FCP X tools, Part 4 – distress effects

You spend good money to shoot gorgeous footage and people go out of their way to make it look worse! I’m kidding, of course, but adding grunge and distress effects is all the rage. Every package of filters includes its share of aged film, TV interference, frame skip and channel switching effects. Naturally this includes the various packages available for FCP X. As a category, this actually includes a lot of filters that one might consider as grading, like “look” and “mood” effects. For example, a golden “desert heat” look.

A number of these grunge effects can be found as transition effects, which I covered a few posts ago. These include frame roll, skip and bump effects from Nattress, Digital Heaven and Luca VFX. Of these, Luca offers the most comprehensive set of such effects in their Grunge Collection of effects packages. For FCP X, these include transitions, filters and generators that cover film leaders, light leak and grunge effects, like splatters, burns and more.

The way filters and transitions work is obvious, but generator effects usually stack onto the project timeline as a connected clip. This gives you the option of using blend modes to control how the generator is composited over the primary clip. Since most of these effects have a start, middle and end to how they are built, many can function as a transition device by placing the clip over a cut between two video clips. As a generator effect, you can further modify it with other filters. For example, apply a light leak generator, change the blend mode to overlay and then apply a crosshatch effect to the generator. Luca VFX also offers a set of Alpha Transition effects, which are keyable QuickTime movies. I’ve reviewed these before, but a big selling point is that they’ll work with nearly any NLE, not just those that are based on the FxPlug architecture.

A new supplier is DigiEffects, which has recently introduced their Damage and Delirium Phenomena packages for FCP X. As the name implies, Damage includes various grain and artifact filters. Delirium is a set of particle-based effects, including fireworks, fire, smoke, fairy dust and a lot more. This is a very nice set of effects, but I’m sorry to say performance in FCP X was poor. Rendering is definitely required. On the other hand, performance in After Effects was really good and there were a lot more filters available. In the end, I’d have to recommend using it with After Effects, but not FCP X.

There are actually some very nice grunge and distress effects that are included with FCP X as built-in effects. These can be found in the Stylize and Looks categories of the effects palette. You’ll find both color grading looks, as well as filters for film defects, raster effects and others. The best news is that these are optimized to run well in real-time unrendered.

Although this filter might not really be considered a grunge effect, I’m going to toss it in here anyway. That’s the CrumplePop ShrinkRay X filter, which installs into the Stylize category. ShrinkRay X is a type of tilt-shift/selective-blur filter. You can set up several ranges for the blurring, including the main area and three additional patches. You can also control saturation and contrast as an extra bonus. It’s a great little filter when you need that selective focus appearance.

For now, I’ll skip discussion of the effects included in Magic Bullet Looks and Sapphire Edge. They, too, include effects that fit into this post, but since these are filter suites with custom interfaces, I’ll save that post for next week.

©2012 Oliver Peters

FCP X tools, Part 3 – color grade effects

I’ve posted numerous entries about using various filters and tools to accomplish color correction and grading. I’ve also taken a look at how to use the color board in FCP X. Now it’s time to see what tools are out there if you just don’t feel comfortable with the color board.

Final Cut Pro X effects resources have been starting to quickly shore up. Noise Industries, GenArts, Red Giant and CoreMelt are some of the popular names who have been able to modify their FxPlug filters to work with FCP X, as well as Motion, FCP 7 and After Effects. In FCP X, filter parameters are built on slider controls, which has made it difficult to implement some of the popular filters used for color grading. With the latest updates, developers have been able to start taking advantage of user interface overlays to add controls for wheels and curves, which are important tools in working with color.

Noise Industries has been adding to its roster of partners and many of these have added welcome color grading features. Nattress and Sheffield are two that come from the early FCP days and FxScript development. The Nattress curves package and Sheffield Softworks Vintage and Looks Sweet 2 packages have been updated for FxPlug and are now available for all the supported FxFactory hosts, including FCP X. Looks Sweet 2 is a stylizing package that affects lighting and vibrancy in an image, while Vintage duplicates Technicolor processes.

Nattress Curves and Levels adds a badly-needed tool to FCP X. As the name implies, you have control over curves ranging from luma-only to full RGB. The adjustments can be made using sliders or the on-screen curves display. With the recent update the filters have been tweaked to work with video recorded in standard and well as log-adjusted gamma.

Two veteran FxFactory filter partners are PHYX and DVShade. The PHYX Color and PHYX Stylist packages offer easy control over a set of Technicolor, Bleach Bypass and other types of stylizing and lighting effects.

DVShade’s EasyLooks is an incredibly powerful filter that works entirely off of sliders. In addition to three-way color correction based on split-toning concepts, you can add diffusion, gradients, vignettes and more. The installation includes a set of presets for an easy starting point.

A new FxFactory tool from Yanobox is Moods, which is a color-wheel based grading filter. Like Nattress Curves, you have the option of displaying the controls overlay, complete with “help card” labels if you like. Grab a wheel and make balance, black-wash and brightness/exposure/gamma adjustments. You can start from scratch or apply one of the supplied presets.

The Red Giant Magic Bullet Looks Suite is generally installed for Looks (more on that in an upcoming post), but it also includes Mojo. That’s a separate filter based on the “orange and teal” feature film look. It’s simple to use and works just with sliders, Like some of the others, the installation adds a set of presets, too.

Last, but not least, is Tonalizer|VFX from Irudis. It comes in a PRO and Lite (free) version and works with FCP 7 and X, Motion 4 and 5 and Final Cut Express. It doesn’t run in After Effects or other NLEs, though. The PRO version includes a separate filter with built-in optimization for footage shot with HDSLRs using the Technicolor CineStyle camera profile. The design of Tonalizer|VFX is much like the slider controls in Adobe Lightroom and, in fact, Irudis markets it as offering photographic-style grading. Two big selling points are highlight and shadow recovery. It’s easy to use, works well and a big plus for FCP X is that it still plays well in real-time when left unrendered.

Below are a series of before and after images using some of these filters. Click on any image to see an enlarged view.

Tonalizer|VFX used to improve definition and vibrancy in the image.

Nattress Curves with a slight s-curve adjustment.

Nattress Curves RGB can be used to alter the balance of the image.

Yanobox Moods set to change the balance to a more sunset-like look.

Sheffield Softworks Looks Sweet 2 Super Glam filter to stylize the image.

Magic Bullet Mojo for the “blockbuster” look.

A combination of PHYX Color and Stylist filters for a bit of over-the-top punch.

Tonalizer|VFX used to improve  definition and vibrancy in the image.

DVShade EasyLooks for a cool, heavily saturated and tinted appearance.

©2012 Oliver Peters

FCP X tools, Part 2 – useful effects

Sometimes you just need effects to do the mundane functions that make life easier. Nothing for glitz or glamour – just effects that help you get through a session with fewer editorial gymnastic. I’d like to showcase just some of these effects for Final Cut Pro X.

When you look at the effects palette in FCP X, it’s clear that there are some glaring omissions. One of these is the fact that there is no way to add a drop shadow to a video clip, which had been a basic FCP “legacy” tool. Several users have created and published their own versions, which are available at various forums. One example is Octo, a masking tool. A good go-to site for such items is FCP Effects. They offer a Basic Drop Shadow effect as a free plug-in, as well as a number of other filters that are available for purchase. In addition to adding a shadow, the same Drop Shadow filter includes other image manipulation controls including position and rotation. Other plug-ins on their site include split screens, 3D perspectives, masks and more.

I work a lot with ARRI ALEXA footage, so the ability to convert the log-C camera profile video into standard Rec. 709 is important. I routinely use both the Nick Shaw Antler Post (FCP 7 only) and the Pomfort (FCP 7 and X) filters. Pomfort’s Alexa Look2Video filter applies a look-up table derived from the ALEXA log-C gamma curve to convert the flat camera files into full range, vibrant video. In addition to applying a default curve, the Pomfort filter also includes CDL-style grading controls to balance out power/slope/offset and printer light values of an image. So, for example, if the LUT-adjusted image still has a slightly green cast to it, you can tweak the sliders to your liking for a touch of subjective grading or to create custom looks. In addition to a LUT for ALEXA files, Pomfort also offers LUT filters for Technicolor’s CineStyle and Sony’s SLog gamma profiles.

Ever try to juggle the scale, position and crop values in FCP for a combined effect designed to highlight a portion within the image? You can often never get the results you want. Enter Digital Heaven’s DH_BoxX filter, which has been an FCP “legacy” staple for many years, but now updated for X. This straightforward filter eliminates the juggling act for basic picture-in-picture effects by combining scale, position and crop controls into one plug-in, as well as basing parameters on source and target space. Another useful filter is the DH_ReincarnationX filter. It’s the first FxPlug pixel correction filter for X. This tool enables you to “heal” bad sensor pixels from digital cameras, like HDSLRs. Simply highlight the bad pixel and DH_ReincarnationX fills in the defect from the surrounding pixels. Don’t forget DH_WideSafeX and DH_GridX – two free FCP effects updated for X. As their name implies, these are generators used for design layout and safe action/title checking, which are not covered by FCP X’s normal tools (such as the 14:9 area).

There are various split screen filters available for FCP X. One of the best is CrumplePop’s SplitScreen X, available now through Noise Industries’ FxFactory. It’s a set of FCP X generator effects giving you numerous combinations of split screen design layouts covering from two to nine images. Layouts can be in a grid pattern or with diagonal splits. Since the generator filter uses image wells for the clips, only a single clip appears on your timeline. Each image within the well can be adjusted for size, position and opacity. Images can be rotated as a group and the border/edge thickness between can be adjusted to taste.

Lastly, don’t forget that the FxFaxtory Pro package itself includes numerous effects that would fall into this category, including blurs, perspective effects and more.

©2012 Oliver Peters

FCP X tools, Part 1 – Transitions

For the next few blog posts, I’m going to discuss some of the options you have to pimp out Final Cut Pro X on your system. Although Apple threw a monkey wrench into the business model of most FCP developers last year, many have stepped up to the plate with innovative new offerings. The effects in FCP X and Motion 5 are based on FxPlug. Any effects inside FCP X are actually Motion 5 templates. Because FCP X optimization is required, not all FxPlug filters work in either application. In some cases, installed FxPlug filters will show up in the FCP X and Motion 5 browsers, but not work. In other cases, they may work in Motion 5, but not FCP X. This means developers have to create updated versions to have them work in FCP X.

Make sure if you purchase third-party plug-ins for FCP X that they do, in fact, actually work with FCP X. The good news is that many that do, have been designed to install and work in a range of hosts, including FCP 7, FCP X, Motion 5, After Effects and even Premiere Pro. Although I am writing these posts with FCP X in mind, remember that for many of these products, the same pointers apply to using them inside After Effects, unless otherwise stated.

Due to the nature of how effects in Motion 5 and FCP X work, there’s also a burgeoning crop of free effects designed by curious editors. This is a similar situation to many of the free FxScript filters created in the early days of Final Cut. Motion 5 effects can be tweaked and exported as an FCP X effect, so a number of developers have taken to creating and offering custom effects that fill in some of the gaps. These aren’t new filters, but rather modified versions and combinations of existing Motion 5 filters that come with the software. As these are built upon the underpinnings of the software, most are reasonably lightweight and will play in real-time or render quickly.

I’ve decided to write these next few FCP X posts based on types of tools, rather than individual products. So, you’ll see a company mentioned in more than one post, depending on whether I’m talking about transitions (as in this post), effects, grading, etc. Of course, I haven’t and won’t cover them all, as this is just meant to give you a sampling of the growing FCP X ecosystem.

Digital Heaven

Digital Heaven has long been known as a developer of Final Cut-related tools. Not just effects, but a range of productivity applications designed to improve the editing experience. With that in mind, their effects packages aren’t the all-encompassing set of effects offered by the bigger developers. Instead, they design individual effects to meet the common needs that editors face every day. Think of their effects and software as affordable, handy items to have in your toolkit. For FCP X they’ve created the Transitions Pack (FCP X only) – a set of six filters covering commonly used transitions. These include Flare, FrameRoll, LightFlash, LightRays, StretchPan and Shutter.

To apply an effect, simply drag-and-drop it on a cut. To make adjustments, highlight the transition and open the Inspector pane. There, a limited number parameters can be altered, such as angle, direction or whether a lens flare has a warm or cool color temperature. These effects have a nice, organic quality and play well in real-time (unrendered) as well as are easily skimmable on the timeline. It’s not a huge collection, but for a small investment, you get a nice set of transitions to bail you out of that spot when the client wants something other than a dissolve.

FxFactory

Noise Industries was the first developer to leverage the power of Apple’s Quartz Composer technology. The collection of partners under the FxFactory umbrella represents a truly eclectic set of tools, effects and transitions, ranging for basic filters to stereo 3D. Most of these effects run in all versions of FCP, Motion and After Effects, although you have control over that in the FxFactory application, which functions as a common platform for control and installation. Along with its partners, Noise Industries develops its own effects, which includes a useful set of transitions. The usual blur dissolves and flashes are all there, but for something a bit more unique, try some of the geometry-based transitions, like Accordion or Origami. Thanks to their tight FxPlug integration, most of the FxFactory transitions play well on most computers.

Boinx – FxTiles

The next few paragraphs will cover effects offered by some of Noise Industries’ partner developers. Their effects can be purchased and then serialized through the FxFactory application. The Boinx FxTiles transitions are two simple 3D shatter effects. The outgoing image shatters and then rebuilds as the next incoming image. Although that’s a very simple description, given their complexity, image particle effects has never been so smooth in the past as Boinx has been able to achieve.

idustrial revolution – Volumetrix, ParticleMetrix

idustrial revolution (also through Noise Industries) offers a series of volumetric lighting effects that perform as wipes. They can be applied to video, masks and titles. Volumetrix is a light-based package with settings for color, direction, glow parameters and more. ParticleMetrix uses a similar technique, except that particle effects are used. This can take the form of certain shapes (like text) that become a wipe element. Or the image can be broken up in a pixie dust effect. Each filter offers plenty of customizable parameters to create effects that don’t all look like a preset transition.

XEffects Tech Transitions

A different set of transitions, also developed by idustrial revolution is Tech Transitions. This is a set of transitions based on grids, wipes, repeated images and image zooms. The general feeling of these effects is more high-tech and offers a style somewhat reminiscent of the TV show 24.  Like others that are part of the FxFactory filter products, these play well in real-time.

Nattress Film Transitions

Noise Industries has been on a roll adding new partners. One is Nattress, who has ported a number of its popular effects to FxPlug and the FxFactory platform. These include a set of film transitions, including frame slip effects, film burns and film dissolves.

SUGARfx Punchline

Possibly the coolest new transition package from FxFactory is Punchline from SUGARfx. These effects employ montage-style transitions that use wipes and sliding colorized images. Some take the form of grids with multiple images pulled from the outgoing and incoming clips. These all have a very unique look, that would normally take a considerable amount of compositing to duplicate in any other fashion.

Luca Visual FX – Grunge Collection

The last set of transitions I’ll mention that are available via Noise Industries and FxFactory are part of the Grunge Collection from Luca Visual FX. The Collection includes filters, generators and transitions with light leaks, sprocket slips, film leaders and more. Sprocket Slip and Light Kit are the two packs available as FCP X transitions. Each package has a tons of options, with plenty of parameters that can be customized.

The Spocket Slip transitions play better when rendered, because most include some motion blur settings. There are various perf sizes and speed variations. Most of the effects involve seeing the perf  holes on the edge of the frame during the transition, which is a nice touch. The Light Kit transitions are based on simulated film burns with an accompanying wipe between images. I’ll cover some of the other Grunge Collection products in other posts. Although many packages offer similar effects, it’s hard to find one that offers such a range in this single genre, as does Luca’s Grunge Collection.

GenArts Sapphire Edge

Rounding out this entry is Sapphire Edge available from GenArts. Long held as the “gold standard” of effects, GenArts has sought to broaden its appeal through the lower cost Sapphire Edge package. It’s a preset-based effects tool that combines several of GenArts’ filters. The presets you own can be expanded via a subscription to their FxCentral website (first year included) and installation of Edge adds both the filter and transition effects. The latter includes a set of 14 basic transition styles, including flares, glow dissolves, TV channel changes, wipes and more.

Apply the effect in the same manner as the others. In the Inspector, certain parameters can be tweaked. If you want more options, click on the “load preset” button, which launches the external GenArts Preset Brower application. Different options are listed by genres, so you can search by type. For example, holiday-themed looks. The browser thumbnails will be populated with your images at the cut, so you can quickly see how each preset transition will actually look with your video. Load the one you like and exit back to FCP X. The timeline transition will automatically be updated to the preset you have chosen.

Sapphire Edge offers tons of options. If you like to quickly browse presets without having to fine-tune the effect yourself, Edge is the only browser-based tool available for transition effects in FCP X at this time. It doesn’t play quite as well in real-time as some of the others mentioned, so render for best results.

More on “utility effects” in the next post.

©2012 Oliver Peters

Rethinking NLE design II

Many experienced editors look at the interface design of Final Cut Pro X and seemingly freak out at the radical change in front of them. The truth is that if you dig a bit deeper, many of the underlying concepts aren’t that different from Media Composer, Premiere Pro or FCP “legacy” after all. Different nomenclature and a modified way of working, but still built upon familiar foundations – IF you look for them.

Events and Projects

I think Apple needlessly confused the issue by the labels it chose, but in a broad sense, FCP X Events = FCP 7 Bins and FCP X Projects = FCP 7 Sequences. Once you grasp that, things become a bit more familiar. In FCP 1-7 a project file contained all the metadata (clips, timecodes, edit decisions, notes, etc.) for a given program you were editing. The actual media was ingested to a project folder within the Capture Scratch folder or linked from other folders on your hard drives. With FCP X, the metadata that was contained within a single project file in the past, has been distributed among FCP X’s Events and Project folders on your hard drives.

This is actually similar to the approach Avid takes, where each bin within a project is actually a self-contained data file on your hard drive. In the case of Avid, media can be stored in a common (separate) Avid MediaFiles folder or linked via AMA to other locations on your drives. The FCP X approach is somewhat similar, in that imported media can be stored in an Events folder or it can be linked to other locations. In the case of the latter, aliases are stored in the Events folder, which point to the location of the actual media.

Most editors tend to create bins within their projects to store edited sequences, but the software doesn’t really require this. FCP “legacy” and Media Composer sequences can be inside any bin in the project. In the case of FCP X, edited sequences can be started and stored in either an Event or the Project browser. Think of the latter as being exactly the same as using a dedicated Bin to hold your edited sequences. It’s a separate folder on the hard drive and it’s a dedicated portion of the FCP X interface designed to create, duplicate and export your edits.

Collections

Editors each have routines for how to organize media and to filter selections from a mass of footage down to manageable smaller chunks of media that you finally want to work with. All the major editing applications have ways to sort and label clips based on editor review and selection. Media Composer has a “custom sift” function that will show/hide clips in a bin based on editor criteria. This concept – along with similar concepts used in Apple Aperture, Adobe Lightroom and Bridge – were built into FCP X. By using metadata tags, you have the functional equivalent of routines you’d follow in other NLEs, such as subclipping, “custom sift” or manually dragging selections into bins.

The timeline construct

Changes in the timeline have done the most to set the forum discussions blazing.  In a traditional, track-based interface, the editor has to manage track-patching, target track selection, snapping and a/v clip linking. For new users, these can be very confounding concepts. Apple has sought to simplify or eliminate these issues in the way timelines have been designed in FCP X.

The basic timeline unit in FCP X is the Primary Storyline, which forms the “spine” of a piece.  If you are familiar with editing soundbite-driven projects, like documentaries or news stories, then you are probably already working the way FCP X “thinks”. For example, many editors cut these pieces by building up the story with a string of soundbites – pictures on V1 and corresponding audio on A1/A2. This is commonly called building a “radio cut” or the “A-roll” first. To this, they’ll add “B-roll” cutaway shots onto V2.

With FCP X, the soundbites are edited together as the Primary Storyline and audio and video stay interleaved as part of the same clip. This is their way of keeping clips in sync. Cutaway shots are edited as Connected Clips that appear above the Primary Storyline. If they have audio (“nat sound”) then that normally stays with the clip (also interleaved) instead of being patched to A3/A4, as would be the case in other NLEs. By using this structure – accompanied by specific edit command key strokes – Apple has eliminated the need for separately toggling track settings as you edit. In theory, this means faster editing with less encumbrance introduced by the interface itself.

Not all editing styles match this simplified structure, so a deviation is the Secondary Storyline. Any Connected Clips that need to be grouped together – for example, a series of shots with transitions in between – can be converted into a Secondary Storyline. This permits editors to work in a track-like fashion, when it’s appropriate for a selection of shots.

Lastly, FCP X seems to rely heavily on Compound Clips to reduce complexity in the Project window. FCP “legacy” has always let you nest clips or sequences inside other sequences. Compound Clips are similar, although in practice, function a bit more like a Container in Avid DS or a Collapse in Avid Media Composer. Compound Clips can be created from scratch inside an Event or combined from shots within a Project (sequence or timeline) to organize a set of shots or an entire edited sequence.

Magnetism

FCP X editors find the Magnetic timeline either a boon or a hindrance. Think of the Magnetic timeline as working with Snapping and Linked Selections always on in FCP “legacy”. Or maybe a lot like working with Sync-locks on in Media Composer. Ironically, re-arranging clips in a timeline “magnetically” stems back to early NLE design – notably Avid Media Composer’s Heads and Heads/Tails timeline view. This is a feature that’s still there today, which allows you to re-order basic timelines, like a series of shots in a storyboard (no “connected clips”, of course).

When you move a clip around, all the attached Connected Clips stay slaved to it and move with it. Trimming a clip on the Primary Storyline expands or contracts the timeline duration as in any other NLE, except that all Connected Clips also move, maintaining their relationship to the clips to which they are attached. Think of this as the same as an asymmetrical trim in FCP 7 or placing an “add edit” across all tracks in Media Composer and trimming. The results are effectively the same.

Working with the Magnetic timeline enabled isn’t right in all situations, so there’s the Position tool. With it selected, “magnetism” is disabled and moving clips around on the timeline will either overwrite adjacent clips or leave gaps (“slugs” or “filler” media) between clips. Working in this mode is best when you like to use the timeline as a working scratch pad to develop your editing ideas.

Views, viewers and layouts

Media Composer and Final Cut (up until X), let the editor store custom views and interface layouts. That’s missing in X, though not completely gone. First, there’s no standard source/record, 2-up editing view (Viewer/Canvas), but if you work with two displays and place your Events on the left in the List view, then effectively the single remaining clip filmstrip becomes that second viewer for clip sources. Furthermore, we have now seen that a second viewer can be opened (such as the Angle Viewer for multicam editing). So, it’s not out of the question that Apple could add this in a future update. Although you can’t store custom display states, it is pretty easy to toggle tools on and off as needed, including scopes, the Inspector pane, effects palettes and so on.

If you have two displays, there are actually several working layouts you can use during your work day. My standard layout places Events on the left and Viewer/Project on the right; however, there are times when it makes sense to change this. If I’m fine-tuning shots and effects on the timeline and don’t need a lot of access to events, I’ll place a full-screen Viewer on the left and the Events/Project windows on the right. This let’s me stretch the Project window higher to take over most of the screen, while still keeping a large Viewer in front of me. I’d still like a second viewer and the ability to save custom window configurations, but for now this covers a lot of my needs.

Apple’s Final Cut Pro X is a work-in-progress that will likely improve over time. As you look deeper under the skin, you’ll find that it’s not as foreign as many seem to think. Once you understand these similarities, you’ll find a shorter learning curve ahead of you.

Click here for Part I.

©2012 Oliver Peters