Final Cut Pro X: Create a Ken Burns Effect

Posted on by Larry

The Ken Burns effect does a move – a pan, tilt, zoom or combination of all three – on an image.

The Ken Burns effect, named after legendary filmmaker Ken Burns who popularized this technique, creates smooth moves on still images in the Final Cut timeline.

While this effect can be used on video clips, you’ll get the best results using it to create moves on high-resolution stills.

Here’s my first example: An image that fills the frame. I want to create a move that zooms from full frame into the berries.


Understanding bitmaps is essential to getting good results with the Ken Burns effect. All digital images – both still and moving – are composed of bitmaps. Bitmaps are rectangular grids of pixels, which are fixed in size and resolution.

For example, a typical HD image is a bitmap 1,920 pixels wide by 1,080 pixels high for a total of 2,073,600 pixels. That’s it. No more and no less; and each frame is the same.

The upshot of all this is that scaling images smaller does not damage image quality, while scaling images larger makes them look blurry – because we are stretching fewer source pixels across more space than they were originally captured to fill.

To compensate for this, if we know we are going to zoom into (enlarge) an image, we need to create an original source image with more pixels than the frame it will fill.

For example, if I want to zoom into an image so that the image doubles in size, or I want to start at the bottom of an image and tilt up to the top, I would need to create a source image with more pixels to accommodate the zoom or tilt.

Here’s a table with some potential image sizes.

Source image2X4X
1280 x 720 pixels2560 x 14405120 x 2880
1920 x 1080 pixels3840 x 21607680 x 4320
3840 x 2160 pixels7680 x 432015,360 x 8640


NOTE: While Final Cut Pro X does not have a specific limit to still images, I’ve run into problems when importing images with more than 10,000 pixels on a side.

Keep this need for higher resolution stills in mind when creating your images. This is why video does not work well with a Ken Burns move – video doesn’t have enough pixels in each frame to move around an image.


Here’s how to create a Ken Burns effect using the image I illustrated at the beginning of this tutorial.

NOTE: You can also select this option from the Crop section in the Video Inspector, but I find this small menu faster.

NOTE: The Ken Burns effect always begins at the first frame of a clip – even if that frame is under a transition – and ends on the last frame of a clip. If you need the move to start or end in the middle of clip, you’ll need to use keyframes to animate position and scale settings.

NOTE: The Ken Burns effect creates video that must fully fill the frame at all times. For this reason, we can’t rotate images or scale outside the image itself.


To re-display the Ken Burns boxes and controls, click this icon at the top of the Crop box in the Video Inspector. (Blue means the on-screen controls are displayed.)

To change the speed of the zoom, change the duration of the clip in the timeline. Longer clips create slower moves. (The duration of the timeline clip determines the speed of the move.)

By default, the Ken Burns effect starts and ends slowly. To change acceleration, control-click anywhere inside the frame and select the option that works best for your project.

I tend to like Linear, but that’s purely a personal preference and depends upon the direction of the move.


You can use the Ken Burns effect for vertical images as well. In this screen shot, I turned on Safe Zones, so you can see the edge of the frame in the Viewer.

NOTE: Don’t worry about black on the edges, you’ll fix this next.


The Ken Burns effect makes creating moves on stills very easy. However, there are several situations where it will make more sense to create moves using keyframes:


The Ken Burns effect makes creating moves on still images fun and easy. When used properly it can quickly bring a still image to life.

As with every effect in Final Cut, the Ken Burns effect works best when used sparingly and where the speed of the move does not call attention to itself.

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3 Responses to Final Cut Pro X: Create a Ken Burns Effect

  1. Tom Wheeler says:


    Thanks for the fine tutorial on the Ken Burn Effect in FCP X. I have found that the free (on FXFactory) plugin Pan and Zoom makes creating Ken Burns Effects easy and precise. It avoids having to set key frames when you want the effect to start after the still image and end before the end of the still image, which is something that I almost always desire. I create a lot of video slide shows and Pan and Zoom is something I use all the time.


  2. Chuck Cox says:


    Your tutorials are priceless. Learning new tricks do work even for us “old” dogs. In this tutorial I think you might have made a slight error. To quote: “video doesn’t have enough pixels in each frame to move around an image.” It has been my experience when setting a project for 1920X1080 and importing 4K footage, I have the option of zooming in approximately 50%. I’ve used this to reframe video a number of times in the past. Your rule of not going beyond the limitation of format size is absolutely correct, but by using higher rez footage, one can “magnify the image to some degree. Keep up the great work!!

    Chuck C.

    • Larry says:


      You make a good point. I should have written: “video doesn’t have enough pixels in each frame to move around an image UNLESS you import a higher resolution image (like 4K) into a lower resolution project (like 1080p).”

      The key point I want to make was that the Ken Burns effect won’t look good if you try to do moves on images that have the same resolution as the project.


      P.S. Thanks for the kind words. I enjoy writing these tutorials and I am always grateful for comments and corrections.

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