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Hitfilm 3 Pro review

Ben Pitt
23 Feb 2015
Expert Reviews Best Buy Logo
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
229
inc VAT

It's not for dabblers, but Hitfilm's breathtaking array of video effects is better than ever.

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Specifications

OS Support: Windows 7/8, Mac OS X 10.8, 10.9, 10.10, Minimum CPU: Intel Core i3, Minimum GPU: OpenGL 2.0, 512MB, Minimum RAM: 4GB, Hard disk space: 650MB

Hitfilm specialises in dramatic effects like fire, explosions, lasers and lightning bolts. Hitfilm 2 expanded its capabilities considerably, gaining the ability to import and animate 3D models, and included a limited version of Imagineer Systems Mocha for analysing video footage and calculating camera movement. Together, these features let users add 3D models and particle effects to moving camera shots with impressive levels of realism. 

It takes time and a high level of technical competency to get to grips with Hitfilm. Even after many days' use we still find ourselves struggling to locate parameters in the huge nested lists. However, this depth of control also means there's tremendous scope to find creative solutions to technical challenges. Digital effects often work best when they employ multiple techniques, and this is something Hitfilm excels at.

At a little over £200, it's an absolute treat for amateur filmmakers with high aspirations. It's perfect for creating sophisticated animated logos, and we'd imagine many people will buy it to produce outlandish special effect videos just for the fun of it. With so much already possible in version 2, the new version didn't have to do much to earn yet another five-star review from us. However, there's a lot here to justify the £139 upgrade.

Our favourite new feature is Unified 3D Space. In version 2, particles and 3D models could be animated on the same 3D axes but existed on separate layers. Whether the model sat in front of or behind the particles depended on the order of layers on the timeline, and bore no relation to which was nearer to the virtual camera. In version 3, a new option allows 3D models and particles to intermingle in the same 3D space. This significantly boosts the realism of shots that combine models and particles.

^ 3D models and particles now wrap around each other more convincingly. Model by Herminio Nieves

Another major breakthrough is the ability to use a 3D model as the particle in a particle generator. We managed to create flying 3D rockets, each with its own trail of fire and smoke particles. Creating particles that also act as particle generators almost defeated us, but that made the end result all the more rewarding.

One of our favourite tricks with the particle simulator is the ability to define 3D shapes that act as deflectors – making particles bounce off walls, slide down slopes, come to rest on flat surfaces and so on. The ability for particles and models to exist in the same 3D space made us wish for an option for 3D models to act as deflectors. As it stands, smoke, sparks and other particles pass straight through models, which can look a little odd.

3D models aren't created inside Hitfilm, but it supports 3DS, OBJ and LWO formats. There are models available for free or at reasonable prices at sites such as www.tf3dm.com. Render quality is good rather than great, with sophisticated lighting and the ability to cast shadows. However, with no ray tracing the results look a little short of photorealistic. We experienced some problems with bitmap textures not being read correctly, leaving us to relink to them manually. However, it is possible to animate elements within a model, such as wheels on a car or propellers on a helicopter. Stacking up lots of particle effects and enabling motion blur goes a long way towards delivering convincing results.

Another limitation is that there's only basic control over the interpolation between keyframes. For example, when animating a model from point A to point B, there's a choice of constant velocity or to ease in and/or out for gentler acceleration or deceleration. This simple option isn't really enough for precise animations that convey a sense of momentum. Hitfilm is crying out for Bezier animation controls for both trajectory and velocity.

^ 3D models can be used as particles, and each one can act as an emitter for its own particle system. Model by Léo C. (Jetstorm_477)

There are masses of other effects to play with, including 22 new ones. Heat Distortion makes the air around a heat source ripple, while Rain On Glass adds convincing animated raindrops that act as tiny lenses on the image below. There's curve-based colour-correction, plus a filter that adds a glossy sheen to skin tones. It's now possible to apply an effect to a particle simulator layer – something that was previously only possible by creating nested timelines. However, this isn't possible when 3D models and particles are interspersed in the same 3D space. 

There are a few areas where the interface could be more polished. The various windows can be rearranged, saved and recalled but they don't easily spread across dual monitors. While we appreciate the depth of editing – there are over 100 parameters for a particle effect, for example – it would be useful if certain key parameters such as speed, life and particles per second were brought to the top of the list, perhaps as a customisable list of quick-access functions.

Performance could be better, too. It's generally highly responsive, but controls become unresponsive when working on a complex frame with thousands of particles. There's a new intelligent caching system that selectively recalculates elements in frames as necessary. It sounds like a welcome improvement, but we struggled to spot improvements in practice. In some instances rendering performance was a little slower compared to version 2. 

Ultimately, any criticisms pale into insignificance next to Hitfilm's strengths. There's a sense of creative flair and plucky ambition that's shared between its developers and its users. At a price that's within reach of home users, we can't recommend it highly enough.

System requirements
OS SupportWindows 7/8, Mac OS X 10.8, 10.9, 10.10
Minimum CPUIntel Core i3
Minimum GPUOpenGL 2.0, 512MB
Minimum RAM4GB
Hard disk space650MB
Buying information
Price including VAT£229
Supplierwww.hitfilm.com
Detailswww.hitfilm.com

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