Tutorial: Learn Masking in Final Cut Pro (3 Pro Level Masking Effects)

Final Cut Pro 12/07/2021 5 min read

Masking in Final Cut Pro is an easy way to create eye-catching special effects without too much effort. You can use masks to overlay a video over part of another, localize effects to part of the image, or create dynamic transitions that look like the camera never stopped rolling. Best of all, all the tools you need to create and draw image masks come bundled in with Final Cut Pro right out of the box!

Below, we’ll explore the basic masking tools that come standard with FCPX. Next, we’ll show you how to animate your mask effects using keyframes. Finally, we’ll walk you through a number of stunning applications of mask effects that will take your video productions to the next level. 

Part 1: Learn Basic Masking in Final Cut Pro

When you create a mask, you tell FCPX to omit a spatial portion of your video. This omission can be used for a variety of creative purposes. For example, you could draw a mask over a TV screen in the background and then overlay your own video content to appears like it’s on the TV. Another example is creating an artificial spotlight by applying the Brighten effect in a circular mask focused on your subject.

There are 2 main tools for creating masks in Final Cut Pro: Shape Mask effect, which can be accessed in the Inspector, and Draw Mask which is available in the Effects Browser

Shape Mask Effect

Whenever you add an effect to a clip in Final Cut Pro, controls for that effect will appear in the Inspector. At the top of those effect controls, to the right of the effect’s name, there is a small icon that looks like an oval inside a rectangle. It only appears when your mouse cursor is over it.

  1. Clicking this icon will reveal 2 options, the first of which is Add Shape Mask.
  2. Clicking this will overlay a circular shape mask atop your clip in the Viewer.
  3. You can adjust the location and shape of this mask by dragging its controls in the Viewer. You’ll notice that your effect will only appear inside the mask shape, with a feathered falloff occurring between the mask and the outside falloff shape.
  4. You can also click Invert Mask in the Inspector to apply the effect outside the mask instead of inside.

Color Mask Effect

Back in the Inspector, if you click the mask icon from before, the 2nd option is Add Color Mask. This feature will allow you to automatically create a mask over a portion of your image that is similar in color. It’s useful to use if you’d like to apply an effect to the sky, somebody’s shirt, a wall, or any other object that is uniformly colored. 

  1. To create this mask, scroll over to the Viewer and click on the object you’d like to mask.
  2. Hold down the mouse button and continue to drag until you see the object highlighted with the mask.
  3. When you drag, you’re creating a circle that you can see in the Viewer.
  4. Final Cut will sample all the colors inside the circle and then search your video for any pixels of that color. If you don’t get the mask right the first time, you can repeat it until you’ve highlighted the right colors.
  5. Like before, you also need to Invert the Mask to apply your effect to the rest of the image and omit the masked portion.

Draw Mask Effect

Unlike the previous 2 masking tools, the Draw Mask effect is not found in the Inspector but instead in the Effects Browser.

  1. You can drag this effect over to the timeline and drop it onto your video clips. 
  2. From there, you can draw your mask in the Viewer by clicking to create points until your mask shape is drawn. This is useful when you need to mask complex shapes manually. Like before, you have the option to Invert Mask available in the Inspector
  3. When you finish drawing your mask, everything outside it will disappear–and appear totally black.
  4. You can fill that black space with another video clip, or the same video clip unmasked. To do this, pull your masked clip up in the timeline and place the 2nd video clip under it.
  5. If the edges are too hard, try adjusting the Feather or Falloff property in the Inspector.

Part 2: Animate Masks in Final Cut Pro

Whichever mask tool you used above, if the object you’re masking in the video is moving then you might need to animate the mask to keep up! Have no fear, using keyframes you should be able to follow any motion in your video with a dynamic, animated mask. 

To use keyframes, find the control you’d like to animate and click the grey diamond to its right in the Inspector:

  • For Shape Mask, just click the keyframe icon to the right of the words Shape Mask.
  • For Draw Mask, click the icon to the right of Control Points and Position (under the Transform drop-down).

After you’ve toggled on the keyframe for your controls, you can make adjustments by dragging the control points for your mask in the Viewer. Adjust the playhead in the timeline forward a few frames and make your adjustments again.

Final Cut will interpolate the difference, so you don’t necessarily need to make adjustments frame by frame. You can also keyframe other controls for your mask, such as Feathering.

Part 3: 3 Cool Ways to Use Masks in Final Cut Pro

Now that you’ve learned all about the mask tools, and how to animate them–you might be wondering just where and when you can use masks! The possibilities are endless, but we’ve put together 3 cool techniques you can pull off with the tools you just learned about. 

Wipe Mask

You’ve probably heard this editing adage before: “cut on action”. It’s always better to make a cut when something happens in the scene, especially something big. An object passing in front of the camera is a great occasion to make a subtle cut, and you can enhance the effect by using a wipe mask. 

  1. To create this transition, use the Draw Mask effect and create a mask that outlines the passing object’s back edge, and the rest of your frame.
  2. As the passing object continues through your shot, you can animate your mask with keyframes until the next shot is totally revealed.
  3. For this technique, you’ll need to place your next shot (the clip you’re transitioning to) below the first shot in the timeline.

Spot Color Mask

The Spot Color Mask effect is a great way to draw attention to a particular part of your clip.

  1. All you need to do is add the Saturation effect to your clip and then select Add Shape Mask in the Inspector. After you adjust the shape of your mask, you might need to animate the mask if there is motion in your clip. 
  2. From here, you can increase the Saturation inside your mask to really highlight the colors at your focal point. You can also choose to Invert the Mask and reduce saturation with the rest of your clip, giving it a black and white effect. 

Sky Mask

One of the most common applications of the Color Mask effect is creating a mask for the sky. To do this, choose an effect (in this example, we’ll use Blast Wave). Drag it onto your clip and add the Color Mask, selecting the sky and making sure to capture all the colors in the sky.

When you’re done, the sky will look like an apocalyptic scene from a dystopian movie! You can play around and try using different effects for the sky to achieve different looks as well. 

Wrapping up, today’s tutorial covered the 3 masking effects available to you in Final Cut Pro, as well as how to animate them using keyframes. We also covered 3 cool ways to use what you’ve learned, but don’t stop there! There are thousands of creative ways to use masks in your video projects by combining them with different effects, transitions, and footage.

And if you’d like to really expand your library of Final Cut Pro tools, there’s plenty to download at Motion Array. The marketplace is slam-packed with transitions, generators, effects, stock footage, royalty-free sound & music, and more! 

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