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Time Freeze in Final Cut

Time Freeze in Final Cut

As you know we are massive fans of Daniel Wallace / Tim Burton’s Big Fish film. One the scenes we attempt to replicate in teaching basic Final Cut techniques is the time freeze scene. This the point in the film with Edward Bloom sees the love of this life, see below.

The scene is brilliant and uses a bit of CGI for the popcorn etc but it is possible to recreate this concept on a basic level using a mix of careful production and post production techniques.

Obviously we won’t have the popcorn or accurate masking but it is great start if you are new to post production with Final Cut or Final Cut Express.

The first stage in creating a time freeze is the careful planning of the scene. I aim to have the main character who will interact with the frozen objects in the centre of the frame for the first attempt at using the technique. As you grow more confident you can move the character to obey the rule of thirds etc.

The frame should be thought of as three separate sections.


A will be our base video layer and it will be this layer that will freeze. B is our main character layer that will be on top of layer A and will be in motion throughout. The image below shows how this will work in Final Cut.


The two white vertical bars are your safer areas. It is important to concentrate throughout recording on these areas that no movement crosses (or enters) these lines.

One technique is to mark the areas on the monitor while recording. If action crosses these lines it will be cropped out in post production. For example if the main character’s hand crosses the safe area it will inevitably be cropped in the final edit.

To make the most of the technique it is important that your freeze layer footage is as active as possible. Freezing a few people standing around isn’t going to make for a good scene. As you can see in Big Fish the use of jugglers enable items to be held in midair and then released again at the end of the scene.

Depending on what you are doing in the scene you may need to capture the scene either as a single shot in which the main character is recorded at the same time as the footage that is to freeze or you may do it in two separate shots. Lighting becomes an issue if you shot two separate shots as changes in the light levels become apparent when you get to the overlay stage. That said it is relatively easy to adjust the brightness of the footage to compensate.

Once you have shot the scene you should now capture it into Final Cut / Express. Drag the base clip (A) on to the first video layer. Then drag the character clip (B) on top (second video layer). If you have shot it as one single shot the B level is simply a duplicate of the original clip.


The first thing we are going to deal with is the audio. We are only going to need one sound line for scene so I suggest removing the audio line of sequence B. Remember that each video line as 2 audio lines for left and right audio and both the L and R lines should be removed.

Click on the top video layer and ‘unlink’ the audio by pressing CMD L. Now select just the audio layer for the sequence B and delete it (delete key).


The next stage is to crop the top video layer to our safe area lines. This enables us to see the layer below that we will freeze.

Double click on the top layer and it will appear in the middle clip viewing window (as well as the sequence window). Click on the ‘Motion’ tab along the top of this window.


In the Crop section drag the left and right sliders to point you think are the safe area lines (this can be tweaked later if necessary).


The top layer will now look something like the above picture. The black areas either side of the main character will reveal the video layer A below (I have hidden this layer for the sake of showing how the crop worked).

Next we have to freeze time on our base layer. Double click on this video layer so it appears in the clip window. Drag the timeline to the point at which time should freeze and cut the video using the razer blade tool (-b). Drag the right most clip to create a space the duration of the freeze.


Ensuring your timeline marker is on the last frame of the first half of the clip (where we made the cut, see above). Click on the Modify Menu and click ‘Freeze Frame’ the shortcut for this action is SHIFT N.

You can now drag the frame in the viewer window on your time time as a still. Click anywhere on this window and drag the image down to the space created on the timeline.


The freeze frame will probably not fill the entire time needed. Simply click on the end of the clip and drag it to fill the time.


This results in a sequence where time is moving, freezes at first cut and then comes alive again at the second cut. At the same time the top video layer is in motion throughout.

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It is definitely worth experimenting with the technique a few times to get the best outcome. Quickly shoot 20-30 seconds of footage to experiment with and build up your confidence in the post production Final Cut stage. Once you have grasped the post production stage it will allow you to be more daring the production scene design aspects of the process.

To get the best from the technique aim for something daring, this some be something about to fall on the main character, time freezes, he/she gets out of the way and the item them crashes down. The more confident you are with the technique the more daring you can become.

Big Fish is a fantastic film, please don’t be tempted to try and watch the film on movie sharing sites as these really won’t do the film any credit at all. The DVD can be bought online for under ?4 why bother with low quality, small screen sectioned alternatives ?!

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