Sophisticated special effects and an elegant, responsive interface – complex, time-consuming but highly rewarding
Hitfilm is a video effects suite that specialises in green screen effects, explosions, gun muzzle flashes, sparks, smoke, fire, rain, falling debris – basically, everything you need to make your own high-octane action movie. If you have a video camera, a creative streak and a fair bit of patience, it might just be the best entertainment you can have with a computer.
Keying is the technical name for green screen effects, and Hitfilm’s are more sophisticated than the tools built into consumer editing packages. The Spill Removal effect is particularly useful, getting rid of the green bleed that reflects from the screen onto the edges of the subject. It’s disappointing that there’s no option to soften the edges of the mask – this feature is reserved for Hitfilm Ultimate, which costs £228 including VAT. However, it is possible to draw a mask to remove areas of the frame manually, so the green screen backdrop needn’t fill the frame.
Keying is useful for dropping an actor into another environment, but it also has another use in Hitfilm. Because the particle effects – explosions, rain, debris and so on – are generated in 3D, isolating the actor through keying means these effects can be placed behind and all around the actor.
There’s a huge amount of control over these effects. The Fire simulator has 48 parameters including the size and turbulence of embers and the density of smoke. Nearly all controls can be keyframed to vary settings over time. The interface is inevitably complex but its layout is extremely well thought out. We had to visit the help section and video tutorials on a few occasions, but the interface rarely stood in the way of what we wanted to achieve. It helped that preview performance was extremely quick, giving smooth playback of a keyed 1080p AVC video with multiple particle effects on our Core i7 PC.
The main challenge was making our special effects look realistic and move convincingly. The software provides the tools to make this happen but it doesn’t come with lots of ready-made templates. That’s fine by us, though – we’d prefer to get stuck in with the advanced controls and find our own way of doing things.
Fire effects include separate controls for fire, smoke and embers
The effects library is rounded out by a familiar set of effects grouped into folders such as Color, Blur & Sharpen, Distort and Stylize. It’s also possible to use Hitfilm for general editing duties, but we wouldn’t recommend it; performance deteriorated badly when we imported longer AVCHD clips. It’s best to use HitFilm alongside conventional editing software such as Sony Vegas Platinum (both Sony and FXhome sell bundles that pair the two applications).
Hitfilm Standard isn’t exactly cheap but it’s within the reach of hobbyists. The trial version isn’t time-limited and is fully functional except that export is limited to YouTube at standard-definition resolutions. However, if you do become hooked, you’ll probably want to get your hands on Hitfilm Ultimate, which adds extra keying options and lots of additional effects. Best of all, Ultimate includes particle generators that can be designed from scratch with particles that ricochet off or come to rest on 3D surfaces, plus object tracking so effects and particle sources can track the position of objects in the video. That’s the version to go for if you can afford it, but HitFilm Standard is an excellent starting point for aspiring filmmakers with plenty of free time.