain’t true. There are BILLIONS of older TV sets still in use where the rules of Action Safe and Title Safe still apply. Also, anything which is projected needs to allow for edges of the image to shoot off the screen.

So, for many, many years to come we are in the worst of all situations: we need to create perfect images edge to edge for the web and digital TV sets, while keeping essential text and logos within Title Safe so that older sets can still display them.

You are welcome to grumble, those of us in the industry have been complaining about this since the dawn of television… not that complaining will do any good, but it may make you feel better.


Now that we have our image scaled and positioned, we need to get it to move. In order to do that, I need to define a term: Keyframe.

A Keyframe is a point of change during playback — and we always use keyframes in pairs.

If nothing changes during playback, you never need keyframes. For instance, in this example, if we want to leave this image parked in the upper left corner, we would set it there and be done with it.

We only need to use keyframes if we want an image to move, say, from the upper left corner to the upper right corner during the playback of our sequence. And, just as you need to know both where you are starting from and where you are going when you leave on a trip, you also need a starting keyframe and ending keyframe when you want something to move during playback.

So, let’s animate a change in position for this image by setting two Center keyframes — one where we want it to begin moving and the other where we want it to end.

First, we may need to make the Motion tab wider so we can see the Keyframe section. To change the size of a window, grab the lower right corner, on the three diagonal lines, called the Thumb, and drag to the size you need.

Notice that the Motion tab divides into two sections: the settings side, on the left, and the keyframe side, on the right. The light gray area on the right represents the portion of the clip in the Timeline.

Position the playhead in the Motion tab where you want to set your first keyframe. In our case, we want the keyframe at the start of the clip. So, make sure the Motion tab is selected and type Shift+I — this jumps the playhead to the In of the clip.

Click the open diamond to set a keyframe. When the playhead is parked on a keyframe, the diamond becomes solid green. Click it again, and it will delete the keyframe it is parked on.

Then, press Shift+O to jump the playhead to the out of a clip.

We can either set a keyframe first, then move the clip to a new position. Or, simply move the clip and FCP will create a keyframe automatically at the position of the playhead. I generally create a keyframe first, which reminds me that I WANT to create a keyframe at that position. But either way works great.

In this case, with the playhead at the end of the clip, click the Center cross-hairs to select them and drag the image to the top right corner of Action Safe. (The Center numbers are 180, -120.)

What Final Cut has done, invisibly, is to create a motion path — that is, a connection between the two keyframes. You can see this path by switching the display of the Canvas to either Image+WireFrame or Wireframe in the far right pop-up menu.

When you play your sequence, your clip moves along the motion path, starting at the first keyframe and ending at the second.

While there is no practical limit to the number of keyframes you can add to a cilp, in general, try to keep the number of keyframes as low as possible. This tends to keep movement smoother.


The best way to move between keyframes is using the small left- and right-pointing arrows on either side of the diamond. Dragging your playhead between keyframes raises the possibility of placing the playhead close to, but NOT on, a keyframe, which means when you change something you are creating a new keyframe, which can be really, REALLY confusing.

Instead, click the small arrows for navigation. You can also try the keyboard shortcuts Shift+K (next keyframe) and Option+K (previous keyframe).

Anyway, put your playhead on the last keyframe and drag the image down to the lower right corner. Notice the new Center numbers are 180, 120? Are you starting to see a pattern here? Many times, we can easily and symmetrically move an image by just changing the Center number from positive to negative.

To make this next section easier to see, I’m going to switch to Wireframe mode. This just displays the frame of an image, without the picture. This can often make creating effects much faster – as this doesn’t require rendering – and easier to see – since you are watching objects move, rather than the images themselves.

Now, Control+click the small green circle (which is the indicator for a starting keyframe) and select Linear. This creates a Beziér control point and adds two small dots to the motion path – both darn-near-impossible-to-see blue dots.

Grab the dot farthest from the keyframe and drag and you’ll turn the motion path into a curve. Drag the control point around and watch what happens to the shape of the curve.

Do the same thing – control-click and select Linear – for the lower keyframe and drag to set a curve for the lower keyframe.

In this case, I created an image in the shape of an S. You can use keyframes and Beziér control points to create an almost unlimited number of shapes.

This same technique can be uses to have something fly from off-screen to on-screen — or make an exit by flying off-screen.

The techniques shown here are simple to learn. Yet the combinations are almost endless.

Have fun.


Note: By the way, many Filter and Motion tab parameters allow their height to be adjusted. If you see a thin double-line separating two parameters, drag it down to increase the height of a parameter setting. For instance, both the Scale and Rotation parameters have adjustable heights.

UPDATE – June 16, 2009

Tom Wolsky also points out:

For the PIP (Picture-in-Picture) effect I’d like to mention Piero Fiorani’s free plugins. He’s primarily an FCE user and some of them are really for that application, but he has a Quarter PIP filter as well as an easy-to-use motion control (Ken Burns) filter. http://web.mac.com/piero.fiorani/PieroF_FCE_Effect

Larry replies: Thanks, Tom.

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