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April 2014
Issue: January 1, 2012

Review: GenArts Sapphire Version 6

By: Fred Ruckel
PRODUCT: GenArts Sapphire Version 6

WEBSITE: www.genarts.com

PRICE: Flame, Inferno, Flint and Smoke: Floating $8,499, Upgrade V.5 to V.6 $3,499; After Effects: Non-floating $1,699, non-floating upgrade V.5 to V.6  $499, floating $2,499, floating upgrade V.4 to V.5 $499, rental $169 per month

- Lens Flare Designer
- Platform agnositc 
- FX Central



As a long-time user of the GenArts Sapphire suite of plug-ins, I have to say doing this review was a treat — playing with all the new features and seeing its development. I have used Sapphire since the beginning — at least 13 years now — so I have seen this product grow and evolve to other platforms. 

This jump to Version 6 was significant for me, since my facility hadn’t upgraded to Version 5 yet. This double jump in versions made it very easy to see the changes.

IMPLEMENTING THE PLUG-INS

To see how things differed between platforms, I installed the software on Autodesk Inferno as well as Adobe After Effects. I was amazed to see the suite was virtually identical across both platforms. The small differences in the versions have more to due with implementation than actual plug-ins. The way in which After Effects allows one to use a plug-in within the composite, to me, is the biggest winner. 

On all Autodesk systems, in order to use a plug-in you have to either render it on a clip or have it in a batch node tree before or after the composite; they cannot be used inside the actual composite. This limitation has always been there. This isn’t due to GenArts’ engineering, it’s just the method in which Autodesk makes use of plug-ins. 

The way that Adobe has implemented using the plug-in in the composite allows for unlimited creativity. You can build an entire effect with multiple Sapphire plug-ins all in one step. In Autodesk products it’s a bit more involved. Let’s say you want to add a lens flare to a shot— you load the clip and add the flare, and to make the flare be revealed or obscured you have to then make a composite and create mattes and apply it to the image. I am a die-hard Autodesk Inferno user and these limitations wouldn’t change that fact. It’s just important to point out where the big differences lie in terms of using the plug-ins on the different systems I tested them on.

DIGGING IN

Now let’s talk about the candy. As I mentioned, both Autodesk and After Effects have the same sets of tools, so I will address them together and point out some of the slight differences. There are over 240 effects with more than 1,000 presets to get you off to the races quickly. They are resolution independent, meaning whatever the software can do, these plug-ins can do. Both Autodesk and Adobe have an actual limitation of file size, but it’s just so big most never hit that wall. 

The biggest improvement to the suite is the Lens Flare Designer. Previously there were a limited number of flares that could be used and manipulated; now the possibilities are endless. The designer has the ability to combine many different elements such as arcs, chroma rings, lens shapes, colors and user-defined elements. These custom flares can be saved and a library built of a user’s homemade effects. From what I have been seeing lately, editors are putting flares on everything, so this will only become more apparent with all these new ones to use.  

There is a new handy tool to stretch the frame edges of a 4x3 image to fit and HD screen. This is very helpful as we try to use older SD material in HD composites. The stretch is a mathematical equation that isn’t just a stretch but a smart way of expanding the image so as not to distort it too much. There are a wide range of image manipulators, color effects, distortion, channel switching, lighting effects and a large selection of transition tools. There are enough tools to refine any image to your heart’s content, or your client’s wildest imagination.

The Sapphire suite is also 64-bit-enabled, which allows users to make use of larger amounts of RAM as these days 16GB of RAM is common.The result is faster previews, and rendering of complex effects is much quicker. All plug-ins are now floating-point and have a full 32-bit HDR ability. The majority of effects are also optimized for Nvidia’s CUDA technology. If you combine those engineering improvements with full multiprocessor support, you have one powerful toolset.
Now that you have an idea of all the goodies you can expect, it’s time to talk dollars. This to me the toughest part to understand. There has always been a large price disparity between the Autodesk and After Effects versions. Now that the After Effects version has fully grown up and even surpassed the Autodesk version, shouldn’t the cost the same or close to it? 

If you buy a full version for Autodesk, the price is $8,499. The very same set with a few more features on After Effects will cost only $1,699 to $2,499, based on whether your license is floating or not. That is a difference of at least $6,000 for the exact same set of tools. Even an upgrade on the Autodesk version from V.5 to V.6 costs twice as much as a full purchase of After Effects version.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The bottom line is these plug-ins are must-have items for our work. When you watch television, chances are you have seen Sapphire in action. They are undoubtedly the best plug-ins on the market. If you have the money to spend, this is a wise purchase that will pay itself back quickly.

Fred Ruckel is an Inferno Artist/Creative Director based in New York. He can be reached at: fred@rucksackny.com.