How to Use Hitfilm Express 4 for Beginners

This article will walk you through how to use Hitfilm Express 4, a powerful and highly capable free editing suite that lets users create beautiful and professional-quality films and videos easily and quickly. I’ll show you:

  • How to begin and format a new project

  • How to use essential editing tools

  • How to add and customize special effects

  • How to save and share completed videos

To download Hitfilm Express 4, simply go to Hitfilm.com/Express and follow the instructions for downloading to Mac or Windows.

New Project

When you first open Hitfilm Express 4 on your computer, you’ll see the Home page with a range of video tutorials for various tools and features, a User Guide button, and a left-side menu that offers a range of optional Add-On Packs to enhance your editing capabilities.

First, I want to guide you through some of the basics of using this versatile program.

To get started with your new project, click on New in the top-left corner of the window, and the Project page will open up.

Click “New” to begin a new project in Hitfilm

The Project page is where you’ll choose the essential settings for your new project, including settings such as Template, which lets you optimize your video for various platforms.

For now, just leave all the default settings as they are and just click “Start Editing” to get going.

In the New Project window, you can adjust the settings, such as “Template” to fit the project you’d like to make


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Keep in mind that it’s always wise to stop and “Save” every so often, just in case.

Edit Window

Once you click “Start Editing” you’ll be taken to the Edit window. If you look around you’ll see the Viewer panel at the top-right, the Trimmer panel at the top-left, a Library panel at the bottom-left, and then the Timeline along the bottom.

It may look a bit intimidating at first, but I’ll walk you through all the basic windows, lists, tools, and processes and you’ll be editing like a pro in no time!

One thing you should know before you get started is that you can adjust the look of your Edit window.

At the top-left of the Edit window, you’ll see a little icon that looks like a grid. When you click that icon, it opens a Workspaces panel where you can select the layout and features in your Edit window.

The Classic setting is the default setting, and that’s what I’ll be using for this tutorial, but you can play with the adjustments later on and figure out which configuration best meets your needs.

Click the Grid icon to adjust the layout of your Edit page

Media

First, you’ll need to import some media files with which to construct your new video project. All you need to do is go down to the Library panel at the bottom-left, click the Media tab, and click on Import.

This will open a finder window where you can click through the folders on your computer and select the video, audio, and still image files you want to use.

Another importing method is to click, drag, and drop files straight from your desktop into the Media Library.

Note: Once you import media files into Hitfilm Express 4, they’re referred to as “tracks,” and that’s the term I will be using from now on.

In the Library panel, click the Media tab, then Click Import to find media files on your computer

Once you’ve imported a few dozen files into your Library, it can be easy to get overwhelmed.

To help you stay organized, you can create folders inside of your Media Library. One easy way to do that is to move your cursor over the Library space, right-click, select New, and then select Folder from the menu.

Once the new folder appears in the list, you just need to give it a name and drag files into that folder to keep them together in one place. You could also click New Folder at the bottom of the Library.

Right-click inside the Library panel, then select New, then select Folder.

Track List

One thing to notice is the Track List at the left edge of the Timeline. You’ll see that video tracks have a little eye icon, and audio tracks have a speaker icon.

If you click on those icons, you can hide or mute that track. This allows you to play your video in the Preview window and focus on specific tracks. For example, maybe you want to hear how some background music audios all by itself, or if you want to view your current video without a certain scene in it, to help you decide if you want to keep that scene.

Creating Clips

Now, up at the top-left of the Edit window, you have a Trimmer screen. If you click on a video track in your Library, you’ll see a preview of that track appear in the Trimmer. This screen has the usual controls you see on any video player, such as Play, Fast Forward, etc.

You also have two little icons that look like an arrow coming out of a box. Those icons are what you use to select a section of a track.

Let’s say you have a 30-second video track of the Earth spinning, and you only want a 10-second section to use in your video. Here’s how to cut clips out of videos:

  1. Click Play at the bottom of the Trimmer screen and you’ll see a tiny vertical white line moving from left to right. That’s the progress bar.
  2. Click Stop at the point where you want the clip to begin.
  3. Click on the little arrow-box icon that’s pointing to the right. That’s the “In” command and tells the program that this point is your starting point.
  4. Click Play again, and then Stop when the progress bar reaches the place where you want the clip to end.
  5. Now click the other arrow-box, the one that’s pointing to the left. This is the “Out” command and marks the end of the clip.
  6. Finally, click the icon that looks like an arrow pointing down into a box with a black space in the middle. This button automatically adds you clip to your Timeline. You can also click and hold on the Trimmer screen, and just drag the clip into the Timeline.

Use the “In” and “Out” command buttons to select the beginning and end of a specific clip

When you add the clip to the Timeline, you may get a little pop-up window asking if you want to change the Editor Sequence’s Settings to match the current clip.

Just click Yes, and the program will adjust the editor to match the formatting of your clip and insert it into your Timeline. Now your clip is a new track!

Click the “Move to Timeline” button to import your new clipped scene straight from the Trimmer into the Timeline

Once you have a track your Timeline, click on the track to select it, and that track will appear up in the Preview panel. Any time you select a track in the Timeline, it will appear in the Preview panel.

Speed/Duration

Now I’d like to show you some of the editing tools you have available.

Let’s say you have a track that you’d like to use as the opening scene of the video, but the track moves too slowly and takes up too much time onscreen. Hitfilm Express 4 offers you a way to speed up or slow down your tracks to get just the right look and speed.

All you need to do is click on the track in the Timeline, right-click to open a menu, and then select Speed/Duration.

When the little window opens up, you can either adjust the speed percentage or adjust the Duration by typing in the number of seconds you want that track to appear on screen.

Right-click on a track in your Timeline, then select Speed/Duration to adjust the playing speed

Formatting Tracks

Now there’s one thing you may notice as you work: Remember earlier when you imported a media track and got a pop-up window asking if you wanted to change the formatting to match the Editor to your track’s format?

Well, when you drag a media file straight from your Library into the Timeline, that pop-up window may not appear, so you might end up with some mismatched tracks in your Timeline.

If you happen to drag a track into the Timeline and it’s in a format that doesn’t match your current settings, the track will appear as an odd size up in the Viewer panel. But never fear, there are two simple ways that you can solve that problem.

Method 1: When a non-matching track appears as an odd size in the Viewer, you’ll see a sizing box around the image. To make the track fill the frame, simply click on one of the corners, hold down the Shift key, and drag the corner out toward the edge of the Viewer.

As you adjust the size of the image to fit the Viewer frame, the program is adjusting the formatting, so that it matches your current settings.

Click and drag the corner of the Resizing box to make the track image fill the frame

Method 2: Right-click on the track inside the Timeline, then click “Transform” in the menu, and then select “Fit To Frame.”

Editing Tools

Now let’s check out some of the editing tools. At the left edge of the Timeline, you’ll see a vertical toolbar.

At the top of the toolbar is the Selection arrow. This tool lets you select and move tracks around.

Just below the Selection arrow is the Drag tool, which looks like a little hand with a pointing finger. This tool lets you grab and move the entire Timeline back and forth.

Use the Drag tool to move quickly through your Timeline

Below the Drag tool, you’ll see the Slice tool. This tool’s icon looks like a razor blade and lets you make cuts in your tracks. For example, maybe you want to cut a piece out of a longer track or add a scene right in the middle of a track.

Use the Slice tool to cut tracks into sections

Another great tool is the Snap tool. It looks like a little horseshoe or magnet and is located at the bottom of the Editor toolbar.

I like to leave this tool on almost all the time so that when I move tracks around the Timeline, they’ll automatically “snap” to the tracks nearby. This helps users avoid accidentally leaving gaps in their video.

Audio

Now let’s take a look at some audio editing options.

Maybe you have a video track with some embedded audio, like a street scene with background noises such as cars, honking horns, and foot traffic.

When you import a video track to your Timeline, the audio track will appear just underneath the video track. If you click on the audio track in the Timeline, the track will turn green, and you’ll see a thin horizontal line running across the bottom of the track.

When you drag that line up and down, and the audio volume will adjust up and down.

Click on an audio track and then drag the volume line up and down to adjust the volume

You’ll also see a Meter panel at the right edge of the Timeline, with moving colored bars. These bars represent the volume of your audio and can help you adjust the volume of specific tracks.

Keep in mind that when you add a video track to the Timeline, any audio in that track will appear as its own track and will be automatically linked to the video track.

If you want to get rid of the audio, maybe to replace it with some music, all you need to do is right-click on the audio track, and select “Unlink” from the menu.

This action separates the audio and video, and then you can move or delete the audio track without affecting the video track.

 Right-click on a track and select “Unlink” from the menu

Transitions

Adding Transitions is a great way to connect different scenes and audio tracks in a smooth, professional-looking style. For example, maybe you want your opening credits to slowly fade into the first scene, or have the last scene wipe into the closing credits.

All you need to do is go to your Library panel at the bottom-left and click on the Effects tab. This will open a new menu filled with all kinds of wonderful effects.

From the Effects menu, you’ll want to click on Transitions. Now, you simply click on a transition and drop it into the Timeline in between the two connected tracks where you want the fade to appear.

There’s also an audio Transition that lets you make audio tracks fade in and out. Simply find the Audio Transition in the Effects menu, then drag and drop Fade directly onto the end of a track that you want to fade out, from loud to soft. Or you can drag and drop it onto the beginning of an audio track that you’d like to fade in, from soft to loud.

Choose “Fade” from the Audio Effects menu, then drag and drop directly onto your audio track

Text

To get started, make sure the Media tab is selected in your Library panel, then click on New right next to the Import button. Then, choose Composite Shot.

Click New, then choose Composite Shot to open the Properties panel

A Composite Shot is essentially a scene made out of different layers. If you’ve worked with certain photo editing programs before, you’re probably familiar with layers.

The advantage of having text on a separate layer is that you can edit and move the text around without changing anything in the layers underneath.

Once you click New, and Then Composite Shot, a Properties panel will open. For this demonstration, I’ll type the name “Text” in the Name box at the top. Then click Ok at the bottom.

Once you click Ok, you’ll see the name “Text,” appear at the top-left corner of the Timeline, next to the word “Editor’. That shows you that your new Composite Shot is active.

Open the Composite Shot properties panel, enter a name, and click Ok.

Under the new Text tab at the top of the Timeline, you’ll see a search bar. Under that search bar is a blank space. Right-click inside that space, select New Layer, and then select Text.

Right-click in the space under the Text tab, then click New, then click Text

When the little Text Properties panel appears, just click Ok.

Next, you’ll see a box with a blue outline appear in your Viewer panel. Click inside that box, and now you can just start typing.

Open the Text properties panel, click Ok, then start typing in the blue box in the Preview panel.

Once you create your text, it will appear as a separate track over in your Media Library. All you need to do is click, drag, and drop the text into the Timeline above the video and media tracks.

Remember, you’re essentially working with layers here, so you need to place the text above the other tracks, so that it’s visible. If you placed it under the other tracks in the Timeline, you wouldn’t be able to see it.

If you need to move the text around the Timeline, so that it appears onscreen at just the right moment in the video, just use the Selector tool, that little arrow icon in the Timeline toolbar.

Click and drag the Text track over to the top of your Timeline, and the text will appear in the Preview panel

Editing Text

If you’d like to change the font, color, or size of the text, there’s a panel where you can find text controls, but it may not be immediately obvious where that panel is located.

To find the text controls, go down to your Library panel and look at the menu tabs across the top. You’ll see Media, Effects, Controls, etc. At the right side of that menu, you’ll see a tiny arrow.

Just click that arrow, and you’ll see a whole new set of additional menu tabs, including a Text tab. Click on Text, and the controls you’re after will appear below.

Click and drag the Text track over to the top of your Timeline, and the text will appear in the Preview panel

You can also adjust how long the text appears on the screen. Just move your cursor to the end of the text track the Timeline, click, and you’ll see the cursor turn into a bracket.

Now you can click and drag the end of the track back and forth to lengthen or shorten the amount of time the text appears on the screen.

Move your cursor to the end of the text track, then click and drag the brakes to lengthen or shorten the amount of time the text appears on the screen

You can also drag and drop the Text track directly ONTO a video track in the Timeline, and then the two tracks will be linked, but if you prefer to keep the text separate so that you can play with it and move it around independently, just leave it as a separate track.

Special Effects

To add an effect to a video track, select the Effects tab from the menu at the top of the Media Library panel.

Scroll down the Effects menu, and you’ll see Particles & Simulation. Under the Particles & Simulation heading is an option named Lightning & Electricity.

Click on a video track in your Timeline, then choose Lightning & Electricity from the Effects menu, and drag and drop it onto the selected track.

Since you selected the video track, it will appear up in the Viewer panel. As soon as you drop Lightning & Electricity onto the track, you’ll see a lightning bolt appear over the image in the Viewer.

At either end of the lightning bolt, you’ll notice a small dot, almost like a little glowing star. If you click and drag the dots, you can change the size, orientation, and shape of the lightning bolt.

Click and drag the small Resizing dots to adjust the size, shape, and orientation of the effect

You can make even more adjustments to the lightning bolt under the Controls tab in the Library panel.

Simply click the Controls tab, then scroll down until you see the Lightning & Electricity effect. Click on the effect, and it will open a set of controls that you can use to further customize the look of your effects.

Take some time to play around with the effects and effects controllers so you can get familiar with the tools and options. And remember, you can click Play at the bottom of the viewer panel to see how your effects will look in the completed video.

As you make adjustments, you can click Play under the Preview panel to see how your effects look.

Green Screen

Green screens have been a favorite tool of video and film editors for decades. It’s an easy way to insert characters into fantasy worlds, for example, and Hitfilm Express 4 offers this option to make your videos even more amazing and eye-catching than ever before.

The most common type of green screen effects typically features some characters or subjects performing in front of a flat green background. In this example, I’ll use a track featuring some chickens in front of a green screen.

First, you’ll need to import a green screen video file into your Media Library. You might have already filmed your own video, you can search around the internet for random green screen clips, or you can look for specific websites that offer free green screen clip downloads.

Next, select a background video track. You can choose any video track to experiment with. In this example, I have some footage of a street scene, with cars and pedestrians passing by. Move the background track into your Timeline above the other tracks.

Now, find your imported green screen track in the Media Library, click, and drag and drop it directly above the background track in the Timeline. I’ll use a track of some chickens for this example.

By placing the green screen track at the top of the Timeline, you’re essentially placing a green screen layer on top of all the other layers, including the street scene background.

Now click to select the green screen track in the Timeline, and you’ll see the image appear in the Preview panel.

Drag and drop the green screen track above the video tracks in your Timeline

With the green screen track selected, go over and click the Effects tab, and scroll down until you see a category named “Keying.”

Expand the Keying category, and choose Hue & RGB Key from the list. Click, drag, and drop Hue & RGB Key directly onto the green screen track in the Timeline.

Now, depending on how your default settings are configured, you might see something weird when you drop the Hue & RGB Key onto your track:

You may see that the green background stays as it is, and the foreground figures become “invisible” and show through to the background, which is NOT the effect you’re after. Don’t worry; it’s easy to correct this!

Go back to Hue & RGB Key in the Effects menu, click the little arrow to expand the list, and you’ll see a control panel. At the top of the panel is an eyedropper icon.

Click on the eyedropper, drag it up to the Preview panel, and click on the green background.

As soon as you click, you should see the green disappear, the figures reappear, and the street scene is now visible in the background.

[28:18 Use the eyedropper tool to select the green background in the Preview panel to reveal the background track

Resizing

You can also adjust the size of the foreground figures in your green screen scene.

If you look at the Preview window, you’ll see a blue sizing box around the screen. Click on a corner, hold down the shift key, and drag the corner to adjust the size.

Click on a corner of the Resizing box to adjust the size of the foreground figures

Once you have the figures where you want them, you can click Play at the bottom of the Viewer and check how everything looks.

Export

Now that you’ve learned how to import media, create text, add effects, and perform some essential editing functions, it’s time to learn how to save and export a finished project.

First, go to the vertical toolbar at the left edge of the Timeline, and find the icon near the bottom that looks like a film frame. That’s the Export Content tool.

Once you click, a panel will pop up telling you that “The Editor timeline has been added to the Export Queue.” Just click Go to Export.

A Queue panel will open with your selected project listed at the top. In this panel, you have some adjustments you can make.

For example, you can optimize your video for various platforms like YouTube or Vimeo, as well as for different devices such as iPad and iPhone, just by clicking the little arrow under the Preset tab.

You can also click on the file directly under the Output tab and choose where you want the video to be stored on your computer.

Once you’ve set everything the way you want it, go down to the bottom of the Queue panel and click Start Exporting. Once the export is complete, your finished project is ready to share with the world!!

I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s tutorial! When you’re ready to learn more, just click Home at the top of your window to return to the homepage where you can find a great selection of video tutorials, as well as the button that takes you to the User Manual.

Before you know it you’ll be producing professional-looking videos that will amaze and impress any audience.

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