Vivek "Vik" Narayan
©Vivek Narayan and CreativeCOW.net
Emmy Award-winning editor Vivek Narayan takes a closer look at the latest version of Boris Continuum Complete, a comprehensive set of filters and effects for leading NLEs as well as After Effects. Although it works largely the same in all hosts, Vivek digs deepest into BCC operating inside Avid. He finds that the 180 filters here more than give others a run for their money: it beats out some of the industry's favorites. See why he calls buying BCC AVX 5 "a no-brainer."
Having made a career predominantly on Avid NLEs, I have come to rely on their stability and ability to share assets seamlessly over networks. But when it is time to get creative, the industry standard has often left me frustrated with its sparse effect palette.
Enter Boris Continuum Complete AVX, a comprehensive collection of plug-ins that promises to upgrade the Avid experience, transforming the editor into an enterprising effects and compositing solution. BCC AVX 5 offers 180 highly customizable effects, including 10 brand new effects and a whole new category.
Since this is my first review of any BCC product, I approached it as a first look at some of its most interesting and useful features. First, it ships bundled with every copy of Media Composer, so if you have a recent version of Media Composer, you already own BCC AVX, whether you like it or not. Second, BCC’s feature set blurs the line between Xpress Pro and Media Composer on some fronts. All right, it’s time for the test drive.
Never judge a book (or software) by its cover. That said, when the software arrived, I was a little disappointed to see the same old dreary rock textured jewel case with the dated BorisFX logo and not the more contemporary design shown on the BorisFX website. After all, it’s a visual effect and motion graphics software; doesn’t hurt if the outside reflects the excellent products they contain.
The single installation disk came without any accompanying printed manuals, saving a bunch of paper – that I like. All the manuals are available as PDF documents in the installation disk. If you are someone that likes printed manuals, warm up your printer.
The disk did not specify Windows or Mac, and sure enough, I found that the disk has installation files for Windows, Intel Mac, and Mac PowerPC – so no worries if you are considering an upgrade or platform change.
Note: While Avid’s license floats with the dongle, the BCC AVX can only be installed on one machine at any given time.
The installation was smooth and quick – I was up and running within 4mins of popping the disk in.
BorisFX has gone to great lengths to ensure backward compatibility by including BCC4 effects for those who may need to open and modify BCC4 projects in BCC5.
It is possible to leave BCC4 installed, thus having two instances of the program in your system, but I can see it leading to a lot of confusion down the road. If you are new to BCC, you can skip the BCC4 plug-ins altogether and keep it simple.
The installation menu offers selection options for every flavor of Avid except DS, which is not surprising, considering they all share the same code base, with various advanced features disabled in the ‘lesser’ versions.
I find it intriguing, however, that the BCC AVX software license is priced based on the version of Avid you run it with; from $895 for Xpress Pro to $1995 for Media Composer and Symphony.
Once installed, the plug-ins show up in the effect palette in much the same way as any native Avid effect.
BCC AVX comprises of 12 categories: Color & Blurs, Distortion & Perspective, Effects, Generators, Keys & Matte, Lights, Open GL, RT Static Textures, Real Time, Time, Two-Input Effects, and Wipe Transitions.
In total, BCC AVX 5 bring you 180 effects, including 10 new effects and a brand new category- OpenGL. The individual effects work with the same drag&drop ease as native Avid plugins.
The Effect Editor for BCC looks similar to other Avid effects, making it easy to miss some subtle yet significant improvements. First is a context based help function that launches the help document specific to that plug-in. No more parsing through indices, trying to find the relevant page numbers.
Click image for larger view
The View Parameters menu allows you to display only select parameters in the effect editor. This allows for better use of screen real estate especially when working with effects such as Rays_Ring that have enough parameters to make for a 4 page scroll down.
You can further customize the Effect Editor through a drop down menu accessed by control/right-clicking anywhere within the window.
Unfortunately, the customization is limited to the UI controls made available by Avid within the AVX2 architecture, leaving you with the archaic slider or thumbwheel for adjusting parameters like Hue, Rotation, and Angle. I would much prefer the ‘clock’ interface for parameters like Rotation, Spin, and Angle.
Still, I commend BCC for offering more UI customization options than Avid does.
The AVX2 Factor
By building on Avid’s AVX2 plug-in architecture, BCC offers some impressive and powerful features.
- 16 bit image processing lends to extra smooth gradients, precise keys, and greater depth in color correction
- Bezier controls allows significant flexibility in manipulating keyframable parameters
- Custom spline masks with bezier points allow for precise ‘pixelchoosing’
- Intuitive User Interface widgets make effect editing a breeze
BCC’s new category, OpenGL is fairly self-explanatory. It uses the GPU’s Open-GL implementation for quick previews and renders.
The first effect I tested is the Lens Flare, an effect I often use from Knoll Light Factory. Though BCC Lens Flare does not feature quite as many preset looks as Knoll, the flares themselves looked spectacular in my 1080i project.
I was even able to match an actual camera flare in a close-up shot to a long shot with a moving camera. The on-screen widgets made it easy to position and animate the source. I found it a little annoying that the pivot widget overlapped the position widget for the video, causing me to repeatedly reposition the video layer when I wanted to adjust the pivot position. It would be nice to see an option to turn the position widget off.
The OpenGL Lens Flare can definitely give the edge you are looking for in your titles. The presets include flares specifically meant for use with titles mattes.
The render time can be a little bit of a bog-down however, so try to preview it in draft mode before you render.
Going into this category, I was not expecting to see anything new from another “Damaged TV” effect, but I have to admit, I am pleasantly surprised.
This is the best implementation of the effect I have come across, with very detailed and flexible parameters, including onscreen widgets to misalign the RGB channels.
BCC Prism is a dream come true for the Luis Buñuel in you (or Dali, take your pick). The two images below are created from the source image, the only difference being the preset I am using. Applying BCC Prism to generic animation looks should reap very abstract and interesting background possibilities.
The most fun effect from this software release is the BCC LED. I see many interesting possibilities for video-wall backgrounds in my future. (Here's the tutorial for BCC LED written by Boris himself, using it in Final Cut Pro.
A word here about Boris FX’s development team: they have enriched the software with an excellent selection of presets. While the plug-ins can get deep with complex parameters, the presets always present ways to achieve sophisticated effects with minimal effort.
The Key Components
Avid’s RGB keyer is a good basic chromakey effect, but is very limited in its matte control functions. For this reason, Boris Red has become an indispensable tool for all my keying operations. BCC shares the same core architecture as Red, and sure enough, it offers the same the deep operability as Red.
After you tweak your color key, you can nest Matte Cleanup, Composite Choker, and Matte Choker effects incrementally to achieve that impeccable key. Each plugin lets you view the matte at that stage of manipulation with a simple mouse-click. The matte control effects allow you to create garbage mattes with preset shapes (rectangle or oval), but lack the ability to create custom splines. That may be a good add for a future version.
BCC Motion Key, a new offering in this category, gauges movement in the foreground and then replaces those pixels with a clean background plate (excluding the foreground object) it constructs, borrowing background pixels across the duration of the clip. Sounds intense, and it is to your processor, so take that lunch break while this one renders. Still, this is a welcome addition, automating an otherwise labor intensive job of drawing numerous mattes and stitching them together.
The bigger picture
While editing investigative documentaries, I often have to work with scanned photographs and documents. That also means I have to deal with Avid’s quirky Pan & Zoom tool and its annoying rudder style pan widget – want to pan right, move the widget in the opposite direction!
That makes the new BCC Pan and Zoom tool one of my favorite tools of this release. The on-screen widgets are simple and intuitive to the point of brilliance. I can finally zoom, pan, and rotate the camera with ease, and best of all, view the final product in a little window on-screen. Home run!
Click image for larger view
The new Uprez effect is another timely addition in the same category (Distortion and Perspective), just as the transition from SD to HD is becoming mainstream. To be honest, I started off being a little skeptical about its claims. So I threw a rather tough challenge at it to see how it stacked up.
The source was a long shot inside a Vegas casino shot at 1080i HDV and down-converted to 480i in-camera. Then I Uprez’d it back to 1080i and compared it to the same 480i clip resized to 1080i using Avid’s Resize tool. For reference, I recaptured the shot in native 1080i resolution as well. The result was breathtaking.
480i Uprez’d to 1080i. Click for larger.
480i Resize’d to 1080i. Click for larger.
The Uprez effect restored much of the fine detail that disappeared with the down convert. While it did not quite match the pristine image quality of native 1080i it was a far cry from the blurry resized image.
Under the hood, Uprez uses a range of intelligent pattern recognition and fractal recreation algorithms, but to you and me, it comes down to a simple choice in the Quality menu.
Next time I’m forced to use SD video in an HD project, I may not have to cringe.
On the Fly
Working under deadlines, render time is always an important consideration in whether or not to add third party plugins. But if you still want that cool lens flare in time for the client viewing, dip into BCC’s list of Realtime plugins.
This category contains an assortment of effects from the other categories that have been re-engineered to give you real-time performance. You might wonder, why include non-real-time versions of the effects, when you can have them working real time? That takes us back to Boris FX’s emphasis on keeping their existing user base in mind; the non-real-time versions allow projects created using older versions of BCC to be opened and manipulated in BCC 5.
Note: BCC AVX support Nvidia cards. Real time performance may be inconsistent with ATI GPUs.
On Color- Off Color
BCC fills a crucial gap in Avid Xpress Pro and Media Composer’s color correction abilities – secondary color correction.
With BCC Color Selected, I was able to turn Excalibur’s red minarets to gold with a simple mouse click.
Additionally, the Pixelchooser function lets you customize every color effect, by allowing you to specify which part of the frame you want the effect to apply to, by channel, luma, chroma, alpha, or shape.
I noticed a strange behavior when using custom splines to select the effect region. If an effect preset is changed after creating a custom mask, the spline information is lost. For someone like me who likes to flip through the presets at different stages while ‘effecting’ a shot, this would be a significant drawback.
BCC’s comprehensive choice of blurs, ranging from the standard Gaussian and Motion Blur; to Pyramid and Z-Blur cover almost every one of your blurry needs. Here, by using a custom spline and a simple transition, I was able to create a smooth rack focus.
While the Color & Blurs category has its strengths, I have some bones to pick here. First, I fail to understand why the colors and blur effects are being clubbed into one category. Each time you are looking for a specific blur, you have to wade through a list of color effects, and vice versa.
As for BCC’s color effects, I can’t help but compare them to Avid’s native color correction options – and that leaves me wanting for more. The 3-way color correction tool in Avid, with the ability to adjust curves, is far more powerful than the linear sliders in BCC. Breaking up Hue-Sat-Lightness, Levels-Gamma, Color Balance etc. into separate effects complicates the color correction process unnecessarily. Any deep color work will force you to use a list of different effects. Most importantly, the absence of waveform and vectroscope display keeps me from really knowing what I am doing. There is definitely room for improvement in this area.
BCC’s Lights category goes head-to-head with Trapcode’s established Shine plug-in. While I hold the latter in high regard, the BCC’s own rendition of the effect was second to none. Moments after I turned the Rays_Wedge effect loose on this shot, ‘magic light’ was streaming in through the window, even wrapping itself around the jib arm.
Wedge template for the effect
BCC’s Time effects are of particular interest to Xpress Pro users because of its lack of truly customizable speed effects.
Velocity Remap gives you the same graphical speed control available in Media Composer and Symphony systems.
Optical Flow is a sound alternative for Avid’s Fluid Motion (again, available only in Media Composer and Symphony).
How about some time travel? Time Displacement creates cross sections of time across your video clip, making it possible to move to the “future” or “past” in the “present” frame.
At the end of this review, I feel like I have barely brushed the surface of this formidable plug-in package. BCC AVX packs an array of powerful tools in an interface familiar to the Avid editor. Still, if you are new to BCC, plan on spending a few hours just to grasp the incredibly deep functionality each effect has.
BCC Misalignment Filter
A good way to start would be to play with the excellent presets built into each effect. Xpress Pro users will find BCC AVX especially attractive: with the deep keying tools, Velocity Remap, Optical Flow and Stabilization, Custom Splines, etc. this might be an inexpensive way to extend Xpress Pro’s functionality to that of a Media Composer and beyond (providing they don’t need media networking and script sync, that is).
While $895 seems steep in today’s aggressively priced software market, 180 effects works out to about $5-a-pop. Admitted, no one’s ever going to find use for all 180 effects, but in my opinion, the Pan and Zoom, Uprez, Film Damage, Film Process, the Lens Flares, Rays, Time, and matte control effects combined more than make up for the difference.
As for the BCC4 user looking to upgrade, the question would be whether the new category and effects are worth the $299 price tag, which goes back to the nature of their work. But for those of us in the midst of the paradigm shift from SD to HD, features like 16 bit processing and Uprez more than warrant the upgrade.
BCC AVX does have its share of quirks, but most of them are cosmetic and are likely to be addressed in future updates. What’s more, the BorisFX tech support team is very active in the Cow’s own Boris FX forum. You’ll find for free the kind of proactive support that’ll cost you an arm and a leg elsewhere.
My conclusion: if you are a professional Avid editor, getting BCC AVX 5 is a no-brainer. However, I urge you to draw your own conclusion, so go take a free 14 day test drive.
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