Final Cut Pro X has gone through a lot of changes since it first debuted as a reboot back in 2011. Since then, the app has grown up significantly, but it’s been able to retain its relatively low barrier to entry in the process. Final Cut Pro X is remarkably simple to learn, but it has a fairly high ceiling for growth.
In this initial tutorial, I’m going to cover some of the basics about one of the fundamental aspects of Final Cut Pro X: library management. Knowing how Libraries are created and what they contain is extremely important. It’s one of the first steps in really getting to know Final Cut Pro X.
The basic user-facing file organization structure used by Final Cut Pro X consists of three levels. At the top-most level, you have Libraries. Libraries hold all content related to the media that you work with within Final Cut Pro X. You can have as many Libraries as you wish, and you have the option of opening or closing Libraries on the fly. Libraries can be stored locally on disk or on an external disk. You can even store a Library on a local disk and have it reference media from an external location.
Events are stored within Libraries, and every Library must contain at least one Event. In most cases, your Libraries will host multiple Events relating to different Projects. In my workflows, I generally use a dedicated Event for every Project that I work on.
When you create a new Library, an Event is automatically created along with that Library. Think of Events as being virtual containers that hold all of your media assets. In actuality, an Event is a collection of media stored within a folder named after the Event. That Event is managed by an associated database file contained within the same Event folder.
Outside of individual media clips, Projects are the lowest level structural item in Final Cut Pro X; it’s what your final exported videos are made from. Projects contain data about resolution, frame rate, audio sample rate, and render format.
Media contained within Events is placed strategically within a Project timeline. Once the Project timeline is arranged in a way that’s satisfactory to the editor, the Project can be exported into a media format of your choosing.
Projects contain all of the data about the edits you make on the timeline. As such, Projects also have their own folder on disk, and contain a database file for referencing those edits.
Folders in Final Cut Pro X don’t actually work like folders in OS X’s Finder. In all actuality, Events are more like Folders than Folders are. That’s because Folders in Final Cut Pro X can’t directly house clips or media. Instead, Folders are used to store Keywords Collections and Smart Collections.
Keyword Collections are created manually via the keywords that you assign to media assets contained within an Event. When you assign a keyword to an item, a Keyword Collection is automatically created inside of the corresponding Event. When you create a Keyword Collection manually, that keyword is available to be used on items inside of the Event.
Smart Collections are generally created directly via pre-established metadata, and populate automatically based on the metadata of the clips in an Event. That said, you can also filter Smart Collections using keywords manually created by the user.
Each Library that you create will automatically include a new Smart Collections folder containing a default group of Smart Collections. These collections include: All Video, Audio Only, Favorites, Projects and Stills.
One of the most basic functions that you’ll perform while using Final Cut Pro X is importing content for usage inside of a Project. There are several ways to go about importing items: you can simply drag an item into a Project timeline or Event, or import an item using the standard Import (⌘+I) dialog.
Changing Library storage locations
Chances are you’ll wish to conduct large media dumps on an external drive instead of your Mac’s internal drive. This is especially true if you’re working on a MacBook. I’ve purchased a Seagate external USB 3.0 4TB RAID 0 drive exclusively for handling my Final Cut Pro X media storage needs. Yes, RAID 0 has its disadvantages when it comes to reliability, but as long as you properly back up your media, an external RAID 0 drive works wonders in my experience. This is especially true if you’re working with 4K media, as 4K needs lots of storage space and a fast drive in order to work with it efficiently.
Fortunately, Final Cut Pro X makes it extremely easy to manage media storage locations, even if you house the Library’s database on a local drive. To do so, simply highlight the Library that you wish to modify, and open the Inspector. Inside of the Inspector, you’ll see the Library Properties page with a Modify Settings button next to Storage Locations. Click Modify Settings, and you’ll be able to choose an external location for Media, Cache and Backups.
Of course, you can always create the new Library in an external location to begin with, which will cause everything to be stored externally. Depending on your specific needs, and the speed of your external drive, that may turn out to be the best option for your workflow.
The actual file structure
Keep in mind that the aforementioned components are all virtual components within Final Cut Pro X. Nearly everything within Final Cut Pro X is managed by multiple databases, and those databases contains pointers that point to specific locations on disk where assets are stored.
Below is a screenshot of the actual file structure for a Library and a corresponding Event inside that Library. The Original Media folder inside of an event is where all original untouched media is housed. There will be other folders here as well. You’ll notice a folder for any Projects inside of an Event, and folders for Render Files, Shared Items, and Transcoded Media, if necessary.
Along with these folders, you’ll see a file entitled CurrentVersion.fcpevent. This is a database file for your Event. You’ll notice similar database files contained within individual Project folders as well. Lastly, Libraries contain a master database. Library databases are named as CurrentVersion.flexolibrary.
The building blocks
True, some of this may sound boring, but understanding the way that media is organized is extremely important when it comes to being successful with Final Cut Pro X. Grasping these basic concepts can save you a lot of trouble when you begin working on large Projects. If you understand the underlying structure of Final Cut Pro’s Libraries, Events, Projects, and Folders, then you’re already ahead of the game.
In this post we briefly touched on some of the app’s major components, but it does get deeper. In a future post, we’ll break down how to consolidate Libraries, how to copy, move and archive Libraries, and much more.
Final Cut Pro X is available on the Mac App Store for $299, and it’s well worth it in my eyes. Apple has also published a 30-day free trial edition on its website for those who wish to take it for a spin before making a commitment.