Friday, April 21, 2017


Way back in 2014, I wrote a couple of speculative articles on Roles in Final Cut Pro X.

In the first article entitled ROLES, I detailed the challenge of organization in the current FCP 10.1 timeline, and how I thought Roles could provide a solution to the lack of traditional Tracks.

In the second article ROLES REDUX I went more in depth with Roles as an organizational tool- how they function and what improvements could be made to make assigning Roles faster and easier.

SMASH CUT! to two years later.  In October of 2016 Apple released Final Cut Pro 10.3- which along with a host of features and improvements, also added this feature—

Needless to say I was surprised and delighted.  As the old saying goes, “Great minds think alike”; or in this case it would probably be more apt to say, “Lesser minds like mine occasionally stumble onto ideas that greater minds have already thought of”.  I’ll take what I can get!

Using 10.3 since it's release, I’m struck at how solid and well thought out Apple’s implementation is.  Apple has really fulfilled the promise in the power of Roles on a lot of fronts.

Assigning Roles is easier across the board.  Roles can now be assigned at the Import stage, and Apple have even added the ability to directly access iXML metadata from Audio Recorders , a feature only available previously via 3rd party apps like Sync-N-Link X.  If you don’t have the benefit of on-set Role metadata, you can now assign Roles to individual or multiple selected clips in the Inspector.  You also have access to assigning Subroles to individual Audio Components, which wasn’t possible without jumping thru some serious hoops in earlier versions of the application, or via round-tripping via the aforementioned Sync-N-Link X or Role-O-Matic by Charile Austin.  Finally, Roles can be reassigned directly in the Project window, though there are some necessary restrictions on Audio Component reassignment for Sync, Compound, and Multicam Clips.  But overall this is a MASSIVE improvement in workflow. 

And as for Magnetic Timeline 2?  What can I say?  All the power of the Final Cut Pro’s Magnetic Timeline, now with customizable organization structure.  For a long time I fought with people who could not imagine the concept of audio organization without traditional Tracks.  But once again we see that Final Cut Pro’s deeply embedded metadata foundations are the solution for long held analogue concepts.  As I theorized back in 2014- if Smart Collections were the smarter, better answer to traditional bins; then Roles provides us with an infinitely superior and more fluid way to organize audio in the timeline, while at the same time retaining all  the flexibility and "Picture First" ideology of the trackless timeline.  Let’s take a look at how an edit from the show CANADA CREW (first edited in 10.2) looks when updated to 10.3.

Organization is not just possible now, but automatic and fluid.  Properly tagged audio instantly arranges itself by Role/Subrole in the Project timeline.  The new Audio Lanes can be arranged at will via the Timeline Index, allowing you to seamlessly re-arrange your audio landscape.   
Additionally, Role Focusing allows you to quickly minimize all but the selected Role, so you can concentrate on the audio elements that are important, while not loosing track of the bigger picture.

Next, Apple has created a new Roles HUD, which allows you to create, delete, name, rename, and combine Roles.  And the great thing is, changes made here propagate Library wide- clip instances in both the Event Browser AND those already in edited Projects.

Finally, Roles now have customizable colours, making the elements of your audio soundscape clearly definable and easy to navigate.

And all these improvements come with a very welcome UI overhaul, which flattens and simplifies the interface, putting the emphasis on the content, and bringing Final Cut Pro in line with Apple’s current design aesthetic.

Whew!  Well, now that that’s done, I guess we can all sit back and be happy forever, right?

Ok, who am I kidding…?

When I wrote that first article, there were two aspect of Final Cut Pro that I thought Roles would be key to solving. First: organization.  Second: improved audio mixing.  Enter:


One of the bigger changes to Final Cut Pro 10.3 was a fundamental restructuring of how Container Clips handle audio. Container clips include Compound Clips, Sync Clips and Multicam Clips- basically any kind of clip which is made up of other audio and video clips.  If you Compound Clip a Project, instead of a simple stereo or surround mix-down, you now have access to Mixdowns of all the Roles in Compound Clip- Apple calls these "Role Components".  Further, an option in the Inspector allows you to drill down even further to view individual Subroles.  This gives you the ability to add audioFX and level adjustments to elements at the Subrole, Role, AND Master Mix level.  This is really powerful and reveals just how much work has gone on behind the scenes from an audio standpoint.

Role Components now visible when Project is nested in a Compound Clip.

Apple's own WhitePaper on this, Understanding Audio Roles in Final Cut Pro X, goes much more in depth on this subject and I encourage people to read it (perhaps several times like I have).

From a practical standpoint, these enhancements make mixing in FCP X more flexible and powerful than ever before.

THE CHALLENGE (and why I don’t think this is the end of the road for Roles)

Though the 10.3 improvements make mixing if Final Cut Pro X far more possible than before- I’ve been thinking about what enhancements could be made to take Roles even further.

The key question is whether Mixing should be considered an online process, one that is only done after picture is locked, as it is when you export your sound to an audio engineer. 

The current solution of Compound Clipping to access Role and Subrole Components provides a lot of power and depth- with the new audio chain expanding the functionality Roles as buses, and Compound clips as mixes and sub-mixes.  However, a series of consecutively nested Compound Clips can abstract the Project you’re mixing in from the one you’re editing in, making any potential editorial changes difficult.

While changes to a Project immediately filter down to it's Compound Clips, any key-framed effects or audio levels/pan adjustments added to the Compound Clips become disconnected from the timing of the edit, so if 1 second is added half way thru your Project; any keyframes in the Compound Clipped Project after that timing adjustment are now out of alignment by 1 second.

In-Line Project Role Components

But what if mixing could be an organic part of the editorial process, allowing you to build a mix as the edit is evolving without fear of extra work if (when) the edit changes.

With the addition of the Audio Lanes view of the Magnetic Timeline 2, Apple has shown a willingness to allow for alternate or advanced display modes for the Project view.  So perhaps an additional function for "Display Role Components" can integrate the advanced mixing functionality currently available via Compound Clips directly into a single, combined Project view.

In this proposed UI scenario, the display of Role Components (I've called these "Mixes" in the diagrams below) is integrated into the existing Project view, rather than requiring the Project to be nested within a Compound Clip.  This would posit that a Project is inherently a Container Clip, and that there is simply no current way to view Role Components within the current user interface.

For the purposes of demonstration, I’ve created an simplified Project view which allows us see the concepts I’m suggesting more easily.  

Below is a sample Project containing Video, Dialogue, Effects, and Music.  The Dialogue Role contains two Subroles [Dialogue-1 and Dialogue-2].

Much like the new FCP 10.3 Audio Lanes view, a proposed Role Component View could be accessible via a new button added to the bottom of the Roles pane in the Timeline Index, which  would allow you to toggle Role Components view ON/OFF.

Project Role Components Show/Hide toggle

When selected, a Role Component (or Mix) for each Role appears, and the original audio clips for each Role are minimized.  I think it’s important to to see audio elements for context, so you never loose sight of what’s going on editorially.  Additionally, a grey Mixed Role Component is added beneath the Primary Storyline, representing the sum "Master Mix" of all Roles in the Project.

Role Component view with collapsed clips beneath for context, and “Master Mix”.

However, if you still need access to the full height audio clips for editing, you can expand the original clips by toggling the “Focus” button for a given Role in the Timeline Index.

Role Component view audio for Effects-1 Subrole expanded.

If you need to apply an effect to an entire Subrole, say the “Robot Voice Effect” to Dialogue-2 for example, you could activate Subrole Components in addition to Role Components, just as the current check-box option in the Inspector for Compound Clips.  To maintain audio clip context, the individual clips could appear as faded elements in the Role Component container.  You could still access and edit these clips, but if you drag an effect to the Subrole Container it will apply the effect to all the clips within the Subrole Mix.

Subrole Components enabled for Dialogue-2.

Activating individual Subrole Components could done via a new button beside it's listing in the Roles Index, which also shows that Role Components are active across the Project.   Here I've pillaged the existing "Mixdown" icon that appeared with 

Individual Subrole Component View [Dialogue-2 active]

During editing, you may want a mixed view- here's another visual of our Project with original clips for Music and Dialogue-1 expanded, collapsed for Effects-1, and Dialogue-2 in a Subrole Component.

Mixed Role Component View with original Subrole clips for Dialogue-1 and Music-1
expanded,and Subrole Component for Dialogue-2 activated.

Regardless of whether Role/Subrole Components or their original clips are minimized, expanded, or hidden- Project audio would always play the result of the Master Mix.  The exception being if you play a Clip, Role, Subrole, or individual Role Component via Clip Skimming.


In scenarios where you might want to add volume adjustments or effects to a subset of components across multiple Roles, a Mixed Role Component is used to represent these "Sub-Mixes".  A sub-mix could be an effect applied across an entire Project, or trimmed like a Compound Clip to be only a section of a Project; a scene or sequence.

In the following example, our two characters go into a cave.  DIALOGUE and EFFECTS Roles need to be placed into a Mixed Role Component (or sub-mix) with an Echo effect added, while the non-diagetic music is unaffected.  Keyframes added to the Mixed Role Component would indicate the amount of influence the audio effects of the sub-mix have on the assigned Role Components- fading the Echo effect up and down as the characters enter and leave the cave.

Selecting this sub-mix in the Project viewer shows which Roles or Subroles it is influencing, in much the same way that selecting a video clip highlights all it's attached audio components.

Mixed Role Component sub-mix adding Echo effect to Dialogue and Effects Roles.

Right-clicking on the sub-mix in the Project window allows you to add or remove additional Roles to that sub-mix.  Selecting a Role will assume you want the Sub-Mix to affect all Subroles, or you could select/deselect Subroles individually.

Modal Dialogue to assign Roles to Sub-Mix.

Once a Sub-Mix is created, it is added to the list of Roles in the Timeline Index, where it could be named for easy identification, and you can see the list of Roles/Subroles that it's effecting.  

Role Index showing Sub-Mix Mixed Role Component,
Expanded to show effected Roles.


In a more integrated single-window mixing scenario, better audio keyframe selection and adjustment across multiple Role Components would be beneficial.

In the current Compound Clip scenario, you can only select and move audio keyframes a single Role Component at a time.

If the timing of an edit changes in a way which affects the timing of audio keyframes across an entire Project (for example, the extension of a clip by 1 second half way thru an edit), then the ability to range select keyframes across multiple Role Components would allow you to globally shift those keyframes to correct for any timing adjustments to the edit after Role Components have been created.  Either using the mouse, or by entering a numeric adjustment value.

Project view showing Keyframes selected across multiple Role Components.

Alternatively, if Final Cut Pro was aware of the downstream relationship between a Project and it's Role Components, then it's possible that the program could make automatic timing adjustments to any Role Component audio keyframes after a given editorial adjustment.

In the example below, 2 seconds is added to a clip at 15 seconds in the Primary Storyline.  As a result, all Role Component keyframes after 15 seconds are shifted +2 seconds automatically. 

2 seconds added to Primary Storyline clip results in any keyframes for
Dialogue and Music Role Components after the edit point being
automatically adjusted by +2 seconds


If all this seems like more complication in the Project window... well it kinda is.

Added functionality will naturally breed added complexity.  But like with Audio Lanes in Final Cut Pro 10.3, that complexity is hidden from users who don't require it.  Advanced view-modes allows the Project view to scale with the user, from beginners with simple audio needs and a small number of elements, all the way up to complex mixes for final delivery.

This proposed integration of Role Components directly into the Project UI potentially allows for a single-window interface that makes mixing more integrated and fluid, while maintaining the benefit of Final Cut Pro X's trackless "video first" timeline.

In creating the visuals for this blog post, and thinking thru some of the concepts, I ended up making a short video that may give the text a bit more context.

1 comment:

James Hecht said...

This is a great idea. I think the offline/online edit concept is out dated by FCPX to begin with. Clients want to hear audio design and as clean a mix as possible during the review process. FCPX makes last minute changes to the so called locked picture much easer, why not make changes to picture and sound ripple to the master project and eliminate the need for additional compound clips with a project view option. Thanks