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Using Magic Bullet and Anamorphic in your DV project

COW Library : Magic Bullet Suite Tutorials : Steven Galvano : Using Magic Bullet and Anamorphic in your DV project
CreativeCOW presents Using Magic Bullet and Anamorphic in your DV project -- Magic Bullet Suite Review

Colors Studios
Rochester New York USA All rights reserved.

For the past two years, Steven Galvano has been on a ''making video look like film'' quest. At first he'd come to the conclusion that if he wanted his projects to look like film, he'd have to shoot film. But recently, Steven's opinion has changed. Now, he believes that the science of cinematic video will be exacted in the near future and will be available to the average video producer.

Video producers, you should be ecstatic! We are living in a time in history where prosumer level video exceeds the broadcast quality video of yesterday. Our footage can remain lossless throughout post and output. We have powerful 3D tools and effects right on our computers. We can edit in real time on a pro system for less than $7,000, and the list goes on.

All this hype is not just about resolution and format. It seems that as I am writing this paper, the video world is quickly changing towards a more cinematic future. There is a lot of excitement over 24p camcorders, which are now available in the prosumer market. Native 16:9 cameras are more widely available, and HD, the format that will give video producers the resolution they need to rival film, is at least a little more mainstream.

And this is where I fit in – For the past two years I have been on a "making video look like film” quest. About a year and a half ago, after trying just about every method out there, I realized that if I want my projects to look like film, I'd have to shoot film. But over the past several months, my opinion has been changing, at least a bit. I believe that the science of cinematic video will be exacted in the near future and will be available to the average video producer.

So for now, my desire is not so much for my narrative video projects to look like film, but for them to look less like video. That we can do, and that is what is important.

Video has a realistic look. Film has a storytelling look. Even the general public, who might not appreciate the differences of film and video, have a harder time engaging a narrative project shot with video (barring HD). So the challenge is to effectively tell a story using video. Film has nothing to do with the equation.

Let's start with looking at some of the qualities that have made film the medium of the century:

1) Motion qualities: Natively, film does stuff that only now computers can be programmed to replicate. Adjusting the motion of your project may be the single-most important item you can do in achieving an effective narrative piece on video. Most film is shot at 24 frames per second. In my opinion, there is not a gigantic difference between 24fps and 30fps. Although I prefer 24fps, when adjusting NTSC video, usually good 30p results are more achievable. The underlying necessity is to eliminate the very telling 60 field video look.

2) Aspect ratio: The typical aspect ratio for motion picture projection is 1.85:1 (35mm). This aspect ratio increases to 2:1 and even wider with some formats.

A wide aspect ratio is not necessarily a native property of film. Widescreen is potentially just as natural for video. To the viewer, this wider aspect ratio has become synonymous with the cinematic experience. Additionally, an anamorphic area is a more interesting space to compose in.

3) Contrasts with rich blacks: Native properties of film.

4) Softer edges: One of the most telltale attributes of video is its harsh edges and over saturated colors.

5) High Resolution / High Contrast Ratio: These factors are the basis of the cinematic look. Before HD, video could not compare to film in these areas.

Other factors:

Good lighting and attention to set design: The primary reason that theatrical film and network television look so good is because its producers pay close attention to details. I have been on sets where it takes the effort of dozens of people and much time to get one shot in the can. For selected shots on the project described below, I shot anamorphic DV, softened the edges, and lit the set well. I was so happy with the results right out of the camera, I debated whether or not to do any post processing at all. I ended up processing the footage, but the fact remains that we were 75% of the way there just with pre-production.

With this information and philosophy, I have embarked on a new project. I also used a fairly new product called the Magic Bullet Suite. Our production is documented in this next section.

THE PROJECT: “Welcome to RCCM” (click here to see the movie in the Quicktime format)

The Set: The trick is not to just light well, but to light like film. Promoting shadows, contrasts, short depths of field, and washout whites will all help. We used (on select shots) our Mole-Richardson 1ks and Mickey Moles to burn out the background, and create a simple hot light configuration. We used a small soft box for fill. We did not use a hair light (used on typical 3 point systems).

The Camera: We used the Canon GL1, with Century Optics's 16:9 adaptor. Internally, we softened the sharpness close to all the way. We used the zebra pattern to ensure exposure. Although contrasts are great, over and under exposure will negatively affect the final product. Audio was captured using Sennheiser's System K6 shotgun mic adapted to use with the GL1's mic level input with Studio One Productions XLR adaptor.

Approximately half of the shots in this project were designed and shot specifically for this project, the other half were taken from our stock library. Many of the stock shots were shot in 4:3. We knew we wanted to output 16:9, so we looked at just about all options to introduce the 4:3 footage into our 16:9 project. The "blow-up" test never even got rendered. For a 4:3 shot to fit in a 16:9 frame it must be substantially blown up. The results are noticeably degraded. After more thought, we decided to "camouflage” the 4:3 differential by moving the 4:3 footage to the extreme right or left (usually alternating) of the 16:9 frame. We feathered the "hard edge" in AE, and added a subtle animation in the open space.

We were a little concerned that the animation would distract from the video clip, so we adjusted the opacity of the animation to the point that the video was dominate in the frame. In test screenings, most didn't even notice the animations, and interestingly even fewer noticed that the project was not entirely 16:9.

Post: In past projects with FCP, I've captured, cut, and exported. In this project, I dove much deeper into the hair splitting world of perfect NLE. I should first make note that if this post process seems excessive, it probably is. The following is an awful lot of work just to save a render or two. But, there are other tangible benefits of doing it this way, and there is always the satisfaction of knowing you did it right!
The post process:

1) I started the same way. I captured and edited the entire project in a single sequence in FCP. Once everything was fairly accurate (with effects, etc.), I looked for ALL the "steel gray" bars in the timeline (everything that has been rendered), made notes of the I/O's and effects, and recreated all of them in AE with the original source footage (the same footage that FCP was pointing to).

In AE, I created a new project and each effect shot became its own Comp within this project. These individual comps would eventually become part of the final output, so I made sure they were good and would require no further adjustment.

[Note: Because FCP is far better equipped to allow you to preview your sequences, I found that it actually saves time if you perfectly create the entire project in FCP first, then just recreate the effects shots in AE. This takes the guesswork out of the AE process; you just match the I/O's from FCP.]

[Note: There is a product on the market called Automatic Duck. This product exports FCP timelines, then imports them into AE while maintaining original FCP timeline attributes. This product is definitely worth its price tag if this is to become a regular process for you. I did not use it for this project, nor have I tested it. Video guru Jerry Hofmann reviewed and gives this product a positive rating (review can be found here). For me, Jerry's review is quite enough proof to bank on the products effectiveness as he has been an authority in the video world for years. I will certainly use this product in the future.]

Once all the Comps were complete, I outputted them from AE using draft quality. I imported them in FCP, and replaced the FCP-originated effects shots with the new AE comps. At this point, there were no rendered shots in the FCP timeline (not including the drafts from AE that would be final rendered later). Although not in final quality, this was my final project. But of course, it was not. I noticed some small things that needed correction, so I had to adjust some of the comps in AE and re-output. The purpose of this step is to perfectly lay out your project. It is vital to make all necessary time corrections at this point. From the standpoint of I/O's and transitions, your project should be final before proceeding to the next step. Depending on how many effects shots you have, the final output step in AE can be very complex. A meaningful preview in AE is almost impossible.

Once I was comfortable with the draft version of the project in FCP, the real fun began.

2) First of all, I exported a "video only", self-contained FCP Movie to use as a reference track (called "WRCCMref").

3) Next, I mixed down and exported a "audio only" FCP movie (called "soundtrack"). This audio track would eventually serve as the final audio track.

4) At this point, I opened my AE project, and imported these two FCP Movies into it. I created a new comp and dragged "WRCCMref" into it. This track starts at "0", so no thought is required -- just place the "playhead" in the AE timeline at "0", and drag the clip into the comp window. I left "soundtrack" alone for the moment.

5) Once I got that far with AE, I popped back over to FCP. I made a copy of the FCP project, and deleted all the draft AE comps I imported from AE from it.

6) At that point (in FCP), my video was spread out over four layers in the timeline. I had to reduce it to two layers, maximum. All effects, slow-motion, text, transitions will be added in AE. Once you get rid of these in FCP, your video should fit it one layer in the timeline. I had dissolves planned, so a second layer, a B-roll, was needed. Remember, I "layed" these dissolves out in FCP in a previous step, so I knew exactly how much to overlap the A/B rolls.

At this point, my project cohabited. All the "straight shots" -- the ones that didn't or wouldn't require rendering, lived either on the A Roll (layer 1) or on the B Roll (layer 2) in FCP. All of the effects shots and text live in unrendered "comp" form in AE.

7) Next, I outputted the A-roll and B-roll separately as FCP REFERENCE Movies. Making these files "reference" movies instead of "self-contained" movies saves an unnecessary recompression. In FCP, a reference movie is a small file (that AE recognizes) that points to the original source file. For example, the outputted A-roll reference movie that will be used in AE for final output is referencing the same clips I originally captured from tape. No recompression or rendering has ever degraded the quality.

8) Although a little time consuming, these next steps were rather painless. First, I imported the A and B rolls into the same AE composition I had previously created for "WRCCMref" (the FCP Movie we will use for sync), and "soundtrack". I then synced the A and B rolls with WRCCMref. I did this by simply laying the A roll over WRCCMref and toggling the A-Roll layer off and on and adjusting until the A roll footage perfectly overlayed the same footage in WRCCMref. Remember that there are many "holes" in the A-Roll, but I spot-checked the footage that was there throughout the duration to make sure it was synced with the reference track. I then did the same for the B-roll.

[Note: Do not confuse "Reference track" or "Sync track”, which is "WRCCMref” to "FCP Reference Movie" which are the A and B Rolls.]

9) Next, I starting dragging in the comps that would complete the project. I toggled the A and B rolls off, and used only "WRCCMref". According to WRCCMref, my first effect shot came in at the 2 sec point. I placed the playhead exactly at this point, and dragged in the comp. This placed the comp directly over the same footage in the reference track. I confirmed this by checking the I/O's. I continued this until all the comps were in. Each time, I checked the cuts in the reference track against the newly entered comps by toggling the new layer on and off and comparing it with the reference track. All the comps should perfectly overlay the same footage in the reference track.

10) At this point, I spot-checked again to ensure alignment. Then, I deleted the reference track (WRCCMref) from the comp. The A-roll was complete!

11) Next, I created the B-roll.

[Note: One again, the purpose of placing clips on the B-roll is so you can cross dissolve from A-roll footage to B-roll footage.]

Creating the B-roll took far less time as it contains just three shots. The first shot on the B-roll came in at the 12 sec mark. At this point in the film, you can see the RCCM sign (on the A-roll) dissolve to a blue sky (on the B-roll) then to a wider shot of the sky and clouds with the sun peeking out (on the A-roll).

These dissolves are approximately 1 second each. Therefore, the A/B roll footage must overlap by at least 15 frames on each side. Understanding dissolves in FCP helps understand them here. Also, notice the quality of these dissolves. They were created using Magic Bullet Opticals. They are designed to mimic dissolves produced with optical printers used in film. I consider these one of the "tangible benefits" of outputting this way. I truly like these optical effects, I will discuss them further in the Review section.

First I dragged in the B-roll reference movie that I exported from FCP. Only one of the three shots that was to be on the B-roll was on this clip. The other two clips were in comp form. I temporary dragged in "WRCCMref" and used it to properly place the comps. Once everything was properly aligned, I deleted "WRCCMref", and the B-roll was complete.

12) With the A-roll and B-roll comps complete, I was ready to begin using the Magic Bullet Suite. The Magic Bullet Suite contains five modules. The "flagship" module is called Magic Bullet. This module deinterlaces and deartifacts your footage -- effectively adding a film-like motion quality to your project. I will go deeper into this and each of the modules in the review section.

[Note: When the Magic Bullet deinterlacer is used, the "Separate Fields" menu in the "Interpret Footage" window must be switched to "off" for all your source footage. Select each source file in the Project Window (one at a time), and press "command + f" for the Interpret Footage window.]

I created a new comp, called "A-Roll Magic Bullet". I dragged the "A-roll” COMP into the "A-Roll Magic Bullet" comp. I did this by placing the playhead at the "0" point, then dragging the A-Roll comp onto the "A-Roll Magic Bullet" comp window. I then applied the effect to the A-Roll comp that was within the "A-Roll Magic Bullet" comp. Applying MB is painless. Once applied, you are prompted to perform an "Auto Setup". The Auto Setup button appears in the effects window once the Magic Bullet effect is applied.

Auto Setup takes just a few moments to establish your comp's frame rate and set your progressive frame rate. A comp set to a frame rate of 23.976 will be rendered at 24p. A comp set to a frame rate of 29.97 will be rendered at 30p. Magic Bullet recommends a final product of 24p from DV NTSC source footage. To achieve this, you change the comp's frame rate from 29.97 to 23.976 (select the comp and press command + k).

On the outset of this project, I thoroughly tested 24p footage and 30p footage that MB produced. I will discuss this testing later in the Review section. Because of the type of project that "Welcome to RCCM" is, I decided to use 30p. 30p is not a compromise. The simple explanation is that it removes the immediacy of video without distracting motion artifacts. “Welcome to RCCM” is supposed to be warm and inviting. It is not a narrative or a "reality" project. The goal was to make the viewer feel engaged without being a "dimension" away, while getting rid of the immediacy of video. This is not to say that actual film is not warm and inviting; it is. But video processed to look like film, doesn't seem to maintain quite the same warmth and graceful motion.

Another component of this Magic Bullet Module is the Deartifactor. According to MB, the Deartifactor effectively removes video artifacts, including banding and aliasing. I applied the Deartifactor using the "DV 4:1:1" preset which targets artifacts native to the DV codec.

13) I did the same for the B-roll. Created a comp called "B-roll Magic Bullet" and applied the effects.

14) The Magic Bullet deinterlacing / deartifacting steps above took just a few minutes to complete. Next, I created a new comp called "A-roll Color Correction / Looks". This step took some time. Here we would craft the look of the project. With this project, I certainly didn't push the Magic Bullet look envelope. As far as "look" goes, I believe Welcome to RCCM reflects the more subtle side of Magic Bullet, the side that I am most likely to use on an ongoing basis.

[Note: All of the effects such as Trapcode's Shine were added in step 1, in the individual comps, not here.]

I basically used three tools:

  • AE's "Levels"
  • AE's "Color Correction"
  • Magic Bullet's "Look Suite"

In the "A-roll Color Correction / Looks" comp, I dragged "A-Roll Magic Bullet". I added the effects "levels" and "color correction to the "A-Roll Magic Bullet" layer. I started color correcting and adjusting the levels of the entire project by placing "hold" keyframes at the cuts and adjusting shot by shot. I did this in order from the beginning, because not all shots would require adjustment. Using "hold" keyframes made it easier to skip over shots. Be very careful here! It would be a good time to do a refresher tutorial on keyframing. You want to make sure your adjustments are isolated on just the shot (or sequence) you are correcting. Especially if you are planning on doing some heavy "Look Suiting", you may want to take some extra time adjusting/correcting here. The Look Suite likes doing everything itself. If you bring in nicely lit and exposed footage, Look Suite will do well with it. In your levels adjustment / color correction step, craft everything so it is consistent and plain, then let Look Suite handle your saturations and contrasts.

Once my level and color correction adjustments were complete, I started the Look Suite process. The first shot I wanted to process was the first shot in the project. It came in at the 2-second and 15 frame point. I placed the playhead right at this point and added an Adjustment Layer (New > Layer > Adjustment Layer. I then shortened the adjustment layer so it covered just the duration of that particular shot.

[Note: It is important to have the adjustment layer cover just the footage you are targeting. You can ensure this by toggling on and off the "Adjustment Layer" switch (located in the "switches panel"). The footage covered by the Adjustment Layer will turn white when the switch is toggled off.]

An Adjustment Layer is a nifty feature of AE that acts as a transparent layer where you can apply effects, or adjustments. In the Layer menu, I renamed the adjustment layer. By the time I was finished there were many Adjustment Layers. Naming them is a great way of keeping organized. With the adjustment layer selected, I selected Effect > Magic Bullet Suite > Look Suite to add the Look Suite.

The Look Suite is powerful tool and is easy to use and craft. It has four major components: Subject, Lens Filters, Camera, and Post. It also has a list of presets including traditional looks and more modern processes. For the first shot, I simply increased the contrast, saturation, and gamma. For most of the other shots, I started with a preset, and tweaked the values to achieve the exact look that was appropriate for the particular shot. Custom presets can also be saved and reapplied just as any other preset.

I had every intension of making the presets I saved available for download. As it turned out, I did not rely on a single preset. In just about every LS shot, I tweaked the values. I recommend taking some time and customizing a look that works for you. The controls are straight forward, and easy to tweak and preview. Unlike the deinterlacer, you do not have to do render tests; you can simple preview the look right in the comp window (obviously, it will look slightly different in a NTSC monitor). If a single shot does catch your eye, I can make that preset available. I continued the process of adding Adjustment Layers, and applying Look Suite until "A-roll Color Correction / Looks" comp was complete.

15) I then created a new comp called "B-roll Color Correction / Looks". Again, I adjusted levels and color corrected, and then added adjustment layers and Look Suite effects.

16) With the Look Suite applied to the footage, the only remaining step was to apply the transitions and audio. To begin the transition step, I created a new comp called "Welcome to RCCM". This would be the first comp to contain the final product. I dragged in "A-roll Color Correction / Looks" comp, and "B-roll Color Correction / Looks" comp. I then created a new Solid Layer (Layer > New > Solid) and placed it on top. I renamed this layer to "Opticals". I then added the "opticals" effect to this solid layer (Effect > Magic Bullet Suite > Opticals). In the "Opticals" effect controls, (in the timeline) I specified the "A" source ("A-roll Color Correction / Looks" and the "B" source ("B-roll Color Correction / Looks"). At this point, the A/B layers can be switched off. Only the "opticals" layer in this comp needs to be enabled. I could now perform cross dissolves by simply keyframing the "Dissolve A-B Slider". When this slider is at 0% you will see only the A source, when at 100% you will see only the B source. I used this slider for the two dissolves in this project. The first dissolve started at the 12 second point in the film and lasted 4 seconds. I placed a keyframe in the Dissolve A-B Slider at the "in" point with a value of 0, and another 4 seconds later at the "out" point with a value of 100. This caused the "A" layer to dissolve into the "B" layer. I then dissolved back to the "A" layer at the end of this shot. Commonly there will be dissolves at just one end of a shot. In this case, you dissolve "in" as described, then after the last frame of the "B" roll shot, simply place a "0" value keyframe to take you directly back to the "A" roll.

Finally, at the beginning of the project there is a simple fade in, and at the end, a burn to white. There is a separate keyframable control of these effects called "fade/burn". At frame 1 of the project I placed a "fade/burn" keyframe with the value of -100, and another at the 4-second mark with a value of "0". This gave me a beautiful optical fade in. The "burn" at the end lasted just over 1 second. I placed a fade/burn keyframe with a value of "0" where I wanted the burn to begin, and another just over a second later with a value of "100". There are a couple of more things about opticals you should know that are described in the Review section. To complete this step, I dragged in "soundtrack", and made sure the layer started at the first frame for perfect sync.

17) The final step is output. Potentially, you can get really fancy here. If you went down the 24p path, you can actually output what is virtually a Digital Answer Print (DAP). A post house can use this very file to make a film print. If film is a possibility, go 24p. I outputted two different ways: straight 16:9 and letterboxed. I will eventually use the 16:9 output for upcoming DVD projects, for use on our widescreen projectors, and for making compressed web files. Setting up for this output was simple. I made a new comp called "Final 16:9 output", and dragged in "Welcome to RCCM" (the comp that holds the final project). I then added an Adjustment Layer where I would introduce another component of the Magic Bullet Suite called "Broadcast Spec". Broadcast Spec is a great feature of MB that scans the footage and ensures that all colors are legal to the NTSC Standard. Threshold levels can be adjusted, but I kept them at default values, and used the "Component" preset. (More on Broadcast Spec in the review section.)

I then added "Final 16:9 Output" to the Render Queue. I was working with the comp window at 50% size and half resolution. So in the Render Queue's "Render Settings" I changed the "quality" to "best", and the "resolution" to "full". In "Render Settings", I kept everything else at default values. [Note: If your project is 30p, ensure that "Field Render" is set to "off", if your project is 24p, you will need to use AE's 3:2 pulldown. For DV, select "Lower" in "Field Render" and in "3:2 pulldown" select the last setting "WWSSW".] I hit "OK" in Render Settings" and then clicked "Output Module". In "Format Options" I changed the CoDec from "Animation" to "DV-NTSC", at best quality (100).

Finally, in the "Output Module" I enabled "Audio Output", and changed the default settings to 48k 16 bit stereo.

[Note: Although "Animation" is a lossless CoDec, DV-NTSC is the way to go if your footage originated in that format. Remaining in the original color space will ultimately give you the best possible quality].

[Note: When AE imports video footage, it also imports audio if it exists on the file. To ensure that your output only contains audio from your soundtrack, disable the audio switch next to all comps other than your soundtrack.]

I then hit OK to accept the changes to the "Output Module", and then I clicked "Render".

For the letterboxed output, I created a new 4:3 comp (DV-NTSC 720x480) and added a solid layer (New > Layer > Solid) to it. I changed the color to black. I then dragged in the "Welcome to RCCM" comp. The comp did not fit correctly, but I used the comp's marker to align it to center. I then used a neat feature of AE to properly scale the widescreen comp within the 4:3 comp. I did this by hitting "command+option+shift+h". I then added Broadcast Spec and adjusted Render Queue settings as described above.



I am going to concentrate this review on two areas: Century's 16:9 adaptor, and the Magic Bullet Suite.

Century 16:9 Adaptor: I like this thing. It has its limitations, but if you know exactly what you are trying to accomplish, you can easily determine if it will fit with your project.

Most prosumer cameras such as Canon's GL1, and Sony's VX-2000 have "On-board" (or electronic) 16:9 abilities. The electronic 16:9 function on these cameras work by essentially "chopping off" the top and bottom portions of the image. This results in a total pixel loss of about 25%. Then, all remaining pixels are stretched vertically to refill the 4:3 chips native to your camera. The 25% resolution loss affects the entire image.

The idea of losing 25% of my image resolution was troubling especially to a guy like me who was set to go through the tenuous post process described above to preserve optimum quality. But, I thought it was worth a shot. I thoroughly tested the On-board 16:9 function on my GL1, against the native 4:3 image it produced. The 16:9 degradation was easily noticeable in every test I performed. With the electronic 16:9 option off the table, I looked at possibility of letterboxing. I would shoot and edit in standard 4:3, and simply crop the image at near or the last step. With this option, you would still lose 25% resolution, but the loss is only in the areas you crop. You do not affect the remaining pixels. During production, you would have to be mindful that your image would be cropped, and frame accordingly. Canon's GL2 has a 16:9 image marker option that shows in the viewfinder. Masking tape also works. The major downfall of this option is that your final output devise must be 4:3. Remember, you are basically creating a 4:3 image with a blacked-out top and bottom. If 4:3 is your destination, this may be a good option for you. You would not have to encounter the limitations that come with using a 16:9 lens.

The primary destination for "Welcome to RCCM" is a 16:9 installation projector mounted in RCCM's main auditorium. Letterboxing would not work for me. There are other perks that come with 16:9 – have you ever seen those cool looking 16:9 QuickTime players pop up on the web?

It seemed a 16:9 lens was the way to go. After some research, I settled on Century's 16:9 Lens. I started playing with it as soon as I received it.

[Note: when using a 16:9 lens on a native 4:3 camera such as the GL1, your camera should be switched the normal 4:3 mode as opposed to the electronic 16:9 mode].

It was advertised to have some zoom limitations. According to Century, the GL1's 20x zoom would be fully functional from full wide to 75%. I found that at full wide slight vignetting would occur. Vignetting was enhanced if a filter such as a UV was in use. I also found, although somewhat variable, that zoom was only reliable to just under 50%. In some situations, especially under good lighting conditions, the zoom was effective up to approximately 60%. These attributes are not ideal if you are a "pick up and shoot" type video producer. Century mentioned to me that they were going to release a 16:9 model that was focusable. This would fix the zoom problem, but I imagine it would have to be refocused with each zoom change.

One other note concerning focus: I typically zoom in all the way, grab a good focus on my subject, and then correctly compose the shot. With its zoom limitations that is impossible when using the 16:9 lens. So I did some shoots to test the possibility of using the GL1's LCD screen for focus. Total flop. I like this LCD; it has allowed me to get shots with this camera that would be otherwise impossible, but do not use it to ensure focus! I ended up dragging out a NTSC monitor for select shots. For more candid shots, I zoomed as much as possible and used the auto focus.

[Note: When using Auto focus, turn it on before the shot just to get focus. Once you are focused turn it off to prevent accidental refocusing.]

This adaptor screw mounts to the front of the camcorder much like a standard filter. There is then an adjustment ring at the front of the adaptor used to "square" the adaptor lens to the camcorder lens (so the 16:9 effect is oriented correctly). This ring must be visually aligned, which may present a problem at some time or another. There have been times when the lens has been off, and I've had to quickly apply it to catch a shot and this ring was not perfectly aligned. Not a big deal, and being slightly off is hardly noticeable, but I thought I would mention it.

[Note: Filters cannot be threaded to the 16:9 lens. To use a filter, you must use a matte box, or you can purchase special adaptor that Century has made available.]

That is about the extent of the negative stuff. It actually was not so bad. It just took a little organization, and caused some minor modifications to the project. Some shots would require more zoom then the Century lens could offer. For these few shots we had two options. Shoot them with the electronic 16:9, or shoot them in 4:3, and some how work them in. There is always a solution - flex your creative muscle!

I believe the positives out weigh the negatives here. With the 16:9 lens attached, the GL1 produced some of the best DV images I've seen. Do not bank on this, but in THEORY, the image quality with the adaptor should be slightly increased over typical GL1 quality because you are squeezing the information into a box of less area. The bottom line is the 16:9 image looks at least as good as the native GL1 image. In addition to the quality, the image also has a more cinematic perspective. The lens is advertised to have a 35% wider viewing area at full wide then the GL1 without the lens at full wide. In some initial tests, this look intrigued me. I performed a side-by-side test of the same image, at the same zoom power, one with the Century 16:9, and the other with the GL1's electronic 16:9. I ignored the difference in quality. Although the frames contained the identical information, century's frame looked more cinematic, as if it wrapped around the subject. By comparison, the electronic 16:9 image looked flat and two-dimensional.

A final note about Century's lens: The perspective of vertical objects may be noticeably affected. You can see an example near the beginning of "Welcome to RCCM" (the first "clouds" shot, with the steeple frame-left). Notice how the steeple leans toward center frame. Everything will lean slightly towards center because of the concave design of the outer layer of the lens. I tested to see the extent of what this would affect. A wide shot of a large static object in the foreground, with a contrasting background, such as a wide-open sky, will promote this effect if the foreground image is not centered in the frame. I also found that the less the shot is composed to look "big" (such as looking up at a skyscraper with the sky in the background) the less this effect is noticeable. I like this effect. It is the reason for the perspective enhancements discussed above. Most of "Welcome to RCCM" is shot using this lens, and in most of these shots, the subject is not centered. No negative effects are noticeable. When they are, such as in the "clouds" shot, I believe it is an enhancement.

[Note: While using this lens, I recommend removing any screw-on filters from the camera.]

Magic Bullet Suite.

Magic Bullet is an "all-digital pipeline for finishing movies". It was developed in 1999 by the people at The Orphanage, a high-end digital film production and post house in LA. (The Orphanage began when visual effects and digital gurus left ILM in 1999). According to The Orphanage, "Magic Bullet was designed to allow ultimate creative control over digital projects while maintaining the highest possible quality, with a particular eye towards mimicking the characteristics of motion picture film". Magic Bullet has been further refined over the years by other ILM engineers and programmers.

Magic Bullet is different end to end than other film processes I've seen, beginning with its psychology. It works less as a post tool and more like a cinematographer's toolbox. Common tools found in other processes such as grain and scratching, do not exist in Magic Bullet. It seems that the objective of Magic Bullet is about promoting the bold and beautiful cinematic experience, and less like replicating "1970's 8mm color reversal film", for example.

All that said, let me let you in on the big secret: the "prep" is what will get you the results you are looking for. The most important factor in getting your video to look like film is you. You should look at Magic Bullet as only a helper. If you give Magic Bullet well lit, composed, and detailed shots, it will take your project home.

Magic Bullet has five major components that I have listed in the order I think is important:

  1. Magic Bullet
  2. Look Suite
  3. Opticals
  4. Broadcast Spec
  5. Letterboxer

Magic Bullet: “The Flagship" component.

The primary function of this component is to convert your interlaced footage (60i) to whole or "progressive" frames (24p or 30p). The steps for converting footage are outlined in the previous section. I comprehensively tested Magic Bullet's progressive output against other output such as CineMotion, and AE's 3:2 pulldown. In my opinion, Magic Bullet's advanced process of deinterlacing and conversion to progressive frames looks more authentic. It is also a bit feistier. Shooting your footage at 1/60th of a second shutter speed will help smooth out results, especially at 24p. Higher shutter speeds can leave 24p output looking a bit stroboscopic. Also remember that you are converting 60i footage to 24p which is a irregular mathematical conversion. Some (emphasize some) motion irregularities are to be expected.

As described above, I opted for 30p. This decision was based on the type of project I was producing, not my test results. The 30p results looked far less like video than the source, and at least believable as film. Worked for me!

My final word on motion: Before Magic Bullet, I would have said that we were 25% of the way there. With Magic Bullet we are 70%. Although that is better, and certainly good, I still do not think it compares to the natural beauty and grace of 35mm film motion. This is not to say that Magic Bullet is not handling 24p with perfection, it probably is. Maybe it's just that 24p video is not the same as 24fps film.

Another component of the Magic Bullet Deinterlacer is the Deartifactor. According to The Orphanage, "the Deartifactor cancels out some of the subtle imperfections in digital video that can become a big problem on the big screen". In testing of deinterlaced footage, improvements were noticed in areas of the frame that contained high contrasts. Pick the your footage type from the preset menu, and use Deartifacting without fear!

Look Suite:

The Look Suite is the creative punch behind the Magic Bullet Suite. I'm impressed that the Look Suite can affect footage without degrading the quality of the overall image. Other processes degrade image quality to produce a more cinematic feel.

I performed some side by side test with images before and after they have been treated with the Look Suite. The treated footage looked better from a cinematic standpoint, and looked equal to the source footage from a quality standpoint.

A good place to start in the Look Suite is in the Presets Window. Presets are simply different combinations of Look Suite settings.

The standard presets mimic common film looks. I found that they are a good start, but I adjusted just about every one I used. Once the preset has been tweaked, it can be saved.

The Look Suite's interface is simple, but they didn't trade power for it's simplicity. The Look Suite has four four major components. The first, "Subject" is used to "even out" the look of your source footage before it is processed. Magic Bullet stresses the importance of pre-processing your footage (for example, reducing the saturation the from a oversaturated source shot) before affecting it.

I highly recommend SHOOTING your footage with a high attention to detail and keeping it plain. Bottom line: Lighting well and exposing evenly is priming footage for great Look Suite results.

If the production was out of your control and your shot is especially contrasty or oversaturated, use the "Subject" controls to get your looking as "normal" as possible. before using other Look Suite tools.

The next component of the Look Suite is "Lens Filters". "Lens Filters" contains three components:

  • White Diffusion
  • Black Diffusion
  • GRAD

White and Black Diffusion are based on Tiffen's Pro-Mist filters. I have never been overly fond of these filters in their optical form. It seems here in their digital form, when used in conjunction with the Look Suite's other tools, they are quite effective. The right combination of contrast, de-saturation, the warm/cool effect, and diffusion can produce good cinematic results. Variations of diffusion can change the look of a shot extensively. It can be used as a subtle mood-setting effect or a more bold special effect. "Sizes" and "grades" can be adjusted on the fly for results to taste.

"Grad" is based on a gradient filter, a commonly used filter for sunsets, horizon /sky shots, etc. Unlike it's optical counterpart, the grade, color, intensity, and fade (source point) can be adjusted. I have found this filter to be especially versatile and useful. These three filters are effective and in their digital form, versatile. They are an well-thought-out compliment to the rest of the Look Suite.

The next Look Suite component is "Camera". (The camera) "category describes effect that take place within the camera". Effects added here are calculated after the Lens Filter effects.

The Camera component has three functions:

  • "3-Color Process" which mimics the three-strip dye transfer color process of the 1930's. This effect has been useful to me in conjunction with other controls when trying to recreate an aged film look.
  • "Tint" has a color picker and intensity control. This effect is useful if you desire to have a color cast over your shot or project.
  • "Tint Black" also has a color picker and adds a threshold control.

The Final component of the Look Suite is "Post". Post contains many of the most common controls you will use in the Look Suite:

Warm/Cool is a single slider that can "warm your shot up", or "cool it down". This effect works very effectively, but you should definitely use it in conjunction with other controls such as "Saturation" and "Contrast" for an authentic look. Values below 0% will push your push your image toward a amber, or warm image. Values above 0% will push your image toward cyan, or cooler image. This control is variable, but even a value of +/-1% will drastically effect your image. The Warm/Cool Hue control allows you to effect the hue of your Warm/Cool setting.

The other Post controls are probably the most widely used as adjustments to the presets. They are also rather self-explanatory. Gamma, Contrast, and Saturation. It is worth pointing out that these three controls also exist in the Subject category. They are designed to be able to cancel each other out. Looking at the presets will help you understand this. Commonly preset values in the Subject category are negative, and the same controls in the Post category have positive values. According to Magic Bullet, the magic happens in between!


In my opinion, Opticals is the single most impressive component of the Magic Bullet Suite from the standpoint of mimicking film. Opticals performs Fades to and from black, burns to and from white, and cross dissolves.

The first topic I ever posted on's FCP discussions page, was a complaint about how FCP fades to black. I then discovered AE's easy ease and was much closer to what I was looking for. It "eased" much nicer, but was still missing a crucial element.

From start to finish, film is all about light and it's interaction with the film surface. When using a optical printer to produce dissolves, portions of the film are overlayed and re-photographed. This same logic is also used in more current film compositing systems.

In optical dissolves, the brightest parts of the B-roll come into view first, followed by the rest of the image in order of intensity. So an optical dissolve does not fade opacity as do some NLE systems, but it fades light, much like a iris would.

In my opinion, these effects go a long way in making your project look more cinematic, and Magic Bullet handles them brilliantly. They are also very easy to use.

The optical effects and controls (in bold below) can be keyframed and used in your project.

  • Dissolve A-B Fader: When this slider is at 0% you will see only the A source, when at 100% you will see only the B source.
  • The Dissolve Film Response Fader works with the Dissolve A-B Fader. It allows you to control the amount of the optical effect that will be put into your dissolve. A value of 0% will produce a linear dissolve much like a common fade in a NLE system. A value of 100% is a bit overkill. I found that a value of about 75% is effective if "disable auto ease" is not checked (will get to that).
  • Fade/Burn: A Value of -100 is completely faded to black, and value of 100 is completely burned to white.
  • Fade/Burn Film Response: Works much in the same way as "Dissolve Film Response". A value of 0% gives you a linear dissolve, and 100% gives you the full blown optical effect. I kept this around 70%.
  • The final function of Opticals is Disable Auto Ease checkbox. The default value is deselected. Opticals automatically smoothes out fades and dissolves using what is very much like a simple easy ease. If you wish to form your fades and dissolves yourself, you can deselect this checkbox. I usually keep this checkbox deselected, but manual override is a sometime helpful.

[Note: You may notice some banding artifacts when performing fades from black, especially when using high values of the Fade/Burn Film Response. These artifacts are greatly reduced when viewed on a NTSC monitor. If they are a bother to you, adjust the Fade/Burn Film Response control.]


Broadcast Spec.

Broadcast Spec filters your footage and ensures that all color and luminance signals are legal to the broadcast standard. I was concerned that this filter would adversely affect color signal in my project, so I performed some fairly comprehensive testing.

There are two presets, component and composite. There are also "Maximum Saturation" and "Saturation Rolloff" controls. The default setting for Maximum Saturation is 80%, and for Rolloff 15%. The Maximum Saturation value of 80% is actually above the recommended broadcast level, which is 75% to 80%. The average Magic Bullet user should feel comfortable with this value at 80%.

Even after careful shooting and Look Suiting (where I substantially reduced saturation), there were still areas that were oversaturated according to Broadcast Spec. Broadcast Spec rolled-off the oversaturated areas nicely without negatively affecting anything else.

The job of Saturation Rolloff is to ensure that when Maximum Saturation does its job, it doesn't simply clip ill legal values, but subtly transitions them to legal values. The default value of 15% worked well for me. Broadcast Spec is designed to be the final step just before rendering.


The Letterboxer does as it name suggests. It simply crops your project, and produces letterboxed output in any aspect ratio you choose. You can also select the color of the bars.

Other Magic Bullet notes:

  • The Magic Bullet Suite has been written to work exclusively in AE 5.5. The Magic Bullet Deinterlacer will not work in FCP. Although I have not extensively tested them, I did get Look Suite and Opticals to do their thing in FCP. I recommended using the MBS exclusively in AE 5.5.

  • I do not recommend using the on camera "Frame Mode" effect. This effect will hinder the Magic Bullet Deinterlacer's performance.


Magic Bullet Review Conclusion

Mimicking the look of professionally produced 35mm film is a subtle effect. Beginning of course with good production, then a subtle motion effect, and subtle look effects.

I believe Magic Bullet is the best product in its class because their philosophy is right. It is the only product I know of with such an extreme emphasis on quality, and they deliver it. In all fairness, products such as CineLook can be toned down to look rather acceptable and there is room for such products as Film Damage, and I will continue to use them - as an effect. But Magic Bullet will likely become the look of my future productions.

Steven Galvano
Colors Studios

Recommended Resources:


Equipment Used:

  • Apple Final Cut Pro running on a Dual G4 Machine. Although I may have neglected FCP in bit during this project, I could not recommend it more.
  • Canon GL-1 Mini DVcamcorder.
  • Sony DSR-11 DVCam VTR
  • Adobe After Effects 5.5
  • Cleaner 5
  • Trapcode's Shine
  • Magic Bullet Suite
  • Century's 16:9 Anamorphic Lens for the GL1

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