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Tutorial: NewBlueFX TotalFX and NewBlue Essentials

In this tutorial we'll look at two effects from NewBlue Essentials as the first installment in a series on the NewBlueFX TotalFX plug-ins package.

A few weeks back I had the good fortune of receiving a review copy of TotalFX, a veritable smorgasbord of effects and filters from NewBlueFX that sells for $1,424 runs as a plug-in package with Adobe Premiere Pro, Adobe After Effects, Apple Final Cut Pro, Grass Valley EDIUS, Avid Media Composer, Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve, and MAGIX Vegas Pro. It combines four collections of filter and effects that are pretty voluminous on their own:

• Elements 3 Ultimate, featuring a rich selection of 21 compositing and chromakey tools
• Essentials 3 Ultimate, encompassing 29 “timesaving” plug-in effects
• Filters 3 Ultimate, 28 tools for color correction and color grading
• Stylizers 3 Ultimate, including 35 more creative and artistic effects
• Transitions 3 Ultimate, with 65 transitions ranging from cool light and color transitions to wild and peculiar “I like it but I don’t know when I’d ever use it” options

After downloading the TotalFX package I found that it installed easily in Premiere Pro after typing in my license key and appeared in my Effects panel the next time I added the application. As with other effects packages I’ve worked with, the NewBlue effects are applied to clips in Premiere Pro pretty much like any other effects. Each comes with some preset options that are worth exploring, as well as easily adjustable parameters for tweaking and customizing the effects.

All that said, there’s way too much here to do justice to in a straight-up review. The great rock critic Dave Marsh once told a story about receiving an advance copy of Stevie Wonder’s landmark 1976 double album, Songs in the Key of Life. Shortly thereafter, he ran into Paul Simon at a party. Paul Simon asked him if he’d heard the album and what he thought of it. Marsh basically said that he was enjoying listening to it, but the record was so massive and layered and complex that trying to review it was like “grading somebody else’s term paper.” Simon replied, “Let me save you the trouble. He got an A.”

Since I have the luxury of sidestepping the traditional review, I’ve decided on an alternate strategy of doing a series of articles where we look at a couple of effects in each collection in each one, discuss what they offer and how they work, what happens when you adjust the parameters, and so forth. We’ll start with Essentials.

Gamma Correction and Skin Touch-Up

One of the first tools that jumped out at me in Essentials was Skin Touch-Up, because of a discussion I had with a client a few months back. I did a video with a faith leader in North Carolina where she had basically developed a way to summarize the teachings she’d developed over several decades and boil them down to “Eight Points.” After remarking on how crisp the video looked, the client still seemed ambivalent on using it. “She looks so old,” she said.

The NewBlue Skin Touch-Up effect offers an interesting opportunity to address that issue, though with some clear limitations. I tried it on the clip shown in Figure 1, below, a testimonial I got at a conference a few months back.

Figure 1. Where we’re starting from in this clip

This clip was captured on the fly during a noisy party on the second night of the conference, when I was moving through the room grabbing quick testimonials from attendees about their experiences at the event. The room was not only fairly dark but very unevenly lit (several of the testimonials look like they were shot in different places). The clip has already been color-corrected to adjust the white balance and bring up the exposure a good bit using Premiere Pro’s Lumetri Color effects.

Ideally, I’d really like to brighten it up a bit more without making the image too noisy, so the first thing I’ll do is try a gamma adjustment using NewBlue’s Gamma Corrector to adjust the difference between the dark and light areas of the image. To access Gamma Corrector, I choose the Effects workspace, which opens up the Effects panel on the right side of the Premiere Pro UI. Then I navigate to NewBlue Essentials > Gamma Corrector (Figure 2, below), and drag the effect onto the clip in question.

Figure 2. Accessing the Gamma Corrector effect

The first thing that happens when you apply the Gamma Corrector is that a nice waveform appears in the Program Monitor (Figure 3, below).

Figure 3. Gamma waveform in the Program Monitor

Using the Video Scope pull-down shown in Figure 4 (below), you can choose RGB Parade or Histogram or turn off the scopes altogether. The presets pull-down offers 4 options: Gamma Drop and Slight Compression (which darken the image) and Gamma Lift and Slight Expansion (which brighten the image). Expand and Compress settings can then be adjusted manually, either by entering new numbers or clicking on the numbers and dragging them to the left or right, starting with a maximum value of 1.00 for Expand and a minimum value of 1.00 for Compress. For this dark image, I started with the Gamma Lift preset and adjusted the Expand value to .80.

Figure 4. Gamma Corrector controls

Figure 5 (below) shows the gamma-corrected image.

Figure 5. The image as adjusted with the Gamma Corrector effect

Moving on to Skin Touch Up … Nobody really asked me to make this guy look younger in this case (and, to paraphrase George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, his age suits him), but let’s have a go at it anyway.

To access the NewBlue Skin Touch Up effect, as before, go to Effects > NewBlue Essentials > Skin Touch-Up. Figure 6 (below) shows the Skin Touch-Up effect and its parameters in the Effect Controls panel. Presets include Dark Skin, Heavy Touch Up, Light Skin, and Negative.

Figure 6. The NewBlue Skin Touch Up effect controls

If your subject’s skin tone is close to NewBlue’s Light Skin or Dark Skin preset, you can start there and then begin your adjustments. Otherwise, the more effective approach is to select the eyedropper and choose a representative skin tone from the image manually. As when doing greenscreen, if the skin you’re hoping to touch up is not evenly lit (as is most certainly the case here), clicking on one spot on the screen is not necessarily going to guarantee that the effect is applied to everywhere on the skin. By increasing the Sensitivity value, you can apply the effect more broadly.

The other control is Smoothing, which increases or decreases the degree of smoothing. As Figure 7 (below) shows, it’s easy to go too far and lose detail, particularly with the Sensitivity control.

Figure 7. Too much sensitivity and smoothing means a loss of detail in the image.

I dialed back the Sensitivity to 48% while keeping the Smoothing at a pretty 91%, and got the more pleasing result shown in the right half of Figure 8 (below). The pre-Skin Touch up image is shown on the left. You can particularly see the change in the forehead.

Figure 8. Pre- (left) and post-Touch Up (right)

As you can see in Figure 2, there are loads more practical and useful effects here, including tools for detail enhancement, flash removal, border cropping color fixes, edge smoothing, and more.

One other note: Your mileage may vary, but on my system, a 6-core i7 8700 (8th Generation) processor @ 3.20 gHz with 48GB RAM and an NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 1080 with 8GB GDDR5X GPU, these effects previewed smoothly at full quality. Naturally, some effects are significantly less processor/GPU-intensive than others. Also note that the footage I was working with here was AVCHD footage. Future articles will look at other effects applied to 60Mbps and 100Mbps XAVC 4K footage.

In the next installment, we’ll run some shaky footage through the Stabilizer NewBlue Essentials plug-in and compare the results to the often-dissatisfying Premiere Pro Warp Stabilizer.

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