GenArts Sapphire Plug-ins

Sapphire plug-ins have earned respect among editors of feature films and prime-time television.
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The GenArts Sapphire user interface
GenArts has been making visual effects software plug-ins for the film and television industry for more than a decade, and has expanded its list of editing platforms to include Avid, Autodesk, Adobe After Effects, OFX (Nuke and Toxik), and Apple Final Cut Pro.

GenArts makes three visual effects plug-in packages, but the Sapphire plug-ins are best known and offer the widest array of effects. Sapphire plug-ins have earned respect among editors of feature films and prime-time television. They have been employed in films such as "Titanic" and "Iron Man," as well as television shows such as "Lost" and "CSI." You might say they are gourmet plug-ins with sophisticated controls that allow the user to fine-tune the result with great precision. A recent change in marketing now makes them more affordable for independent productions by offering floating licenses and a monthly rental option.

FEATURES

The GenArts Sapphire plug-ins set includes more than 200 image processing and synthesis effects. As plug-ins, they are installed into the host editing platform where they reside in the effects palette, providing instant application of commonly used effects such as glows, glints, lightning, film effects, warps and textures.

Sapphire plug-ins will work across numerous applications. So a project containing Sapphire effects created in Adobe After Effects can easily be recreated with the same settings and effects in Final Cut Pro or Avid.

This review examines Sapphire plug-ins for Final Cut Pro, although the features are similar across all supported editing platforms with some minor differences. When installed into FCP, the 200-plus Sapphire plug-ins are automatically installed into the Effects bin. Each effect can be conveniently dragged onto a clip to activate it.

The FCP Effects bin places plug-ins into three main folders: Video Transitions, Video Filters and Video Generators. The Sapphire plug-ins are automatically sorted into these categories when installed.

The VideoTransition folder contains 31 Sapphire Transitions plug-ins, providing a wide assortment of ways to visually connect one clip to another. These include traditional ones, such as dissolves, and more exotic ones such as WipeBubble and DissolveVortex.

The Video Filters folder contains the largest collection of Sapphire plug-ins, and is divided into nine sub-folders to make them easier to find. All of these are "drag and drop" effects that are simply placed onto the desired clip. Following is a quick summary of these nine Video Filter sub-folders.

The Sapphire Adjust folder contains 13 effects that govern primary image characteristics, such as gamma, tint and monochrome. The Sapphire Blur+Sharpen folder contains 19 effects such as motion blur, sharpen, soft focus and BlurChroma. The Sapphire Composite folder contains six plug-ins designed to facilitate and modify the blending of more than one layer of video.

The Sapphire Distort folder has 21 effects that are visually bold and imaginative, such as WarpVortex, WarpBubble and WarpFishEye. The Sapphire Lighting folder provides 21 ways to add light related dazzle to the image, including GlowAura, GlintRainbow, LensFlare and SpotLight. The Sapphire Render folder contains 29 effects such as clouds, sparkles and various textures that appear to overlay the image. The Sapphire Stylize folder has 44 of the jazziest and most psychedelic effects, such as CartoonPaint, Emboss and PsychStripes. But this folder also has some subtle and broadly useful effects, such as FilmEffect, which convincingly emulates the color characteristics of 13 negative film stocks. The Sapphire Time folder contains 27 effects that generally play with the temporal relationship between frames. Effects such as Feedback repeat and overlay frames, and GetFrame holds still frames and superimposes them over the moving image. Finally, there is the Sapphire Transitions folder that may initially seem to duplicate the other Sapphire Transitions folder. But these 31 transition effects are applied quite differently. Instead of dropping them between two adjacent clips to create the transition, these effects create a longer key-framed transition between an upper and lower video clip on the timeline. This allows the editor to create long transitions that merge two clips together, such as a gradual clock wipe that may span the entire length of a 10 second clip.

The Video Generators folder houses a second set of 27 Sapphire Render plug-ins. But these behave differently than plug-ins that are dragged onto a clip. Generators create self-contained clips that can be placed on a video track above the video clip to be affected. For example, the "Clouds" effect is applied by placing the effect clip above a video track. The opacity regulates the visibility of the effect and can be stretched or shortened to any desired length. Since the effect behaves like an independent video clip, it can be stretched to overlay a series of clips below it on the timeline, making an effect, such as moving clouds, consistent over a series of small clips. You can even use Generators as stand-alone clips by themselves, with the effect appearing against a black background.

IN USE

I tested the Sapphire plug-ins on a Mac Pro running Final Cut Pro 7. I used 720p 24-frame video for source material and monitored the image on a 27-inch HD monitor.

I found installing GenArts Sapphire plug-ins on Final Cut Pro to be effortless and glitch-free. After installation, all of the effects described above were in their assigned folders and ready to be applied to clips on the timeline.

Using Sapphire plug-ins, for lack of more technical jargon, is a whole lot of fun. These plug-ins unleash unlimited visual creativity. But these are serious toys, and they are organized in a way that makes it easy to get the look you are seeking.

All of the transitions are very easy to preview. If there was an effect I was curious about, I simply dragged the icon onto a clip. I could instantly view the result on the HD monitor by scrolling the cursor or advancing it with the forward arrow key on the keyboard.

Aside from the sheer number of effects, I was impressed by the amount of control I had over each one. For example, a simple and commonly used filter is lens flare. I placed this on a clip of a woman walking outside, and discovered that I could turn a simple flare into innumerable incarnations. First, I could select the type of lens creating the flare, and then I could manipulate numerous other forms of lens aberration and light character. And there were dozens of other adjustments I could make, such as the length of the rays, their rotation as the camera moves, brightness, color, gamma and more. And all of these could be keyframed to simulate realistic motion as the camera pans. I was able to pinpoint a precise place for the light source and keyframe its position so that it remained in place as the camera moved. The final result was so convincing it looked as if there was a true light source in the shot and that no effect was used.

Then there are effects that are intended to scream out for recognition, and these mostly reside in the Sapphire Stylize folder. Some of the more interesting ones are AutoPaint, which makes a video image appear to be hand painted.

You can select from "Van Gogh," which delivers the image in deep, textured strokes, "Hairy Paint," which uses finer brush strokes, or "Pointalize," which mimics impressionist paintings that used the fine-dotted pointillism technique. But as with all of the Sapphire plug-ins, there is so much control, I could reduce the parameters to a point where the effect was barely noticeable, or enhance the effect so that the image appeared to be completely hand drawn. Other bold effects that are best suited for psychodramas are Kaleido, which creates a mesmerizing kaleidoscope effect; Emboss, which creates a raised edge; 3-D contour; and Cartoon Paint.

But one of my favorite, more subtle effects also lives in the Stylize folder: FilmEffect. This is such a powerful and useful effect, it would be a shame for anyone to pass it by. This inconspicuous filter accomplishes what many "film look" software packages do. It starts by emulating the color rendition of different film negatives and print stocks. You can choose from 13 Kodak negative stocks and six Kodak print stocks. I found that I could use this effect to get a very strong old-style film reversal look, or I could moderate it to mildly enhance the color depth of the image. I found it to be a great way to add more depth and vitality to video footage that looks bland or washed out. It has a host of controls for exposure and color as well as glow and grain. I found I could use the filter to subtly enhance the image, or create jarringly obvious film style emulations. And if you want to really create an old film look, add the FilmDamage plug-in to create scratches, dust, hair and flicker. It is very convincing.

Fast Facts Application
Video effects plug-ins

Key Features
More than 200 effects in set; easy to apply; multiple effects may be combined

Price
MSRP $1,699 (purchase price); $169/month (rental)

Contact
GenArts | 617-492-2888 | www.genarts.com Another nice feature about using Sapphire plug-ins in Final Cut Pro is that I discovered I could combine as many effects as I wanted. On one clip I added FilmEffect, FilmDamage, WarpFishEye, Blur and LensFlare all together to create the look of an old film shot through an ultra wide-angle lens. I could preview each stage instantly to get the exact visual result I wanted before rendering. The 10-second clip took about 40 seconds to render, which is fast, considering the amount of processing needed. This is a render speed that is on par or faster than other plug-ins I have tested.

Of course, what matters is the final image quality. I found that the plug-ins never degraded the quality of the image and maintained optimum resolution and fidelity with SD or HD material.

SUMMARY

The GenArts Sapphire plug-ins set is one of the most comprehensive and sophisticated visual effects toolsets available. Not only does it provide more than 200 independent filters, but each one contains a control system that allows unlimited tailoring of the image to exacting specifications. The filters can be used individually for specific effects, or combined together to create an almost infinite range of visual wizardry. One of the strengths of the available control is that effects can be used on a level so subtle they are barely perceptible, or used to such an extreme that the image is a unique artistic creation. While formerly viewed as too pricey for many individuals, the new pricing options place this sophisticated toolset within the budgetary reach of independent producers, filmmakers and motion picture artists.

Geoff Poister, Ph.D., is a member of the Film and Television faculty at Boston University and a regular contributor to TV Technology.