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Class of 2012: New and Improved Plug-Ins Expand Your Editing Arsenal

Plug-in developers have had their hands full in recent months. Not only are they rolling out refreshed versions of their products, they have also had to adapt to a range of new hosts, including Apple Final Cut Pro X and Apple Motion 5, and updates to Avid Media Composer and the Adobe Creative Suite applications. Here’s a look at some of the newest plug-in options.

Boris FX | Boris Continuum Complete 8

Videoscopes for accurate image analysis are included with Boris FX BCC8.

Boris Continuum Complete is truly the Swiss Army knife of filter packages, with a wide variety of effects covered by its more than 200 filters. At the NAB Show, Boris Yamnitsky (president of Boris FX) pointed out that the focus of the BCC8 upgrade was not simply to add more filters but to improve the quality of all the filters—for example, adding 3D depth to effects like lens flares. Filter categories have been regrouped slightly into more logical combinations.

New features include improvements in particle effects, lens flares, glows, lights and image restoration tools. There’s better integration with After Effects and support for 32-bit floating calculations. Best of all, BCC8 adds new filters including videoscopes, film glow, a 3D particle emitter, 3D lens flares, wild cards, organic strands, stage lights and a flicker fixer.

Boris FX BCC Lens Flare 3D has been redesigned to work in 3D space.

Boris FX was one of the first companies to include particle effects inside an NLE, and the performance and responsiveness of all of these filters have been greatly improved. Running BCC8 in After Effects on my Mac Pro with an ATI Radeon 5870 graphics card is a joy. The effects are easy to manipulate, particularly those that are more taxing, like distortions, particles, strands, extruded 3D text and glows. The Continuum filters use a set of custom on-screen controls that make it easy to tweak parameters either in the filter control panel or using the widget overlays.

The engineers have put effort into improving such basic effects as film glows and the 3D lens flares, giving these a very organic look and maximizing the level of control. Even though there are a lot of sliders to play with, each effect comes with a set of presets to quickly test out the looks—simply step through the presets from a pull-down menu. If you can afford to purchase only one set of third-party filters, BCC’s versatility makes it a great choice.

RE:Vision Effects | Twixtor

The standard version of RE:Vision Effects Twixtor is now available for Avid systems and FCP X.

Mention time-ramping effects, à la the movie 300, and RE:Vision Effects’ Twixtor comes to mind. The most sophisticated version, Twixtor Pro, is available for Adobe After Effects; for more casual users, RE:Vision released the standard Twixtor plug-in for Avid Media Composer and Apple Final Cut Pro X.

Twixtor technology is particularly effective in slowing a clip down because it interpolates new frames in between existing frames to eliminate visible stepping in the motion. It calculates the direction of motion within a clip and predicts where pixels should be. This data is used to create new frame information for the in-between frames. Naturally these calculations aren’t always perfect, so the plug-in provides controls to fine-tune the parameters. Twixtor Pro (available in After Effects) gives you the ability to separate objects into layers to improve the accuracy of motion tracking.

Edge detection is a key part of how Twixtor does its magic. This means chroma and contrast play a role. If you try to apply Twixtor on a “log space” flat clip from an ARRI Alexa (Log-C), RED ONE (REDlogFilm) or Sony PMW-F3 (S-Log), you’ll often have some image artifacts such as smearing or unnecessary blending. Instead, first bake in a LUT to color correct the clip and then apply Twixtor for significantly better results.

Twixtor tends to work best on clips when the object of your attention is reasonably isolated from the background. A skateboarder doing a jump against a blue sky will yield better results than if the background is the more complex architecture of a building. In the second example, the interpolation will tend to include the structure of the objects that intersect the skateboarder, causing them to warp and morph as you advance frames. This is where Twixtor Pro in After Effects gives you more control; nevertheless, by being selective and doing some of your own masking, you can minimize these issues when using Twixtor in FCP X or Media Composer.

Irudis | Tonalizer|VFX

Irudis’ Tonalizer|VFX is a simple yet powerful photographic-style color corrector that’s optimized for FCP X.

Final Cut Pro X has encouraged new plug-in developers to enter the NLE effects market. One such company is Irudis, which offers the Tonalizer|VFX color correction filter. It’s a slider-based filter designed for the FCP X interface and comes in a PRO (paid) and LITE (free) version. It’s billed as using photographic-style color correction and, in fact, Adobe Lightroom or Apple Aperture users will feel right at home.

Tonalizer|VFX LITE provides a number of basic controls for contrast, brightness, chroma, etc. You need to bump up to Tonalizer|VFX PRO for the full level of control. Some of the key features are color correction based on warmth (color temp) and tint, highlight rescue, detail enhancement and noise reduction. Its strongest feature is the ability to dig out detail from seemingly overexposed skies and blocked up shadows. It also includes adaptations, which is a localized contrast control that will add more “punch” to an image. Best of all, I found it to be one of the least taxing color correction plug-ins available for X.

Noise Industries | FxFactory

Nattress curves and levels filters can be controlled by on-screen graphs. Nattress Levels and Curves is part of Noise Industries’ FxFactory offerings.

Noise Industries is another company throwing its full support behind FCP X. Not only are existing FxFactory partner developers becoming X-compatible, but Noise Industries has been adding partners to the mix. Some, like Nattress and Sheffield Softworks, created popular FXScript filters for the original FCP effects API. These have been newly rewritten for FxPlug and are now offered as part of the FxFactory installation. In most cases these filters are also available to all the other supported hosts, including After Effects—a first for Nattress and Sheffield.

These additions add a number of color correction tools to the kit. For instance, Nattress Levels and Curves, Sheffield Softworks filters and Yanobox Moods fill a huge gap in X’s built-in color grading capabilities. You also get the same on-screen overlays in After Effects, such as Moods’ color wheels and Nattress’ curve schematics. So if you are running FCP X, Motion 5 and After Effects, a single installation of FxFactory will enable the filters for each application.

One of the newest FxFactory associations is with Ripple Training for a series of FCP X title effects branded as Callouts. These are useful templates that are a godsend for anyone doing instructional video of any type. It’s a series of animated arrows, lines, circles, and thought and speech bubbles that emphasize an area of the frame. As FCP X templates (based on Motion projects under the hood), they come with easy on-screen widgets for size/position adjustment, text entry and animation direction.

Digieffects | Damage and Delirium v2.5

The Digieffects Damage Skew effect offers many ways to grunge up an image.

Digieffects has been going through a refresh of the Damage and Delirium filter sets, which I’ve tested in a few hosts, including Apple Final Cut Pro and Adobe After Effects. Between these two packages you get several dozen filters in a range of categories encompassing particle effects, film and TV damage and overexposure.

I wasn’t thrilled with the performance in FCP X, but they are more in their element inside After Effects, which I still regard as having the best effects architecture of the common desktop tools. They don’t seem to be as responsive as other filters are in After Effects—though the 32-bit effects respond better than the 16-bit effects—but they do add some unique looks to the toolkit. For example, the skew effect is quite different from other grunge, TV interference or analog glitch effects and includes controls for ghosting, distortion, noise, glow and vertical hold.

Digital Film Tools | Film Stocks

Digital Film Tools’ Film Stocks preset browser can be launched from the FCP X filter pane.

Digital Film Tools has developed a number of stylized image products, including PhotoCopy, Tiffen Dfx and their newest, Film Stocks. All of these have just gone through a round of updates for compatibility with Final Cut Pro X and the CS6 applications. With Film Stocks, DFT has combined the various film stock emulation and film processing categories from its other packages into a single “film looks” filter application. Like the others, it’s available for a wide range of film/video and photographic hosts.

When you apply the Film Stocks filter to a clip on the timeline in a host like Avid Media Composer or Adobe After Effects, you can access numerous sliders for direct adjustment inside the usual effects control panel. Or click the button to launch the external Film Stocks application, which uses its own interface. This is consistent with the other DFT products. (The exception is the FCP X implementation of PhotoCopy. There, you have a series of presets available with adjustable slider controls but no link to the standalone application.)

Once you’ve launched Film Stocks, simply choose the category (e.g., motion picture films), browse the presets within the category (e.g., various Fuji or Eastman Kodak stock emulations) and tweak the settings to customize the look. The film/video plug-in works on a single layer. Some parameters, like film grain, will be animated, which affects rendering performance. For example, enabling grain with animation values will take longer to render than without grain.

In Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom or Apple Aperture, the plug-in sends you directly to the external application. You have the ability to create and blend layers into a composite, much as you would with Photoshop layers. This is an especially useful tool for digital photographers. Want that touch of Kodachrome 25? Simply bounce out to Film Stocks, apply the preset and you’re done. If you are looking for a convincing mimic of film, Digital Film Tools’ Film Stocks is the best film emulation product on the market.

GenArts | Sapphire Edge v2

GenArts Sapphire Edge v2 adds support for Premiere Pro CS6.

Sapphire Edge is a preset-based set of filters and transitions running the same effects engine as the traditional Sapphire filters. It uses a preset browser application to search and preview looks and styles. When you purchase Sapphire Edge, you also get a one-year subscription to FX Central, a subscription download service to expand to your preset collection on a monthly basis.

Sapphire Edge v2 plug-ins have just been released, which include updates for Final Cut Pro (7 and X), After Effects/Premiere Pro CS6 and Sony Vegas. Nine new filters (rays, glare, glint, kaleido, soft focus, etc.) and four new transitions have been added. To date, there are more than 575 presets based on 31 effects and transitions.

With v2, you can now save your own presets. Each implementation of these filters includes a set of slider adjustments in the host application’s effects interface. You can launch the Edge browser, pick an existing preset from a series of thumbnails that are previewed using your source clip, and then apply it. Back in the NLE, simply adjust the sliders until the look is right for your clip. At this point you have the option to save the adjusted version as a new preset.

As part of saving the modified preset, Sapphire Edge will let you tag it with category and name information to facilitate future searches in the browser. You can save and recall new presets only within similar products. For example, presets saved in the FxPlug version of Sapphire Edge v2 will not appear in the After Effects/Premiere Pro version; however, custom presets developed in Premiere also show up in the Edge preset browser if you apply that effect in After Effects.

Sapphire Edge v2 is GPU-accelerated with NVIDIA CUDA cards, although I found performance to be close to real time in Premiere Pro CS6 running with my ATI card. Simply put, Premiere Pro CS6’s performance with these various filters is amazing. Sapphire Edge and the Digital Film Tools products run incredibly smoothly with timeline playback set to half resolution.

Unfortunately, comparable playback in FCP X is glacial. That’s pretty much true of all complex filters in the new Final Cut, especially those using an external application to build the effect, including GenArts Sapphire Edge, Magic Bullet Looks and the various Digital Film Tools products.