An Overview of FxFactory in 2015

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FxFactory by Noise Industries has evolved into one of the most versatile and eclectic collections of effects for Apple Final Cut Pro X and Motion 5. In addition, many of the effects are also compatible with Adobe Premiere Pro CC and After Effects CC, as well as legacy versions of FCP and Motion.

Noise Industries partners with a global array of developers to produce a steady stream of new and updated effects. This has been made possible by creative use of Apple’s built-in development tools such as Quartz Composer and Motion’s template creation and publishing features. The latter has allowed more tech-savvy creatives to become their own effects designers. Much like suppliers have developed customizable After Effects projects and sold them as stock clips, now users can create Motion templates that appear as a filter, transition, title, or generator. Noise Industries has partnered with a number of these designer/developers to populate its FxFactory repertoire.

df2815_FxFactory_applicationThe FxFactory platform has evolved into an app store for plug-ins. By installing the free FxFactory application, you can manage your plug-ins, as well as perform in-app purchases and updates. Plug-in pricing is set by the individual developer and typically ranges between $29 and $99; however, some are less or even free, while more complex effects may cost several hundred dollars. Noise Industries also offers its own Pro package of effects. If you only want one effect, all you have to do is purchase that single effect and install the free FxFactory application to get up and running. Here is a sampler of some of their products, including newer releases.

df2815_HawaikiKeyerThe first plug-in I’ll mention is Hawaiki Keyer. Having a high-quality blue/green-screen keyer is a necessity and not just a frill. The built-in FCP X keyer is good for easy jobs, but the quality of the edges leaves a lot to be desired. Hawaiki Keyer does a significantly better job and is also compatible with Adobe Premiere Pro CC and After Effects CC. This plug-in includes a blue-screen and green-screen filter with a slew of advanced controls for matte density, edge control and even garbage-matting. In testing, I found it to surpass not only several other third-party keyers that I have on my computer, but also the version of Keylight that comes with the stock After Effects CC installation. Hawaiki Keyer has recently been updated to version 2.0.

df2815_CineFlare_CineTextIf you were a fan of the Apple LiveType text animations, you’ll be interested in CineFlare CineText. This a set of title effects that employ Motion behaviors to animate the text into place with ballistic attributes, like eases, bounces, spinning, slides, and motion blurs. As with most FCP X text tools, you can alter fonts, sizes, and face and edge attributes.

df2815_Hawaiki_StyleHawaiki Style is a template-based title modifier to turn basic text titles into stylized variations. The choices include numerous chrome, metallic, distressed, bevelled, and textured options. Each selection offers a wide range of customization. If you think of the different text looks you can create with Photoshop’s layer styles, then you’ll understand how Style may be used within FCP X.

df2815_LawnRoad_ColorPrecisionFxFactory products include a number of color correction filters, including color wheel-based plug-ins, like Hawaiki Color and Yanobox Moods. Many users prefer simpler slider-based grading effects. If that’s you, then Hawaiki Autograde and/or Lawn Road Color Precision are good choices. Both of these include similar tools, based on photographic adjustment methods. If you still want the effect of a three-way color corrector, they also integrate the use of the Mac OS color picker as color balance wheels. Finally, each has a module for stylized looks for various cinematic treatments, like bleach bypass.

df2815_Sheffield_ArtitudeThere’s nothing cooler for stylizing an image than paint, watercolor, or cartoon effects – if these are tastefully done. Artitude from Sheffield Softworks is one filter that probably gives you more of these options than any other single filter of its type. Simply apply the effect and select the artistic style from a lengthy pull-down menu. Then adjust parameters to taste – like color, line style and smoothness, and stroke methods.

df2815_Luca_XOverlaysFxFactory offers a number of techie displays and transitions that feature a lot of different heads-up display graphics useful in sci-fi projects. A variation on this theme is Luca’s Overlays. This is a series of graphic overlays, including visualizers, grids, and graphic patterns. Other Luca Visual FX offerings include Hi-Tech, a collection of overlays that work well for tech monitor screens.

df2815_SUGARfx_XflareSUGARfx has worked with Noise Industries for a long time and offers many different types of effects. If you like lens flares, then Xflare gives you plenty of options, including a range of flare and bokeh filters to pick from. Once you apply the effect, you can adjust lens type and flare attributes, like position, streak style, length and color, and much more. They have also developed a number of transition effects like Swoosh. This is similar to a common swipe or light streak transition effect that you might find in a stock clip collection, but with one important difference. As the transition moves through the image from clip A to clip B, the area behind the streak is optically distorted, making it look more organic than other similar effects.df2815_SUGARfx_Swoosh

df2815_SUGARfx_FrostyGlassSUGARfx all offers a number of title effects that take advantage of the template concept. I particularly like Frosty Glass for adding titles over picture. This gives you a number of modifiable glass styles to make the background translucent, so that titles are easily read. The templates include animation moves to bring the glass and text into frame. You can modify the fonts and sizes, and their edge styles. If you don’t like those, simply use the effect without the text and then add a separate title effect on top.

df2815_SUGARfx_AnimoIf you want more title effects, there’s also Animo, which is a set of templates for animation moves to reveal images and also fly graphics in over an image. The Animo Preset Loader uses a multi-colored, target-style background graphic together with text. The animated positions and color palette for this graphic can be adjusted. Or, the background colors can be replaced by video. df2815_SUGARfx_RollingCreditsThe last SUGARfx plug-in I’d like to showcase is their Rolling Credits generator. This is primarily designed for long credit rolls, like motion picture end credits; however, you could also use it for any long list. There are a number of templates and styles, all of which can be modified as needed.

df2815_XEffectsToolkit_Telestratoridustrial revolution has been another frequent FxFactory supplier with a wide range of idustrial and XEffects products. One package that every editor will find useful is the XEffects Toolkit. FxFactory includes several toolkit products, including others from Ripple Training and Tim Dashwood. Each variation will contain both common and unique items, so you might want more than just one. The XEffects Toolkit includes a potpourri of filters, such as masks, resize effects, basic compositing moves like a quad-split build, glows, gradient effects, and more. There are both filter and title effects, including an underliner and a telestrator-style line animation effect.

df2815_X6_sportsIf you work in sports production, then the newly released XEffects Sports Graphics package is just what you’ll need. This is a set of 4K-ready customizable graphics. It’s primarily a number of title templates, but also includes a left and right transition effect and a background generator. The title templates cover lower thirds, leader boards, player headshots, and score banners. Many of these templates include drop wells for video or still images and team logo graphics. Each template includes build-on and build-off animations.

df2815_StupidRaisins_DataPopFxFactory offers plenty of solutions for the display of text-based data, too. Several of these options come from Stupid Raisins, who has developed a number of product groups with the “pop” suffix. One example is Data Pop – a series of design templates for displaying numerical information as graphs, bar and pie charts, maps, Venn diagrams, and more. The templates combine a transparent, gradient, or solid color background, the ability to add and alter data, and customizable df2815_StupidRaisins_LowerPoptext. Another product of theirs is Lower Third Pop. This is a series of lower third banner templates. These include a number of artistic, plain, and news-style designs. There’s even a scrolling banner, just like most typical cable news channels employ.  Simply customize the colors, static text, add your own logo, and then update the scrolling text block with your own information.

df2815_Yanobox_Nodes2I’ve saved the most complex for last – Yanobox Nodes 2. Nodes is a complex series of text and line animations that display any type of node-connected form, including network grids, animated forms, universes, and dynamic data line animations. Think of something like a Spirograph pattern. These are incredibly complex patterns that would take someone a long time to create and animate from scratch. Yanobox has made this super simple, by equipping Nodes with a series of excellent preset starting designs. Generally there are two main components to Nodes: the text and the design. Pick from a selection of presets and then vary the way the design animates, as well as how the lines are generated, connected, or displayed. Your data will be based on words that you import from a text file. So, if the text should be the names of US cities, simply import a document with those names in the order they are to appear. Based on the functions you can modify, there’s an astronomical number of variations that can be created.

I’ve only touched on a few of the outstanding products available to editors and designers through the FxFactory platform. Unfortunately these are limited to Mac users, but other than that, the product offerings certainly cover a bit of something for any editor or designer. Even though many of these effects are driven by templates, they can be tweaked in ways that will add a unique look to your project. This enables the sort of quick and stylish production that clients like and come back for.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / CreativePlanetNetwork. 

©2015 Oliver Peters

A Deeper Dive into Lumetri Color

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With the introduction of Premiere Pro CC 2015, Adobe altered how color correction can be handled within its editing application. The addition of the Lumetri Color effect puts a very powerful and intuitive color correction tool at the editor’s fingertips. I touched on some of its capabilities with SpeedGrade look files in a previous post, but now I’d like to dive into a deeper explanation of the features of Lumetri Color.

Previously in Premiere Pro CC 2014, the Lumetri effect was the conduit between grades in SpeedGrade and Premiere Pro. When you sent a sequence to SpeedGrade CC via Direct Link, the correction done there would show up back in Premiere Pro CC as a self-contained Lumetri effect applied to the clip or an adjustment layer. You could add more effects to the clip, but not edit the Lumetri effect itself in Premiere Pro. If you bounced back into SpeedGrade, then you had further edit control to change the settings from the earlier SpeedGrade session.

Now in Premiere Pro CC 2015, that previous method has been altered. When a Lumetri Color effect is added in the Premiere Pro CC timeline, that is no longer editable when you send it to SpeedGrade CC via Direct Link. Any grading added in SpeedGrade is in addition to the Lumetri Color effect. When you go back to Premiere Pro, those corrections will show up as a SpeedGrade Custom group at the bottom of the Lumetri Color effect stack. It is a separate, self-contained, uneditable correction applied to the clip. It can only be disabled if desired. In other words, Lumetri Color adjustments made in Premiere Pro are separate and apart from any color corrections done in SpeedGrade.

You can apply a Lumetri Color effect in two ways. The first, traditional way is to drag-and-drop the filter from the Effects palette (Color Correction folder) onto the clip or adjustment layer. The new, CC 2015 way is to select the Color workspace, which automatically reveals the Lumetri Color panel and the new, real-time Lumetri scopes. If you change any setting in the panel, it immediately applies a Lumetri Color effect to that clip. Color corrections can be made either in the Lumetri panel or in the standard Effects Control panel. If you don’t like the Lumetri Color effect or panel, you can still use the other color correction filters, like the Three-Way Color Corrector, Luma Curve, etc. These options have not been removed. (Click on any image for an expanded view.)

Master Clip Effects

df2715_lumetri_2_smSince CC 2014, Premiere Pro has enabled Master Clip effects. These are source-side settings and any change made as a Master Clip effect will affect all instances of that clip throughout the timeline. This is important with camera raw files, like CinemaDNG or REDCODE raw, because there are color metadata adjustments that can be made at the point where the raw image is encoded into RGB video. This is in addition to any color corrections made in the Lumetri Color panel, another filter, or in SpeedGrade. Previously these controls were accessed as a right-click contextual menu option called Source Settings.

With CC 2015, source setting adjustments have been moved to the Effects Control panel. At the top of the panel you’ll see the clip name appear twice – once as the master clip (left) and once in the sequence (right). The sequence portion has all the usual controls, like motion, opacity, time remapping, and any applied filters. The master clip portion will show all the source color controls. In the case of RED files, you’ll find the full range of RED controls made available from their SDK. For CinemaDNG files, such as from Blackmagic cameras, the options are limited to exposure, temperature and tint. You should make any necessary camera raw adjustments to these clips here, before applying Lumetri Color effects.

In addition to raw adjustments, Lumetri Color effects can also be applied as Master Clip effects and/or as timeline effects. The Lumetri Color panel also displays the clip name twice – master clip (left) and sequence clip (right). Generally you are going to make your corrections to sequence clips, however, some common settings, like adding a Log-to-Rec709 LUT might be best done as a Master Clip effect. Just understand that adjustments in the Lumetri Color panel can be applied to either or both sides, but that Master Clip effects will automatically ripple to other instances of that same clip elsewhere on the timeline. When you make changes to the sequence side (right), you are only altering that one location on the timeline.

The Lumetri Color Panel

df2715_lumetri_8_smThe Lumetri Color panel is organized as a stack of five control groups – Basic Correction, Creative, Curves, Color Wheels and Vignette. The controls within each group are revealed when you click on that section. You can enable or disable a group, but you can’t change the order of the stack, which flows from Basic out through Vignette. This control method and the types of controls offered are very similar to Adobe Lightroom’s Develop page. Its control groups include Basic, Tone Curve, HSL/Color/B&W, Split Toning, Detail, Lens Corrections, Effects and Camera Calibration. There are more groups in Lightroom simply because there are more image attributes available to be adjusted within a still photo image.

Basic Correction 

df2715_lumetri_3_smThe Basic Correction group is where you’ll perform the majority of your primary color grading. It includes a pulldown for input LUTs (camera-specific color transforms), white balance, tone and saturation. White balance adjusts temperature and tint. When you move the temperature slider it increases or decreases red versus blue in an inverse relationship of one to the other, with minimal change of green. Sliding tint alters red and blue together versus green.

Tone gives you control over the luminance of the image with sliders for exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, whites and blacks. White and black controls move the top and bottom ends of the image up or down toward clip points, while the highlight and shadow sliders adjust the upper and lower portions of the image within the parameters set by the white and black sliders. The highlight and shadow sliders would be what you use to see more or less detail within the bright or dark areas of the image.

Creative 

df2715_lumetri_4_smThe Creative group is where stylistic adjustments are made, including the addition of creative “looks” (.look or .cube LUTs).  There are sliders for the intensity of the LUT, plus adjustment controls for a faded film effect, sharpening, vibrance and saturation. Finally, there are shadow and highlight tint controls with a balance slider to change the crossover threshold between them.

The faded film slider moves the black level you’ve established for the image higher for elevated blacks, but without opening any shadow detail. If you slide the control more to the right it will also compress the highlights, thus creating an overall flatter image. The sharpen slider blurs or enhanced detail in the image. Saturation uniformly increases the intensity of all chroma. Vibrance is a smart tool that increases the saturation of the more muted colors and has less change on the already-intense colors. The highlight and shadow tint controls shift the color balance of those portions of the image towards any area on the color wheel. The tint balance slider changes how much much of the image is considered to be the shadow or highlight range. For example, if you move the slider all the way to the left, then all of the image is affected by the highlight tint wheel only.

Curves

df2715_lumetri_5_smThe Curves group includes both standard RGB curves and a color wheel for control of the hue/saturation curve. The RGB curves offer four dots – white (overall control), plus red, green and blue for individual control over each of the R, G or B curves. The hue/sat curve is really a vector-based secondary color control and is akin to Lightroom’s HSL group. However, in the Lumetri Color panel a wheel control is used.

If you select one of the six color vector dots under the hue/sat curve wheel, then three control points are added along the circular curve. The center point is the color chosen and the points to the left and right establish a boundary. Pull the center point up or down to increase or decrease the saturation of the curve. Pulling the point left or right doesn’t change the hue of that color. The wheel works like a “hue vs. sat” curve and not as “hue vs. hue” when you compare it to the way in which other color correction tools operate. If I select red, I can increase or decrease the intensity of red, but pulling the control point towards orange or magenta doesn’t shift the red within the image itself towards that hue. You can also select one or more points along the curve without selecting a vector color first and make more extensive adjustments to the image.

Color Wheels 

df2715_lumetri_6_smColor Wheels is the next control group and it functions as an standard three-way corrector would. There are luma sliders and a color wheel for shadows, midtones and highlights. Moving the color wheel control effectively adds a color wash to that portion of the image instead of shifting the color balance. If you shift a wheel towards blue, the blue portion of the parade signal on a scope is increased, but red and green are not lowered in a corresponding fashion. Therefore, these wheels act as secondary color controls, which explains why Adobe placed them further down in the stack.

Vignette 

df2715_lumetri_7_smThe last group is Vignette and it works in much the same fashion as the Post-Crop Vignetting control in Lightroom. There are sliders for amount, midpoint, roundness and feather. In general, it acts more like a photographic vignette or one that’s a result of a lens artifact – and less like masks that you typically add in creative grading for vignette effects. Moving the amount slider controls the lightness or darkness of the vignette (yes, you can have a white vignette), but it only changes the outer edges of the frame. You cannot invert the effect. Midpoint moves the vignette edge farther into or out of the frame. Roundness adjusts the aspect ratio of the vignette and feather controls the softness of the edge.

There is no position control to move the vignette away from dead center. While the vignette group is useful for “pinching in the edges of the frame” (as a DP friend of mine is fond of saying), it’s less useful for directing the viewer’s attention. That’s the “power windows” approach, which I often use in tools like Resolve, Color, or SpeedGrade. There are other ways to achieve that inside of Premiere Pro, but just not self-contained within a single instance of the Lumetri Color effect.

It’s clear that Adobe has added a very deep toolset within this single effect and its corresponding control panel. For most color correction sessions, you can pretty well get everything done using just Lumetri Color. I believe most editors prefer to use a comprehensive grading tool that allows them to stay within the confines of the editing application. Lumetri Color within Premiere Pro CC 2015 brings that wish to reality without the need for roundtrips or third-party color correction filters.

©2015 Oliver Peters

Adobe Premiere Pro CC 2015

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To reinforce the value of the Creative Cloud subscription, Adobe continues to improve its core video and design products, but is also expanding the implementation of mobile-to-desktop and cloud workflows. The Creative Cloud 2015 video products were previewed at NAB and released this summer.

Mobile-to-desktop

Incorporation of mobile products into the production pipeline has become an important theme for Adobe. For Premiere Pro CC users, this primarily involves two products: Premiere Clip and Adobe Hue CC. Premiere Clip is a lightweight video editor for smartphones. Shoot your video on your phone and start cutting. Now Premiere Pro allows you to import Premiere Clip projects so you can continue cutting there. Media assets and projects can be moved among systems via Creative Cloud Libraries, powered by Adobe CreativeSync. With a Creative Cloud subscription you can access your own library, as well as shared libraries created by other users.

df3015_AdobeHueCC_editAdobe Hue CC supports the new color workflow within Premiere Pro CC. This smartphone application was previewed at NAB under the code name “Project Candy”. It will analyze the color tonality of any photo in 3D color space on your smartphone and turn that into a 3D LUT (color look-up table). Adobe Hue CC displays this analysis in the form of floating color bubbles over the image. You can rotate the cloud of bubbles on your smartphone screen to change the relative values of the selected colors. When you’re happy with the choice, this is saved as a 3D LUT to your Creative Cloud Library. Back on your laptop or desktop in Premiere Pro CC, access this LUT through the Creative Cloud Library and apply it as a “look” using Adobe’s new color controls.

New color workflow

The most visible addition to Premiere Pro CC 2015 is the new Lumetri Color panel. If you are familiar with Adobe Lightroom or SpeedGrade CC, then you’ll instantly recognize the similarities. It combines several color grading functions into a single, multi-tabbed interface panel. These controls are accessible through either the standard Effect Control panel or the separate Lumetri Color panel. The best part is that you can keyframe all of the functions. With either control panel you get a set of task-specific color wheels and curves. When the color workspace is activated, the display automatically docks the Lumetri Color panel, along with a new set of high-resolution, real-time videoscopes brought over from SpeedGrade.

df3015_Premiere_LumetriPanel_CurvesHueSaturationThere are two points within Lumetri Color to introduce LUTs. For example, in the Basic Correction tab’s pulldown menu, you can add a log-to-rec709 color transform LUT. Then in the Creative tab’s pulldown, add a stylized look. Premiere Pro CC comes with a number color transform and custom look files created by Adobe and LookLabs (SpeedLooks). Some of these, like the SpeedLooks options, work in two steps for the best results. For instance, if you were applying the SpeedLooks Blue Ice creative LUT to an ARRI Alexa log-C file, you would also need to use the SpeedLooks profile for ARRI cameras. Both generic .cube and Adobe’s .look formats work, so if you’ve purchased other LUT collections, like Osiris, Rocket Rooster, SpeedLooks, Koji, or others, then these will work with Premiere Pro CC. I created a set of SpeedGrade Look files last May and these can be easily accessed and applied inside Premiere Pro from the new Lumetri Color panel.

Editorial enhancements

There are a number of improvements that editors will appreciate. Workspace selections are now grouped across the top of the viewers. They are still available as pulldowns, but by having them grouped across the top, it’s easy to change between layouts that have been organized for editing, color, effects, audio, etc. These presets can be customized according to your needs.

One new marquee effect is Morph Cut, which is intended to make jump cuts in interviews appear seamless. This transition is similar to the FluidMorph effect available in Avid Media Composer. Editors cutting talking-head corporate videos and documentaries are frequently challenged to assemble cogent soundbites from sentence fragments – the so-called “frankenbite”. The inevitable jump cuts in the interviewee’s video are either left to jump or are covered with B-roll cutaway shots. When you apply a Morph Cut transition, Adobe’s warp stabilizer technology is used to analyze the video and create new in-between frames for a seamless transition across the cut.

In actual practice Morph Cut isn’t a panacea for all situations. If the frame size and position matches, the person is largely in the exact same spot, and they paused mid-sentence at the cut, then Morph Cut works quite well. However, if the camera has reframed, the person has their head turned at either the out or in-point of the cut but not the other, or they are still quickly talking through the cut, then the result isn’t very pleasing. Morph Cut requires analysis before being applied, which can proceed in the background.

A few of the less obvious improvements include trimming and timeline scrolling. These came with prior versions, but are still worth noting. You can now loop the trim window and make trim adjustments, which are dynamically updated. You can also JKL-play the middle of the cut or either side of the cut in the trim window to make a direct “double-roller” or “single-roller” trim. The point at which you stop the playback is the point to which the cut is then updated. The timeline will scroll smoothly or page as you play, depending on your preference. Auto-selection of clips is new with Creative Cloud 2015. As you move through the timeline, the playhead auto-selects the clips that it is parked over, based on the enabled target tracks. This is a handy feature, but it’s always on, unless you deselect the target tracks containing your video clips.

Interoperability

df3015_AfterEffects_FaceTracker_DetailedTrackingAdobe’s strength has always been its interoperability among the applications. Dynamic and/or Direct Links to Adobe After Effects CC, Adobe Audition CC, Adobe Media Encoder CC, and SpeedGrade CC make it easy to use Premiere Pro CC as the central hub in your workflow. After Effects got a huge update with CC 2015. I won’t go into depth, since this is mainly a Premiere Pro review, however, for editors the most important thing is the performance bump. Playback in After Effects is now as easy as a spacebar tap. This will be in near real-time after caching, complete with audio. You can make dynamic changes without stopping playback. As you loop the playback, these changes are quickly re-cached. The bottom line for editors is that After Effects now finally becomes a more interactive tool that fits with the temperament and workflow of most editors.

It’s not new with this version, but another workflow improvement is Premiere Pro’s Render and Replace command. When you send a set of clips from Premiere Pro to After Effects using Dynamic Link, those clips are replaced with an After Effects composition on the timeline. Until rendered, the After Effects composition is always “live” and negatively affects Premiere Pro’s performance. If you have a lot of compositions in the timeline, it can become bogged down. With Render and Replace, the “live” composition is replaced with rendered, “flattened” media. You are no longer having to access dynamic After Effects compositions, thus returning real-time playback to normal. Thanks to Adobe’s linking, you can still choose to edit that rendered file, which automatically sends you back to the original After Effects composition.

Interoperability between Premiere Pro CC and SpeedGrade CC has changed. Adobe had previously added Direct Link, which sends the Premiere Pro timeline to SpeedGrade. In the CC 2014 versions, color corrections applied in SpeedGrade show up as a Lumetri effect applied to the clip or adjustment layer when you send it back to Premiere Pro. The addition of the Lumetri Color panel in CC 2015 creates Lumetri Color effects in the Premiere Pro timeline, but these are not editable inside of SpeedGrade. The same is true going back to Premiere Pro.

The performance of SpeedGrade CC 2015 varies on my two Macs. It’s very sluggish when using the Direct Link path on the 2009 Mac Pro with a Sapphire 7950 graphics card. But when I run it on my Retina MacBook Pro with the built-in NVIDIA card, it’s an entirely different story. I don’t know if that’s an AMD versus NVIDIA issue, but whatever the reason, newer software runs best on newer hardware configurations. Yet, Premiere Pro seems about the same.

During the testing period, when I had installed CC 2015 preview versions alongside CC 2014 applications, SpeedGrade was extremely unstable on both Macs. Fortunately, now that the release versions are out, I’m glad that Adobe fixed these problems. It’s noteworthy that the CC 2015 update replaces all previous versions, so maybe they found that running multiple versions caused problems. It now works likes it’s supposed to. Nevertheless, with the Lumetri Color panel covering 90% of what nearly any editor would want, there seems less justification to use the SpeedGrade roundtrip, when you can get nearly everything done right inside Premiere Pro.

Other

df3015_CA_big_tracking_but_no_timelineSince After Effects is integral for many editors, a few more features are worth noting. New in CC 2015 is a Face Tracker. This is a simple mask based on identifying points on the face, like eyes, pupils, mouth and nose. The Face Tracker will follow the shot’s or person’s movement. It will even track exaggerated mouth movements without frame-by-frame adjustments. This is a very useful tool for locking an object to head movement or facial blurs to protect identity.

The Face Tracker ties into a new Adobe application – Adobe Character Animator. As the name implies, this is an application that enables you to create 2D character animation. Facial tracking technology can be used to animate the characters according to prerecorded tracking data, as well as to live, real-time tracking. For example, a webcam could be used to animate the characters live, complete with lip-sync. Animation passes can be recorded and edited for a complete production featuring multiple interactive characters.

This release has a number of large and small upgrades that will make editors and compositors quite happy. I like the direction Adobe has taken. It just reiterates that the designers are working hard to integrate user input and build upon the professional momentum that Adobe has earned to date.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / CreativePlanetNetwork.

©2015 Oliver Peters

Rampant Design Tools

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Many editors are on the constant journey for just the right, cool set of plug-ins. By doing so, they often lock themselves into a single host application and often even a single machine to which the plug-ins have been licensed. If that sounds familiar and you are looking for an alternative, then moving to a package of drag-and-drop effects is the way to go. One of the best developers for such effects is Rampant Design Tools.

df1215_rampant_3_smRampant was founded by veteran visual effects artist Sean Mullen, so the effects have been created from the standpoint of what actually works. The beauty of these drag-and-drop effects is that you can use them with any nonlinear editing or compositing application, regardless of whether this is on Mac or Windows. As long as the system is running QuickTime and includes a playback component for Apple ProRes codecs, you are ready. Since the actual effects are media files, they can be archived with the project and moved between systems, without any need to license a plug-in on another machine.

df1215_rampant_6_smThe Rampant Design Tools website offers a lot of options for how to purchase the effects, but their latest endeavor is Studio Essentials, Volume 1 and 2. These include paint effects, film grunge, distortion, flares, light transitions, fire, smoke, bokeh, snow, dust, and so much more. Nearly all of these elements originate from real and not synthetic footage, which Rampant has actually produced using RED cameras. The effects packages are available in 2K, 4K, and 5K resolutions. Even if you are only working in HD, you might still want a 4K package, because it permits you to reframe the effect to get a unique look, rather than by simply dropping in a stock effect “as is”. The elements are designed to be modular. For instance, you can build up layers of the distortion elements to create a different look. The files come as Apple ProRes 4444 media that works well when keyed or composited using blend modes. By combining, reframing, and adjusting blend modes, you avoid the rut of effects that can’t be modified or plug-in presets.

Rampant Drives

df1215_rampant_4_smThese collections are large enough, that delivering a 4K version of one of the Studio Essentials volumes would be unwieldy as DVD-ROMs or as a download. Instead, Rampant Design Tools sells these complete with their “Rampant Drives”. These are 4TB, USB 3.0 drives containing the complete volume. When you purchase the collection with this delivery option, you may select either Mac or PC formatting. Simply plug it in and start using the effects straight from the drive. Although there is no technical limitation to moving the files around on a SAN, simultaneous shared use is prohibited by the EULA. It states that the contents may only be used on one computer at any one time.

df1215_rampant_9_smAs there are a lot of effects in the contents of each volume, Rampant includes a PDF preview file for each set of effects. This is a quick starting point to decide which effects group to explore, without having to bring everything into your edit project at once. These PDFs can also be downloaded from the website, if you are trying to decide what to purchase. Effects may be purchased as part of a complete Studio Essentials volume or by individual categories in 2K, 4K or 5K sizes. That may still be a bit much for many users, so Rampant also offers a smaller set of HD effects for $29 each through its BudgetVFX companion site.

Pieces and Parts

df1215_rampant_2_smMost of the effects can be used as a single transition or overlay effect, but some in the Studio Essentials collections have been designed as toolkits. For example, there’s the Monster Toolkit, which is intended as a drag-and-drop creature kit. It contains over 1500 elements (stored as Photoshop files), made up of various body parts, such as eyes, ears, mouths, skin textures, and so on. The download size is a whopping 35.6 GB simply for that kit! One of the newest collections is a set of organic paint effects. This set includes 62 effects clips and features a wide range of real paint drip and splatter effects, which will easily blend with video using Overlay or Multiply modes.

df1215_rampant_8_smTo use the effects in an NLE, you would typically place the clip on a higher track above your main video. In FCP X this would be as a connected clip over the primary storyline. A transition effect would be positioned so that the meatiest part of the effect clip would be lined up over the cut to hide it. This is particularly true of lens flare and light blast transitions where the center of the clip often completely fills the screen. This technique has been used for years by After Effects compositors to add a transition between clips on separate layers.

Letting the effect control your video

df1215_rampant_7_smA particularly cool trick that Mullen has posted as one of his tutorials (youtube.com/user/RampantMedia) is how to have the effect actually modify the video beneath. This is an aspect of many plug-ins and something not often associated with stock effects clips. His example uses one of the glitch effect clips. Typically this would be an overlay above the video that would obscure the image, but not necessarily distort or bend it with the effect. If you composite in After Effects, however, you can use its tools to have one layer affect the other. This is accomplished by adding two effects to the base video layer: Stylize – Motion Tile and Distort – Displacement Map. Motion Tile is set to wrap the image as it is stretched and mirrored, so you don’t see black on the edges. Displacement Map is linked to the layer with the glitch effect clip. Displacement is based on channels, so that the lower video is displaced where the effect is visible and not displaced where the glitch clip is black. The last step is to set keyframes for the start and stop of the displacement, so that the video isn’t displaced when you want it to be normal. This trick also works for other effects, such as lens flares.

df1215_rampant_11_smThere are many stock effects vendors on the market. A quick internet search would pull up a page-full. However, most are still offering effects in older codecs or are limited to HD sizes at best. Many don’t offer a wide selection of effects. You might find some great lens flares from one company, but do they also offer fire effects? Quality, breadth of product offerings, and high-resolution is what sets Rampant Design Tools apart from these others. It’s a great way to add eye candy to any production with tools that give you total control in sculpting a unique look.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / CreativePlanetNetwork.

©2015 Oliver Peters

Building FCP X Effects – Update

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A few weeks ago I built and posted a small FCP X color correction effect using the Motion template process. While I have no intention of digging deeper into plug-in design, it’s an interesting experiment into understanding how you can use the power of Motion and Final Cut Pro X to develop custom effects, transitions, and generators. In this process, I’ve done a bit of tweaking, created a few more effects, and gotten a better understanding of how it all works. If you download the updated effects, there are a total of three filters (Motion templates) – a color corrector, a levels filter and a DVE.

Color science

In going through this exercise, a few things have been brought to my attention. First of all, filters are not totally transparent. If you apply my color correction filter, you’ll see slight changes in the videoscopes even when each tab is at its default. This doesn’t really matter since you are applying a correction anyway; but if it annoys you, then simply uncheck the item you aren’t using, like brightness or contrast.

df2615_fcpxfilterupdate_3Secondly, the exact same filter in FCP X may or may not use the same color science as the Motion version, even though they are called the same thing. Specifically this is the case with the Hue/Saturation filter. My template uses the one from Motion, of course. The FCP X Hue/Sat filter uses a color model in which saturation is held constant and luma (a composite of RGB) varies. The Motion version holds luma constant and allows saturation to vary.

The quickest way to test this is with a solid red generator. Apply the FCP X Hue/Sat filter and rotate the hue control. Set the scopes to display an RGB parade, vectorscope, and the waveform set to luma. As you rotate the hue around the dial, you’ll notice that the color dot stays neatly in the boxes of the vectorscope and moves in a straight, diagonal line from vector to vector. The RGB parade will show a perfect combination of red, blue, and green values to achieve the correct RMBCGY coordinates. However, the waveform luma levels will move up and down with large changes.

Now compare this to the hue control in the Hue/Sat filter included in my template. This is from Motion. As you rotate the hue control around the dial, the saturation value moves in what seems to be an erratic fashion around the vectorscope; but, the luma display changes very little. If you apply this same test to real footage, instead of a generated background color, you’ll get perceptually better results with Motion’s Hue/Sat filter than with the FCP X version. In most cases, either approach is acceptable, since for the purposes of color correction, you will likely only move the dial a few degrees left or right from the default of zero. Hue changes in color grading should be very subtle.

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Expanding filter features

After I built this first Motion template, I decided to poke around some more inside Motion to see if it offered other filters that had value for color correction. And as a matter of fact, it does. Motion includes a very nice Levels filter. It includes sliders for RGB as a group, as well as individual settings for red, green, and blue. Each group is broken down into sliders for black in/out, white in/out, and gamma. Then there’s an overall mix value. That a total of 21 sliders, not counting opacity, which I didn’t publish in my template. Therefore, you have fairly large control over grading using only the Levels filter.

df2615_fcpxfilterupdate_4I thought about building it into the earlier Oliver Color filter I had created, but ran into some obvious design issues. When you build these effects, it’s important to think through the order of clicking publish on the parameters that you want to appear inside of FCP X. This sequence will determine where these values appear in the stack of controls in the FCP X inspector. In other words, even though I placed this Levels filter ahead of Color Balance within Motion, the fact that I clicked publish after these other values had already been published, meant that these new controls would be placed to the bottom of my stack once this was displayed in FCP X. The way to correct this is to first unpublish everything and then select publish for each parameter in the order that you want it to appear.

A huge interface design concern is just how cluttered you do or don’t want your effect controls to be inside of FCP X. This was a key design issue when FCP X was created. You’ll notice that Apple’s built-in FCP X effects have a minimalist approach to the number of sliders available for each filter. Adding Levels into my Color filter template meant adding 21 more sliders to an interface that already combined a number of parameters for each of the other components. Going through this exercise makes it clear why Apple took the design approach they did and why other developers have resorted to various workarounds, such as floating controls, HUDs, and other solutions. The decision for me was simply to create a separate Oliver Levels filter that could be used separately, as needed.

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More value from color presets 

An interesting discovery I made was how Color Board presets can be used in FCP X 10.2. When you choose a preset from the Color Board’s pulldown menu, you can access these settings as you always have. The downside is that you can’t preview a setting like you can other effects in the effects palette. You have to apply a preset from the Color Board to see what it will look like with your image.df2615_fcpxfilterupdate_5

FCP X 10.2 adds the ability to save filter presets. Since color correction using the Color Board has now been turned into a standard filter, you can save color presets as an effects preset. This means that if you have a number of Color Board presets (the built-in FCP X settings, mine, or any custom ones you’ve created) simply apply the color preset and then save that color correction filter setting as a new effects preset. When you do this you get a choice of what category to save it into. You can create your own, such as My Color Presets. Now these presets will show up in that category inside the effects palette. When you skim over the preset icon, your image will be previewed with that color correction value applied.

Although these presets appear in the same palette as other Motion templates, the effects presets themselves are stored in a different place. They are located in the OS X user library under Application Support/ProApps/Effects Presets. For example, I created 40 Color Board presets that can all be turned into Effects Presets visible within the Effects palette. I’m not going to post them that way, but if you feel ambitious, I would invite you to download the Color Board presets and make your own effects presets out of them.

All of this is a great way to experiment and see how you can use the resources Apple has provided to personalize a system tailored to your own post needs.

Click here to download the Motion template effects.

Click here to download the Color Board presets.

For some additional resources for free plug-ins, check out Ripple Training, Alex4D and FxFactory.

©2015 Oliver Peters

Building a Free FCP X Color Correction Filter

df2315_opcolor_1One nice aspect of the symbiotic relationship between Final Cut Pro X and Motion is that Motion can be used to create effects, transitions, titles and generators for use in FCP X. These are Motion Templates and they form the basis for the creation of nearly all third-party effects filters, both paid and free. This means that if you learn a bit about Motion, you can create your own custom effects or make modifications to the existing ones supplied with FCP X. This has become very easy to do in the newest versions (FCP X 10.2.1 and Motion 5.2.1).

I decided to build a color correction filter that covered most of the standard adjustments you need with the usual types of footage. There are certainly a number of really good color correction/grading filters already on the market for FCP X. Apple’s own color board works well and with 10.2 has been broken out as a normal effects filter. However, a lot of folks don’t like its tab/puck/swatch interface and would still rather work with sliders or color wheels. So as an experiment, I built my own color correction filter for use with FCP X – and you may download here and use it for free as well.

df2315_opcolor_4_smLet me point out that I am no Motion power user. I have nowhere near the skills of Mark Spencer, Simon Ubsdell or Alex Gollner when it comes to using Motion to its fullest. So all I’ve done is combine existing Motion filters into a single combined filter with zero modifications. But that’s the whole point and why this function has so much potential. A couple of these individual filters already exist singly within FCP X, but Motion has a lot more to choose from. Once you launch Motion, the starting point is to open a new Final Cut Effects project from the Motion project browser. This will default to a blank composition ready to have things added to it. Since I was creating a color correction filter, all I needed to do was select the existing Motion filters to use from the Library browser and drag-and-drop the choices into the composition.

df2315_opcolor_5I decided to combine Brightness, Contrast, Color Balance, Hue/Saturation and Tint, which were also stacked in that exact order. The next step in the process was to determine the state of the filter when you apply it and which parameters and sliders to publish. Items that are published, such as a slider, will show up in the inspector in FCP X and can be adjusted by the editor. In my case, I decided to publish every parameter in the stack. To publish, simply click on the right side edge of each parameter line and you’ll find a pulldown selection that includes a publish/unpublish toggle. Note that the order in which you click the publish commands will determine the order of how these commands are stacked when they show up inside FCP X. To make the most sense, I followed a straight sequence order, top to bottom.

df2315_opcolor_3_smYou can also determine the starting state when you first apply or preview the effect.  For example, whether a button starts out enabled or disabled. In the case of this filter, I’ve enabled everything and left it at a neutral or default value, with the exception of Tint. This starts in the ‘off’ position, because I didn’t want a color cast to be applied when you first add the filter to a clip. Once everything is set-up, you simply save the effect to a desired location in the Motion Templates folder. You can subsequently open the Motion project from there to modify the effect. When it’s saved again, the changes are updated to the filter in FCP X.

If you’ve downloaded my effects filter, unzip the file and follow the Read Me document. I’ve created an “Oliver FX” category and this complete folder should be placed into the User/Movies/Motion Templates/Effects folder on your hard drive.df2315_opcolor_2

Applying the filter inside Final Cut Pro X is the same as any of the other effects options. It has the added benefit that all parameters can be keyframed. The Color Balance portion works like a 3-way color corrector, except that it uses the OS color picker wheels in lieu of a true 3-color-wheel interface. As a combination of native filters, performance is good without taxing the machine.

UPDATE (12 June 2015) : I have added one addition filter into the download file. The second filter is called “Oliver DVE” and designed to give you a full set of transform controls that include XYZ rotation. It comes from the transform control set included with Motion. This provides you with the equivalent of a 2.5D DVE, which is not available in the default control set of FCP X.

UPDATE 2 (15 June 2015) : These filters are not backward compatible. They will work in FCP X 10.1.2 and Motion 5.1.2 and forward (hopefully), but not in earlier versions. That’s due to technology changes between these versions. If you downloaded these prior to June 15, for FCP X 10.1.2 or 10.1.4 and they aren’t working, please download again. I have modified the files to work in FCP X 10.1.2 and later. Thank you.

Download the free “Oliver Color” and “Oliver DVE” filters here. My previously-created, free FCP X color board presets may be found here.

©2015 Oliver Peters

NLEs at NAB 2015

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NAB is the biggest toy store in our industry. As in years past, I’ve covered it for DV magazine, where you’ll find the expanded version. The following is the segment covering the four – soon to become five – most popular NLE vendors.

df2115_NAB2Editing options largely focused on the four “A” companies – Apple, Adobe, Avid and Autodesk. Apple wasn’t officially at the show, but held private press meetings at an area hotel. Consulting company FCPworks presented a series of workflow and case study sessions at the Renaissance Hotel next door to the South Hall. This coincided with Apple’s release of the updated versions of Final Cut Pro X, Motion and Compressor. FCP X 10.2 includes a number of enhancements, but the most buzz went to the addition of a new 3D text engine for FCP X and Motion. Apple’s implementation is one of the easiest to use and best-looking in any application. The best part is that the performance is excellent. Two other big features fall more in line with user wish lists. These include built-in masking and changing the color correction tool into a standard effect filter. Compressor has now added a preset designed for iTunes submission. Although Apple still encourages users to go to iTunes though an approved third-party portal, this new preset makes it easier to create the proper file package necessary for delivery.

df2115_NAB1Adobe has the momentum as the next up-and-coming professional editing tool. At NAB Adobe was showing technology previews of the application features that will be released as part of a Creative Cloud subscription in the coming months. Premiere Pro CC now integrates more of SpeedGrade CC’s color correction capabilities through the addition of the Lumetri Color panel. This tabbed control integrates tools that are familiar from SpeedGrade, but also from Lightroom. Since Premiere already includes built-in masking and tracking, this means the editor is capable of doing very sophisticated color correction right inside of Premiere. Morph Cut is a new effect that everyone cutting interviews will love. The effect is designed to smoothly transition across jump cuts in a seamless manner. It uses advanced tracking and frame interpolation functions to build new “in-between” frames. After Effects adds an outstanding face tracker and improved previews. View design iterations, adjust composition properties, and even resize interface panels without halting composition playback. The face tracker locks onto specific points (pupils, mouth, nose), which enables accurate tracking when elements need to be composited onto an actor’s face.

Adobe is also good for out-of-the-box thinking on new technologies. Character Animator was demonstrated as a live animation tool. Using real-time facial tracking, such as from a laptop’s webcam, the animator could do live animation key framing of an on-screen cartoon character. Import a cartoon character as a layered Photoshop file as the starting point. When you move and talk, so does the character in real-time – all controlled by the tracking. Not only can you add the real-time animation, but certain animation functions are automatically applied, like a character’s breathing motion. Another interesting tool is Candy. This is a mobile app which analyses the tonal color scheme of photos stored on your mobile device. It creates a “look” file and stores it to your Creative Cloud library. This, in turn, can be synced with your copy of Premiere Pro CC and then applied as a color correction look to any video clip.

df2115_NAB3Avid ran the second annual Avid Connect event for members of their customer association in the weekend leading up to the NAB exhibition. Although this was the first show appearance of Media Composer 8.3.1 – Avid’s first move into true 4K editing – they did very little to promote it. That’s not to say there wasn’t any news. Several new products were announced, including the Avid Artist | DNxIO. Instead of developing their own 4K hardware, Avid opted to partner with Blackmagic Design. The DNxIO is essentially the same as the UltraStudio 4K Extreme, except with the addition of Avid’s DNxHR codec embedded into the unit. Only Avid will sell the Avid-branded version and will also provide any technical support. The DNxIO supports both PCIe or Thunderbolt host connections and can also be used for Adobe Premiere Pro CC, Apple FCP X and DaVinci Resolve running on the same workstation as Media Composer.

In an effort to attract new users to Media Composer, Avid also announced Media Composer | First. This is a free version with a reduced feature set. It’s intended as functional starter software from which users will hopefully transition to the full, paid application. However, it uses a “freemium” sales model, allowing users to extend functionality through add-on purchases. For example, Media Composer | First permits users to only store three active projects in the cloud. Additional storage for more projects can be purchased from Avid.

df2115_NAB5Autodesk’s NAB news was all about the 2016 versions of Flame, Maya and 3ds Max. Flame and Flame Premium customers gain new look development tools, including Lightbox – a GPU shader toolkit for 3D color correction – and Matchbox in the Action module. This applies fast Matchbox shaders to texture maps without leaving the 3D compositing scene. Maya 2016 received performance and ease-of-use enhancements. There are also new capabilities in Bifrost to help deliver realistic liquid simulations. 3ds Max 2016 gains a new, node-based creation graph, a new design workspace and template system, as well as other design enhancements. If you’ve been following Smoke, then this NAB was disappointing. Autodesk told me that an update is in the works, but development timing didn’t allow it to be ready in time for the show. I would presume we’ll hear something at IBC.

df2115_NAB4For editors, all eyes are on Blackmagic Design. DaVinci Resolve 12 was demonstrated, which is the first version that the company feels can compete as a full-fledged NLE. Last NAB, Resolve 11 was introduced as an online editor, but once it was out in the wild, most users found the real-time performance wasn’t up to par with other NLEs. Resolve 12 appears to have licked that issue, with a new audio engine and improved editing features. New in Resolve 12 is a multi-camera editing mode with the ability to sync angles by audio, timecode or in/out points. The new, high-performance audio engine was designed to greatly improve real-time playback, but also supports VST and AU audio plug-ins. Editors will also be able to export projects to ProTools using AAF.  Don’t forget that there are also updates to its color correction functions. Aside from interface and control enhancements, the most notable additions are a new keyer and a new perspective tracker. The latter will allow users to better track objects that move off-screen during the clip. Resolve 12 is scheduled to be released in July. Blackmagic acquired Fusion last year. It’s a node-based, compositing application, built on Windows. At the booth, Blackmagic previewed Fusion 8 on the Mac and announced that it will be available for Windows, Mac and Linux. Like Resolve, Fusion 8 will be offered in both a free and a paid version.

This post is an abbreviated overview written for CreativePlanetNetwork and Digital Video magazine. Click here for the full-length version to find out about more post news, as well as cameras, effects and other items presented at NAB.

©2015 Oliver Peters