Pixelmator Pro

Pixelmator made a big splash among Apple’s Mac App Store offerings when it was first launched. To close out 2017, the developers are back with Pixelmator Pro, a next generation version of the original. Although both products co-exist, future development is now directed to the Pixelmator Pro product with an iPad version to come. Like its predecessor, Pixelmator Pro is only for macOS and, in fact, this version requires High Sierra or newer.

Pixelmator Pro is intended to appeal to users who want the power of Adobe Photoshop, but without the subscription and at a more attractive price. By being designed only for the Mac platform, the Pixelmator developers can optimize their applications for Apple-specific technologies. Pixelmator Pro taps into some features available through macOS High Sierra (10.13), like Apple’s Metal 2 GPU image processing and machine learning via Core ML. This excludes legacy Mac Pro towers, because they aren’t capable of Metal 2, in spite of being able to install and run High Sierra.

Much like Apple’s own software, Pixelmator Pro features a pleasing user interface with a streamlined layout. The original Pixelmator interface was colorful with floating windows and tool palettes, but Pro takes on a more integrated and flatter design. You can quickly show/hide controls and bounce between a windowed and full screen display of the image to maintain the best focus on what you are doing. Layers are shown on the left edge of the interface with tools down the right edge. Additional tools and controls can be accessed from the main menu, as well as from a pulldown at the “+” sign in the upper left corner of the interface window. Whenever you select a tool like “Adjust Colors”, specific control parameters appear, along with thumbnails of your image using one of the built-in presets. Click “Add” at the top to expose more possible modifiers for that tool. This keeps the starting point simple, with an easy way to add more tools, much like Aperture did in the past.

Pixelmator Pro operation is very fluid. Little impedes your interaction with the interface. Camera raw images are processed in their native state, without the need for an image development step before you can work with them. Multiple raw files can be placed onto separate layers. Most camera raw formats, including DNG, can be imported; however, compressed raw formats aren’t recognized. For example, I was able to import images from a DJI image sequence, but not a Blackmagic Design URSA camera. With raw files, color adjustment tools continue to be available even as other manipulation is done.

Machine learning drives automatic layer naming. When you import a photo to a layer, Pixelmator Pro takes a best guess at what the image contains and names the layer accordingly. I imported an image of a large metal artwork and it was named “sculpture”. An image of the sanctuary in the Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal was named “stained glass”. Most of the time, the automatic naming was close enough, but you can always change it yourself. The background layer and layers with camera raw images are not renamed. Another tie into macOS is the integration with photo libraries from Photos and/or Aperture. When selecting an image for importing onto a new layer, one option is to pick from collections that you’ve curated in one of these two applications.

If you come from graphics applications like Photoshop, then Pixelmator Pro takes a bit of readjustment in your workflow. For instance, the hierarchical order of applied processes is fixed. I can adjust color and then apply an effect, like a Gaussian blur. But then I can’t add grain from the color menu on top, because that’s part of the color adjustment options. Instead, I have to apply a separate grain modifier from the effects menu. Likewise, there are no adjustment layers to apply non-destructive effects to all the layers below. However, I can group layers together and then apply effects to the entire group, which is a viable alternative. You can rotate on image on the z-axis, but there’s no x- or y-rotation. Instead, you have to use the “Perspective Transform” effect and corner-pin an image to produce the look that horizontal or vertical rotation would provide.

Pixelmator and Pixelmator Pro both use their own proprietary file formats. Pro will open Pixelmator’s PXM files, but Pro’s PXD files can’t be opened in the original Pixelmator application. Of course, you can export in various standard formats, like JPEG, TIFF, and Photoshop. Pixelmator Pro also utilizes Apple’s Share menu, in order to send an image to Mail, Airdrop, Flickr, and also to your Photos and/or Aperture libraries. Importing layered Photoshop files with effects is a mixed bag. Standard items come across, but some layer effects are merged. Other effects, like texture effects on text, are dropped. The competing Affinity Photo gave me a more complete translation of the effects when I imported these same Photoshop test files. Nevertheless, the Pixelmator development team is committed to improving Photoshop compatibility.

There are certainly pros and cons with any application. Pixelmator Pro’s strengths are in image adjustment/retouching/correction, tasteful graphic design, and digital painting. Thanks to tapping into GPU power, painting with various brushes or deforming an image is fast and responsive, even on standard Macs. Paired with a tablet, Pixelmator Pro feels like the best digital paint product available on the Mac to date. The interface tends to hide its complexity, so if you don’t think Pro does something, make sure to check out its online help offerings. Odds are that the function or capability is indeed there. If you are looking for an alternative to Photoshop that’s also a great Mac design and image application in its own right, then Pixelmator Pro hits a home run.

Originally written for RedShark News.

©2017 Oliver Peters

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Stocking Stuffers 2017

It’s holiday time once again. For many editors that means it’s time to gift themselves with some new tools and toys to speed their workflows or just make the coming year more fun! Here are some products to consider.

Just like the tiny house craze, many editors are opting for their laptops as their main editing tool. I’ve done it for work that I cut when I’m not freelancing in other shops, simply because my MacBook Pro is a better machine than my old (but still reliable) 2009 Mac Pro tower. One less machine to deal with, which simplifies life. But to really make it feel like a desktop tool, you need some accessories along with an external display. For me, that boils down to a dock, a stand, and an audio interface. There are several stands for laptops. I bought both the Twelve South BookArc and the Rain Design mStand: the BookArc for when I just want to tuck the closed MacBook Pro out of the way in the clamshell mode and the mStand for when I need to use the laptop’s screen as a second display. Another option some editors like is the Vertical Dock from Henge Docks, which not only holds the MacBook Pro, but also offers some cable management.

The next hardware add-on for me is a USB audio interface. This is useful for any type of computer and may be used with or without other interfaces from Blackmagic Design or AJA. The simplest of these is the Mackie Onyx Blackjack, which combines interface and output monitor mixing into one package. This means no extra small mixer is required. USB input and analog audio output direct to a pair of powered speakers. But if you prefer a separate small mixer and only want a USB interface for input/output, then the PreSonus Audiobox USB or the Focusrite Scarlett series is the way to go.

Another ‘must have’ with any modern system is a Thunderbolt dock in order to expand the native port connectivity of your computer. There are several on the market but it’s hard to go wrong with either the CalDigit Thunderbolt Station 2 or the OWC Thunderbolt 2 Dock. Make sure you double-check which version fits for your needs, depending on whether you have a Thunderbolt 2 or 3 connection and/or USB-C ports. I routinely use each of the CalDigit and OWC products. The choice simply depends on which one has the right combination of ports to fit your needs.

Drives are another issue. With a small system, you want small portable drives. While LaCie Rugged and G-Technology portable drives are popular choices, SSDs are the way to go when you need true, fast performance. A number of editors I’ve spoken to are partial to the Samsung Portable SSD T5 drives. These USB3.0-compatible drives aren’t the cheapest, but they are ultraportable and offer amazing read/write speeds. Another popular solution is to use raw (uncased) drives in a drive caddy/dock for archiving purposes. Since they are raw, you don’t pack for the extra packaging, power supply, and interface electronics with each, just to have it sit on the shelf. My favorite of these is the HGST Deckstar NAS series.

For many editors the software world is changing with free applications, subscription models, and online services. The most common use of the latter is for review-and-approval, along with posting demo clips and short films. Kollaborate.tv, Frame.io, Wipster.io, and Vimeo are the best known. There are plenty of options and even Vimeo Pro and Business plans offer a Frame/Wipster-style review-and-approval and collaboration service. Plus, there’s some transfer ability between these. For example, you can publish to a Vimeo account from your Frame account. Another expansion of the online world is in team workgroups. A popular solution is Slack, which is a workgroup-based messaging/communication service.

As more resources become available online, the benefits of large-scale computing horsepower are available to even single editors. One of the first of these new resources is cloud-based, speech-to-text transcription. A number of online services provide this functionality to any NLE. Products to check out include Scribeomatic (Coremelt), Transcriptive (Digital Anarchy), and Speedscriber (Digital Heaven). They each offer different pricing models and speech analysis engines. Some are still in beta, but one that’s already out is Speedscriber, which I’ve used and am quite happy with. Processing is fast and reasonably accurate, given a solid audio recording.

Naturally free tools make every user happy and the king of the hill is Blackmagic Design with DaVinci Resolve and Fusion. How can you go wrong with something this powerful and free with ongoing company product development? Even the paid versions with some more advanced features are low cost. However, at the very least the free version of Resolve should be in every editor’s toolkit, because it’s such a Swiss Army Knife application.

On the other hand, editors who have the need to learn Avid Media Composer, need look no further than the free Media Composer | First. Avid has tried ‘dumbed-down’ free editing apps before, but First is actually built off of the same code base as the full Media Composer software. Thus, skills translate and most of the core functions are available for you to use.

Many users are quite happy with the advantages of Adobe’s Creative Cloud software subscription model. Others prefer to own their software. If you work in video, then it’s easy to put together alternative software kits for editing, effects, audio, and encoding that don’t touch an Adobe product. Yet for most, the stumbling block is Photoshop – until now. Both Affinity Photo (Serif) and Pixelmator Pro are full-fledged graphic design and creation tools that rival Photoshop in features and quality. Each of these has its own strong points. Affinity Photo offers Mac and Windows versions, while Pixelmator Pro is Mac only, but taps more tightly into macOS functions.

If you work in the Final Cut Pro X world, several utilities are essential. These include SendToX and XtoCC from Intelligent Assistance, along with X2Pro Audio Convert from Marquis Broadcast. Marquis’ newest is Worx4 X – a media management tool. It takes your final sequence and creates a new FCPX library with consolidated (trimmed) media. No transcoding is involved, so the process is lighting fast. Although in some cases media is copied without being trimmed. This can reduce the media to be archived from TBs down to GBs. They also offer Worx4 Pro, which is designed for Premiere Pro CC users. This tool serves as a media tracking application, to let editors find all of the media used in a Premiere Pro project across multiple volumes.

Most editors love to indulge in plug-in packages. If you can only invest in a single, large plug-in package, then BorisFX’s Boris Continuum Complete 11 and/or their Sapphire 11 bundles are the way to go. These are industry-leading tools with wide host and platform support. Both feature mocha tracking integration and Continuum also includes the Primatte Studio chromakey technology.

If you want to go for a build-it-up-as-you-need-it approach – and you are strictly on the Mac – then FxFactory will be more to your liking. You can start with the free, basic platform or buy the Pro version, which includes FxFactory’s own plug-ins. Either way, FxFactory functions as a plug-in management tool. FxFactory’s numerous partner/developers provide their products through the FxFactory platform, which functions like an app store for plug-ins. You can pick and choose the plug-ins that you need when the time is right to purchase them. There are plenty of plug-ins to recommend, but I would start with any of the Crumplepop group, because they work well and provide specific useful functions. They also include the few audio plug-ins available via FxFactory. Another plug-in to check out is the Hawaiki Keyer 4. It installs into both the Apple and Adobe applications and far surpasses the built-in keying tools within these applications.

The Crumplepop FxFactory plug-ins now includes Koji Advance, which is a powerful film look tool. I like Koji a lot, but prefer FilmConvert from Rubber Monkey Software. To my eyes, it creates one of the more pleasing and accurate film emulations around and even adds a very good three-way color corrector. This opens as a floating window inside of FCPX, which is less obtrusive than some of the other color correction plug-ins for FCPX. It’s not just for film emulation – you can actually use it as the primary color corrector for an entire project.

I don’t want to forget audio plug-ins in this end-of-the-year roundup. Most editors don’t feel too comfortable with a ton of surgical audio filters, so let me stick to suggestions that are easy-to-use and very affordable. iZotope is a well-known audio developer and several of its products are perfect for video editors. These fall into repair, mixing, and mastering needs. These include the Nectar, Ozone, and RX bundles, along with the RX Loudness Control. The first three groups are designed to cover a wide range of needs and, like the BCC video plug-ins, are somewhat of an all-encompassing product offering. But if that’s a bit rich for the blood, then check out iZotope’s various Elements versions.

The iZotope RX Loudness Control is great for accurate loudness compliance, and best used with Avid or Adobe products. However, it is not real-time, because it uses analysis and adaptive processing. If you want something more straightforward and real-time, then check out the LUFS Meter from Klangfreund. It can be used for loudness control on individual tracks or the master output. It works with most of the NLEs and DAWs. A similar tool to this is Loudness Change from Videotoolshed.

Finally, let’s not forget the iOS world, which is increasingly becoming a viable production platform. For example, I’ve used my iPad in the last year to do location interview recordings. This is a market that audio powerhouse Apogee has also recognized. If you need a studio-quality hardware interface for an iPhone or iPad, then check out the Apogee ONE. In my case, I tapped the Apogee MetaRecorder iOS application for my iPad, which works with both Apogee products and the iPad’s built-in mic. It can be used in conjunction with FCPX workflows through the integration of metadata tagging for Keywords, Favorites, and Markers.

Have a great holiday season and happy editing in the coming year!

©2017 Oliver Peters

The Art of Motion Graphics Design

While many of us may be good directors, photographers, or editors, it’s not a given that we are also good graphic designers. Most editors certainly understand the mechanics and techniques of developing designs and visual effects composites, but that doesn’t by default include a tasteful sense of design. Combining just the right typeface with the proper balance within a frame can often be elusive, whereas it’s second nature to a professional graphic designer.

German motion designer and visual effects artist Timo Fecher aims to correct that, or at least expose a wider audience to the rules and tools that embody good design. Fecher has developed the Crossfeyer website promoting a free e-mail newsletter for online training. A key component of this is his free eBook Motion Graphics Design Academy – The Basics, which he is giving away to subscribers (free) for the balance of this year. His intent is then to publish the book next year for purchase.

I’ve had a chance to read through an advanced copy of the eBook. I find it to be an excellent primer for people who want to understand basic design principles.  The chapters cover animation, shapes, composition, typography, and more.

Feyer spells out his goals for the book this way, “The Motion Graphics Design Academy is for people who want to learn more about the basics of design, animation, and project design. It’s for newcomers, graphic designers who want to add a new dimension to their art, everyone dealing with digital image processing, and especially all kinds of filmmakers who want to improve their movies, trailers, title sequences, video clips, and commercials. The goal of the eBook is to give its readers a profound background knowledge about design and animation principles and to improve their artistic skills. Software and plug-ins are changing constantly. But all that theory about storytelling, animation, color, typefaces, composition and compositing will stay the same.”

Like any learning tool, it won’t automatically make you a great artist, but it will give you the guidelines to create appealing design that will enhance your next production.

©2017 Oliver Peters

Serif Affinity Photo and Affinity Designer

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Photoshop users who are looking for an alternative to Adobe may find a refuge in Affinity Photo and Affinity Designer. Both are being developed for the Mac platform by British software developer Serif. This is a separate line from their Windows products and is their first collection built from the ground up to take advantage of the newest Mac and OS X capabilities. Affinity Photo, which was released on July 9 after an extended public beta period, competes with Adobe Photoshop. Affinity Designer is aimed at Adobe Illustrator. Both applications are available through the Mac App Store. They share a common file format. Affinity Designer just won the Apple Design Award at WWDC 2015. Due later this year will be Affinity Publisher – a desktop publishing application.

df3315_affinity_3I’ve been testing both Affinity Photo and Affinity Designer for a few months and have been very impressed. Most of it has initially been with the public beta of Photo. Since I’m not a big Illustrator user, I really can’t adequately compare Illustrator and Designer, except to say that it’s a very capable vector-based drawing and design application. The application will import .ai files, but roundtrip compatibility is largely through certain common standards: PNG, TIFF, JPEG, GIF, SVG, EPS, PSD or PDF. The layout is built around three modes called “personas”. Start in the Draw Persona to create your document. Switch to the Pixel Persona for paint and adjustment functions. Finally, export through the Export Persona.

I spent more time with Affinity Photo, to see how viable it is as a Photoshop replacement. Its four modes includes the Photo, Liquify, Develop, and Export Personas. Photo is the closest to Photoshop in style and toolset, while Develop is more like the Lightroom toolkit. Liquify is designed for image distortion based on a mesh. Most of the image adjustment tools in the Photo Persona are adjustments layers.

df3315_affinity_2In general, Affinity Photo feels a lot like Adobe Photoshop, but as with any of these tools, things are in enough different places that experienced Photoshop users will be counteracting years of muscle memory in making the switch. Nevertheless, you’d have a great comfort factor with Affinity Photo, since the toolset, adjustment layers and layer styles working in a similar fashion. One powerful set of effects is Live Filter layers. These are similar to Adjustment Layers in that they are editable and don’t bake an effect into the layer. The difference is that a Live Filter can be added to that layer only and doesn’t affect everything beneath it, like a standard adjustment layer. Live Filters can be re-arranged, disabled or edited at any time without relying on undo.

Compatibility between Affinity Photo and Adobe Photoshop is good and Serif states that they are aiming for the best compatibility on the market. In this current version, I had better luck going from Photo into Photoshop using a layered .psd file, than I did bringing a file created in Photoshop into Photo. The usual culprits are layer effects and vector based objects. In Photoshop, the Photo-created adjustment layer effects came across, but text with layer effects was merged into a rasterized layer with the layer effects baked in. When I went from Photoshop to Photo, layer effects were simply dropped. Affinity Photo is supposed to use third-party Photoshop plug-ins, but my attempts to use Magic Bullet Looks crashed Photo. Unlike Pixelmator (another Mac-based Photoshop alternative), Affinity Photo cannot use Quartz Composer-based filters, such as those from FxFactory. According to Serif, they will be working with plug-in manufacturers to improve the app-side support for 64-bit plug-ins.

If you aren’t completely locked into compatibility with Adobe Photoshop files sent to and from clients – and you are interested in an alternative solution – then the Affinity applications from Serif are a very strong alternative for Mac users. They are fun, fast and yield great results.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / CreativePlanetNetworks.

©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

Stocking Stuffers 2014

df_stuff14_1_smAs we head toward the end of the year, it’s time to look again at a few items you can use to spruce up your edit bay.

Let’s start at the computer. The “tube” Mac Pro has been out for nearly a year, but many will still be trying to get the most life out of their existing Mac Pro “tower”. I wrote about this awhile back, so this is a bit of a recap. More RAM, an internal SSD and an upgraded GPU card are the best starting points. OWC and Crucial are your best choices for RAM and solid state drives. If you want to bump up your GPU, then the Sapphire 7950 (Note: I have run into issues with some of these cards, where the spacer screws are too tall, requiring you to install the card in slot 2) and/or Nvidia GTX 680 Mac Edition cards are popular choices. However, these will only give you an incremental boost if you’ve already been running an ATI 5870 or Nvidia Quadro 4000 display card. df_stuff14_2_smIf you have the dough and want some solid horsepower, then go for the Nvidia Quadro K5000 card for the Mac. To expand your audio monitoring, look at Mackie mixers, KRK speakers and the PreSonus Audiobox USB interface. Naturally there are many video monitor options, but assuming you have an AJA or Blackmagic Design interface, FSI would be my choice. HP Dreamcolor is also a good option when connecting directly to the computer.

The video plug-in market is prolific, with plenty of packages and/or individual filters from FxFactory, Boris, GenArts, FCP Effects, Crumplepop, Red Giant and others. I like the Universe package from df_stuff14_3_smRed Giant, because it supports FCP X, Motion, Premiere Pro and After Effects. Red Giant continues to expand the package, including some very nice new premium effects. If you are a Media Composer user, then you might want to look into the upgrade from Avid FX to Boris Red. Naturally, you can’t go wrong with FxFactory, especially if you use FCP X. There’s a wide range of options with the ability to purchase single filters – all centrally managed through the FxFactory application.

df_stuff14_4_smFor audio, the go-to filter companies are iZotope, Waves and Focusrite to name a few. iZotope released some nice tools in its RX4 package – a state-of-the-art repair and restoration suite. If you just want a suite of EQ and compression tools, then Nectar Elements or Nectar 2 are the best all-in-one collections of audio filters. While most editors do their audio editing/mastering within their NLE, some need a bit more. Along with a 2.0 bump for Sound Forge Pro Mac, Sony Creative Software also released a standard version of Sound Forge through the Mac App Store.

df_stuff14_5_smIn the color correction world, there’s been a lot of development in film emulation look-up tables (LUTs). These can be used in most NLEs and grading applications. If that’s for you, check out ImpulZ and Osiris from Color Grading Central (LUT Utility required with FCP X), Koji Color or the new SpeedLooks 4 (from LookLabs). Each package offers a selection of Fuji and Kodak emulations, as well as other stylized looks. These packages feature LUT files in the .cube and/or .look (Adobe) LUT file formats and, thus, are compatible with most applications. If you want film emulation that also includes 3-way grading tools and adjustable film grain, your best choice is FilmConvert 2.0.

df_stuff14_6_smAnother category that is expanding covers the range of tools used to prep media from the camera prior to the edit. This had been something only for DITs and on-set “data wranglers”, but many videographers are increasingly using such tools on everyday productions. These now offer on-set features that benefit all file-based recordings. Pomfort Silverstack, ShotPut Pro, Redcine-X Pro and Adobe Prelude have been joined by new tools. To start, there’s Offload and EditReady, which are two very specific tools. Offload simply copies and verifies camera-card media to two target drives. EditReady is a simple drag-and-drop batch convertor to transcode media files. These join QtChange (a utility to batch-add timecode and reel IDs to media files) and Better Rename (a Finder renaming utility) in my book, as the best single-purpose production applications.

df_stuff14_7_smIf you want more in one tool, then there’s Bulletproof, which has now been joined in the market by Sony Creative Software’s Catalyst Browse and Prepare. Bulletproof features media offload, organization, color correction and transcoding. I like it, but my only beef is that it doesn’t properly handle timecode data, when present. Catalyst Browse is free and similar to Canon’s camera utility. It’s designed to read and work with media from any Sony camera. Catalyst Prepare is the paid version with an expanded feature set. It supports media from other camera manufacturers, including Canon and GoPro.

df_stuff14_8_smFinally, many folks are looking for alternative to Adobe Photoshop. I’m a fan of Pixelmator, but this has been joined by Pixlr and Mischief. All three are available from the Mac App Store. Pixlr is free, but can be expanded through subscription. In its basic form, Pixlr is a stylizing application that is like a very, very “lite” version of Photoshop; however, it includes some very nice image processing filters. Mischief is a drawing application designed to work with drawing tablets, although a mouse will work, too.

©2014 Oliver Peters

CoreMelt TrackX

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Tracking isn’t something every editor does on a regular basis, but when you need it, very few NLEs have built-in tracking tools. This is definitely true with Apple Final Cut Pro X. CoreMelt makes some nice effects plug-ins, but in addition, they’ve produced a number of workflow tools that enhance the capabilities of Final Cut Pro X. These include Lock & Load X (stabilization) and SliceX (masking). The newest tool in the group is TrackX and like SliceX, it uses Mocha tracking technology licensed from Imagineer Systems. In keeping with the simplified controls common to FCP X effects, the tracking controls in TrackX are very easy to apply and use.

TrackX installs as three generators within FCP X – Simple Tracker, Track Layer and Track Text. All use the same planar-based Mocha tracker. The easiest to use – and where I get the best results – is the Simple Tracker. This lets you attach text or objects to a tracked item, so they travel with its movement.

The example used in their tutorial is of a downhill skier. As he races downhill, a timer read-out travels next to him. This works well and displays well, because the tracked objects do not have to perfectly adhere to each other. It uses a two-step process. First, create the item you want to attach and place it into a compound clip. Therefore, it can be a complex graphic and not just text. The second step is to track the object you want to follow. Apply the TrackX generator and trim to length, use the rectangle tool to select an area to be tracked, drop the compound clip into the filter control pane’s image well and then track forward or backwards. If there are hiccups within the tracks, you can manually delete or insert keyframes. Like other trackers, you can select the mode of analysis to be used, such as whether to follow position, scale or perspective.

df_trackx_2_smThe second TrackX generator is Track Layer. This worked well enough, but not nearly as well as the more advanced versions of Mocha that come with After Effects or are sold separately. This tool is designed to replace objects, such as inserting a screen image into a TV, window, iPad or iPhone. To use it, first highlight the area that will be replaced, by using the polygon drawing tool. Next, add the image to be used as the new surface. Then track. There are controls to adjust the scale and offset of the new surface image within its area.

In actual practice, I found it hard to get a track that wasn’t sloppy. It seems to track best when the camera is panning on an object without zooming or having any handheld rotation around the object. Since Mocha tracking is based on identifying flat planes, any three-dimensional motion around an object that results in a perspective change becomes hard to track. This is tough no matter what, but in my experience the standard Mocha trackers do a somewhat better job than TrackX did. A nice feature is a built-in masking tool, so that if your replacement surface is supposed to travel behind an object, like a telephone pole, you can mask the occluded area for realistic results.

Lastly, there’s Track Text. This generator has a built-in text editor and is intended to track objects in perspective. The example used in their demos is text, that’s attached to building rooftops in an aerial. The text is adjusted in perspective to be on the same plane as the roofs.

Overall, I liked the tools, but for serious compositing and effects, I would never turn to FCP X anyway. I would do that sort of work in After Effects. (TrackX does not install into Motion.) Nevertheless, for basic tracking, TrackX really fills a nice hole in FCP X’s power and is a tool that every FCP X editor will want at their fingertips.

For new features announced at NAB and coming soon, check out this video and post from FCP.co.

©2014 Oliver Peters