Fred Ruckel
Issue: October 1, 2007


PRODUCT: GenArts Sapphire Sparks V.4


PRICE: To upgrade from V.3 to V.4 is $3,800 for Inferno; $2,800 for Flame/ Smoke; and $1,800 for Flint/Smoke SD.

No additional cost to transfer from IRIX to Linux with V.4

- Easy removal of complicated pull-down schemes

46 new effects help designers

- create elements faster

The highly anticipated new version of GenArts plug-ins — Version 4 — has arrived with lots of new tools and effects. I put them through the paces using Autodesk Inferno.

I have been using the Sapphire suite of tools since 1998, because as most users of the Autodesk line of products will agree, the use of plug-ins is essential to complete the myriad effects we are called upon to create. And Autodesk's Developer Network Sparks program allows third parties to write plug-ins for their app. There are 129 different Sparks in the package, most of which have additional plug-ins within the actual Spark, bringing the total to over 200.

Before jumping into the new toys to play with, it is worth mentioning some workflow enhancements GenArts has implemented. The biggest for me is the Redraw option. When tweaking parameters it allows realtime interactivity; this is so helpful when creating a look. Prior to this the user would set the resolution lower to make it interactive, and while that worked, you couldn't see the full resolution of your image while adjusting parameters. As for resolutions to work in, you have both 8- and 12-bit image formats, plus you can work on 32- or 64-bit operating systems in IRIX or Linux. Basically that means if your system isn't the newest technology you can still have the newest plug-ins running, which is great news for people like me who are working on SGI systems.


Let's talk about the tools included with the plug-ins, since there are a lot of them and some might get overlooked. One is called Light3D and it allows the user to light an image that has been rendered from a 3D package with the proper lighting characteristics. This is great, as you do not always have to go back into 3D to relight and re-render. DeInterlaceAuto is another great little feature. It does a lot more than just de-interlace, which is why I am telling you to check it out. It removes pull-down, it can detect a variety of schemes or the user can define if necessary. With all the new technology there are many different schemes and this tool can read and remove them. Using the Autodesk software only, you can detect standard 3:2 pull-down.

The last tool before talking about effects is the Film Effect, as it is both a tool and an effect. I especially like this one. Everyone is shooting DV, DVCPRO, DVCAM, the list goes on and on; this tool allows you to easily emulate film. It has built-in film stocks for both print and negative, even SFX200T, which has been common for me these days.


Since there are so many new effects, I will just jump in. For color correction there is now a Bleach Bypass mode that is really close to the actual process, with lots of tweaking ability to customize a look.

For you Scanner Darkly fans, there is a cartoon feature; this, combined with some good mattes, can create some really cool looks. There is also Cartoon Paint, which allows you to make paint strokes on the images before it applies the cartoon look (see image above). Feedback now has a bubble feature; it creates a nice look of heat distortion on a moving object. Lens Flare now has 24 types to choose from, 10 more than previously, so please try something other than anamorphic — I see that on everything!

A totally new shape effect makes it easy to create design elements and animate them to enhance your effects. It allows the user the ability to make and animate a shape, for instance a nine-pointed star, and then use twirl to make the tips bend. The Texture Spark now has been revamped with a handful of new types to choose from. I like the neurons one… very sci-fi looking. There is also Texture Flux, which simulates a caustics effect, typically this is what you see on the bottom of a pool with the sun hitting the surface.

TileScramble allows you to break up the image into little pieces, or in reverse it allows you to build the image from tiles, fun for transitions. ZDefocus and ZGlow are two new effects that allow the user to perform tasks that appear to take place in Z-space. By using a Z-source input you can create the feeling of depth on an image and have a glow appear to start in the distance and come forward. ZBlur takes it a step further by blurring back into space without affecting the foreground image.


In all, there are 46 new plug-ins, plus enhancements to existing ones. GenArts has a long tradition of making quality products and this no different. V.4 has come a long way with great advancements. GenArts' Karl Sims still writes great, clean code. One thing that really stands out is the ease of use that the Sapphire suite of tools provides. The menus aren't cumbersome, and as an added bonus, in every Spark there is a help link that will open a Web browser with full instructions on how to use the tools.

The plug-ins are available for a variety of systems, including After Effects, Avid, Fusion, Shake and Final Cut.

Fred Ruckel is a Compositor at Stitch ( in New York City. He can be reached at: