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                            REVIEW: IMAGEFX 2.1
  By Bohus Blahut                           bohuslav.bohut@mail.colum.edu
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Recently, registered owners of ImageFX 2 (IFX) received a free upgrade to
2.1.  It introduced significant enhancements to an already superlative
image processing program.  Adding to the numerous image compositors already
in the original release are "softlight" and "hardlight" compositing, also
support for Cybergraphics, Retina, Video Toaster, HPScanjet, and Primera
printers.  To me the most important addition is CineMatte.  This is IFX's
intelligent blue screen compositor.

For the uninitiated, image processing programs specialize in manipulating
imagery; be it drawn, scanned, rendered, or grabbed from video.  For the
Amiga/DraCo, there are several such programs, but IFX stands out in several
ways.

First, ImageFX is one of the most capable paint programs on the Amiga.  I
use IFX with an OpalVision 24-bit display card which has its own paint
program, OpalPaint.  Though OpalPaint is a longtime favorite of mine, I
find IFX's paint abilities to be so flexible and the results so beautiful,
It's often the only thing that I use.

Another essential IFX feature is its regional processing feature.  You
create a shape that acts as a stencil for processing effects.  If you
wanted to tint a person in a picture blue, you'd simply freehand draw a
shape around the person in the picture, then hit the Balance key and crank
up the blue.

All image processing (IP) softwares perform certain essential functions
i.e.  gamma correction, sharpening, cropping, scaling etc.  They also
convert pictures from one format to another, usefull for porting your work
over to other platforms.

An important IFX ability that is unfortunately rare in other programs is
macro recording.  You simply record your mouseclicks, and your actions
become a macrofile.  For those uncomfortable with Arexx, this is a real
timesaver.  If you perform a function twice, it's worth creating a macro. 

You can apply these macros and other included scripts, onto moving images
using AutoFX.  AutoFX is simpler to use than IMP, IFX's previous batch
processor.  You select groups of images, create a list of scripts to
execute, and off you go.  While IFX's effects are impressive on a still
picture, wait till you see them in motion!

What distinguishes one IP software over another is its special effects, and
IFX has some beauties.  IFX 2 brought in dazzling effects like lens
reflections, emulation of painting styles, lightning, textures, ripples...
The list goes on.  All of these effects have several configurable
parameters eliminating that "signature" look.  In a program like Lightwave,
you can no longer use lens reflec- tions without giving away that you used
Lightwave.  IFX allows you to build your own reflections, and other
effects.  IFX even includes a simple to use morphing program at no extra
charge.  All of these elements make IFX a necessary addi- tion to you video
arsenal, especially since the introduction of CineMatte.

A year ago, I was assistant director and visual effects supervisor on a
film called Hollow.  We shot several blue screen scenes of a female
hologram.  We wanted her to be composited (combined) over a background and
the effect called for the actress to be transparent and ripple a little
bit. 

Using Vlab Motion, I recorded both the blue screen and the background
elements, and saved them onto my hard drive as Jpeg fields.  I spent the
next nine months doing the compositing with varying degrees of success. 
The prob- lem is that when the computer does blue screen compositing, it
wants a specific color value to key out.  Since this was a real world blue
screen, a whole range of blues needed to be keyed out.  While the IP
softwares allow you to specify a certain variance off of your original
color, once I got the variance up high enough to eliminate all of the blue,
parts of the actress would key out too.  I thought that the answer was in
using an alpha channel, but the formation of al- phas from this particular
video just wasn't precise enough. 

Enter CineMatte!  Designed specifically for Blue and Green screen
compositing, CineMatte is "intelligent" enough to examine a picture and
decide what's blue or green and key it out.  It's so simple!  This is what
computers are supposed to do...  make our lives easier.  CineMatte can also
save out alpha channels to use elswhere.  I will likely use this feature in
the final itineration of this effect.  By outputting alpha channels and
convolve blurring them in IFX, when I composite the pictures they'll have a
cool blue fuzzy edge.

If you'd like to see what this effect ended up looking like before
tweaking, see the Vlab Motion demo video.  There are several other
excellent examples of what ImageFX can do to video.  With its macro
recording capability, my film and video life has gotten a little simpler
and automatic.  If only I could get IFX to drive out and shoot videos for
me.