Digital photography was always The Effects Medium. When filmmakers want visual effects these days, they digitize, even when shooting film. Then they get busy.

Software for HDSLR use includes Editing Programs, Effects Programs, Title Programs, File Management Programs, Audio Programs, Finishing Programs and other categories.

Tonalizer for FCP

Image Tonalities / Repairs / Tweaks

Reviewed 12-22-11

Sure, Final Cut Pro comes with a number of image effects, but there is no full set of tonality adjustments in the box. Until now.

Tonalizer gives you 19 controls. 15 sliders and four lesser options—all of which are interactively tuned to each other. Net result: better images. Shadows boosted, highlights rescued, fog eliminated and much more. A toolkit every editor will want. Click the logo for the whole story.

Final Cut Pro X

The Scathing Review Updated 12-22-11

I have owned Final Cut Pro since it first appeared in version 1.0 in 1999. I’ve done all my serious editing with it since then. When Final Cut Pro X (FCPX) was announced, it seemed like manna from heaven.

On June 21 of this year I attempted to buy it. Politely the App Store informed me that I would need a stronger graphics card to make it work on my 8-core Mac Pro. So I did that, then downloaded FCPX and jumped in.

It is with heavy heart and dashed hopes that I bring you the results of this editor’s findings.

Click on the image for the full review.

iMovie ’11 in iLife ’11

Apple Inc. usually gets it right, but the new iLife ’11 brings forth a mix of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Why’s that important? It includes iMovie ’11, which can be the easiest movie edit program in your life. Macs only, though.

The Good:

iMove ’11 is improved. Randy Ubillos, head of the video editing development team, demonstrated how much improved the audio features are in the rollout October 20th. His vision was the driving force behind iMovie ’08 when it jumped ship from a timeline-based edit program to an object-base program. The best thing about the new organizing principle is that you can sling things around in the edit as easily as rearranging tiles in a mosaic.

Hot new features:

  1. BulletClever, intuitive controls let you enhance and correct audio levels.

  2. BulletScene by scene audio equalization.

  3. BulletBackground noise filtering.

  4. BulletDucking levels of other tracks based on the current one.

  5. Bullet24 fps editing (also 25 fps and 30 fps).

  6. BulletDial in slo-mo and speed-up rates.

  7. BulletFace and people recognition organizes shots by individuals and groups.

  8. BulletA “theater trailer” format can turn shots you select into an amazing result.

  9. BulletAuto uploading includes YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, CNN iReport and Apple TV.

  10. BulletInstant replays in slow motion are a snap.

  11. BulletNews report, sports and other new themes are now standard.

  12. BulletExport to Final Cut XML (a form of decision list that makes iMovie ’11 a convenient off-line editor for completing projects in Final Cut).

A Major New Feature in iMovie ’11 is its ability to deal with Rolling Shutter artifacts. New in the Clip-Adjustment window is the Rolling Shutter: Reduce Motion Distortion option. Click that and choose among four levels of correction; Low, Medium, High and Extra High. At best, only some of the rolling shutter phenomena are removed, but it’s a difference that makes a difference. To do this, the image becomes slightly enlarged to accommodate necessary geometric counter-distortions it requires. The good news is that at the same time, with no extra size penalty, you can opt to stabilize the image, too.

The rolling shutter effect is in most HDSLRs and nearly all phone cameras, including the iPhones that shoot video. In practice, the program uses information gleaned when you analyze the clip for stabilization to slightly stretch distorted areas back into alignment. Clever, that.

Whip pans show the rolling shutter effect’s extreme distortion. In this frame, a vertical window mullion appears slanted, left. The hand-held camera was approximately level, nowhere nearly as off kilter as this frame would suggest. On the right, the processed frame looks the way it would in a still image. To correct this, iMovie had to slightly enlarge the frame and un-skew it. Vertical bounce is also fixed by slight vertical stretching or compressing on a frame by frame basis.

Another Good Thing about iMovie ’11 is that you can specify the frame rate of your final edit, meaning that 24 fps material now has a hiccup-free home. We have seen how twitchy 24 fps material can appear in iMovie ’09 which had only 30 fps editing. You get to specify 30 fps NTSC, 25 fps PAL or 24 fps Cine.

The Bad:

Differences from iMovie ’09 and iMovie ’11 are significant, but another program in the iLife ’11 suite received not a shred of improvement. iWeb ’11, the program that makes these pages, is the same-old same-old and is in sorry need of upgrade. It has some very unfortunate choices in how it handles blocks of text, requiring heroic efforts on the part of designers (me) to make the pages behave the way they should. Grumble, grumble.

But that doesn’t affect iMovie ’11.

The Ugly:

There appears to be a Major Bug/Flaw/Limitation/Visual Artifact in the program that shows up in softly focused areas of the image with at least some source material.

It’s banding. Bad banding. Ugly banding.

The sort of banding that you would blog about. The sort of banding that you only see in HD images during your worst nightmares. Posterized banding that makes your mom say, “What’s that funny thing happening in my garden shots, Nathan?”

This sort of banding:

This is an edited still from a Nikon D90 movie which is packaged as an AVI stream at just about 1.7 MB/sec. For comparison, we tried tests with scenes from the Canon 7D and found no difference, even though that camera records using about 5.5 MB/sec. The practical meaning is that it’s harder to hang on to nice smooth gradations from an HDSLR, especially in dark areas of the frame.

Here’s the original frame before iMovie ’11 saw it, as saved out of QuickTime Pro:

What a difference! Sure, there are hints of banding artifacts in the shot, but they are low enough to not be egregiously distracting, the way the iMovie ’11 edited version is.

We suspect that this may be an oversight on the part of the Apple code writers. Or perhaps there is a workflow that we are not aware of, which will avoid the issue.

In tests, though, we saw this result from the same exact shot after being processed through an edit in Final Cut Pro. It is slightly less faithful to the original, but falls into the area we would label, “Usefully Acceptable.”

Moral to the story: When using HDSLR original shots, be aware that dark areas are going to have issues in iMovie ’11. Broad, dark gradations won’t deliver results that mom won’t notice. And when Mom Can Tell*, it looks like a mistake.

Discuss this with your local Apple representative. I’m sure they’ll be interested. Or mention it to Randy Ubillos, the next time you see him. I will.

By our grading standards, we give iMove ’11 a nice, round C. It lost two full points for the banding issue which shows up in dark smooth gradations and almost all night scenes. The fact that it doesn’t show up in long fades tells us that it has something to do with the internal carrier format of the movie file, not in the ability of iMovie ’11 to deliver smooth dark pixel gradations. The new features are nice, but a baseline of quality is missing.

Overall, iLife ’11 deserves a B for improvements in iPhoto ’11 and Garageband. Since there may be a change in iWeb that we cannot detect yet, we assume that it’s really iWeb ’09 again and drops the value of iLife ’11 by a full letter grade.

iLife ’11. Includes Garageband, iPhoto ’11, iMovie ’11 and iWeb ‘09.000001. $49. Macintosh only.

* We invoke the Mom Can Tell test frequently to define the breaking point between Good Things and Bad Things. After all, she taught us the difference.

Coming Soon

A fine control video sharpening tool with unprecedented image quality.

Both Mac and PC users of Photoshop Extended (PSX) know that it can process motion files, like those from your HDSLR. Users of PSX (PSE was taken by Photoshop Elements) can apply Actions and Scripts to their clips, to repair, enhance, retouch and grade shots individually.

A new technology will be revealed here soon: ScriptActions. These are a marriage of both Scripts and Actions that process HDSLR motion files exclusively in PSX.

The first ScriptAction is a video sharpening processor that is based on a proven technology previously only available to still photographers. It has been customized for HD files, delivering results that are superior to other “Sharpening”, “Sharpness” and “Unsharp Mask” controls found in edit software, including those in Final Cut Pro.

SuperVideoSharp (SVS) gives you control over HD clips in 1080p, 720p and even 480p that turn images into artifact-free pixel perfect results.

Update: delayed due to intervening projects.

Final Cut Studiohttp://www.apple.com/finalcutstudio/finalcutpro/shapeimage_12_link_0

The whole thing.

If you are not a Mac user, select another page and step away from the computer, nobody will get hurt. Perhaps you need to investigate Premiere Pro from Adobe ($800 US). There is lots for you over there including some very interesting things about how Adobe software was used in Avatar.

In Hollywood, where these pages are composed, Final Cut is one of the two editing programs being used routinely for movies and TV shows. The other is Avid Media Composer. NASA uses multiple “seats” of Final Cut in JPL’s video production department. On the employment application for any professional editing company, points are awarded for checking the “Proficient in Final Cut” box.

Apple’s approach to software is like their approach to hardware. They feel that software should make you feel smart, accomplishing things—complex things—easily. While many other software programs can certainly perform the things you need, a lot of them make you feel stupid until you find that thing that kept success at arm’s length for too long. In other words, creativity is not the task of out-guessing software engineers. The job of a software engineer should be to make things obvious, intuitive and easy to understand.

Where Final Cut Studio (FCS) excels handily is in its global suite of programs that touch almost every aspect of production workflow, all while interconnecting with each other in ways that make sense.

Final Cut Pro (FCP) is the editor, a timeline-based program with numerous included visual adjustment options that touch into image manipulation, time manipulation, basic visual effects and audio, all while supporting hooks into other programs in the Studio. Apple has been evolving FCP for over a decade, and we have been using it since version 1, but still find new things among its many tools, modes, options and connections. You can’t buy FCP separately, only as part of the full Studio. The good news is that the whole shebang costs $1000 US, and it’s the cheapest grand you ever spent in pursuit of excellent production value.

If you get FCS, it will be worth your while to study the many tutorials available on the Web that Apple is glad to point you toward. Apple has a catch-all page full of goodies to peruse, if you’re interested.

For people who have experience with other time-line based video edit programs, FCP will look familiar. Like all of them, it has its own procedures and ways of doing things, but the basic learning curves are fairly straightforward. Recently, Apple created an internal video storage and manipulation format called ProRes 422 which is visually indistinguishable from completely uncompressed files.

The proxy version of this is great for use on notebooks and the HQ version is a space-saving option for the fussiest technician working with the absolute maximum budget. For HDSLR work, even the proxy version is higher in quality than your camera originals (unless you’re working with Red cameras) and it moves quickly in all Macs, portable and desk. A big advantage: it lets you tweak images while viewing high enough quality to be sure of your adjustments. Later, you can substitute the full-quality originals for better results. A ProRes 422 LT version is also immediately available for beginning to end workflow that saves space. Here’s some data on these options.

Motion 4 is FCS’ visual effects program. It’s not a complete replacement for Adobe’s killer program, After Effects, but it does things After Effects can’t do, and vice versa.

Optical Flow technology is behind Motion’s ability to deliver super slow motion from regular video files. Here a 720p60 image has been converted into the equivalent of a 240 fps scene.

FCP talks back and forth with Motion intimately, streamlining the process of achieving effects. Both programs have a technology exclusive to Apple, called Optical Flow. It’s used in image re-stabilization and time-manipulation effects and delivers impossible-looking stability and slow motion results.

SoundTrack Pro 3 (STP) is the audio editor and mixer. It has features that permit intuitive 5.1 surround-sound mixing as well as lesser formats, including mere stereo. But most of us live in “mere” stereo, and STP is great for that. STP also works with a time-line layout and has been used for audio sweetening (fine degree audio tweaking) in many megabuck movies. Like Motion, it connects to FCP intimately, making coordinated editing and sweetening easier than they can be with completely separate programs.

Color 1.5 is what the movie and TV communities call a grading program. It is rather like Photoshop for cinematic images, or a digital darkroom for movies. It’s the program that does the final color, shading, vignetting, burning, dodging and lighting adjustments to scenes. Every shot in a modern movie or TV show is tweaked for tonality, color attributes and often global cold or warm effects.

Other programs exist for color grading, chief among those that HDSLR movie makers use is Magic Bullet Looks 1.2. Be aware, the Magic Bullet Suite 2009 is $400, cross-grade and $800 US, new.

Compressor 3.5 is the last program you use in many productions. This is the software that prepares the show for burning to DVD or Blu-ray disk. Its tools let you achieve the right balance between data storage space and image appearance as your project heads into distribution. The same Optical Flow (brand) technology used in Motion lets you create perfect translations between frame rate formats in Compressor 3.5. This means you can produce in ANY edit frame rate and distribute results in ANY OTHER frame rate without your audience noticing the difference.

DVD Studio Pro 4 is software for the preparation of commercial DVD authoring. Okay, then, this is the last software you might use. It lets you setup your final result with animated interactive menu items, interesting themes and many creative options.

        What you really wanted to know:

  1. An “everything but the kitchen sink” package.

  2. Mac only!

  3. Any resolution and/or frame rate.

  4. Great individual programs with maximum intuitive operations—mutually integrated.

  5. 5.1 surround-sound resources.

  6. 3D Motion animations.

  7. Optical Flow technology slow-mo.

  8. $ 999 US for everything.

  9. Bottom Line: If you don’t have FCP Suite, you are at a disadvantage.

Final Cut Studio

Apple Inc: $999 US.

QuickTime Prohttp://www.apple.com/quicktime/pro/shapeimage_14_link_0

The least expensive Got-To-Have-It software around.

For PC and Mac platforms.

Most people think of QuickTime Pro (QTP) as a utility program. That it is, and it facilitates the playback of numerous movie formats on your Web browser or computer screen, but that’s just the tip of an iceberg as deep as a major motion picture. For instance: All over the recent Avatar, QuickTime was used with giant images during production. Sure, it’s used to display the movie trailers on your computer, but the same $30 version of it, QuickTime Pro, that is used in production is available to all.

At heart, QuickTime was always conceived to be an image manipulation program. Image size and file size are limited by your project, not by the software. It easily handles the giant 14 MP images from the Red One camera, quickly presenting them in motion on fast computers, both Windows and Mac.

Final Cut Pro Studio includes it with the suite of software packages, so if you’re considering that software, pocket the thirty bucks.

Edit clips.

You can edit with it. If you have a bunch of files all the same dimensions and frame rate, you can use the QTP IN and OUT sliders to define a shot duration, then COPY that to your clipboard and PASTE at an insertion point on a new or different file. On playback, you’ve just performed an insert edit, cutting from one scene to the next. Our own Grad Filter demo was edited this way from seven separate shots.

Change a file’s size.

QTP can output images to different sizes and playback formats. Let’s say you’re designing a movie to play on a Web site, but you shot it in 1080p30 and the files are HUGE! Now you want to show everybody what you saw, but you don’t want to shovel out 100+ megabytes to every viewer. Open the file in QTP, then EXPORT it as a new file with something like the following choices:

  1. BulletSize: 500 x 281 to maintain the 16:9 aspect.

  2. BulletFilter: Sharpen 1 (least).

  3. BulletSettings: H.264 compression.

  4. BulletQuality: 50%.

  5. BulletTemporal: 10% (rollover the Quality slider while holding down the Alt/Option key and Temporal appears. This can save a lot without introducing artifacts.)

  6. BulletFrame rate 15 fps (you just cut the file to 2.9 MB from 4.4 MB)

  7. BulletEncoding: Best (makes it smaller, too, at only a slight time penalty).

  8. BulletKeyframes: Automatic.

  9. BulletFrame Reordering: No.

In this case, a 110 MB shot that lasts 18 seconds in 1080p30 has been prepared for Internet viewing at 2.9 MB.

Add a title.

While still working with the full size image, you can add a white title over the image using the QTP Masking feature.

1. With the movie open, select Window > Show Movie Properties > Video Track > Visual Settings.

2. The Mask feature in the lower left will fill its small window with anything you select. If you have prepared a piece of art like the one at right, it will import that. The letters in white with the background in black and will look best when the art is the size of your 720p or 1080p original. The Boredwalking title here is a 1280 x 720 plate.

3. Select Transparency: Composition. After some internal processing, your movie will preview the title over the scene—but with a BLACK title!

Never fear. Just a trick of the light. It’s showing you where the title will be, not what it will look like, exactly.

4. Now EXPORT the file with the settings above, shrinking movie and title together to your ultimate display size. Any roughness around the contours of the title will shrink to obscurity. And look what happens to that black title. It’s snowy white, superimposing over most subject matter.

The final file, prepared exactly as described above. 15 fps / H.264 @ 50% Q / 500 x 281 pixels / 2.9 MB.

QuickTime can do a bunch of other things, too. For creative HDSLR shot manipulation it’s the best five latte’s worth of production budget you can spend.

Note: This title trick is original to this site. We think. After searching the Internet, we have not been able to find any other source that is aware of how to achieve this result. If you find an earlier reference that tells how to do it in the same way, let us know.

        What you really wanted to know:

  1. Far more value than the $30 cost.

  2. Not terribly intuitive.

  3. Mac AND Windows versions available.

  4. Essential software.

QuickTime Pro (Windows or Mac)

Version 7.5: $29 US.


Click on images to link.

Latest additions 2/6/12

Edit / Tweak / Polish / Organize / Process




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