My aim in this review is to try and give an editor's real world appraisal of FxFactory Pro. Essentially I want to do my job, which is cut a film to the best of my ability and use the best tools for the project. Though I may be interested in the fact that Noise Industries launched FxFactory 1.0 the day Final Cut Pro supported FxPlug* and uses the Graphics card to render effects quickly in Final Cut Pro, Motion and Final Cut Express, my client isn't. My clients want films that look good. I want tools that work. My clients want an editor who can get the job done and bring new things to the table. I want to do the best job I can and do it in time to join the kids at the dinner table. So this will be a low-tech but broad reaching look at what FxFactory Pro can contribute to your Final Cut Pro, Motion or Final Cut Express workflow and projects.
*FxPlug is Apple's plug-in architecture built into the Mac OS, providing the power to control a host of technologies to enable the creation of plug-ins that run natively within Final Cut and Motion.
THE BASICS: LET ME INTRODUCE YOU
There is more to FxFactory Pro than first meets the eye so please stick with me while I introduce you to the whole package bit by bit.
When making a film for broadcast or any other genre, where possible, I like to be able to add production value to the project. This doesn't always mean, 'add effects'; some producers positively cringe at a dissolve, let alone washing it in 'digital bling'. At other times you really need a tool that will give you big Hollywood looks on a balsa wood budget. What Noise Industries has done with FxFactory Pro, is provide a new level of plug-in quality and versatility that few programme producers can deny will only enhance their film, and few editors or designers will be able to resist adding to the tool box.
Working freelance on a number of NLE systems in my time, plug-ins have often been something 'some other sucker pays for' as they could splash £1000 plus for a relatively small suite of effects. These days there is an ever-growing choice for the discerning Final Cut Pro or Motion user that range in price from the cheap and cheerful (even free) to the rather expensive, all of which can produce results of varying quality. So when I came across Noise Industries' offering, being priced smack bang in the middle of the market, I was ready to be mildly excited by a couple of new filters. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find a host of high-end effects and a completely new take on how to manage and use plug-ins for Final Cut and Motion - as well options for Avid systems*.
*Noise Industries' first product, Factory Tools for Avid AVX, launched in September 2005. Factory Tools 2 is its latest incarnation with up to 146 real-time rendering (green dot) effects.
Checking the goods
After realizing I couldn't rip them off by buying one license and then giving the filters out to my mates (not something I actually practice or condone I hasten to add), I thought I would take a closer look at what this relatively new outfit* was offering in their well thought out product. Straight away I began to appreciate the effort that has gone in to raising the bar and making a class leading set of filters, transitions and generators. Best of all, everything was presented with editors and designers in mind from the outset.
*Noise Industries launched FxFactory 1.0 in October 2006, their first product for Final Cut and Motion, with FxFactory Pro 2.0 arriving in November 2007
The FxFactory Pro browser, clearly showing you the filter packs you own or have on trial.
Normally, when you look at a set of plug-ins you think 'yeah that looks good, I could use that' but as you descend down the list you think 'Mmm, interesting but rarely useful' to 'how does that fit in to a professional TV production without getting fired?' Eventually, you might buy the package for the 3 or 4 really good filters that you like the look of or to add something new to the mix that you'd like to play with. The FxFactory Pro line-up is of a quality that is hard to beat, added to this is its ease of use and versatility, it feels like becoming Merlin's assistant.
From the 300+ effects on offer I could say 70%-80% of the elements in each pack I could really see my-self using and getting excited about. This meant that I've always wanted to make a look like that but either a) didn't know how, b) used a heap of filters to do what this one now can do c) never previously thought of it but thought 'man it looks good.' I was inspired. There is a healthy range of choice too from Colour Correction and Sharpen tools for making the best of your footage, to Blurs, Glows and inventive Transitions for adding visual variety to your cut. There are also plenty of Filters and generators for working up a special effects storm.
These are no small portions either - and being British I know all about small portions. To start with, the initial trial download gives you over 200 effects to put to the test in Final Cut Pro or Express and Motion (when you buy a single product license it validates use with all 3 apps on one Mac). Start using the effects and you begin to appreciate the quality. Personal favourites, if forced to name some from the FxFactory Pro Pack, are LED Lights, CMYK Halftone and Spot Light from the Filters; Videoconference (1.0), Text Dissolve and Agent from Transitions; then the Particle System and the very clever RSS World News from the Generators selection. The quality of effects doesn't slacken off with the 3rd party contributions either. idustrial Revolution's Volumetrix is a fantastic glow filter and transition, while the box fresh Supawipe is an editor's dream enabling really easy wipes with your custom images. CoreMelt's Advanced Vignette is second to none, while Camera Shake is great for action sequences. 3D Text Cloud is cool and Cellular Wipe I just like.
Spot Light filter from the FxFactory Pro Pack.
Videoconference (1.0) transition from the FxFactory Pro Pack.
Particle System generator from the FxFactory Pro Pack.
The Volumetrix transition from idustrial Revolution.
Supawipe transition from idustrial Revolution.
Advanced Vignette filter from the CoreMelt Editing Pack.
Cellular Wipe transition from the CoreMelt Editing Pack.
All source footage used with the kind permission of Ginger Productions.
It's now that FxFactory starts to show its stripes and takes it's first step away from the rest of the crowd, by taking the management of plug-ins a step further. You don't just download a folder of filters. Instead, you download a creative environment that manages the show for you. Open the FxFactory app and you have a productive visual layout, which straight away appealed to my creative senses. Select a package and the list of filters opens up with the name, a sample still frame, and which folder you'll find them in once inside the host application. Double click on an effect you like the look of and you open a help file clearly detailing the effects parameters and how to use them, this information is also available inside FCP, FCE4 and Motion by clicking on the help button on the filters themselves, handy. No more scrabbling around in the guts of your Mac for the 'Read Me' files. It puts you in control and it's good to know detailed help is easy to access. If you are still stuck, then here on Creative Cow's Noise Industries Forum, the NI head honchos (and FxFactory developers) regularly respond to posts. That gives you a hotline to the top.
Right form the Filter Tab in the Final Cut Viewer the FxFactory Pro Help can be called up.
Help is also available in Motion's Inspector Tab.
The FxFactory Pro Help Viewer gives detailed information on the selected plug-ins parameters and how to use them.
Once you download and install the free FxFactory application - which comes pre-loaded with the FxFactory Pro Pack, CoreMelt Editing Pack, CoreMelt Motion pack and idustrial Revolution's Volumetrix you have a 15 day full access free trial, so go play. You can download additional packs from the Noise Industries website (each with their own 15 day trial period) to try out from a growing stable of 3rd party developers including CoreMelt, idustrial revolution, SUGARfx, and Futurismo - who make eye popping generators. Double click on a downloaded package and it gets swiftly installed. Your trial periods, licence purchases and the organisation of packs are all handled by the FxFactory application. Even when your trial period expires you can still browse the pack contents and help information for future reference. It is all kept very tidy.
With the latest release of FxFactory Pro 2, Noise Industries seems keen to prove that they are hard working and want to provide a progressive product. In version 2.0.2, a handful of new additions appear including the 'Cell Phone Browser' transition, inspired by the iPhone's Safari page change. (I know from an inside source that this transition was suggested to the boys at NI on a Monday, and it appeared in the FxFactory Pro Pack I downloaded at the end of the week!). The CoreMelt FxPacks have also been re-worked and improved, such as rendering capabilities and the addition of masks in more plug-ins for greater compositing flexibility. Output clamping is an added parameter in some filters, meant to get your output levels under control, especially useful when using glow or high contrast effects. The development continues, as I write, SUGARfx has fully updated versions of 2 popular generator packs, World Cup Studio and Drop In, and has released a new FxPack, Folding Cards. CoreMelt had just increased its portfolio with 40 (36 commercial and 4 free) new transitions in its PolyChrome pack. Additional packs are on the cards from existing and new 3rd Party developers soon to join the 'Factory'. Then there are the freebies, and there's nothing better than free. Currently there are 5 to choose from including a Star Wars like title Generator called Star Titler. Regardless of whether you have paid for any commercial packs or not you will always be able to use the freebies. More of these on the way too.
PLUG-INS: THE NEXT STEP
If so far you haven't read anything that you think warrants any special attention, please read on because things start to get interesting.
So now you're working on a project and start using some of the new plug-ins, many of the filters have a selection of Presets, which I found quite useful as they give you ideas on how to use the plug-ins. But eventually you come up with a brilliant set up that works a treat on your footage. What would be the best way of preserving the settings for future use? How about saving it as a Preset right within the filter itself? That's exactly what you can do. Once you've got the perfect parameters on your filter, transition or generator, simply click on the 'Save As' button, give it a name to add it to the list of pre-installed Presets for future use. (To see your preset in the drop down menu you will need to re-start Final Cut or Motion due to the way filters and their controls are currently only loaded on start up by FCP and Motion.)
Saving your own effects presets right into your filters for future use, is like saving a version of anything else on your Mac.
The Factory opens its doors!
So having saved a bunch of your own settings and played with the selection of plug-ins on offer, maybe you think, 'I wish this set had a glow that did this or that'. Thanks to the way FxFactory plug-ins have been built, based on the FxPlug Apple architecture already in your Mac, you can modify existing and even create new plug-ins with out having any previous knowledge of writing code. Now my only experience of anything akin to this is punching in few lines of HTML to make some text go a specific grey colour, I'm not exactly a coding whiz. But I have managed to make my own Unsharp Mask with Glow effect. Now concentrate, because here comes the science bit: FxFactory, like I've mentioned, is based on Apples' own plug-in architecture, FxPlug, making it work natively within Final Cut Pro, Motion and Final Cut Express. The use of other Mac OS X components, like Core Image and the node-based compositing engine, Quartz Composer, has powered FxFactory to obtain amazing rendering capabilities. Quartz Composer has enabled FxFactory's ground breaking effects development and distribution while giving ALL users a very simplistic approach to tweaking and creating new plug-ins. Finally, all this is processed on your graphics card, not the CPU, speeding up render times even on these impressive and complex effects. It seems amazing, but the power of the 'Factory' is really open for you to manipulate and create your own effects.
I followed a simple video tutorial on the Noise Industries web site (http://www.noiseindustries.com/products/fxfactory/index.html, then click on 'Video: FxFactory Pro') and successfully managed to tweak a Crystallize filter to add a blur parameter and also create my own 'Unsharp Mask with Glow' from scratch. By clicking on the 'Open FxFactory Pro Pack' at the top of the FxFactory browser window you enter the true nerve centre of the programme. From here you can alter parameters for functionality more suited to your needs or add a completely new one.
The nerve centre of FxFactory Pro; edit render options to individual parameters or hit 'Edit' to customize or 'New Plug-In' to create from scratch your own effects.
Select a plug-in from the list and you're shown every element that makes it and can alter things from the way it is rendered to values setting for an individual parameter slider. But click on the Quartz Composition 'Edit' button and you can mess with the brain that makes the effect do what is does, and add a new parameter for example. Alternatively you can go one step further and hit 'New Plug-in' to build your own Generator, Filter or Transition effect, and as you made it, you get the credit too. Check it out!
This is the first effect I created using Quartz Composer, as I made it, I get the credit, I can even share it with other FxFactory users.
You can access and manipulate the very parameters that make the FxFactory Pro Pack plug-ins functions, and make your own improvements.
Quartz Composer in action by mixing up the 'patches' you can see your results immediately in the Viewer and then save your very own copyright effects for use in Final Cut Pro, Motion or Final Cut Express 4.
Create a folder for your effects in FxFactory Pro and they appear in your very own Folder in the Effects tab within Final Cut, to use like any other.
If you have never done anything like this before it seems quite daunting, but within a few minutes you find yourself getting pretty hands on. I will admit I don't fully understand what everything does here, but by following the tutorial and looking at the building blocks or 'patches' available, you soon get the idea. The Viewer within Quartz Composer allows you to see what you have created and when you save, it's there in your effects list in FxFactory Pro and on restart in Final Cut just like any other filter. If you are particularly pleased with your creation or need a colleague to be able to use it, as long as they have FxFactory Pro, you can share your masterpiece with them by simply exporting it and e-mailing it over.
I don't think it matters if you previously have only bought the 'reasonably priced' plug-ins, the expensive suites or never invested in plug-ins before. FxFactory Pro is an invaluable toolbox. A toolbox loaded with high quality ready-to-go effects, and the ability to customise, create and share your own effects means your collection can just keep growing. With the FxPacks on offer and FxFactory Pro, you get versatility, dedication and a willingness to develop further, which sounds like value for money to me. Also, this is just the beginning, there is a lot more to come from Noise Industries and their partners. With full access to all these functions for 15 days, you can put it through its paces and build your dream effects pallet before paying out a penny. At $399/£219 the FxFactory Pro Pack comes with a huge library of 130 ready-to-go effects and the endless possibilities of your own creation. This is a good place to start. The rest of the 3rd party packs, some with up to 40 plug-ins, range from $49-$119/£29-£69, making them easy to afford. Though 3rd party FxPacks require the FxFactory engine to be installed to run, you do not have to purchase FxFactory Pro to use or purchase any of the third party FxPacks in order to use them. The brilliant management and seamless integration with Final Cut and Motion has got me being more creative with my work. I confess that Motion has been a bit of a dark art to me in the past, but getting the FxFactory plug-ins has inspired me to get stuck in and I've been enjoying the difference it's made to the films I'm cutting.
I don't think it matters what you are cutting or creating, or at what level, there is so much on offer from FxFactory Pro that anyone can make the investment safe in the knowledge they will see it pay for itself faster than they might have expected. Inspiration is a highly valuable commodity in our trade. I've found, using these plug-ins that, Noise Industries has somehow managed to bundle inspiration in for free.
FxFactory Pro 2, in my opinion, has everything going for it, high production quality, professional usability and value for money. I give it 5 COWs.