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October 2014
Issue: April 1, 2009

REVIEW: GENARTS SAPPHIRE V.3 FOR AVX

By: Jonathan Moser
PRODUCT: GenArts Sapphire V.3 for AVX.
Available for: Avid, Autodesk, Adobe, Final Cut Pro, Motion, Shake and OFX.

WEBSITE:
www.genarts.com

PRICE:
New license for Media Composer, $2,800. See Website for more pricing.

- Innovative new filters and lighting effects add power

- Revamped and more powerful transitions add speed and style

- More on-screen controls and widgets for flexibility and customization

As I started this review of Sapphire V.3 (one of the most established and trusted workhorses in the arsenal of AVX filters around), I discovered that beyond the vast assortment of Sapphire filters I often use, I knew very little about the whole other side of this amazing toolkit that does much, much more. So I went up to GenArts in Cambridge, MA, to get a hands-on look at V.3 from Gary Oberbrunner, VP of engineering of GenArts.

While the upgrade from V.2 to V.3 wouldn't be considered monumental, it is still significant. At least 36 new and/or improved effects expand the array. Especially retooled are the expanded lens flare types… 15 new ones are included, from amazingly accurate laser diffraction to subtle chromatic highlights, chroma arcs (realized almost subliminally) and a retooled auto-tracking algorithm that allows amazing realism of flares following highlights. In fact, subtlety and total flexibility are the keywords since almost all parameters of these and every other filters can be infinitely tweaked and cajoled into whatever looks you may need. 

WHAT'S NEW

One of the nicest aspects of V.3 is the creation of simplified new effects that editors had to jerry-rig themselves previously: effects like Dissolve Defocus, Dissolve Lens Flare, Dissolve Edge Rays and Swish 3D, integrating multiple transitional effects in one drop rather than keyframing and adding other layers — now you just drop one on and voila, an instant swish pan! Many favorites are now integrated as transitions, too. Easy-to-use transitions have always been a strong point for Sapphire…something not as integrated in their nearest competitor.

This time GenArts has even provided more bang for the buck with a number of one-of-a-kind filters. Among the more interesting is a little guy called TV Damage — not your father's TV damage — this filter has almost infinite parameters that hearken to well before digital TV. Miss multipath distortion? Dial it in. Ghosting? Horizontal Hold? (Who remembers that?) But it's in there. In fact, the developers put over 17 variable parameters just in this one filter alone. Then include other filters like Technicolor 2 and 3 Strip allowing you to easily replicate those early film processes, TV channel change and tons of textured transition effects. In addition, Film Damage is a blast with its almost infinite array of stains, hairs, shake and dust parameters. (The hair parameters have always made me a little nervous. Whose hair and what kind of hair?) But these features don't even scratch the surface of Sapphire's overall power.

WHAT'S IMPROVED

All the old favorites are still there, many enhanced and upgraded with additional controls. The suite is compatible with old V.1 and V.2 effects, too. It's been upgraded for Windows Vista and 64-bit. Sixteen-bit image formats are supported and multi-processing support speeds up rendering time substantially. New widgets pop up for more on-screen control.

Time effects are revamped too and many new overlaid textures have been added. Additional masking options have been added throughout.

Few Avid editors know about or have used the extensive 3D texturing and compositing tools in Sapphire. Used routinely on other compositing platforms like Smoke, Combustion and After Effects, these allow 3D light shading effects on 2D surfaces, Z-depth focus pulls and depth shading and other 3D-style effects giving realistic renderings on 2D graphics. In addition, Light 3D allows up to four light sources using a source input to define the 3D shape, which is lit by the light sources.

Given the almost infinite ability to nest effects on other effects — plus the ability to apply most effects only to key channels and titles, and the infinite ability to customize the AVX2 keyframing model used throughout — this set is an even greater powerhouse in the hands on an editor willing to go beyond the drop and play method. Tweaking is requisite to getting the most out of Sapphire.

GenArts prides itself on gaining user feedback to improve their products, as witnessed by myriad additions to this program… many a direct result of user requests. One big request from this user would be many more presets and more tutorials showing how to use some arcane and unfamiliar features of the tool, such as Z-depth and compositing modes.

I'd love it if GenArts would consider this  valuable feature I found on another new product offering AVX filters: the use of animations rather than still frames in the online help menu that play a sample of the actual effect (particularly transitions) so the editor doesn't have to guess what it will look like. I would also like to see a GenArts-based user group where we educate ourselves and others on the most creative uses of Sapphire.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Despite the relatively high cost of this suite, it is still the number-one choice in an editor's toolbox. Its usefulness, flexibility and sheer power over images cannot be underestimated. This is a powerful and underutilized program.

Jonathan Moser is an Editor with Flashcut Productions (www.flashcutproductions.com) in New York. He can be reached at: Flashcutter@yahoo.com.