Stocking Stuffers for 2012

The holidays are here and it’s time to look at some ideas for that virtual stocking hung by the visual effects fireplace. Here are a few suggestions to spruce up the ole editor’s toolkit.

EDL-X. As more people take the plunge with Apple Final Cut Pro X, they find that a number of add-ons and plug-ins are needed to round out their favorite workflows. One example is edit decision lists (EDLs) – omitted from FCP X, because the ProApps engineers felt that this “ancient”, 40-year-old standard was best handled by third party developers. The interchange of EDL data continues to be one of the most common methods of working with advanced color correction and DI systems. It’s a staple of the visual effects community, precisely because the format is generic and universal. Want to send a sequence with linked clips from FCP X to Baselight or SpeedGrade? Then you’ll need an EDL. To provide a solution, software developer XMiL created EDL-X, which translates FCP X XML files into industry-standard EDLs. You get a number of options for reel identification and character formatting, which lets you configure and review your EDL prior to output. And, this “one-ups” FCP X, too. For example, if you have embedded QuickTime reel IDs, then EDL-X will read these, even though FCP X won’t.

Pro Player. Why do we need another media player? Well, in case you haven’t noticed, Apple has continually “consumerized” QuickTime Player to the point that it’s pretty useless for professional users. Digital Heaven decided that pro users need a player that was better suited to review media clips. Besides being a good media player, the Pro Player application displays QuickTime file metadata, like timecode, reel ID, codecs and data rates. It includes NLE-style transport controls, a jump-back command (the clip backs up five seconds), looped playback, full screen viewing and more. It even sports a gestural jog and shuttle control by mousing over the top or bottom portion of the viewer window. Recently viewed files may be accessed through a filmstrip-style selection window.

MXF4mac Player. Speaking of new media players, let’s not forget Hamburg Pro Media’s free MXF player. If you’ve ever tried to view P2, Avid or XDCAM files in the Finder, without a compatible editing application, you know it’s a no-go. But now, the MXF4mac Player provides a way to open and play most MXF-wrapped media files, just like QuickTime. It includes JKL playback control, reads timecode, up to eight channels of audio and can also be used to play other media files, including QuickTime movies and various audio formats.

LoudnessChange. Editors and mixers on both sides of the Atlantic have been challenged to adhere to new legislation that attempts to tackle broadcast loudness issues. In the US, that falls under the guidelines of the CALM Act. The specifications are more complex than simply watching your levels or adding brick wall limiters. Many of the solutions involve custom hardware or software metering and plug-ins, ranging in cost from hundreds to thousands of dollars. A lower cost approach is being offered by VideoToolshed with their LoudnessChange application. Mix as you normally would and then export a WAVE file of the mix. Open that in LoudnessChange to analyze the file. The analysis report will log timing info where peaks exceed the specs. For a consistent, but compressed/limited file, it will tell you when the file is too hot overall. You can then remix the track by adjusting the problem areas, or have it render its own normalization pass.

SliceX.  Wish you had the ability to draw freeform masks in FCP X? Well, now you do with SliceX from CoreMelt. SliceX is a set of six filters for cloning, blurring, shape-based color correction, vignettes and masking. Draw the mask area with Coremelt’s on-screen drawing tool and then each version of the filter offers additional controls based on its purpose. For example, the depth-of-field shape mask would have blurring controls, whereas the object remover includes offsets for the clone source within the image. Expect a more in-depth post from me about SliceX in the new year.

FxFactory 4. If you are a fan of Noise Industries’ popular plug-in manager FxFactory, then the update to 4.0 is welcomed news. It’s a free update to existing users that has integrated native functionality for Adobe Premiere Pro CS6. This includes all of the FxFactory Pro filters and transitions, as well as many of the filters from partner companies, like Nattress, Sheffield and others. Some of these partner plug-ins will need to be re-downloaded and re-installed to add Premiere Pro compatibility. A few, like the plug-ins from LucaVFX require OS 10.8.2 (except for their Light Kit effects).

XEffects 3D. As the ecosystem around FCP X has been growing, so has the wide range of effects, transitions and generators. A new set of transitions is now available from idustrial revolution through FxFactory. XEffects 3D transitions are a set of dual-pane DVE-style transition effects, including box turns, zooms, splits, folds and more. There’s adjustable depth-of-field, reflections and other tweaks to customize the 100 preset transitions.

Slide Pop. A new Noise Industries partner is Stupid Raisins. Their first offering is a set of transitions. These are a bit hard to describe, but loosely give the appearance of shifting from one image to another in a slide projector. The outgoing and incoming images are distressed, masked and frozen during the transition duration. These are all optional and adjustable settings and are common to each variation of the plug-in. There are ten transitions in the set. Each differs in the direction of the move of the clips off and onto the screen. For example, horizontally in one version or to the corners in another.

Modern Transitions. Not all effects and transitions are tied to specific NLEs. LucaVFX also makes effects sets like light leaks and grunge elements that can be used with any NLE. A new package from them is Modern Transitions, which is a set of stylish transitions intended as a departure from their past emphasis on distress/grunge elements. The effects come as a set of keyable Apple ProRes4444 QuickTime movies, which can be used in any NLE that supports alpha channels and ProRes. These transitions are designed with a midpoint that largely covers the frame. Place this on a higher track (or as a connected clip in FCP X) and align the center at the cut of the two clips. This creates a transition from clip A to clip B by hiding the cut underneath it.

Rampant Design Tools. Another option for royalty-free effects elements is Rampant Design Tools. They offer a nice selection of elements like film effects, smoke, dust, frost, etc. These can be used in a variety of ways to spruce up your project, regardless of the editing or compositing application that you are using. The clips are all high-quality, HD-sized, Photo-JPEG QuickTime movies. That means these are compatible with most software, even on Windows systems. One cool package is their set of Bokeh animated backgrounds. These are full-screen, defocused light effects intended as moving backgrounds for any type of project.

©2012 Oliver Peters