LIBRARY: Tutorials Reviews Interviews Editorials Features Business Authors RSS Feed

Peter Wiggins looks at Sapphire Plug-ins from GenArts

COW Library : Boris FX Sapphire Tutorials : Peter Wiggins : Peter Wiggins looks at Sapphire Plug-ins from GenArts
Peter Wiggins looks at Sapphire Plug-ins from GenArts Product Review

Peter Wiggins
Flick Pictures Ltd,United Kingdom

©2004 Peter Wiggins and All rights are reserved.

Article Focus:
Peter Wiggins takes a thorough look at the new Sapphire plug-ins from GenArts. One thing is for sure, you will have seen many examples in film and television already as Sapphire is used on a daily basis by large film effects and post production houses. Many compositors and editors swear by them, Peter included! Peter's been using Sapphire with Shake since the beginning of 2003, and every job has used at least one plug-in. Now, they're available for Final Cut Pro, Combustion and After Effects.


I was very excited when I was asked to beta test the excellent range of Sapphire plug-ins for Final Cut Pro. For over a year and a half I’d been asking Gen Arts when the logical progression of Sapphire through the range of compositing and editing tools would extend down to FCP.

What are Sapphire plug-ins? Well hopefully this article will give you an insight into the tremendous creative potential they unleash. One thing is for sure, you will have seen many examples in film and television already as Sapphire is used on a daily basis by large film effects and post production houses. Many compositors and editors swear by them, myself included! I’ve been using Sapphire with Shake for over a year now, and every job has used at least one plug-in.

So, big deal, more plug-ins, more filters! Yes! but with a difference. Complex effects, treatments and compositing are all within easy reach to anybody with Final Cut Pro. Prepare yourself for amazing glows, edge rays, lighting effects, warps, picture treatments, time effects, transitions, image generators and much, much more. (No steak knives though!)

I guarantee the first day you start to use Sapphire you will have a late night in front of the computer! These plug-ins are fun and you’ll want to go through each one seeing what you can create. – So be warned, have a pizza delivery number handy!


The installer for Sapphire is about 6MB and available to download from the Gen Arts website at The licence is dedicated to the machine, so any of your applications that support AE plug-ins can use Sapphire. The installation instructions are very straightforward, quick and worked first time. The installed demo will give you a fully functioning copy for three weeks, after that a watermark will be applied to the output.

There is not a floating licence currently available. If you are like me and run FCP on a Powerbook as well, although you cannot run them both together, you can install Sapphire on both machines. When you purchase, the licence is not timebombed, they are yours to keep and you will be entitled to free upgrades for that issue.

Sapphire plug-ins are completely scalable with FCP, if there is a codec that will run with FCP, then Sapphire is just fine. For the beta test I was using both 10bit and DV Quicktimes without any problems. There is a currently a downside though, as with any plug-in or filter within FCP, any render will only be 8bit. This is a limitation of FCP and not Sapphire, so when Apple fix this problem (soon please), expect 10bit pin sharp results. The range is also compatible with FCP3/4 and Jaguar/Panther – I did the double upgrade mid beta test without any problems

Opening the effects page in the browser reveals 9 new Sapphire folders. Each folder contains the ‘grouped’ plug-ins, 19 for example in the case of the lighting folder. However, don’t just think that’s all, because each one contains many adjustable parameters and drop down menus. As an example, in the Lens Flare plug-in there are 3 drop down menus, the main menu having 9 presets as well as 21 other adjustable parameters in the filters tab!

Easy as the installation process is, should you run into a problem, I’ve always found the guys at Gen Arts to be excellent at resolving a difficulty. When I was installing a floating Sapphire licence to run with Shake, their engineer telephoned me within minutes of me firing an email off to them. Excellent support indeed.

OK, now on to the interesting bit.


It’s simple, drag and drop! The Sapphire interface follows the normal protocol for AE/FCP filters with a few extra tweaks. All parameters are keyframeable and all attributes can be cut and pasted. One problem that I encountered was for a ‘generator’ to work such as Clouds or Texture, this had to be dropped onto ‘something’ as opposed to pasting in between in & out points. Not a problem, just keep a black graphic of your timeline resolution in a bin that you can use as a base for these effects, reduce the opacity where needed.

OK, I can’t continue without mentioning the R word. Yes, Sapphire has to render and the more complicated the effect, the longer it will take. Saying how long rendering takes varies from machine to machine, but let’s say I wouldn’t like to use Sapphire in a very time pressured edit – it has to do some serious, serious maths. On the plus side, it does support dual processor machines. My render times have varied from seconds to hours. All I can say is that I have found it to be considerably faster than the Avids I was using before I saw the Final Cut light.

I would be very interested to setup a cross platform render ‘benchmark test’ of Sapphire, right from FFI through Shake, DF and down to FCP/AE & Avid. Please let me know if anybody is interested in taking part.

There are a few steps that you can take to reduce render times & canvas update in FCP though

  1. Set the render settings to preview until you’re happy, then render at full quality.
  2. Don’t render a large stack of clips with plug-ins applied just to see the change on one parameter on one clip – slip the clip left or right on the timeline into clear space and adjust/render until perfect, then slip it back. You will also notice that the timeline will take longer and longer to update on complicated composites when you move the cursor and the above will drastically cut down that blinking cursor wait time. (I expect a lot of free beers at NAB/IBC for that huge timesaving tip)
  3. Save rendered items & cut and paste. Why bother rendering a background 8 times when you can have a pre-rendered clip in the bin that you drop in as and when. A good example of this being the Generators.


The best way I thought of demonstrating the potential of Sapphire was to follow through a few examples. However, if you want to see how much bang you get for you bucks straightaway and all on one page, take a look at for Gen Art’s examples. Saturn’s not the most interesting of subject matter, but it gives you an idea. Also bare in mind that some of the plug-ins hide rather than enhance. An example would be using Flicker Match to vary the brightness of an item over a clip that has a varying light source. Camera flash goes off - graphic flashes as well, flickering old film - now your graphic flickers in time. Get the idea?

OK, go ahead, impress me!


Ever stuck for a background for text or a picture? Well, go straight to the generators.
A couple of favourites of mine are Clouds, which I’ve used on the BBC quite often and Texture Folded and Grid

Here not only can you change the colour of the Clouds, but you can also dial in perspective as well as changing the direction and perspective of the ‘travelling sky’ Again, all parameters can be keyframed, so you could change the colour of the clouds over time – Sunrise? With a bit of tweaking these really look like expensive timelapse.

Again, Texture Folded is another instant background. I know clients who have shot on high speed film to achieve the same result. As expected, size, colour, speed and direction of ripples can be changed & keyframed.

OK, might look a bit eighties, but used correctly Grid works really well if you are doing anything ‘techie’. I’ve added a touch of Glow to help. The whole image can be keyed. All the parameters can be changed, angle, position, number of boxes, swing, roll etc.

New Year’s Eve composite
Now where Sapphire gets really interesting is when you start to use a few plug-ins together. As long as you can suffer the render times, you can add as many as you like.

Take this clip for example, I want to jazz it up a bit as a short intro to a piece.
Let’s start by using ‘Texture Folded’ for a backround and set a slow ripple in the cloth from front to back

On a new layer on the timeline, insert a rectangle from the FCP generator, then duplicate this on the layer above and set this to a luma key in composite mode. I’ve given the box a twist and softened the edges slightly

Shrink the photograph down to go over the top on the next layer. Use the same rotation parameters and position it so that it looks like an ‘instant’ picture with a bigger gap at the bottom. I’ve also applied Film Effect for a bit more contrast, a slight glow and de-interlacing all in one hit
Apply Sapphire Spotlight to add lighting effect. Here only one of the two lamps is enabled. The colour of the lamp has been set to a slight yellow to warm the picture up. A possibility here would be to animate the axis of the lamp so the picture would be lit by the sweep of the lamp. The axis of the lamp can actually be outside the picture, zoom the picture back to say 25% then position the origin in the grey border.

Add some text, and Sapphire’s Drop Shadow gives that excellent depth and a soft look.

Then on the last layer, add Glint and keyframe the rotation to give it that sparkle. Voila!

Here’s the timeline, the text fades on. To be really flash, you could animate a rectangle, white on black to run over the text - using this as a key would make the sparkle run across the writing. Maybe this would be good potential for a tutorial?

Also a possibility would be to fade the picture on to give the impression of ‘developing’


Well, we all need to make our clients’ logos look good. A lot of the time small clients supply ‘print ready’ artwork that looks less than stunning on video. OK, time to get the Sapphire toolbox out

Let’s start off with a plain logo... This is straight out of Photoshop. Not bad but nothing moves, good for print but dull for television!
Apply Spotlight to give the text some shadow differential -Can you tell I use this plug-in a lot? Again, keep things moving by keyframing where the lamp ‘points’
Apply ‘Lens Flare’ but toggle to anamorphic to get this groovy film type spread. You can animate the brightness and size of the flare so that the text might appear once the size shrinks down. Or how about running the ‘hotspot’ in between the two words. The blue streak on the bottom right is designed to emulate an internal lens reflection and should travel in the opposite direction to the main flare. A lot tastier than the original, I’m sure you agree

OK, let’s keep going and add the client jaw dropping edge rays that will be all the fashion (groan) in 2004!

The first picture shows Edge Rays dropped straight onto the logo on the timeline. The problem here is that the rays stop at the edge of the graphic. To overcome this, nest the graphic in another timeline, then your rays can be as long as you like.

The origin of the rays can be animated to pan the rays left to right for example. This will send you off hunting for that swoosh effect CD!

Using the nesting gets other plug-ins ‘outside’ the box as well – Sorry I couldn’t resist Glint and ZapTo.


Well, guess what, they distort the picture. First, find a piece of rusty metal

Next, apply the Distort plug-in to the clip and insert a graphic into the lens box. Then it’s a simple tweak on the Amount & Blur Lens to distort the metal around the logo. Add another layer of the logo on top, fade it in at the right time and it looks as if the logo has been pushed through the metal. Remember that you can stack the effects, so using a nest it’s possible to push a logo through that has a glow or other similar effect applied to it.

View the steps below.

Time Effects
Well, this was a big surprise for me as the plug-ins for Time Effects are not even supported in Shake. These really do open up a whole new range of effects, one of them being the aptly named TimeSlice. It’s one of those effects that’s easier to demonstrate than describe.

Now, take one understanding girlfriend, make her stand in a snow covered garden and ask her to slowly rotate on the spot. Applying Timeslice cuts the frames up into thin horizontal sections and then offsets each over time. The result is the feet are from the beginning of the clip, the rest of the body being made up from ‘later’ slices. Hence the classic helix effect. One word of warning here, this plug-in is very, very processor intensive. Bank on long renders, in fact, ‘Sorry, How about a meal out?’ long

Also included in the package are 27 new transitions. These are under their own folder in the Sapphire list as opposed to being installed in the video transitions file. Without detailing all the new patterns here, it’s probably easier to scroll down to the wipe examples at .

The big difference here from a normal transition is that the two clips have to be on different layers to each other. You then apply the transition to the top layer and then animate the wipe/mix percent to achieve the desired length. Below is Wipe Blobs

Sometimes the bottom layer needs to be manipulated say in Dissolve Vortex where the two images dissolve into each other looking as if they are spiralling down a bath plughole. Then the lower layer needs to be dropped into the Background box and similar parameters to the top clip will be applied. Don’t just think of these wiping/mixing on full screen images as they can also be used for keys to wipe on a graphic for example.

I hope the basic examples above give you some insight into what you can do with Sapphire. We’ve only scratched the surface here, when you start to stack plug-ins, the possibilities are endless. The image at the top of this article of me hiding behind the graphic used 9 plug-ins on 4 layers.


Nobody can doubt the immense power and flexibility of Sapphire and I’m sure over the next few years the use of Sapphire in television will increase exponentially. Even the most basic budget ad can now have a very professional look. Experienced clients will expect any FCP house to be able to do something simple like Edge Rays as a matter of course.

There is one big question though, the price?

At $1699 / £1000 they are not cheap – being more expensive than FCP itself! GenArts do offer the range split into box sets at $599/£350 per set – so if you were after one specific effect, you don’t have to buy the complete set. A list of what’s available in each box is at

I think Sapphire is a professional tool, the amount of programming that has gone into making their plug-ins available to FCP users has been huge and the cost reflects that. Therefore it’s not a product that’s going to appear on the shelves next to DV camcorders and appeal to FCP users in a non-commercial environment. It is going to appeal to those FCP users who survive by offering a better, more creative and cheaper alternative to large post houses.

One thing to bear in mind if you are shocked by the price. If you wanted to buy the same package for your Flame (It uses the same algorithms) it would punch a hole in your wallet $10,000/£5,875 wide!

Considering you are buying the same creative potential, albeit working on a slower scale, I think Sapphire is a bargain, especially if you use After Effects as well.

If you are a serious professional FCP user, the question is not can you afford them, it’s can you not afford to have them. Don’t forget you can get a 3 week free trial, starting straight away – so what are you waiting for?.

Cow Rating:

4 1/2 Cows

Now where’s that pizza delivery…?

Peter Wiggins

I would welcome any feedback, especially if there is a demand for a few tutorials on Sapphire. Also would there be enough interest to warrant a Sapphire forum here on the Cow?

This review may not be re-published without the permission of Peter Wiggins
Copyright MMIV

Please visit the forums or read other articles at if you found this page from a direct link.

Related Articles / Tutorials:
Genarts Sapphire
Sapphire Hidden Tricks

Sapphire Hidden Tricks

In this tutorial, Ra-ey Saleh will reveal how to use Sapphire effects to fix 3 everyday technical issues: wide-angle lens distortion; aperture-pulls; and flickering GFX. These are undocumented hidden tricks and will work on all Sapphire platforms (Avid, AvidDS, After Effects, FCP, Autodesk, Shake and Nuke).

Ra-ey Saleh
Genarts Sapphire
Boombox Sonic Wave Effect

Boombox Sonic Wave Effect
  Play Video
Learn to make the most requested effect shot in the GenArts Demo Reel. In this tutorial, Todd Prives will take you through the steps to create a series of sonic waves emitting from a boombox using Sapphire plug-ins and Adobe After Effects as seen in the GenArts Demo Reel.

Tutorial, Video Tutorial
Todd Prives
Recent Articles / Tutorials:
Audio Professionals
Perfecting Audio: Professional Audio Add-ons For Your iPad

Perfecting Audio: Professional Audio Add-ons For Your iPad

You're going to be amazed how easy it is to turn your iPad into a professional audio powerhouse for a variety of applications: a field recorder, a front end for controlling your DAW, MIDI keyboards and turntables for musicians and DJs, and more. Whether you're a filmmaker, a podcaster, an audio engineer, or a musician, there are surprisingly affordable and powerful options for pro audio with your iPad.

Adorama TV
Adobe Creative Cloud
Increase Productivity with Adobe Motion Graphics Templates

Increase Productivity with Adobe Motion Graphics Templates

Motion Graphic Templates created in either Adobe Premiere Pro or Adobe After Effects are a great way to work with clients. They help you keep a consistent look and feel while protecting your project from inadvertent changes as it passes through different hands. Here are the steps you can take to share work across teams and organizations, quickly and powerfully.

Rod Harlan
Apple Motion
Apple Motion 5: Animating Raindrops On A Window

Apple Motion 5: Animating Raindrops On A Window

Ready to have your mind blown? Longtime VFX artist, editor, software developer, and business owner Simon Ubsdell is inspired by an Andrew Kramer AE tutorial to combine Apple Motion's particles, displacements, 3D compositing, and advanced blurs to create an incredibly realistic animation of raindrops on a window. You're not going to believe how fast and fun this effect is to create, and how realistic it looks.

Simon Ubsdell
RED Digital Cinema
RED TECH: Black Shade Calibration: When, Why, and How

RED TECH: Black Shade Calibration: When, Why, and How

Learn how (as well as why and when) to run a Black Shade Calibration on your RED Digital Cinema camera to ensure clean and consistent pixel sensitivity across your entire image.

RED Digital Cinema
Panasonic Cameras
Pansonic AG-CX350 First Look: 4K, HDR, Streaming, and more

Pansonic AG-CX350 First Look: 4K, HDR, Streaming, and more

Introducing the new Panasonic AG-CX350 4K HDR 10-bit 60p camcorder, featuring Enhanced Network Capabilities for live events,, sports, and news gathering. The CX350 is equipped with the RTMP/RTSP/RTP protocol for live streaming and NewTek NDI | HX-ready for IP Production. In addition, it offers future P2 capability (via a free firmware update). At only 4.2-lbs. (body only), the CX350 is also the lightest 4K 10-bit fixed-lens camcorder in its class -- all for under $4K! Check out the details here.

Adorama TV
Adobe After Effects
What Are Adobe Motion Graphics Templates?

What Are Adobe Motion Graphics Templates?

A Motion Graphics Template, referred to as a MOGRT, is an animated sequence that is self-contained and can be used in Adobe Premiere Pro, Adobe Premiere Rush and Adobe After Effects, combining graphics, text, audio and video files, as well as vector or still images (including logos), to create a still or animation that can then be customized by the MOGRT user. The result is a dynamic creative tool that provides design freedom and is consistent to its users across apps and devices. Reuse, share, and even sell them!

Rod Harlan
Workflow That Plays For Keeps: How Netflix Is Protecting Stories' Futures

Workflow That Plays For Keeps: How Netflix Is Protecting Stories' Futures

If you hope to distribute your work via Netflix, you NEED to know this, but even if you're only interested in the best thinking currently available about how to preserve your own work for an unknown digital future, this is a must-read. Kylee Peña, Coordinator of Creative Technologies & Infrastructure at Netflix, and co-authors Christopher Clark and Mike Whipple share insights on the origin of Netflix archival elements, the importance of color management, and how all this comes together to preserve creative intent -- insights you can start using yourself, today.

Creative COW
Audio Professionals
Perfecting Audio: Field Recorders

Perfecting Audio: Field Recorders

Audio professional Keith Alexander offers a personal tour through the minefield that is field recorders. The goal is to cover as many situations that may arise with the least amount of gear, and to make sure the job gets done right the first time.

Adorama TV
© 2019 All Rights Reserved