Creating Custom-sized Sequences

Posted on by Larry

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

You may have heard that Final Cut sequences can be customized. But what you may not know is how significantly you can make changes — as long as you don’t want to play the results on a DVD or record them to video tape.

However, since more and more material is moving directly to the web, the ability to create eye-catching video using Final Cut in non-standard ways is worth exploring.

So, let’s make a giant turn off the straight path to video output and see what we can do to make things more interesting.

First, keep in mind that in order for a video to play on the web, it needs to be compressed. Specifically, compressed using the H.264 codec. This means that all we need to do in Final Cut is to create the master file that will then be compressed for the web.

Also, within Final Cut, as soon as you move away from standard video image sizes, you’ll need to render — but, if you were to create a special effect in After Effects, you’d render there, too. Think of this as another of Final Cut’s special effects and don’t let the rendering deter you.

Let’s create a long, horizontal clip of a train running through an entire valley. The shot we are going to use was shot on a misty morning along the Amtrak line near Pismo Beach in California.


Here is a standard DV clip. As we know, a DV image is 720 x 480. But, what happens if we change that.

Start by going to Sequence > Settings.


First, change the Aspect Ratio pop-up to Custom (not Custom 3:2).

Then, change the image size to something unusual — in this case, I’ll use 720 x 200. That keeps the horizontal part of the image, but severely crops the vertical.

NOTE: Final Cut sequences have a maximum dimension of 4,000 pixels on a side.

Since I’m working with DV video, I’ll leave the Pixel Aspect Ratio alone. I don’t want to change the shape of the video pixels, merely the shape of the sequence it plays in.

Next, change the Compressor to Animation. This codec is the highest quality codec you can use in Final Cut. The only problem is that is generates HUGE file sizes and, in most cases, can’t be played in real-time.

However, since this will be compressed for the web, which WILL allow the clip to play in real-time, we don’t care about real-time playback in FCP.

Click OK to save your changes.


Note the entirely different look of the Canvas! Now, when we edit our video into the timeline, watch what happens.


Hmm… we get a dialog. In this case, we do NOT want to change the sequence settings to match the video. Click No.

NML Release

Hmmm…, again. Now our video looks severely pillar-boxed. That’s because whenever the image size and sequence size don’t match, Final Cut will always scale the image so that the entire image fits into the sequence.

In this case, we don’t want that. We need to enlarge the image so that it completely fills the sequence.


So, double-click the clip in the timeline to load it into the Viewer, click the Motion tab, and change the scale to 100%. (In our case, the scale was reduced to 41.67% in order for the entire image to fit.


The last thing we need to adjust is the vertical position of the image. Because we don’t see the entire image, we may need to tweak it so that the best part of the image fits into our new frame.

In this case, I need to the train a bit so that it doesn’t disappear under the bottom of the frame.

Do this by changing the Center settings in the Motion tab. The left box controls horizontal position. Set this to 0 so that the image doesn’t move horizontally. Change the right box to move the train up or down until it fits the best in the frame. In this example, I raised it 68 pixels.


Here’s our finished video in a custom-made sequence.


If you want to see this in motion, you can either render it – which because we are using the Animation codec may, or may not, play on your system. Or, what I tend to do, is put the playhead where I want playback to start and press Option+P. This plays a sequence that requires rendering, without first rendering it. (It is slower than real-time, but it still plays!)


For instance, here is a sequence I created that is 1,440 x 200 pixels. In this case, I stacked two clips above each other, and moved the Center point of one to fill the left side of the sequence, while other clip’s center point was moved to fill the right. I then adjusted the vertical position so the tracks matched.

NOTE: This was actually two different trains, shot at different times, which you can tell because the train on the right ends before the train on the left.


So you can see the results for yourself, here’s a movie of our 720 x 200 sequence. (Silent — TRT: 0:37 4 MB — this may take a few moments to load.)


Even more dramatic, here’s a movie of our 1440 x 200 sequence. (Silent — TRT: 0:15 1.8 MB)

Both movies were compressed exporting out of QuickTime using the H.264 codec.

Imagine what you could do with movies shaped like this — or any other size — on your website – or in digital signage – or on any computer monitor! Just remember, you can’t play movies like this on a TV set.

This is fun!


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