Getting inside the magnetic timeline’s head

I’ve seen a lot of hatred toward Final Cut Pro X’s new magnetic timeline over the last nine days. I’m increasingly coming to believe it’s all a big misunderstanding.

Most of the resentment of the magnetic timeline, as far as I’ve seen, seems to revolve around how it handles clip collisions. In particular, a lot of people seem to be viewing the new timeline’s behavior as bumping clips to other tracks without asking them, and thus viewing FCP X as having tracks they can’t control. But that’s not quite right.

If we define a ‘track’ as a linear container for clips, that runs the full length of the sequence, Final Cut Pro has exactly one of these: the primary storyline. It’s the only place you can drop a clip in an empty sequence, and it’s the only vertical area of the sequence that’s visually demarcated. Even the primary storyline, however, is not quite the sort of track you might be used to:

The fundamental organizational principle of the magnetic timeline is not based around tracks, but around relationships between clips. When two clips collide, and FCP X moves one of them above or below the other, that moved clip isn’t being bumped to another track. There are no tracks. Rather, FCP X is simply overlapping those clips. Vertical stacking is just the way overlapping is presented. FCP X doesn’t have tracks the user can’t control. It has clip relationships the user can control, and it presents the relationships the user has defined using a standardized visual representation.

Looked at in this light, complaining that you can’t directly control what ‘track’ a clip is on in FCP X is like opening a raw text document in a text editor, and complaining that it automatically lays out each character in sequence, in a series of horizontal lines, instead of allowing you to position each character where you want it.

There’s nothing at all ‘unprofessional’ about FCP X’s approach here. In fact, using clip relationships rather than tracks as the fundamental organizational principle for a sequence is extremely powerful, and it’s clear that a huge amount of thought went into this design. But it’s very different, and a lot of people don’t seem to have made a serious attempt to understand it before deciding to hate it.

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7 Responses to Getting inside the magnetic timeline’s head

  1. patrice freymond says:

    Thanks for approaching the new app with a level head and curiosity. I will dive into it next week and your articles are encouraging. I’ve had to change tools many a time over 30 years of editing and I am excited to give this one a try.

    keep up the good work


  2. Well said, once the knee jerk stop people look beneath the surface and make informed comments, this is know as Knowledge Based presentation, love it.

  3. -M says:

    Ok.. well, I’ve been using FCPX almost exclusively since it arrived (despite my upset) so this is not a knee jerk reaction and I can tell you I still don’t like the mag.timeline. Yes I want control. Explain to me how I can (for a music video) add an audio track that I never want to move, but my associated (related) clips might get moved and therefore can easily adjust my audio or delete my audio etc etc. Its just annoying and unnecessary. And this is just a minor example. Lets say I have built my ending exactly where my audio, graphics etc.. and then mix my earlier clips.. well know everything just got screwed up. How’s that for cool. And no the “P” tool doesn’t help a dang bit here.

    • Oren Shomron says:

      You can move the connection point to the end of the music track instead of the beginning. Select the track and CMD-OPTION-Click at the new connectio point. Now you can rearrange earlier clips to your heart’s content, and the ending will remain in sync.

      • BenB says:

        You can also Connect the audio clip below/above the Primary Storyline, and make it a Secondary Storyline, if you need the magnatism in more than one line of clips. You can also make Compound clips to keep a set section in tact so it won’t get messed up. There’s a dozen ways to do it, once you understand how the tools work.

  4. Chris Kenny says:

    M: put your music clip in the primary storyline. Place video clips above it as connected clips, grouped into secondary storylines if appropriate.

    This is not some crazy workaround. It makes sense conceptually for a music video, because the music is what drives the timing of the entire edit, the same way, on another type of project, interview footage in the primary storyline might drive the timing of cutaways attached as connected clips.

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