At NAB in April, I checked out the new generation of software from CoreMelt. I’d always liked what CoreMelt did using FxFactory (see Joe McManus’s FxFactory review), but the company has moved on, and it has some fantastic software available at very reasonable prices. To start with, the reps at NAB told me that the company has moved away from FxFactory’s engine and developed its own render engine. This allows CoreMelt to go beyond its previous limitations and to produce some really great products. In this article, I’m going to review one set of the many wonderful plug-ins CoreMelt makes. This set is called Pigment, and it sells for about $79. V2 Pigment—Colour Tools is a collection of 22 plug-ins that do color grading and correction work. All in all, it’s a collection of great filters.
The first thing I noticed when playing around with some of these is the sensitivity. I use Apple’s Color application a lot; I even teach Color and know full well how much more sensitive the controls in Color are to the controls in FCP’s color correctors. When doing grading and correction, that sensitivity is vital to getting the ultrasubtle nuances that make or break a color grade. The controls in Pigment’s color filters are very sensitive. I was blown away at how subtle I could get with them.
The second thing I noticed about the Pigment filters was their usefulness. They’re not just fancy effects that have no practical purpose except to generate eye-candy looks. They’re actually very practical, purposeful, and powerful filters that can go beyond what FCP’s stock color filters are capable of.
The third thing I immediately noticed was the lack of traditional color wheels. Instead, Pigment offers more of a Photoshop-like interface. The slider controls are very Photoshop-like, as are the on-screen level graphs (Figure 1, below). You can turn the graphs on and off only while you are moving sliders. They show up in the Canvas window as graphs similar to what you may see in Photoshop. The other cool thing about these graphs is that next to each slider is an RGB numeric readout that shows you more detailed information, along with the graphs in the Canvas window. You can’t control them from these numeric fields, but it’s nice to have the data there to work with. I like that I have a different way of working directly in FCP now. I love color wheels, don’t get me wrong; we need them. But this set of filters gives us a whole new way of working with our images in FCP.
This brings up something I really like about these filters: the interface has two modes—Custom and Standard. Custom gives us the sliders and RGB numeric readouts as I stated before. Standard gives a more FCP-like look to the controls that adds keyframe diamonds next to pretty much everything, allowing for very precise keyframing of the effects (Figure 2, below).
At the top of each filter is a Global button. Clicking on this button brings up a small window with two tabs—General and Motion Blur. The General tab lets you turn on or off color clamping to all filters across the board (thus the term “Global”). The Motion Blur tab lets you turn off or on motion blur for the filters, the number of samples ranging from four to 256, and Shutter Angle ranging from 0 to 1,800 (Figure 3, below).
Creating Custom Presets
Finally, you can easily create your own custom presets as well. At the top of each filter in the Presets section is a plus sign (+) button. Click it and you can take your current settings, save them as a preset, name the preset as you wish, and give it a description (Figure 4, below). It’s very nice to have all our preset effects loaded into the filter, making it universal. This option is available to you in any project, on any clip, with two mouse clicks. Just select it from the Preset pop-up menu and click the Apply button.
I did try an Undo when I applied a preset, and it undid each control one at a time from the bottom up. I’m not sure if that’s useful, but it’s there if you want it. And, of course, you can delete presets as well.
And since these are FXPlug architecture, you have the normal Mix slider at the bottom of the filter to balance the blending mix between the original and your filter, for even more flexibility.
Most of the filters—but not all of them—have a Use Mask section. When checked, it opens an additional set of controls for masking your coloring effect (Figure 5, below). You can use its standard vignette mask or use the Mask Well, where you can drop a grayscale image to use as a mask. This section has enough controls to help you really tweak any masking you may need to do, including mask scale, center, blur, strength, channel (alpha/red/green/ blue), aspect, rotation, invert, preview, and the like.
Now, on to a very important issue with plug-in filters: How do they render? On my eight-core Mac Pro system (2008 model), I get an orange RT render line on my Sequences when I apply these filters, and I get good RT playback with them. When I go to render, I’m really surprised at how fast the filters render. On my system, at least, rendering isn’t much of an issue.
Some Especially Fun Filters
Finally, I’d like to talk about a few specific filters I’m having fun with these days. I won’t go into a ton of detail, I just want to give you an idea of what I’m seeing that sets these filters apart from the others out there, based on an outdoor shot I took at Mardi Gras ’09 (Figure 6, below).
We’ll start with the Negate Keep Black. This filter has three controls: Strength, Use Mask, and Mix. I’ve found with the overly saturated HD video I’m often handed to edit and color-correct, I can set Strength to 0 (or close to 0) and the Mix to about 10%. It knocks out the overly hot colors and gives me a very smooth, more filmlike look.
The Filmic Look filter is tricky but very cool to fool around with—especially when using the Mix controls to blend it with the original image. It can, if used right, give a slight punch in all the right places, and tone down all the right places, for a more filmlike look. I actually used it in a bar shot that was overlit, when it was supposed to be dark, to make it look darker, without killing off my details.
The Luma Levels and Curves filters give me more sensitive control over my luma levels than the FCP 3-Way Color Corrector (3WCC) does (Figure 7, below). But it also seems to function differently, affecting the image in a different way so that I can achieve different types of results. It seems that the blacks, mids, and whites on the Pigment sliders don’t overlap the same way they do with the 3WCC; they may use a different algorithm to affect the image. But it’s very useful and worth experimenting with.
The Bleach Bypass filter is really sweet (Figure 8, below). There are other Bleach Bypass filters I’ve used before, and they’re all good. But this one seems to be tight, very on target, and again, very sensitive so that I can get the perfect balance in the image that appeals to me. The separate Luma and Luma S curve controls really contribute to this filter being able to achieve some great looks.
I also like the Advanced Vignette with its wide selection of mattes and the ability to use your own with the Matte Well. But I wish it offered color control. Your vignette is black, and that’s it; you don’t have much control over tinting it. CoreMelt, are you listening? It’s a very nice vignette filter as is, but it would be much enhanced by color control.
Finally, I need to comment on the Pass Color filter. If you ever need to get that old 8mm Brownie-camera-from-the-’60s look (I did my first video work with one of those when I was about 13 years old), this filter will do it for you in the blink of an eye. I quickly found the perfect settings, along with about a 30%–34% mix between effect and original image that did the trick for aging my footage. I did it in record time and saved it as a preset, and I love it.
The V2 Generation
In conclusion, I have to say that CoreMelt is definitely moving beyond the confines of the FxFactory model, and its new V2 generation of plug-ins is amazing. I’m using them all now—not just the color correction tools but transitions, generators, etc.—and I’m really impressed. These guys are really on target and seem to be sticking to useful, practical plug-ins rather than just developing a bunch of fancy-looking stuff that has no real-world applicability.
I do have to get used to the more Photoshop-like feel of the controls. The graph overlays in the Canvas window are really helpful. But now that I’m getting more accustomed to the sliders they incorporate, I’m finding that I can tweak some looks that were previously not available to me directly in FCP.
As for pricing, we’d all like to get software for less. But to be able to get these 22 filters for only $79 is really quite reasonable. Very good job, CoreMelt—keep it up. I can’t wait to see what you do in the future.
Ben Balser (benb at bbalser.com) is an Apple Certified Trainer based in New Orleans. Along with training and consulting, he also produces documentaries and educational material, and he designs digital signage systems.