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Review: FXhome HitFilm Pro

This article continues our series of reviews of alternative nonlinear editors from the perspective of a longtime Premiere Pro editor with a look at HitFilm Pro from FXhome.

The HitFilm Editing Process

The editing process is really nothing surprising. You've got video and audio tracks. Everything works fairly standard as far as how to put clips in, but there are a few issues that I had to contend with as a Premiere Pro editor. One is the difference in shortcuts. For inserting and overlaying a clip, you're probably used to period and comma, but in HitFilm, it's N and B. They are right next to each other on the keyboard, so at least you don't have to jump around looking for them, but that was something that threw me off at first.

The other thing that threw me off was the fact that keyboard shortcuts do not work globally, at least as far as dropping clips onto your timeline is concerned, so when I set my playhead to where I want a clip to go in, and then I hit N, nothing happened. If I want to drop in a clip, I have to choose the Trimmer viewer and illuminate it in blue here by clicking on it (Figure 5, below) and then hit the Insert button.

Figure 5. Choosing the Trimmer to drop a clip in the timeline

The other thing you'll notice is, it just overwrote everything on my timeline there, which is what I wanted it to do, because I used the Overlay command, because even if I use Insert, it still puts it on track 1, and it moves everything down, so how do you put it on track 2? Well, you can't with the keyboard shortcuts. You have to drag it onto the track that you want.

The other thing that drove me crazy was the fact that in and out points on your timeline are not honored like they normally are in NLEs. Normally, if I put an in and out point like that in the lighter gray shaded area shown in Figure 5, and then I had no in and out points here, or even if I did, it would ask me, "What do you want to do? Do you want to use these in and out points on the Viewer or the Trimmer, or do you want to use the in and out points on your timeline, or do you want to fit to fill, or stretch it, or whatever the case is?" Instead, wherever you put your in and out points and then place your playhead on the timeline, it puts the clip where your playhead starts, so if I insert here or overlay here, it puts it right where the playhead is and ignores the in and out points.

FXhome explained to me that the in and out points on the timeline are only used to determine your export, so at this point, I would use this button for exporting the in and out area, and it would only export from in to out on the timeline, leaving everything else unrendered in the final file.

That is something that's just different in this NLE. It's very non-traditional and drove me crazy, but once I understood, at least I knew how to work around it. Again, in terms of placing clips and audio in the timeline, there's really nothing much to it beyond what I've just shown you here. It works the same way, with a few little idiosyncrasies.

Compositing and Effects

Now, let's look at what HitFilm is really known for: compositing and effects. I did something pretty basic at first, which was, I added a Rain effect to the clip shown in Figure 6 (below). You can see that there is water falling down on these rocks, and it's actually from a waterfall and not rain, but I decided to spice it up a bit by adding some actual rain.

Figure 6. A Rain effect added to a clip of rocks in a waterfall

Similar to Premiere Pro, under your Effects tab, to access the Rain effects, just type the word into the search field, and you’ll see the Rain effects (Figure 7, below). I added that effect as a separate video layer on top of the waterfall shot. It's got an alpha channel built into it, so when I turn it on, it actually adds streaks of rain falling down. If I play it back, it won't play back very smoothly, because it's a live effect, but I can get an idea what it looks like.

Figure 7. Accessing Rain effects

Again, not much to it. It basically just added more streaks of rain than I can already see. Now, if I double-click on this, the effect opens it up basically in its own tab (Figure 8, below) and allows you to change everything, and by isolating the effect, it allows you to see very clearly what exactly is going on. From here, you can change anything you might want to as far as the direction, the spread, and the amount, which would be kind of like a seed, as far as how much rain is actually on screen. In this case I added a blur effect, because the rain looked way too crisp to me, so I blurred it a little bit to make it a little more realistic.

Figure 8. Customizing the Rain effect

Moving back to the editor, if we go back a few clips, there's a shot of my daughter jumping. If she had been facing the other way, I might have wanted to blur her face so that she wasn't recognizable. In my case, I did not need to do that, but I did it for fun anyway. There's a Witness Protection plugin built into the software, so if you go up to the controls here, this will affect whatever is selected on your timeline. Under Effects, I've added this witness protection, and you can see if I just turn it on, in Figure 9 (below), I've tracked it by hand and allowed her to remain anonymous on this awesome video of her jumping. She'll probably be embarrassed by that in about five years, anyway.

Figure 9. Blurring a face using HitFilm’s Witness Protection plugin

Getting now into more advanced compositing. Since HitFilm goes for the really far out, Hollywood-style, over-the-top effects, I figured I'd go ahead and give the dog in Figure 10 (below) laser-beam eyes. I did that by just finding some animated lasers in HitFilm, and then I added those as effects to the clip. In Figure 10 (below) you can see my two animated lasers. I'll go ahead and turn them on so you can see what they look like. They're the same color, because I figured he doesn't have two different-color eyes, and then I manually tracked them to follow his eyes through this clip.

Figure 10. Adding a laser-beam effect

The lasers actually grow or kind of emanate from his eyes as he starts moving. In the video that accompanies this article, you can see that I manually tracked the lasers, because it kind of bounces around a little bit. It's not perfect, but after I did that, I decided, "That's nice, but let's do something else." I wanted to add one other crazy lighting effect, so I decided to turn off the lasers for now to make it easier to see, and I wanted to add a light flare. The light flare is like a supernova coming straight out of the dog's eye, and I wanted that to not have to be animated all over again, because I had already done two lasers for a couple hundred frames, and I resolved to figure out a better way to do this.

Fortunately, there are trackers inside of HitFilm, so I basically just added a tracker and then used the tracking panel to choose my points (Figure 11, below). You can see I chose to go with double points here, because I wasn't sure how well it would be able to track just one of the eyes, so I put it around both eyes, and then I chose the Optical Flow method, which allows it to look at a number of parameters, including lighting changes and slight changes in the shape, so the dog's head does turn slightly in the clip. He mostly points at me, but he does turn a little bit, and the perspective changes, plus focus changes. That can also affect whether trackers will follow it or not, but as you can see in the accompanying video, it did a fantastic job. It followed the dog’s eyes perfectly from the very first frame, even though it's a little soft, and it stayed with them.

Figure 11. Using HitFilm’s Tracking panel to track an effect on a moving subject

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