By Dr David Smith
Back in 2016 I reviewed HitFilm Pro 4 and was mightily impressed. I wrote: HitFilm 4 Pro is an astonishingly full-featured non-linear editing (NLE) and 3D graphics package which is available at an almost unbeatable price.
The same opening sentence is true for version 15, except that the whole package is even more comprehensive and refined. It is much bigger and much better, and it is still, at US$349 for the base product, incredibly good value for money. It is worth stating at the outset that this is a full ownership price. You get 12 months free updates which can be extended should you wish, but you still own the software for ever. I cannot over-emphasize how strongly I support this approach. Oh, and in case that’s not good enough for you, HitFilm Express is free and ideal for basic editing, compositing and effects creation.
FXhome go to great lengths to make the installation and activation process straightforward which is great. They also developed the Vegas POST package. I had a small technical issue with that which was promptly addressed by their support team. When working with such powerful and complex programs as these, getting useful help when needed is really important and the crew at FXhome are impressive in this respect.
So what is HitFilm Pro exactly? It is a uniquely integrated package that allows you to work with it as both a non-linear video editor and a 3D compositor, all on the one timeline. To move from NLE mode to Comp mode you simply choose the appropriate tab above the timeline, named Editor and Composite Shot. Interestingly when you open a HitFilm (.hfp) project, you also have the option of opening a Vegas Effects (.vegfx) project as well. Vegas Effects is one major component of Vegas POST, which also includes Vegas Image, all developed by FXhome.
This has many benefits. First and foremost there’s a common graphic look and workflow between Vegas POST and HitFilm Pro. So once you get your head around one, you can work easily in both. This is great because, as we all know, you really want the workflow to be as simple and intuitive as possible to enable you to put the bulk of your energy into the creative process. Without mentioning any names, many other software products have such convoluted and inefficient workflows that you spend your life climbing the learning curve, rather than actually producing great videos.
So now I can right click on a clip in Vegas Pro and open it in Vegas Effects, do what needs to be done there, then import that .vegfx project into HitFilm Pro to take it into the world of 3D compositing and even more effects. This seamless integration of such powerful programs is very impressive.
FXhome win major points for
- not using a subscription model for purchasing
- putting a great deal of effort into making the user experience as logical and as much fun as possible.
Working in HiFilm Pro
The user interface is clean and well organised and is also highly customisable. It features a series of containers, each of which can hold multiple panels. Some panels, namely Editor, Media, Text and Viewer are always visible. Others can be hidden or visible as required.
There are many preset Workspaces, designed to feature tools appropriate to specific tasks such as Colourising, Editing, Compositing or Audio work. You can easily design and save your own workspaces showing the features you like for particular tasks. These workspaces can be designed to suit multiple monitors if required. A good feature of the interface design is that the containers always snap together, so there are no unused or blank spaces.
Many simple compositing effects can be achieved on the Editing timeline. These include changes in opacity, fades, and picture-in-picture, among others. These are all manipulated via the control tab. Here, the various parameters can be altered via sliders, wheels or numbers as appropriate. Each variable is clearly labelled and you can simply dial in numerical values for precise changes.
One thing I’d like to see is the ability to return to the default value by double clicking, as always happens in Vegas Pro. I mention that because Vegas Pro has been my primary NLE for two decades and I am always a little puzzled when some NLEs take so many extra steps to achieve what is usually a single-step process in Vegas.
Here’s an example. If I want to fade a clip in or out in Vegas, I simply hover the cursor over the top corner of the clip until a little protractor-shaped icon appears. Then I drag the corner inwards until the fade indicator shows the desired number of frames.
In HitFilm Pro there are more steps involved. Either I add one or more keyframes to the opacity envelope and drag the one near the beginning or end of the clip down to zero. Alternatively I go to the Effects tab, go down to Transitions – Video, then to Dissolve, then to Fade to Colour. I drag this effect onto the clip and position it at the beginning or end. Then I adjust the duration of the fade by dragging it either way till the correct duration is indicated. Clearly a multi-step process.
Similarly with a cross-fade. In Vegas I simply slide one clip across another until the indicator shows the required duration. One step.
In HitFilm Pro, I again go to the Effects tab, go down to Transitions – Video, then to Dissolve, then to Cross Dissolve. Then I drag Cross Dissolve onto the junction between two clips and position it across the centre of the junction. Then I adjust the duration by dragging either end of the Cross Dissolve Effect. Again, several steps.
I make these comments constructively because HitFilm Pro is great software and therefore it’s a shame that such commonly used processes take so many steps. It would be great if FXhome can find a way to simplify these common, everyday tasks.
There are literally hundreds of effects included in HitFilm Pro 15. These include those for 360 degree cameras, plus a vast range of effects including Video Clean-up, Color Correction and grading, animation and particles and Simulation.
Important inclusions are a HitFilm version of Mocha for highly precise motion tracking as well as a good selection of Boris Continuum FX. Any Open FX plugins you own will also appear, so in my case I have access to Boris Red and all of my NewBlue plugins.
I used the Chromakey plugins from HitFilm Pro 4 some years ago on a number of projects. They are the best available anywhere in my opinion, providing precise control of all aspects of the keying process. I especially like the Spill Removal and Matte Cleaner tools which I found particularly helpful in one of my more challenging keying projects.
There is also a useful selection of audio effects including Equalisers, Compressors and a number of different Reverb options. It seems that VST audio plugins don’t work in HitFilm which is a shame, given how the OFX video plugins are so well supported. I guess it’s fair to say that HitFilm Pro is primarily a visual editing and effects program and that for audio editing you would look elsewhere, in my case to Vegas Pro and Sound Forge.
Composite shots – where the fun starts!
Here’s where you can channel your inner George Lucas or Peter Jackson. Do you want a battle between space craft and X-wing fighters? Maybe a gun battle somewhere (anywhere?) in the US? Smoke, haze, muzzle flashes and so much more are very easily generated in HitFilm Pro 15. And it’s even better because all of the 3D video effects are tightly integrated with the relevant video clips, all within the one application. No need to generate a Composite Clip, export it to another video app, edit it all then re-import. It all happens withing HitFilm Pro and you switch modes from video clip to Composite Clip with a single click.
Composite shots can be created from scratch, or you can convert a clip on the timeline into a composite shot. Too convert a clip to a 3D object you must add a camera layer. Within the Composite Shot pane there are now many new tools, each with its own layer. This is where the immense power of HitFilm Pro resides. As shown in the screenshot, even with a single clip converted to a 3D Composite Shot, there are many layers to keep track of. It is crucially important to develop a systematic, well organised hierarchy of labelling, otherwise the complexity can rapidly spin out of control.
Each new camera has controls for Aperture, Zoom, Focus Distance and Blur. The Transform panel lets you adjust Position, Orientation, and Rotation in each of the X, Y and Z planes. The Material panel controls shadows, reflectivity, shininess and many other parameters.
Viewing your shot in the main Preview window allows movement within a 3d virtual universe, with numerical values reading out in the Transform pane within the Controls Panel at the top left.
The controls are all clearly labelled and for the most part self-explanatory although concepts such as Receiving and Casting Ambient Occlusion and Specular Reflectivity will probably send you to the extensive online Help files and more than likely have you searching for relevant video tutorials.
Speaking of which, there are many HitFilm tutorials, some of which are excellent and some not so hot. Some of the tutors speak so rapidly and use a full screen view so the cursor is hard to place that keeping up is really difficult. The best tutors tell the story at a gentle pace and use good close-ups to show the important detail. You’ll pretty soon figure out where to look for the best video user guides.
Once your project is complete you move to the Export section which features a wide range of export preset formats, including those for YouTube, Vimeo, Instagram and Facebook. There are also presets for GoPro Cineform, PNG with Alpha and Open EXR with 32-bit Alpha and, of course uncompressed files. Batch handling is made simple by allowing you to queue renders from multiple projects. Rendering can then be scheduled to run at a convenient time such as overnight.
A brilliant package. When I first explored HitFilm Pro 3, some years ago, it blew me away. Such a well crafted NLE, packed to the hilt with a vast array of tools for video editing and 3D compositing was extremely impressive. The latest version 15 is even impressiver, coming fully equipped with more than 820 VFX and Presets and sophisticated inbuilt animation tools, along with class leading-plugins from Mocha and Boris Continuum.
As I noted at the beginning of this review, you can get the full program from about US$349 which is such incredible value it is almost beyond belief. The fact that this is a purchase price and not a subscription is to be commended – thank you FXhome!
From Free for HitFilm Express, to US$349 for HitFilm pro 15, ranging up to US$847 for the Pro Suite which includes HitFilm Pro, Ignite Pro and Imerge Pro.
All of these are multi-seat licenses enabling use on up to three computers. Way to go!