RT Tools – The Swiss Army Knife of Final Cut Pro X Plugins

Photo by AJC1 on Flickr.
Photo by AJC1 on Flickr.

How many of you remember the Swiss Army Knife. It was a little pocket knife/scissors/clippers/screwdriver/bottle opener all in one. They were very popular when I was a kid. Well, there’s a Final Cut Pro X (FCPX) plugin made by the boys at Ripple Training that is the plugin equivalent. It’s called Ripple Tools and it’s basically 12 plugins rolled into one. (Full disclosure: I was given a press copy of the program to use for this review.)

The FCPX Development Architecture

One of the changes Apple made with the most recent release of Motion is the ability to create your own, home-grown plugins for FCPX. In fact, a vast majority of the built-in plugins and effects that come with the program were all created within the Motion 5 development architecture. That is one of the reasons you’ve seen such a huge rise in programs made available for FCPX (and another reason why I love using it). For over a decade, Ripple Training has been a leader in providing tools and resources for Final Cut Pro users, so it’s no surprise they also have a bountiful supply of FCPX plugins as well.

It’s A Title Effect…What?!

The oddest thing for me to get used to when I first started using the plugin was the fact that it is a Title effect. So you access the Title browser in FCPX to apply RT Tools, NOT the Effects browser. But in a way, that’s one of the genius things about it. Because as a separate entity from your main clips, you can easily turn them on and off by just using the Command-V function in FCPX. It also makes it easy to apply the effect over a large selection of clips by just dragging out the title.

You access the controls to change a title’s properties in the Title tab of the Inspector. If you click the “Quick Tips” box at the top, the image in the timeline viewer switches from your clip to a set of simple instructions and tips. That’s a really nice feature if you want to quickly become acquainted with an effect and how to use it.


The Tools and My Thoughts

Here are the 12 Tools (with links to their respective video tutorials).

  • RT 3D Text: As the name suggests, it’s a way for creating three dimensional titles. I personally don’t find a lot of need for this kind of effect in the work I do. My titles tend to be more simple and subtle. I think of cheap, local cable access commercials when I think of 3D titles. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone implement them in a way that didn’t look cheesy.
  • 8 and 16 Point Mattes: two of the tools are garbage mattes, used for creating masks. I was disappointed that Apple took this feature out of Final Cut Pro, so it’s nice to have at least two of them back. You manipulate the matte points right on the image. One of the downsides to these mattes however is that you can’t keyframe them. They’re static. Keep that in mind when using them.
  • RT Adjustment Layer: this is perhaps my favorite of the 12 tools. Adjustment layers allow you to change the look of a clip without affecting the clip itself. Just apply your effect to the adjustment layer instead of the clip.  I love using an adjustment layer when I have a three or more effects on a clip. If you apply them to the clip directly, to turn them on and off you have to go into the inspector and check off each of the effects individually. With an adjustment layer, just use Command-V to turn the layer on and off, turning the effects on and off. You can also drag the layer over multiple clips, affecting ALL the clips underneath it. That can be a great way to quickly and easily apply the same set of effects over multiple clips (as opposed to copying then pasting attributes). One caveat to keep in mind when working with color grading effects is that often from clip to clip depending on how the lighting of the additional clips were set, you may need to make individual tweaks to color grading. Therefore, the same settings spread out over multiple clips may not yield the desired results.
  • RT Black and White: I wrote about this plugin in my post “Black and White Isn’t so ‘Black and White.’“. Basically, you can desaturate a clip and adjust the individual red, blue and green channels, yielding very different black and white “looks.” You can even adjust contrast and tinting. A great alternative to just plain old “desaturate.”
  • RT Blend: this is a compositing effect that allows you to create various looks. It has more parameters than the built-in FCPX composite feature (found in the inspector). For instance, add “Overlay” then adjust the “soften” parameter to create a slight glow (similar to that effect they added in the movies from the mid-20th century to make women look more, well, glowing.)
  • RT Color Balance: do you miss the  color wheel from Final Cut classic? Well, it’s back with this feature. You can individually manipulate hue, saturation and luma values for the shadows, midtones and highlights. (For many of you, this feature alone may be worth the price.)
  • RT Guides: a great tool for aligning titles or other objects in your video. You can turn rulers on and off to help with your adjustments. One thing I haven’t quite figured out though is how the pixel values in the rulers correspond to the slider values in the inspector. For instance, at Zero-Zero (horizontal and vertical, in essence, dead center), the slider values are 0.5 px each.
  • RT Outline Fill: this is an effect to be used over an image or video that has an alpha (transparent) channel. It  adds an outline and/or a fill around/in the image/video with the transparent background. I’ve never used it, but a good way to think about it is the old iPod commercial with the dancers, but all you see is their outline with a colored background. You need a very good key for this to work well with video.
  • RT Simple 3D: allows you to create clip that moves and rotates in 3D space.
  • RT Split Screen: I’ve had trouble working this split screen plugins before. The RT Split Screen is pretty simple to use and works great. It’s relatively easy to turn animation on and off, adjust size and position of drop zones, etc. Every now and then I’d forget which image was the source (the clip underneath the effect) and the “Drop Zone” (the image that flies in). You can stack the effect to create if more splits.
  • RT Vintage: this basically just adds a vintage look. You can change the tint and vignette intensity too.

As of this writing, RT Tools is only $39. Some of these effects alone could cost that much, let alone TWELVE! It’s one of the many plugins available via FXFactory by Noise Industries. (Read my review of FXFactory).

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