I've always been a sucker for a cool special effect or transition, which is one of the reasons that I've enjoyed working with proDAD VitaScene over the years. With VitaScene V2, proDAD retains the same easy to use and highly configurable workflow found in the previous edition but adds a number of very cool effects and 64-bit operation. There are two versions available, VitaScene V2 LE ($149) and VitaScene V2 Pro ($499), with the Pro version offering more effects and more configuration options. Both are available as fully functional trial downloads.
proDAD offers the products as plug-ins for Adobe Premiere CS3, CS4, CS5 and CS5.5; Adobe Premiere Elements versions 1-8 (but not Adobe After Effects); Avid/Pinnacle Studio 2011 and Avid Media Composer; Corel VideoStudio X4; Grass Valley EDIUS and Grass Valley NEO; Magix Video Deluxe and Magix Video Pro; Sony Vegas Pro 32/64-bit and Sony Movie Studio HD Platinum. Check www.prodad.com for version-related information.
The plug-ins are Windows-only, and at a minimum require a system running Windows XP SP2 with 2GB RAM, with an Intel Core i7 and 64-bit Windows 7 with 6 GB RAM recommended. If you meet the minimum, be sure to check the proDAD website to make sure that your graphics card is supported. GPU acceleration is one of the key features of the product, and the program won't install or run if your card isn't up to snuff. Even if it is, I recommend that you update to the latest driver version and Direct X version before installing the product.
I tested VitaScene V2 Pro on an HP Z400 with a 3.33 GHz 6-core CPU running 64-bit Windows 7 with 22 GB RAM. The graphics card was an NVIDIA Quadro FX 4800 with 1.5 GB of video RAM, driving my 30" HP LP3065 flat-panel LCD monitor. I tested with Adobe Premiere Pro CS5.5.
In terms of operation, once you install either version, a proDAD folder appears in your Video Effects and Video Transitions folders. You apply the transition or effect as normal, then clicking the Setup (effect) or Custom (transitions) button to choose and enter the VitaScene interface to choose and customize the effect. You'll do most of the heavy lifting in this interface, shown in Figure 1, where I'm configuring the Tilt and Shift Effect (scroll down to the end of the article to see a video tutorial on Tilt Shift in VitaScene V2 Pro).
Figure 1. Configuring the Tilt and Shift effect
It's a busy screen, so let me explain. All effects are accessed via the Presets list box in the upper-middle window. Find the category that you want, and double-click the preset, and VitaScene applies it to your project. Once applied, you access the most commonly used configuration options in the Specialisation (customization) window beneath the Presets window, or you can access all customization options by clicking the buttons on the upper left.
The large window on the right is the preview window, which is cropped to 75% to fit the screen capture requirements--on my 30" HP monitor at 100% visibility, the video is available in full 16:9 glory. Below the preview window is the timeline, where you can add keyframes by dragging the playhead to the desired location and changing any configuration option.
As to the configuration options on the Tilt and Shift Effect itself, I've boosted the blurriness in the excluded area and increased the A/B Sharpness, which is the line between what's in focus and out of focus. In this configuration, I can more easily apply the focus. Once I've got that nailed, I'll reduce the blur and the A/B Sharpness to normal levels, and can adjust brightness or color as well. You'll need the right footage to produce a truly miniature looking scene, which generally involves shooting down and from a distance, with a mix of very small and very large objects in the scene, but the VitaScene configuration options are great.
Once you apply and configure an effect in VitaScene, you can preview in real time with no rendering, courtesy of VitaScene's GPU-rendering. Once you close VitaScene and return to your editor, normal rendering rules apply. In Premiere Pro CS5.5, since VitaScene is not a GPU-accelerated effect, you'll have to render to preview your effect at full frame rate.
What's in the Box?
Now that we've got the interface and work flow nailed, let's discuss some of the effects offered in VitaScene V2 Pro, which includes a great mix of glows, sparkles, rays, blurs, text effects, movie looks and many, many more. There's a good deal of commonality between effects and transitions, so you can apply similar-appearing sparkle effects to video, and sparkle transitions between clips, which helps create a consistent, polished look.
I use the text effects a lot, because they're a quick way to add a touch of class to any title, and because they're much easier and more configurable to apply than those offered by After Effects. Figure 2 shows the light ray text effect that I applied to the title of a Thriller performance by my wife's ballet group.
Figure 2. This text ray effect is killer.
Film looks are also very useful, with over 75 highly configurable presets (Figure 3). Configuration options include basics like saturation, gamma and contrast, and adjustments for black and white diffusion, tint and finish. The only disappointment is that you can't save a customized effect for later reuse.
Figure 3. One category of film looks and some configuration options
Two other classes of effects are also worthy of note. First are the picture-in-picture effects, which are particularly useful with Premiere Pro because there's no easy way to add a border around a picture-in-picture, like that shown in Figure 4.
Figure 4. Here's the director and editor explaining his creative options in the Thriller video
Though I haven't yet found the perfect vehicle for exploiting them, I also like the various art looks shown in Figure 5, which are all exquisitely configurable. Maybe I'll try one as a background for my next DVD menu.
Figure 5. The Art Looks
Overall, while there are some rough edges, like German-language controls that appear here and there, the program proved easy to use, stable and functional. proDAD includes demos of many of the effects on www.prodad.com, plus the trial versions. If you're looking for a fast, easy way to spice up your productions, I recommend that you have a look.
Jan Ozer (jan at doceo.com) is a frequent contributor to industry magazines and websites on digital video-related topics. He is chief instructor at StreamingLearningCenter.com and the author of Video Compression for Flash, Apple Devices and HTML5.