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

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

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

Final Cut Pro vs DaVinci Resolve

Apple’s innovative Final Cut Pro editing software has passed its tenth year and for many, the development pace has become far too slow. As a yardstick, users point to the intensity with which Blackmagic Design has advanced its flagship DaVinci Resolve application. Since acquiring DaVinci, Blackmagic has expanded the editing capabilities and melded in other acquisitions, such as EyeOn Fusion and Fairlight audio. They’ve even integrated a second, FCP-like editing model called the Cut page. This has some long-time Final Cut editors threatening to jump ship and switch to Resolve.

Let’s dig a bit deeper into some of the comparisons. While Resolve has a strong presence as a premier color correction tool, its actual adoption as the main editor within the post facility world hasn’t been very strong. On the other hand, if you look outside of the US to Europe and the rest of the world, you’ll find quite a few installations of Final Cut Pro within larger media operations and production companies. Clearly both products have found a home servicing professional workflows.

Editing versus finishing

When all production and post was done with film, the picture editor would make all of the creative editing decisions by cutting workprint and sound using a flatbed or upright editing machine. The edited workprint became the template for the optical house, negative cutter, film timer, and lab to produce the final film prints. There was a clear delineation between creative editing and the finishing stages of filmmaking.

Once post moved to videotape, the film workflow was translated into its offline (creative editing) and online (finishing) video counterparts. Offline editing rooms used low-res formats and were less expensive to equip and operate. Online rooms used high-res formats and often looked like the bridge of a starship. But it could also be the other way around, because the offline and online processes were defined by the outcome and not the technology. Offline = creative decisions. Online = finished masters. Of course, given proper preparation or a big budget, the offline edit stage could be skipped. Everything – creative edit and finishing – was all performed in the same online edit bay.

Early nonlinear editing supplemented videotape offline edit bays for a hybrid workflow. As computer technology advanced and NLE quality and capabilities improved, all post production shifted to workstation-based operations. But the offline/online – editing/finishing – workflows have persisted, in spite of the fact that most computers and editing applications are capable of meeting both needs. Why? It comes down to three things: personality, kit, and skillset.

Kit first. Although your software might do everything well, you may or may not have a capable computer, which is why proxy workflows exist today. Beyond that comes monitoring. Accurate color correction and sound mixing requires proper high-quality audio and video monitoring. A properly equipped finishing room should also have the right lighting environment and/or wall treatments for sound mixing. None of this is essential for basic editing tasks, even at the highest level. While having a tool like Resolve makes it possible to cover all of the technical aspects of editing and finishing, if you don’t have the proper room, high-quality finishing may still be a challenge.

Each of the finishing tasks requires its own specialized skillset. A topnotch re-recording mixer isn’t going to be a great colorist or an award-winning visual effects compositor. It’s not that they couldn’t, but for most of us, that’s not the way the mind works nor the opportunities presented to us. As we spend more time at a specialized skill – the “10,000 hour” rule – the better we are at it.

Finally, the issue of personality. Many creative editors don’t have a strong technical background and some aren’t all that precise in how they handle the software. As someone who works on both sides, I’ve encountered some of the most awful timelines on projects where I’ve handled the finishing tasks. The cut was great and very creative, but the timeline was a mess.

On the flipside, finishing editors (or online editors before them) tend to be very detail-oriented. They are often very creative in their own right, but they do tend to fit the “left-brained” description. Many prefer finishing tasks over the messy world of clients, directors, and so on. In short, a topnotch creative editor might not be a good finisher and vice versa.

The all-in-one application versus the product ecosystem

Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve is an all-in-one solution, combining editing, color, visual effects, and sound mixing. As such, it follows in the footsteps of other all-in-ones, like Avid|DS (discontinued) and Autodesk Flame (integrated with Smoke and Lustre). Historically, neither of these or any other all-in-ones have been very successful in the wider editing market. Cost coupled with complex user interfaces have kept them in more rarified areas of post.

Apple took the opposite approach with the interaction of Final Cut Pro X. They opted for a simpler, more approachable interface without many features editors had grown used to in the previous FCP 7/FCP Studio versions. This stripped-down application was augmented by other Apple and third-party applications, extensions, and plug-ins to fill the void.

If you want the closest equivalent to Resolve’s toolkit in the Final Cut ecosystem, you’ll have to add Motion, Logic Pro, Xsend Motion, X2Pro Audio Convert, XtoCC, and SendToX at a very minimum. If you want to get close to the breadth of Adobe Creative Cloud offerings, also add Compressor, Pixelmator Pro (or Affinity, Photo, Publisher, and Designer), and a photo application. Resolve is built upon a world-class color correction engine, but Final Cut Pro does include high-quality grading tools, too. Want more? Then add Color Finale 2, Coremelt Chromatic, FilmConvert Nitrate, or one of several other color correction plug-ins.

Yes, the building block approach does seem messy, but it allows a user to tailor the software toolkit according to their own particular use case. The all-in-one approach might appear better, but that gets to personality and skillset. It’s highly unlikely that the vast majority of Resolve users will fully master its four core capabilities: edit, color, VFX (Fusion), and mixing (Fairlight). A good, full-time editor probably isn’t going to be as good at color correction as a full-time colorist. A great colorist won’t also be a good mixer.

In theory, if you have a team of specialists who have all centralized around Resolve, then the same tool and project files could bounce from edit to VFX, to color, and to the mix, without any need to roundtrip between disparate applications. In reality it’s likely that your go-to mograph/VFX artist/compositor is going to prefer After Effects or maybe Nuke. Your favorite audio post shop probably won’t abandon Pro Tools for Fairlight.

Even for the single editor who does it all, Resolve presents some issues with its predefined left-to-right, tabbed workflow. For example, grading performed in the Color tab can’t be tweaked in the Edit tab. The UI is based on modal tabs instead of fly-out panels within a single workspace.

If you boil it all down, Resolve is the very definition of a finishing application and appeals best to editors of that mindset and with the skills to effectively use the majority of its power. Final Cut Pro is geared to the creative approach with its innovative feature set, like metadata-based organization, skimming, and the magnetic timeline. It’s more approachable for less-experience editors, hiding the available technical complexity deeper down. However, just like offline and online editing suites, you can flip it around and do creative editing with Resolve and finishing with Final Cut Pro (plus the rest of the ecosystem).

The intangibles of editing

It’s easy to compare applications on paper and say that one product appears better and more feature-rich than another. That doesn’t account for how an application feels when you use it, which is something Apple has spent a lot of time thinking about. Sometimes small features can make all the difference in an editor’s preference. The average diner might opine that chef’s knives are the same, but don’t tell that to a real chef!

Avid Media Composer editors rave about the trim tool. Many Adobe Premiere Pro editors swear by Dynamic Link. Some Apple Final Cut Pro editors get frustrated when they have to return to a track-based, non-magnetic NLE. It’s puzzling to me that some FCP stalwarts are vocal about shifting to Resolve (a traditional track-based NLE) if Apple doesn’t add ‘xyz’ feature. That simply doesn’t make sense to me, unless a) you are equally comfortable in track-based versus trackless architectures, and/or b) you truly have the aptitude to make effective use out of an all-in-one application like Resolve. Of course, you can certainly use both side-by-side depending on the task at hand. Cost is no longer an impediment these days. Organize and cut in FCP, and then send an FCPXML of the final sequence to Resolve for the grade, visual effects, and the mix.

It’s horses for courses. I recently read where NFL Films edits in Media Composer, grades in DaVinci Resolve, and conforms/finishes projects in Premiere Pro. That might seem perplexing to some, but makes all the sense in the world to me, because of the different skillsets of the users at those three stages of post. In my day gig, Premiere Pro is also the best choice for our team of editors. Yet, when I have projects that are totally under my control, I’ll often use FCP.

Ultimately there is no single application that is great at each and every element in post production. While the majority of features might fit all of my needs, that may not be true for you or anyone else. The divide between creative editing and finishing is likely to continue – at least at the higher end of production. In that context, Final Cut Pro still makes more sense for a frictionless editing experience, but Resolve is hard to beat for finishing.

There is one final caveat to consider. The post world is changing and much is driven by the independent content creator, as well as the work-from-home transformation. That market segment is cost conscious and subscription business models are less appealing. So Resolve’s entry point at free is attractive. Coupling Resolve with Blackmagic’s low cost, high quality cameras is also a winning strategy for new users. While Resolve can be daunting in its breadth, a new user can start with just the tools needed to complete the project and then learn new aspects of the software over time. As I look down the road, it’s a toss up as to who will be dominant in another ten years.

For another look at this topic, click here.

©2021 Oliver Peters

Boris FX Continuum FCP 2021

The software teams at Boris FX have been busy introducing new 2021 versions of their assorted product line. This includes Continuum for Final Cut Pro, which has not only been updated for faster performance, but is in fact a re-imagined product. It’s somewhat stripped down from earlier versions – missing mocha tracking, Primatte keying, and built-in particle illusion effects. (The latter are available through a free, standalone application for the Mac.) Nevertheless, this comprehensive set of lighting effects, film stock emulations, and other image stylizing tools has a lot to offer. It’s bound to be a hit with many users. Check out my in-depth review at FCP.co for all of the details. For even more, here’s a new video from Ian Anderson about using this new version in FCP. Go back to the head of Anderson’s presentation for an in-depth overview of Final Cut Pro.

©2021 Oliver Peters