Creative Plug-ins for Power Users
Companies keep working on updating and improving existing plug-ins while new ones continue to appear. It's a huge benefit to any media artist because a plug-in can provide a new world of functionality for a cost far less than a new stand-alone program. In this roundup we'll look at a few plug-ins that have been recently updated as well as some new ones that may not be on your radar yet. All achieve a common theme: making your workflow go faster by providing quicker ways to produce effects as opposed to manually constructing an effect from scratch. We'll go over Red Giant Software's Magic Bullet Suite 10 and Trapcode Suite 10, Boinx Software's FotoMagico 3, Singular Software's PluralEyes, and Beauty Box from Digital Anarchy.
Let's start with Beauty Box from Digital Anarchy, which is promoted as "the next step in skin smoothing" and available as a plug-in for Adobe Photoshop, After Effects, and Premiere Pro and Apple Final Cut Pro. There is also limited support for Apple Motion. Both versions work essentially the same; the Beauty Box Video version just works over a series of frames.
First, the plug-in analyzes your clip and creates a mask that quickly does an autocorrect on the image. It works to figure out where the face is in your video via autodetection, then it applies a nice gentle smoothing to the skin. Often, this may be all you need, as the default mode is pretty accurate for most instances. However, there are many parameters to adjust including smoothing amount, smoothing radius, skin detail amount, hue range, sharpening, saturation, and edge preservation. The plug-in works on all skin types and does a great job of rapidly making the talent look better.
As we all know, since the inception of HD footage, the camera now picks up enormous amounts of detail, so a plug-in like this can come in very handy. The first version of the video plug-in took several seconds to render each frame; however, the new 1.2 update takes advantage of OpenGL and Nvidia's CUDA technology, so renders rip through on full HD footage at about 8fps. The obvious advantage is you can now upgrade your GPU to improve performance of the plug-in. The plug-in is easy to use, and even if you stick with the default mode you can get beautiful results in a very short amount of time.
PluralEyes from Singular Software does something, well, almost magical. We've all done productions with multiple cameras and various audio tracks. In the old days, we could sync cameras up though a large main hardware unit or laboriously track everything through timecode. But these days, with HD camcorders relatively inexpensive, it's easy to have a shoot with three to five cameras running at once, all different angles, different audio and starting/stopping. PluralEyes takes all this footage and automagically syncs it up via a plug-in that works in Final Cut Pro, Premiere Pro, or Sony Vegas Pro.
No longer will you have to manually eyeball the shots or try to lock to a clapboard, flash, or audio cues. Just load all your clips into your timeline, run the plug-in, and PluralEyes snaps everything in sync, so you can proceed to choose what angle and what audio you want in your multicam shoot. The software does a complex analysis of audio and video and works great. In fact, it could literally shave hours and days off a production schedule because it does in seconds what could take hours to figure out manually. I especially like the price pointwhich, at $149, is inexpensive compared to the time it can save.
FotoMagico Pro from Boinx Software has one main mission: produce stunning slideshows. While it works as a standalone program, the real power kicks in when you use the plug-in version inside Final Cut Pro, Final Cut Express, Motion, or After Effects. With DSLRs becoming more commonplace in video studios (for stills and video) and photography on set an integral part of the proceedings, you may find yourself working with images more and more. FotoMagico allows you to take your digital storytelling to the next level with a feature-packed plug-in that lets you create anything you can imagine. Features include drag and drop, multiple audio tracks, audio ducking, watermarks, color adjustment, and chapters.
The newly released 3.6 update offers many new powerful features including support for movies in slideshows, narration recording, an instant slideshow assistant, export to iPad, and a new feature called FotoMagico Remote, which can use your iPhone via an app to remotely control a presentation slideshow. The program and the plug-in are very easy to use and offer lots of automated and manual control over any type of pro-level slideshow you can dream up.
Two plug-in suites that need no introduction are Red Giant's Trapcode Suite 10 and Magic Bullet Suite 10. What you may not know is these packages are constantly being updated and both remain high on the bang-for-the-buck scale. It seems like I have reviewed these packages for years, so it is no surprise that they are both up to version 10. Magic Bullet Suite is a huge (hundreds of presets) plug-in package for After Effects, Premiere Pro, and Final Cut Pro. It allows a vast array of tools for color correction and visual enhancement of production footage. First claiming fame via the Magic Bullet Looks which simulates different film grades, the package has expanded to PhotoLooks for images, Instant HD for SD to HD conversion, Grinder for DSLR conversion, Frames for 24p look, Colorista for color grading, and Denoiser for clean noise removal. New features include Adobe CS5/64-bit support, Colorista II, new presets, and Mojo for one-click skin tones.
The Trapcode Suite 10 includes 9 powerful plug-ins including 3D Stroke, Echospace for 3D layers, Lux for light effects, Starglow and several more. New features include Adobe CS5/64-bit compatibility, Trapcode Form for organic 3D surfaces, Trapcode Horizon for photorealistic backgrounds, and new presets. Using these packages over the years, I am most happy to see speed increases and compatibility via 64-bit versions and CS5 support. Getting one or both of these power and almost ridiculously extensive packages would be a huge level of advancement to any production house or creative boutique.
Any of these plug-ins are a great buy because all the developers are committed to updating and improving the software as well as working to make laborious digital tasks very easy. Each also has a large amount of parameters to tweak, making wide-ranging experimentation a given. Several have free demos, so it's worth checking out and taking them for a test spin. It's hard to go wrong with any of these amazing plug-ins.