By Ann Fisher
Issue: July 1, 2004


Eden FX employed Wondertouch's ParticleIllusion on the VFX-heavy film Hellboy.

Wanted: better management of multiple layers in 3D space, a simpler method for painting multiple objects with one brushstroke and, the big one, integration with the After Effects environment.

How can you help get your needs met? Pick up the phone and call the plug-in manufacturers or start typing away in those Internet industry chat rooms (see sidebar on page 44). It may be safe to say that plug-ins, those specialized tools that add so much to the visual effects creation process, are the most user-friendly part of the content creation business. The plug-in manufacturers depend on beta testers and all the rest of you.

Boris FX's RedGL is used for motion tracking, vector paint, rotoscoping, advanced 2D and 3D titling, high-end image processing, 2D and 3D compositing.
"Usually we pay a lot of attention to online forums; a lot of times products come out of user ideas," says Jim Tierney, president/founder of Digital Anarchy. "For example, with 3D Assistants a user came to us with that idea. He spec'd it out, told us what he wanted and he's actually getting a small amount of royalties because of it. That's unusual.

"Anarchy Toolbox is a set of nine filters that came out six months ago; three-fourths of those are directly in reponse to what we saw people post on the list. For example, Path Distort is one of the filters and it allows you to take a shape or layer and draw a bezier path and then bend that layer around that path. So if you have a snake texture and a rectangular layer, you create a snake path and bend the texture around the path and get the snake. Someone requested it on and we were surprised that After Effects didn't have it to begin with. We're always contributing," he says. "It's just a great resource to get a feel for what people are doing with After Effects."

What follows are several graphics plug-in manufacturers' latest offerings.

MANUFACTURER: Digital Anarchy (

PLUG-IN: 3D Layer 1.0

PLATFORM/SYSTEM: After Effects, Apple Final Cut Pro and Discreet Combustion

COST: $179

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MAJOR FUNCTION: "Right now After Effects, and pretty much all the compositing apps out there, are limited to just flat planes in 3D space. You can't really bend them," says Jim Tierney. "It's basically a single polygon out there in 3D space. 3D Layer allows you to use gray scale displacement maps to actually displace and bend the layer in 3D space. The layer has thickness, which the regular 3D layers don't. It just makes it a little bit easier to create something that looks like it has a little bit more substance than the normal layers in most compositing applications."

RELEASE DATE: April 2004

PLUG-IN: Digital Anarchy's 3D Assistants

PLATFORM/SYSTEM: After Effects for Mac and Windows

COST: $199

MAJOR FUNCTION: "These are a little bit different than normal plug-ins, they aren't effects filters per se," says Tierney. "They help you manage, arrange and animate the regular 3D layers in space. The thing about After Effects is they have this whole 3D space but they haven't really given users a very good way of dealing with a large number of layers, so if you want to create a sense of 3D space generally you want to have 3D layers all over the place. The way to do that without Assistants is move all those things manually. So if you have 50 to100 layers that you want to arrange or animate, it can be very tedious. 3D Assistants allow you to create geometric shapes with layers, disperse layers throughout 3D space, and helps you manage and animate these things without having to hand animate. It's one our most popular."

RELEASE DATE: Summer 2003

PROJECT USED ON: The open for the Palm Springs Film Festival (2003) featured hundreds of stylized palm trees in the background. An ID for CBS station KUTV featured more than 100 videos in the background with a logo flying in on top of it.


PLUG-IN: Boris Red 3GL

PLATFORM/SYSTEM: After Effects for Mac and Windows. Over 20 hosts, including Avid Media Composer, Symphony, Xpress, Xpress DV, Xpress DV Pro and Newscutter, and Apple Final Cut Pro.

COST: $1,595 (New training DVD is available for $79 through the Web site)

MAJOR FUNCTION: Motion tracking, vector paint, rotoscoping, advanced 2D and 3D titling, high-end image processing, 2D and 3D compositing.

Splutterfish's Brazil r/s V.1.2 is a high-end rendering solution for film, broadcast and visualization. Brazil r/s was recently used as the primary solution for the The Day After Tomorrow, and Hellboy (via Eden FX, image above). The Artist Bundle, one workstation and two render-node licenses, costs $1,200. The Renderfarm Bundle, four render-node licenses, costs $750.
"The biggest new feature is that a lot of the features are open GL accelerated, which really speeds up the previews," says Anne Renehan, Boris' director of communications. "Where you see the biggest performance boost is working with 3D objects. It does have some nice onscreen interactors so you can move things, crop them or rotate or tumble them. You can now use bump maps on 3D objects; they give something a 3D appearance by using the luminance. You can do it with preset textures like rock and brick or you can use an image file. You can map a map to a sphere to make something look like a planet and then use that same image as the bump map to really give it a 3D texture, then you can move that sphere in 3D space and have it interact with other objects.

"As far as text and titling, we added tons of new features: Generator Tab allows you to do text randomization features, Matrix-style, generating tons of random text or you could use it to have text scrambled and then reveal a familiar phrase. We also added Jitter, which you can combine with the text generator so you can jitter different sorts of parameters like the color of the text, position, angle, scale or hue."

The manufacturer generally issues a major Boris Red release each year. The fall 2004 release will have much overlap between Boris' two product lines - Continuum and Red.

"A lot of the new filters that maybe would be developed in Continuum find their way into Red," says Renehan. "We had a lot of nice film effects, a light wrap filter we developed that's in Red and Continuum. Red also added a bunch of new interpolation types like bounce and swing that allow you to use bezier handles to really customize the interpolation. We added a Generate Keyframes command, which allows you to generate a bunch of random keyframes so that you could randomize the thing."

She adds, "We have a really active beta program and we have a lot of people in the industry who are constantly giving us feedback."

RELEASE DATE: November 2003

PROJECT USED ON: A PBS Frontline promo "From China With Love."

GenArts Sapphire was used on the film The Punisher.

PLUG-IN: Sapphire V.1.02 for After Effects

PLATFORM/SYSTEM: Sapphire plug-ins are available for Adobe After Effects and Premiere, Discreet Combustion, any Avid AVX product, Apple FCP and Shake, Eyeon Digital Fusion, Quantel with Synapse and Media 100's 844x.

COST: $1,699 for AE (each of four subsets are $599); $10,000 for Discreet Flame (V.3.0)

MAJOR FUNCTION: "The main news in the last year is that we've ported all of our plug-ins over to After Effects, Final Cut Pro, Combustion, Eyeon Digital Fusion, Apple Motion, Adobe Premiere, Quantel Generation Q products, Media 100 844x - there's a wide range of new products that suddenly we're now available for. They're all AE compatible," says Karl Sims, GenArts president/founder. "People have been asking us for these for awhile. They're very happy because now they can use their plug-ins on a lot more machines. It really broadens up the market for us and it makes our high-end plug-ins available to many, many more people.

The Sapphire suite for AE contains 175 plug-ins broken into four boxes: Lighting; Stylize; Adjust/Blur & Sharpen, Composite & Distort; Render, Time & Transition.

RELEASE DATE: AE V.1.0: launched January 2004

PROJECT USED ON: Movie trailers by Marcus Wernig, Mojo and Peter Wiggins, Flick Pix; using Sapphire plug-ins on Shake and/or Final Cut Pro.


PLUG-IN: Body Paint 3D R2

PLATFORM/SYSTEM: Windows and Mac platform; plug-in will work with any 3D package, including Maya, LightWave and Softimage.

COST: $795

MAJOR FUNCTION: Body Paint 3D has been integrated with Maxon's Cinema 4D for three years; in the past year it has been released as a standalone plug-in.

"[From R1 to R2], there are very significant changes in terms of projection painting, which enables you to paint on one or multiple objects at the same time directly in your view screen for creating seamless painting, avoiding seams in polygons," says Maxon president/CEO Paul Babb.

Body Paint 3D R2 offers Projection Pasting, which takes an image and pastes it into the 3D view across models. There is complete integration with Photoshop layers and filters. For user friendliness, Paint Setup Wizard lets users select an object or material, then immediately applies paintable textures on all the channels chosen.

RELEASE DATE: December 2003

PROJECT USED ON: Sony Pictures Imageworks is using it on the animated feature film Polar Express (November 2004 release) in conjunction with Cinema 4D to create 3D animated matte paintings for environments. Sony also used it for textures in Spiderman 2.

"We work very closely with Sony Pictures Imageworks because they're beating the program much harder than the average user so they're giving us great feedback," says Babb. "For us, the feedback that the customers give us is 90 percent of what happens. The other 10 percent is architectural."

Red Giant's Primatte Keyer was used by the software's developer, The Orphanage, to extract mattes from over 22,000 frames for Spy Kids 3D.
MANUFACTURER: Red Giant Software (

PLUG-IN: Primatte Keyer 3.0

PLATFORM/SYSTEM: After Effects and all Avid systems except Avid|DS.

COST: $495

MAJOR FUNCTION: A general color keyer. Red Giant Software handles the development and sales for the Avid and After Effects market. This tool is also built into a number of other compositing systems like Apple Shake or Digital Fusion. Photron, the maker of the original technology, licensed it directly to Apple and Eyeon.

The major AE update in August will have a new integrated keyer that includes both the Primatte functionality that lets users build the key and the set of tools that lets them integrate the foreground object or person that's been isolated with the background. That means adding things like color matching between foreground and background layers, edge treatment so users can lighten or darken the edges, and post color correction of images. It will also have controls for pre-treating the import source in order to use lower quality DV or other compressed sources input to Primatte and get a better key out of those lower quality sources.

"Rather than working in an external program or environment from the application, Primatte Keyer offers the ability to use the tools in the application to allow you to build the key. That means you can sample the foreground and background with a mouse directly inside a sequence window or the compositing window depending upon which application you're in," says Sean Safreed, Red Giant Software co-founder.

"The two things that people asked for, specifically in Primatte, was better control for these compressed sources, DV or MPEG. That was one of the big things we wanted to add to it. Primatte does a fantastic job on HD or uncompressed but when you feed it compressed sources you have to do a lot of blurring and tricks to get a good image, so we've built in some higher quality ways of pre-treating the image so Primatte creates a good key," adds Safreed. "The other thing people have asked for is an easier way to do foreground/background integration, to do color correction and what not, directly in the plug-in rather than having to rely on other external pulls to do that or go through a process of adding plug-ins on top of Primatte to get the same result. Plus we're going to add some UI elements that people have asked for like side-by-side splitscreen views, the matte in the foreground object or the matte in the background object so you can see how well they're integrating together."

RELEASE DATE: AE: August 2004; Avid AVX 1.5: fall '04.

PROJECT USED ON: Almost all bluescreen work on Spy Kids 3D (summer 2003) was done with Primatte Keyer by The Orphanage.

MANUFACTURER: The Orphanage (Red Giant Software distributes and helps build license management)



COST: Free for noncommercial use (download from; $495 for commercial license.

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MAJOR FUNCTION: For HDR compositing. "It allows you to use After Effects' professional 16-bit capabilities to do better film or high definition, high dynamic range compositing," says Red Giant's Sean Safreed. "The main advantages of this tool are: it allows you to easily work with Cineon files so you're not losing data when you're going in and out of AE, it works with ILM's OpenEXR format; it helps you manage gamma issues; you get accurate previews using film or HDR sources. Also, because it's changing the color space that you're working in, it allows you to get better quality out of AE's built-in features like motion blur, depth of field and glows."


MANUFACTURER: Wondertouch (

PLUG-IN: ParticleIllusion 3.0

PLATFORM/SYSTEM: After Effects for Windows and Mac OS X

COST: Less than $399, the cost of the standalone 3.0 version for Windows.

MAJOR FUNCTION: A powerful 2D particle engine, in standalone form since 1999 with V.2.0 currently inside Discreet Combustion, will soon be available to After Effects users as a plug-in.

"From the day we released the initial version, one of the main questions we got from people was, 'Is there an After Effects plug-in?' says Wondertouch president Alan Lorence. "We're a small company so we couldn't tackle that right out of the gate. We decided to do a standalone, that way it'd be accessible to anybody regardless of whether they were using AE or not.

"The advantage as a plug-in is it's going to be integrated into the After Effects environment so it gives you all those advantages that people have been working around with the standalone version. Having it integrated is going to increase productivity like crazy. It gives you access to the built-in AE goodies like Expressions and things like that, he adds.

ParticleIllusion generates more than just the typical special effects like explosions, fire and smoke; there are more artistic effects like glows. It offers Open GL so nearly everything is realtime.

RELEASE DATE: Late summer 2004 for both AE plug-in and standalone OS X V.3.0.

PROJECT USED ON: Used on Star Trek Voyager and Enterprise. Used in the feature film Hellboy by Eden FX.