HitFilm 4 Pro – First Impressions
HitFilm 4 Pro is the latest release of the compositing/editing software from the UK based software company, HitFilm, and I point that out because it’s always nice to get to write about home grown talent. I’ve previously mentioned HitFilm on the blog in my post on 5 Free Compositing Apps for Film Editors which included HitFilm Express – the free version of HitFilm 4 Pro. HitFilm were kind enough to send me a ‘reviewers’ copy of their software for the purposes of this review.
December 2015 Update: For the rest of this month, you can download a Star War’s themed version of Hit Film Express, which includes free Lightsaber and Lightning effects, in order to truly geek out and create your own fan-film epic. Who wants to bet a glut of office Christmas videos will now feature Lightsaber death duels? We can only hope.
I should probably admit right off that bat, that this, a) isn’t really a ‘review’ as such – more my first impressions of noodling around with the software for a bit and b) that my presupposition is that in the day-to-day kind of work that I do, I’m not going to really be able to make the most of the toolset and compositing elements that HitFilm provides. So far, I’ve not need to composite in an debris-showering explosion or semi-automatic fire-fight into a corporate video (if only!). But these scenarios seem to be the commonly explored use-cases, at least in the marketing materials.
There’s a lot to explore in this latest update, including new animation controls, Boris FX 3D Objects (itself worth $299), improved rendering capabilities for realistic lighting environments, improved Mocha tracking and much, much more. Jump here for all the details. The video above will give you a pretty detailed insight into some of the new additions, and a good sense of HitFilm’s 3D capabilities.
One of the ways in which I might more readily be able to make use of HitFilm’s extensive library of plugins, effects and filters is through HitFilm Ignite, which puts the power of HitFilm directly into your NLE, or post-production app of choice, and it should be noted that all of HitFilm’s software works on both Mac and Windows.
To me this seems like the best of both worlds, as you can edit in the software you know best, and still make the most of some of HitFilm’s astonishingly good plugins. Jump over to the HitFilm Ignite homepage to see which of the 146 plugins are compatible with the software listed in the image above. For example 136 of these will work inside Premiere Pro, including effects like the Pro skin retouch, anamorphic lens flares, film grain and many more. These I can see myself making use of on a regular basis!
For a very detailed and accessible overview of HitFilm 4 Pro and a comparison of it’s feature set with After Effects, check out Caleb Ward’s post on Premium Beat.com. He runs through some of the cool features and effects exclusive to HitFilm 4 Pro, accompanied by some nifty gifs, as well as some of the current limitations of the software. It’s a great place to start for getting a handle on the context of the what/where/how of HitFilm.
HitFilm 4 Pro will never be able to replace After Effects entirely, but I don’t think that’s what its designed to do. HitFilm is an easy-to-use alternative to After Effects that offers users a set of powerful features that would be incredibly difficult (if not impossible) to simulate in After Effects. In most cases it felt like HitFilm 4 Pro was at least twice as fast as After Effects.
What I liked about HitFilm 4 Pro
From the moment you launch the software, HitFilm feels different. This is due, in part, to the fact that the first thing you see is a splash screen of the latest news from the makers of HitFilm and their global community of 200,000 users. This took me by surprise but left me feeling instantly connected into a community of creatives. It’s a simple thing but it made a big difference.
Another little thing I really liked was the cache and database management preferences, which included an option to remove unused files after 30 days. This would be a great feature to add into something like Premiere Pro, where the cache can very quickly swallow up every bit of free space on your hard drive, if not kept in check.
In the image above you can see me playing with some footage from EditStock.com, to test out the auto-green screen preset. In about 10 seconds I was able to key out the green-screen background, draw a matte around the actor and composite her (roughly) onto a still image. I was really impressed by how good the drag and drop green screen effect results were.
This simple example is a good demonstration of what’s great about HitFilm, it’s ease of use. Without any real understanding of how the software works, I was able to find my way around and composite a simple shot in a jiffy. All the things that you feel intuitively ‘should’ work, really do, and pretty quickly too.
One of the things that is missing is the ability to import XML sequences from other NLEs. It would be great to be able to bring in a finished sequence into HitFilm and add 3D elements, effects and other compositing elements in the dedicated app. Without this you have to do your whole edit in HitFilm, which is sort of the point I suppose, but I would rather have the option.
On the plus side the list of supported import formats is pretty extensive but the exports are fairly limited (H.264, Open EXR, QT Pro Res 422/4444/uncompressed/photo jpeg. This would allow you to get a high quality output and a low-res preview version exported but not much else. So if you had specific client deliverables you’d need another app for that. But a Pro Res and an H264 covers most bases these days I suppose.
Would I buy HitFilm 4 Pro?
With the kind of work I do now as an editor, probably not. At $349/£270, I couldn’t justify the cost, especially given the other apps that I already own and use on a daily basis.
I would possibly spring for something like HitFilm Ignite, at $199/£154, where I could see being able to put the plugins to regular use, and so save time and money, on tasks that otherwise might eat up a big portion of my day.
The ability to add a bit of ‘production value’ through things like tracking in lens flares, or doing some quick and easy skin re-touching would also be a bonus.
A quick installation of HitFilm Ignite, and (after one long, slow, first load) the power of 136 plugins is available in Premiere Pro and DaVinci Resolve.
If I were a eager compositor, or an independent filmmaker about to embark on creating my own action short, involving explosions, 3D models, particles and all the other fun and games at your fingertips in HitFilm 4 Pro, then I might well reconsider.
HitFilm 4 Pro Tutorials
There are a ton of very easy to follow tutorials on the HitFilm site, and in their Youtube channel, which are well worth a watch to get a better understanding of the software’s capabilities, than you might others intuit. Here are a few tutorials on the things I could see myself doing in HitFilm 4 Pro.