Welcome to Recommended Post Production Software. The purpose of this page is to give you an overview of what I think are the best apps for:
- Video editing
- Sound editing and mixing
- Colour grading
- Motion graphics
- Visual effects
Not only are these apps high quality professional tools, they’re also great value for money. Just be aware, there are three Apple pro apps in this list, so if you’re not using a Mac, you’ll need to consider alternatives for your operating system.
I understand how emotionally attached people become to the software they use. Filmmakers can be more intense about their favourite creative app than their camera. So I realise that you might not agree with my software choices. Over the years, I’ve used a lot of different apps. Right now, these are the ones I prefer, so this is where I’ve focused my expertise.
Plug-ins, Widgets and Media Libraries
While I’m personally recommending the software described below, I’m not making any recommendations regarding the plug-ins, widgets or media libraries I’ve listed. I’ve included them so you can get an idea of what’s available for each app. There are many other plug-ins besides the ones I’ve listed, I chose these ones as they seemed the most useful for filmmakers.
Final Cut Pro X
It’s 2011 and I’m b-o-r-e-d. I’ve been using Final Cut since version 2. I know it inside out, back to front and upside down. So imagine my excitement when I launch Final Cut Pro X for the first time and don’t know where to start! Suddenly video editing is exciting again, a new voyage of discovery.
FCPX was the first time one of the big post production apps embraced file-based editing and discarded the trappings of a tape-based workflow. It’s a masterclass in stripping the interface down to the basics without losing any of the functionality.
Final Cut is the fastest and least clunky pro editing software. It does its best to get out of the way and let you be creative. It’s also the cheapest. If you bought FCPX when it was first released in 2011, you won’t have spent a penny since. All updates are free to existing customers. Final Cut is also in the Pro Apps Bundle for students.
Top 5 features
- Video and audio editing
- Flexible media management
- Support for modern video formats and some Raw codecs
- Large sound effects library
- Effects, transitions, 2D and 3D titles
Useful Links for Final Cut Pro X
Plug-ins and widgets for Final Cut Pro X
Compressor:developed by Apple, Compressor is a companion to FCPX. It transcodes media into different formats. You can convert file types, aspect ratio (frame shape) and re-time videos to different frame rates. There are a number of Settings ready to use, or you can create your own. Any of the Settings can be used directly in FCPX or Motion.
X2Pro:this is a widget for transferring a FCPX project to audio editing software. It does this by converting a Final Cut XML into an AAF file. Mainly used for sending projects to Pro Tools, it’s also useful for organising tracks based on metadata when sending to Logic Pro.
Sync-N-Link X:when video and audio are recorded separately, syncing them together for the edit is a time-consuming task. Sync-N-Link X is a widget that automatically syncs sound and pictures based on date and timecode. So if the camera and sound recorder weren’t timecode sync’d during the shoot, this won’t work.
Shot Notes X:this is a widget that converts the Script Supervisor’s notes into metadata for Final Cut. It puts important info from the film set at the editor’s fingertips.
Logic Pro X
Logic Pro X is designed for musicians, but there’s no reason why you can’t use it to create your movie soundtrack. While the Fairlight page in DaVinci Resolve (see below) has some great features, this is my recommended post production software for this particular task. You can record ADR sessions directly to your Mac, capturing multiple takes is very straight forward. You can retime dialogue, match tone between recordings and use spatial effects to create the perfect environment for the scene.
There’s a built-in sound effects library, which is identical to the one in Final Cut. You can import previously recorded sound effects and Foley. Use the synthesisers and the huge range of effects to create sounds for a sci-fi or fantasy movie.
If you’re not working with a composer, Logic is absolutely packed with musical loops. Combine, edit and mix until you have the cues you need for your film.
Like Final Cut, Logic Pro X is in Apple’s Pro Apps Bundle for students.
Top 5 features
- Audio editing and mixing
- Re-recording dialogue
- Large library of sound effects and music loops
- Stereo and surround mixing
- Sophisticated sound design tools
Useful Links for Logic Pro X
Plug-ins, Widgets and Sound Libraries for Logic Pro X
Audio Units (AU) plug-ins for Logic Pro X usually work in Final Cut Pro X. Once installed, restart the apps. You should see them in the effects panel.
iZotope RX:this is a range of audio repair and enhancement tools. You can isolate and improve dialogue, remove unwanted background noise and improve the tonality of your audio. RX Elements is a set of plug-ins for Logic, while RX Standard and above is a standalone app.
Youlean Loudness Meter:whether you movie is going to be streamed, broadcast or released to movie theatres, the soundtrack most meet certain guidelines. A standard you’ll encounter is perceived loudness, measured in LUFS. To monitor this accurately you need a loudness meter, not just a peak meter.
Sound Effects Libraries
Sound effects libraries are collections of pre-recorded audio clips you can use in Logic Pro X. Each sound is usually a high quality .wav file.
Lens Distortions Sound Effects Libraries:usually a sound effects library has audio clips relating to objects, such as footsteps, a door slam or animal noises. The one built into Logic is a good example. These libraries from Lens Distortion feature abstract sounds, designed to have an emotional and visceral impact on the audience.
MotionPulse Sound Design Tools:here are five sound effects libraries you can buy as a bundle. Designed for motion graphics, these sounds will also work well in genre movies such as action, sci-fi and horror. The five libraries are: Machine, Organic, Velocity, Impact and Signal.
Color page in DaVinci Resolve
DaVinci Resolve has always been the post production software I use for colour grading. As the industry standard it’s been used on many big movies and TV shows. As well as grading tools, it includes colour management for consistency between different media and with other post production software.
Blackmagic Design have been busy adding video editing and sound mixing features to Resolve, but it’s the Color and Fusion pages I’m mainly interested in. See Fusion Page in DaVinci Resolve below. Having said that, it’s all worth exploring, especially the Fairlight page for sound mixing.
The free version of Resolve might be all you need, but the Studio version does have excellent video noise reduction. Also, if you need to create an HDR master for distribution, then the Studio version is required.
Top 5 features
- All the colour grading tools you’ll ever need
- Colour management: ACES and RCM
- Handles all Raw codecs, except ProRes Raw
- Stabilise shaky footage
- Masking and motion tracking
Useful Links for DaVinci Resolve
Widgets for DaVinci Resolve
Cinematiq DCP Transfer:it’s relatively straightforward to export a DCP from Resolve using Kakadu or easyDCP. However, some venues need the files on a hard drive formatted for Linux. This is where Cinematiq DCP Transfer comes in handy. It can format a drive to EXT2, copy over your DCP and run a test to validate it. Unfortunately it’s subscription software. But you could cancel after a month if you only make DCPs very rarely.
There’s a story that Motion was used to create minor effects in one of the Harry Potter movies. I’ve no idea if it’s true, an online search has revealed no further info. But here’s something that is true, Motion is a lot more powerful than you realise. While it might not have the features you’ll find in Fusion or After Effects, there are certain things it does better.
Motion is a toy box for creatives. It comes with lots of useful templates, graphics, particle systems and Behaviours already built-in. Behaviours are animated presets that don’t need keyframes. They’re also used to link settings between different objects.
The big advantage of Motion 5 is you can build effects and publish them to Final Cut Pro X. By rigging the effects, you make the settings available in the Final Cut interface. It’s a more efficient way of working than sending clips from FCPX to Motion.
Like Final Cut and Logic, Motion is included in Apple’s Pro Apps Bundle for students.
Top 5 features
- Motion graphics and basic visual effects
- 3D titles with textures and lighting
- Keyframe animation and Behaviours
- Still and animated asset library
- Publish custom effects to Final Cut
Useful Links for Motion 5
Plug-ins for Motion 5
FXPlug effects for Motion usually work in Final Cut Pro X. Once installed, restart the apps. You should see them in the effects panel.
mFlare:how do you feel about lens flares? Do you see them as awesome cinematic effects that add life and texture to your shots? Or do you see them as cheap and cheesy? Personally I like lens flares, provided they’re not over-used. mFlare from MotionVFX comes with a nice selection of presets, plus all the tools you need to create custom effects. You can also track bright object in the scene to position the flares.
Yanobox nodes:this plug-in shows a great deal of love for motion graphics in general and interface design specifically. No sci-fi movie is complete without cool looking navigation and data displays, and this is where nodes truly delivers. It uses geometry, particles, text, shape presets and computer generated patterns to create spectacular graphics.
Fusion page in DaVinci Resolve
For a while, the post production software I used for visual effects was Shake. When Apple killed it off, I switched to After Effects. Then Adobe went down the subscription path. If I wanted to stick with After Effects, I’d have to pay for a load of other software I didn’t need. That wasn’t going to happen.
So imagine my excitement when I heard Blackmagic Design was bringing Fusion to the Mac! At first it was a standalone app, now it’s also integrated into DaVinci Resolve as the Fusion page. This makes sense, when working in visual effects you’ll want to take advantage of Resolve’s excellent colour management.
Fusion has a node-based interface… any VFX artists used to layers might run screaming to the hills at this point… Using nodes involves a different approach to problem solving, a different way of working. It’s also the one favoured by industry professionals. Once you get used to nodes, you’ll find they’re a great way to build complex effects and compositions.
You can use Fusion like a traditional compositing tool and only work with 2D assets. But it’s easy to add 3D to the mix. You can create basic 3D shapes in Fusion, import models you’ve bought online or craft your own in software such as Blender, Maya or Cinema 4D. Find out more about Blender below.
Top 5 features
- 2D and 3D visual effects / motion graphics
- Keying and compositing
- Motion tracking tools: planar and point
- 2D and 3D particle system
- Animate with keyframes, modifiers and expressions
Useful Links for DaVinci Resolve
Plug-ins, Scripts and Compositions for the Fusion page in DaVinci Resolve
Also works with the standalone version of Blackmagic Fusion.
Reactor:Reactor is a Fusion package manager. You can use it to view and install a variety of plug-ins, scripts and pre-build compositions.
Once downloaded and unzipped, you should see a file called Reactor-installer.lua. Launch Resolve and on the Fusion page, drag this file into the Node area to install. Once it’s finished installing, relaunch Resolve. You can access Reactor from the Workspace menu:
Workspace ⇨ Scripts ⇨ Reactor ⇨ Open Reactor
Search through the folders in the column on the left and what you want using the main panel. New features are shown in green, ones that can’t be installed in red and the Donation column tells you if it’s free or not. Select one to see more details.
Visual Effects Stock Footage
Visual effects stock footage is a collection of visual assets you can use in the Fusion page of DaVinci Resolve. These might be action effects such as bullet hits, fire, explosions, smoke and blood splats. Or they can be more subtle, such as rain, snow, mist and dust. Usually the footage comes with an alpha channel, so the transparency data is built into the clip.
Action Essentials 2:from Video Copilot, these 500 elements have a resolution of 2K. The collection is quite old and I suspect it’s based on QuickTime 7. If that’s the case, you’ll need to convert the clips to make them compatible for MacOS 10.15 and later. Here’s how to do it in Final Cut Pro X:
▪ From the File menu choose Check Media for Compatibility
▪ If incompatible files are found, click Convert
ActionVFX:there are several collections of action stock footage that can be bought as a bundle. These come in resolutions of 2K, 4K and 6K. High quality and used in big productions, but very expensive.
Lens Distortion Master Video Bundle:these collections of 4K footage from Lens Distortion include weather, light, glass and dust. As the effects are not supplied with an alpha channel, you’ll need to change the blend mode to Screen or Add to remove the black background. Can be bought as a bundle, which makes them more cost effective.
At one time Blender was notorious for being the only app where you selected objects with a right-click. It was instantly off-putting for many people, even though you could re-map the mouse buttons in Preferences. As well as a non-standard user interface, you got the vibe that the software developers were prioritised over the users. While it still feels develop-centric, the 2.8 release (August 2019) has done much to improve the user experience… including making left-click the default!
Use Blender to create, texture and animate 3D models. Import the 3D assets into the Fusion page in Resolve, where they can be composited with live action clips.
There are a number of open-source creative apps out there. But the quality varies and usually the paid alternatives are better. In the case of Blender, I recommend it without reservation. Not only are individuals switching from paid software to Blender, animation and visual effects studios are as well.
Top 5 features
- Model, sculpt and texture 3D objects from scratch
- Rig and animate characters, vehicles and other moving objects
- Add realistic lights to a 3D scene
- Systems for simulating water, smoke and fire, rain and destruction
- Render engines for converting a 3D scene into a 2D video clip
Useful Links for Blender
If you’re using a modern Mac with an AMD graphics card, you can improve render speeds by installing AMD Radeon ProRender and its Material Library.
Add-ons and Widgets for Blender
HardOps:if you want to model hard surface environments or objects, then you might find this useful. Things like sci-fi or industrial environments. Also good for robots, weapons and other mechanical objects.
RetopoFlow:if you use the sculpting tools to create an object, you’ll need to go through the retopology process to make a usable mesh. This can be time-consuming, the tools in RetopoFlow are there to make your life easier.
fSpy:a handy camera matching widget. When you’re adding 3D objects in your scene, you need to match the virtual camera to the real camera. fSpy can help if you don’t have the info you need. There is an fSpy importer plug-in for Blender.
Gaffer:this useful plug-in gives you improved controls for working with lights and managing environment lighting in the form of HDRI files. Optimised for the Cycles render engine.
Animation Nodes:if you want to create sophisticated motion graphics in Blender, try the free Animation Nodes add-on. Use it to replicate objects, animate without keyframes, create particle systems and manipulate text.
SceneCity:this plug-in enables you to quickly produce a cityscape for your scene. It comes with road and building libraries that you can start using straight away. Also includes TerrainScene for designing natural landscapes.
Mirage:if all you need is a natural landscape, then Mirage could be for you. Use it to generate realistic terrain and fill it with trees, grass and rocks. It will also UV unwrap the landscape so you can paint over it in Blender, Photoshop or Affinity Photo. See below for more details on Affinity Photo.
Asset Libraries for Blender
Asset libraries for Blender are extremely useful, as creating everything from scratch is very time-consuming. There’s a large range of models, textures and HDRIs for you to choose from. While you might want to craft the most prominent objects in the scene yourself, it’s good practice to use libraries for items in the background.
When you use any asset library, make sure the file types you download can be opened in Blender. For example, some textures are Substance files (.sbsar), which Blender doesn’t recognise.
Poliigon:this library has a good selection of textures, models, HDRIs and brushes. When you buy a texture, you don’t only get the standard diffusion map, but also ambient occlusion, displacement, gloss, normals and reflection. You need these to create a photorealistic surface that reacts to scene lighting. The HDRIs include both outdoor and indoor lighting, they’re split into sections for different purposes. The brushes are .psd files with alpha channel images. You can load these into Blender to create new sculpt or paint brushes.
TurboSquid:here you’ll find a good selection of 3D models designed for a variety of purposes. The models typically come with texture maps. Some are rigged for animation and others have basic animations built-in.
3D Characters for Blender
Mixamo:this is a free online app for rigging, posing and animating 3D characters. It comes with a small selection of 3D characters, or you can create your characters in MakeHuman or Adobe Fuse and send them to Mixamo.
MakeHuman:free software for modelling and texturing the human figure. You can send the finished model to Blender or to Mixamo. You can download User Contributed Assets such as clothes, hairstyles and poses.
Adobe Fuse (Beta):if you have an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription, you can try the beta version of Fuse for free. Using a library of assets and intuitive settings, you can model and texture your characters and customise the clothing. You can send the character to Mixamo or Photoshop for posing and animating. From Mixamo, you can export the model for Blender.
Daz 3D:Daz 3D provides very professional, life-like models. If you need a CG foreground character, this would be the best choice. You start with a base model then buy character variations, clothes, facial expressions and poses. There’s an unfortunate soft porn vibe to many of the assets, but you’re sure to find something useful. If you subscribe to their newsletter you’ll be bombarded with money off deals on an almost daily basis!
Sending models from Daz 3D to Blender can be tricky, but using an .obj (Wavefront) or .fbx file should work.
As someone who’s allergic to subscription software, I needed a replacement for Photoshop. There’s a few decent options out there (Pixelmator springs to mind), but I ultimately choose Affinity Photo because of it’s great features and interface.
When creating static assets for visual effects or motion graphics, photo editing software is ideal. You can use it to design and paint textures for 3D objects you’ve created in Blender (see above). From version 1.7 onwards, there’s support for 32-bit HDR images.
Comparisons with Photoshop are inevitable as it’s so universal. With its interface, layers and panels, Photo is clearly designed to be familiar to Photoshop users. But at the same time, it feels more intuitive and up to date. It might not have the same massive set of features, but what it does have, works very well.
Affinity Photo can export and import Photoshop files with the PSD and PSB extensions. This is handy as Motion, Fusion and Final Cut import PSD files while preserving the layers and blend modes. You can also use ABR brush files in Affinity Photo.
The latest version has a unique feature called StudioLink that allows close integration with the other Affinity apps.
Top 5 features
- Photo editing, graphic design, drawing and painting
- Create compositions with layers
- Selection, masking and correction tools
- Image retouching and object removal
- Opens and exports Photoshop projects
Useful Links for Affinity Photo
Plug-ins for Affinity Photo
Some Photoshop plug-ins will work with Affinity Photo. You can see what’s available in Preferences. Navigate to:
Affinity Photo ⇨ Preferences ⇨ Photoshop Plugins
Photoshop brushes with the .abr extension can be used in Affinity Photo. From the menu in the Brushes panel, choose Import Brushes. Navigate to the folder containing the brush files.
Indigo Film School is not affiliated with any software companies. I am not paid or given freebies to promote products or services.