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CineLook 2 and Magic Bullet 2.1

CineLook 2 and Magic Bullet 2.1—which to use?
A Creative COW Product Comparison Review

CineLook 2 and Magic Bullet 2.1—which to use? Tim Johnson compares the two products

Tim Johnson Tim Johnson
Salt Lake City, Utah

© 2006 Tim Johnson and CreativeCOW.net. All rights are reserved.


Article Focus:
Tim Johnson takes a thorough look at both CineLook 2 from DigiEffects and Magic Bullet from Red Giant Software and determines that while at first glance they do the same thing -- the film look, they are two very different products. Read the review to find out which product would best suit your needs.



Several years ago, DigiEffects came out with the original CineLook (and a companion product called 'CineMotion.")  This breakthrough product allowed After Effects users to apply this plug-in to video clips inside their compositions and make video look like it was shot on film.  While render times were pretty beefy, many people thought it was well worth the trade in savings over acquiring on film.  (Many CineLook users simply set up AE's render queue to render overnight.)
 
Jump ahead to 2006.  With the quantum leap in processor power, getting 30fps video to look like film within After Effects 7.0 is a much quicker process.  It still requires rendering, but the results are better and the time it takes has gone down quite a bit.  While there are several software packages out there that claim to produce this film look, I took a look at the two leading packages for use in Adobe After Effects – CineLook 2 and Magic Bullet 2.1.  Both of these are available for Macs and PCs, but this review was done on a Windows-based machine on SD and HD footage in AE 7.0.

 

Comparing the Two

CineLook 2 (hereafter referred to as CL2) comes on a CD with a quick and painless install.  In a couple minutes you are ready to work. 
 
The easiest way to get results is to select your video clip within the AE comp and apply the effect CineLook 2 under the "DigiEffects CineLook 2" section of effects.  This one plugin has most everything you need.  By default, CL2's motion settings at the top of the effect window select "Upper Field First" and "Video Rate".  If you are working with native DV resolution content, more than likely you are going to change the first setting to "Lower Field First."  (Check with your NLE of choice for this setting.)


Click on the graphic above to view larger version


The second setting mentioned refers to "frames per second."  More than likely, you'll want to change this—as "Video Rate" means "30fps."  You'll probably want to pull down that menu and select "24fps".  However, you're not just limited to 24 fps.  You also have options for 16fps, 12fps, and 10fps rates.  There have been reports that these lower frame rates (16/12/10) are over-ridden when you render out of AE with field rendering.  (Until this is verified or resolved, it may be necessary to pre-compose and/or render without fields.)
 
You can apply one of about 60 different "looks" by clicking on AE's animation presets at the top of the effect window.  These presets have everything from 8mm to 35mm, color to black-and-white to special effects, and everything in between.  It's important to note here that you may have to go back and change your settings back for fields and frame rate, as your previous adjustments were probably blown out when applying the new preset.


Click on the graphic above to view larger version 


There are additional plug-ins to get looks like "acid wash," "bleach bypass," "day-for-night" and a banding reducer—not to mention the plug-ins that purposefully muck up your footage: "FilmDamage," "GateWeave," "FilmFlash," and more. 
 
One BIG plus to CL2 is the variety of presets that ship with the program.  You will definitely want to take the time to go through these and test them out--lots of cool stuff in there.  There were presets for every plug-in I checked.  Combine some of your favorite settings into more presets (for instance, "CineLook 2" + "Letterbox" + "Soft Focus").
 
One note to Windows users—a couple of the plug-ins ("Handwritten Text," "Fingerprints," and "Light Leaks") that are available on the Mac are NOT yet available for those on a PC, but will be soon.

 
The 'New" Guy

A few years ago, another software solution for After Effects came out called Magic Bullet Suite that delivered much the same effect in a different way.  Magic Bullet Suite 2.1 (hereafter referred to as MBS 2.1) is the latest update to a terrific plug-in that makes it compatible with After Effects 7.
 
As with CL2, the install for MBS 2.1 was quick and easy.  It was a simple .exe file that asked for a serial number.  Within an AE comp, I selected the "Magic Bullet" plug-in under the "Magic Bullet Suite" effects header to a video clip.  A window pops up with a button you click that automatically interprets your footage.  I then applied the "Look Suite" plug-in to the clip, and clicked on the "Preset Looks" drop-down menu.  From there, a separate window comes up that lists over 60 different look presets along with a sample thumbnail image.  As you highlight different looks, that thumbnail changes to reflect the highlighted settings.  Very nice.  It's a real quick way to determine what you want (or a starting point) without actually applying the plug-in.  Just select "OK" and you are ready.


Click on the graphic above to view larger version 


MBS 2.1 also contains a few cool little utility plug-ins.  One of them is "Letterboxer" which allows you to crop your SD video to look like a variety of standard screen sizes, including Super 16, 16:9 Widescreen TV, 1.85:1 Theatrical, and more.  This is not a mask—it doesn't affect the clip's alpha channel.
 
Another plug-in in this package that I found useful was one called "Broadcast Spec" which allowed me to see which pixels would be affecting a broadcast output.  Similar to a camera's zebra settings, you are able to show the clip's unsafe values and adjust accordingly.


Click on the graphic above to view larger version 


Complaints and Suggestions

The one complaint I have about CL2 isn't even in the software.  I was browsing on DigiEffects' website and saw something that momentarily got my hopes up—a one-line entry that said, 'As always, all updates are free to our customers."  As a heavy CineLook 1 user, I called the company for clarification, and was told that this was not the case going from version 1 to version 2.  I can understand the upgrade cost, though, for the time and expense incurred to develop CL2
 
A suggestion for CL2 would be to have a quick thumbnail of the various "looks" (similar to what MBS 2.1 has.)  It would be nice to be able to get an idea of your output before applying the plug-ins.  I don't know if this would require another interface, or if this could be done in Adobe Bridge, but it would speed the process up a little.
 
One suggestion I have for Red Giant Software is to add a bunch of presets for their "MisFire" film damage plug-ins.  (They do have one preset that applies all of the "damage" to your clip.)  Either spend a few days putting together a variety of settings and combinations of effects, or better yet, get the users to upload their best to the Red Giant website for all to use. 

 
Head-to-head

Just for kicks, I took a seven second clip of some college football action and rendered it out twice—once with CL2 and once with MBS 2.1, with similar settings in both comps.  The CL2 render took a little over 13 minutes.  The MBS 2.1 render took about 27 minutes.  While most non-broadcast folks wouldn't notice (or care) about the difference between the two outputs, the MBS 2.1 output is a little more crisp with less DV artifacting.  Very clean.
 
For introduction of 3:2 into 30fps, though, CL2 is outstanding.  Lots of control over shutter blur and time slur.  Very cool.

 
Conclusion

At first glance, it appears that CineLook 2 ($850) and Magic Bullet Suite 2.1 ($755) do the same thing—film look.  In reality, they are well-suited for different areas of production.  CineLook 2 is a solid plug-in with a generous helping of different "looks" to choose from.  There are also a multitude of variations that give you unlimited control over your output.  Learning what everything does can take a while, but the one-click presets will do the trick for most people out there.  It's rock-solid and renders relatively quick.
 
Magic Bullet Suite 2.1 seems well-suited for a different crowd—those who are already shooting in 24p.  While it's true you can apply MBS 2.1 to your 30fps comp, then introduce 3:2 (choose "WWSSW" as per tech support) via AE's output settings, this may not look precisely the same or as fluid as film, but it will do for most folks looking simply to get away from a 60i look.
 
The big advantage here, though, is what MBS 2.1 can do to clean up your DV footage—preparing many indie filmmakers or documentaries for output to film.  You really have to see this to believe it, if only via the watermarked trial download on Red Giant Software's website.  Take some interlaced DV footage and apply 'Magic Bullet" and 'Look Suite" effects to it in that order.  Absolutely amazing.

 
Bottom Line

If you are doing documentary work, give MBS 2.1 a serious look.  Little longer to render, but the results and DV restoration are fantastic.  If you are wanting more of a 'one-click" approach to give a film look to existing footage—be it weddings, corporate, or broadcast—CineLook 2 is an excellent weapon to have in your arsenal with half the render time.  I give them both four and a half cows out of five.  Strongly recommended.
 






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