By Brady Betzel
The latest Boris FX 2020 plugin releases like Continuum, Sapphire and Mocha, as well as the addition of the Silhouette software (and paint plugin!), have really changed the landscape of effects and compositing.
Over the course of two reviews I will be covering all four of Boris FX’s 2020 offerings — Continuum 2020.5 and Sapphire 2020 now, and Mocha Pro 2020.5 and Silhouette 2020.5 to come soon — for NLE applications like Avid Media Composer, Adobe Premiere and Blackmagic Resolve. Silhouette is a bit different in that it comes as a stand-alone or a compatible plugin for Adobe Premiere or After Effects (just not Avid Symphony/Media Composer at the moment).
Because they are comparable, and editors tend to use both or choose between the two, Continuum 2020.5 and Sapphire 2020 are first. In an upcoming review, I will cover Mocha 2020.5 and Silhouette 2020.5; they have a similar feature set from the outside but work symbiotically on the inside.
While writing this review, Boris FX released the 2020.5 updates for everything but Sapphire, which will eventually come out, but they are dialing it in. You’ll see that I jump back and forth between 2020 and 2020.5 a little bit. Sorry if it’s confusing, but 2020 has some great updates, and 2020.5 has even more improvements.
All four Boris FX plugins could have a place in your editing tool kit, and I will point out the perks of each as well as how all of them can come together to make the ultimate Voltron-like plugin package for editors, content creators, VFX artists and more.
Boris FX has standardized the naming of each plugin and app with release 2020. Beyond that, Continuum and Sapphire 2020 continue to offer the same high-quality effects you know, continue to integrate Mocha tracking, and have added even more benefits to what I always thought was an endless supply of effects.
You have a few pricing options called Annual Subscription, Permanent, Renewals (upgrades), Units and Enterprise. While I have always been a fan of outright owning the products I use, I do like the yearly upgrades to the Boris FX products and think the Annual Subscription price (if you can afford it) is probably the sweet spot. Continuum alone ranges from $295 per year for Adobe-only to $695 per year for Avid, Adobe, Apple and OFX (Resolve). Sapphire alone ranges from $495 to $895 per year, Mocha Pro ranges from $295 to $595 per year, and Silhouette goes for $995 per year. You can bundle Continuum, Sapphire and Mocha Pro from $795 to $1,195 per year. If the entire suite of plugins is too expensive for your wallet, you can purchase individual categories of plugins called “units,” and you can find more pricing options here.
Ok, let’s run through some updates …
Boris FX Continuum 2020.5 has a few updates that make the 2020 and 2020.5 releases very valuable. At its base level, I consider Continuum to be more of an image restoration, utility and online editor tool kit. In comparison, Sapphire is more of a motion graphics, unicorn poop, particle emitter sparkle-fest. I mean unicorn poop in the most rainbow-colored and magnanimous way possible. I use Continuum and Sapphire every day, and Continuum is the go-to for keying, tracking, roto, film grain and more. Sapphire can really spice up a scene, main title or motion-graphics masterpiece.
My go-to Continuum tools are Gaussian Blur, Primatte Keyer (which has an amazing new secondary spill suppressor update) and Film Grain — all of which use the built-in Mocha planar tracking. There are more new tools to look at in Continuum 2020, including the new BCC Corner Pin Studio, BCC Cast Shadow and BCC Reflection. BCC Corner Pin Studio is a phenomenal addition to the Continuum plugin suite, particularly inside of NLEs such as Media Composer, which don’t have great built-in corner pinning abilities.
As an online editor, I often have to jump out of the NLE I’m using to do title work. After Effects is my tool of choice because I’m familiar with it, but that involves exporting QuickTime files, doing the work and re-exporting either QuickTime files with alpha channels or QuickTime files with the effect baked into the footage. If possible, I like to stay as “un-baked” as possible (feel free to make your own joke about that).
BCC Corner Pin Studio is another step forward in keeping us inside of one application. Using Corner Pin Studio with Mocha planar tracking is surprisingly easy. Inside of Media Composer, place the background on v2 and foreground on v1 of the timeline, apply BCC Corner Pin Studio, step into Effects Mode, identify the foreground and background, use Mocha to track the shot, adjust compositing elements inside of Avid’s Effect window, and you’re done. I’ve over-simplified this process, but it works pretty quickly, and with a render, you will be playing back a rock-solid corner pin track inside of the same NLE you are editing in.
Avid has a few quirks when working with alpha channels to say the least. When using BCC Corner Pin Studio along with the Avid title tool, you will have to “remove” the background when compositing the text. To do this, you click and drag (DO NOT Alt + Drag) a plugin like BCC Brightness and Contrast on top of the Avid title tool layer, enable “Apply to Title Matte” and set background to “None.”
It’s a little cumbersome, but once you get the workflow down, it gets mechanical. The only problem with this method is that when you replace the matte key on the Avid title tool layer, you lose the ability to change, alter or reposition the title natively inside of the Avid title effect or title tool itself. Just make sure your title is “final,” whatever final means these days. But corner pinning with this amount of detail inside of Media Composer can save hours of time, which in my mind equals saving money (or making more money with all your newly found free time). You can find a great six-minute tutorial on this by Vin Morreale on Boris FX’s YouTube page.
Two more great new additions to Continuum in release 2020 are BCC Cast Shadow and Reflection. What’s interesting is that all three — Corner Pin Studio, Cast Shadow and Reflection — can be used simultaneously. Well, maybe not all three at once, but Corner Pin Studio with Shadow or Reflection can be used together when putting text into live-action footage.
Life Below Zero, a show I online edit for Nat Geo, uses this technique. Sometimes I composite text in the snow or in the middle of a field with a shadow. I don’t typically do this inside of Media Composer, but after seeing what Corner Pin Studio can do, I might try it. It would save a few exports and round trips.
To ramp up text inserted into live-action footage, I like to add shadows or reflections. The 2020 Continuum update with Cast Shadow and Reflection makes it easy to add these effects inside of my NLE instead of having to link layers with pick whips or having special setups. Throw the effect onto my text (pre-built graphic in After Effects with an alpha channel) and boom: immediate shadow and/or reflection. To sell the effect, just feather off the edge, enable a composite-mode overlay, or knock the opacity down and you are done. Go print your money.
In the Continuum 2020.5 update, one of my most prized online editing tools that has been updated is BCC Remover. I use BCC Remover daily to remove camera people, drones in the sky, stray people in the background of shots and more. In the 2020.5 update, BCC Remover added some great new features that make one of the most important tools even more useful.
From an ease-of-use standpoint, BCC Remover now has Clone Color and Clone Detail sliders. Clone Color can be used to clone only the color from the source, whereas Clone Detail can be used to take the actual image from the source. You can mix back and forth to get the perfect clone. Inside of Media Composer, the Paint Effect has always been a go-to tool for me, mainly for its blurring and cloning abilities. Unfortunately, it is not robust — you can’t brighten or darken a clone; you can only clone color or clone the detail. But you can do both in BCC Remover in Continuum 2020.5.
In addition, you can now apply Mocha Tracking data to the Clone Spot option and specify relative offset or absolute offset under the “Clone” dropdown menu when Clone Spot is selected. Relative offset allows you to set the destination (in the GUI or Effects panel), then set the source (where you want to clone from), and when you move the destination widget, the source widget will be locked at the same distance it was set at. Absolute offset allows both the source and destination to be moved independently and tracked independently inside of Mocha.
There are a lot more Continuum 2020 updates that I couldn’t get into in this space, and even more for the 2020.5 update. More new transitions were added, like the trendy spin blur dissolve, the area brush in Mocha (which I now use all the time to make a quick garbage matte), huge Particle Illusion improvements (including additional shapes) and Title Studio improvements.
In 2020.5, Particle Illusion now has force and turbulence options, and Title Studio has the ability to cast shadows directly inside the plugin. Outside of Title Studio (and back inside of an NLE like Avid), you have direct access to Composite modes and Transformations, letting you easily adjust parameters directly inside of Media Composer instead of jumping back and forth.
Title Studio is really becoming a much more user-friendly plugin. But I like to cover what I actually use in my everyday editing work, and Corner Pin Studio, Cast Shadow/Reflection and Remover are what I use consistently.
And don’t forget there are hundreds of effects and presets including BCC Flicker Fixer, which is an easy fix to iris shifts in footage (I’m looking at you, drone footage)!
I’ve worked in post long enough to remember when Boris FX merged with GenArts and acquired Sapphire. Even before the merger, every offline editor used Sapphire for its unmistakable S_Glow, Film Looks and more.
It’s safe to say that Sapphire is more of an artsy-look plugin. If you are wondering how it compares to Continuum, Sapphire will take over after you are done performing image restoration and technical improvements in Continuum. Adding glows, blurs, dissolves, flutter cuts and more. Sapphire is more “video candy” than technical improvements. But Sapphire also has technical plugins like Math Ops, Z Depth and more, so each plugin has its own perks. Ideally both work together very well if you can afford it.
What’s new in Sapphire 2020? There are a few big ones that might not be considered sexy, but they are necessary. One is OCIO support and the ability to apply Mocha-based tracking to 10 parameter-driven effects: S_LensFlare, S_EdgeRays, S_Rays, S_Luna, S_Grunge, S_Spotlight, S_Aurora, S_Zap, S_MuzzleFlash and S_FreeLens.
In addition, there are some beauty updates, like the new S_FreeLens. And one of the biggest under-the-hood updates is the faster GPU rendering. A big hurdle with third-party effects apps like Continuum and Sapphire is the render times when using effects like motion blur and edge rays with Mocha tracking. In Sapphire 2020 there is a 3x speed and performance increase (depending on the host app you are using it on). Boris FX has a great benchmark comparison.
So up first I want to cover the new OCIO support inside of Sapphire 2020. OCIO is an acronym for “OpenColorIO,” which was created by Sony Picture Imageworks. It’s essentially a way to use Sapphire effects, like lens flares, in high-end production workflows. For example, for Netflix final deliverables, they ask the colorist to work in an ACES environment, but the footage may be HLG-based. The OCIO options can be configured in the effect editor. So just choose the color space of the video/image you are working on and what the viewing color space is. That’s it.
If you are in an app without OpenColorIO, you can apply the effect S_OCIOTransform. This will allow you to use the OCIO workflow even inside apps that don’t have OCIO built in. If you aren’t worried about color space, this stuff can make your eyes glaze over, but it is very important when delivering a show or feature and definitely something to remember if you can.
On top of the tried-and-true Sapphire beauty plugins like S_Glow or S_Luna (to add a moon), Boris FX has added S_FreeLens to its beauty arsenal. Out in the “real world,” free lensing or “lens whacking” is when you take your lens off of your camera, hold it close to where it would normally mount and move the lens around to create dream-like images. It can add a sort of blur-flare dreamy look; it’s actually pretty great when you need it, but you are locked into the look once you do it in-camera. That’s why S_FreeLens is so great; you can now adjust these looks after you shoot instead of baking in a look. There are a lot of parameters to adjust, but if you load a preset, you can get to a great starting point. From defocus to the light leak color, you can animate and dial in the exact look you are going for.
Parameter tracking has been the next logical step in tying Mocha, Continuum and Sapphire together. Finally, in Sapphire 2020, you can use Mocha to track individual parameters. Like in S_LensFlare, you can track the placement of the hotspot and separately track its pivot.
It’s really not too hard once you understand how it correlates inside the Mocha interface. Sapphire sets up two trackers inside of Mocha: 1) the hotspot search area and position of the actual flare, and 2) the pivot search area and position of the pivot point. The search area gathers the tracking data, while the position crosshair is the actual spot on which the parameter will be placed.
While I’m talking about Mocha, in the Sapphire 2020 update, Mocha has added the Area Brush tool. At first, I was skeptical of the Area Brush tool — it seemed a little too easy — but once I gave in, I realized the Area Brush tool is a great way to make a rough garbage matte. Think of a magnetic lasso but with less work. It’s something to check out when you are inside of Mocha.
Continuum and Sapphire continue to be staples of broadcast TV editors for a reason. You can even save presets between NLEs and swap them (for instance, Media Composer to Resolve).
Are the Boris FX plugins perfect? No, but they will get you a lot further faster in your Media Composer projects without having to jump into a bunch of different apps. One thing I would love to see Boris FX add to Continuum and Sapphire is the ability to individually adjust your Mocha shapes and tracks in the Avid Effects editor.
For instance, if I use Mocha inside of BCC Gaussian Blur to track and blur 20 license plates on one shot — I would love to be able to adjust each “shape’s” blur amount, feather, brightness, etc., without having to stack additional plugin instances on top.
But Boris FX has put in a lot of effort over the past few updates of Continuum and Sapphire. Without a doubt, I know Continuum and Sapphire have saved me time, which saves me and my clients money. With the lines between editor, VFX artist and colorist being more and more blurred, Continuum and Sapphire are necessary tools in your arsenal.
Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on shows like Life Below Zero and The Shop. He is also a member of the Producers Guild of America. You can email Brady at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.