"Empower the world's greatest storytellers with the art and science of visual effects to
bring their stories to life, inspire creativity and increase audience engagement."
-GenArts mission statement
When digital artist Karl Sims founded GenArts in 1996, the goal of the company was to "make the power of visual effects available to every video creator who wants to improve the quality and appeal of their stories." After adding fellow MIT classmate, Gary Oberbrunner, as vice president of engineering, GenArts worked to develop their proprietary Sapphire technology for visual effects. Then in 2001, they released Sapphire version 1.0 for Avid, and two years later the success of that first release allowed GenArts to make Sapphire available for almost every major platform, including Premiere, After Effects, Final Cut Pro, Shake, Combustion and Autodesk.
As the demand for visual effects exploded in the first decade of the 21st century, so has the popularity and power of GenArts Sapphire technology. So much so, that practically every major effects house, TV Studio, broadcaster and pro-sumer uses Sapphire Plug-ins. I guarantee that you've seen many Sapphire effects on television and feature films, not to mention web trailers and advertising online.
In June of 2011, GenArts released Sapphire Edge, a slimmed down version of their huge Sapphire Plug-in suite. This made the company's cutting edge visual effects available to the videographers and the indie/amateur filmmaker. Not long after that, they released version 6.0 of the massive Sapphire Plug-in suite with many new updates. It's this version that I'll be reviewing here. I'll also be commenting a bit on the Sapphire Edge version as well, since it has such an attractive value for the price.
The Sapphire Plug-in suite is an "extensive portfolio of 200+ photo realistic, stylistic effects and transitions," which sit inside the effects editor of your choice. There are 9 main categories for Sapphire effects: Adjust, Blur & Sharpen, Composite, Distort, Lighting, Render, Stylize, Time & Transitions. Within each category, you have extensive control over every aspect of the effect, enabling you to create your own variations and save them as custom effects.
Let's take a look at what's new in Version 6 of Sapphire:
For a complete list over everything that's new in Sapphire 6, check this link. You'll also find what comes standard with the program, including 1,100 preset looks, free unlimited render license, GPU acceleration for NVIDIA Cuda cards and much, much more.
Installing Sapphire 6 was a quick, no-fuss process. Sapphire sits in the drop-down list of "Effects" in both After Effects and Premiere Pro. When you are working on a particular scene or transition, you simple choose the category of effect you want (Distort, Adjust, Blur, etc.) and then apply a specific effect to your video clip from the very large list that is available. A superb addition to Sapphire 6 is a preset browser which you click in the adjustment palette for your effect. This is a huge time saver because if you are on a deadline you can simply choose one of the presets and tweak it. The effects work on the clip you have selected, so you know immediately how the adjustment will look on your clip.
There is a huge range of effects you can choose from. In the process of using Sapphire 6 on a variety of video projects, I went through practically all of them and they made somewhat dull footage look alive and interesting. I particularly liked the lens flare and transition effects, as I could immediately understand how to apply and adjust the effects on my footage. But other effects, like RackDeFocus and Rays, have enormous potential to literally add excitement and energy to your scene/clip.
I installed Sapphire 6 on my Intel quad-core, Windows 7 machine with 12 Gbs of high-speed memory and decent mid-level hardware. My NVIDIA card is CUDA enabled, so the rendering times were short, although occasionally there were some slow-downs. This was probably due to the fact that my workstation is used for a variety of purposes and there may be some Windows issues that, with work, could be cleaned up. Overall, Sapphire 6 performance was nearly flawless with zero crashes or hangs.
My research and testing of Sapphire 6 was a little different than the usual intense 2-3 weeks of study. With Sapphire 6, I wasn't able to start work on the application immediately, but as various video projects came up I would discover Sapphire and try some of the effects out just using presets and my imagination with no practice or tutorials. I found that the effects in Sapphire 6 added an exciting, unique look to my footage. As I got closer to writing this review, I found myself using Sapphire 6 effects on almost every project. Often, I'd have to pull myself away from experimenting with various effects, like Rays and LensFlare, because it was taking longer and longer for me to finish a project. Now, that's very cool because when an application excites your creativity, in addition to being technically sophisticated, you know the software is special.
Sapphire 6 is indeed very special. The application has a huge variety of top-quality effects, easy application and adjustments, excellent presets, powerful and quick rendering, plus very good documentation and tutorials. The GenArts website (and forums) provides useful and effective support for every platform. The additional 1 year subscription to the GenArts FX Central site is mighty handy. I found some outstanding Damage effects there this December and immediately put them to use on a new project. Great, great idea to create a central site where new presets are made available each month.
Price is an issue for the average user, as the full Sapphire 6 suite is $1,699. However, as Sapphire 6 is certainly one of the most extensive sets of effects you can buy, this is a very fair price for the professional studio. GenArts offers a smaller suite of plug-ins, called Sapphire Edge, which costs $299 and would be a good choice for the videographer, indie filmmaker or average user.
I was also very pleased that GenArts actually has a rental deal set up for Sapphire 6. It's the first I've seen on a major CG application. For $169, you can rent the entire suite for one month. Imagine you are a small, indie filmmaker and want to apply several Sapphire effects to scenes in your film. You research the effects on the GenArts website, download the trial and get up to speed on how to use the specific effects, then rent the full suite for a month to apply and tweak the effects on your footage. How neat is that? It's a smart and generous move on GenArts part. One that I hope to see in other CG applications in the future.
I recommend Sapphire 6 highly. It made the difference between dull footage and visually exciting footage on all of my projects. The application is deep, but easy to use, and is fully supported by both GenArts and a large community of users. I'm adding Sapphire 6 permanently to my workstation and will use these effects on all of my video projects in the future.
For more information about Sapphire 6 and Sapphire Edge, be sure to visit the well-designed GenArts website. Sapphire 6 technology is platform agnostic and runs on practically everything. You can read FAQs for every supported system here. Sapphire Edge supports Final Cut Pro and Sony Vegas Pro at present, however I suspect GenArts is working hard to broaden support, as the price point for Sapphire Edge is so appealing.
GenArts offers free trials of their software, which you can download here.
My thanks to Katie at GenArts for contacting me about Sapphire and for helping with this review. Additional thanks to GenArts for providing a license for Sapphire 6 to review.
Ricky Grove [gToon], Staff Columnist with the Renderosity Front Page News. Ricky Grove is a bookstore clerk at the best bookstore in Los Angeles, the Iliad Bookshop. He's also an actor and machinima filmmaker. He lives with author, Lisa Morton, and three very individual cats. Ricky is into Hong Kong films, FPS shooters, experimental anything and reading, reading, reading. You can catch his blog here.
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