3 Ways to Create Slow Motion in Final Cut Pro X

Final Cut Pro December 15, 2019 4 min read

Slow motion is often used in video and films to draw attention to a specific action or increase the dramatic or emotional context of the piece. Whatever you’re using it for, dropping the speed of a clip just looks cool if done right. Fortunately, Final Cut Pro slow motion effects are easy to create, and we’re going to show you how in just a few steps. Let’s dive in!

Part 1: How to Create a Slow Motion in FCPX

There are several ways to slow down your footage in Final Cut, depending on the effect you want to create.

1. Use Retime Presets

The retiming tools are all available under the Retime menu. From here, you can change the speed in a variety of ways, but first, let’s look at the preset speed values.

  1. Select your clip in the Timeline.
  2. Click on the Speed Meter icon beneath the viewer window to open the Retime menu or hit Command + R on your keyboard.
  3. Choose from the Slow of Fast menu options. You can also access these options by clicking Command + R, and a drop-down menu will appear above your clip.
  4. Under each option, you will find various speed percentages to change the timing of the clip. When the effect is applied, it will change the duration of the clip in relation to the new speed: if you speed the clip up it will become shorter, and if you slow it down it will become longer.

2. Custom Slow Motion Settings

You can also add custom speed settings to your clips, allowing you to have complete control over the speed effects. 

  1. With your clip selected, click on the Retime pop up menu.
  2. Choose Custom… in the list of options or hit Control + Option + R.  
  3. In the Custom Speed window, you can now choose the new settings for your clip. You can choose to reduce or increase the percentage of your clip, or manually type in a new duration, which will decrease or increase the speed to match the setting.
  4. You can also select or deselect the Ripple checkbox. If Ripple is checked, it means the clip will change in length according to your new speed settings. If the box is not checked, the clip will stay the same length, and play at a faster speed.
  5. You’ve probably noticed that you can also choose to Reverse the clip here too. Select this option if you want to make your footage play backward at whatever speed setting you choose.

3. Blade Speed

Blade speed is an excellent tool that can be very helpful when you want to emphasize a person, action, or create a cool speed effect. The Blade Speed function allows you to cut up the speed of the clip, and have varying speeds throughout, without actually cutting the clip into multiple sections.

  1. Drag the Playhead to where you want the clip to change speed.
  2. From the Retime menu, choose Blade Speed or Shift + B
  3. Move the Playhead to the next point you want the speed to change and hit Blade Speed again. Do this for as many speed changes as you want in the clip.
  4. Click on the Speed bar at the top of the clip in your sequence. 
  5. Select Custom from the list.
  6. Choose a new speed setting for that section of your clip. 
  7. Repeat with each Blade section you have created. The Blade tool is super handy when it comes to adding effects to isolated parts of a clip, so make sure you remember, B is for Blade.

Now that you know how to create slow motion, get creative, and apply it to an effect like freeze framing for added emphasis.

Part 2: How to Get Better Quality Slow Motion

Here are some tips to keep in mind and ways to counteract a less than ideal looking slow motion clips. 

1. Film Your Scenes With Slow Motion in Mind

You can slow down any video footage in FCP, but if you want to create cinematic and high-quality slow motion videos, there are some technical specifications regarding your footage and the way it was shot. 

Shoot at a Higher Frame Rate

If your clips are looking choppy, you might have slowed it down too much for the frame rate it was shot in. For the best slow motion shots, you need to film your footage at a higher frame rate than usual.

Most normal videos are shot and played at 25-30fps, so if you shoot at 50fps, you can slow the footage down to half speed and still playback 25fps. When using a higher frame rate, you have more frames to slow down, which means your clips retain better quality. 

Film with the Highest Resolution

You can get pretty great slow motion videos from filming at 1080p, but the higher the resolution, the more information Final Cut has to create your slow motion effect. If possible, shoot in 4K because this will help retain the shot quality when the footage is slowed down.

Steady Your Shots

Keeping the shot steady will also help improve the quality of your slow motion video. If you want your shot to be moving, try using a gimbal to minimize camera movement.

2. Use Final Cut Pro Blending Modes

Okay, now you know for next time to shoot at a higher frame rate. If you’ve already shot your footage, there are a few tricks you can try to improve the look in the edit.

FCP has various Blend Modes, which tell the program how to interpret the stretched frames in slow motion footage and come in two forms: Frame Blending and Optical Flow. At first glance, both blend mode options will look the same, but both work in different ways, and it is helpful knowing how they work to determine which to use.

Frame Blending works by filling in the missing frames with an overlay of the frame either side. Think of it as a mini dissolve effect between each frame. Optical Flow fills in the missing frames with entirely new frames that FCP creates based on analyzing the pixel motion in the frames either side.

These aren’t a surefire solution, though. The fix will only work depending on several factors in your shot: how much movement there is, how in focus the shot is, and the amount of light.

  1. Once you have edited your clips, retime your clips as described above.
  2. Highlight the clip in the sequence, and open the Retime menu options.
  3. Scroll down the list and select Video Quality.
  4. Choose either Optical Flow or Frame Blending. It’s usually best to test both and see which look you prefer.

Slowing down clips can be a great way of adding style to your video edits, but can also be used to highlight an action. Final Cut Pro slow motion tools are extensive and offer you a lot of control over your footage speed. For the best results, remember to shoot with a higher frame rate to give you more images to play with for the edit. Above all else, playing with Final Cut Pro speed effects is a lot of fun, so what are you waiting for? Give it a go!