Oliver Peters takes a look at the new Boris FX Continuum FCP, a comprehensive package of effects for Final Cut Pro.
Video editors like to augment their built-in effects tools with third-party plug-ins. Over the years, Boris FX products have become widely used favorites. If you are an Avid Media Composer or Premiere Pro editor, or an After Effects designer, then my guess is that you are likely to have Continuum or Sapphire plug-ins installed on your system.
Audio plug-ins typically use the ubiquitous AU or VST architecture, adopted by most DAWs and NLEs. But there is no widely adopted video effects standard for Windows or macOS. There is Open FX (OFX), but other than Resolve or Vegas, it hasn’t been widely implemented by other NLE companies. In addition, not all NLEs provide built-in support for certain effects attributes, like masking and tracking. Every video plug-in developer that supports multiple hosts must optimize their plug-in products to be compatible with each different editing tool. Third party video effects for Final Cut Pro must be compatible with the FxPlug4 API, which controls what works or doesn’t within the application.
When Final Cut Pro X was originally introduced, Boris FX faced the challenge of developing Continuum effects for FCPX based on the newly introduced system of Motion templates. Effects that matched other Continuum versions had to be rebuilt to a far greater extent to work with FCPX. As a result, each time the Continuum bundle was updated for all hosts, the update for Final Cut Pro X would lag by a few months.
2021 is brand new story
Throughout the past few years, Boris FX has expanded the company by bringing a number of teams and products from former competitors under the Boris FX umbrella. This includes the award-winning developers behind Silhouette and Digital Film Tools. The first new Boris FX product from this team was Boris FX Optics, released last September. Optics is a Photoshop extension and standalone application designed for still photography. Now this team has developed Continuum FCP 2021, a brand new effects package for Final Cut Pro. This is not an updated version of the legacy Continuum effects for FCP. In fact, if you purchased that bundle in the past, it’s a separate update installation. The two are completely different products.
Continuum FCP 2021 has been developed from the ground up for Final Cut Pro, with effects, looks, and an FX Editor based on previous Digital Film Tools products. The effects are GPU-accelerated for real-time performance, so there’s a marked improvement over past Boris FX Continuum effects. The package includes 90 effects, over 1,000 presets, a texture generator, and dozens of title templates. There are realistic, editable lens flares, retro film stock emulation, color grading, a Gobo library, and photographic gels, each of the latter two with hundreds of their own presets.
Taking Continuum for a spin
I’m running Continuum FCP 2021 on a 2020 iMac (8-core i7 CPU, 5700 XT GPU) and the performance is great. Continuum installs as a series of effects organized into categories, such as BCC Blurs, BCC Art Looks, BCC Film Style, etc. Each category includes a set of effects. Start by simply applying an effect to a clip, which then displays the default look for that effect. The inspector panel offers a number of slider controls to modify the parameters of the effect. For many effects, like BCC Beauty Studio, the inspector controls are all you’ll need. To dig deeper into some of the look and lighting effects, click the FX Editor button in the inspector to launch the custom FX Editor interface. That’s when the fun begins.
If you’ve used any of the older DFT products or Optics, then the FX Editor interface will look quite familiar. The central viewer displays the static FCP timeline frame under the playhead (you cannot currently play a moving clip inside the FX Editor). A gallery of available presets is on the left and parameter sliders are on the right. Gallery frames are all updated with the “live” image. The viewer includes controls for before and after comparisons - both full frame and split screen. Once you’ve modified the look to your liking, click Apply to exit the FX Editor and update your timeline clip. Custom set-ups may also be saved and recalled for later use.
There are a ton of effects to explore in this package. Most are visual style and look effects, including film stock emulation, streaks, textures, glows, and beauty effects. One interesting effect is BCC+Lights, which offers a gallery of Gobo lighting effects. Want the image to look like sunlight coming through a window pane is casting a pattern on the wall? Done. Since none of these effects currently include built-in Mocha tracking, the result works best when there is no camera movement.
The Continuum FX Editor only permits you to add and modify one effect at a time. You cannot combine various effects like Photoshop layers and composite them within the FX Editor as a single effect. So, if you want to apply a film stock look and a lighting effect, then you will have to apply those as two separate effects, which are then each modified separately in their own FX Editor. I suspect this was done for three reasons: 1) to keep the FX Editor interface from becoming overwhelming, 2) to easily add new effects in the future, and 3) maintain real-time performance.
In addition to effects and looks, Continuum FCP 2021 also includes a set of Motion template titles. These are a nice addition, but in my opinion, not a huge selling point. They are a mixture of animated and editable title templates similar to other offerings on the market. This set includes a variety of lower thirds, center titles with and without stencils, and designed frames.
There’s a cool “cinematic title” that includes some nice grunge effects, which affect the background clip underneath. If you clear the text, you can apply this over a clip or across a cut to create a transition effect, too. However, this was the only effect where I encountered an issue, inducing an application crash when I switched from 2D to 3D text. So stick with 2D text on that one. Fortunately, the other titles were fine when I tested 3D text.
I was a bit surprised to see that Continuum FCP does not include any standalone generators (other than as part of the texture effect) or separate transitions, as offered in the previous versions of Continuum for FCP. It also does not include any Primatte keying effects. Transitions, keying, and built-in Mocha tracking are typically part of other Continuum bundles. However, this is a completely reimagined product. Whether we’ll see some of these premium features added in future iterations is unknown at this time.
Boris FX Continuum FCP 2021 is available as a free trial, monthly ($25) or annual ($195) subscription, and a perpetual license ($295). Remember that Continuum FCP is different from Continuum, so make sure you get the correct version when going through the Boris FX website. The Continuum FCP 2021 plug-ins currently work on Intel and M1 Macs, but M1 support is via Rosetta 2. Boris FX plans to provide native M1 support in the near future.
To some, the perpetual license cost might seem high, but it’s well below that of the other Continuum versions. If you haven’t already purchased similar effects from other vendors, then this investment is worth it for what’s in Continuum, including such premium effects as the flares, beauty studio, and licensed film stock emulations. The cost is realistic relative to the cost of the host application. This shouldn’t matter, but I know that’s a factor many use in evaluating the plug-ins that they buy.
Having worked with both Continuum packages now in Final Cut Pro, I can certainly attest to the improved performance in the new product. The volume of options alone makes it fun to simply explore new ways to color, enhance, or stylize your images. It’s addictive and once you start using Continuum, I doubt there would be a timeline without some instance of these effects.