FCP X: Create an Adjustment Layer

Posted on by Sudd

Here is a really cool technique that Leo Hans suggested to me a long while ago. I finally had time to figure this out.

BACKGROUND

An “adjustment layer” is an object on a higher layer which, when an effect is placed into it, affects all the clips below it.

Adobe first presented adjustment layers in Photoshop, then extended them to Premiere Pro somewhere around the Creative Cloud release. They are very helpful because it means we can add an effect to a single “clip” that affects everything below it.

Final Cut Pro X doesn’t have them… but, you can fake it. This article explains how.

CREATE THE MASTER CLIP

The easiest way to create this effect is to use Motion.

While not critical, set the presets to match your typical video project for both format and effect duration. (You can always change the duration in Final Cut Pro X when you apply the effect.)

Then, click the Final Cut Title option. (This step is really important!)

Motion opens, displaying the standard title creation template.

Open the Layers panel (shortcut: F5), select the text layer and delete it. This is the only change you need to make.

Choose File > Save As, then give the effect a name. Here, I’m using “Adjustment Layer” and storing it in a custom category named “Larry.” You can name this effect anything and store it in any category you prefer.

I just like being obvious so I can remember what I did and where I put it.

APPLYING THE EFFECT IN FINAL CUT PRO X

I’ve found, when I create new templates, that FCP X does not always know something new has been created. So, if FCP X is running, I generally quit and restart it. That way, it refreshes the list of templates available in each browser.

When I select the Larry category, the Adjustment Layer effect is visible in the top left corner.

Here’s a stack of three clips in the Timeline…

That looks like this in the Viewer.

Drag the Adjustment Layer effect from the Titles Browser and put it on TOP of all three clips.

Adjust the length of the Adjustment Layer clip to run whatever duration you need.

Now – and this is the magical part – add any effect to the Adjustment Layer and it will automatically apply to all the clips below it!

For example, here’s the Black & White effect. When I drop it on top of the Adjustment Layer effect…

This is the result. ALL the clips below the Adjustment Layer effect now inherit the Black & White effect.

NOTE: This technique works for any effect – including Broadcast Safe. In fact, using this Adjustment Layer effect for the Broadcast Safe effect is faster and more flexible than combining all your clips into a compound clip.

SUMMARY

This is a very fast, very easy technique to use whenever you want the same effect to be applied to multiple clips. And, I am totally blown-away by how fast and easy this makes using the Broadcast Safe effect to prevent excessive white levels.

Very cool!


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59 Responses to FCP X: Create an Adjustment Layer

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  1. Erik Graham says:

    So just to confirm. This is comparable to combing clips (per the tip in your color correction video)… In other words it applies broadcast safe AFTER color correction on the individual clips.

    • Erik:

      I haven’t tested all the possible combinations of effects, but, based on what I’ve seen so far, I would say the answer is yes, the “Adjustment Layer” is applied after effects contained in the clips below it.

      However, it has NO effect on any clips placed above it.

      Larry

  2. Ron B says:

    Any chance of somebody posting a download for this? I’m currently stuck on an older version of Motion with no immediate upgrade plans, so a download-able “adjustment layer” would be nice.

  3. I just got done fixing color on 3 hours’ worth of clips, one clip a ta time. How would you compare using this adjustment layer trick to the old copy/paste attributes 2-step process applied to individual clips? Is there a situation where one is “better” than the other?

    • Mark:

      If all your color adjustments are the same, the Adjustment Layer is a faster / better option.

      If all the clips need to be adjusted different, copy/paste would be a better option.

      Larry

  4. Larry, that is such a time saver. By creating a dedicated Broadcast safe effect, I have tried to improve a little to the time saving by adding the Broadcast safe filter in Motion before saving to FCPX. That way I can save adding the filter to the clip each time in FCPX and for us Non USA people, not having to switch from the NTSC default each time.

    I noticed that The FCPX inspector does not display the filter addition but it does effect all clips below, as if it were added in FCPX directly. So by publishing the filter in Motion, before saving, it will also show in the inspector’s “Published Parameters” under the Title tab.

  5. Josh Rushton says:

    I assume you can add more than one filter to the Adjustment Layer, correct?

  6. Fascinating idea, Larry (and Leo)! That was easy. I remember you saying a while back that a gradient filter placed over video acted like a polarizing filter, which I used to good effect in FCP7. I’m sure the same goes for FCPX.
    Just to complete the lesson, can you explain why this adjustment layer idea works? What is it that’s built into the title effect in Motion that gives it this quality?

  7. scot yount says:

    Confused. Can’t this same thing be done by using a “White Generator” and setting the compositing to “multiply”?

    • Larry says:

      Scot:

      That depends. Yes, for some effects, but you couldn’t use a generator to remove all the colors, or blur an image, or apply Broadcast Safe.

      Larry

  8. Thank you Larry! Works like a charm. You could use this to grade an entire project.

  9. Erik says:

    This has really been a great tip.
    Now that I’ve used it for awhile, the one slight problem I’ve found is that it doesn’t always work well with key frames. Lets see if I can articulate this clearly.

    Lets say you have 3 clips that are each 10 seconds long. Above that you create a 30 second long adjustment layer. In that adjustment layer, lets say you have some key frames set. For example, in a recent project, I was using Letterbox and key framing Offset throughout to keep the subject in the center of the frame. If you remove, or even just trim one of those underlying 10 second clips, the keyframes in the adjustment layer will no longer be in the right place (well, only the key frames after the clip that you cut/trimmed). Does that make sense?

    Anyway, the obvious solution is to just be careful and aware of what happens. Ideally you would do all your editing in the main timeline before you apply any keyframes in the adjustment layer.

  10. nick says:

    This tutorial is great, thanks Larry! I was having an issue where the adjustment layer was showing up as a missing text layer. This is because I opened the project from my Macbook as opposed to my Mac Pro (where I originally created the adjustment layer). I often need to work from abroad, so I work off of an external SSD via the laptop/tower. I have the same version of Motion on both machines. I assumed the layer showed up as missing because FCPX was looking for the category in which I placed the adjustment layer in…and it only existed in the FCPX on my Mac Pro! So, on my Macbook, I created the adjustment layer again, naming it AND the category the same as I did on my Mac Pro…and BOOM…problem solved!

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