LIBRARY: Tutorials Reviews Interviews Editorials Features Business Authors RSS Feed

Peter Wiggins looks at Sapphire Plug-ins from GenArts

COW Library : Genarts 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:
Art of the Edit
Always Be Editing: Sculptors & Bricklayers Revisited

Always Be Editing: Sculptors & Bricklayers Revisited

Do you edit like a sculptor, or like a bricklayer? It seems a simple enough question, but as longtime editor, post house owner, and VFX software developer Simon Ubsdell shows, the implications for how this affects the way you edit can be profound. His advice, regardless of where you land on the spectrum? Always be editing.

Simon Ubsdell
Audio Professionals
Hearing The Handmaid's Tale: Jane Tattersall's Sound Career

Hearing The Handmaid's Tale: Jane Tattersall's Sound Career

With Emmy, BAFTA, Motion Picture Sound Editors Golden Reel, Canadian Screen, and Directors Guild of Canada Awards among many more, Jane Tattersall shares insights into a career in sound editing entering its fourth decade with two young women just beginning their own careers in the field. Their conversation begins with Jane's work on the Hulu hit series, The Handmaid's Tale.

Feature, People / Interview
Kylee Peña
Art of the Edit
Indie Film Sound Editing: A This Guy Edits Tutorial

Indie Film Sound Editing: A This Guy Edits Tutorial

ACE Award-nominated picture editor Sven Pape ("This Guy Edits") speaks with Sundance Award-winning sound editor Ugo Derouard on The 5 Five Steps of Audio Post Production: Sound Editing, Spotting, Dialog Editing, Sound Design, and Sound Mixing, paying special attention to the specific needs of, and techniques that can work best for, independent filmmakers.

Sven Pape
Adobe After Effects
Stabilize 360 Video with Mocha VR

Stabilize 360 Video with Mocha VR

In this intermediate tutorial, Mocha Product Manager Martin Brennand takes you through smoothing the horizon in a Samsung Gear 360 shot using the Reorient Module in Mocha VR. Jittery 360 video footage can be made more watchable by stabilizing with Mocha’s planar tracking tools. The tutorial is done via the Adobe After Effects plug-in, but the techniques apply to all versions of Mocha VR.

Imagineer Systems
DJI Mavic Pro In Depth Review - The Best 4K Drone?

DJI Mavic Pro In Depth Review - The Best 4K Drone?

VFX guru Tobias Gleissenberger was so delighted with the DJI Mavic Pro 4K drone that he bought (yes, bought) that he was inspired to take a break from making tutorials to create an in-depth review of this compact, lightweight, consumer drone offering terrific value. No, it's not a platform for your digital cinema camera, but if you're looking for a fast, fun, integrated 4K camera drone packed with features, the Mavic Pro might be for you. This review is delivered Surfaced Studio-style, with wit, high energy, and details you won't find anywhere else.

Tobias Gleissenberger
Panasonic Cameras
The Panasonic EVA1: Questions Answered!

The Panasonic EVA1: Questions Answered!

Anticipation that Panasonic began building for their "mystery camera" at April's NAB Show 2017 was paid off at June's Cine Gear Expo 2017 in Hollywood, as Panasonic finally unveiled their AU-EVA1 cinema camera. Compact, lightweight, equipped with a newly designed 5.7K Super 35 sensor, and positioned between the Panasonic Lumix GH5 4K mirrorless camera and the VariCam LT 4K cinema camera, the AU-EVA1 is tailor-made for handheld shooting, but also well suited for documentaries, commercials, and music videos. Panasonic Cinema Product Manager, Mitch Gross has provided some answers to early questions about the EVA1’s target audience, shooting applications, Dual Native ISO, the 5.7K sensor, and more.

COW News
Art of the Edit
TV Workflow Supervisor Kylee Peña: The Benefits of Pressure

TV Workflow Supervisor Kylee Peña: The Benefits of Pressure

TV workflow supervisor Kylee Peña (Jane the Virgin, Colony) visits Adobe's "Make It" talk show to chat with host Jason Levine about the evolution of motion picture workflows, from the days of film and tape to our modern digital world of crazy-high shooting ratios and constantly evolving technology. She also expounds on the upside to creative constraints and tight deadlines. And don’t miss the lightning round!!!

Feature, People / Interview
Cow News
Color Grading
Grading The LEGO Batman Movie: Animal Logic and FilmLight

Grading The LEGO Batman Movie: Animal Logic and FilmLight

Following successful collaborations on The Matrix, Legends of the Guardians, and Happy Feet, Sydney's Animal Logic worked with Warner Bros on The LEGO Movie from pitch to proof of concept to post. Animal Logic has gone even further on the latest LEGO animated feature, The LEGO Batman Movie, where they were embedded with the production for over a year. The range of their work pushed every aspect of the Baselight system for editorial, VFX, and HDR not just for post, but for the entire production process.

COW News
© 2017 All Rights Reserved