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Thu, Jul 14 2011 17:40:48 UTC

Interview with the makers of HitFilm

Today we have an interview with the makers of HitFilm, a brand new video editing software.



Could you describe yourself briefly and your role at HitFilm?


My name is Simon Jones and I work communications here at FXhome. That means talking to press and bloggers such as yourself, interacting with customers through Facebook, Twitter and the HitFilm.com forums and making sure we've got interesting tutorial and video content going up on YouTube as often as possible.

Right from the start, back in 2001, we always prioritized interacting directly with customers, so all the social media opportunities that are around today are really exciting. Getting to know our users and seeing them develop as filmmakers is one of the best things about the job.


What is HitFilm and how does it differ from other compositing software?


HitFilm is new video software that combines editing, 3D compositing and visual effects. Putting editing and VFX into a single product isn't something you see very often, especially for under $500. There's two versions, HitFilm Standard ($149) and HitFilm Ultimate ($399), and we've tried really hard to make them affordable for indie filmmakers.

We've also gone to some lengths to make sure that you get a lot of cool stuff right out of the box, so that you don't need to buy lots of expensive plugins. HitFilm Ultimate has a hugely powerful particle simulator that you can customize as much as you want, it's got light flares and procedural fire and a big collection of grading filters. The particle effects are particularly notable as they exist in the same 3D scene as your other layers, which opens up some really unique compositing options.

On top of that we've also got the new community over at the HitFilm.com website, which is already becoming a really vibrant place to discuss the software.


How did you get the idea to create that program?


What's been interesting over the last 5 years is how low budget filmmakers have completely transformed the quality of their work. When you look at the kind of stuff Freddie Wong or the guys at Corridor Digital are putting online, it's pretty obvious that the game has changed. Young filmmakers don't aspire to Hollywood anymore, they aspire to be as good as these YouTube pioneers. The idea with HitFlim was to make something that would be perfect for that kind of filmmaker.



How long did it take to create, from the initial concept to a finished product?


HitFilm was in active development for about 3 years, although it's really the culmination of everything we've done in the last decade. Everything we've learned about what to do and what not to do has gone into HitFilm.

We don't really believe in the concept of a ''finished product'' in the traditional sense. Now that HitFilm is out in the wild we're going through every comment we can find, on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other online communities, and taking all that feedback and all the ideas to see where we go next. We've got our own ideas and plans as well, of course, but the community is going to be a really strong influence on where we take HitFilm from this point onwards.


Do most people behind the software have a technical background or artistic background?


It's a real mixture. Josh, the FXhome CEO, actually has a background in art history. Some of the web guys are also indie filmmakers, which obviously is really valuable when you're putting together a new video product and filmmaker community. Then you've got some of the software devs who are real experts in their fields, the kind of people that code incredible things and blow your mind every single day.

The main thing is that everybody is invested in the project - people take a lot of responsibility here for their own work. Even just before launch when we were really in crunch time people were still hanging out socially, there was none of the tension that you sometimes hear about at other software and game companies. We think that team atmosphere really comes through in the work we do.


With several well established players like Adobe After Effects and Apple Final Cut, how hard is it to enter the market?


The market is an interesting one. Traditionally you have the really low end, entry-level stuff, like you get free with your camcorder or installed on your computer, and then you've got the professional end, but there's not really much in-between, especially for VFX and compositing.

In the last 10 years there's been a real explosion in that middle-ground area, where you've got people with real skills but who aren't necessarily full-on professionals, or who work outside the system. These are the kind of filmmakers that have really pushed the DSLR movement, and they've been largely ignored by software manufacturers.

HitFilm is a Windows PC product and there really isn't anything that does what we do anywhere near our price.


You recently launched HitFilm to the public just a few weeks ago, how did the launch go?


So far so good! Very early days still but we're thrilled to see people already using the software to produce tests and movies. We've built some community features into the software and website that help us promote anything cool our users make, so we've been watching that closely. Given that we've been working on HitFilm for 3 years, mostly behind-closed-doors, it's exhilarating to finally have it installed on computers all around the world.



What kind of user feedback did you get and how are you taking it into account on possible updates or future versions?


Feedback is an essential part of our development process. Much of HitFilm's design was influenced by feedback we'd had on our previous software, for example. We're monitoring comments in as many places as possible and it's been hugely useful in helping us know where to prioritize our efforts. We launched with the ability to import 3D camera tracking data, for example, but we know that 2D feature tracking is equally important and that's currently being worked on. That'll go out in a free update to users - we don't charge for .5 updates.

HitFilm was used on some impressive short videos like PRISM, how different are the real world challenges versus in-house testing?


No matter how much internal testing you do, it's never going to compare to having the software out in the real world, on thousands of different computer configurations and being used in ways you never predicted. That's why we're keeping such a close eye on community feedback, so that we can absolutely stay on top of anything that comes up.

The good news is that people are already starting to produce cool stuff - Prism is an excellent example, of course. We've known Sam and Niko over at Corridor Digital since they were just starting out as kids, so getting them on board from an early stage was a no-brainer, especially given how advanced their work is these days. They gave us a lot of feedback, telling us what kind of features they wanted to see in the program.


Are you working on anything new you can talk about?


The main priorities for us at the moment are the 2D feature tracking and optimization. Now that HitFilm is being used on a much wider range of PC configurations we can analyze performance more closely and identify areas where it can be improved. There's a few updates on the way that should make a big difference on some machines. After that we've got a huge list of ideas, and that's without including stuff from the community, but I can't talk about any specifics just yet!

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