Building A Better Drop Zone – Part 1: Fit to Height

Final Cut Pro’s Master Template feature allows editors to access files authored in Apple’s Motion app, which is designed for animation, effects, and titling. Images and clips in Master Templates can be substituted directly in Final Cut Pro. This article is part of a series for experienced Motion users on the topic of improving the current state of Drop Zone functionality.

Over the past couple years, many customers have written in to ask how to avoid “the William Wallace effect” on taller photos that get cropped when they’re added to Drop Zones:


Up until now, the only answer has been: prepare your photos for the correct aspect ratio ahead of time in Photoshop either by cropping them or by adding transparent pillar-boxing. In preparing our Drop Zones Vol 2 Template Pack we did some R&D and came up with some better options.

This tutorial will explain how to use Motion to design Templates that scale taller media to match the height of Drop Zones:

braveheart match to height

Please note, this tutorial isn’t written for the average video editor who uses Templates, but rather for the Motion users who design them.

As you know, Motion allows you to designate an image or clip as an FCP accessible Drop Zone with three scaling options – fit / center / stretch:

Here’s what those scaling options do to an image added to the Drop Zone:

original image designated as drop zone

drop zone set to fit

drop zone set to center

drop zone set to stretch

So, what’s missing? Well for one starters, a “fit to height” option would be nice and that’s what this tutorial focuses on:

the missing fit to height option

You could stick with the “center” option and achieve this result by scaling your image to the correct height in Photoshop. But we’re looking for an option that will bypass the need for busy video editors to open another app.

It turns out, there are a couple different ways to pull this off in Motion.

If you really want to nerd out with me for a minute it’s worth taking a quick look at how Motion decides to scale and crop an image when the Drop Zone is set to “fit” and the aspect ratio of the image is different than the Drop Zone. Motion chooses to scale the image to match either the height OR the width of the Drop Zone. With a taller image it chooses the option that will result in the need to crop the top and bottom of the scaled image to match the aspect of the Drop Zone. (With a wider image it chooses the option that will result in the need to crop the left and right. It never chooses the option that would necessitate cropping both the top and bottom and the left and right.)

Both solutions start with the fact that we need to find a way to dictate that the Drop Zone scaling should always scale the height of the image to the height of the Drop Zone, and never pay attention to the width.

There’s a simple way to do this, and that is to make a Drop Zone image that will always be skinnier than the image placed in it. My original Drop Zone image was a 1920×1080 JPG with an aspect ratio of 16:9. This new one measures 200×1080 pixels with an aspect ratio of 1:5

skinny image to make into a drop zone

the image in the skinny drop zone

So now we solved one problem but created another. When we add an image to the Drop Zone it gets cropped on the left and right to match the aspect ratio of the skinny Drop Zone:


There are two ways I’ve figured out to keep the Drop Zone from applying this crop.

One method is to put a Negate behavior on the Crop parameter of the Drop Zone.

When the image is scaled and cropped to fit the Drop Zone that scaling and cropping isn’t done somewhere in the background of the app. As you can see in the image above, it happens because Motion is adjusting those Transform parameters for you. Since you have access to those parameters, you can override them.

The Crop parameter is found in the Properties tab of the Inspector, and you can apply a Negate behavior to its Left, Right, Bottom and Top all at once by right (control) clicking on the word “Crop” next to the check-box and choosing “negate”:

negating the crop parameter


left and right crops removed

Here’s what the Layers Window looks like:

Instead of the Negate behavior, you could have also gone with a Clamp behavior. The name makes it sound like the more apt of the two choices, but I like the Negate option just because it don’t have any parameters you need to fiddle around with.

layers window for negate behavior

So that’s Option 1.

But there’s also another way you can prevent that cropping — a Clone Layer. You apply whatever effects or animation you were planning for the Drop Zone onto the Clone Layer instead. Here’s how you do it:

Before you add the image to the Drop Zone make sure your playhead is on the same frame as the in-point of the Drop Zone because that’s where the clone will start and you probably want them to both start on the same frame to save headaches later.

The Clone Layer gets an offset on its X and Y position parameters, presumably because the folks at Apple want to make sure you totally realize that, yes, you have created a clone. You may very well want to go into the Properties tab of the clone layer and reset it’s X and Y position parameters.

Clone the Drop Zone by selecting it in the Layers window and pressing the “k” key. When you do this, a Clone Layer appears above it.

When you’re done, turn off the original Drop Zone by un-checking it in the layers window:

layers window for clone

Now, when you add an image to the Drop Zone layer, that image gets cloned, and the Clone Layer isn’t cropped because the Crop parameter is unique for the Clone Layer and independent of the Drop Zone layer it is sourced from:

cloned drop zone on canvas

Actually, one difference is that with the clone method, video editors won’t be able to adjust the X and Y offset of the Drop Zone in Final Cut Pro because that’s being applied to the Drop Zone instead of the Clone Layer. You can get around this by putting a Match Move behavior on the Clone Layer and telling it to “mimic” the movement of the Drop Zone.

So that’s it. Two methods. Same result. It’ll work in both Motion 3 and Motion 4.

Both of these methods can also be utilized if you’re expecting media that is wider than your Drop Zone. The only difference is that instead of starting with a really skinny Drop Zone, you start with one that isn’t very tall but has the width you want media to scale to.

These are just some of the tricks that we picked up while putting together Drop Zones Vol 2. As we continue this series of tutorials, we’ll look at even more ways you can improve on Drop Zones functionality.

Until then, good luck with your projects.

- Sam from (as seen below with a feathered intruder who found himself trapped inside FCPTemplates HQ early this morning)

sam with bird