New England Film: Three Must-Have Tools for Advanced Editing
11 November 2010

by Peter Bohush, November 2010

Boris Continuum Complete 7, FxFactory & dvMatte Pro Studio 3 can take your editing to a pro level.

The advancement of computing power over the past decade has brought pro-level editing power to the masses with programs such as Adobe Premiere, Avid Media Composer, Sony Vegas and Final Cut Pro. In that time an entire industry has risen to provide add-on features for editing apps, giving even low-budget filmmakers awesome capabilities that were unthinkable just a few years ago.

These add-ons are called plug-ins (even though nothing gets plugged into anything). This month we’ll look at three popular plug-ins. They all work in Apple’s Final Cut Pro and various other non-linear editors and compositing programs such as After Effects or Motion.

Boris Continuum Complete 7

Company marketing claims are often overblown. In the case of Boris Continuum Complete 7, their own hoopla is pretty accurate. They promote BCC7 as “the Swiss Army Knife of Visual Effects, giving compositors and editors … over 200 plug-in filters including 3D objects, image restoration tools, distortion and perspective effects, generators such as snow, rain and fire, wipe transitions, keys and mattes, colors and blurs, and film, glow and cartoon effects.”

That’s a tall order, but BCC7 delivers. It could take years for an editor or VFX artist to even try all 210 filters in the set, if ever. But it’s good to know they’re there, right? Kind of like having those 72 metric socket wrenches from Sears. (Why can’t they just make everything with half-inch or three-quarter nuts?) Or like having the big box of 120 Crayola crayons. Will I ever really need inch worm, mango tango or neon carrot? Who knows, but I’m not giving them up.

Boris organizes the BCC7 filters into 10 categories: 3D objects, distortion & perspective, color & blurs, effects, particle generators, keys & mattes, wipe transitions, lights, open GL and time.

Some of the filters are utilitarian, such as those that clean up colors, brightness and saturation of video files to conform to broadcast requirements, or “disappear” a green screen behind the actors to replace it with another image. Others are aesthetic, such as fancy wipe transitions, adding fake rain or snow to an image, or turning a real image into a cartoon.

Boris has updated many of the filters included in prior versions of BCC and added 11 new ones. Several, like extruded text and their new 3-way color grade, are offered as stand-alone filters, or units, priced from $99 to $399 each. Purchasing that way would allow a buyer to pick and choose, of course, but soon the price would far exceed the package deal of the Continuum Complete series, priced at $995 (upgrade from earlier version for $295). The entire Final Cut Studio suite is $999, so the BCC7 package of add-ons rivals the price of the base product. But still it averages out at $5 per filter, an amazing bargain.

I was able to put my review copy of BCC7 to use almost immediately. For an actor’s demo reel that I edited, I applied the lens blur filter to a background movie that was keyed into a green screen shot in order to simulate depth of field and give the shot a more film-like look. Changing the depth of field effect was as easy as choosing a shape and dragging a few sliders. It brought a sense of realism to a shot that otherwise would have looked fake.

I used the dissolve rays effect, available in prior versions of BCC, to create flashy transitions in a short film I made about the World Trade Centers. For another project I applied a cartoon effect to recreate the look of the Charles Schwab commercials, and on another turned the video into an animated charcoal sketch.

Many of these effects would be familiar to a Photoshop artist working with still images. Boris takes them into the world of motion.

BCC’s more wild effects are clearly suited to non-narrative works such as commercials, music videos, promo reels, bumpers, etc., while movie and TV editors might reach for the more subtle filters to enhance their narrative works. Adding atmospheric effects, such as rain, lightning, lens flares, light rays and depth of field blurs would have been the domain of high-end effects companies before, but now some of these can trickle down to the editor.

That still leaves plenty of tools for VFX artists to ply their trade. Color replacer is a cool effect that selectively changes one color in a defined portion of the screen. Perhaps the film takes place in years past when mailboxes were green instead of blue. No problem. Want to change the color of a car in the background so it doesn’t draw the eye? Boris Continuum Complete can do it.

Popular filters in the set also include DV Fixer and Up-rez. The former, applied to SD footage, will improve the image quality to help it integrate better with HD footage. Up-rez aims to tackle the task of processing SD footage into high definition. Final Cut Studio users may opt for Compressor to do this as well, but BCC7’s Up-rez analyzes the footage differently and may provide a better result.

Keep in mind that some BCC7 filters, like many other brands, are processor hogs. You’ll need a fast computer and plenty of RAM to run them. But BCC7 also includes a huge number of “RT” or real-time effects that utilize the magic of the Apple computer’s processing architecture to deliver the effects in real time, or at least significantly cut down the render time. What used to take hours (or days) can now render out in a few minutes or seconds.

With BCC7, editors and VFX artists will rarely find themselves lacking a filter to perform just about any effect, transition or image correction.

FxFactory Pro

If BCC7 is the “Swiss army knife” of effects filters, then FxFactory by Noise Industries may be the base post exchange. It is at once a front end for shopping for new plug-ins from a variety of third party developers, an installation system to add them into the editing applications, and a set of its own filters.

Built to add filters into Apple’s Final Cut Pro and Motion and Adobe’s After Effects, FxFactory is a stand-alone browser application showcasing available filters. See a set you like, buy it right through the FxFactory browser and install it into all your supported applications. Inside Final Cut, Motion or After Effects, the new plug-ins appear with other filters and transitions in their own folders.

FxFactory Pro (note the “Pro” extension) is the set of Noise Industries’s own plug-ins, which are installed via the FxFactory front end browser. The browser is free to install and comes with a base set of free plug-ins.

The extensive FxFactory Pro set of filters from Noise and a few additional vendors is their flagship product at $399. There is also a growing list of additional plug-ins from third party developers listed on the FxFactory website and through the browser, priced from $29 to $149. All of the plug-ins have free trial versions.

FxFactory Pro’s more than 160 filters take aim at BCC7. There is plenty of overlap, but also a significant enough number of unique filters, transitions and generators to distinguish them from each other.

Like many third party filters and transitions, FxFactory Pro offers a number of easy presets in pull down menus within each plug-in’s settings. These can be used as is, or as the starting point to fine tune the settings.

If there was one word that came to mind again and again when trying out the FXFPro filters and transitions, it was “cool!” They’ve done a great job of creating new looks not seen before. Make the video look like it’s on a giant jumbotron screen, or turn it into a 3D warped displacement map. Create transitions between shots that make them appear like images being swiped on an iPhone, or multi-screens sliding across the screen.

One of my favorite filters was the pop art effect, mimicking the four-square colorized Andy Warhol prints. Sure Apple’s Photo Booth can do this with a still image, but FXFPro applied it to video with ease.

The rays effect brought an ethereal feel to a simple shot I applied it to. I could see using this filter with a planned shot to create some amazing otherworldly effects. Cool. I toyed with the torus lens effect to create a 3D glass life saver floating over part of the video. Cool. Circle splash framed the actress’ face and sprayed out the rest of the image in an exploding stream of colors. Way cool.

dvMatte Pro Studio 3

dvMatte Pro Studio 3 from dvGarage is a mini suite of four related filters with one objective: keying out green screen shots. And it does it as well as, or better than, the rest.

The main plug in is dvMatte Pro 3, a powerful green screen removal tool. Sure, others offer green and blue screen keyers, as does Apple within Final Cut Studio. But dvMatte uses two color difference keyers and a hybrid luminance keyer to produce very smooth mattes.

In a controlled environment, lighting a perfectly smooth green screen with perfectly balanced light is possible. Setting up a green screen on location introduces wrinkles and creases, unbalanced lighting and a host of other issues. The standard keyer in FCP may not deliver a clean matte, where all the green is removed to show the replacement video beneath.

With dvMatte’s dual color pickers, the editor samples the brightest part of the green screen as well as the darkest. dvMatte then keys out those colors and in between. This results in more green being removed without expanding the luminance or color samples that might cross over onto the non-green parts of the image.

This would be amazing enough, and it can be with the purchase of the $99 dvMatte Blast. But for $199 the Pro Studio version adds in three more filters to help improve the green screen keying, especially with less-than-perfect screens.

The first in the suite is Screenfix, which uses a clean plate of the main image, without the actor or subject, and checks the difference between that and the shot with the actor in it to help dvMatte clean up a bad green screen.

The next, dvMatte Wrap, rolls colors from the background plate around the actor/subject for a subtle optical illusion to make them appear part of the scene.

Finally, dvMatte Match attempts to match values of the foreground and background images to make the keyed image look more realistic within the background plate.

In my testing, dvMatte did an excellent job. It keyed out the (bad) green screen, either with the default settings or with only a few minor adjustments. Wisps of the actor’s hair could still be seen, but there was no trace of green light spill or edge artifacts.

In a second test outdoors, the screen was in the shade and a breeze was blowing the fabric, creating shadows and wrinkles. It didn’t faze dvMatte in the least. I didn’t even need the extra apps in the suite. I tried the same footage with other green screen keyers with less than satisfying results. So when I need to key out green screen footage, I automatically reach for dvMatte Pro.