|Review - Two Surprising
Plug-Ins for FCP and After Effects
Plug-Ins for FCP and After Effects
$29.95 (before January 15; $39.95 thereafter) download
Available for FCP or AE
Digital Film Tools
Available for FCP or AE
from the lafcpug Store
Review by Ned
Since the earliest days
of DV, the question will never go away: "How can I make
DV look like film?" So enter Cinelook/Cinemotion,
Bullet, Grain Surgery,
Fields Toolkit and a whole host of component plug-ins to give
your video that "film look" in motion, grain, depth
and even specific film-stock appearance. These products and others
have made significant strides in adding that certain "je
ne sais quoi" which tells the viewer "this was shot
Yet this is much more to film than the
visual characteristics above. The two plug-in packages that I
will highlight for you can bring aspects of film even to DV,
even if you do not intend to create a total film look.
One of the earliest critiques of FCP was its lack of a true film
dissolve. Those coming from a film background will immediately
know what I mean. There is just a different look which came from
physically drawing lines on two pieces of film and utilizing
techniques which just created that very rich dissolve. If you
are not from a film background, well, you just know it when you
see it. CGM MovieFX, included in the CGM Filters Volume 2 approaches
a true film dissolve with its ability to specify layers, much
as the film editor would work with layers of film.
But Dissolve Factory really achieves
the film dissolve and does so for $30!
Buena Software has produced the superb
set of plug-ins entitled Effect Essentials, which I also had
the opportunity to review (and favorably, I must add). Effect
Essentials allows fine control over values within the image,
often at the pixel level. So, it only seems logical that Buena
would be able to go to the next step to achieve a filter which
relies upon the pixel values of clips to achieve a dissolve.
Note that I say "a filter."
One would expect that a dissolve would naturally be a transition,
in FCP terminology, rather than a dissolve. But Dissolve Factory
is a filter which works as a transition. In fact, it is installed
in the FCP hierarchy under Video Filters -> Transitions ->
Nevertheless, Dissolve Factory is as
easy to apply as if it were a transition between clips. Essentially,
a dissolve is nothing more than the outgoing clip fading out
while the incoming clip fades in. Hence, the only time parameter
which needs to be set is the point in the outgoing clip at which
the dissolve begins.
So, the workflow is a simple one. Apply
the Dissolve Factory filter to the outgoing clip. Drag the incoming
clip either from the FCP timeline or browser into the well marked
Dissolve To on the clip parameters window of the Filters Tab.
Set a keyframe of 0 at the point at which you wish the transition
to begin and 100 at the end of the clip. Hence, if you want a
one second dissolve, set the beginning keyframe 1 sec before
the conclusion of the outgoing clip.
Now, here is where the fun begins.
Dissolve Factory, in true film style,
allows the dissolve to be based on the luminance, red, gree,
blue, alpha or inverse of chosen transparency for both the incoming
and the outgoing clip. The plug-in determines the transparency
value for each clip depending upon what is selected in a mathematical
formula which roughly combines the transparency values of incoming
and outgoing clips with the inverse of the transition (percent)
complete parameter. The output is then determined by multiplying
incoming and outgoing by their respective transparency values
and adding them together.
Source A Pop Ups
Source B Pop Ups
A few simple graphic representations
here cannot do justice to the effects that you can create merely
by basing the dissolve on a combination of these parameters.
When you go to the Buena web site to enter your credit card number
to download the software, make certain to take a look at the
QuickTime movies illustrating the possibilities.
Luminance Value Transition
Alpha Value Transition
Blue Value Transition
Note that I say "when". Buy
this one. You can't live without it. The dissolve is one of the
truly-essential editing transitions. Now FCP (as well as AE)
have a true optical dissolve and at a price that even starving
editors can handle.
Digital Film Tools
From the very name of this collection, one would assume something
related to camera optics. Indeed, a significant element of the
film process (some might even say the most essentially component
of the film process) lies in the filtration at time of shooting
and in variations in process.
55mm contains 20 filters each designed
to simulate various filters (which, granted, you could achieve
in shooting video by dropping the appropriate filter over the
camera lens) and one process (which by definition could only
be simulated electronically).
First, to that process: Bleach Bypass
is a technique from the film lab for which its devotees pay dearly.
Essentially, when the film is processed, skipping the bleach
stage retains silver together with the film's color dyes. Effectively,
a black and white image is then superimposed over the color image.
This allows for increased contrast along with reduced saturation.
The three parameters of the filter control amount (intensity
of effect), amount (image saturation) and contrast (higher or
Bleach Bypass Before
Bleach Bypass After
In no particular order, I'll turn next
to the Faux Film filter, giving the video a "film look"
in reduced contrast, glow around highlights and added grain.
Parameter adjustments include Glow (brightness, blur and color),
Grain (by RGB, both size and color), color corrections and matte.
The excellent accompanying PDF documentation includes a step-by-step
How To in achieving the Faux Film look.
Faux Film Before
Faux Film After
Common to just about all the filters
are several general controls, the understanding of which is crucial
to using the plug-ins. There is a choice of final or draft rendering.
Rendering times can be long, so a draft render at least helps
in visualizing the final output. Composite modes give a choice
of add or screen mode. Most of the filters have their own color
correction controls which include hue, saturation, brightness,
contrast, gamma and RGB controls.
But what is most crucial here is understanding
the matte concept. In many of the plug-ins, the plug creates
a matte which generates the ultimate effect. The matte has parameters
of Position, Range and Blur. The Position parameters does not
mean physical position, as we are accustomed to thinking in motion
terms (this is a hard-one to grasp at first) but rather selects
the values to be included in the matte. The higher the value,
the more white values from the source image are included in the
matte. Once this luminance position has been selected, range
allows the selection of literally the range of values included
in the matte.
Fortunately, any filter operating via
a matte has the option to view just the matte. This matte view
is essential for determining the matte which influences the entire
Matte View of Image
Output View of Image
Finally, one little check box sets this
collection apart from many others-Force 16-bit processing. By
processing in 16-bit as opposed to 8-bits, the gradations of
pixel values are proportionately smoother, virtually eliminating
any banding. Of course, that increases rendering tie significantly
but it is well worth the processor cycles.
Let me just highlight a few of my favorite
filters from this collection:
This creates an effect similar to a Black
Pro Mist filter on your lens. Play with the parameters for effectively
the value of the Black Pro Mist Filter.
I recall being in a "learning shoot" where we were
lighting a narrow corridor and had a few hotspots which were
very difficult to control. And we needed a wide shot of that
corridor. The experienced DP had in his arsenal a graduated ND
filter which he placed in a matte box over the camera lens. By
manually moving the position of that graduated ND filter, he
was able to even out the values in the shot. Of course, there
is no solution for badly-shot, blown out parts of video. But
the application of this ND Grad filter in post can help balance
widely-diverse differences within the shot.
ND Grad Before
ND Grad After
Apply the Polarizer filter and adjust the parameters to help
achieve that darkened, blue sky with lots of cloud contrast.
Don't think you will totally restore a blown out sky, but it
can make a well-exposed shot even more dramatic.
| Polarizer Before
Shot Before Polarizer
Shot Slightly Improved By Polarizer
I produced a PSA some 25 years ago in which the talent in one
scene, a very vain 50-ish woman insisted that the camera operator
"put something on that lens to make me look twenty years
younger." The result, of course, was such a mismatch of
shots that I am thrilled I no longer have a U-Matic player to
view that tape I have been schlepping around most of my life,
it seems. But, a little Pro Mist effect combined with the shot-matching
possible now in our digital world would have made her happy and
would have even produced something pleasant for the viewer. I
really like this one.
Digital Film Tools is a division of a
film service company and they truly understand film. These excellent
filters provide the FCP and AE user a means of bringing film-like
camera filtration and process to the desktop in a stable package
which functions consistently without crashes or surprises. If
you require this kind of look in your video, 55mm is a well-invested
$195. Check out the web
site for additional examples and, take my word for it-their
advertising claims are true.
© Ned J. Soltz 2002-2003
Ned J. Soltz Ned Soltz is passionate
about the uses of technology to enhance the creative process.
He only wishes that he were more creative. Now that he has a
mobile FCP studio on his Powerbook G4, you can catch him on the
road at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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