By Brady Betzel
Over the past few months, I’ve been hearing a lot of buzz about what FXHome is doing with its products. It interests me because recently I’ve been doing more YouTube-based work and side projects, and many of my industry friends have that budget-strapped “passion project” they are working on.
In addition, we all know that the traditional “editor” role is being superseded by the “editor/VFX/compositor” role, so the more you know — whether you are just starting out or a veteran learning something new — the more valuable you become.
All of this has left me very interested in seeing an offering that combines editing, VFX and compositing in one package. That is where FXHome’s HitFilm 2 Ultimate comes in. And my timing couldn’t have been better. When I contacted them about reviewing their HitFilm Ultimate software I discovered they had just released a set of plug-ins for many of today’s leading VFX and NLE products, including Adobe’s Premiere Pro and After Effects, Apple’s FCP X and Motion, and Sony’s Vegas.
Sometimes that on-the-way up indie filmmaker, or editor working side jobs, doesn’t have the financial freedom to subscribe to Adobe’s latest Creative Cloud products, purchase Avid Media Composer, or even subscribe to Red Giant’s Universe — not to mention Video Copilot Element3D, Boris Continuum Complete 9 — and the list goes on and on. That’s why I thought it was valuable to give FX Home’s offerings a try.
In the first part of this review I will focus on HitFilm 2 Ultimate, an all-inclusive NLE, compositor and VFX constructing tool. In the second part, I touch on the HitFilm Plug-in Collection library, which takes the tools from HitFilm 2 Ultimate and places them inside many other post toolsets.
HitFilm 2 Ultimate
The Mac-and Windows-based HitFilm 2 Ultimate costs just under $400 and includes the powerful planar tracking Mocha 3D camera-solving engine from Imagineer. To be honest this is really what captured my attention — a sub-$400 NLE/compositor that comes bundled with a planar tracker that is widely regarded as a staple in the industry? I thought I had better pay attention.
Once you download and open up HitFilm 2 Ultimate you choose what you want your project frame rate and frame size to be — you can go up to 4K. The project frame sizes don’t dictate your composite shot frame sizes, which have their own properties. Once inside your project you can add media, create a sequence, even begin adding effects and composite shots. Think about HitFilm like Adobe Premiere and After Effects: they are connected by a bridge with the only difference being that HitFilm works inside of itself instead of having to open a secondary application.
In NLE mode you have many of your standard shortcuts and abilities that you would see inside any of the major NLEs. There are no track limitations, you can trim clips pretty easily, and even directly control volume and opacity in the timeline. If you want to create a VFX shot or composite shot you click the “Make Composite” button above the timeline and you are quickly in composite mode. It’s really pretty easy. The best part is you have the NLE, or “Editor,” tab next to the composite tab in the timeline (almost like a tabbed web browser).
Without purchasing additional plug-ins or scripts inside of HitFilm 2 Ultimate you get a true 3D Particle Simulator, an array-based particle engine (they call Atomic Particles); a very useful set of Lights and Flares; a pretty sweet 3D gunfire set (think 3D muzzle flashes); blood spray; 3D extruded text; color correction tools; an advanced keying and extraction library of effects; the ability to add 2D and 3D cameras; lights with shadows, depth of field and motion blur; and even 3D model importing (.obj, .lwo, and .3Ds).
While these effects are a great value considering they are included in a full-feature NLE, this tool is not really a replacement for After Effects or your compositing software. It works pretty well, don’t get me wrong, but at the moment it won’t make you ditch your Adobe Creative Cloud account, if you are lucky enough to have one. HitFilm 2 Ultimate also integrates with Sony Vegas Pro 12. So, you can put HitFilm 2 Ultimate composites inside of your Vegas timeline, open HitFilm 2 from inside of Vegas, adjust your composite, save, and it will update almost instantly. So if you are a Vegas vet, you get a little added bonus.
Since I am somewhat limited in this review I can only gloss over many features, but check out HitFilm’s extensive online community where they have hundreds of videos and tons of useful tutorials to start you off — be sure to follow them on Twitter (@FXhomeHitFilm) where they post tons of HitFilm-related content.
HitFilm Plug-In Collection
For those who already have FCP X, Motion, After Effects, Premiere or even Sony Vegas Pro, you are going to be interested in the newly released set of HitFilm plug-ins. The HitFilm Plug-in Collection is made up of over 130 plug-ins that work well within your nonlinear editing system; if you buy these solely for After Effects, you may be a little disappointed. While some of the effects are unique to After Effects — such as blood splatter, pro skin retouch, auto light flares, light leaks, atomic particles, gunfire, rain on glass and parallax — most effects can be created with some adjustment layers and After Effects built-in effects and presets. If you are new to After Effects though, these might be a good purchase for you as you can get effects created fast.
If you buy the HitFilm Plug-ins for Adobe Premiere, FCP X or Sony Vegas I do think you will be impressed. We all know how polarizing the topic of combining editing and motion graphics is becoming, and with HitFilm Plug-ins for NLEs you can create decent looking effects in way less time than it would take you to open After Effects and learn how to do it there. I would go so far as to say, the HitFilm Plug-ins are the go-to toolbox of effects for editors using Premiere, FCP X and Vegas. If you want a quick muzzle flash to place in 3D space you can find it. If you want that quick rain-on-glass effect you have it. Even a quick cinematic look can be found in the stylize section with the click of a button.
On the technical side make sure you check www.hitfilm.com for hardware and host compatibility; not all effects are available for all NLEs. For instance the Atomic Particles are not available in Premiere. On the bright side, one installation will install in as many host platforms as you have, so if you have Premiere, After Effects and Vegas you get HitFilm plug-ins in each host. You can also install the set of plug-ins on two computers at the same time; maybe one for work and one for home.
In the end, FXHome has started building the foundation for a competent NLE/compositor in HitFilm 2 Ultimate in addition to a vast toolset of plug-ins for your NLE in the HitFilm Plug-ins Collection. In this day and age of YouTube shows, Vlogs and tons of short-form content being blasted over the Internet at great quality, HitFilm 2 Ultimate might just become a staple NLE/compositor for those producers.
It has everything you need to get started for under $400, including a full-fledged keying suite, a capable NLE and even easy output options to get your content published to YouTube fast. And just to reiterate, while the HitFilm plug-in suite is a welcome addition to your NLE, I wouldn’t suggest it for After Effects. But if you are an editor that wants to add some sizzle to that sizzle reel, you may want to go ahead and buy the HitFilm Plug-ins library and see just how much time it can save you… after all time is money.
Brady Betzel is an editor at Bunim Murray Productions, a reality television production company. He is one of the editors on Bad Girls Club. His typical tools at work are Avid Symphony, Adobe After Effects CC and Adobe Photoshop CC. You can email Brady at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter, @allbetzroff.