Creating Distorted Image Effects in Final Cut Pro

Posted on by Larry

[ This article was first published in the June, 2006, issue of
Larry’s Final Cut Pro Newsletter. Click here to subscribe. ]


Sometimes, a simple effect can create some interesting results. In this technique, I want to show you how to use clip distortion to create an interesting opening title sequence. This is a bit tricky, so give yourself time to work through it.

Distortion, also called “corner pinning,” allows us to change the shape of the frame from a rectangle to a parallelogram, then modify it using keyframes so it changes over time.

Here’s what the effect looks like when it’s done: a relatively boring quad-split. The interesting part is how we get there. (And, if you are impatient, here’s an 824 KB Quicktime movie that shows the entire effect.)

The secret to this effect is using the Distort tool to modify the corners of each clip so they seem to extrude into their new position. Here’s how to create this effect yourself.

Find four video clips and edit them to the time. In this case, my V1 clip, which forms the background, runs 25 seconds. The top clips all run the same amount of time: 5:16. There is nothing special about these durations.

Position the start of the V2, v3 and V4 clips so they start about 2:00 into your sequence.

From the third pop-up menu, select Image & Wireframe. This allows you to manipulate the size of the frame.

From the first pop-up menu, select a scale small enough so that you can see a gray edge around your image. Here, I am using 50%.

Double-click the V4 clip to load it into the Viewer and select the Motion tab. Twirl down the triangle next to Distort so you can see the settings. Each of these four pairs of numbers represents the location of a corner of the clip.

Final Cut uses 0,0 to represent the center of the image. The left-hand number controls the horizontal position of the image and the right-hand number controls the vertical position. Negative numbers are left of center horizontally and above center vertically. Positive numbers are to the right and down.

What we are going to do is set a series of distortion key frames, then manually position the corners of the image to give us the extrusion effect. Then, we will copy the settings to the other clips and modify them so each clip flies to its own corner.

Put your playhead at the beginning of the clip (Shift+i). On the keypad, not the keyboard, type + (the plus key), 30, and press Enter. This jumps the playhead 30 frames in.

Click the set keyframe diamond to create a keyframe for all four corners.

On the keypad, type +, 15, Enter to jump forward 15 frames and set four more keyframes. Do this three times until you have four sets of keyframes, each 15 frames apart.

There’s no magic to the 15 frames. The speed of an effect is determined by how close the keyframes are. The closer the keyframes, the faster things move.

Using the small left-pointing arrow next to the keyframe diamond, move back to the second keyframe. Using these small arrows guarantees that you are jumping exactly from one keyframe to another.

Since the first keyframe determines your starting position, none of these numbers change. We will start our effect by changing the second set of keyframes.

From the tool palette, click and hold the Crop tool. Drag over and select the Distort tool, or type D.

Select the clip on V4 in the timeline. Notice that a cyan border now appears around it in the Canvas.

Using the Distort tool, click, hold and drag the upper left corner until the numbers in the Upper Left position boxes say 50, -240. One of the benefits of using the Distort tool is speed. Using the Motion tab to monitor settings gives you accuracy.

What I often do is use the Distort tool to let me rough-in the effect, then make final adjustments by entering numbers in the Motion tab.

We’ve now started the distortion process.

Move to the next keyframe and through a combination of using the Distortion tool and typing, make the following adjustments:

Upper Left 50 -240 Upper Right


(no change)


(no change) Lower Right (no change) (no change) Lower Left 0 0

Move to the last keyframe and make the following adjustments:

Upper Left 0 -240 Upper Right


(no change)


(no change) Lower Right 360 0 Lower Left 0 0

Changing the Upper Left position on this last keyframe helps with the ooze factor.

Select the top clip and copy it to the clipboard. Select the clips on V2 and V3. The clip on V1 acts as the background, so it doesn’t need to move. You can move if you want to, but, in this case, there’s no need.

Select Edit > Paste Attributes

Make sure Scale Attributes is NOT checked, and check Distort. You’ve now pasted the keyframes and all their settings into the selected clips.

Double click the V3 clip and change the keyframe settings so it flies into the upper left corner.

Double click the V2 clip and change it’s keyframe settings so it flies into the lower right corner.

One last thing to do is to make the timing work by offsetting the clips. Position all the clips so the V4 clips starts at the beginning of your timeline. Select the V3 clip and type +, 30, Enter. The clip jumps 30 frames to the right.

Select the V2 clips and type +, 60, Enter. The clip jumps 60 frames to the right.

Position the start of the V1 clip so it starts at the same time as the V2 clip.

Ta-DAH! Done. (Whew!)

In my version, I added audio and a dissolve from the upper clips back to the background clip, but I’ll let you figure that out by yourself.

I don’t use this effect very much, because it’s kind of a pain to set up. But it can create some very nice effects that you just can’t get any other way. And now you know how to create it as well.

To view my finished movie, click here:

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