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Final Cut Express: Travel Matte Alpha – How to Use This Awesome Effect!

Izzy and Blake look at the ocean.

I get this question a lot. When I received it again in my email this morning, I decided to make this tutorial for you. It shows you an advanced technique in Final Cut Express.

The resulting effect? You can put moving video inside text on the screen, and then overlay the video text on another video. When you do it right, it creates nice visual interest.

Izzy and Blake on the beach

There are several steps to this. Here is how you use the Travel Matte – Alpha composite mode in Final Cut Express:

1. Place the background element on video layer 1 in the sequence.

Video layers in Final Cut Express are similar to to layers in Photoshop and other image editing programs. Layers pile up on top of each other, and whatever is on bottom is furthest back. So when you’re creating this effect, it’s a good idea to start by placing the background element first.

2. Place your text on top of the background element.

I highly suggest that you use BIG FAT FONTS. The bigger the font, the more you’ll be able to see inside the letters to see the video within them. In this video tutorial I use Arial Black with a bold style applied.

Big fat fonts work great for this effect.

3. Place another layer of video on top of the text layer. This is the video that you want inside the text.

In the tutorial I should have mentioned that it helps to have highly contrasting video clips, otherwise it will be difficult to see the letters themselves. If they’re too similar, they tend to blend. You don’t want this.

4. Apply the “Travel Matte – Alpha” composite mode to the top clip.

In Final Cut Express, select the top clip, go to the “Modify” menu, then Composite Mode, then Travel Matte – Alpha. This will apply the composite mode to the top clip.

A composite mode defines how the pixels in the clip interact with the pixels underneath it. In this case, it looks at the alpha channel (area of transparency) of the clip beneath it, and applies the transparent area around the letters to the top clip.

By the way, you’re not limited to only using text. You can use any gray scale image with transparency instead of the text.

Experiment with different images and patterns to see what kinds of results you get.

44 thoughts on “Final Cut Express: Travel Matte Alpha – How to Use This Awesome Effect!

  1. That was one of the best videos yet! keep them coming !!

    1. Thanks gomike! I’m happy you liked it. :)

  2. Great Izzy. This is how we get better all the time … 5-6 minutes – and we have one more way to add interest to our videos.

    1. That’s my philosophy too, Carsten. In fact, my whole video library is based on that idea. I think there’s a lot of benefit to learning this way. Bite size chunks of knowledge. Easy to digest. :)

  3. Now I know.. Thanks for sharing that great tip.

  4. Cool!
    btw, I didn’t know you can play an unrendered clip when it’s red (orange, yes). Was it because you pressed option+P instead of space bar? (would check on my own but I’m in the middle of a 19 hour render!)

    1. Yes, you can play every frame of an unrendered clip by clicking option+p — although it won’t play at regular speed. Sometimes it will play VERY slowly depending on how many effects/layers there are, but your computer will play every frame as fast as it can.

      How fast will it play back? That depends on the speed of your computer.

      Remember that tip “Option+P”. :)

  5. Awesome! really like this

  6. Yee Haw from Texas ! Thanks Izzy. That was really well done and easy enough that even I (yes ME) was able to understand it.

    1. Mission accomplished!

  7. Great tutorial! How did you get it to play back without having to first render the sequence?

    1. You can see my comment above for details, but basically you press “Option+p” to play back every frame (though it plays more slowly, and without sound).

      1. Thanks for that tip!!!

  8. Very cool effect Izzy. I am really enjoying your teaching style. Thanks So much.

    1. Thanks, Roberto. I do my best to make sure everything is clear, so I appreciate the kind words regarding my teaching style.

  9. Your a star Izzy!

  10. Great Video Izzy, I knew how to do this in After Effects but not Final Cut, Thanks! BTW? Can you do this in FCPro swell?

    1. Thanks Thomas! And yes, you can do the exact same technique in Final Cut Pro.

  11. oops ;p I meant “as well” not swell ….lol.

  12. What and incredible fun to do video, fantabulous!
    Thanks a bunch!

  13. Great idea! I was kinda familiar with the concept from iMovie and iDVD (at least how it looks) but never knew how to make it….it was kind of automatic in iDVD. I can’t wait to use this!!!

    1. Yes, good point. This effect is something you see around quite a bit, but many people don’t know how to do it. Not anymore. ;-)

      Thanks for the comment!

  14. could you do this whit adobe premiere cs-5 please?

    1. Hi Frank, I’m not really familiar with Adobe Premiere, but my guess is that if you can do it in Final Cut Express, you can do it in Premiere.

  15. Hi Izzy, thank you from Austria!

    1. You’re welcome from Arizona! ;-)

  16. Good stuff, Izzy. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

    1. My pleasure, Bob! Thanks for watching!

  17. Thanks, great lesson !!

  18. Can you do a video to explain parenting & nesting ?

    Thank you

  19. Killer. Love it, just used it in a little rain video I’m doing. Great Izzy!

    1. Wow, that’s fast. You’re already using it!

  20. Dear Izzy, like always clear, organized and exciting. Your enthusiasm is contagious. As and adult educator let me applaud you! We want more.

    1. That is so kind of you! Thanks!

      I definitely have more coming. :)

      All the best,


  21. Really helpful, thank you. This was mentioned on the FCE forum. I have found your tutorials so valuable as I get into FCE. Great job Izzy, keep doing them!

    Thanks, Keith

    1. Thanks so much Keith! So glad you found it helpful. :)


  23. Thanks! That was really cool. Could you maybe make a tutorial about all of the composite modes?
    I think it would be worth it.

    1. Someday I’ll get around to that one! :)

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