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The Adobe Premiere Pro timeline for Final Cut Pro users

Editors spend so much time in the timeline it's worth an in-depth look

By Scott Simmons | November 07, 2011


When working in a non-linear editing application the editor spends many, many hours working in the timeline. Boy do we spend a lot of hours working in the timeline. If you're moving from Final Cut Pro 7 to Adobe Premiere Pro 5.5 then you won't be totally lost as there are a lot of similarities between the two application's timelines. But there are some important differences as well. Let's take a closer look at the Premiere Pro timeline if you're moving from FCP 7. Did I mention how much time editors spend working in the timeline?


A basic Premiere Pro CS5.5 timeline.

A basic Final Cut Prop 7 timeline.

A few timeline basics.

The first thing you'll probably notice is that they look similar in that both are track based. There are video and audio tracks just waiting for media. Both applications have a "patch bay" on the left for routing source media into the desired tracks. In PPro the source side media patches don't disconnect or break like they do in FCP7 but rather you turn them on and off with a click, which highlights when the tracks are on.

The PPro patch bay on the left looks different from that of FCP but their functionality is similar.

Drag the source patches on the left (that is the V or the A) up or down to route the source media to the desired destination tracks in the timeline. Or right+click on a track name and choose Assign Source video or audio. It's important to note that on the Program side (or in the timeline itself) PPro doesn't have the tiny Toggle Auto Select indicators that FCP7 has to toggle tracks on and off for things like IN to OUT selections. Instead click the Video 1, Video 2 button itself to turn a track on or off. Active tracks are highlighted in a lighter gray.

Turning video tracks on and off for targeted editing and IN to OUT selection is as easy as clicking the track names.

The other buttons and switches will be easily understood by the incoming FCP user. The eyeball is Toggle Track Output which turns the entire track on and off. Toggle Sync Lock attempts to keep all tracks in sync as long as the symbol is turned on. Turn it off and sync isn't maintained for those off tracks when an operation like an Insert edit is performed. Finally Toggle Track Lock locks each track with an overlay and doesn't allow any edit operations on the track.

Each track has toggle switches to toggle different types of functionality.

Expanding track heights to reveal keyframing "rubber bands", audio waveforms, etc.

When looking at a PPro timeline for the first time one thing that you might notice are the disclosure triangles on each track. Twirl each of those down to see more detail about that individual track.

In the above image Video 1, Audio 2 and 3 have been "twirled down" to show clip frames and audio waveforms.

For video tracks, this is how you can reveal clip thumbnails. For audio tracks this will reveal waveforms. This obviously makes the tracks taller but track height isn't limited to that size. Like FCP7 you can click and drag in the divider line just above a track heading to adjust the size of a track. But the disclosure triangle must be open to resize a track height.

If you look closely at each clip in the timeline you'll see each one has a small pop-up menu that lists a specific parameter for each clip. This reveals keyframable rubber-banding for different parameters of a clip.

Clicking the Show keyframes button lets you choose the type of keyframes to display as well as hiding them altogether.

In FCP7 the rubberbands represent opacity for video clips and level for audio. In PPro you can choose to keyframe and animate a number of different parameters for many items of a clip, including filters and effects. We'll see this below.

Stereo audio tracks

Probably the biggest thing that trips up a new to PPro user the first time they toss a piece of media, with audio, into a PPro timeline (especially if it is being dragged directly into the timeline) is it often doesn't go right into A1 or A2 as expected but rather tries to land in track far below. This is most likely because it's a stereo track and you have only a mono timeline … or some variation on that problem.

PPro allows for both stereo, mono and 5.1 audio tracks in the timeline. This is easy to see when using the Add Tracks dialog box:

You can also see that PPro can use 5.1 audio.

When these different types of tracks are added they are also identified by icons in the audio panel of the timeline. These icons are small but they're there.

The different type of audio tracks are identified by the audio track icons. The above image has 3 stereo tracks, then 2 mono tracks and then one 5.1 surround track.

Premiere Pro also includes the ability to add and use Submix tracks for more indepth audio mixing. They are added via the Add Tracks dialog box and mixed just like other audio tracks. The use of Submix tracks are beyond the scope of this article but you can read about them here.

In addition to Submix tracks PPro has a master audio track as well that's handy as a master tool for audio mixing. It can be keyframed as well as adjusted overall. It can come in handy when it's time to normalize audio as this Adobe tutorial shows.

Audio mixing can be more in-depth in PPro than FCP. PPro allows for adjusting of both gain and volume. In addition you can adjust levels and keyframe audio on both a clip basis as well as a track basis. Exactly what you're working on in the timeline can be chosen by the Show Keyframes popup in each track.

In the above image Audio 1 and 2 are both showing Clip Keyframes where Audio 3 is showing Track Keyframes. Notice the yellow rubber band of Audio 3 that extends into the filler where there is no audio. The little left and right arrows are used for navigating to and from keyframes as well as adding them.

It's worth studying the Premiere Pro help files for adjusting volume levels to get a more in-depth idea of exactly what all you can do with audio in the PPro timeline.

Timeline Preferences

There are several settings in the PPro preferences that are worth noting as they have a direct effect on the timeline. The first is a very handy setting called Timeline Playback Auto Scrolling.

This preference gives some very nice options for how the timeline behaves during playback.

When the Page Scroll preference is turned on the timeline will automatically jump forward to the next region when the playhead reaches the right edge of the screen during playback. The playback continues and doesn't stop. This is very helpful when watching down a long edit as you can keep the timeline zoomed in to see good detail but don't have to do anything to keep the playhead in sight. I rarely turn this option off.

The other option is Smooth Scroll which essentially leaves the playhead stationary and scrolls the timeline behind. It's a very impressive option when clients are around but I've seen it bog down on complex timelines so I opt for the Page Scroll.

A second preference to note is audio scrubbing.

Audio scrubbing is toggled in the Audio preferences.

It's a simple off or on option for audio scrubbing but it's important to note for FCP7 users that it's located in the preferences and not a button on the timeline or the keyboard. I turn audio scrubbing on and off all the time during an edit so I wish this audio scrubbing was more easily accessible. While you can access the Audio Preferences via a mappable keyboard shortcut I would prefer a keyboard shortcut that is mappable to turn the audio scrubbing on and off without having to click a check box in the preferences.

Up Next: Keyframing in the timeline, the big submenu and three buttons.

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Tom Daigon: | November, 07, 2011

Wow,Scott, what an in depth and thorough article. If you keep this up, I see a book on CS6 in your future. Nice job!

Scott Simmons: | November, 07, 2011

Thanks Tom. I learn something new about PPro every time I use it!

Geoffrey Brown: | November, 07, 2011

Hi Scott, thanks for a great article.
I’m still undecided about PPro 5.5 as opposed to Avid MC 6 as a replacement for FCP 7. As a feature editor, my only real concern is which system is better as a ‘heavy lifter.’  I’ve read a lot of good things about PPro 5.5 but never seen any comments or feedback about it’s ability to handle 2 +hrs of long form feature work. I know MC 6 has the street creds for that type of work but what about PRro?, I’d be interested to see a comparison or hear your evaluation
Thanks, Geoff

lightprismtv: | November, 08, 2011

Thanks to you clear explanation on track targeting I was finally able to get my head around it. Cannot understand value of targeting both setting the V and A patch panel AND highlighting/un-highlighting the track name is required. Maybe Adobe will remove the extra steps in future.

Scott Simmons: | November, 08, 2011

Thanks all for the comments.

@Geoffrey - I still trust and choose Avid with really long for things as its media management is still tops. One weakness of PPro (that was always a weakness of FCP) is its media management in that it just tracks media pretty much by file name. If stuff goes offline for whatever reason then it’s the “reconnection dance” to get it back online. FCP had a search button that could try and search out the files but PPro doesn’t and that can be problematic if you’re looking for weird video files buried in a BPAV folder. I think Adobe is aware of this so I hope, hope, hope it gets addressed in CS6.

So for features I’d steer toward Avid since it has just a prove track record with longform and the large amounts of footage that you have to load into it.

Scott Simmons: | November, 08, 2011

@lightprismtv - that’s a good point that it is a couple extra clicks. Avid that an auto-patching settings that takes a click out of this task. I would shout out to Adobe with feedback:

I would think this is the type of small usability things they’d want to hear as this can make a big difference in day-to-day operation as an editor.

DaneH: | November, 08, 2011


Thanks for the right up. Really appreciate your blog, always seems to be relevant to what I’m doing at the time.

We are looking to transition away from FCP7. We had a perfect job to test Premiere on. 20 1.5 minute videos relying heavily on AE graphics and templates we created. I’m loving the Dynamic Link and a the interface in premiere…

I have one huge issue though, export time from Premiere is incredibly long! Have you experienced this? I’m a bit nervous to have a client in the edit session and tell them there 10 minute video is going to take an hour to export! Also the lack of real playback from my BM multibridge is alarming.

I’m not sure premiere is ready for a client edit session? What is your take?

I grabbed the crossgrade for AVID, wondering if I should start start testing it for our shop.



Tom Daigon: | November, 08, 2011

Dane and Scott. Here is a post that addresses some thoughts and solutions I have on the same Export issue.

As much as I love working with PrP 5.5, Ive discovered one issue that slows done the workflow for long form and high graphic intensive projects. It is the EXPORT function. Ive seen some projects require many hours to export to a file. I want to make this work in my client driven environment so Im posting an idea thats the result of collaboration between me and some folks I hold in high regard.This workflow at this point is theoretical, but feasible.

Choosing Prores as the Preview codec is the first step in my alternative approach to insure high quality preview files.. Like I said, if you edit either long form shows or graphic intensive projects, the exporting process can involve hours of time. All my professional life Ive worked in client oriented sessions. At the end of a 2 day edit, if I told a client it was going to take 8 hours to export their video, they probably would run screaming from the edit bay

So the solution is this. Instead of spending all that exporting time, I just play out the timeline through a Kona 3 SDI output that is hooked up to a Ki Pro Mini recorder.This assumes that those things that need rendering before dumping will get it. If the show is 20 minutes, the dump to the KPM is 20 min. and you get a Prores master when you are done. 90 min. movie? Instead of a 20 hour render, you spend 90 minutes dumping the timeline to the KPM. Its analogous to dumping to tape, a process I did for the last 30 years in about every edit bay I ever worked in. There are some unknowns at this point that need testing. And if involves purchasing the AJA product. But I think its a great alternative to the time intensive export process that is the standard operating procedure for PrP .

Geoffrey Brown: | November, 08, 2011

Thanks Scott, pretty much what I had thought, but it’s nice to get expert confirmation.

It’s a long way from my Media100 days in the ‘90’s (I still have a soft spot for the old, and expensive, turnkey system).

I look forward to any MC 6 articles in the future as I’m just about to make the FCP to MC6 jump (good on avid for making that a financial possibility)

Keep up the good work
PS I did try and get to grips with FCP X, it has some nice features, but for drama cutting it’s an impossibility frustrating D-O-G. (try lip syncing 3 hrs of clips!!)

Scott Simmons: | November, 08, 2011

I haven’t seen those crazy export times but I’ve only done exporting with shorter edits that were H.264 Canon files or ProRes.

Are these long GOP formats where it’s having to reconform? Is this a direct export out of PPro or going through Adobe Media Encoder?

Tom Daigon: | November, 08, 2011

Hi Scott. When exporting, the entire sequence is “rebuilt” frame by frame for any format.Unlike FCP where the preview files are stitched together to create the master file.Heres what an Adobe tech said about it…

“What you’re looking for is what we commonly refer to as smart rendering, and it doesn’t exist in PPro.  That’s a Final Cut ‘ism, where it splices rendered data from the preview QT files into the final render.  Keep in mind that’s a QuickTime centric feature, & doesn’t translate automatically to all file formats.

  From what Ive gathered from the Adobe folks. All exporting uses the AME. If you go direct out of PrP it ties up PrP for the process. If you choose AME then PrP is freed up, I think they call that approach “headless”.

So my approach treats the process similarly to exporting to tape. Just play the timeline and record the master on the Ki Pro.

More interesting info about trying to avoid slow exporting here…

DaneH: | November, 08, 2011

Thanks for the Reply Scott,

This is using ProRes & Dynamic Link to AE. The sequence has already been rendered (render bar In green). 1 1/2 minute video is taking 10+ minutes to render. Just seems a bit odd to me. We don’t have many videos that don’t get some effect or graphic treatment, so mercury only does so much.

Oh well, it seems like these are things we gotta deal with going forward. It’s just hard to get used to.

Toms workaround is interesting. Hopeing to here back about any results!



lightprismtv: | November, 09, 2011

I certainly prefer being able to work along real-time while editing without getting stopped every few minutes in the creative process to render as we did in FCP… and then when finished, do a final render that I can walk away from to do other things.

In FCP, when adding effects and CC, most of the time just reverted to scrubbing to see results instead of rendering ... but you cannot get the feel of timing with just scrubbing.

Definitely like working mostly real-time in PPro previews without stopping for rendering to a final render at the end.

It is just so much faster ... and allows more creativity - you are more tempted to try off the wall things. When we used to use Edius mated with a GV card, things were very much real time as well. PPro brings back the same real time fun and more so with all the integration with the other apps.

Julian Roberts: | November, 14, 2011

Scott - very helpful and timely article.  I believe you have a Matrox Mini.  have you been able to get it to work properly with Premiere Pro CS5.5.  Mine works fine with FCP, but having some issues (dropped frames, crashes) with 5.5.


lovrien: | April, 13, 2013

i shoot post deliver and do long format shows for broadcast tv networks weekly all under time constraints.
all macpro and mbp with raids and external hd. Fcp has been my main platform for a decade and circumstances have me trying to post shows, articles, vignettes of all sizes and station ids and spots on premier. It was a great honeymoon for the first 10 short spots but export time has convinced me for all the headaches and pressures, its not worth piddling around with. Even with transcoding to prorez at HQ, there is still more productive time spent on FCP7.
fyi:shoot post deliver 30 second on Pp 5.5=4+hours
same project on fcp=1.5 hours.
long format export 28:30 tv show on Pp=12+hours
on fcp=3+hours.
The clincher is that I have researched and been in adobe and fcp forums for over a year looking for the answers and even other industry dudes concur.

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