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Final Cut Pro and Photoshop Layer Styles
How to create outline text for use in FCP 2

by Paulo de Andrade
[email protected]

There are many reasons to import Photoshop files into Final Cut Pro. But if I had to pick only one, it would be to create title (CG) pages. Let's face it: The text capabilities in Final Cut Pro leave a lot to be desired! We are already in version 2.0, and we can't do a simple outline in most modes! Apple has one of the very best nonlinear editing applications out there, regardless of price. Yet it has separate text generators, each with a subset of features, instead of a single, complete one. While there's an outline text generator, the Lower 3rd generator, for example, doesn't have outline options.

The lack of outlines often makes text very hard to read. FCP 1.x doesn't even give you an outline option. So the most logical solution would be to use Photoshop to create title pages. We like to do this here at DMN TV, anyway, just because composing CG pages in Photoshop is a lot quicker.

Another good reason for us to use Photoshop for tile pages is the fact that we use a Matrox RTMac card. This is an awesome card that gives you a lot of real-time capabilities. But, like most real-time systems, it has a limit on the number of layers it can handle before it requires rendering. In the RTMac's case, the limit is three layers. They can be a combination of two video plus one graphics layer or two graphics plus one video layer. This means that if you have a video dissolve and you want to super a title over a textured bar with a logo over the video, you must render. And this is exactly what happens when you use FCP's outline text generator on a layer plus the textured bar with the logo on another.

While importing Photoshop files with layers in Final Cut Pro is pretty straightforward, we have been very frustrated with another FCP problem: It won't recognize Photoshop layer effects (or styles). Therefore, while we can easily add outlines to text using the stroke layer style in the Adobe's program, we can't see the outlines once we load the files into Final Cut Pro.

I have tried all kinds of workarounds, including exporting the Photoshop files in all sorts of formats, from tiff to tga. Unfortunately none of them worked. Because I don't give up too easily, no matter how late I must end up sleeping, I had to find a solution to this problem. And I did, by resorting to Adobe's other killer application, After Effects.

One of the countless cool features in After Effects is its ability to seamlessly import Photoshop layers while maintaining all their styles. Since After Effects is also capable of exporting movie frames as stills, I figured it would be able to export a file that I could use in Final Cut Pro. Any file format that preserves the alpha channel would work, so I chose tga. This trick worked flawlessly and, as a result, our DMN TV CGs are now outlined.

Here's how the whole process works:

Enter your text in Photoshop... ...then add the Stroke layer style.

Open up Photoshop and create a new file. If you are working in DV, make sure that the file size is 720 x 480 pixels. If you are working in D1, the file size should be 720 x 486 pixels.

Using the text tool, enter your text in the desired size utilizing you favorite font. When done, open up the Layer menu and select Layer Style > Stroke (If you are using a Photoshop version earlier than 6, chose Effects instead of Style).

A simple gradient effect.

In order to obtain a good outline for video titles, its color should not only contrast with the main font color but also with the background. In this case I picked yellow for the font color and black for the stroke color. I also made the stroke size 3 pixels wide and positioned it outside. Blending mode was set to normal and opacity to 100%. Notice that while we would normally leave the fill type set to solid, you can create interesting metallic effects by setting it to gradient.

Once happy with your title page, save it as a regular Photoshop file using the default psd format. Close Photoshop and Open After Effects. Start with a new project and open a new composition using the same image dimensions of the tile page you just created in Photoshop (720 x 480, for example). Next open the File menu and select Import > File. Pick the file you have just created in Photoshop and import it as footage. When given the option to chose a layer, select Merged Layers.

Drag the file into your timeline and it will appear in your composition window. Notice that, in this particular case, we can't see the outline anymore. But that's just because the outline is black like After Effect's default background. So, don't worry about it because it is still there.

Photoshop file loaded in After Effects.

Next thing we want to do is set After Effects up to export single frames in the desired format. This is done in Templates > Output Module. To access this module you must pull down the File menu in versions 4.X of the software or the Edit menu in version 5. Once the window opens, make sure that Frame Default is set to Photoshop 32-bit.

Now we must edit the Photoshop 32-bit preset to give us a different file format to output. Next to the Settings Name dialog box you will see a small upside-down triangle. Click on it and select Photoshop 32-bit. Next, click on the Edit button. When the new window opens, change Format to Targa Sequence. Make sure that the Video Output box is checked and then click on the Format Options button. Select the 32 bits/pixel option and close all windows by clicking on the OK buttons.

In order to save your CG page, pull down the Composition menu and select Save Frame As > File. The file save window will open up and you will notice that the .tga extension is automatically appended to the file name. Rename the file as needed and save to the desired folder. Exit After Effects

Most 32-bit file formats should work.

Open Final Cut Pro and load the CG page you just saved by selecting Import > File under the File menu. Now just drag it to a layer above your video footage and you should have some nicely outlined text.

While the whole process may seem a little long, it actually takes very little time. Creating CG pages in Photoshop gives you the added advantage of ease of editing. If you must change the text in the future, just open the original file in Photoshop and double-click on the "T" button on the text layer. This will switch the program to text mode, enabling you to perform the desired changes.

The process outlined here allows you to utilize any Photoshop layer style or effect, including more than one at a time. This should not only make your Final Cut Pro CG pages more readable but a lot more interesting as well.

Other Solutions

I have received great feedback from our readers on this article, some including very nice alternative solutions to outline text problems in Final Cut Pro.

Reader Bill Davidson pointed out that there's an easy way inside of Photoshop itself to turn layer effects into raw pixel data:

After you have created your text, make sure you save your file as a regular Photoshop file. This is important in case you want to make changes to the text later on. If your text is in more than one layer, use the Layer > Merge Visible command to turn everything into a single layer. Apply the layer style and then right-click on the black circle with an "f" on the layer (the layer effects button). Select Create Layers. You will end up with a number of layers that depends on how many effects you had applied. Once again use the Layer > Merge Visible command to end up with a single layer (more on why you should do this in a bit). Save the file in the Photoshop file format but name it differently. Otherwise you'll overwrite your original file and you won't be able to perform further modifications. Import the file into FCP and you are set.

A good reason to merge the layers before saving the file is that Final Cut Pro will import Photoshop files with all of its individual layers. If you are using a real-time system, like an RTMac, these layers will count as individual FCP ones, even though you'll only see a single layer on the timeline (double click on this layer and you'll see another comp opening up with all the original, individual layers). As result, you'll end up processing several layers instead of one and you'll have to render the sequence. If you merge the layers in Photoshop before you save, FCP will only use a single layer and you'll be able to take advantage of real-time capabilities.

Reader Ross Kallen pointed out on the WWUG that DV uses non-square pixels while Photoshop uses square pixels. So, if you wish to maintain the proper aspect ratio of your text, logos and graphics, you should use 720 x 540 resolution instead of 720 x 480. Otherwise circles may turn into ovals, etc. Normally this is not a big problem with text but it can be with other graphic elements.

Reader Tony Laughton suggest using Adobe Imagestyler version 1 or Adobe LiveMotion. If you create any graphics or text in these programs and export as Photoshop files, they automatically create and include the effects and alpha channels.
According to him, these are very fast programs that come with lots of styles that you can edit and add to. They are also great for storing logos as they have a shapes folder where you can place eps files. With eps you can reuse and re-scale your graphics to any size without losses and re-export then as PSD files for use in FCP.
The image on the left is an example that he sent. According to Tony, it took less than two minutes to create it an Imagestyler.



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Stephen Schleicher is the producer of DMNTV, Video Systems, Millimeter and Digital WebCast and is the host of the Video Systems, Millimeter and Digital WebCast forums at the World Wide User Groups. He has taught at Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kansas, and at the American InterContinental University in Atlanta, Georgia, where he also ran his own animation company, Thunderhead Productions. Stephen also freelanced in the Atlanta area as a producer/editor for five years working on everything from training videos to live shows.