When applying special effects to self-produced movies, you generally have two choices. Either rely on the limited built-in effects of your video-editing application, or splash out on a high-end compositing tool such as Adobe's After Effects. EffectsLab Pro offers a refreshing third option: professional-standard effects at a price hobbyists can afford.
Built on the foundations of FX Home's user-friendly AlamDV, EffectsLab Pro includes extras such as additional filters and HD support. EffectsLab’s interface, although not as friendly as AlamDV's, houses effects, media clips and a timeline.
You start by importing a background plate to the canvas – usually with QuickTime or AVI-based video – and the timeline is then populated by dragging objects (video clips, effects, or still images) on to it. Each object holds multiple tracks that affect its appearance. For example, apply animation or grading filters to help objects blend seamlessly into their background; colour-correct clips by adjusting contrast or saturation.
As each clip may be a separate object with different colour settings, such adjustment can be tortuous. Thankfully, EffectsLab Pro supports grading objects, which can apply a single set of adjustments to all layers below it in the timeline. The side-effect is a cluttered timeline that's difficult to navigate, but tracks are collapsible and the timeline resizable.
EffectsLab Pro makes too much of the ability to create Star Wars-style light-sabre effects through its neon light effect. It's a neat feature, but it obscures some of the other more obviously useful effects, including explosion effects, lens flare optics and an excellent particle effects engine (see Particle effects, below).
What really impressed us is how easy it is to work with these effects. If you don’t want to build your own effect from scratch, you can select an effect style, drag a slider to set its duration and drag one of its many presets over the timeline. It could save you hours.
EffectsLab’s masking tools allow you to select an area of the canvas so that an effect can disappear behind an object. Masking is hardly a new concept – AlamDV users could mask areas – but rather than having to build multiple square masks to cover non-square areas, you can draw freehand masks or base them on alpha, luminance or even RGB values.
Another plus is the program’s performance. For those with slower systems, you can adjust canvas previews to balance speed and preview quality. Final renders, when you commit effects to your movie, are unaffected.
Equally good is online support. While the 100-page documentation is scanty, support forums and Flash-based tutorial movies – accessible from within the application – more than make up for this. If only every creative tool was this much fun.
EffectsLab Pro's standout feature is its Particle effects engine, which makes it easy to add rain, snow, smoke or dust on top of your movie.
Set the origin of the effect through an emitter, which can be dragged around the canvas, then adjust the particle effects, including its colour, speed and size, from the toolbox. As the particle textures themselves are image files, you could create your own particles in an image-editing application and import them along with their alpha channel into EffectsLab. You can store your effect as a preset to apply it subsequently, or to share it with other users.
The most impressive thing about the program's particle effects is the realistic results it produces. Usually you would expect to see similar results from particle effects generators in packages that cost hundreds of pounds.