5 Free Compositing Apps For Film Editors

5 Free Compositing Applications For Film Editors

If you’re looking to beef up your technical and creative chops and get stuck into some serious compositing work, you’ll want to investigate one of these 5 applications – Hit Film, After Effects, Nuke, Fusion and Scratch – which all ship with a free trial version you can download and play with, to test the waters. Or in the case of Hit Film Express – the entire application is free!

Depending on the level of the industry you’re looking to work in – Nuke is an essential learn if you’re serious about becoming a full-time compositor, where as After Effects is a fantastic multi-purpose tool for anyone looking to get some compositing, motion graphics or animation done, you’ll want to check out different tools. Also the pricing varies considerably across the apps, with a year of After Effects costing about £200/$240 compared to a year of Nuke which will set you back £3040/$4860!

In the hour long tutorial video above, Joey from School of Motion.com demonstrates the difference between the layer-based compositing mindset of After Effects, and a node based compositor like Nuke.

Hit Film Express

The little brother of Hit Film Pro 3, the very recently released Hit Film Express is a free version of the composting, editing and grading application. The main difference between the two applications is that some of the effects, advanced particle simulations and 3D model capabilities have been removed.

But, fear not, one very good reason to start with the free version (other than it being free!), is that you can then add in specific elements that are of interest to you – say the Colorist pack, or Pro Light Flares pack – purchased individually from the Hit Film store, rather than paying for the whole kit and kaboodle at £234/$299 for the Pro version, in one gulp.

40 hours of free hit film pro 3 tutorials

There is a real community feel to the 130,000 users of Hit Film and a slew of resources to help you get involved, including over 40 hours of free tutorials on the Hit Film site, which the image above gives you a good breakdown of the topics covered.

One of the other major benefits to installing Hit Film Pro 3 on your system, is the 180 OFX plugins that come with it that can be used inside your NLE of choice, regardless of whether you use Hit Film at all. This adds a huge amount of value to your entire editing, grading and compositing eco-system.

The team at Hit Film were kind enough to send me an extended trial of Hit Film 3 Pro and when I find the time to dig into it in a bit more detail, I’ll be sure to update this post with my thoughts.

After Effects Free Trial

If there’s one industry standard application that you really must know to work in most post-production spheres, it’s After Effects. Now available to anyone with a Creative Cloud license there’s really no reason no to get hold of a copy and begin to learn it. The 30 day free trial of After Effects can be downloaded here.

One of the huge benefits to Adobe’s subscription service is the constant updates and improvements made to the apps. In the latest 2015 release features an overhaul of how previews are created, improved face tracking abilities and a preview of Adobe Character Animator, plus a slew of performance improvements and bug fixes.

If you ever only create some slick looking title graphics or lower thirds, you’ll have not been wasting your time learning After Effects. And with a single app subscription costing only £17/$20 a month it represents the cheapest paid-for solution in this round up.

To learn more about compositing inside After Effects check out Mark Christiansen’s excellent series over on Lynda.com After Effects:Compositing Essentials.

Nuke Non-Commercial

Nuke created by UK based company, The Foundry, is one of the leading applications in high-end compositing and VFX work. I would list a few of the latest summer blockbuster visual effects feasts that Nuke has been used on, but it’s pretty much anything you’ve seen lately.

The Foundry recently took the smart step of releasing Nuke Non-Commercial, which is a full fledged version of Nuke – bar a few disabled features, which means you can try your hand at it for free, and without a time limit. To get started with Nuke you can soak up the free resources on The Foundry’s own learning page or buy a course on FXPHD.com.

So what can you do with Nuke? Well it’s commonly used for things like compositing in digital matte paintings, rig removal, visual effects CGI compositing and everything else under the sun. What does Nuke cost

In the tutorials above, taken from an introductory series to Nuke, you can get a decent overview of compositing in Nuke. For a much longer tutorial and to see Nuke at work in an animated project check out this excellent 10 part in-depth series from SchoolofMotion.com which covers making an animated short film from scratch.

Fusion 7

free compositing apps

Recently acquired by Blackmagic Design, Fusion 7 is currently available for free, for Windows users, and a Mac version will be coming ‘soon’. Following the explosion of users after releasing DaVinci Resolve for free, it will be interesting to see if Fusion follows a similar pattern and brings node based compositing and visual effects tools to the masses.

Fusion is a true 3D visual effects compositing and animation application that lets you create entire scenes in an infinite 3D workspace. You can import and render 3D models and scenes from FBX or Alembic geometry files and seamlessly position them anywhere in 3D space along with live action footage, virtual cameras and light sources. Fusion also works with point cloud data and native cameras from Maya, 3ds Max or Lightwave for tracking and matching camera moves. Deep pixel tools let you add and change volumetric fog, lighting and reflection mapping of rendered objects using world position passes, normal maps or Z Depth passes, which means you can create amazing atmospheric effects that render in seconds, instead of hours!

Fusion provides you with compositing, 3D and animation capabilities all in one application with toolsets for 3D/2D compositing and keying, rotoscoping, particles and colour correction, stereoscopic and optical flow work and much more. Currently the interface looks the same as it did under the previous owners, but given the GUI transformation that DaVinci Resolve underwent, it will only be a matter of time before it’s much more user-friendly.

You can get plenty of free training from Eyeon Software (the previous owners and creators of Fusion) on their Youtube channel, although there is more modern training embedded on the Blackmagic Design official Fusion site. The full version of Fusion 7, Fusion Studio, is available for $995.

Scratch Free Trial

Assimilate Scratch is aimed at creative professionals who “need the power of an advanced 2D/3D, real-time toolset that marries conform, editing, colour grading, versioning, titling, compositing, and finishing.” So a similar feature set to the other applications in this round up.

Scratch has a largely layer-based architecture instead of notes, and a more complicated looking interface than some of the other apps but it is also sometimes used simply as a colour correction app, as well as for creating dailies and doing on-set work. So it does provide some serious versatility.

In terms of learning how to use Scratch, there are a substantial number of frequently updated tutorials on the official learning page of Assimilate’s site.

Download a free trial of Scratch or Scratch Web here. A year’s rental of Scratch DI costs $650.

Mamba FX Free Trial

SGO, the makers of Mistika grading system, got in touch to point out that their affordable compositing software – Mamba FX – also has a free trial available. Another node based compositor it was released only two years ago and provides a lot of powerful functionality, if not a beautiful user interface. I think I’m correct in saying that the capabilities in Mamba FX are taken from Mistika and repackaged as a stand-alone compositing tool. You can see it in action in the 45 minute green screen compositing tutorial below.

UPDATE – Light wrap tutorial in Mamba from Colorist Jamie Dickinson.

Natron – Free Open Source Compositing App

Natron is an open source node-based compositing application, with support for OFX plugins that allows you to greatly expand it’s capabilities. It’s also cross platform and available to download for free on Windows, Mac and Linux. Download a copy to check it out for yourself, here.

  • 32 bits floating point linear colour processing pipeline.
  • Colorspace management handled by the famous open-source OpenColorIO library.
  • Dozens of file formats supported: EXR, DPX,TIFF, JPG, PNG…thanks to OpenImageIO. and FFmpeg.


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