Tor Rolf Johansen
Issue: February 2006


PRODUCT: GenArts Sapphire
PRICING: $1,699 for complete package; $599 for individual collections
- Dual-processor support for faster rendering
- Free networked rendering on After Effects and Combustion
- Resolution-independent, anti-aliased, high-quality images
- Support for 8-bit and 16-bit image formats

The Sapphire series of plug-ins will take your work to the next level - and beyond. This series of 180-plus filters are widely recognized for their unrivaled quality and ease of use, and have been used extensively in an array of feature films such as The Lord of the Rings; Little Manhattan; The Matrix trilogy; Terminator 3; X-Men II; Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban; I, Robot; Star Wars Episode I, II and III; and Spider-Man I and II, among others.

You can purchase the Sapphire plug-ins as a complete package for $1,699 or as four separate collections. I believe that still qualifies for a conforming loan through Fanny Mae. The Lighting collection includes plug-ins for creating glows, lens flares, glints, glares, light beams, drop shadows and spotlights. Plug-ins for generating edge effects, embossing, film effects and grain, kaleidoscopes, halftones and other similar looks comprise the Stylize collection. The Adjust, Blur + Sharpen, Composite and Distort collection consists of plug-ins for creating warping, shaking and distortion effects, as well as for blurring and sharpening, and for adjusting and compositing images. And the Render, Time and Transitions collection consists of plug-ins for creating lightning zaps, gradients and grids, procedural textures, fractal clouds, and time and flicker effects, as well as for creating dissolve and wipe transitions. Each individual collection sells for $599.


Editing applications are typically light on complex effects and therefore editors might see the most bang for their buck from Sapphire. Compositing and effects users, on the other hand, may find that Sapphire duplicates some of the effects of the native application. I found several times that even in the case of duplicate effects, Sapphire went the extra mile and added a few extra parameters or re-engineered the effect, taking it to a higher degree of production value. I used Sapphire through several Adobe After Effects projects, and even though I have all of the effects available from After Effects 7.0 Pro, Particle Illusion, CineLook2 - and oodles more that found their way to my desktop - I frequently found the GenArts collection to have something I needed for every occasion. Some of my personal favorites include Glow, which creates a haze over the bright parts of an image for a Tiffen ProMist sort of look, and EdgeRays, which generates beams of light coming from behind an object.

The Composite category has a bundle of filters that allow you to achieve dynamic blends (Overlay, Screen, etc.) at the effects level, giving you enhanced control over how your blends interact with other effect filters that may be applied to the same layer. There are several mentionables in the Distort category, from liquid metal looks to the Shake filter. No need to futz with a bushel full of keyframes to give your text that edgy, heavily caffeinated look. Shake does it through several parameters for X, Y and Z, including amplitude, frequency, phase and random seed. The Lighting category is where you find a wide variety of glows, glints, glares and even lens flares. Here, too, you'll find the trés slick ray effects, plus a shimmering spotlight effect - that for some reason, always makes me stand on the top of my desk, and belt out raunchy show tunes.


I'm always glad to see a certain amount of training made available with these products - empowering the people behind the tools. Thankfully, GenArts has issued a free tutorial for the After Effects version of Sapphire plug-ins. Designed for experienced users of After Effects, Final Cut Pro and other compatible host applications, the tutorial is intended to instruct those who are new to Sapphire how to use the plug-ins and become familiar with some of the more common and vital parameters. From specific instructions on how to get started with the package to detailed sections about particular effects and parameters, the tutorial inspires you to dig further into the package, trying new effects and experimenting with your own ka-razy combinations of effects. For the most part, they're all pretty easy to use, but with over 180 plug-ins to choose from, you might find yourself overwhelmed by the sheer girth of the package. The tutorial focuses on a number of popular techniques using a sampling of 31 plug-ins including blurs, glow, distort, glint, edge rays, lens flares and transitions and their associated parameters. Once learned, these techniques can then be applied to any other effect in the package.

Sample images are included throughout the tutorial to demonstrate the main points, and you are also encouraged to use your own images as they explore each effect. The tutorial can be downloaded free of charge from the GenArts Web site ( html). A complete After Effects project file that contains all the examples in the tutorial is also available from this page.


Many compositing and effects apps tend to land on the technical side of things, leaving it up to the artists to recall or relearn each app's definition of terms, such as frequency, phase and amplitude. Fortunately, for the left-brain-challenged effects artists among us, there is the GenArts Sapphire plug-ins package.

Think of Sapphire's filters as new and improved versions of those After Effects filters you spent hours tweaking but never could quite get the look you were going for. One word of caution, however. I've heard rumors on some of the techy-blogs out there that over-use of the Warp-Bubble can lead to hairy palms.