In his latest software review, Oliver Peters takes a look at four different plugins from Digital Anarchy. From skin smoothing to removing flicker, each plugin in Final Cut Pro X and Motion performs a task of improving or mending video footage.
There are many reasons to add plug-ins and effects filters to your NLE, but the best reason is for video repair or enhancement. That's where Digital Anarchy's four main video plug-in products fit.
These include Beauty Box Video, Samurai Sharpen, Flicker Free, and Light Wrap Fantastic. They are compatible with a range of NLE hosts and may be purchased individually or as part of several bundles.
Digital Anarchy also offers photography filters, as well as a few free offerings, such as Ugly Box. That's an offshoot of Beauty Box, but designed to achieve the opposite effect.
Beauty Box Video
Let's face it, even the most attractive person doesn't always come across with the most pleasing appearance on camera, in spite of good make-up and lighting.
Some people simply have a skin texture, wrinkles, or blemishes that look worse on screen than face-to-face.
This is where Beauty Box comes in. It is a skin retouching plug-in that uses basic face detection to isolate the skin area within the image. The mask is based on the range between the dark and light skin colors within the image. You can adjust the colors and settings to refine the area of the mask.
(Click for larger images)
Like all skin smoothing filters, Beauty Box works by blurring the contrast within the affected area. However, it offers a nice range of control, along with GPU acceleration. If you apply the filter with a light touch, then you get a more subtle effect.
Crank it up and you'll get a result not unlike high-gloss, fashion photography with sprayed-on make-up. Both looks can be good, given the appropriate circumstance.
Unfortunately, out of the four, Beauty Box was the only one of these plug-ins that had an issue in Final Cut Pro X. The full control panel did not show up within the inspector pane. This was tested on three different Macs running Mojave, so I'm pretty sure it's a bug, which I've reported to Digital Anarchy.
Others may not run into this, but nevertheless, it worked perfectly inside Motion. While that's a nuisance, it's not a deal-breaker, given the usefulness of this filter. Simply process the clip in Motion and bring the corrected file back into Final Cut.
Sharpening filters work by increasing contrast around the detected edges of contrasting areas within an image. This localized contrast increase results in the perception that the image is sharper.
Taken to an extreme, it can also create a cartoon effect. Samurai Sharpen uses edge detection to create a mask for the areas to be sharpened. This mask prevents image noise from also being sharpened. The mask can be adjusted to achieve the desired effect.
For example, the eye make-up used by most actresses provides a nice edge to which sharpening can be applied. A subtle application of the effect will result in the clip appearing to be sharper. However, you can also push the various controls to achieve a more stylized look.
As the name implies Flicker Free is designed to get rid of image flicker. Typical situations where you might have image flicker include timelapse/hyperlapse clips, archival footage, strobing lights, computer and TV screens within the shot, LED displays, and the propeller shadows in drone footage.
Flicker Free does a great job of tackling these situations, but is also more processing intensive than the other three plug-ins.
All of these conditions involve some variation in exposure within the frame or from one frame to the next and that's what Flicker Free will even out. There are several pulldown presets (more than other similar plug-ins) and adjustment controls for sensitivity and frame intervals.
In a few cases, a single instance of the plug-in with one setting will not completely eliminate all of the flicker. That's when you may opt to apply a second instance of the effect in order to catch the remainder of the flicker. Each instance would use different settings so that the combination yields the desired result.
Light Wrap Fantastic
The last of these four plug-ins isn't designed for image repair, but rather enhancing chromakey composites. Whenever you composite blue-screen or green-screen shots, the trick is getting the foreground to properly blend with the background image for a composite that appears natural.
When a person stands in a natural environment, the ambient light reflected from the surroundings onto the person is visible on the edges of their image. That's how the camera lens see it. That subtle lighting artifact is called light wrap.
The foreground subject in a green-screen shoot doesn't naturally have this same ambient light wrap - or it's seen as green spill. This can be corrected through careful lighting, but such care is often not taken - especially on budget-conscious productions. Therefore, you have to add light wrap in post.
Some keyers include a built-in light wrap tool or function, while others rely on a separate light wrap filter. That's where Light Wrap Fantastic comes in. It's not a keyer by itself, but is designed to work in conjunction with a keyer as part of the effects stack applied to the foreground layer.
You can use a background color or drop the background layer into the image well, which then becomes the source for the light wrap around the foreground image. That light blends as a subtle glow around the interior edge of the subject.
Since you want the shot to feel natural, you are generally going to want to select the background image, rather than a stock color. This has the benefit of not only looking like the same environment, but if there are lighting changes within the background image, the light wrap edge will react dynamically. The light wrap itself can be adjusted for brightness, softness, and various blend modes. These settings allow you to control the subtlety of the light wrap.
As a group, these four plug-ins form the Anarchy Video Bundle, but you have to purchase separate bundles for each host. The Apple bundle covers Final Cut Pro X and Motion, but if you also want to use these filters in After Effects, then you'll need to also purchase the Adobe version of the bundle. Same for other host applications.
You probably won't use one of these on every session. On the other hand, when you do need to use one, it's often the kind of enhancement that can ward off a reshoot and let you save the job in post.
Oliver Peters is an experienced film and commercial editor/colorist. In addition, his tech writings appear in numerous industry magazines and websites. He may be contacted through his website at oliverpeters.com