Adobe Creative Suite 5.5

Adobe’s development efforts have been running full bore with several Creative Suite updates in close succession during recent years. 2011 is no exception, with the launch of Adobe Creative Suite 5.5, announced at NAB. This is a point-five release that concentrates mainly on the video products, which are offered in the Production Premium software collection.

In addition to various improvements and enhancements throughout the applications, Adobe CS5.5 signals some big changes. The first is that the Adobe Creative Suite is now available on both a purchase and a subscription basis. For the first time, Adobe customers may access the power of the Creative Suite tools on a low-cost monthly basis. This is designed to cover suite owners who might be ineligible for upgrade pricing, single product owners and new customers who may want to test the waters for a few months. The individual collections (Master, Design, Web and Production), as well as individual products, may be used with a one-year or month-by-month subscription.

The second big change is that Audition comes to the Mac platform. Audition is Adobe’s full-featured digital audio workstation software. As a Windows application, it was originally part of the collection prior to Adobe Premiere Pro’s return to the Mac. Audition will replace Soundbooth and once again be the audio tool within the Production Premium bundle. Unfortunately, if you really liked Soundbooth, it is now an end-of-life product.

Premiere Pro

I’m going to focus this first look on three of the core products in the Production Premium suite – Premiere Pro, After Effects and Audition. In CS5, Premiere Pro made a big splash with tons of native camera format support, 64-bit operation and the Mercury Playback Engine. For many, Mercury Playback seemed to come down to the CUDA processing technology of specific NVIDIA graphics cards. In reality, MPE is a lot more and not just a function of CUDA. The NVIDIA cards do indeed accelerate certain effects and a wider range of NVIDIA cards is now supported; however, Adobe has integrated additional CPU optimization throughout the product. My Mac Pro has the ATI 5870 card installed and I have no problems with RED, ProRes, AVC-Intra or other native camera formats.

Adobe’s optimization for Premiere Pro CS5.5 is most evident with plug-ins. Previously, filters with custom user interfaces, like Red Giant’s Magic Bullet Colorista II, were extremely sluggish in Premiere Pro. This is now a thing of the past, with Colorista II nearly as responsive as it is in After Effects. That’s super news for me, as I much prefer it to Premiere Pro’s built-in color correction tools. Another example is GenArts Sapphire – a plug-in package installed for After Effects, but which also works in Premiere Pro. When I drop one of these filters onto a 1920×1080 ProRes clip in the timeline, playback is still smooth at full resolution without dropping frames.

Premiere Pro has attracted the interest of the RED camera user community as one of the better desktop editing solutions for their needs. It’s one of the few that can actually work natively with the camera raw .r3d files at a full 4K timeline resolution. Premiere Pro CS5.5 uses the latest RED SDK, which gives Adobe editors access to RED’s “new color science” – meaning better color processing from old and new camera files. The beta version I tested did not yet handle files from EPIC – RED’s newest camera, but Adobe plans to support EPIC at launch, including 5K RED timelines. There will be a link to a software extension via the Adobe Labs website.

Another improvement is better XML and AAF translation when importing projects started in Apple Final Cut Pro and Avid Media Composer, respectively. That often hasn’t worked well for complex sequences when using Premiere Pro CS5; however, it appears to have been fixed in CS5.5. I ran into very few issues importing my XML sequence files from FCP7 into Premiere Pro. To be safe, I first removed filters and embedded Motion projects in Final Cut Pro, but the import worked perfectly with several different test projects. These sequences included video clips, audio files, text and graphics. Premiere Pro properly linked to all of these, plus translated dissolves, opacity changes, speed changes, placeholder text and audio keyframes. Likewise, I was able to move Media Composer sequences, with QuickTime media only linked via Avid Media Access, straight into Premiere Pro and from there into After Effects. This improved interoperability offers the possibility of some exciting alternative workflows for the future.

Audition

Soundbooth was a simplified, task-specific “lite” audio production and post tool. Audition is more sophisticated and can easily hold its own against competitors, like Avid Pro Tools and Apple Logic or Soundtrack Pro. Unlike some of these other applications, it’s designed specifically around audio production, editing and mixing and isn’t bloated with tons of audio loops and MIDI features. This makes it very streamlined for easy use by a video editor. It can be launched and run by itself or as part of a roundtrip with Premiere Pro CS5.5. There is also OMF support for audio post with projects started on Media Composer or Final Cut Pro systems.

Moving from Premiere Pro to Audition is simply a matter of right-clicking the sequence in the Premiere Pro project window and “sending to” an Audition multi-track session. All tracks open in Audition and retain the volume keyframing created in Premiere Pro. In Audition, feel free to edit, add filters and mix. To return, simply use the “Export to Adobe Premiere Pro” option. Completed mono, stereo or 5.1 surround mixes can also be exported as a mixdown, which may be re-imported into Premiere Pro (or another application) for final mastering and encoding.

Audition is designed as two applications in one – a multitrack editor/mixer and a clip-based audio editor. These are identified in the interface by the Waveform and Multitrack tabs. Opening a clip directly in Waveform (or clicking a timeline clip to send it to Waveform) opens a clip-based tool to clean-up, process or otherwise alter individual clips. This uses one of the best spectral view displays of any audio tool and permits Photoshop-style “healing” functions to eliminate unwanted background sounds. The Multitrack tab opens a multitrack timeline and mixer window where you would slip or trim clips, add cross-fades, adjust levels and add track-based filters.

Audition comes with a large selection of Adobe and iZotope filters and can access any VST and/or AU filters installed on your system. This includes those used by Final Cut Pro and additional plug-ins, like Focusrite Scarlett and BIAS. Audition is really a joy to use. It’s very responsive, thanks to a new code base that’s been optimized for multi-core, multi-processor systems. You can easily make on-the-fly changes to filters and other parameters without any hiccups as the timeline continues to play.

Adobe still has some unfinished business to round out Audition. There is no control surface hardware support and I/O for the Mac is limited to units that are supported at the Mac system level. For example, my Avid Mbox2 Mini audio interface works fine for stereo monitoring. There is also no automation mixing. If you want to ride levels throughout a piece, you’ll either have to do that by rubberbanding keyframes for each track or use the mixer automation function within Premiere Pro.

Users can access Adobe’s Resource Central web service from within the Audition interface to download a wealth of sound effects and some music tracks. As yet there are no Soundbooth-style controls within Audition to modify the structure, length or arrangement of these music tracks. Presumably that might resurface in a later version of Audition.

After Effects

Adobe has been promoting their products heavily to the Canon 5D/7D videographers, thanks to good native support for H.264 files. As we all know, these cameras suffer from rolling shutter artifacts, which often distort the image within the frame. An impressive, new After Effects feature is the Warp Stabilizer. This filter combines standard stabilization of a moving shot with intraframe correction of the horizontal and vertical distortion due to rolling shutter. Send a clip to After Effects from Premiere Pro using Dynamic Link and apply the Warp Stabilizer. The clip is analyzed in the background and can be tweaked as needed. The result will be much smoother than the original.

Adobe has also enhanced the z-space tools in After Effects, by changing the lighting falloff behaviors in 3D space. Another addition is the new Camera Lens Blur effect, designed to more accurately simulate realistic shallow depth-of-field looks and rack-focus effects. Finally, After Effects CS5.5 now lets you set up a project using existing stereo 3D elements or you can create a stereoscopic output from a 3D project, which consists of layers of 2D elements. Start by creating a Stereo 3D Rig and position elements in z-space. After Effects provides the controls for stereo convergence, left/right-eye adjustments and stereo output.

Conclusion

I’ve covered the 30,000 foot view, but there’s more, including enhancements to Adobe Story, Flash Catalyst,  Flash Pro and Adobe Media Encoder. Adobe Production Premium includes a complimentary one-year subscription to CS Live, Adobe’s “cloud” web site, which hosts Adobe Story. Scripts created in Story can now be directly imported into Premiere Pro from CS Live, without going through On Location first. These scripts can also be used to reconcile speech-to-text translations created in Premiere Pro. I feel speech translation is still a weak part of the application and fails to deliver on the user’s expectation. Using a transcript to correct the translation errors helps make it a functional feature.

The improvements in the three core applications I’ve discussed make this a worthwhile update for most users. Premiere Pro CS5.5 definitely feels more responsive than the CS5 version and Audition seals the deal if you want advanced audio tools at your disposal. I hope that mixer automation will make it into a software update for Audition without having to wait for CS6. If you’re new to Premiere Pro, this is the version to try. Interchange is good with Final Cut Pro, you can work with Media Composer or FCP7 keyboard layouts and it includes Ultra – one of the best green/blue-screen keyers in any NLE.

It’s quite refreshing to see steady performance improvements in subsequent versions. An editor working with Premiere Pro has seen tangible performance boosts with each new Creative Suite version. Once again, Adobe has ratcheted development up a notch and it shows.

Written for Videography magazine (NewBay Media LLC).

©2011 Oliver Peters

Avid Media Composer 5.5

Avid was first out of the gate in the run-up to NAB with its release of the Media Composer 5.5 update for this flagship NLE product line. Avid Media Composer 5.5 (and the associated Symphony and NewsCutter versions) marks a continued openness starting with the release of Media Composer 5.0 last year. That release demonstrated a major retooling, which drew mixed reviews from veteran Avid editors. The most recent version, 5.0.3.8, is very stable and has been tweaked to adjust the behavior of some of the newest features, like Smart Tool, in an effort to respond to customer input.

New hardware options

The big standout of the Media Composer 5.5 release is the addition of AJA Io Express as a capture and output solution. The other hardware choices still include the Matrox MXO2 Mini, as well as Avid’s own hardware – Avid Mojo SDI, Mojo DX and Nitris DX. The Matrox unit is ideal for simple monitoring, but the AJA Io Express extends the functionality to include SD and HD capture over SDI under Media Composer control.

The Matrox MXO2 Mini hasn’t been left out of this upgrade. It gains additional format support for SD and HD 23.98fps projects, as well as the ability to switch between 1080P and 1080PsF outputs. Both Matrox and AJA provide cost-effective, third-party alternatives to the Avid systems; however, speaking from personal experience, if your budget can justify it, the Avid Nitris DX still offers the best performance overall. The latency common with hardware/software combos used in competing NLEs is almost nonexistent with Mojo DX and Nitris DX.

The Avid Nitris DX chassis was designed with expansion in mind. New this year is a hardware module for the Nitris DX chassis that specifically accelerates AVC-Intra workflows. This enables built-in AVC-Intra encoding and decoding for real-time, multi-stream AVC-Intra timelines. This add-on is targeted towards broadcasters and anyone who has made a heavy investment in P2 equipment.

Thanks to the acquisition of Euphonix, Avid Media Composer has adopted the EUCON protocol, permitting the use of the rebranded Avid Artist control surfaces with Media Composer 5.5. Windows and Mac versions are supported and include the Artist Control, Artist Mix and Artist Transport controllers. Media Composer support for the Artist Color panel, which is supported by Foundry Storm, Autodesk Smoke and Apple Color, didn’t quite make it into this release. If you love tactile surfaces, these units are for you. The only issue seems to be an intermittent tendency to loose EUCON communication over Ethernet, which is often fixed by unplugging and replugging the Ethernet cable to the controller.

Avid Media Composer and Pro Tools play more nicely together these days. You can install them both on the same system (but not open at the same time). Now in this 5.5 release, Media Composer can utilize Pro Tools audio interfaces for audio i/o. This adds multi-channel audio support to Media Composer on workstations where both applications are co-installed.

Avid Media Access

Media Composer 5.5 changes the installation routine for AMA – Avid’s native camera plug-in architecture. The default installation only includes Avid’s QuickTime plug-in (ProRes, H.264, uncompressed, etc.). The various camera plug-ins must be separately installed, but are available from Avid’s or the manufacturers’ download sites. By keeping them separate, it allows users to stay on top of the most recent versions of the plug-in offered by the manufacturer.

Media Composer 5.5 currently supports RED, XDCAM, P2, GF (Ikegami) and XF (Canon) in addition to most QuickTime variants. New is support for Sony’s upcoming HDCAM-SR Lite and SR SQ codecs, although the plug-in hasn’t been released yet. This new codec will be used by Sony in tapeless versions of its HDCAM-SR camcorders. AMA support enables direct access to the file-based media along with the associated metadata.

Another AMA enhancement will let users select between video level options in an updated Source Settings control, first introduced for RED camera raw files. Now it can also be used to scale levels for RGB or Rec. 601/709 values. Since this control displays a “custom/default/load” control, I presume that in the future we’ll see the ability to install display LUTs (look-up tables) for cameras like the ARRI ALEXA.

PhraseFind

Avid Media Composer 5.5 has introduced one major, new “marquee” feature – PhraseFind. This is a dialogue search tool based on phonetic analysis of the audio tracks. It’s similar to AV3 Software’s Get application, since both are powered by the Nexedia dialogue search engine. The big difference is that Get works outside of an NLE, whereas PhraseFind is directly integrated into Media Composer’s interface as part of the newly enhanced Find tool.

To use PhraseFind, simply open Find and type in the word or phrase you want to locate. If your tracks haven’t been analyzed yet, it only takes a few moments for PhraseFind to index the tracks. PhraseFind works on phonetic matches. Scripts/transcripts aren’t used and correct spelling isn’t important. The results window will display a sortable column with an accuracy score. Results with a high percentage (80 or 90%) will typically be good matches, while low scores (50 or 60%) are often wrong; however, percentages aren’t always a reliable indication of a good or bad match. Since the match is phonetic, you’ll discover that there are many words and phrases that sound the same as your query.

The accuracy of the results tends to vary with dialects and a person’s speaking cadence. For instance, I’m using the North American English language installation and one of my projects had only Australian speakers. I had few high-score matches and many of the mid-score matches were wrong. In another project with American speakers – who also spoke more slowly in these interview clips – the matched results frequently had high scores. Even the clips with 50% accuracy included many correct matches.

PhraseFind is a powerful tool that anyone cutting long-form features, documentaries and corporate videos is bound to love. Need to change the inflection of a word to properly end a sentence? Search for that word by the same speaker and do an audio-only edit to insert the appropriate match. As an editor who rarely works with scripted content, it seems more useful to my workflow than ScriptSync; but, like ScriptSync, it is a paid option that is not included with the standard Media Composer installer. In an effort to attract customers to this feature, Avid is offering a number of upgrade deals that include a Media Composer 5.5 upgrade if you purchase PhraseFind. Multiple language packs are also available.

What else is new?

Avid’s designers caught a lot of heat from veteran users over Smart Tool, a contextual tool introduced in version 5 that enabled direct timeline manipulation. The main complaint has been that you can’t completely turn it off. Thanks to the various adjustments since its initial release, Smart Tool largely stays out of the way if you don’t want to use it. I personally map the Smart Tool command to a keyboard key and enable it as needed. This is no different than clicking between a Selection and Rolling Edit key in Final Cut or Premiere Pro. A new addition is Transition Manipulation, giving editors the ability to alter transition durations and locations in a modeless manner, simply by dragging on the transition icon in the timeline.

Media Composer 5 introduced RTAS audio filters, which can be applied to a complete track, as in Pro Tools. With the 5.5 release, Avid added 20 of the Pro Tools AIR audio plug-ins. These can be applied on a per-clip or per-track basis. Media Composer’s audio plug-in implementation is quite good, but misses the factory presets available in Pro Tools. A few of the third-party RTAS filters exhibit some unusual behavior in Media Composer. I own a set of the Focusrite Scarlett plug-ins. These generally work well with Media Composer, however, a couple of the virtual switches don’t respond correctly. Yet, the same plug-ins work fine in Avid Pro Tools 9 or Apple Soundtrack Pro. This tends to be an issue where plug-in developers have tweaked the code for Pro Tools instead of strictly adhering to the RTAS API used by Media Composer.

A few of the other changes will generally go unnoticed. The design team has tweaked some of the interface items, so fonts display more correctly under the corresponding OS. The interface colors have received one minor tweak, where the second darkest background color will now reverse some of the text to white. It’s an area that still needs work, if you prefer a darker user interface. Otherwise, there are no major UI changes between 5.0 and 5.5.

Don’t forget that Avid Media Composer is actually a suite of software, not unlike Adobe’s Production Premium or Apple’s Final Cut Studio. The boxed version includes the Avid Production Suite bundle (a separate purchase for the download version). This has been updated to reflect newer versions of the third-party software. In total, it’s a package worth several thousand dollars at retail that covers Avid customers for encoding (Sorenson Squeeze), advanced effects (Boris Continuum Complete and Avid FX), music (SmartSound SonicFire) and DVD/Blu-ray authoring (Avid DVD). All are cross-platform products, except Avid DVD, which is Windows-only.

Should you upgrade?

If you want to stay current, this is a very solid update, however Media Composer 4 and 5.0.3.8 are also pretty solid. There’s enough in this version to make the minimal upgrade cost worth it, but it depends on whether there are new features that really benefit your workflow.

This is the last 32-bit version. Presumably that means we’ll see a 64-bit Media Composer 6 at some point down the road, but I don’t really suggest waiting it out. If you own Avid Adrenaline hardware, this will be the last version to support it. As much as people opine about 64-bit advantages, I find that the current Media Composer’s 32-bit performance in handling media and real-time effects is still superior to most of the 64-bit NLEs on the market.

PhraseFind adds a powerful new tool to your kit, which covers the upgrade cost from Media Composer 5. That alone makes it attractive. Plus, it’s infectious! The more you use it, the more it becomes ingrained into your editing style. You’ll wonder why it hasn’t been there all along. It’s that kind of innovation, which Avid is known for. I’m glad to see it coming back to their ongoing product design effort.

Written for Videography magazine (NewBay Media LLC).

©2011 Oliver Peters

Video sweetening

Color grading for mood, style and story

Video “sweetening” is both a science and an art. To my way of thinking, Color correction is objective – evening out shot-to-shot consistency and adjusting for improper levels or color balance. Color grading is subjective – giving a movie, show or commercial a “look”. Grading ranges from the simple enhancement of what the director of photography gave you – all the way to completely “relighting” a scene to radically alter the original image. Whenever you grade a project, the look you establish should always be in keeping with the story and the mood the director is trying to achieve. Color provides the subliminal cues that lead the audience deeper into the story.

Under the best of circumstances, the colorist is working as an extension of the director of photography and both are on the same page as the director. Frequently the DP will sit in on the grading session; however, there are many cases – especially in low budget projects – where the DP is no longer involved at that stage. In those circumstances, it is up to the colorist to properly guide the director to the final visual style.

I’ve pulled some examples from two digital films that I graded – The Touch (directed by Jimmy Huckaby) and Scare Zone (directed by Jon Binkowski). The first was shot with a Sony F900 and graded with Final Cut Pro’s internal and third-party tools. The latter used two Sony EX cameras and was graded in Apple Color.

The Touch

This is a faith-oriented film, based on a true story about personal redemption tied to the creation of a local church’s women’s center. The story opens as our lead character is arrested and goes through police station booking. Since this was a small indie film, a real police station was used. This meant the actual, ugly fluorescent lighting – no fancy, stylized police stations, like on CSI. Since the point of this scene isn’t supposed to be pretty, the best way to grade it was to go with the flow. Don’t fight the fluorescent look, but go more gritty and more desaturated.

(Click on any of these images to see an enlarged view.)

Once she’s released and picked up by her loser boyfriend, we are back outside in sunny Florida weather. Just stick with a nice exterior look.

Nearly at the bottom of her life, she’s in a hotel room on the verge of suicide. This was originally a very warm shot, thanks to the incandescents in the room. But I felt it should go cooler. It’s night – there’s a TV on casting bluish light on her – and in general, this is supposed to be a depressing scene. So we swung the shot cooler and again, more desaturated from the original.

The fledgling women’s center holds group counseling sessions in a living room environment. This should feel comfortable and inviting. Here we went warmer.

Our lead character is haunted by the evils of her past, including childhood molestation and a teen rape. This is shown in various flashback sequences marked by an obvious change in editorial treatment utilizing frenetic cutting and speed ramps – together with a different visual look. The flashbacks were graded differently using Magic Bullet Looks for a more stylized appearance, including highlight glows.

Our lead comes to her personal conversion through the church and again, the sanctuary should look warm, natural and inviting. Since the lens used on the F900 resulted in a very deep depth of field, we decided to enhance these wider shots using a tilt-and-shift lens effect in Magic Bullet Looks. The intent was to defocus the background slightly and draw the audience in towards our main character.

Scare Zone

As you’ve probably gathered, Scare Zone is a completely different sort of tale than The Touch. Scare Zone is a comedy-horror film based on a Halloween haunted house attraction, which I discussed in this earlier post. In this story, our ensemble cast are part-time employees who work as “scaractors” in the evening. But… They are being killed off by a real killer. Most of the action takes place in the attraction sets and gift shop, with a few excursions off property. As such, the lighting style was a mixed bag, showing the attraction with “work lights” only and with full “attraction lighting”. We also have scenes without lights, except what is supposed to be moonlight or street lamp lighting coming through leaks from the exterior windows. And, of course, there’s the theatrical make-up.

This example shows one of the attraction scenes with work lights as the slightly, off-kilter manager explains their individual roles.

(Click on any of these images to see an enlarged view.)

Here are several frames showing one of the actors in scenes with show lighting, work lights and at home.

These are several frames from the film’s attraction/action/montage segments showing scaractor activity under show lighting. In the last frame, one of our actresses gets attacked.

The gift shop has a more normal lighting appearance. Not as warm as the work light condition, but warmer than the attraction lighting. In order to soften the look of the Goth make-up on the close-ups of our lead actress, I used a very slight application of the FCP compound blur filter.

Naturally, as in any thriller, the audience is to be left guessing throughout most of the film about the identity of the real killer. In this scene one of the actresses is being follow by the possible killer. Or is he? It’s a dark part of the hallway in a “show lighting” scene. One of the little extras done here was to use two secondaries with vignettes to brighten each eye socket of the mask, so as to better see the whites of the character’s eyes.

A crowd of guests line up on the outside, waiting to get into the attraction. It’s supposed to look like a shopping mall parking lot at night with minimal exterior lighting.

And lastly, these frames are from some of the attack scenes during what is supposed to be pre-show or after-show lighting conditions. In the first frame, one of our actresses is being chased by the killer through the attraction hallways and appears to have been caught. Although the vignette was natural, I enhanced this shot to keep it from being so dark that you couldn’t make out the action. The last two frames show some unfortunate vandals who tried to trash the place over the night. This is supposed to be a “lights-off” scene, with the only light being from the outside through leaks. And their flashlights, of course. The last frame required the use of secondary correction to make the color of the stage blood appear more natural.

©2011 Oliver Peters

Cool Tools for Spring

Time to catch up on a few items that will improve your editing and make your daily tasks easier.

(Click on the images below for an enlarged view.)

DiscCatalogMaker

Editors are increasingly using inexpensive hard drives as a method of archiving. But how do you keep track of where your files are? As I started to look around, I realized I already owned a very functional utility, simply because I had Roxio’s Toast. One of the extra applications installed and in the folder is DiscCatalogMaker RE. It automatically catalogs all of the discs you’ve ever burned, but it can also be used to index hard drives. Simply start a new catalog and have it scan a target drive. This file can be saved and printed. It’s also searchable, so you can easily find files without mounting the drive. Once you add/delete/change files on the drive, just rescan it and re-save the updated file.

Red Giant Software Magic Bullet PhotoLooks

If you like Magic Bullet Looks and you do a lot of work with stills, then check out PhotoLooks. I touched on this in my Stocking Stuffers post, but it’s worth another mention. Like Looks for video applications, PhotoLooks runs in an external LooksBuilderPL application that is optimized for stills. PhotoLooks works as a plug-in for Photoshop, Aperture and Lightroom and uses the same chain of tools as the video version. As you can see in this Alamo photo, it’s quite easy to create very stylized still photos in post.

Digital Film Tools PhotoCopy

At first glance, PhotoCopy might seem like it’s doing the same functions as Magic Bullet Looks, but that would be wrong. Like Looks, the plug-in launches a separate, customized interface, but that’s where the similarities end.  DFT PhotoCopy uses representative samples from movies, paintings, photographs, etc. to apply color correction and texture to your target photo or video clips.

These can work like color grading presets – or in the case of paintings – apply brush strokes and texture to the image. This isn’t just a simple overlay. PhotoCopy does an analysis of the target image, in order to intelligently apply the right effect or colors to the appropriate positions within the shot. These can be further adjusted by slider controls in the interface. PhotoCopy runs in Final Cut Pro, Media Composer, After Effects, Photoshop, Aperture and Lightroom; however, different licenses must be purchased for the motion and the still photo versions of the tool.

Nick Shaw ALEXA Look-Up Tables (LUTs)

As editors start to wrap their heads around post workflows for the ARRI ALEXA camera, the biggest issue seems to be the best method of converting the Log-C profile recorded by the camera into nice-looking Rec. 709 images for the client. Log-C images are viewable, but appear flat and washed out prior to grading. UK-based post consultant Nick Shaw has developed a set of FCP plug-ins designed to convert Log-C images into Rec. 709. They include a few extra features, like saturation boost and timecode/text burn-in fields. For now, these are considered to be “preview” quality, since the LUTs truncate the bit-depth to an 8-bit scale. The current paid version supports the camera’s 3.0 firmware.

Luca Visual FX

I’ve covered the Luca Visual FX tools a few times in my color grading posts. Their plug-ins are offered as part of the FxFactory product line. In addition to plug-ins, Luca Visual FX also offers a set of Film FX and Light Transitions. They have recently released the Film FX 2.0 package. Unlike the plug-ins, these tools are a set of QuickTime movie files using the Animation codec with an alpha channel. As such, they can be used with nearly any NLE or motion graphics application and aren’t dependent on a specific plug-in architecture. In the case of Final Cut or Media Composer, simply place a clip on an upper track and the rest is done. In the previous post, I covered some ways in which these can be used with different fills or by combining several clips for a custom effect. The Film FX 2.0 package adds more grunge to the options in Film FX 1.0 for new and dynamic effects.

Noise Industries FxFactory Manifesto

A better Final Cut Pro title tool and it’s free. What’s not to like? Noise Industries launched Manifesto – a lightweight, yet powerful title generator – as part of the FxFactory toolset. It installs as two generator plug-ins – one for static titles and another for rolls and crawls. Text composition is very easy and the plug-in draws on many of the built-in frameworks of Mac OSX, such as fonts, colors and spell-checking. You can also import existing RTF files and Manifesto will use the formatting of that file.

Focusrite Scarlett

Another tool I touched on in the Stocking Stuffers post was the Focusrite Scarlett software filters suite. This set of four audio plug-ins (EQ, compressor, gate, reverb) installs in VST/AU and RTAS formats. On a Mac, they’ll work in most DAWs, as well as Media Composer (5, 5.5) and Final Cut Pro (sliders only – no custom GUI). These filters are designed to look and sound like their classic hardware brethren. In general, they run best in Avid Pro Tools, Adobe Audition and Apple Soundtrack Pro and provide a reasonably-priced filter package for those who want to go beyond the healthy set of options already included with these applications. Focusrite also sells other software plug-in products, including Midnight, Forte, Guitar FX and more.

Noise Industries FxFactory Photo Montage

Noise Industries just introduced a great new tool for assembling photographic montage sequences, called simply Photo Montage. There are several of these on the market, but the Noise Industries version is easy to use and offers plenty of presets, as well as many ways to customize the style, moves, transitions and other attributes. Like most of their plug-ins, Photo Montage is GPU-accelerated and works in Final Cut Pro, Final Cut Express, Motion and After Effects. It supports most common image formats including JPEG, PNG and PSD, so getting started is as easy as applying one of the generator effects, choosing the source image folder and applying a preset. From there, you can re-order the stills, alter the animation parameters and so on.

Digital Heaven Final Print 2.0

Many of Digital Heaven’s tools are designed around improving the editor’s efficiency and taking some of the drudgery out of non-editorial tasks. Often editors have to supply reports to clients, marker list print outs and more. A helpful application is Final Print, which has just been updated to version 2.0. You can start with XML files or directly load projects from FCP7. Final Print 2.0 will not only display various marker lists (which can be filtered by color), but also sequence lists complete with thumbnails and timecode. If you need to generate various reports out of Final Cut Pro – such as the director’s notes from marker text – Final Print 2 provides one of the best and most attractive ways to do that.

©2011 Oliver Peters