GenArts Sapphire 7: Must-Have VFX Plug-ins for AE & Avid
COW Library : Adobe After Effects : Kevin P McAuliffe : GenArts Sapphire 7: Must-Have VFX Plug-ins for AE & Avid
With VFX companies getting swallowed up these days, the burden of creating high end visual effects, again, falls on the shoulders of the in-house editors and motion graphic designers. Not that this is a bad thing, or anything. I actually prefer it this way, because with the amount of effects out there that can handle just about any situation I might run into, to quote Walt Disney, "If I can dream it, I can do it", and Genarts is one of those companies trying to put the right tools (or in this case effects) in my hand to get the job done, and with Sapphire V7, they certainly have taken things to the next level, but not in a way you might think.
The first thing I want to point out is that for this review, I'll be looking at both the AE version and the AVX version of Sapphire, which for the most part are the same, there are slight differences that I will point out. When it comes to any update for a plug-in package, the first thing that people do is quickly go over to the "new effects" section to see what has been added, and when people take a look at Sapphire V7 (SV7), they might be a little surprised by how "little" has gone into the package. Here's what's been advertised to get people excited, and I've included my comments below:
Beauty | A new effect that leverages the new EdgeAware technology to beautify talking heads by softening and color correcting skin tones.
Good to see that Genarts has added this effect in, as many popular plug-in packages now offer similar effects for smoothing out bad make up jobs, skin blemishes or doing a quick "One Light" color correct.
EdgeAwareBlur | Powered by our new EdgeAware technology, this effect allows you to blur while preserving detail.
A new effect for Noise Reduction or a "Painted" looking effect. Interesting, but for me, this is a lost opportunity for a Noise Reduction specific plug-in.
Advanced Sharpen | The Sharpen tool has been updated with the ability to sharpen features of different amounts and sizes for increased flexibility and control.
Loved this effect before, and having more control over this effect is only a good thing. I use it quite often, and always thought it was lacking.
LensFlare | Now enhanced with faster rendering, animation options, atmospheric noise, and presets to duplicate popular real-world lenses.
Not a new effect, but an enhancement to the V6 version of Sapphire. More of this awesome effect is only a good thing.
Zap | Updated to include 3D rotation and the option to follow a path, giving you the option to control the shape it takes.
Again, not a new effect, but a welcome enhancement to the V6 version of Sapphire.
MotionBlur | Has been added to many effects, giving them a more realistic look.
This was much needed, and a VERY welcome addition to SV7
New Transitions | FilmRoll & CardFlip are two new dynamic transitions with multiple controls to diversify the output. FlutterCut has been enhanced with more options including new controls and color options.
As for the new transition, I totally LOVE FilmRoll. A very cool, very realistic "film shake" transition. As for Card Flip, I'm not really sure how this differs from any other "3D DVE" transition effect, and it didn't "WOW" me that much. As for FlutterCut, this is a very creative idea for a transition, for an effect that I create "practically" all the time by intercutting black and white frames. Most people would discard this effect immediately, but I love it!
PanAndZoom (Avid only) | A new tool that allows you to pan, zoom, and rotate large image files. It also has stylistic options to add drop shadow, vignette, and Motion Blur.
Okay, first of all, why is Pan & Zoom (P&Z) found in the "Distort" category of SV7 along with effects like "Shake", "Warp Bubble" and "Warp Fish Eye"? It is more suited in "Adjust" or even "Render". That being said, this plug-in (found only in the AVX version of SV7) has the potential to be an awesome effect, and there are things that I really like about it, but there are some glaring bugs (or programming oversights) that hinder the effect. The standard controls of the effect are great. It's not just a "Ken Burns" effect, as you can push things a little further by being able to Swivel, Tilt and Shear your image. Where things start to get a little weird is with the "Offset Darks" parameter. The parameter right above it, Scale Lights, increases the brightness of your image, and when I say "image", I mean the imported still frame that you are panning and zooming.
Now "Offset Darks", on the other hand adds grey to the darker parts of the still image. What is sounds like is a quick way to adjust brightness and contrast in your image. This is all fine and good when your image is full screen, but once you "Zoom" out on your image to reveal the video that it is applied to, "Scale Lights" only effects the imported still frame. "Offset Darks" adjusts the imported image, and the layer below it. I have to think that this is a bug, but it's something I found after playing with the effect for two minutes, and it's something that could have been caught in the beta.
For me, the one that that REALLY excited me was the ability to add a Vignette effect to your P&Z, which is always something I have to do as a secondary effect, so being able to add the effect right inside the P&Z effect is huge, except for the fact that, in my opinion as an editor, it totally doesn't work the way it should. Once you import your image, adding the vignette is as simple as adjusting the "Vignette Darkness" parameter. The only problem is that once you start panning and zooming, the vignette is actually attached to the imported image, and not to the frame, as (again, in my opinion) it should be. Now I'm back to creating my vignettes in Marquee to use ovary my Pan & Scans.
THE GREEN DOT | Real-time effects for Media Composer and Symphony editors
This is the one BIG thing that has eluded us when working with Sapphire in the past, and that is the fact that the effects haven't been real-time. Now many of the effects are now real-time (green dot effects), and no one is happier about it than me.
So the "Winners" are:
Film Roll and FlutterCut
And the "Stumbles" are:
Edge Aware Blur
Pan & Zoom
Now, I want to point out that my beefs with Pan & Zoom can be addressed in a point update, so depending on when you read this review, some of my concerns may have been addressed, and some may not have. Overall the new offerings offer some hits, and few misses, but I'm going to be honest with you, and that is that in the grand scheme of the Sapphire effects bundle, the new plug-ins a overshadowed by an awesome effects package that already has a lot going for it.
Other than what I mentioned above with the new effects and transitions, I want to take a quick second to talk about a few negatives I have with Sapphire as a whole, and not necessarily "v7" specific. First, the effect categories need a real overhaul. Putting 250+ effects into 9 categories means you will spend some time looking for the effects you want, and many effects seem to be mismatched with the category they are placed in. For example, there should be a "Color Correction" category that can have the Monocrome effect, and many other "color" based effects included with it. Secondly, the $1699 and $2800 price tag is something that might scare many people off before they've even downloaded the free demo. The one sale I remember them having in the past was getting Monster GT and Sapphire for a deal, but that of course, was for After Effects only.
So that covers our bases with the sexy, new features and a couple of minor gripes I have with the package in general, but what about the core of Sapphire. Well, once installed, you'll notice that Sv7 is broken down into 9 catagories
OVER 250 EFFECTS AND TRANSITIONS
That pretty much says it all. 250 effects and transitions, as well as a staggering 1100 presets plus the ability to create your own. Some of the stand out effects for me include Glow and Lens Flare (which I'm going to get to in a second), Zap (revamped for v7), Glint, Glare and Edge Rays to name a few. These effects tie in with the next huge feature in Sapphire, which is……
FX Central is GenArts' hub for all your preset needs. Choose from one of the above mentioned 1100 presets, or build your own masterpiece, and save it into FX Central to use any time. Nicely organized, easy to use, and with the ability to get previews of animated effects before you add them, this is a fantastic addition to Sapphire (originally from Sapphire's Edge), and one that you're going to become addicted to very quickly. You can also share presets across host platforms, which is a huge bonus as well.
I had mentioned both Lens Flare and Glow earlier, and to be honest, these two effects really are two of the best in the package, and two of the best across any package. Now I know you're probably thinking, "Yeah, big deal, all the companies have Lens Flare plug-ins". Well, not quite like Sapphire's. Not only do you get 120+ Lens Flare presets to get yourself going in the right direction (including some presets designed with specific cameras in mind), but you also have a completely separate application called "Sapphire Flare Designer" to start building your own unique flares to use in your composites and edits. Normally I only see things like this in lens flare specific plug-ins, so big high-five for GenArts for adding this great feature in.
Now I know you're probably thinking "He's not talking about the Glow effect being a selling feature, is he?", well I absolutely am. Google any of my past reviews of Sapphire, and you'll always see me mention the Glow effect as being the best one out there in any plug-in package today, and let me tell you, I use a glow effect in just about every After Effects project or Avid Symphony edit I do, and Sapphire's Glow is always the effect I use.
WHAT TO BUY
I know that that might sound like a weird heading, but Sv7 comes in a few varieties that I wanted to make mention of. First, let's look at the After Effects version (note that even though I'm talking about AE specifically, there are other host applications that fall into the same price category - Final Cut Pro, Premiere, Sony Vegas, Assimilate Scratch, The Foundry's Nuke & eyeon Digital Fusion) and you do have a few options here.
If you are new to Sapphire, and want a brand new, single machine license, that will run you $1699. An upgrade from Sv6 will run you $499. Now, if the cost is a bit out of your price range, renting is also an option. Genarts has Sv7 rentals from 1-8 months starting at $169.90 per month. It's a very interesting position that Genarts has put themselves in. They have almost priced Sapphire so high that renting it almost seems like the better option.
If you know that you're going to be working on one "bigger" project a month (or every two months for that matter), you can simply budget an extra $175 per month (based on the AE rental price) into whatever project you're working on, and you will never have to shell out big bucks for Sapphire. If I'm not mistaken, for tax purposes, that would also mean that you would be able to write off the monthly rental costs at the end of each business year, as opposed to claiming a little bit of the full package price. Another big bonus.
This is the way that Adobe is now going with the Creative Cloud. No more owning, just "renting". Now, there is one last option for Sv7 AE users out there, and that is a floating license. A new floating Sv7 AE license will run you $2499, with an upgrade from Sv6 for $499. A great option for a facility with many different seats, but a very tight budget. Now, for Media Composer/Symphony editors (and Smoke for Mac users as well), you're looking at $2800 for a new license, with an upgrade from Sv6 running you $849, and rentals starting at $280 per month up to 8 months. I found this a bit annoying that they would charge me almost $1100 more to stay in my NLE, as opposed to going to AE to do all my compositing work.
In my opinion, Sv7 should be priced the same for AVX, as it is for AE. If you want to get into crazy pricing structures for Nuke, Avid DS, Autodesk Smoke and other higher end compositing applications, that's fine, but don't punish me because I want to stay in my NLE. Also, if you're looking to upgrade to Sv7 from a pre-v6 license, you're looking at $1,275.
250+ Effects - 2500+ presets
Lens Flare & the Flare Designer
Love the AVX on screen "widgits" to control main parameters.
Real Time Effects inside of Media Composer and Symphony
Motion Blur added to many effects.
Ability to share presets across host platforms.
Budget Sapphire into each project, and rent it forever!. No huge buying costs.
Only 2 new effects (three if you count AVX's Pan and Zoom) and 2 new transitions.
Pan & Zoom needs some issues addressed
Effect categories need an overhaul. Need to be more specific.
Why isn't there a "RESET" button in any of the effects in the AVX version?
$1699 price tag is steep, and $2800 price tag for AVX is ridiculous. Does Genarts just want us to rent it?
So, I guess the big question now is "Do I really need Sapphire v7 in my Compositing/NLE application?". Well for Media Composer/Symphony, this is a no brainer. The effects you have with the base version of MC, in my opinion, are not enough. Granted, we are given Avid FX, but that requires a whole new learning curve, and not just the ability to quickly drop an effect onto a shot, and get up and running with some presets. Whether you are new to Sapphire, or looking to upgrade your current AVX license, the fact that the AVX version now has the ability to play back most of the effects in real-time, plus the 250+ effects and staggering 2500+ presets (in the awesome FX Central) makes this a must buy/upgrade. For After Effects (and other host applications), if you're new to Sapphire, and looking for a great package with lots of effects to get you up and running quickly, Sv7 is a great option. The upgrade, though is a bit tricky. I really love the upgrades to Lens Flare and Zap (Lens Flare, of which, I use all the time) and the addition of Motion Blur to many of the effects is much needed, but the new additions of Beauty, Edge Aware Blur and Advanced Sharpen alone, makes it a tough sell for an extra $500.
For Current Sapphire users
AE Version - COWS: 2/5
AVX Version - COWS: 5/5
For New Sapphire Users
AE Version - 4/5
AVX Version - 5/5
In the end, Sapphire has always been a "go to" effects package for me, and I have many projects that just use only these great effects in them, as they cover all the bases I need covered. The new effects for Sapphire V7 are completely overshadowed by the package itself, which in this case is not a bad thing. Do not be scared away by the $1699 price tag, as Sapphire is one of the best plug-in packs out there today, and I encourage you to head over to www.genarts.com and download a free demo.