Resizing Shots in Final Cut Studio: The Letterbox

Crops… are all well and good, but sometimes you’d rather retain the complete, original image. For example, if you need to make a 4:3 dailies tape which contains 16:9 elements, you’d better be sure the whole image is there in case anything important is happening at the edges. In this case, what you need is a letterbox, rather than a crop.

A letterbox retains the original shape of the footage, typically filling the rest of the frame with black (in the case of Final Cut Pro and Motion, the underlying layers provide the rest of the frame, or if there are no underlying layers, the background colour is used). By default FCP will letterbox any footage that doesn’t fit the timeline completely, automatically scaling it so that either the top and bottom or the left and right edges fit completely within the frame. This means that ordinarily you don’t need to do anything to letterbox footage. If for some reason you do (and are happy to use FCP’s scaling process to do it), the easiest way is to adjust the scaling parameter until it looks right. If you need it pixel-accurate, you’ll have to get your calculator out and plug in some numbers to get the exact percentage:

( width of timeline output / width of footage ) x 100

Repeat this for the timeline output and footage heights and compare the two results. For a perfect letterbox, use the lower percentage. Conversely, for a perfect crop, use the larger percentage.

crop-original
Starting with your original image–

 crop-cropped
–crop to fill the frame–

crop-letterbox
–or letterbox to keep the whole image.

Tip: To have FCP letterbox everything in a sequence use: Modify / Scale To Sequence

The only sure-fire way to check which shots Final Cut Pro has seen fit to resize automatically is to look at the motion tab for each shot. Make this easier for yourself by setting the canvas sync to Open, then quickly spool through the timeline with the Motion tab open.

The next part of this series will look at aspect ratios.

(Images featured in this article are Copyright 2007 BBC Worldwide Inc.)

Posted: February 7th, 2008
Categories: Articles, Tips & Tricks
Tags: , , , ,

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