Editing 360 video with Final Cut Pro

Editing 360 video with Final Cut Pro

Final Cut Pro is a fast, highly capable video editor with good support for monoscopic and stereo 360 video. Setting things up is the key to getting the best from the software, and this guide will get you started.

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Categories:Skills & Principles
Tags:360 VideoFormatsPost ProductionSoftware ToolsVideo Editing
Skill Level:

Read Time: 5 Minutes

Updated 11/11/2022


Final Cut Pro is a stable and fast tool with native support for 360 video editing, with presets for monoscopic and stereoscopic resolutions up to 8k and frame rates up to 60fps. It lacks explicit support for 180 media or spatializing audio, but as a 360 video editor it is highly capable and relatively easy to use. This guide will help you configure Final Cut Pro for editing your 360 footage.

Setting up

Start by choosing File > New > Project. After giving this project a relevant name, click Use Custom Settings and set these to the preferred values yourself. Letting Final Cut determine the settings from your first clip is normally perfectly legitimate, but it will regard it as just a 2:1 ratio rectilinear video and won’t set the project to use the 360 format option. Settings can be adjusted later if required, but you will have to remove everything from the timeline before the 360 option will be offered. For that reason it is best to take charge from the start; we’ll walk through the custom settings method and explain the important choices as we go.

When Use Custom Settings is clicked, the New Project dialog expands to show a set of options. Start with the Video set of controls; from the Format popup menu, choose 360 as the format. Set Projection Type to the format of your video, either 360 Monoscopic or 360 Stereoscopic. Pick the appropriate resolution from the popup menu above this; it should contain only 360-specific resolution options from 4k up to 8k, either 2:1 ratio for monoscopic or 1:1 for stereoscopic. The frame rate should match your video.

Next, in the Rendering section, pick the codec and color space that suits your project needs – this will typically be Apple ProRes 422 and Rec. 709 unless there are specific reasons for targeting different settings.

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To adjust these settings later then select the event in the Libraries sidebar on the left, then choose Window > Project Properties (Command-J) to open the Property pane in the Inspector panel. Click the Modify button to open the Custom Settings dialog. (If a message appears about changing the color processing settings this means you’re trying to modify the library properties rather than the project properties. Click Cancel and select Window > Project Properties before proceeding.)

ProRes technical backgrounder

Apple has published a white paper on the ProRes family of codecs. While it isn’t required reading it is a very clear detailed explanation of the different ProRes codecs and how they work. See the Apple ProRes White Paper PDF, and see the Apple ProRes RAW PDF for an even deeper dive into ProRes development.

Customizing Final Cut Pro’s preferences

Most of Final Cut Pro’s preferences are likely to be fine as they are, but there are a few options that may be worth considering or at least noting for possible future use. In the Preferences window (select Final Cut Pro > Preferences), choose the Import tab. The Transcode options will be unchecked by default, but you can have footage converted automatically to the Final Cut-native Apple ProRes 422 format as it is imported. The option to create proxy media can also be useful if you wish to work with lower resolution versions of your footage for better playback performance while you edit. 5.7k and 8k are fairly common resolutions for 360 footage, so this can be useful if you’re having edit performance problems due to large media.

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Previewing 360 video

Final Cut Pro has a built-in 360 viewer that can be used to check the appearance of footage in a standard interactive 360 projection. This appears to the left of the main viewer pane where the equirectangular view is shown.

The 360 viewer defaults to a 90° field of view, but the slider above the display can change this from a super-tight 45° to a weirdly wide 175°. Note that from around 130° the boundary limits of the viewer are visible. You may also notice that setting a very narrow field of view shows geometric distortions. Fortunately both these issues are just from the 360 viewer’s engine rather than the footage itself.

In the Settings drop-down menu at the top of the 360 viewer the Show Overlays option can be useful, and if working with stereoscopic footage there are a selection of different ways to view the left/right eye content, including anaglyph for testing stereoscopic content using standard red/cyan glasses. Apple’s documentation mentions previewing Final Cut Pro work in a headset, but this only works with the discontinued Rift headset and requires the now-unsupported SteamVR software so it isn’t currently something that’s worth trying.

Troubleshooting the 360 viewer

If the 360 viewer just shows black it may be because the clip is not identified as equirectangular. To fix this, click the main preview panel then look in the Inspector to its right. Set the 360° Projection Mode to Equirectangular (and check that you’re using the correct option in the Stereoscopic Mode just below this) and the 360 viewer should now work. Another reason could be that your project itself isn’t defined as a 360 one. Fixing this requires emptying the timeline, showing the Project Properties panel in the Inspector (Window > Project Properties), clicking the Modify button, and setting Format to 360. Unfortunately this doesn’t always work and the project may need to be recreated from scratch, so the lesson is always set this when first creating a project in Final Cut Pro.

360 Effects

Final Cut Pro ships with several VR-specific effects and transitions. It is important to remember that many traditional effects and transitions may not work perfectly because of the way the image is warped, and they can cause a visible seam line where the sides wrap around and meet. Be sure to use VR-specific versions of these, especially when attempting to apply blur or sharpen effects.

Open the Effects Browser by choosing Window > Show in Workspace > Effects (or typing Command-5), then click the 360° item to browse the 360-aware effects. It’s essentially the same for the Transitions browser; choose Window > Show in Workspace > Transitions (or type Command-Control-5) and select ‘360°’ from the list to see the full range of 360-aware transitions. It may be interesting to explore other effects and transitions, but these are unlikely to play well with the zenith and nadir (top and bottom) of a 360 scene or the seam line where the sides wrap around and join.

Exporting 360 media

Exporting the project is simple, but it is important to use the right presets as most of these are designed for traditional rectilinear footage. First, if working with proxy media to improve performance while editing very large files, make sure to export using the original full-resolution files. Open the View dropdown menu that’s at the top-right of the main Viewer playback panel and pick Optimized/Original in the Media Playback section.

Click the Share button at the right-hand end of the top toolbar. Of the eight presets in Final Cut Pro’s default Share list there are two that are intended for 360 media; YouTube & Facebook, and Export File (which may be named Master File in some versions of Final Cut Pro).

The YouTube & Facebook option creates a file tailored to the requirements of video-sharing platforms including YouTube, Facebook and Vimeo. Set the desired output resolution as this defaults to a tiny 640x320 pixels (or 640x640 for stereoscopic content). Currently it also tops out at 4096x2048, so for anything larger than 4k this isn’t the best export method.

The Export File preset is more flexible as it outputs to the resolution of the project itself. As a result it supports generating 5.7k and 8k footage without fuss, but it won’t export at a resolution different from the project’s setting. To work around this, change the video resolution of the project itself first: choose Window > Project Properties, click the Modify button in the Project Inspector panel on the right, and choose the video format and resolution you prefer.

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Spatial audio

Final Cut Pro does not currently support ambisonic audio natively. If using spatialized audio this must be mixed separately and muxed with the video in post using software such as GAudio Works or FB360 Encoder. The GAudio Works plugin adds full spatializing and immersive export controls to ProTools.