|A Creative COW Product Review |
| ||Jim Harvey |
New York, USA
©Copyright 2006 Jim Harvey and Creativecow.net. All Rights Reserved
|Article Focus: |
In this article, CreativeCOW.net contributing editor Jim Harvey takes a look at Vision Lab Studio, Composite Lab and Effects Lab from Fxhome. Read on to find out why Jim calls it 'professional compositing on a budget.'
If you are looking for that "Just Perfect" gift for that special editor in your life (and that editor could be you). Look no further than the Fxhome series of compositing and effects tools know as VisionLab/CompositeLab/EffectsLab. Three programs that can make your compositing chores something that you look forward to rather than cringe. Fxhome has covered all the bases by breaking up the system into three (five if you count the Lites versions) distinct programs.
At the entry level we have CompositeLab and EffectsLab (and their Lites Counterparts) which as their names imply, cover compositing and effects. At $149.00 each ($109.00 for the lites versions) these programs offer easy compositing, the ability to use greenscreen effects, muzzle flashes, light swords and all manner of optical effects without having to get a degree in special effects first. The third offering is VisionLab Studio ($374.99) which combines both the Effectslab and CompositeLab along with a full commercial use license, advanced digital color grading and many enhanced filters and an excellent particle engine.
Another nice feature is that their website (http://www.fxhome.com) has free video tutorials that you can use to get yourself up to speed (we all know that absolutely NO ONE reads the manual right?) the tutorials can be downloaded so that you can review them at your convenience.
There have been many programs out there over the years that claimed to deliver professional grade effects and compositing tools. Most of them have fallen short in one way or another. After bashing the Fxhome programs for several months, I can tell you that these will be here for a long time. The programs are well crafted, easy to understand, simple to use and capable of the most sophisticated work you could imagine. All without having to mortgage your home to own them.
Some of you may remember the company's first product, a program called ALAM DV an affordable rotoscoping utility which was the brainchild of a couple of young fellows from the University of East Anglia who created possible the best muzzle flash creator around. That program developed somewhat of a cult following, especially with the Indy Filmmaking crowd. Eventually, they were noticed by Apple Computer who invited them to become one of the initial developers of iMovie Plug-ins. Well, they didn't rest on their laurels, they instead, plowed ahead and refined the program, added features, tweaked settings and developed an exceptional interface that matured into these programs we're discussing today.
In regard to Plug-ins, you have to go to their support site to see how well their community works. Users of the product themselves develop and then post plug-ins that work with the packages. You can choose from literally hundreds of different looks, particle effects, optics, grading and more and download them directly into your project. While some of the plug-ins are elementary (remember, users themselves upload them so there will be varying levels of sophistication) if you take some time to work through the offerings, you will find some extremely high quality plug-ins that aren't available anywhere else. All of the plug-ins (what the Fxhome folks call Fxpresets) are compatible with all versions of the software so you can almost immediately, increase your capabilities with even the least expensive package. A word of warning here; be judicious in choosing your presets. If you download all of them, it will take a bit of time to open the program (yes, I downloaded every single one of them!)
I initially had some questions about different functionalities and found that my questions were answered very quickly. (Remember, NO one reads the manual right?) I was also impressed with the way that they continue to improve the product making upgrades and updates available via their website. They may be a small company, but they offer big customer service. When you start the program it looks to see if there is a newer version available. If so, it allows you the option of downloading that version and updating.
Figure A. On startup, the program looks for newer versions.
You can work with any of the following formats, D1/DV PAL, D1/DV NTSC in standard and widescreen as well as HDV format so your projects will match precisely with the footage that you're dealing with.
Once you get up and running, you're presented with an exceptionally nice workspace. The layout is intuitive and easy to navigate. All the presets and adjustments are available on the left side of the screen and once you have applied a preset to the comp, you can adjust many different parameters to suit your vision. If you need a preset that isn't currently in your arsenal, you can simply click on the preset button and be taken directly to the FXhome website where you can scan for that preset that you want. The entire interface is well thought out and cleverly implemented. I was very impressed with the amount of thought and effort that went into creating the program.
Figure B. Attributes and settings can be adjusted in a wide variety of ways, allowing you to tailor each effect to your particular style.
Figure C. The workspace is well laid out and easy to navigate. The Timeline and Keyframes are easy to work with and easy to understand.
Nicest of all is the affordability of each of the packages. If you do any compositing work at all, you can get into this package for a minimal amount of money. Certainly far less than some of the "mainstream" compositing / particle packages charge for similar functionality. Refer to the chart below to see exactly which package suits you and your workflow the best and then drop in on them at www.fxhome.com.
With everyone clamoring for that "Film Look" just the Grading presets alone would justify investing in this program. Every effect is infinitely adjustable so that you can either use them "as is" or tailor them to your own style or taste. You can save a custom preset for recall at a later date. The particle engine can also be tailored to your specific needs.