By Brady Betzel
If you work with visual effects in any way, I urge you to visit www.redgiant.com. Red Giant is known for its visual effects plug-ins like Trapcode, Magic Bullet Looks, Primatte Keyer, as well as more technical software like PluralEyes and Bulletproof.
Red Giant’s latest release of Universe furthers their unyielding support of the filmmaking and motion graphics community. Universe is a collection of broadcast-quality plug-ins that work with Adobe Premiere Pro CS6 and later; Adobe After Effects CS5.5 and later; Apple FCPX 10.0.9 and later; and Apple Motion 5.0.4 and later. For this review I used Universe inside of After Effects, but this tool will work great in the NLEs as well. In fact you can use the same effect across operating systems.
Universe has two tiers: Free and Premium. The licensing for Premium Universe breaks down into three categories: $10/month, $99/year or $399 for a lifetime (this really means updates and upgrades for a lifetime; no tricks as far as I know.). What’s nice about this structure is that you can not only “rent” the plug-in at a really low price but if you need to farm out renders occasionally you can purchase licenses for 10 computers, render out your files and then not renew the monthly license — all for under $100. That could really pay for itself in a time crunch. I also read on Red Giant’s site that “at the moment” they do not make a render only plug-in, hopefully that means there is one coming.
There is no reason not to download the Free collection. It contains seven blur plug-ins; eight distort plug-ins; four generators; three glow plug-ins; and nine transitions. The Premium collection contains all of the free plug-ins plus some other very powerful offerings like Chromatic Glow, Holomatrix, Knoll Light Factory EZ, Noise, Premium Transitions, Prism Displacement, Retrograde and ToonIt.
In addition to the plug-ins, Red Giant has started “User Labs,” which is a user-supported community surrounding the Universe plug-ins. About every six weeks Red Giant plans on holding a community vote on what plug-in will be created next for either the Free and/or Premium Universe (only Premium members can vote on Premium plug-ins). The latest vote saw Compound Blur as the winner. It will be added to the Free collection, by the way.
And speaking of updates, just today Red Giant released a Universe 1.1 update which brought about a few updates to both the Free and Premium Universe. In Premium I am looking forward to playing with the CrumplePop SplitScreen builder that has been ported over from the FCP X plug-in that allows for ease of use when building unique split screens.
This fast turnaround of plug-ins is made possible by Red Giant’s Supernova intuitive toolset, which allows the company to build plug-ins faster. Watch the Supernova video by Harry Frank (@graymachine): http://vimeo.com/88253005 — it gives a little behind-the-curtain glance of how the Universe system will work. While you’re at it check out all of the Red Giant tutorials and demos: http://www.redgiant.com/videos, which Aharon Rabinowitz (@ABAOProductions) has a hand in. You can also follow them @RedGiantNews. I’ve seen some impressive stuff on their Twitter feed lately, including the incredible Trapcode Nebula Construction Kit and tutorials.
The Free Collection
So let’s check under the hood in the Free collection of Universe. Warning: I won’t be touching on all of the plug-ins — just a few that I use in my work. For instance, I personally don’t really see a need for the transitions. I almost feel that these were included by Red Giant as filler effects.
First up is the Camera Shake (under the Distort plug-ins), and yes I know that “wiggle (25,50)” or a derivative of that can achieve this, but I like being able to just throw the plug-in over the footage/comp, customize and hit 0 on the keypad. It may be simple, but it’s a great tool to have regardless. Glo Fi is another high-quality plug-in under the Glow Tools category that was developed by Harry Frank. It self-animates and can be finely tuned. In a pinch this will add interesting glow and movement to any title. Finally, there is Simple RGB Separation under the Distort tools. RGB Separation is trendy right now, and Red Giant has given you a free tool that can give you as subtle or as pronounced an RGB separation as you want, very quickly.
While the free version is definitely worth the price of admission, the Premium version has a few key plug-ins that justify buying the Universe package for a lifetime. Reminder: I won’t be delving into the transitions very deeply.
The ToonIt collection definitely has its place (creating a hand-drawn cartoon-like look), offering a very unique look. My personal favorites are the Chromatic Glow, Retrograde and Holomatrix. You might recognize these as previous Red Giant plug-ins but they have been rebuilt to work with the Supernova architecture and enabled to render faster using GPU processing. The Harry Frank-built Chromatic Glow uses brightness values for glow placement in combination with RGB separation to create a unique glow with chromatic aberration qualities. I used to mimic this technique a lot (kind of unsuccessfully) until I got my hands on Universe.
Retrograde is a collection of analog film stock sources used as a texture overlay to give you the color, grain and damage of 8mm and 16mm films. It’s a really useful plug-in that offers outstanding results without breaking the bank.
The last Premium plug-in I will touch on is Holomatrix, which you will recognize as a plug-in Red Giant sells separately for a lot more money. If you want a great bad-transmission effect to turn a person into a hologram or dirty up a title with digital hits in two clicks, Holomatrix is the plug-in for you. In fact, I think it’s worth buying Universe for Holomatrix and Chromatic Glow alone.
FYI, I am not touching on Knoll Light Factory EZ, which is included in the Premium set. It’s another great addition, but you’ll need to use it to see the quality lens flares it allows you to create.
In the end I really wish Red Giant had different tiers inside of Universe that allowed us to purchase/rent products like PluralEyes, MagicBullet Looks, Trapcode, etc. Even with a substantial price increase, I think many people would jump on board. Many pros I talk with seem to think that Red Giant’s back-end software Supernova is the real game changer in this whole Universe release.
The possibilities are endless if Red Giant wants to release Supernova to the public in a way where they can share their plug-in creations online with each other. These days most companies — such as Red Giant — are aiming to create engaging online communities that support their products. Sometimes users can create part of the product for them, and I think Red Giant has that ability in their hands if they choose to embrace it.
Brady Betzel is an editor at Bunim Murray Productions, a reality television production company. He is one of the editors on Bad Girls Club. His typical tools at work are Avid Symphony, Adobe After Effects CC and Adobe Photoshop CC. You can email Brady at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter, @allbetzroff.