When you use Final Cut Pro to edit a program, the first file you create is the project file. It contains references to media files and provides the interface to control video machines from which you capture or digitize source material for use in your program. These media files are represented as clips within the project file. A clip in Final Cut Pro is a "pointer" file to the actual QuickTime movie or other computer-generated file, like a Photoshop file. It's not the file itself; it's a reference to it, stored as reference information within your project file.
After deciding which video resolution you will work with, the project file is where you work until you are finished editing. Think of the process like this:
Create a project.
Copy your footage into your computer.
Import footage to your project file by means of reference files (clips). Most of the time, this is part of the logging and capturing process.
Cut and paste your clips much like a word processor does with words (keeping this edit decision information in your project file as well).
Record it back out to your master tape, or export it as a movie file for use on DVDs, CDs, or the web.
Delete the large media files (so that you free up disk space to work with a new project), keeping the project file as a backup in case you want to recapture footage later and restore your program to your computer.
This process is nondestructive in nature. This means that the captured footage on your computer is not modified in any way during the process. For example, if you changed the color characteristics of a given shot, the computer would not alter your original file in any way. You might have to render this change, and the computer would create another media file, which is a copy of the original with the color corrections. Rest assured that if all is set up properly and you have a fast-enough Mac, you won't have to render every file or effect you decide to use in your program. When you play your edited sequence, Final Cut Pro plays this rendered file instead of the original media file only if you have programmed a change in that original file's appearance and your computer isn't fast enough to create this new effect without rendering it to a new media file. Thus, if you add a cross-dissolve from one shot to another, only the dissolve might need to be rendered.
What you create with Final Cut Pro is really a list of commands instructing the computer to play back specific files in a specific order, whether they are the original media files or the newer , modified rendered files. This is why it's best to keep your project files on a physically different disk drive than the one your media files are played back on. You get the benefit of more than one disk drive accessing and playing your program.
After you've edited your program and you are satisfied, you go through a process of recording this finished program on a videotape, or you output compressed media files for use on the web, a DVD, or a CD (or even all of these for the same program). Final Cut Pro 4 adds a new program to its arsenal of tools called Compressor for the creation of these distribution files.
Different Macintoshes and Real-Time Effects
One thing holds true with most digital video editors. Faster computers make for a more satisfying editing experience. This is more relevant in Final Cut Pro 4 than in previous releases. With this release of Final Cut Pro, Apple has "loosened" the reigns on real-time effects. Real-time effects are any effect or set of effects that you don't have to render in order to see the effect's playback.
The faster and more powerful the CPU, disk drives , and video display card you have installed on your Macintosh, the more real-time effects you can experience. Not only can you see more in real time, but you render considerably faster, too. In a professional situation, this can become crucial.
You can use many combinations of real-time effects (those listed in bold type in Final Cut Pro) and still have real-time playback, depending on the speed and number of processors in your computer. Final Cut Pro 4's new rendering engine allows you to attempt to play back any number of layers of real-time video and audio effects. Computers with dual processors have a definite performance advantage over those with single processors. Each effects operation you apply to a clip or layers of clips makes more (or fewer) demands on your computer's processing capabilities, depending on the effect (some make more demands on your computer than others). When the total processing demands of all combined effects exceed your system's capabilities, you need to render before you can play back.
Each user needs to experiment to see where the threshold of his or her computer makes it necessary for a render to take place.
Learning OS X
You must run OS X to even install Final Cut Pro 4. In fact, you must be running system 10.2.5 or later. Apple's new operating system is no less than a triumph. It's easy to learn and far more stable than any of its predecessors. I highly recommend that you learn this OS and use it to run all your Macintosh applications. OS X is more intuitive, it manages your memory much better than earlier versions, and it's much easier on the eyes. I recommend that you buy a book on OS X and learn how to use it. You will be a better editor and technician for it. Because this is a highly technical field of endeavor, your skills as an editor will be greatly enhanced by your knowledge of your computer and how its operating system works.
Let me give you a scenario. You are working on an edit for a client who is sitting with you in your editing bay. Your computer acts up, or one of its settings is not allowing you to do the work at hand. Rather than wait for tech support, which might come too late, your knowledge of how your operating system works comes to the rescue. Your client is impressed. As desktop video editors proliferate (and they are by the thousands these days), editors who have a working technical knowledge of their systems will be in high demand. Clients will trust that you can get the work done on time, and within budget, if they also know that your computer skills are top- notch . This means repeat and referral business for you. Most of the business I've garnered over the past 25 years or so came to me from repeat and referrals. That's just how show business works.