Plug-InsPlug-ins are programs designed to augment the capabilities of NLEs and stand-alone products like AE and Fusion. They usually address one issue or offer a thematic array of features aimed at augmenting the host program's range.
Neat Video ($49 home/$99 pro, www.neatvideo.com) is a plug-in video filter designed specifically to reduce noise and grain in footage produced by digital video cameras, camcorders and digitizers of film or analog video. Neat Video plugs into many existing programs, including Premiere Pro (PC and Mac, 32-bit and 64-bit); After Effects (PC and Mac, 32-bit and 64-bit); eyeon Fusion (Win); Final Cut Pro, Motion (Mac); and Sony Vegas Pro (32-bit and 64-bit).
I'd consider Neat Video your first line of defense for most noise problems. It's efficient, inexpensive and easy to use. It's also a fine first step in the path to DI proficiency.
Boris Continuum Complete (www.borisfx.com) makes a vast and ever-growing line of special-purpose, visual-effects plug-ins, while offering a massive, integrated collection in Boris Continuum Complete (BCC), which has much of the power of a stand-alone compositor, still working within a host program like Final Cut Pro or Premiere (prices range around $995). The nearly 200 plug-in filters cover a much wider range than that defined here as "Desktop DI," such as 3D, distortion and perspective effects. However, if you purchase BCC for its time-based effects and restoration tools or its keys and mattes, including Motion Key (which can remove foreground objects), you can consider the rest a huge bonus.
A full list of the effects in BCC (AE) may be found at www.borisfx.com/after_effects/bccae/filter_list.php.
Rev13 Films creative director Tony Manolikakis, who worked as technical director and postproduction supervisor on the film Reel Injun, says, "It's amazing. From the dozens of BCC [FxPlug for Final Cut Pro] filters available, we used the simplest and most subtle effects for the film. Ultimately, we needed great image quality and seamless integration with Final Cut Pro, and BCC really delivered."
Red Giant Software (www.redgiantsoftware.com) offers two great color-correction/DI plug-ins—Looks ($399) and Colorista ($199). Magic Bullet Looks is the easiest plug-in with which to learn the craft since it includes over 100 preset "looks," conveniently categorized, that fix common problems like "wrong lighting gel" and underexposures to the subtler changing of moods in a shot, such as a hot summer day, sunset or arctic tundra. Looking at your own images, you can quickly dial through various looks, each of which can be keyframed to change as your story changes.
As you get more confident, you can open up the look and see what makes it tick, then change it a bit and store your own look.
Stu Maschwitz created Magic Bullet Colorista as a distillation of all the DI tools he felt were necessary, implicating that he pushed aside some of those he felt weren't. I found the most useful tool to be Colorista's masking capability, which allows you to apply correction only to a user-defined area of the screen. You can animate any of the area's attributes, like size, edge feathering and position, making it easy to apply correction to, say, an actor's face as he moves across a shot. This tool obviates the necessity of premasking a shot and eating up your computer's life-playback capability.
Desktop color correction and DI may be an oxymoron. There are those who believe that only highly skilled specialists, working on proprietary, expensive hardware can achieve broadcast- or theater-quality results. Here's hoping that this article has dispelled some of that opinion.
If you agree, you're hereby challenged to try your hand with an educated wallet and ample talent. This publication would like to hear how you fared.