Review: FxFactory plug-in management system for Final Cut Studio and After Effects

FxFactory is a plug-in manager for effects in Final Cut Pro, Motion, and After Effects. When a customer buys FxFactory, they get a large number of ready-made effects with the application. Through FxFactory, however, third parties can also deliver their plug-ins. As a result FxFactory contains an endless list of demo plug-ins as well. Finally, FxFactory Pro allows you to create your own effect plug-ins. The whole system looked silly to me at first, then I got interested, and finally I was left with more questions than when I started reviewing this application.

The first time I got to see the FxFactory system was when I reviewed FotoMagico. I wasn’t impressed with it, as it dumped a huge number of demo effects in my Final Cut Pro plug-ins folder without asking me politely if I wanted that. I wasn’t too impressed with the FotoMagico plug-in either — I couldn’t see the advantage of having FotoMagico slideshows as a video generator inside Final Cut.

But perhaps a closer look would make me change my mind. FxFactory Pro lets you manage the plug-ins — at installation time it still dumps all those demos on your system — and create some of your own. With FxFactory Pro, you’ll also get a large number of plug-ins to start playing with immediately.

I first took a look at those plug-ins, and found they are a mixed bunch. Overall, their quality is excellent, but with some of these I couldn’t resist asking myself if the makers realized they would be dealing with motion. For example, plugins like “depth blur” blur the image alright — but you can’t apply the blur to a moving object. In other words: I expected a tracking and rotoscoping application like Imagineer’s Mocha and I got something entirely different instead. Indeed, FxFactory’s built-in plug-ins could well be used inside Photoshop as well as well in Final Cut, Motion, and After Effects.

If you realize this, the FxFactory system actually becomes a great idea because it serves as a central control panel to manage plug-ins before you launch your favourite compositing or editing program. And then there are actually very nice plug-ins in the standard package too. For example, there are a whole bunch of reflection effects, blooming effects, blur effects, and even a frame information overlay, making FxFactory Pro a professional tool.

But although most of the standard included FxFactory plug-ins are well done and quite nice to have, there are none in my opinion that really grab you by the throat. If you want those, you’ll have to buy licenses to activate plug-ins from developers like DVShade, Industrial Revolution, Yanobox, etc. These companies develop effects that come close to rotoscoping effects with a very high “wow” factor — good examples are PHYX Keyer or Stereo3D Toolbox 2.0.

But FxFactory does have one extra trick up its sleeve that might entice you to not buy any new plug-in after all: the ability to create them yourself. All plug-ins in FxFactory are based on Quartz Composer, an application that every Mac user has on his Mac OS X Leopard and Snow Leopard installation discs. Quartz Composer is a developer’s tool that allows you to create visual effects in a visual workflow.

Unfortunately, the term ‘visual workflow’ makes people think it’s easy and uncomplicated, but that depends. If you want to create something simple, it’s easy. If you want to create something dazzling, it’s complicated and requires programming skills that go well beyond Quartz Composer’s capabilities. My own educated guess is that effects such as FxTiles, Light Kit, Nodes and Demo Reel all started life in Quartz Composer, but were further developed in some high-end programming language.

So, do I still think FxFactory is a low-end plug-ins manager for Final Cut, Motion, and After Effects? Indeed not. I do honestly believe FxFactory is a great idea but I have two reservations. The first is that I don’t like programs activating demos without asking politely first. The second is that — if you are not good at programming — you’ll end up drooling over the really high-end effects that are included with FxFactory and FxFactory Pro. A nice point to mention is that FxFactory is a good plug-in citizen: its Preferences panel lets you set how it should behave inside its host applications.

If you do know how to program an effect together, FxFactory will enable you to use it in the three supported applications. It will even make it possible for you to earn money from your coding skills. In that respect and from that point of view, FxFactory is pure gold. FxFactory Pro costs approx. 340.00 Euros. The least expensive third-party plugin is free. Common prices are around 75.00 Euros. The most expensive plug-in costs approx. 1100,00 Euros (and that’s not a typo!).

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