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Keyframe Animation for Beginners: How to Use Keyframes on Final Cut Pro

The magic of keyframe animation

Team Nas Academy

23 Sep · 6 mins read

Imagine every cool animated or motion graphic piece of media that you’ve ever seen. There is one element behind them all that is responsible for bringing those visuals to life: keyframes.

What is a Keyframe?

Keyframes are a point in time where something changes. Animation is all about movement and, by creating keyframes on your video or graphic, we are altering a chosen subject over a selected period of time by marking changes in value. 

Here’s an example.

If you have a piece of footage and want it to slowly zoom in at the 3 second mark to emphasize something in your frame, but the shot was filmed stagnant, you can achieve this look using keyframes

You can use keyframes for altering any kind of image in many different ways. The first keyframe you create on a timeline is where the given change starts to happen. The last keyframe is where it ends. These points of transformation are represented by diamond icons in your timeline:

keyframe step 1

How Do Keyframes Work?

For any transition to happen, you always need to have two keyframes present. Your first keyframe is the initial starting point where you lock in wherever your image currently is, and then, you follow it with a second keyframe that has an altered value. This is where you want your image to go.

When two keyframes are placed side by side, the computer will fill in the information between these two set values, and it will gradually morph and finish the transition to whatever value your second keyframe is set to. Then, it will remain at this second value, until you place another keyframe to tell it to do otherwise. The farther apart the keyframes, the more gradual the transition will be, and the slower the overall movement will appear.

Let’s say you wanted to fade out a video. You would use keyframes to transition the opacity of your footage from 100% down to 0%. Therefore, your first keyframe would be at 100% opacity, and your last keyframe would be set at 0% opacity. 

Why Use Keyframes?

You don’t have to be a professional motion graphics artist to use keyframes for your videos. As creators, using keyframes can be a great advantage in helping you add some really cool, simple effects to your videos.

Let’s say you wanted to bring in text over your video, and needed to turn down the opacity of your background footage momentarily in order to make it more readable. You would do this using keyframes. 

Keyframes give you lots of flexibility to customize your video and visuals to fit your story. Using keyframe animation allows you optimal control over how your transitions look, which you otherwise wouldn’t get by using presets online or in free editing softwares. It allows you to pick how long, how smooth, and how the computer completes the transition between your two set points in time.

You can also use keyframes for audio editing to transition volume, or alter effects over time on a given audio track. You can use keyframes for text effects, cropping, distorting, and more.

Customizing elements like this, and having complete creative control, is what can help you stand out as a creator – and, in the end, help you establish your brand and style by developing your own techniques.

How to Use Keyframes on Final Cut Pro

If you’ve ever used keyframes before, the process is quite similar across most editing softwares. But today, we’re going to walk you through how to use keyframes on Final Cut Pro. If you’re not familiar with the software, make sure to check out our beginner-friendly Final Cut Pro Tutorial, and learn how you can edit killer videos for YouTube with this industry standard software.

The Workspace

When using keyframes in Final Cut Pro, you will mainly be referencing the timeline (bottom strip of your workspace) where your footage is, your preview window (top middle) to see the playback of your keyframes in action, as well as your inspector window (top right), where you will be changing values and adding keyframes.

Once you’ve brought a piece of footage down into your timeline, you can either click Ctrl V, or go to Clip > Show Video Animation. This will display a bar above your selected footage where all of your keyframes will be shown.

keyframe step 2

You will see all of the different transformation possibilities that you are able to alter with keyframes. 

By clicking the downward arrows to the left on the first two transformations, you will find a list of possible elements to keyframe. Under the “Transform” tab, you can alter everything on your image from the position, rotation, scale, or the anchor point (the center of gravity in a clip that everything will revolve around). 

Under the “Trim” value, you can animate cropping. Under “distort,” you can keyframe a warp or distortion effect, or you can change the opacity (transparency) of your footage in the last blue strip. Once you add any visual effects from the effects library onto a piece of footage, a blue strip will appear for that effect to – here, you can also add keyframes to slowly fade them in and out or adjust their appearance over time.

Creating Your First Keyframes

Now, it’s time to create your first keyframe! Let’s walk through how to do a quick “fade-to-black” by keyframing the opacity.

Select your clip in your timeline, and click Ctrl V to reveal your keyframe graphs. 

Now make sure that the “compositing: opacity” strip is selected, and drag your white play head (white vertical bar in the timeline) over to the 2s mark. 

In the inspector window, make sure that your opacity is set to 100%.

Now, click the diamond icon next to the “opacity” value in your inspector window. You will see on the far right of the value, that there’s a greyed-out diamond. If you hover over it with your mouse, a window will pop up saying: “add a keyframe.” Click here, and a keyframe will be added to your timeline.

Keyframe step 3

You can add your keyframes this way, or, you can use a keyboard shortcut. 

To do the keyboard shortcut method, make sure that the “compositing: opacity” strip is selected, hover your mouse along the footage so the red bar is on the 2s mark, and hit Option-K

And there you have it! 

This is your first keyframe – the starting point for your transition. 

On this keyframe, you’ve just established the opacity that you want to transition from: 100%. And now, once the player hits this keyframe, it will start morphing into whatever settings you have at your next keyframe. 

So, let’s create the second keyframe. 

Slide your player head or mouse down to where you want your transition to finish, let’s put it at the 4s mark. 

Now, adjust your value down to 0%.

When you pull your white playhead back to your first frame and hit play, you should see a gradual, 2 second fade to black.

You can use this same technique to change up any other transformations or effects on your clip. Play around with it and see what you can come up with to add visual interest to your video.

Things to Remember:

Make sure you always have the correct blue strip selected before you start making keyframes. You can tell which one you have selected, as the blue will be slightly lighter, and any keyframes already there will be large and yellow. 

Double keyframes stacked on top of each other will indicate that more than one value has been changed under that option. For example, on the “Transform” line, since you can alter many different elements, they will stack on top to show there are different parameters changed at the exact same time. 

Quick Tips:

  • Quickly create a new keyframe: Move the playhead to where you want to create a keyframe, and then adjust your given value in the inspector panel. This will automatically create a new keyframe.
  • Copy and paste keyframes: You can copy and paste keyframes if you want to replicate a transformation on another clip. Simply go to: Edit > Keyframes and see your options for copy, paste or cut. Or, use the keyboard shortcuts:
    • Copy/Paste Option-Shift-C / Option-Shift-V 
  • Shift a set of keyframes: If you want to shift around a keyframe transition, but don’t want to mess up the distance between your first and second keyframes, simply hold shift and click your selected keyframes. You can then drag them along the timeline while keeping their respective distance.
  • Deleting keyframes: Click the keyframe you wish to delete, and hit delete on keyboard, or, right click and hit delete. You can also remove keyframes by bringing the playhead over your keyframe, and hit the yellow diamond next to the value in your inspector panel. It will turn gray again, and your keyframe will be removed.
  • Navigating through keyframes: To easily bring your playhead to your previous keyframe, click the left-pointing arrow icon that’s next to the value on your given transformation. To go to the next one, click the right-pointing arrow.

Keyframe step 4

Keyframe Interpolation

Interpolation is the way that the computer fills in the space between two keyframes – and you can actually manipulate how the computer does this. 

By clicking on the little square at the top left of your chosen, blue strip, a graph will appear showing you the keyframe transition in a linear format. Here, you can even adjust the timing or steepness of the transition between two keyframes in a more visual format. 

If you Ctrl-click on the line that is in between your first and second keyframe, a menu will appear, giving you options on how to the computer should complete your transition:

Keyframe step 5

These are your different time interpolation options. These will determine how fast, where and how smoothly the transition between keyframes will occur. Here’s a simple breakdown:

  • Linear: the transition will be consistent from the first, to the second keyframe.
  • Ease: the beginning and end will be gradual, and it will speed up at the midpoint.
  • Ease In: the transition will appear quicker at the beginning, and then slow nearing the end.
  • Ease Out: the transition will appear slower at the beginning, and then speed up nearing the end.

If you want to take it a step further, you can get even more control over your transition by manually rounding it out and smoothing the transformation using features in your preview panel. 

Learning how to use keyframes will take some practice – but it’s a great tool that will allow you to add detail and interesting effects to your videos. You can refine and polish the look so it’s sleek and professional, and it’s a simple starting point to becoming a master video editor, and taking your video content to the next level.

Want to Become a PRO at Final Cut Pro?

artes -content creation course Dear AlyneIf you want to learn how to make the most out of Final Cut Pro and take your video skills to the next level, check out the “Final Cut Pro for Beginner Creators” course at Nas Academy.

In this course, a team of talented trainers will teach you how to use this industry standard software, and create some killer content that will help you stand out on any platform – no experience required.


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