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.
additional cost to transfer from IRIX to Linux with V.4
removal of complicated pull-down schemes
new effects help designers
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.
UNDER THE HOOD
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
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 (www.stitch.net) in New York City. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.