Speeding Up Flicker Free: The Order You Apply Plugins in Your Video Editing App

One key way of speeding up the Flicker Free plugin is putting it first in the order of effects. What does this mean? Let’s say you’re using the Lumetri Color Corrector in Premiere. You want to apply Flicker Free first, then apply Lumetri. You’ll see about a 300+% speed increase vs. doing it with Lumetri first. So it looks like this:

Apply Flicker Free first in your video editing application to increase the rendering speed.

Why the Speed Difference?

Flicker Free has to analyze multiple frames to de-flicker the footage you’re using. It looks at up to 21 frames. If you have the effect applied before Flicker Free it means Lumetri is being applied TWENTY ONE times for every frame Flicker Free renders. And especially with a slow effect like Lumetri that will definitely slow everything down.

It fact, on slower machines it can bring Premiere to a grinding halt. Premiere has to render the other effect on 21 frames in order to render just one frame for Flicker Free. In this case, Flicker Free takes up a lot of memory, the other effect can take up a lot of memory and things start getting ugly fast.

Renders with Happy Endings

So to avoid this problem, just apply Flicker Free before any other effects. This goes for pretty much every video editing app. The render penalty will vary depending on the host app and what effect(s) you have applied. For example, using the Fast Color Corrector in Premiere Pro resulted in a slow down of only about 10% (vs. Lumetri and a slow down of 320%). In After Effects the slow down was about 20% with just the Synthetic Aperture color corrector that ships with AE. However, if you add more filters it can get a lot worse.

Either way, you’ll have much happier render times if you put Flicker Free first.

Hopefully this makes some sense. I’ll go into a few technical details for those that are interested. (Feel free to stop reading if it’s clear you just need to put Flicker Free first) (oh, and here are some other ways of speeding up Flicker Free)

Technical Details

With all host applications, Flicker Free, like all plugins, has to request frames through the host application API. With most plugins, like the Beauty Box Video plugin, the plugin only needs to request the current frame. You want to render frame X: Premiere Pro (or Avid, FCP, etc) has to load the frame, render any plugins and then display it. Plugins get rendered in the order you apply them. Fairly straightforward.

The Flicker Free plugin is different. It’s not JUST looking at the current frame. In order to figure out the correct luminance for each pixel (thus removing flicker) it has to look at pixels both before and after the current frame. This means it has to ask the API for up to 21 frames, analyze them, return the result to Premiere, which then finishes rendering the current frame.

So the API says, “Yes, I will do your bidding and get those 21 frames. But first, I must render them!”. And so it does. If there are no plugins applied to them, this is easy. It just hands Flicker Free the 21 original frames and goes on its merry way. If there are plugins applied, the API has to render those on each frame it gives to Flicker Free. FF has to wait around for all 21 frames to be rendered before it can render the current frame. It waits, therefore that means YOU wait. If you need a long coffee break these renders can be great. If not, they are frustrating.

If you use After Effects you may be familiar with pre-comping a layer with effects so that you can use it within a plugin applied to a different layer. This goes through a different portion of the API than when a plugin requests frames programmatically from AE. In the case of a layer in the layer pop-up the plugin just gets the original image with no effects applied. If the plugin actually asks AE for the frame one frame before it, AE has to render it.

One other thing that affects speed behind the scenes… some apps are better at caching frames that plugins ask for than other apps. After Effects does this pretty well, Premiere Pro less so. So this helps AE have faster render times when using Flicker Free and rendering sequentially. If you’re jumping around the timeline then this matters less.

Hopefully this helps you get better render times from Flicker Free. The KEY thing to remember however, is ALWAYS APPLY FLICKER FREE FIRST!

Happy Rendering!

Beauty Work for Corporate Video

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We love to talk about how Beauty Box Video is used on feature films by the likes of Local Hero Post and Park Road Post Production  or broadcast TV by NBC or Fox. That’s the big, sexy stuff.

However, many, if not most, of our customers are like Brian Smith. Using Beauty Box for corporate clients or local commercials. They might not be winning Emmy awards for their work but they’re still producing great videos with, usually, limited budgets.   “The time and budget does not usually afford us the ability to bring in a makeup artist.  People that aren’t used to being on camera are often very self-conscious, and they cringe at the thought of every wrinkle or imperfection detracting from their message.”, said Brian, Founder of Ideaship Studios in Tulsa, OK. “Beauty Box has become a critical part of our Final Cut X pipeline because it solves a problem, it’s blazing fast, and it helps give my clients and on-camera talent confidence.  They are thrilled with the end result, and that leads to more business for us.”

An Essential Tool for Beauty Work and Retouching

Beauty Box Video has become an essential tool at many small production houses or in-house video departments to retouch makeup-less/bad lighting situations and still end up with a great looking production. The ability to quickly retouch skin with an automatic mask without needing to go frame by frame is important. However, it’s usually the quality of retouching that Beauty Box provides that’s the main selling point.

Example of Brian Smith's skin retouching for a corporate clientimage courtesy of Ideaship Studios

Beauty Box goes beyond just blurring skin tones. We strive to keep the skin texture and not just mush it up. You want to have the effect of the skin looking like skin, not plastic, which is important for beauty work. Taking a few years off talent and offsetting the harshness that HD/4K and video lights can add to someone. The above image of one of Brian’s clients is a good example.

When viewed at full resolution, the wrinkles are softened but not obliterated. The skin is smoothed but still shows pores. The effect is really that of digital makeup, as if you actually had a makeup artist to begin with. You can see this below in the closeup of the two images. Of course, the video compression in the original already has reduced the detail in the skin, but Beauty Box does a nice job of retaining much of what is there.

Closeup of the skin texture retained by Beauty Box

” On the above image, we did not shoot her to look her best. The key light was a bit too harsh, creating shadows and bringing out the lines.  I applied the Beauty Box Video plugin, and the shots were immediately better by an order of magnitude.  This was just after simply applying the plugin.  A few minutes of tweaking the mask color range and effects sliders really dialed in a fantastic look. I don’t like the idea of hiding flaws.  They are a natural and beautiful part of every person.  However, I’ve come to realize that bringing out the true essence of a person or performance is about accentuating, not hiding.  Beauty Box is a great tool for doing that.” – Brian Smith

Go for Natural Retouching

Of course, you can go too far with it, as with anything. So some skill and restraint is often needed to get the effect of regular makeup and not making the subject look ‘plastic’ or blurred. As Brain says, you want things to look natural.

However, when used appropriately you can get some amazing results, making for happy clients and easing the concerns of folks that aren’t always in front of a camera. (particularly men, since they tend to not want to wear makeup… and don’t realize how much they need it until they see themselves on a 65″ 4K screen. ;-)

One last tip, you can often easily improve the look of Beauty Box even more by using tracking masks for beauty work, as you can see in the tutorials that link goes to. The ability of these masks to automatically track the points that make up the mask and move them as your subject moves is a huge deal for beauty work. It makes it much easier to isolate an area like a cheek or the forehead, just as a makeup artist would.

Live Video Streaming on the Cheap

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I’ve been live streaming various events for small organizations for a while. Most recently for the Against the Stream Meditation Center in SF (if you’re into mindfulness meditation and dharma talks check it out on Monday’s at 7:30pm PST).

Meditation centers don’t usually have a ton of money so we needed to figure out how to do things relatively cheaply. In the past I’ve used Ustream for other organizations, but they’re expensive. Especially for a non-profit.

Note: This assumes you want to do a relatively professional looking stream. If you’re just looking to stream you playing a video game or something there are even cheaper ways to do it. This article doesn’t cover that though. (although YouTube is still a great choice for that)

Looking around for alternatives I discovered that YouTube now does live streaming. For free. I’m usually skeptical of free offerings but they have been fantastic. Quality, analytics, control have all been on par with what I’m used to with Ustream, if not better. If you want to put up paid content then Ustream has some advantages but it’s very expensive. If you’re just trying to live stream your user group, meditation, or whatever meeting then I highly recommend taking a look at YouTube. (in YouTube go to Video Manager and then select Live Streaming. See image below)

So that takes care of one big component, the delivery network. YouTube: FREE  (YouTube records everything and then posts it after you’re done. If you’re doing test streams, make sure you turn that function off. Had an mildly embarrassing test video get posted accidentally)

Digital Anarchy's YouTube Live Stream Dashboard

Let’s talk about software.

Currently I use Wirecast Studio. This is great software for streaming productions. You can have overlays, animated lower thirds, multiple cameras, multiple audio streams, etc. It’s really a great live production environment and works with virtually every CDN (content delivery network). It’s also $500. If you’re doing a serious production it’s worth it though.

HOWEVER, with YouTube you can get Wirecast Play for free. Yep, once again FREE. This is a bit more limited, you can only have one camera (which is just fine for most small events), there’s no preview (whatever you select immediately goes live) and it only works with YouTube. However, if you’re only streaming on YouTube… not really a problem. It’s FREE and does have many of the features of it’s big, $500 brother. It also only works with Black Magic capture cards, so that’s another potential big limitation of Play. (see further down for the hardware I recommend)

So, software: FREE  (you can buy Wirecast Play Studio for $279. This is the $500 app restricted to YouTube. If you can afford it, I highly recommend this. The ability to Preview is kind of a big deal. But play with the free version and see how that works for you.) A screenshot of Wirecast Studio is below. As you can see below it looks much like a normal video editing app, so it’s very intuitive. (and yes, if they ever allow plugins we’d love to port Beauty Box Video to it :-)

Wirecast interface for video live streaming

And now we get to Hardware. Hardware is not usually free unfortunately. So this is where the expenses come in. However you’ll see it won’t be too bad, other than maybe the computer.

You’ll need a computer. I sort of recommend MacBook Pros. Macs still handle audio/video stuff with less problems than their PC counterparts. Apple unfortunately isn’t very generous with the hardware though, so small disks and limited RAM can create bottlenecks. If you don’t need the machine to be portable and can use a desktop machine, you’re better off. If you’re pretty tech savvy, then a PC is fine. Just realize they can be more finicky when it comes to getting video in. (although Windows is getting better)

I’ll go over various problems with the software and hardware in part 2 of this. There are lots of quirks to getting video into a computer and getting it to spit it out to the interwebs, so it needs it’s own blog post. The MacBook Pro has less quirks, so that’s the machine of choice for me.

Internet Connection: You have to have pretty fast internet (bare minimum is 1megabit Upload speed) and expect to use a wired connection. Do NOT use Wifi. Wifi is relatively unstable, slower and you’re much more likely to have problems. Run a cable directly into your modem or router. It will definitely help if other people are not using the connection. Having someone start watching Netflix while you’re trying to stream will not go well.

Having your connection constantly dropping really sucks and makes for a lot of stress. Get a fast connection, wire straight from your modem to the computer and kick everyone else off the line. Much more likely to have a good stream for your viewers and less stress for you.

Internet Connection: $50/mo (give or take)

Computer: MacBook Pro for $1600 (If you can use a desktop Mac/PC or laptop PC then the cost will be much less. I recommend buying the other bits first and trying everything out with an existing computer. If you can use your existing computer so much the better.)

Video Capture Card: Blackmagic Design Intensity Shuttle: This is what I use. It works well with the Mac but requires Thunderbolt. It took a bit of time to get it set up and find the right setting to get it to work with the Panasonic camcorder I use.  From my experience and most accounts, it’s very finicky. Expect to spend some time setting it up and possibly calling Black Magic (who were very helpful and got me up and running but other folks have reported having less positive experiences).

Frankly there aren’t a lot of other good, inexpensive solutions. So even though it’s not perfect, once you get it set up, it does work and will only set you back about $230. There’s also a USB 3.0 version which I have not tried.

Video Capture Card: $230 Blackmagic Design Intensity Shuttle Thunderbolt

Video Camera: I’ve been using Panasonic camcorders but any camcorder with a HDMI port will work. I know the correct settings on the Black Magic Intensity (1080i59.94) that goes with the Panasonics (video quality: 1080HG) so that’s what I stick with. But with a little experimentation I’m sure you can figure out the settings for any HD camcorder with HDMI out.

Video Camera: $150 Panasonic HC-V160 Camcorder

I’ve been using the Panasonic 4K camcorder but that’s just cuz I’m a geek. It’s a great camera and certainly works well, but total overkill if all you’re doing is streaming. Just get a basic HD camcorder.

Microphone: If you’re doing this on the cheap, just use the camcorder microphone. Easy and usually sounds ok. I’ll probably do another blog post on audio. There are lots of options and not easily covered in a couple paragraphs. Using the Camcorder Mic will be Free and easy. It won’t sound _amazing_ but should work. One advantage of the on camera mic is that it’s great for picking up the audience. Even if I have the speaker mic’d up, I’ll switch to the camcorder mic if someone in the audience is speaking (if there’s no audience mic). (This is one instance where Wirecast Studio is preferable to Wirecast Play)

Cables: You’ll need an ethernet cable and hdmi cable or two. Buy them from Amazon, they’re cheap and work great. Cost: $20-30 or so. Make sure you figure out what length you need. You may not be next to the modem so a long ethernet cable may be necessary. The longest HDMI cable I’ve been able to use is 12 feet. Seems cameras don’t have as strong of a HDMI signal as TVs and can’t use very long cables. Make sure you test everything well in advance of your event.

Actually, let me say that again: Make sure you test everything well in advance of your event. Streaming is quirky and you need to have confidence all you components and cables will play nicely together.

So the bottom line is. assuming you have the computer and a decent internet connection:

Hardware: $410 : $230 for the Intensity Shuttle, $150 for the camera and $30 for cables.

Service: FREE : YouTube live streaming

Streaming Software: FREE (or $279) : Wirecast Play or Wirecast Play Studio

 

Wherein Jim Tierney rants and opines about After Effects, Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro, and other nonsense