Could Fairlight be your next DAW?

When I review audio plug-ins and software, it’s from my perspective as a video editor. I’m not a recording engineer or mixer; however, I do dabble with music mixes as a hobbyist and to improve my audio chops. As such, I occasionally delve into digital audio workstation software, such as Sound Forge, Audio Design Desk, and others. My favorite is Apple Logic Pro, but as a DaVinci Resolve and Adobe user, I also have Fairlight (part of Resolve) and Adobe Audition. I touched on the Fairlight page in some detail as part of my Resolve Studio 18 review, but in this post I want to focus on it purely from the perspective of a DAW user on music projects.

Blackmagic’s reimagining

When Blackmagic Design acquired the assets of Fairlight, the software was refreshed and developed into the Fairlight page within DaVinci Resolve. Even though it’s nested inside of a video editing and grading tool, Fairlight is capable of being a standalone audio application. No need to ever have video enter into the equation.

Fairlight is integrated into both DaVinci Resolve (free) and Resolve Studio ($295). The Studio version can be activated on two computers at the same time. Nearly all Fairlight features and effects are the same in both versions, with the exception of ATMOS and spatial audio mixing/monitoring, which requires the Studio version. If your only interest is stereo recording and mixing, then Resolve is one of the only, truly free DAWs on the market. No significant feature restrictions and no Blackmagic hardware required. Plus, it works in Windows, Linux, and macOS.

Along with this software development, Blackmagic Design has expanded the ecosystem of companion Fairlight products. These include an accelerator card, a modular chassis, control surfaces, controllers, and an audio interface. The Fairlight page also supports Blackmagic’s two editor keyboards. You can run Fairlight without any external hardware, yet it’s scalable up to a complete recording studio rig. On a Mac, any Core Audio device will do, so recording into Fairlight and monitoring the output is compatible with simple USB audio interfaces, like Focusrite, PreSonus and others.

Understanding the interface

The Fairlight interface is compatible with single and dual-display set-ups and uses UI panels that can be turned on and off or slid onto the screen as needed. You can show or hide individual pieces of the mixer, as well. Unfortunately in a single display system, like an iMac, you cannot display the mixer panel full-screen. A project with 20 to 30 or more source tracks, requires left to right scrolling. However, since the 18.1 update, the meter bridge panel allows for two rows of meters.

The mixer uses a channel strip format for each track, which includes input/output/send routing, effects, and a built-in parametric equalizer and compressor. This is much like the channel strip of a traditional analog studio console, like an SSL or Neve. Unlike some other DAWs, you can also change the signal order of effects, EQ, and dynamics (compression) within each channel strip.

Modern plug-ins

Resolve includes Fairlight FX audio plug-ins that cover most common needs. But since this software is targeted towards the film and TV customer, it doesn’t include music-centric plug-ins, like the guitar amp and pedal emulations offered in Logic Pro. That focus is true of the plug-in presets, as well. For example, the factory preset choices in the compressor will be for dialogue and not musical instruments, like a drum kit or guitar. That doesn’t mean you can’t do music with these plug-ins. Presets are just suggestions anyway, so you should tweak based on what sounds right to you.

Fairlight does not color the sound. The sonic character, interface, and plug-in design take a clean, modern approach. There are no vintage options and none of the plug-ins are designed as skeuomorphic emulations of studio gear synonymous with classic recordings from the 70s. After all, film re-recording mixers have never been particularly precious about certain consoles or outboard gear from ages ago. Other than maybe a love for old Nagras, I doubt there’s much fondness for old audio gear like mag dubbers. At least not in the same way that music recording engineers still like to use analog recorders in the signal chain.

If you do want vintage tools, then Fairlight supports third-party AU and VST plug-ins. However, as with other video applications, I’ve found that some of the skeuomorphic effects don’t always work or look right. For example, I often use the free VU meter from TBProAudio. In Fairlight, only the AU version will appear as intended. And if you own an M1 or M2 Mac, then double-check that your favorite third-party plug-in is natively supported.

Fairlight isn’t just for audio post

Avid’s Pro Tools is the 800-pound gorilla. But, many Pro Tools users are often frustrated with the cost of staying current and dealing with Avid as a company. While such concerns may or may not be justified, Pro Tools isn’t the only game in town. Unless you need to interchange Pro Tools projects, there are plenty of alternatives. And that’s where Fairlight comes in. First of all, if audio post for film and TV is your primary focus, then Fairlight is up to the task. Resolve will import XML, FCPXML, and AAF files for both color and sound finishing. Fairlight includes an ADR recording routine, a free sound effects library, and a foley sampler plug-in. But let me focus on Fairlight as a music DAW.

I started with multitracks of song covers available from Warren Huart’s “Produce Like A Pro” YouTube channel. I didn’t record my own tracks, other than to test how recording might work. I’m a big believer that a great mix is achieved by doing 90% of the work at the time of the studio recording. It’s not about building the sound through plug-ins and tricks, but getting the right blend of gear, mics, and performance from the players. That was already there in the multitracks, so the mix was more about the right balance of these elements.

Achieving a successful mix

Fairlight works with as many tracks and busses as are created in your timeline. My standard layout for mixing is to use summing busses. You can create as many as you need. The 35 tracks for this song include drums, percussion, bass, piano, electric and acoustic guitars. I route each set of instrument tracks to a buss dedicated to that group, even if there’s only one instrument track in that group. These six busses are then routed to a submix buss, which in turn is routed to the master buss for output. This allows for gain staging and quickly balancing  levels. The default Fairlight layout automatically routes the first buss (drums in my case) as the output to the speakers and on the Deliver page. Be sure to change each of these to your master buss for the proper intended output.

My goal was to come out with a result that hit desired loudness targets and sounded good to me, mainly using the stock plug-ins. You’re going to adjust levels, but most of the effects center around EQ, compression, and reverb. Each of these is adequately covered by the complement of Fairlight FX. If you have singers, then there are also vocal processing effects, like de-essing. However, an investment in iZotope RX is certainly a useful add-on. For example, RX includes a specific tool to remove or reduce guitar squeaks and string noise. The Resolve 18.1 update added many audio-centric features, including a new voice isolation feature. It works well for any vocal situation and in my opinion has fewer negative artifacts than most of the competing options.

In my test mix, I adjusted level, panning, EQ, and compression on each channel strip. At the buss level, I added more EQ and compression, plus some reverb. The last stage was a multiband compressor and a brick wall limiter on the submix buss. Only meter plug-ins were added to the master buss. Of course, Fairlight includes its own useful set of meters for level and loudness.

Fairlight is actually quite good for music production, editing, and mixing. Since it’s built into an NLE, the project supports multiple mixes. You can have bins and timelines to organize the tracks and mixes for various different songs, as well as different versions of each mix. Resolve 18 added new cloud collaboration tools, however, you can easily collaborate on mixes by exporting a timeline file to send to a colleague. Assuming the other system has access to the same audio files and third-party plug-ins (if used), then it’s simply a matter of importing that timeline file.

Processing for this number of tracks and effects was easily handled by my iMac. It could have handled more, including more intense third-party plug-ins, like Gullfoss, Ozone, FabFilter, or Sonible. If you really need to go BIG, then Blackmagic Design promises up to 2,000 real-time tracks for the full Fairlight hardware installation! So if Pro Tools isn’t in the cards for you, then look over Fairlight and Resolve. It might just be right for your music mixing needs.

Additional thoughts

Some of the comments I received on the PVC version of this article (see link below) pointed out that Fairlight does not include such music-centric tools as MIDI and a piano roll, like some other DAWs do. While this is true, these are tools used by music creators working with synthetic instruments, like software samples for guitar, strings, drums, etc. That’s not a universal requirement, especially if you record and mix live performers using real instruments. Certainly if you need those specialized features, then other DAWs are a better fit for you.

It’s important to remember that digital audio workstation (DAW) software is used for a wide variety of audio production tasks. Such productions are often recorded and edited with tools that do not include some of these music features either. For example, Adobe Audition is widely used in the production of podcasts and radio commercials. So while Fairlight might not fit all needs, there’s little harm in trying a free application and then seeing where that leads.

Want to try mixing in Fairlight for yourself, but don’t have the tracks? Check out these 50 free, downloadable multitrack song sets from Warren Huart. I’ve only scratched the surface, so be sure to check out Blackmagic’s Fairlight training series.

This review also appears at Pro Video Coalition.

©2023 Oliver Peters

Audio Plug-ins for the Holidays

You wanted to spruce up your audio toolkit, but already blew the budget on presents for the family and friends. Fear not, because here’s another list of free (or close to it) audio plug-ins that are worth getting excited about. Last year I wrote about excellent free tools from TBProAudio and Tokyo Dawn Records/Labs. These are still worth checking out and I use some of these on nearly every mix. However, since that post, I’ve run into a few more that are worth highlighting.

Focusrite Hitmaker Expansion bundle

OK, this first selection isn’t technically free on its own. It comes as a bonus offering if you purchased a Focusrite Scarlett, Clarett, or Red interface after Oct. 1, 2022. I don’t know whether the details will change or if this offer is time-sensitive. Nevertheless, if you need an audio interface, then it’s worth checking these out. (I personally use the Scarlett 2i2 interface with several different workstations.) This bundle includes some “free” plug-ins, some instrument packs, and some extended trials for subscription services. My personal favorite in this group is the Focusrite RED 2 & 3 Plug-in Suite.

Analog Obsession

If you want that vintage sound across a wide range of plug-in types, then Analog Obsession offers some of the best, regardless of price. These are free, however, a Patreon subscription is recommended, mainly to help further the development effort. New products are routinely added. These are AU/VST/VST3 plug-ins, but now AAX is also being added, starting with the newest Comper plug-in. The developer plans to make all of his existing plug-ins compatible with Pro Tools in soon-to-come updates.

There are two things I really find attractive about these tools. First, the developer builds in unique features that not even the most expensive competitors offer. For example, Comper is really two compressors, which can be used in series. Each offers VCA, FET, and Opto modeling that can be switched or blended. (Tip – on most Analog Obsession tools, click on the logo – it turns red – to enable oversampling.)

Second, there is no need for some separate licensing application. This is often the case with other companies, even when the plug-ins are free. You can quickly end up with half a dozen different licensing applications on your system, simply to manage a variety of plug-ins.

iZotope

Many other companies often include a handful of free plug-ins within their otherwise paid portfolio. You have to look, but they are out there. For instance, iZotope, which is known for RX, Ozone, and other high-end sets, also offers a few freebees. These include Vinyl, Ozone Imager, and Vocal Doubler. Vinyl is designed to purposefully degrade your mix with analog artifacts, like scratches, dust, warping, and more. The Stereo Imager module is part of Ozone, but is also offered for free as a separate plug-in. As the name implies, Vocal Doubler is there to enhance vocal recordings with a doubling effect.

KiiveAudio

Amongst Kiive’s range of plug-ins is the free Warmy EP1A Tube EQ. This is a 3-band equalizer modeled in a vintage fashion. The classic difference is that the low end has both a boost and an attenuation (cut) control. The allows you to simultaneously boost and cut low frequencies at slightly different points, enabling a punchier bottom end.

Klanghelm

Manley Labs introduced its legendary Variable Mu® Limiter-Compressor in 1994, which remains an analog mastering standard to this day. Klanghelm’s MJUC is a tip-of-the-hat to this hardware. But sticking with our free theme, you can also get the simplified MJUC jr. version. It’s designed as a master bus compressor for smooth leveling without pumping effects. Klanghelm offers two other freeware products: IVGI and DC1A. The first is designed for saturation and distortion. The latter is a compressor to use if you want a bit of analog color to your sound.

Klevgrand

I pointed out Klevgrand’s excellent noise reduction filter, Brusfri, in last year’s holiday post. However, Klevgrand also features a free plug-in tucked away on their site. FreeAmp is a free, stripped down version of their REAMP filter. Both are designed to model different instrument amps. FreeAMP combines all the profiles into a single universal profile so you can quickly dial in a desired amount of overdrive saturation.

Sonimus

Like Kiive, Sonimus offers a single free, vintage-style equalizer, the Sonimus SonEQ Free. It features similar controls to Warmy; however, with even a few more tricks. Given the two, I’d opt for SonEQ. An added benefit is the detailed manual from Sonimus, which spells out exactly how each control alters the sound.

VahallaDSP

Valhalla is one of the most-respected reverb/echo software developers. SuperMassive is their free plug-in for delays and reverbs. As the name implies, you can go from standard ambiences all the way up to very large and spacey effects.

So that’s a short list of free audio plug-ins that are great additions to your toolkit. Regardless of whether you mix music or cut videos, be sure to check out and see how these might enhance your workflow.

©2022 Oliver Peters

NLE Tips – Proxy Hacks

Editors often think of the clip within the edit application’s browser as the media file. But that clip is only a facsimile of the actual media. It links to potentially three different assets on the hard drive – the original camera (or sound) file, optimized media, and/or proxy media.

Optimized media. You may decide to create optimized media when the original media’s codec or file format is too taxing on your system. For example, you might convert a media file made up of an image sequence into an optimized movie file using one of the ProRes or DNx codecs. When you create optimized media, that is often the media used for finishing instead of the original camera media. For sake of simplicity I’ll refer to original media from here on, but understand that it could be optimized media or original camera files.

Proxy media. There are many reasons for creating proxy media – portability, system performance, remote editing, etc. Proxy media is usually lightweight, more highly compressed, and of a lower resolution than the original media. Nearly all editing applications enable users to edit with lightweight proxy media in lieu of heavier, native camera files. When proxy media has been created, then the media clip in the NLE’s browser can actually link to both the original camera file, as well as the proxy media file. Software “toggles” in the application can seamlessly swap the link from one type of media file to the other.

The NLEs that offer proxy editing workflows integrate routines to transcode and automatically switch the links between proxy and original camera files on the hard drive. DaVinci Resolve 18 is the newest in this group with the addition of the Blackmagic Proxy Generator application. However, that tool only works with Resolve Studio 18 downloaded from Blackmagic Design’s website. The Generator is an addition to Resolve 18 and augments the built-in transcoding tools. In either case, you don’t have to use the built-in routines nor the Blackmagic Proxy Generator. You can encode proxies using different software and even different computers. Then you can attach those proxies to the clips in the editing application at a later time.

Creating external proxy media

Proxies can be created with any encoding software. I like Apple Compressor, which includes a category of presets specifically designed for proxy media generation. The presets can be modified according to your needs.  For instance, you can add a LUT and effects, like a timecode overlay. This makes it easy to know when you are toggled to the original or the proxy media within the NLE.

Before creating any proxy files, make sure that your original files all have unique file names. Rename any duplicates or those with generic file names, like Clip001, Clip002, etc. There are several key parameters needed for successful relinking between original and proxy media. These include matching names, frame rates, timecode, lengths, and audio channel configurations. Some applications let you force a relink when some of these items don’t match, but it will usually be one file at a time.

Frame sizes can be smaller, since that’s an aspect of any proxy workflow. For example, if you start with 4K/UHD original media, but you create half-size HD proxies. The embedded metadata in the proxy file informs the NLE so that the correct size is maintained when switching between the two. Likewise, the codecs do not need to match. You can have 4K/UHD ProRes HQ originals and HD H.264 proxy media (I prefer ProRes Proxy). The point is to have proxy media with smaller file sizes, which play back more efficiently on your computer.

When you transcode proxy media files in Compressor or any other encoding application, it’s best to render them into a folder specifically called Proxy. This can be anywhere you like, but it’s best to have it near your original camera files. If you have multiple camera file folders – organized by camera roll, day, camera model, etc – then there are two options. You can either have one single Proxy file for all renders or have a separate subfolder called Proxy within each camera roll folder.

Dealing with externally-created proxies in different editing applications

Final Cut Pro – There is a setting to switch between Proxy Preferred and Original/Optimized. When you create external proxies, highlight the original camera clips and relink to the proxy media in the Proxy folder(s). Once proxies have been linked, then you can seamlessly switch between the two types of media.

Premiere Pro – There is a similar toggle button accessible in the timeline tools panel. The linking steps are similar to Final Cut Pro. Highlight the originals and then Attach Proxies. Navigate to the Proxy folder(s) and attach that media. The toggle button lets you switch back and forth between media types.

DaVinci Resolve Studio 18 – This update changed the proxy workflow as well as added the Generator application. You can still use the older proxy generation method. If so, then set the encoding parameters and location in your project settings. If you encode using the Blackmagic Proxy Generator app or an external application, then it’s a different process. The advantage to using Blackmagic Proxy Generator is that you can set up watch folders for automatic encoding.

The default location when using the Blackmagic Proxy Generator app or Resolve’s internal routine places a Proxy subfolder inside the folder of each roll of original media. When that condition exists, then original clips added into the Media page automatically include links to both the original and the proxy media. In fact, the Proxy subfolders don’t even show up in Resolve’s browser when searching for media. When both types of media are present, then the Resolve clip icons reflects that duality.

When you transcode externally with Compressor or another app, then media placed into individual Proxy subfolders will also automatically link inside Resolve. However, if you render to a single, unified Proxy folder, then you’ll need to manually relink the proxy files to the originals in the Media page. Like the other two NLEs, you can do this as a batch function by navigating to the Proxy folder.

I hope these pointers will be a useful guide the next time you decide to use a proxy media workflow.

©2022 Oliver Peters

Sonible smart:comp 2

Audio software plug-ins (effects and filters) come in two forms. On one hand, you have a wide range of products that emulate vintage analog hardware, often showcasing a skeuomorphic interface design. If you know how the original hardware version worked and sounded, then that will inform your expectations for the software equivalent. The other approach is to eschew the sonic and visual approach of analog emulation and build a plug-in with a modern look and sound. Increasingly this second group of plug-ins employ intelligent profiles and “assistants” to analyze your track and provide you with automatic settings that form a good starting point.

Austria has a long and proud musical history and heritage of developing leading audio products. There are many high-end Austrian audio manufacturers. One of those companies is Sonible, which develops both hardware and software products. The Sonible software falls into that second camp of plug-ins, with clean sonic qualities and a modern interface design. Of key interest is the “smart:” category, including smart:comp 2, smart:limit, smart:EQ 3, smart:reverb, and smart:EQ live. The first four of these are also available as the smart:bundle.

Taking a spin with Sonible’s spectro-dynamic compressor

I tested out smart:comp 2, which is billed as a spectro-dynamic compressor. It’s compatible with Windows and macOS and installs AU, VST, VST3, and AAX (Avid) versions. Licensing uses an iLok or is registered to your computer (up to two computers at a time). Let’s start with why these are “smart.” In a similar fashion to iZotope’s Ozone and others, smart:comp 2 can automatically analyze your track and assign compressor settings based on different profiles. The settings may be perfect out of the gate or form a starting point for additional adjustments. Of course, you can also just start by making manual adjustments.

Spectro-dynamic is a bit of a marketing term, but in essence, smart:comp 2 works like a highly sophisticated multiband compressor. The compression ranges are based on the sonic spectrum of the track. Instead of the four basic bands of most multiband compressors, smart:comp 2 carves up the signal into 2,000 slices to which compression is dynamically applied. As a compressor, this plug-in is equally useful on individual tracks or on the full mix as a mastering plug-in.

In addition, I would characterize the interface design as “discoverable.” When you first open the plug-in, you see a clean user interface with simple adjustments for level and ratio. However, you can click certain disclosure triangles to open other parts of the interface, such as control of attack and release timing, as well as side-chain filtering. There are three unique sound shaping controls at the bottom. Style controls the character of the compressor between “clean” (transparent) and “dirty” (warm and punchy). The Spectral Compression control dials in the amount of spectral (multiband) compression being applied. At zero, smart:comp 2 will act as an ordinary broadband compressor. The Color control lets you emphasis “darker” or “brighter” ranges within the spectral compression.

Simple, yet powerful functions

Start by selecting a profile (or leave on “Universal”). Play a louder section of your mix and let smart:comp 2 “learn” the track. Once learning is done and a profile established, you may be done. Or you may want to make further adjustments to taste. For example, the plug-in features automatic input riding along with automatic output (make-up gain). I found that for my mixes, input riding worked well, but I preferred a fixed output gain, which can be set manually.

There’s a “limit” function, which is always set to 0dBFS. When enabled, the limit option becomes a soft clipper. All peaks exceeding 0dBFS will be tamed to avoid hard clipping. It’s like a smooth limiter set to 0dBFS after the compression stage. However, if your intended use is broadcast production, rather than music mixes, you may still need to add a separate limiter plug-in (such as Sonible’s smart:limit) in the mastering chain after smart:comp 2. Especially if your target is lower, such as true peaks at -3dB or -6dB.

smart:comp2 did a wonderful job as a master bus compressor on my music mixes. I tested it against other built-in and third-party compressors within Logic Pro and DaVinci Resolve Fairlight. First, smart:comp 2 is very clean when you press it hard. There’s always a pleasing sound. However, the biggest characteristic is that the mixes sound more open with better clarity.

smart:comp 2 for mixing video projects

I’m a video editor and most of my mixes are more basic than multitrack music mixes with large track counts. Just a few dialogue, music, and sound effects tracks and that’s it. So the next test was applying smart:comp 2 on Premiere Pro’s mix bus. When I originally mixed this particular project, I used Adobe’s built-in tube-modeled compression on the dialogue tracks and then Adobe’s  multiband compressor and limiter of the mix buss. For this test, I stripped all of those out and only added smart:comp 2 to the mix output buss.

I noticed the same openness as in the music mixes, but input riding was even more evident. My sequence started with a 15 second musical lead-in. Then the music ducks under the dialogue as the presenter appears. I had mixed this level change manually for a good-sounding balance. When I applied smart:comp 2, I noticed that the opening music was louder than with the plug-in bypassed. Yet, this automatic loudness level change felt right and the transition to the ducked music was properly handled by smart:comp 2. Although the unprocessed mix initially sounded fine to me, I would have to say that using smart:comp 2 made it a better-sounding mix overall. It was also better than when I used the built-in options.

How you use plug-ins is a matter of taste and talent. Some pros may look at automatic functions as some sort of cheat. I think that’s wrong. Software analysis can give you a good starting point in less time, allowing more time for creativity. You aren’t getting bogged down twirling knobs. That’s a good thing. I realize vintage plug-ins often look cool, but if you don’t know the result you’ll get, they can be a waste of time and money. This is where plug-ins like the smart: series from Sonible will enhance to your daily mixing workflow, regardless of whether you are a seasoned recording engineer or a video editor.

©2022 Oliver Peters

New Plug-ins Bring More Spice to FCP

Continuum FCP Units, Hawaiki Keyer 5, XTheme Tech

All editing applications benefit from third-party video plug-ins. Two of my favorite developers are Boris FX and Noise Industries/FxFactory. Over the years Boris FX has evolved into a powerhouse plug-in developer offering the most comprehensive effects packages on the market. FxFactory takes a different route. They develop their own plug-ins, but also serve as a platform and marketplace for numerous partner/developers. The result is a product mix that’s both diverse and eclectic.

Boris FX Continuum FCP Units

Boris FX Continuum Complete has been their flagship product for decades. It runs in many of the popular post production applications, including Avid Media Composer, Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects, Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve, and Apple Final Cut Pro and Motion. As I’ve previously noted, Continuum FCP differs from the other versions of Continuum and is sold as a separate product. Boris FX also breaks down some of the categories of Continuum effects into its Units products, which are subsets of the full version. These are packaged for editors and designers who don’t need or want all of what’s in the full version.

This summer Boris FX released the free BCC Looks package for Final Cut Pro editors. That was followed up recently with three new Continuum FCP Units collections: Stylize, Color Essentials, and Transitions. These are affordable collections sold with perpetual licenses. They include hundreds of presets plus Mocha masking with each effect. If you purchase all three, as well as pick up the free Looks plug-in, you’ll have a lot of what’s in the full Continuum for FCP bundle. However, you’ll need the full version for certain popular effects, like lens flares.

The installer you receive is for the complete Continuum suite. As you run it, you’ll be prompted for the activation code of each purchased Unit. You can opt to install only the licensed plug-ins or the full package, which means the non-licensed effects run in a watermarked trial mode. Adjust an effect’s parameters in the FCP inspector panel or open it in the FX Browser, where you can toggle through presets or customize the settings. Transition effects also use on-screen graphs for the effect’s velocity curves.

Boris FX has done a good job of curating the collections with plenty of useful effects. For example, Stylize features effects such as glitch, prism, gobo,  grunge, and more. Color Essentials includes many film effects, like film stocks, gels, bleach bypass, etc. Finally, the Transitions Unit offers a variety of zoom, glitch, glow, prism, and light leak dissolve effects. You certainly get a lot more with the full version of Continuum; however, the effects included within these Units collections are ones that you’ll use quite often. They complement Final Cut’s built-in effects palette, so you won’t feel like you’ve bought something that’s already in the native application.

FxFactory: Hawaiki Keyer 5

Virtual production has had all the buzz, but more often than not for budgetary reasons the fallback is green/blue-screen keying instead of a “volume” studio. To create a convincing composite, you need a top-notch keying plug-in. One of the best, just got better. The developers behind Hawaiki Keyer just upgraded version 4 to the new Hawaiki Keyer 5. This is offered through FxFactory and runs in Final Cut Pro, Motion, Premiere Pro, and After Effects.

The installation adds four plug-ins: HK5 (green), HK5 (blue), Comp Tools 5, and Slice 5. The first two are compositing effects specifically optimized for a green or blue-screen background. Comp Tools supplies all of the Hawaiki Keyer edge tools if you are using a different keyer. It will work as long as the keyer generates an alpha signal. Slice is an analysis tool. Green and blue-screen keying covers 99% of this type of compositing, but you can still use either keying effect if some non-standard background color was used. Hawaiki Keyer 5 offers a broad range of tools to adjust the key, edges, light wrap, and post-process color correction.

New features in version 5 are built-in cropping and shape masks with AI tracking. A common production situation is to shoot wide with the intent to isolate the subject on the green screen background. The shot often extends past the edge of the background cyc and may include crew or lighting or other elements that need to be removed. HK5 is optimized to even out the background for a cleaner key. It now includes tools to mask out all of the material other than what you are intending to key. No need to add additional masking and cropping effects, because these are built into the plug-in itself.

Shape masking uses AI tracking, which can be set to follow objects or faces (including multiple faces), using facial recognition. This is real-time and happens automatically without the need to first analyze the movement and generate a tracked path. As far as I know, it’s unique to have this function integrated directly into the plug-in. For my money, these new features along with the depth of the adjustments available make Hawaiki Keyer 5 the best green/blue-screen keyer plug-in on the market.

FxFactory: XTheme Tech

One major advantage to using Final Cut Pro and Motion is the ability to create your own effects and graphics templates based on the Motion Templates architecture. This has empowered a huge ecosystem of small developers to create free and paid graphics packages. Adobe’s Essential Graphics panel templates pale in comparison. There are many FCP templates, but few are designed with elements built to work together for a coherent look. The exception is idustrial revolution, whose XEffects plug-ins and tool kits are offered through FxFactory. These include professionally-designed social, sports, and news packages that are great for graphics-challenged editors like me.

idustrial’s newest is XTheme Tech, a set of titles, effects, and transitions. These matching elements are designed to be complementary and can be used as an elegant graphics package for any type of show. The tool kit is exclusive for Final Cut Pro and includes over 100 lower thirds, backgrounds, tracking callouts, panels, bars, transitions, and more. There’s also a demo project with examples of how to build looks. Elements from the demo timeline can also be copied-and-pasted into your own sequence.

The bundle includes 10 color swatch titles intended for inspiration. That’s pretty cool. Color accents and background colors can be easily modified in the inspector, which lets you experiment with your own color combinations. Copy-and-paste any of the colors from the swatches into the Mac color picker for use elsewhere. You can make parameter and text changes in the inspector panel, but also on-screen. That’s especially helpful when pinning control points for tracking callouts.

The type of plug-ins and effects that an editor might need can certainly vary from one production to the next. However, these newest updates from Boris FX and FxFactory are definitely worth looking into. As a collection, they form a versatile tool kit for any Final Cut editor and can elevate the quality of any production.

©2022 Oliver Peters