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Image Sequences in Final Cut Pro

Importing sequences while maintaining alpha channels By Dave Nagel
A reader wrote in to me last week with a problem he was having with Final Cut Pro. The problem: importing an image sequence. It occurred to me then that I had never even thought of doing this in Final Cut Pro, let alone tried it. My immediate inclination was that FCP ought to handle image sequences the way any other program does--especially since it's from Apple--and that the issue was with the images themselves, not the import process. Not even close.

Now, we can argue all day about how this process should be handled. But the fact remains that FCP does not, in fact, handle image sequences like any other program.

Rather, if you try to import an image sequence directly in Final Cut Pro, you wind up with a folder full of images in your Browser window that do not behave as frames, but as individual clips. This is certainly desirable for image overlays in your video--probably the most common use of still graphics files in Final Cut Pro--but not for converting still images into a sequence. You'd have to go in and manually set the duration for each one of the images to 1/29.97 of a second, which isn't a prospect any of us could get too excited about.

Or, as several readers have suggested, you could change the default "Still/Freeze Duration" setting to 00:00:00:01 in your General Preferences, then manually change the duration of any other graphics you choose to import (or simply keep changing your Still/Freeze Duration preference every time you import a file). I'm not a big fan of this approach either, though it might work well for some of you.

The obvious solution is to use an external program to convert your series of images into a video clip. But how do you do this while maintaining your images' original alpha channels to preserve transparency once they're inside Final Cut Pro? And what if you don't at this very moment have access to a program like Adobe After Effects for doing this? The answer is fairly simple, but it's one you might not stumble on by yourself: QuickTime Pro.

Now, every copy of Final Cut Pro comes with a license for QuickTime Pro, so this process doesn't involve any extra expense. Here's how it works.

1. Open the QuickTime Pro Player, located in the Applications folder, as well as in the Dock in Mac OS X.

2. Choose File > Open Image Sequence.

3. Assuming that all of your images are in a numbered sequence contained by themselves in their own folder, select the first image in the sequence, and hit the Return key.

4. In the dialog that pops up, enter your desired framerate.

5. Now choose File > Save, and, in the dialog that pops up, choose the option called "Save normally (allowing dependencies)."

This will create a very small reference movie that's there basically to tell programs how to handle the external images it links to. As long as you keep your original images somewhere accessible, it will behave in all ways like a normal QuickTime movie, but it will leave the images--including alpha channels--completely in tact. (In fact, you can do just about anything you want with the images themselves--including renaming them or moving them to other folders--just as long as they remain accessible to the reference movie. But it's probably best just to leave them in their original location with their original names ... just in case.)

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