Review: ProDAD Vitascene
Posted Jun 29, 2007

As a rule, I’m not a big special effects guy, but the more weddings, concerts, ballets, and training videos I produce, the more value I see in finding efficient ways to spice up my work. For example, in a couple of weeks I’ll deliver my fifth ballet DVD to my wife’s ballet company, and while each has some unique touches, they are becoming a bit uniform. In weddings that I shoot, the "ten wows" concept—or how to make the viewers say "wow" ten times while viewing the DVD—is always in the back of my mind. While you can do a lot with multicam, picture-in-picture, and pan-and-zoom slideshows, special effects, tastefully used and applied, are also a big help.

I’m conversant in After Effects, and have some "go-to" activities that I always perform in that program, including chromakey, creating moving backgrounds, and some text effects. On the other hand, I don’t have the skill or time to create custom special effects within After Effects. I need a drag-and-drop library of effects that take seconds to apply and configure, but ooze production value. For these reasons, I was eager to have a look at ProDAD’s Vitascene, a library of highly customizable transitions and effects you can apply as a plugin or by using the standalone Vitascene application.

In terms of speeds and feeds, you can run the program as a plugin for Adobe Premiere Pro (Versions 1.0–2.0), Premiere Elements (1.0–3.0) and After Effects (7.0), Avid Liquid 7.x, Avid Xpress 5.x, Avid Media Composer Adrenaline 2.x, Canopus EDIUS 4.x, Pinnacle Studio 11.x, Sony Vegas 5.x-7.x, and Ulead Mediastudio 7.x–8.x). To run the program, you’ll need a DirectX 9-compatible graphics card with at least 128MB of memory. Before installing Vitascene, I recommend that you download and install the latest graphics driver for your card, and the latest version of DirectX.

Vitascene includes both filters and transitions that you can preview at the ProDAD website. The effects include film looks, blurs, defocus/bokeh, frames, glows, starbursts, sparkles, and glass effects. Transitions include film effects, ripples, wipes, sparkle and starburst dissolves, and many others. You can also build both effects and transitions from scratch.

I tested the program on a Dell Precision 390 Workstation with a 2.93GHz Core 2 Duo processor and 3.25GB RAM. My graphics card was an NVIDIA Quadro FX 3500 with 256MB RAM, driving the luscious 30" HP LP3065 flat-panel LCD monitor. I accessed and applied all effects from within Premiere Pro 2.0.

To see a video tutorial on using Vitascene, click here to go to EventDV-TV, select the Tutorials tab, and scroll down.

figure 1Sparkling Effects
To test the program, I created a First Play video for the Cappelia ballet my wife’s company recently performed; the final result can be seen on the upper right in Figure 1. The selected clip is the first clip in the timeline, a 16-second scene between Swanilda and Doctor Cappelius. As you can see in the Effect Controls window, I added three Vitascene effects to this clip, a rack defocus to help set off the text, a sparkle effect you can see on the doctor’s shirt, and the frame that surrounds the text. I’ll describe the workflow in a moment. Rather than display the text over moving video, which might be distracting, I grabbed the final frame of the initial video and stretched it for 10 additional seconds. This is the "with_rackfocus.bmp" clip you can see on Video 1 in Figure 1 (left). Above that are the various text-menu components, staggered for their animated appearance. If you look closely, you’ll see the rays shooting from the credits text, which was a Vitascene effect I applied to all text components after using a Vitascene sparkle dissolve to transition them in.

For the record, I actually created the menu in Photoshop, then imported the PSD file as a sequence into Premiere Pro, since that’s the only way to ensure that the First Play video seamlessly transitions into the actual menu. So I could show both the video clip and text in the same timeline, I then copied and pasted the components of that sequence into the sequence shown in Figure 1.

Getting Started
Let’s start with a few notes about the Vitascene interface, which is shown in Figure 2 (left) and is identical whether you use the program as a plugin or as a standalone application. First, all groups of relevant parameters are available in the narrow column on the left, with the selected parameters available for customization in the middle column. For example, the Filter Presets button is depressed on the left, which is why the thumbnails are showing, along with the most relevant configuration options. If you clicked Color Adjustment in the column on the left, these parameters would appear in the middle column.

I found Vitascene much simpler to use as a plugin rather than a standalone product. If you decide to use it standalone, you’ll set up your project and import and export your assets by clicking buttons on the left, which opens the relevant controls in the middle.

In terms of plugin workflow, after installing either the full or trial version of Vitascene, a ProDAD folder appears in both your Video Effects and Video Transitions folders. To apply a Vitascene filter, you drag it onto your clip just like any other filter. Then, in the Effects Controls window, you click the Setup box and Vitascene loads.

When Vitascene first opens, you won’t see anything in the preview window on the right. Double-click any preset and your video will appear, preset applied, and because the program uses your graphics card—rather than your CPU—to preview, all previews in Vitascene are real-time. This is great in theory, but it also makes it critical that you have a graphics card installed that Vitascene supports, and one powerful enough to deliver efficient performance. Once you get back to your NLE, however, you’ll need to render to see the preview in real time, especially if you add multiple layers of Vitascene effects.

Anytime you change any effect parameter in the Specialization window, Vitascene creates a keyframe. You can see a bunch of them below the preview window shown in Figure 2(above). That’s because I adjusted the Highlight-Threshold option to trigger a sparkle in the ballerina at critical moments in her dance, which is the only way to configure the effect. To be more specific, you don’t get to choose her crown, initiate a sparkle, and have it follow her movements. Instead, it’s triggered via colors, usually white, which worked well for me in this video, but could be challenging if your main subject isn’t wearing white.

Once you’re finished configuring the effect, click the small plugin button below the menu bar (or press F12), which brings you back to your editor. Then, you can apply another Vitascene filter or move on to the next edit. Here, my next task was to soften the frame so the text would stand out more clearly. Once again, I applied the Vitascene filter from Premiere Pro’s effect palette to the same clip, then started sorting through the 11 blur presets, which included a cool rack defocus effect. Since there was an intensity slider that controlled focus, it was easy to set the filter to kick in about four seconds from the end of the video clip.

Then I started looking for a border for my menu text. After applying the filter as before, I sorted through the 19 presets, ultimately choosing a defocus sparkle border (Figure 3, left). Again, this was easy to transition in starting at about four seconds from the end of the clip via the iris control.

About this time, I realized that most effects and transitions were variations of a common set of tools like the sparkle effect I had initially applied, plus iris controls, blur adjustments, color adjustments, masks, shapes, and several others. This makes it simple to either choose or create a common set of effects and transitions you can use to foster a common theme throughout the project.

figure 1For example, I obviously liked the sparkle effects in the video and frame. For this reason, I used a sparkle-dissolve effect to transition in my text, as described below. If I were editing a wedding, and used the sparkles in my motion menu, I could easily use a sparkle dissolve similar to that shown in Figure 4 (left) where I wanted an obvious transition. I could similarly use this effect in section titles, DVD menus, and perhaps once or twice for fun during the video montage. If sparkles are too perky for you, you can choose glows, blurs, rays, or starburst effects, all available as both transitions or effects. Either way, you have the tools necessary to quickly create a highly customizable look that will make each production unique and maybe generate a wow or two.

For the record, another useful class of effects is Vitascene’s Film Looks set, with useful classifications, like "dream," "Paris," "London," and "Alaska," as well as "warm" and "cool." Though the looks and their configurability are similar to what you get with Red Giant’s popular Magic Bullet suite, Vitascene does not include effects like dust, grain, flicker, scratches, and vignette, which would certainly be a useful complement for those seeking a period look.

figure 1My last task was adding effects to my menu text. Here I browsed the Vitascene text categories for both effects and transitions (Figure 5, left). To be fair, many of the motion effects are similar to those available in After Effects, but there are no sparkle or ray text effects in After Effects, which was important for matching the sparkles in my background video and frame.

Again, you apply a Vitascene transition by dragging it from Premiere Pro's Transition folder in the Effects Panel into the intersection between the two clips, or the front of the clip transitioning in, which I did here. Then you select the transition and click Custom to open Vitascene and choose and customize your effect. I had to apply each transition separately, but once I applied the first ray effect, I was able to copy and paste attributes to the other four textual components of the menu, a nice bit of automation available with all of Premiere Pro’s filters.

Scene to Screen
Overall, I found the transitions and effects provided in Vitascene highly unusual and very applicable to a variety of events, including weddings, ballets, and other artistic productions. Many effects would apply equally to business and training videos. All tested effects rendered to very high quality, earning the stamp of approval from the ballet director and ultimate artistic decision-maker (aka my wife). I liked the common themes that make it very easy to create a consistent, polished look, and when I used the program as a plugin, I found it very easy to use.

ProDAD offers a fully functional trial version that you should definitely download before buying, both to check the program out and determine whether it runs smoothly on your system (see list of recommended graphics cards). Check for updates for the trial version immediately after downloading, as the trial may not be the most recent version. As mentioned at the top, I would also download and install the most recent graphics-card driver and current version of DirectX before running the program.

To see a video tutorial on using Vitascene, click here to go to EventDV-TV, select the Tutorials tab, and scroll down.

Jan Ozer, owner/operator of Doceo Publishing, is a contributing editor to EventDV and Streaming Media.