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Digital Film Tools: Composite Suite Pro

By Brady Betzel

Editing reality television often forces an editor to wear multiple hats. Most importantly they edit, but increasingly they are being asked to provide basic as well as advanced effects, too. Sometimes they will create effects within their NLE, or sometimes they will be asked to work in After Effects, Motion, etc.

To help give today’s editor/compositor/VFX artist a leg up, Digital Film Tools (www.digitalfilmtools.com) has released the Composite Suite Pro plug-in to be used in any and all of your most common software packages. As the name implies it is foremost a compositing toolset. Most of the time we aren’t always given the cleanest elements in post to work with when compositing (or at least that’s what us jaded folks in post production think!); this is where DFT’s Composite Suite Pro comes into play.

Compositing is the act of placing multiple images together to make them look like they naturally live in the same “world.” For example, you may want to place footage of fire and smoke over an image of a dilapidated house. Without some very tedious and fine attention to detail this will look like something out of a 1980’s music video and will have an amateur feel to it. Composite Suite Pro gives you all the fine adjustments to make this happen in a fraction of the time, and makes it look great.

I understand that Composite Suite Pro is a little bit of a shortcut plug-in and that nothing can replace a true compositor, but as an editor that is asked to composite on a daily basis, I can use all the shortcuts I can get. At the moment I am working on a show, Bad Girls Club, that sometimes has a quick turnaround. I know I will be asked to create an elaborate opening title that I will have me jumping out of my NLE and into After Effects. So all the tools to make it look as real as possible, as fast as possible will help. Besides, not all NLEs have these compositing abilities built in, or at least have them easily accessible and ready to use, fast. Because this plug-in harnesses your GPU abilities, it truly is fast.

On to the real focus of this review (and not the ongoing debate as to where the editor’s job starts and stops): Composite Suite Pro. For those who have used DFT’s other plug-ins such as Film Stocks, Tiffen DFx, or even Rays, you will be right at home. The interface is very similar.

I tested this plug-in inside of After Effects on a Windows 7 desktop workstation. While I won’t be able to dive into all the facets of Composite Suite Pro, I will try and touch on the ones I find most useful. Included in the Composite Suite Pro plug-in are blur, camera flash, color paste, multiple color correctors, colorize, colorize gradient, composite options, de-artifact, defog, depth of field, drop shadow, DVE, edge composite, edge glow, film masks, frame averager, glow effects, grain, HDTV masks, holdout composite, lens distortion, light, light wrap, math composite, matte generator, matte repair, non-additive mix, optical dissolve, ozone, rack focus, and selective color correct.

Right off the bat, a little side gem included in this suite is the camera flash plug-in. While most of you will immediately say, “I can just build a camera flash,” yes you can, however, to have it done already with multiple parameters like intensity and blur saves me many steps, so I love it!

All right, so on to some actual compositing plug-ins that are included inside of Composite Suite Pro. The first stop is inside of the Colorize Gradient category. I love this because you can easily throw the effect on your layer and inside it allows you to adjust not only opacity and color but also the mid-tones, highlights, and even where the gradient starts and stops. This is a very fast and easy way to adjust the look of a sunset by adding purples, reds, or even more yellows easily and fast.

Next is the Edge category that falls under the Composite effect. This helps with the light wrapping when compositing images. You can adjust the size and color of the edge around the object you are compositing but also help minimize the aliasing artifacts by blurring the edges a little bit.

Speaking of aliasing, the DeArtifacting effect is very handy when dealing with sub-par DV and HD video. It cleans up the edges of your composite with the following options: DeArtifact, Blur-Horizontal, Blur-Vertical, and Gang. For all intents and purposes, blurring horizontally is probably the most used feature here. Similar to DeArtifacting is the DeFog effect. The DeFog effect is kind of awesome — it can be subtle, but awesome. It does just as its name implies, de-fogs a shot. It can subtly remove fog, mist, haze, etc.

First, you use the color picker to find the general shade of weather you are trying to remove. Second, you can adjust the vanishing point’s values, and third you render. You can also adjust the amount of weather you want to remove, the amount of weather around darker areas, and the amount of weather near brighter areas. It’s one of those plug-ins that may not be used a lot but, when you see a shot that needs less fog you will immediately remember DeFog.

My last few favorite parts of Digital Film Tools Composite Suite Pro are the Holdout composite plug-in and the Light plug-in. The Holdout composite plug-in is great for compositing because it goes a step beyond the traditional “Add” composite mode. In the traditional “Add” mode the foreground would be placed over the background and could cause areas of the background to get brighter.

While there are some other ways to get around this, the Holdout composite plug-in is fast and easy. It creates a luminance matte of the foreground and pastes it as black, or other color, over the background. Then you use one of the blend modes to place the foreground element over the background. Inside of the Holdout composite plug-in there are many options to perfect your composite, including Black Clip to aid in the removing of any impure black shades from the foreground image, allowing for a smoother composite.

Under the matte option is the black and white clip that helps get rid of grey areas that you want completely black or white. Finally, under Holdout you can adjust the color of your “holdout” matte. While generally you won’t need to adjust this, sometimes adding color will give your composite a little more life, almost similar to how light wrap on a key will add just a tiny amount of realism, so will color in a Holdout matte.

Now to the Light plug-in. Digital Film Tools has a unique product in the Tiffen DFx plug-in, and now with Composite Suite Pro due to their affiliation with companies such as Tiffen, Gaproducts, and Rosco lighting products. The Light plug-in inside of these suites allows the artist to place light into a scene that previously didn’t have it. Now, I don’t mean that you can “fix” an underexposed scene or repair a blown-out scene, but if you’ve shot a scene in a room and you want to add a gobo pattern on the wall, this is where the Light plug-in shines. Inside you can select a gobo pattern (a digital equivalent of the lighting gels created by Gamproducts and Rosco — almost 2,000 patterns to choose from or create your own) to apply to a lighting source, select a color, brightness, blending mode, blur, position, and displacement matte. Adding a realistic gobo pattern is not easy, but it definitely can add production value to a scene that previously did not pop.

Overall, I think the Digital Film Tools Composite Suite of plug-ins are a phenomenal deal at under $400. Similar plug-in suites, that do half of what this can do, will cost at least double. While you don’t “need” to have the Composite Suite Pro plug-in to create all of these effects, Digital Film Tools has put them all together in a nice bundle that will save you many steps when creating things such as a camera flash, and as I always say time is money so why not try and save some of both?

Brady and Atticus at Zoo

Brady Betzel is an editor at Bunim Murray Productions (www.bunim-murray.com), 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 bradybetzel@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter, @allbetzroff.


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