FxFactory Pro 4 Review

Who needs over 160 filters, generators and transitions that work in Premiere Pro, After Effects, FCP 7, FCP X, Motion 4 and Motion 5? I sure don’t… or do I? Ok, well nobody needs anything but a razor blade to put on a good show, but FxFactory Pro 4 from Noise industries sure makes you WANT that many effects. We’ve written about Noise Industries’ platform and a few of the different plugins you can find in it before, but we haven’t touched on the big guns, the main event, the namesake of the platform – FxFactory Pro. This is something that I’ve been eyeing for a long time and with version 4 I’m really glad I finally got a chance to review it.

Jumping right in, FxFactory Pro 4 adds something huge, support for Adobe Premiere Pro CS6. This is one of the biggest reasons I was glad to finally try it out; about mid-last year I switched from FCP X to Premiere and one of the things I noticed right away was the relatively scant amount of third-party plugin support for Premiere. However, that changed with version 4, because not only does this mean you get FxFactory Pro’s effects, but you also get dozens of other great effects as part of the FxFactory platform.

Since Premiere support was one of the biggest additions in version 4, I’ll concentrate on that but all of the plugins in the package will work in After Effects CS6, Motion 4 and 5, and FCP 7. FCP X has a mostly similar effect-set but there are some that are exclusive to both platforms. Note, if you purchase FxFactory Pro you get access to the suite for all of the programs supported by FxFactory Pro, you do not have to purchase a FCP X-specific or a Premiere/After Effects/Motion/FCP 7-specific version.

I had some questions while reviewing this product and Niclas Bahn, the owner of Noise Industries got back to me and gave me some very thorough  and helpful answers. The biggest question I had was if the plugins were GPU accelerated. I instantly noticed that the red render bar showed up inside Premiere when I dropped any FxFactory Pro plugin on a clip despite my renderer inside of Premiere being set to the Mercury Playback Engine GPU accelerated option. Niclas said that ‘ALL plugins are rendered on the GPU but the NLEs have different pipelines for GPU/software rendering and even if a host application may thing that an effect is not rendered on the GPU it may very well be.’ This was great to hear because I don’t even use plugins that aren’t GPU accelerated anymore, they just take too much time to render.

Since there are so many plugins I’ll just concentrate on a handful that I thought were pretty neat.

Vignette: This is a great vignette with an on-screen control for positioning but none for falloff and aspect ratio, those must be controlled in the Effects Control Panel. You have a lot of options here for the type of softness curve, the shape (including custom ones), a few blend mode options for the edges, and also how you want your gamma to be affected by the vignette.

Color Accent: A great way to accent a color quickly and desaturate everything else. This worked very well with skin tones but it isn’t a replacement for a true secondary correction (hence the title) because the only option to adjust your color is a single ‘Tolerance’ slider. However, once you do isolate a color you can quickly change the hue, saturation, exposure of the accent area.

Channel Geometry: This is a neat one that you just have to play with but it lets you scale and offset your channels so you can get all sorts of fun colors and interesting effects. Add keyframing into the mix and you can go pretty crazy.

Perspective Reflection: As the name implies this allows you to do the effect where you scale your clip down some, angle it back, and then add a reflection. While this is easy enough to do on your own, this plugin does this incredibly quickly and adds some nice options. These extra settings allow you do to things you wouldn’t want to do manually in Premiere but would instead want to Dynamic Link a clip to After Effects; this effect makes it so you don’t have to send your clip out.

Random Crop: This is an excellent plugin that allows for a really nice and unique effect without too much effort. Essentially the effect animates a random crop over the length of your clip. The animation is not in the actual cropping (i.e. you don’t see the clip crop from left to right) but instead it fades from one cropped portion of your image to another randomly. As with all FxFactory effects there are presets and the ones that come with this effect are useful for controlling the randomness and applying some structure.

Random Close-Up: In the same vein as ‘Random Crop’ this one constantly fades to different close-ups of your clip throughout its duration. The presets are nifty here and offer different effects such as ‘flip book’ and ‘photo shoot’ where you see a flash in between each close-up.

Rounded Corners: Pretty self-explanatory but there is an option for softness so you can make this a vignette too.

Particle System: This is pretty cool to have a GPU accelerated particle system in my NLE. Not nearly as many options as After Effects’ plugins, but it’s good for a quick job.

PDF Animator: This is definitely worth checking out, very clever. In Premiere you should use this on a Transparent Video clip. It allows you to import a PDF and animate it but rather than just being stuck with the first page, there is a page number slider and there’s even a password box for encrypted PDFs (good thinking!) This has on-screen controls for both your start and end positions and I was able to quickly take a PDF of the DC Metro map and do a nice animation from one station to another.

Glow: It’s nice to finally have a glow plugin inside of Premiere; it’s simple and straightforward. There is an on-screen control icon next to the plugin title but it doesn’t seem to do anything.

Light Rays: Same sentiment as above applies here too except the on-screen controls actually work here.

Synthesizer: WOW. 3D geometry that makes your image look insane. This one is best explained by the FxFactory tutorial: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rvVD4NOMD44

So those were some of the plugins that I thought were particularly impressive. The one thing that I haven’t mentioned yet are transitions. With Premiere there is a major caveat when it comes to applying the transitions. Unlike traditional transitions, FxFactory transitions are applied as clip effects in Premiere. This can be inconvenient because you have to drop an effect your clip and keyframe it. Think of it as if you were to keyframe opacity manually instead of applying a cross dissolve transition. First you have to have your outgoing clip on a higher track and then you put your incoming clip below it, now you have to make two keyframes on your upper clip, one for 100% and one for 0%. Now what if you wanted to change the timing of your fade? Well, you have to adjust your keyframes and possibly the incoming clip. This is basically the same thing you have to do with FxFactory transitions but it can be even more complicated because of the wealth of options you can customize your transitions with. I asked Niclas Bahn about this and he said that ‘the Premiere Pro SDK that allows for transitions is old and extremely limited (no support for high bit depth footage, etc.). We wouldn’t be able to deliver our transitions with this basic SDK. Furthermore, Adobe discourages the use of this old SDK and has focused their efforts on the AE SDK.” So if it sounds like the same process you would have to go through in After Effects to apply a transition between two layers, it is. I also asked Niclas if support for native transitions inside of Premiere would come in a future release to which he responded ‘We absolutely hope to deliver native transition functionality. We are hoping Adobe will implement this feature soon!’

Now all this isn’t to say that the FxFactory Pro transitions aren’t good, but they can be a pain to customize inside of Premiere. On the other hand, a lot of the transitions will have an automatic animation that ends with the clip fading out which means you can stick a transition effect on a clip, put your outgoing clip below and then you’re done. For example, the Glow Dissolve clip will automatically glow and fade the clip out so you don’t have to keyframe if you like the default settings. In FCP 7 and FCP X there is support for native transitions so users of these programs won’t run into this issue.

One thing in particular that I won’t delve into too much but I found incredibly cool is that purchasing an FxFactory Pro license entitles you to develop your own custom plugins. All you have to do is create a new effect from inside the FxFactory interface and you can customize it with Quartz Composer (this, by the way, is how all the plugins are able to be cross-platform, that, and magic). If you wanted to develop custom, in-house plugins and distribute them to your editors, you can do so with the Mac OS Quartz Composer compositing engine and package them up. For more info on that, visit this link: http://noiseindustries.com/dokuwiki/

FxFactory Pro version 4 makes for a great addition to your toolkit and as part of the FxFactory platform you know it will get updates and will remain current. At $399 it seems like it’s on the pricier end for a plugin package, but when you break it down by what you’re really getting, it’s probably more comparable, if not cheaper than if you were to buy a handful of similar plugins a la carte. FxFactory Pro can be downloaded from noiseindustries.com and a trial version of all FxFactory plugins are available through the platform.