Video Fundamentals – Part 3 – Visual FX

Video Fundamentals Table of Contents:

  1. General Overview
  2. Video Sources
  3. Video FX

3.0 – Introduction to Visual FX

Chroma Desaturation Mask FX removes all color from an image except the one specified.

Chroma Desaturation Mask FX removes all color from an image except the one specified.

Once a video source is playing on layer, the next step in the process of visual performance is to apply real-time FX to each frame to change the way it looks before it is shown to the audience.

In some cases the FX being used are in a utility function, for example a Color Correction filter makes it possible to adjust the contrast, saturation, and brightness levels of an image for calibration. Others are designed to stylize the image to match a particular aesthetic such as glitch or film.

This set of video fundamentals tutorials first reviews the basics of FX in VJ software and then takes a look at each of these two main use cases. In the final section we'll open up some of the included Quartz Composer and ISF based FX to create customized versions with additional input parameters.

3.1 – How to Use Video FX

While the exact interface will vary, most VJ software has the ability to apply real-time image filters to video. Regardless of the plugin type, when loaded onto a layer each FX has a similar set of interface controls.

Since the levels of each parameter for image filters can be changed completely on the fly, any FX can be set to react to input from Audio Analysis to be sound reactive when working with musicians, automated with LFOs and Sequencers, or otherwise driven by external MIDI / OSC / DMX hardware.

Tips and Notes:

  • There are a handful of different formats that are commonly supported such as CoreImage, Quartz Composer, FreeFrameGL and ISF.
  • In VDMX every FX has its own wet/dry control and on/off button along with standard UI items for parameters specific to the filter.

3.2 – Utility FX

Certain FX are designed for general purposes such as masking, color correction and resizing an image. They can also be used for fixing problems with images like de-interlacing old DV footage or sharpening a slightly out of focus camera feed.

While they are typically intended for simple adjustment, many utility FX can also be applied stylistically by changing their parameters in a rhythmic manner using step sequencers, audio reactivity or other control plugins.

Case Study: Using a mask to apply an FX to only part of a layer.

Tips and Notes:

  • In VDMX the Color Adjustment, Geometry Adjustment and Masking categories contain many common utility FX.


  1. Practice removing a solid color background with a chromakey effect.


  1. Download and use the custom Face Tracking FX and data-sources for VDMX.

3.3 – Stylize FX

Many of the visual FX found in VJ software are used to change the look of a video stream in a more artistic fashion to achieve a specific aesthetic.

For example, the Bad TV glitch FX can be used to make high-def digital clips appear to have an older analog feel and the Thermal Camera FX can simulate FLIR style heat vision footage.

Case Study: DJ Mixer EQ Style Masking FX

Tips and Notes:

  • Apply multiple FX to a layer to create new looks and styles. Favorite FX-chains can be stored and loaded both locally on layer or globally as saved assets.
  • The standard wet/dry slider and blend mode settings can be used to adjust the look of a stylize FX even if it has no other parameters.


  1. Download and use the Grid Pro template.


  1. Assigning a custom FX chain to a media bin clip.

3.4 – Modifying, Creating and Installing Custom FX

Part of the process of applying image filters is to find your own visual style to set you apart from other VJs. While there are thousands of possible ways to combine the various pre-made FX that are available, sometimes the look you want to achieve might require installing a 3rd party add-on or creating your own.

Depending on the type of plugin, for example with Quartz Composer or ISF based FX, you can use existing FX as starting points to create your own custom versions with extra parameters or features.

Case StudyInstalling and Using The v002 Quartz Composer FX Plugins

Tips and Notes:

  • ISF based FX end in “.fs” and are located in “/Library/Graphics/ISF
  • Quartz Composer based FX end in “.qtz” and are located in “~/Library/Application Support/VDMX/qcFX/
  • When creating a custom version of an existing FX, make a duplicate before changing the file instead  of modifying the original.
  • Read more about the ISF specification and download the test+tutorial filters.


  1. Create or Modify an ISF Based FX.
  2. Create or Modify a Quartz Composer Based FX.


  1. Find and install a FreeFrameGL Plugin.