By Brady Betzel
In Part 1 of my review of Red Giant’s Magic Bullet Suite 13, I went through Magic Bullet Looks 4 as well as Colorista IV. Both are color correction and grading plug-ins that are compatible with Adobe’s After Effects and Premiere Pro and Apple’s Final Cut Pro X and Motion.
For this review, I will cover the rest of the Magic Bullet Suite 13, including Denoiser III, Mojo II, Cosmo II, Renoiser and Magic Bullet Film. Denoiser III is my definite favorite, by the way.
In my opinion, Denoiser III is one of the standouts in the Magic Bullet Suite 13 plug-in package because of its magical ability to remove noise quickly and easily. Noise reduction is typically a very long render because of the sheer complexity that is involved in the process. Denoiser III has been rewritten and now adds near realtime playback in most cases; the better the discrete graphics card you have, the better your playback will be. You can check out graphics card compatibility here.
The options are limited and I believe we are better off for it. A lot of denoise plug-ins have an abundance of options when, in reality, unless you are an online editor nerd like me or a colorist, you probably don’t have time to mess around with the different noise removal options and render each time. Denoiser III has five options: Reduce Noise, Smooth Colors, Preserve Detail, Sharpen Amount and Sharpen Radius.
When removing noise from footage, remember that the more you crank up your noise reduction the longer your render time will be, and you will also start to lose detail in your image. Occasionally, you will remove and sharpen an image and think that it looks a little too cleaned up. This is when you will want to jump into Magic Bullet Renoiser or apply your own film grain or noise to the footage. Another tip is to always place Denoiser III first in your effects chain. You can even put Magic Bullet Looks 4 after Denoiser III, apply your look in Looks and jump back into Denoiser III to adjust your noise after corrected.
When testing in Premiere Pro, I imported some Sony A6300 S-Log3/S-Gamut3 footage lying around. I filmed a close-up of my wife sewing, with just the light of the sewing machine to light the scene. In addition, I shot it in slow motion at 1920×1080 at 23.98fps. I exported 15 seconds of the “raw” footage from Premiere Pro via Adobe Media Encoder as a 1920×1080, 50Mb/s H.264, which took 33 seconds. With Denoiser III applied, it took 46 seconds, about a 29% increase in time. With Denoiser III and Magic Bullet Looks 4 applied, the export took the same 46 seconds. After I was done exporting, I saw that all of the H.264 exports with Denoiser III applied to them were corrupt and unusable in a traditional sense. In another sense, they were pretty awesome. Either way, be sure to check out that link to graphics card compatibility that I have earlier in this review. That should be strictly adhered to. In my head, I thought “Yeah right, I know you say you need an Nvidia or AMD GPU, but I’m sure my Intel…. Nope. Didn’t work.” So check out the compatibility before jumping in head first like me. Aside from that one hiccup, the screen grabs I took will show you how well the Denoiser III works. I tried Denoiser III on a much higher-end system with a discrete Nvidia Quadro card, and Denoiser III worked just as described.
Denoiser III either comes bundled in the Magic Bullet Suite 13 for $899 or can be purchased separately for $199.
As you have read, I just pulled out a lot of noise with Denoiser III, but I definitely want to put back just a touch of texture and noise with Renoiser. A common problem when removing noise from footage is that you are left having an overly processed look from smoothing. Typically, you can somewhat fix that with a little sharpening and/or adding back in some sort of film grain.
Magic Bullet Renoiser will allow you to add GPU-accelerated film-style grain and/or digital style noise to your footage in Premiere Pro, After Effects, Final Cut Pro X, Motion, Blackmagic’s Resolve, Eduis and HitFilm. You can find specfic version compatibility info for these apps with Renoiser here.
Typically, to add noise or grain back to your footage you would purchase stock film grain from somewhere like www.rampantdesigntools.com or gorillagrain.com. Both companies have some great grain offerings, so you should check them out, but stock grain is applied over the footage with a blending mode, like overlay. What Renoiser does is apply the grain and noise as part of your moving image; it’s not an overlay. If you zoom into your image after applying one of the Renoiser presets you will see the actual picture being pseudo-recreated with the grain and/or noise.
Under the Renoiser plug-in you get some quick sharpening options that are handy, even though it’s not a sharpening plug-in. There are 16 presets, including 8mm and 16mm, as well as grain settings like size, color channels, monochrome options and even Tonal Range adjustments to dial in your highlight, midtone and shadow grain work. While this plug-in is GPU-accelerated, it does work with Intel GPUs, so it did not give the same errors on export that I got with Denoiser III.
For my tests, I liked the preset Big Kahuna for the sunset shot I had. This was shot on the Sony a6300 in S-Log3/S-Gamut3, but this time with a UHD 3840×2160 clip in a 1920×1080 timeline, lending itself to a good amount of noise in the shadows. First I added Denoiser III, then Colorista IV to do some balancing and add some saturation and then I finished it off with Renoiser.
I really cranked up the Renoiser to show off its work, but adding noise is usually a practice in subtly. Typically, adding noise is to give an overall cohesion to your film or, oppositely, a disruption. For my footage, while I cranked Renoiser way up it really didn’t overdo it, which is nice; it seems like Red Giant kind of allows you to go all out without destroying your footage with too much artificial grain or noise.
While watching Stu Maschwitz’s (@5tu) Renoiser tutorial I picked up a great tip that I had never thought about — when sending your project through a second compression service, like YouTube, you may notice some of your footage can get artifacting such as banding (rings in things like sunsets or gradients). Stu suggests that because your footage may be too smooth, the compressor can cheat a bit and not fully process your footage, leaving certain areas with banding. A workaround can be to add a light amount of noise to your footage to ensure that the compressor processes your footage completely. In Renoiser, there are a couple of presets like Light Noise, Image Vitamins, and Compression Proofing that might help in getting past those issues.
To test the rendering/exporting power of Renoiser I made a 30-second 50Mb/s H.264 QuickTime from my UHD media, downscaled to HD through Media Encoder. With Magic Bullet Colorista IV and Renoiser applied to the 30-second clip, it took three minutes and four seconds to export. Without Renoiser but with Colorista IV, it took one minute and 30 seconds — roughly 100% speed decrease when using Renoiser. Keep in mind I am on a slower Intel-based GPU, so if you have something like an Nvidia GTX 1080, your results will probably be significantly improved. However, adding and removing noise is an intensive process so that is definitely something to remember.
At first I wasn’t sure if I would be pumped on using Renoiser, since there are so many options out there for adding noise to footage, but I have been convinced. The quality of noise generation and options to personalize it are outstanding. Using Denoiser III, Looks 4 or Colorista IV and Renoiser seems to be a great combo when finishing your project. In the future, I would like to see some more options in the preset category, but with the 16 presets there now, and even an option for a custom preset of your own, you have plenty to choose from.
Out of all the Magic Bullet Suite 13 plug-ins. Mojo II is the one that will provide an instantly recognizable look with one click. Mojo II will basically pull the orange and blue trick while adding a nice contrast curve. A common trend in color correction is to cool off the shadows with blue and warm up the skin tones/mid tones with orange; this is a very popular look from Michael Bay films, hence the preset “Optimus” inside of the Mojo II presets.
To begin, you need to specify whether you have footage that is video, flat, Log or Log Pro. Essentially, Log Pro is footage shot with high-end cameras like the Alexa. But you’ll need to experiment because these are essentially a starting LUT and you have control over what looks the best. For instance, I brought in some more Sony s6300 S-Log3/S-Gamut3 footage, and at first I thought regular old Log would do it, but Log Pro was actually the right fit. There are 15 presets in Mojo II, including Optimus, Light, Mojo and War. Applying a preset really seems like the best way to start in Mojo II.
Since you probably aren’t going to dive too heavily into color correction, adding a preset is the best way to start. There are 13 options in Mojo. A few important ones are: Mojo, which essentially lets you customize the amount of orange and blue that goes into a shot; Punch It, which is contrast; Bleach It; Fade it; and Corrections, which allows for exposure adjustments and other important footage correcting options.
To test my export speed, I used my handy YouTube-friendly preset: 1920×1080 50Mb/s H.264. Exporting a 30-second clip took 30 seconds without Mojo II and one minute and one second with Mojo II applied. So, like the other plug-ins, Mojo II took me about double realtime for the render. At $99, Mojo II is the fastest way to take your footage and give it that orange and blue Hollywood-style look. I was pleasantly surprised at how well the plug-in worked. Immediately, I thought of how someone not familiar with color correction could apply Magic Bullet Suite Mojo II and have a great color grade without the hassle of diving deep into color correction tools. Even if you need to do a little cleanup, there are options like the Skin Tone overlay to get your skin colors right.
One of the most underused color correction methods is skin correction. A lot of people will color correct for a wrong skin tone, or color cast in a shot, but most will not do beauty work. Why? Because it’s not so easy. A lot of times you have to pull a color key of the skin you want to correct, do a light blur, re-sharpen, re-noise and hope the talent doesn’t move their head too much or you will be tracking as well. With Red Giant’s Cosmo II you can easily select a skin tone to balance, remove lines or even attempt to remove blemishes. Skin correction is a very tough skill to master; there is a delicate balance between overly corrected and not corrected enough.
With Cosmo II, you can select the skin tone of the subject you want to correct with the eyedropper and adjust how far outside of your color selection you want Cosmo to go with tolerance and offset. Further down the effects menu are two other categories of options: Skin Smoothing and Skin Color. Typically, in skin correction you might see someone go overboard with the softening (or blurring). One way that Red Giant is combatting bad skin correction is with adjustments like Preserve Detail, Preserve Contrast and even Restore Noise. When used in concert you can achieve some great wrinkle removal, but allow some of the authentic contours of the skin to stay intact with Preserving Detail.
Under the Skin Color menu you can fix things like blotchy colors with Skin Yellow/Pink and Skin Color Unify. Much like the other Red Giant Magic Bullet Suite 13 plugins, you can also enable the “Show Skin Overlay,” which throws an orange grid over your skin tone selection to help guide you towards a proper skin color. Nothing is better, however, than the human eye when using a properly calibrated monitor, so don’t forget to take a step back and actually digest the adjustments you are making.
Magic Bullet Film
Last in the Magic Bullet Suite 13 package is Magic Bullet Film — a set of negative stocks and print stocks that help you emulate the look of actual film. First you choose your type of video: Video, Flat, or Log. Then you can choose a Negative Stock and Print Stock. While I am a post nerd, I definitely do not have every print and negative stock committed to memory, so cycling through the options is helpful. I had some footage I shot at Disneyland California Adventure that was captured inside of a room with tons of crazy lights and screens, but it seemed to be a great shot to test Magic Bullet Film on. I applied the negative stock Prolochrome P4400 and the print stock Fujifilm 3521XD. My shot had some nice greens and blues in it and these seemed to complement it well. I was really impressed with how the footage looked with Magic Bullet Film applied; it gave a really over-the-top teal look. After you apply the look you can dial-in some specifics like color temperature, exposure, contrast, skin tone, grain and even a vignette.
Another interesting adjustment is the Vintage/Modern slider, which, when boosted, adds a contrasty blue and yellow look. When lowered, it adds a brown, washed-out look.
When I finally finished this two-part extra-long review, my appreciation for “set-it-and-forget-it” plug-ins. Magic Bullet Suite 13 is a phenomenal set of color correction plug-ins that allow you to do as much or as little as you want to your footage while always having a great end product.
You really can’t put a value on a truly great colorist — they put a certain shine on video that sometimes can’t even be put into words. But with that responsibility and skill comes a heavy price tag — for the rest of us you can still get a great look with Magic Bullet Suite 13. Find out more on Red Giant’s website — the entire suite runs $899, but you can purchase each plug-in separately.
Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.