Imagenomic cut their virtual teeth on technology that algorithmically massaged faces in still photographs to cleanse them of blemishes and otherwise give them a clean, youthful glow. The company has now embarked on a more ambitious task: to apply the same automatic facial retouching to video. From our time with the program, we’d say they’ve largely succeeded.
Portraiture works as a plug-in for most of the high-end video-editing titles on the market including Adobe Premiere Pro, After Effects, Apple’s Final Cut Pro, Sony Vegas Pro and DaVinci Resolve. It will work on any of the video formats natively supported by your video editor of choice and can handle 8 and 32 bits-per-channel processing across all supported programs, with 16 bits-per-channel processing additionally available for Adobe After Effects. It’s available for a 15-day free trial, after which it requires an annual subscription of $99 a year.
We tested Portraiture in Adobe Premiere Pro CC with photographer and director David Patiño using Cinema DNG and ProRes 422 files captured with a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. We also tested AVCHD footage from a JVC video camera. (See a short video of our Portraiture test in action here.)
Anyone familiar with Premiere Pro will have no trouble navigating the Portraiture toolset. Upon installation, Portraiture will appear in the effects library and behave like any of Premiere’s other baked-in effects tools. Simply drag and drop Portraiture onto the clip you wish to edit and make further adjustments in Premiere’s Effects Control pane.
When you apply the Portraiture plugin, you’ll have the option of adjusting the smoothing effect either by keying in a value from 1–100 directly, or by expanding a window to access a slider. We found the sliders much more intuitive when starting out, since it took us a while to understand what Portraiture’s numbers corresponded to in terms of image effects. Next to every option you’ll have the usual “reset parameter” option to scurry back to the default setting.
UP IN YOUR FACE
We were curious to see how well Portraiture could identify and retouch faces on the fly, and how well it could handle the boundaries between skin, hair and clothing. For the former, the plug-in worked flawlessly. Patiño pulled up some video he had edited of a fashion shoot hosted in a mall. We chose the clip because we felt it was particularly challenging, not just for the number of faces but for the variety of skin tones and types it threw at Portraiture in rapid succession. Models strutted on the catwalk and passersby streamed through the frame. Portraiture was able to identify all these rapidly moving mugs and apply its edits to them instantly.
The first thing Patiño relayed about his time with the software was that it “really nailed” wide open areas of skin. Things got a bit messier at the boundary between skin and hair or clothing that resembles a skin tone. In one close up of a model with bleached blonde hair, we noticed the default effect of Portraiture cannibalized detail in the hair and blurred out texture in the clothing.
This is largely due to how aggressive the default “smoothing” setting is. Out of the gate, Portraiture applies smoothing at 50 percent and it’s immediately apparent. Patiño liked that the program comes on strong since “you know it’s working.” But this default is probably going to be far more than you need on even the most, well, deserving of faces. When you crank the smoothing up above the 50 percent default, you rapidly lose facial details and it starts to look like you smeared Vaseline over your subject’s face.
Suffice it to say, Portraiture is not a one-click fix, and unlike the still version of the program, the video plugin doesn’t offer presets. At a minimum, you’ll likely find yourself dialing back the smoothing effect to a more modest range of 10–20 percent and taking advantage of Portraiture’s other controls, such as masking, warmth, tint and contrast control, to refine the effect. Fortunately, this is easy enough to do.
Portraiture’s overall performance and stability also impressed us. We tested it on Patiño’s 2013 MacBook Pro (2.6GHz Intel Core i5 with 8GB of RAM) and our 2013 Mac Mini (2.6GHz Core i7 with 16GB of RAM). Neither would qualify as hardcore video editing computers, yet both rendered the plug-in’s effects with ease.
About the only serious hang-up we had with the program was the pricing structure. Like a growing number of software companies, Imagenomic wants you to pay an annual fee for access to Portraiture. To Patiño, who counts the still version of the program as his go-to facial retouching tool and was very impressed with this opening foray into video, the $99 annual subscription seemed a little high for a single-purpose plugin. At the very least, it would have been nice to have the option to either purchase or subscribe.
This isn’t the tool for the videographer invested in gritty realism or exploring the human face in all its pockmarked glory. It is ideal for those whose clients include corporate spokespeople, politicians or anyone looking for just a little bit of relief from the not-so-tender mercies of high resolution digital video. Our co-tester, David Patiño, who counts all of the above on his client list, definitely found value in it. We only wish you had the option to purchase it outright.
PROS: Highly effective toolset, stable software.
CONS: Forces you into subscription payment model.