Free BCC Looks for Final Cut Pro

The Boris FX Continuum and/or Sapphire filters have traditionally been essential add-ons for many editors, regardless of NLE brand. The features of these filters are tweaked for the specifics of each host application, but in general, a BCC filter used in Media Composer can be expected to work and look more or less the same way in Premiere Pro.

Compatibility became more difficult for many Final Cut plug-in developers when Apple launched FCPX. For instance, the initial BCC version for FCPX was designed to closely mimic the other BCC versions, yet staying within the then-new Apple architecture. However, some filters never made it into the Final Cut version of BCC, because it wasn’t possible. Boris FX took a different approach in 2021. As I discussed in my review of Continuum FCP last year, the version sold for Final Cut Pro is a different animal than previous Continuum packages for Final Cut Pro, as well as other host applications.

This year Boris FX released the updated 2022 version of Continuum FCP for Final Cut Pro and Motion. Features of the 2022 version include GPU-acceleration for every effect, native operation on M1 Macs, HDR compliance, and more presets. However, the biggest new feature is the addition of Mocha and Pixel Chooser for planar tracking and masking within each effect.

The free Looks filter for FCP

While the update is nice, I wanted to look specifically at the free filter being offered. After all, most folks like free! Right? With the new update Boris FX decided to offer one of the filters for free, no strings attached. Sure, you can test out Continuum with trial versions, but this filter gives you very useful functions – and no watermark. It stands on its own, regardless of whether of not you get the full package. On the other hand, it also gives you a taste, which just may leave you wanting to get the rest of Continuum.

To start, simply register at the Boris FX website and you’ll be emailed a license code and a download link. The installer includes the full Continuum package. Read the installation prompts carefully if you only want to install the single free filter without also installing the others in a trial mode. Launch FCP and you’ll find the BCC+ Looks filter within the BCC Film Style effects category. Once you apply the effect to a clip, you can set up the parameters in the FCP Inspector pane or launch FX Editor, which is similar across multiple Boris FX products. There are 80 stylized presets in FX Editor’s lefthand browser pane, histogram and parameters are on the right, viewer controls for size and comparison spilt screen options at the top, and transport controls at the bottom.

Looks galore

The presets browser uses the current timeline image for each displayed look. Each time you move through the FX Editor timeline and stop on a frame, the preset thumbnails will be updated to the same frame as in the viewer. There are tons of variations from which to select. Once you find a look that you like, click Apply to close FX Editor. Now your FCP timeline clip is updated with that look. But it’s also easy to customize the look either by adjusting the preset or starting from scratch.

The BCC+ Looks filter is a full-featured color correction tool built around seven tabbed parameter layers within the plug-in. Processing is applied in this order, much like nodes in Resolve or layers in Lightroom: [primary] color correction, diffusion, color gradient, gels, [film] lab, grain, and post color correction. Each panel section uses slider controls, plus color pickers for gels and gradients. These parameters can be controlled in the FX Editor or directly from the FCP inspector pane without ever opening the FX Editor.

Let’s say you want a monochrome image with a color wash, diffusion, and some added film grain. If you used the native FCP tools instead of the BCC+ Looks plug-in, then this would require using several different effects in a stack. You still might not get results that look as good. Yet with Looks, it can all be done from a single pane straight from the inspector.

Although this filter is placed into the BCC Film Style category, it does not include any presets for specific Kodak or Fuji film stocks. You’d have to get the full Continuum FCP package to get those. However, there are some generic film emulation presets, like 8mm. If you open the lab tab, you do find options for bleach bypass and cross process settings. This, plus the grain tab, should be all you need to create some pleasing looks that emulate film. Quite frankly, I’ve worked with actual film in the past and most effects that claim to look like a specific brand of film stock never look right to me anyway.

Mocha

Even though this is a free filter, it still includes a proper version of Mocha designed to work with these effects. Launch Mocha with the Mocha Mask button, which then opens the clip into the separate and familiar Mocha editor. Masking and planar tracking work the same as with all other versions. You might not use Mocha often with this filter, since you’re typically applying looks and color correction full screen. However, having Mocha at your disposal does make it easy to isolate portions of the image if you want to apply a look only to a region, such as a person’s face.

In closing, remember that BCC+ Looks is designed for stylized treatment of the image. It doesn’t include some of the other bells-and-whistles of the Continuum plug-in set, like gobos, glitch and damage effects, lighting, transitions, or titles. You can certainly buy the whole package and add those effects later if you find the need. But if not, BCC+ Looks is a great way to get your feet wet with Continuum and Mocha. Did I say it’s free?

©2022 Oliver Peters

Generalists versus Specialists

“Jack of all trades, master of none” is a quote most are familiar with. But the complete quote “Jack of all trades, master of none, but oftentimes better than master of one” actually has quite the opposite perceived meaning. In the world of post production you have Jacks and Jills of all trades (generalists) and masters of one (specialists). While editors are certainly specialized in storytelling, I would consider them generalists when comparing their skillset to those of other specialists, such as visual effects artists, colorists, and audio engineers. Editors often touch on sound, effects, and color in a more general (often temp) way to get client approval. The others have to deliver the best, final results within a single discipline. Editors have to know the tools of editing, but not the nitty gritty of color correction or visual effects.

This is closely tied to the Pareto Principle, which most know as the 80/20 Rule. This principle states that 80% of the consequences come from 20% of the causes, but it’s been applied in various ways. When talking about software development, the 80/20 Rule predicts that 80% of the users are going to use 20% of the features, while only 20% of users will find a need for the other features. The software developer has to decide whether the target customer is the generalist (the 80% user) or the specialist (the 20% user). If the generalist is the target, then the challenge is to add some specialized features to service the advanced user without creating a bloated application that no one will use.

Applying these concepts to editing software development

When looking at NLEs, the first question to ask is, “Who is defined as a video editor today?” I would separate editors into three groups. One group would be the “I have to do it all” group, which generates most of what we see on local TV, corporate videos, YouTube, etc. These are multi-discipline generalists who have neither the time nor interest in dealing with highly specialized software. In the case of true one-man bands, the skill set also includes videography, plus location lighting and sound.

The “top end” – national and international commercials, TV series, and feature films – could be split into two groups: craft (aka film or offline) editors and finishing (aka online) editors. Craft editors are specialists in molding the story, but generalists when it comes to working software. Their technical skills don’t have to be the best, but they need to have a solid understanding of visual effects, sound, and color, so that they can create a presentable rough cut with temp elements. The finishing editor’s role is to take the final elements from sound, color, and the visual effects houses, and assemble the final deliverables. A key talent is quality control and attention to detail; therefore, they have no need to understand dedicated color, sound, or effects applications, unless they are also filling one of these roles.

My motivation for writing this post stemmed from an open letter to Tim Cook, which many editors have signed – myself included. Editors have long been fans of Apple products and many gravitated from Avid Media Composer to Apple Final Cut Pro 1-7. However, when Apple reimagined Final Cut and dropped Final Cut Studio in order to launch Final Cut Pro X many FCP fans were in shock. FCPX lacked a number of important features at first. A lot of these elements have since been added back, but that development pace hasn’t been fast enough for some, hence the letter. My wishlist for new features is quite small. I recognize Final Cut for what it is in the Apple ecosystem. But I would like to see Apple work to raise the visibility of Final Cut Pro within the broader editing community. That’s especially important when the decision of which editing application to use is often not made by editors.

Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve – the über-app for specialists

This brings me to Resolve. Editors point to Blackmagic’s aggressive development pace and the rich feature set. Resolve is often viewed as the greener pasture over the hill. I’m going to take a contrarian’s point of view. I’ve been using Resolve since it was introduced as Mac software and recently graded a feature film that was cut on Resolve by another editor.

Unfortunately, the experience was more problematic than I’ve had with grades roundtripped to Resolve from other NLEs. Its performance as an editor was quite slow when trying to move around in the timeline, replace shots, or trim clips. Resolve wouldn’t be my first NLE choice when compared to Premiere Pro, Media Composer, or Final Cut Pro. It’s a complex program by necessity. The color management alone is enough to trip up even experienced editors who aren’t intimately familiar with what the various settings do with the image.

DaVinci Resolve is an all-in-one application that integrates editing (2 different editing models), color correction (aka grading), Fusion visual effects, and the Fairlight DAW. Historically, all-in-ones have not had a great track record in the market. Other such über-apps would include Avid|DS and Autodesk Smoke. Avid pulled the plug on DS and Autodesk changed their business model for the Flame/Smoke/Lustre product family into subscription. Neither DS nor Smoke as a standalone application moved the needle for market share.

At its core, Resolve is a grading application with Fusion and Fairlight added in later. Color, effects, and audio mixing are all specialized skills and the software is designed so that each specialist if comfortable with the toolset presented on those pages/modes. I believe Blackmagic has been attempting to capitalize on Final Cut editor discontent and create the mythical “FCP8” or “FC Extreme” that many wanted. However, adding completely new and disparate functions to an application that at its core is designed around color correction can make it quite unwieldy. Beginning editors are never going to touch most of what Resolve has to offer and the specialists would rather have a dedicated specialized tool, like Nuke, After Effects, or Pro Tools.

Apple Final Cut Pro – reimagining modern workflows for generalists

Apple makes software for generalists. Pages, Numbers, Keynote, Photos, GarageBand, and iMovie are designed for that 80%. Apple also creates advanced software for the more demanding user under the ProApps banner (professional applications). This is still “generalist” software, but designed for more complex workflows. That’s where Final Cut Pro, Motion, Compressor, and Logic Pro fit.

Apple famously likes to “skate to where the puck will be” and having control over hardware, operating system, and software gives the teams special incite to develop software that is optimized for the hardware/OS combo. As a broad-based consumer goods company Apple also understands market trends. In the case of iPhones and digital photography it also plays a huge role in driving trends.

When Apple launched Final Cut Pro X the goal was an application designed for simplified, modernized workflows – even if “Hollywood” wasn’t quite ready. This meant walking away from the comprehensive “suite of tools” concept (Final Cut Studio). They chose to focus on a few applications that were better equipped for where the wider market of content creators was headed – yet, one that could still address more sophisticated needs, albeit in a different way.

This reimagining of Final Cut Pro had several aspects to it. One was to design an application that could easily be used on laptops and desktop systems and was adaptable to single and dual screen set-ups. It also introduced workflows based on metadata to improve edit efficiency. It was intended as a platform with third parties filling in the gaps. This means you need to augment FCP to cover a few common industry workflows. In short, FCP is designed to appeal to a broad spectrum of today’s “professionals” and not how one might have defined that term in the early 1990s, when nonlinear editing first took hold.

For a developer, it gets down to who the product is marketed towards and which new features to prioritize. Generalists are going to grow the market faster, hence a better return on development resources. The more complex an application becomes, the more likely it is to have bugs or break when the hardware or OS is updated. Quality assurance testing (QA) expands exponentially with complexity.

Final thoughts

Do my criticisms of Resolve mean that it’s a bad application? No, definitely not! It’s powerful in the right hands, especially if you work within its left-to-right workflow (edit -> Fusion -> color -> Fairlight). But, I don’t think it’s the ideal NLE for craft editing. The tools are designed for a collection of specialists. Blackmagic has been on this path for a rather long time now and seem to be at a fork in the road. Maybe they should step back, start from a clean slate, and develop a fresh, streamlined version of Resolve. Or, split it up into a set of individual, focused applications.

So, is Final Cut Pro the ideal editing platform? It’s definitely a great NLE for the true generalist. I’m a fan and use it when it’s the appropriate tool for the job. I like that it’s a fluid NLE with a responsive UI design. Nevertheless, it isn’t the best fit for many circumstances. I work in a market and with clients that are invested in Adobe Creative Cloud workflows. I have to exchange project files and make sure plug-ins are all compatible. I collaborate with other editors and more than one of us often touches these projects.

Premiere Pro is the dominant NLE for me in this environment. It also clicks with how my mind works and feels natural to me. Although you hear complaints from some, Premiere has been quite stable for me in all my years of use. Premiere Pro hits the sweet spot for advanced editors working on complex productions without becoming overly complex. Product updates over the past year have provided new features that I use every day. However, if I were in New York or Los Angeles, that answer would likely be Avid Media Composer, which is why Avid maintains such dominance in broadcast operations and feature film post.

In the end, there is no right or wrong answer. If you have the freedom to choose, then assess your skills. Where do you fall on the generalist/specialist spectrum? Pick the application that best meets your needs and fits your mindset.

For another direct comparison check out this previous post.

©2022 Oliver Peters

Pro Tips for FCP Editors

Every nonlinear editing application has strengths and weaknesses. Each experienced editor has a list of features and enhancements that they’d like to see added to their favorite tool. Final Cut Pro has many fans, but also its share of detractors, largely because of Apple’s pivot when Final Cut Pro changed from FCP7 to FCPX a decade ago. That doesn’t mean it’s not adequate for professional-level work. In fact, it’s a powerful tool in its own right. But there are ways to adapt it to workflows you may miss from competing NLEs. I discuss five of these tips in my article Making Final Cut More Pro over at FCP.co.

©2022 Oliver Peters

CineMatch for FCP

Last year FilmConvert, developers of the Nitrate film emulation plug-in, released CineMatch. It’s a camera-matching plug-in designed for multiple platforms – including operating systems and different editing/grading applications. The initial 2020 release worked with DaVinci Resolve and Premiere Pro. Recently FilmConvert added Final Cut Pro support. You can purchase the plug-in for individual hosts or as a bundle for multiple hosts. If you bought the bundled version last year, then that license key is also applicable to the new Final Cut Pro plug-in. So, nothing extra to purchase for bundle owners.

CineMatch is designed to work with log and raw formats and a wide range of camera packs is included within the installer. To date, 70 combinations of brands and models are supported, including iPhones. FilmConvert has created these profiles based on the color science of the sensor used in each of the specific cameras.

CineMatch for FCP works the same way as the Resolve and Premiere Pro versions. First, select the source profile for the camera used. Next, apply the desired target camera profile. Finally, make additional color adjustments as needed.

If you a shoot with one predominant A camera that is augmented by B and C cameras of different makes/models, then you can apply CineMatch to the B and C camera clips in order to better match them to the A camera’s look.

You can also use it to shift the look of a camera to that of a different camera. Let’s say that you want a Canon C300 to look more like an ARRI Alexa or even an iPhone. Simply use CineMatch to do that. In my example images, I’ve adjusted Blackmagic and Alexa clips so that they both emulate the color science of a Sony Venice camera.

When working in Final Cut Pro, remember that it will automatically apply Rec 709 LUTs to some log formats, like ARRI Alexa Log-C. When you plan to use CineMatch, be sure to also set the Camera LUT pulldown selector in the inspector pane to “none.” Otherwise, you will be stacking two LUT conversions resulting in a very ugly look.

Once camera settings have been established, you can further adjust exposure, color balance, lift/gamma/gain color wheels, saturation, and the luma curve. There is also an HSL curves panel to further refine hue, saturation, and luma for individual color ranges. This is helpful when trying to match two cameras or shots to each other with greater accuracy. FCP’s comparison viewer is a great aid in making these tweaks.

As a side note, it’s also possible to use CineMatch in conjunction with FilmConvert Nitrate (if you have it) to not only adjust color science, but then to subsequently emulate different film stocks and grain characteristics.

CineMatch is a useful tool when working with different camera types and want to achieve a cohesive look. It’s easy and quick to use with little performance impact. CineMatch now also supports M1 Macs.

©2021 Oliver Peters

Blood Red Sky

Halloween is just around the corner. It’s the traditional time of the year for ghosts, ghouls, and vampires. Sounds like a great time to enjoy the Netflix original, Blood Red Sky. This highly-viewed, German-language film is a genre mix that blends horror with heart. It was edited by veteran Berlin-based film editor Knut Hake. Just in time for the latest Final Cut Pro update, Blood Red Sky has also been highlighted by Apple for its challenging feature film workflow.

I recently had a chance to interview Hake about cutting the film, working through the pandemic, and his use of Final Cut Pro on such high-end projects. Read the interview here at FCP.co.

©2021 Oliver Peters