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November 2014
Issue: May 1, 2013

Review: GenArts Sapphire V.7 for Media Composer

By: Jonathan Moser
PRODUCT: GenArts Sapphire V.7 for Avid Media Composer (also available for DS, Nitris, Symphony, NewsCutter and Xpress DV)

WEBSITE: www.genarts.com

PRICE: New license, $2,800; Upgrade, $849; Rental, $280/month; floating license $4,200/month

- Most effects now offer realtime rendering
- New “Beauty” filter enhances skin tones and detail
- “Pan & Zoom” bests Avid P&Z
- Over 2,500 useful presets

Since 2000, Sapphire, GenArts’ premier filter set for Avid Media Composer, has arguably set the bar for special effects solely built within the editing system’s environment. Its relatively high price has kept Sapphire out of the hands of many primary users — the freelance editor — and allowed other lower-priced competitors to permeate the marketplace, but Sapphire’s arsenal is still among the most powerful in the industry. 

With Version 7, the ante’s been raised: there is more attention to speed, many enhancements to existing filters and exciting new effects, capabilities and additions, some of them treading closely on competitors’ turf.

While no single feature can claim to be a game-changer, there’s enough firepower in V.7 to help bring Sapphire back to its preeminence in the AVX filter world.

EVOLUTIONARY CHANGES 

Before I get into the version’s new features and updates, it’s important to know where Sapphire was before and where it is now. To simply call Sapphire an effects package is doing it an injustice. It does so much more than glows or blurs or film effects. It’s a Swiss Army knife of image control, and I’d say most editors (myself included) don’t really know half of its potential and capabilities, and that’s always been one of its biggest problems.



The user base for Sapphire has always been divided between editors and VFX artists, making Sapphire even more of an enigma,  since it’s not an easily-definable product.

As an editor, I’ll confess that I have always found navigating the deeper areas of Sapphire somewhat difficult. Now, with over 250 visual effects, many of them not readily apparent in their mode of use, there’s a lot there and now even more to learn. 

Earlier iterations of Sapphire relied on user intuition and knowledge. It took a lot of time to get to know the ins and outs of the package. Some didn’t have the time to devote, and often users were in the dark. As a result, many Sapphire effects were cookie-cutter adaptations — glows, lens flares and the like — while many other effects and categories were wholly unused by editors and used more by compositors. Other companies introduced presets, which allowed users to drop on an effect and see what effect tweaking parameters would have. Only relatively recently has GenArts followed suit — and they did so in a big way thanks to FX Central.

Subscription-based FX Central has bridged the gap, providing a great, visually interactive presets browser that I’ve found invaluable while learning how to make Sapphire work and how it affects footage. In fact, there are now over 2,500 presets allowing you to see how these effects work and customize to your preference.

Also new to this release, all Sapphire presets are sharable over different host platforms, making moving projects (and effects) a snap.

Overall, GenArts has taken the ball and is providing more tutorials and features to make mastering this set easier to use, faster, more user-friendly and accessible to new and old users alike.

IMPROVEMENTS

With V.7, a majority of effects are viewable in realtime, without rendering. This is a huge advantage from the old days when you would  spend time rendering only to find the effect didn’t work or look right. They’ve added GPU support to take the work away from the CPU, and the rendering speed increase can be described as “substantial.” 

There is a new Beauty filter that does amazing work in enhancing skin tones and details using selective blur. It made dull images pop and fixed people shots that might otherwise be marginal. In addition, the tremendous range of control in using “beauty” allowed me to add subtle glows and color effects that can paint a mood or feel. Beauty allows you to add garbage mattes to isolate areas. Beware though, this is not a simple drag-and-drop effect. (This may be more in the colorists’ realm than an editor’s, but with trial and error amazing results can be achieved.)

Beauty is just one benefit of GenArts’ “EdgeAware” technology that achieves greater detail preservation and enhancement by using selective blurring (a concept that seems counter intuitive at first but works great.)



Sapphire now offers a new Pan and Zoom filter light years ahead of Media Composer’s tired and quirky old P&Z (Pan and Zoom). Plus, it adds newer functionality and features over the next biggest competitor in this arena:  StageTools’ Moving Picture. 

It includes 3D rotation, variable motion blur, vignetting, drop shadows, light sourcing,  and a good degree of image control. I found the controls completely intuitive and very smooth. Even with high-pixel images and image preservation, even at extreme magnification, it was amazing. This is a major, and welcome, new feature.

There are also new transitions like FilmRoll and CardFlip. The library of cool transitions continues to grow. FilmRoll is one of those great, customizable effects that will be quickly embraced. It convincingly emulates film projection flutter but is, like virtually all Sapphire effects, changeable in a heartbeat. And this is where FX Central really shines: a click on “load presets” takes you there, where you can click on one of the ever-expanding libraries of presets... as long as you have a Web connection. 

CardFlip, another new transition, is a bit retro for my tastes: it emulates the old ADO-style dimensional turn or flip from the early ‘80s. I guess what is old is new again!

There is also a new 3D mode for Zap. One of the coolest effects in Sapphire I’ve never used. Zap has been reworked and dimensionalized for astounding lightning and particle-type effects. It’s spline-controllable and newly rotatable, and lightning effects have never been easier to control.
Other changes, big and small, permeate this latest version: Lens Flare has been gussied up with new animation and atmospheric implementation; Motion Blur and Vignetting has been added to many other effects; Crop has been added to Warp Effects; the Sharpen tool now has more flexibility; plus many more than we can fit in this space. 

FINAL THOUGHTS

Needless to say, this is an invaluable and powerful toolset. With the introduction of Pan & Zoom and Beauty, it’s value as a go-to tool is a no-brainer if you can afford the price tag. All in all it’s a great release, but any tool is useless if you don’t know how to use it. I’d like to see GenArts use FX Central even more as a teaching center so editors can learn all the tricks this powerhouse has up its sleeve.

Jonathan Moser recently finished Discovery ID’s Deadly Sins, Food Network’s 3 Days To Open With Bobby Flay and Animal Planet’s Rattlesnake Republic. For more, visit www.jonathanmoser.com.