The newest version of this suite of plug-ins and presets
By Brady Betzel
Over the past year or so we’ve seen an explosion in the preset and plug-in world, offering users a variety of options regardless of their budget. For example, there is Red Giant’s Universe and Boris FX’s BCC 9 suite — both offer tons of powerful plug-ins and presets that can take any project from mediocre to awesome with a few mouse clicks and some creative thinking.
Red Giant offers a variety of ways to use the program: there is a “light” version of Universe that’s free, or you can pay $10 monthly, $99 yearly or $399 for a lifetime of updates. Boris FX BCC 9 ranges in price from $695 to $1,995, depending on the software platform you use. So regardless of your budget you can find something to make your project sing. Then there is a personal favorite, GenArts’ Sapphire, which depending on the host could be pricey.
Some in the broadcast world view plug-in and preset programs as unnecessary because of how costly they can be. And to be honest, aside from some very specialized effects, with some creative ingenuity they can basically be created inside of Avid Media Composer or Adobe After Effects. However, if you have the budget (cause it ain’t cheap) and desire to use some of the highest quality effects in the Avid and Adobe world Sapphire 8 will definitely, save you time and money, as well as help spark your creativity with its newly integrated node-based effect Builder.
GenArts Sapphire is on the expensive side —there’s no way around that. If you use Adobe After Effects and Premiere you are in luck as they have introduced a quarterly ($149) and yearly ($499) rental. The full purchase price for Sapphire is $1,699, and with added Media Composer compatibility that cost grows to $2,800. If you want an Autodesk Flame license then you will need a custom price quote from GenArts. While these prices are high, remember that one license will install Sapphire into multiple apps. For instance, if you purchase the Media Composer license you will also get compatibility with apps such as Adobe After Effects and Digital Vision’s Nucoda plus many more. Check out a full list of cross host license compatibility here.
Personally, I think Sapphire is worth every penny if your work includes building titles, promos, cold opens, title sequences and even sizzle reels. The glows are the best, and with the new builder tool you can create some truly amazing and unique effects that will set your work apart.
So now that I’ve scared you by the cost, here are the nuts and bolts of Sapphire, including some new updates in the latest Sapphire 8 that make the $2,800 worth every dollar. For this review I am focusing on its use inside of Adobe After Effects CC 2014.
Light leak effects seem to be everywhere; they have become the new lens flare in a sense and when used subtly, light leaks don’t make me want to run through a window. One of my favorite additions to Sapphire is the LightLeak tool. On past shows and sizzle reels I have edited, light leaks are what made producers say, “Whoa that looks like we spent a lot of money to shoot and edit this thing!” Those are the words that get me hired again and in the end make me feel like I contributed something to a project.
Inside of Sapphire you can not only build your own light leaks, but you can control the parameters to speed up and slow down how they move, turn them into a transition with keyframes and even tie them into other effects with the new Builder — I’ll get into this later.
If you are daunted by the wealth of tweaks you can make inside of Sapphire to individual effects like light leaks you can also jump into the Preset Browser and simply apply some pre-built goodness. Personally, I think applying a preset and rendering is lazy, and you should always try and customize an effect to the footage you are applying it to. Whether you are adjusting a blending mode, the opacity, altering the colors or even just changing the timing — you should do something so that your effect doesn’t look like the Sapphire 8 demo reel.
When I was fiddling around with LightLeaks inside of Sapphire 8 in After Effects I wanted to create a custom transition that would go to full white at the transition point, and on the A and B sides would give the “light leak” look. I was able to achieve this with the S_LightLeak under the Sapphire Lighting category. I simply keyframed the Scale Lights parameter to go full white after 12 frames and eventually fade to 0 to get out of the light leak transition. I customized my look by adjusting my keyframes in the Graph Editor and also messing around with the Glow and Elements. It’s really easy once you pin-point the parameters you want to change.
Red Giant recently released a similar feature called Glitch in the Universe 1.2 update and Sapphire wasn’t far behind. I jumped head first into DigitalDamage (located in the Stylize category). I wanted to take a preset, apply it to a piece of footage and render. So I added the S_Effect to my footage in After Effects, selected Edit Effect, which gets you into the effect builder, dragged Digital Damage to my source node and clicked load preset. Once inside I noticed that previews are not supported for the Digital Damage effect, which kind of stunk but it wasn’t the end of the world. I did notice that one of the presets within Sapphire was created by a man I know. His name is Tal, and he happens to be one of the first online editors that showed me how much knowledge it took to be a proper online editor and colorist. To this day Tal is one of the preeminent online editors in Hollywood. He is responsible for the BadTape preset, which has a great digital damage look and will probably get you close to what you’re looking for.
Some ideas I had with the Digital Damage plug-in was to apply it to titles and the titles’ alpha channels as well as using the Shake effect with some trendy color channel shifting. It really gives you a quick and shaky look while adding some great color to any cold open or sizzle reel. You can really let your mind run wild with ideas when inside of the new Sapphire Builder.
The biggest update to Sapphire 8 is this new Builder. Builder is a way of creating multi-layered effects inside of one plug-in instance inside of After Effects or Media Composer. As a side note, Builder is compatible with Avid and Adobe hosts and as such any custom-built presets can only be shared between Builder compatible platforms.
To get into Sapphire’s Builder interface you need to grab the S_Effect or S_Transition plug-in located in the Sapphire Builder category. Place it on your footage, title or other object and click Edit Effect or Load Preset in the Effect Controls dialogue in After Effects. From there you will see a pretty sweet interface, which allows you to design your effect in a node-based environment. This means that you are tied to layering an effect one on top of another. You can apply one effect just to the matte of your source while also applying an effect to the fill of your source footage. It’s really one of those things you need to work with to truly understand its power and ease of use.
You can download a free 12-week trial here, but be forewarned… you can either get a 12-week watermarked trial or allow GenArts to contact you for a watermark-free trial. I don’t love that you need to sign up and are then contacted by GenArts to discuss how you intend to use your non-watermarked trial. I am pretty sure they would get more customers if they just let people try it out.
While I just skimmed over some of the latest features and high points inside of GenArt’s Sapphire 8, there are many more that you can discover for yourself. First, I would take a look at John Dickinson’s (@motionworks) video that goes into detail about the Builder and how you can use it. Then I would download the watermarked trial, and at the very least test out the Glows, MathOps, new LightLeaks, Shake (with its RGB separation) and DigitalDamage. Those alone make the price of Sapphire 8 manageable. While the price might be high, I believe you can justify the cost with just a few projects. Especially if you are an Adobe user because you can rent it for three months if you want.
I’ve worked in broadcast post for over 10 years, and one common element in high-profile productions is the use of Sapphire. If you want to use what the pros use, GenArts Sapphire is what you need. I leave you with these three highlights: The newly added Builder, Adobe After Effects and Premiere CC subscription pricing and tons of usable presets loaded in the updated preset browser.
Brady Betzel is an online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood. Previously he was editing The Real World at Bunim Murray Productions. You can email Brady at email@example.com, and follow him on Twitter, @allbetzroff.