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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 24th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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Blurring the line

10 July 2018

One advantage of being a bit under the weather is that it has given me time to get more familiar with the new editing and compositing software I'm recently purchased.

Now I have to say that although I've long been aware of the power that such software has, I'm still blown away with just how easy it is to create material that is incredibly realistic -- but totally fake.

The stuff you can do with $500 worth of software (or the free stuff if you prefer) totally boggles the mind and calls into question exactly whether we can believe our own eyes.

Until a month or so ago, I was able to cobble together bits of footage to make a video with reasonable efficiency. Until recently, this was all I needed to do in order to create the content which I upload to my YouTube channels and it's always been my theory that perfection is the enemy of "good enough".

Recently however, I've changed that outlook a little.

As I've learned about and played with such techniques as camera tracking, rotoscoping, compositing real colour grading (as opposed to just tweaking contrast levels) and such, I began to realise just how much more there was to the process of turning raw footage into cool video.

Now I'm not claiming to be any better at this than I was a couple of months ago -- but I do have a greater appreciation for the skill and knowledge of those who are professionals in this field. Even the best screenplay, actors, directors. camera operators and other elements will come to nothing if those turning the raw footage into a finished work are not up to the task.

It is also very interesting to see how well this very complex software holds up under heavy use.

The DaVinci Resolve video editor has not crashed on me once (unlike my previous editor, Magix Movie Studio, nee Sony Movie Studio, which crashed with increasing regularity as it was "improved" by its new owners).

Sadly, the same can not be said for the Fusion compositing software -- which does crash a couple of times a day when engaging in complex tasks such as camera tracking. However, to its credit, it is very easy to resume after a crash and the most work I've lost has amounted to no more than 10 minutes or so. Given the complexity of the program, I'd rate this as acceptable.

There is now a new version of these programs currently under beta which anyone is free to download.

The developer, Black Magic Design, has opted to more tightly integrate the editor with the compositor, effectively turning them into a single program -- and this has (naturally) produced some issues... although at revision 6, many professionals are already using the pre-release software for serious projects so its reliability is still good.

For the time-being however, I'm sticking with the previous releases of this software because, as a learner, I don't want to have to waste time trying to work out whether something that doesn't work is my fault or the code's fault.

Thanks to the growing proliferation of open-source freeware, it's been a while since I forked out hard-earned cash for some software but I am pleased with my investment in this stuff. The selling point for me was the fact that the company gives away a totally free version of both packages (editor and compositor) which has only minor restrictions on functionality but doesn't include watermarks or nag-screens. This gave me ample time to play around and determine if it was good enough for my needs.

Of course I could have just carried on using the free versions but I do believe that if I'm going to be using software, it should be paid for (damn, I'd make a lousy software pirate). I've always felt this way and was perhaps one of the very first to make a donation to WinAmp way back in the 1990s when I started using their MP3 software.

There's also something very sweet about using top-shelf editing/compositing software -- the stuff that some of the biggest names in the movie industry use, rather than some $79 "toy" system that may do the job but always leaves you wishing for more.

I won't waste anyone's time showcasing my own "early days" work but I will point you in the direction of this YouTube video which was edited and composited using the same software. Pretty impressive, I think you will agree.

To be fair, getting results like this is far from easy but even I have been able to come up with some footage that distorts reality in a way that looks 100% believable. It is now so simple to "make shite up" and present it as reality, thanks to cool software like this. Who would know the difference?

Fake news has some fantastic tools in its arsenal these days.

What was the last piece of software you actually forked out your own money for and was it worth it?

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