Knoll Light Factory 2.5.2 : A Spectacular Plug-In

So what's the big deal about a plug-in that only does one thing: create lens-flares? After all, a lens flare is really a mistake, right? A light source strikes the camera lens at a strange angle and leaves a “flare” effect. But John Knoll, who invented this fantastic plug-in, is a smart, imaginative guy. John, who was one of the inventors of Adobe Photoshop and is a special effects supervisor at Industrial Light & Magic, has some very cool ideas about how to use lens flares creatively.

How about enhancing explosions with extra light flares? Or creating that ominous glow in the eyes of an evil wizard? Or a strange ball of light that floats on the water and passes behind the trees? Or the bright haze of light slicing through tree limbs as the sun sets?

All of these are special effects created by lens flares. And Red Giant's Knoll Light Factory plug-in does it best. Not only does the new version (2.5.2) come with 70 stock flare effects like Chroma Lens, Basic Spotlight, 35mm and Red Laser, with the editing tools that come with the Light Factory Pro you can essentially create your own lights/flares from scratch. The variety of things you can do with KLF is limited only by your imagination.

 


Screen Cap from Adobe Premiere KLF Plug-in

 

So, how does it work? Well, since this new version of KLF Pro now works inside most editing applications like Premiere Pro, Avid, Motion and Final Cut Pro (on Intel Mac), you just apply the plug-in to the track you want and then key-frame your general properties, like: size, motion and hue. Next, you use the Lens Editor (which is accessed through the options menu) and play with the pre-sets (25 new presets added to this version), or using the available primitives like: disc, glow ball, spike and reflection, create your own unique lighting effects for your shot.

GPU Support and UnMult

One of two excellent upgrades to KLF 2.5, is the ability to share some of the rendering time for your flare effects with your graphics card. In some cases you can triple your frame rate, which allows for smooth testing of your key-framed motion. UnMult (sounds like a German philosophy term) allows you to create an alpha channel for your light so that you can easily composite your light effects with a background. And even better, KLF has an “auto obscuration” aspect that will automatically dim the light effect if it travels behind an object in the foreground. Another nice touch from Mr. Knoll and his engineers.

Beginners to the KLF plug-in should click the “EZ” plug-in and apply it to your clip. This simplifies your options so that you basically use the pre-sets to apply and track your light effects. I found EZ to be so intuitive that I was working with it for hours before I realized I could use the main Light Factory plug-in and have access to all of the primitives. I also found the plug-in to be easier to use in After Effects CS3, rather than Premiere Pro, although it's mostly a personal choice.

 


Examples of Standard Lens Flares in KLF

 

Very Clean Look

I was very impressed with the sharp and clean look of all of Light Factory's effects. Rendering times were minimal, although I was working mostly with short test projects. In many instances, the light effect was so subtle, and yet so natural, that it made all the difference in a particular scene. Premiere comes with some basic flare effects, but Knoll Light Factory blows them all away with ease.

Very Few Problems

There are very few flaws with Knoll Light Factory Pro, but there is some room for improvement. A resizable Lens Editor would be a welcome addition, along with clearer documentation for working with primitives. There are some good tutorials at the Red Giant site and the forums are active, but you might find yourself looking for a training DVD. Since the Pro Version will set you back $399, it seems like Red Giant should include their own KLF training DVD for free. The Knoll Light Factory Editors version is $199 (USD), and consists primarily of the Light Factory EZ plug-in, which is a pretty good deal since you get all of the presets, too.

One part of the KLF plug-in set I didn't get a chance to test (it's included with the Pro version), is Light Factory Spectacular, which is a plug-in that allows you to track unlimited light effects. Shimmering, multi-light effects can be used when combined with a particle generation application. Some amazing effects can be created this way.

Summing up

I am now a big fan of Knoll Light Factory. While the focus of the plug-in is narrow, it's impact on a scene can be significant. Motion Graphics needs a little flash, and this plug-in provides it in a big way. Ease of use, fast renders, the huge amount of presets and stability of the program make it a perfect choice for directors, editors and motion graphic artists. Plus, even the cheaper version of the program works extremely well. And even if the Pro package is expensive, the upgrades are reasonably priced. This is definitely a deep program that will get even more interesting as I learn more.

Notes:

My test rig:

Windows XP SP2
Intel Q6600 CPU
Windows 150Gb Raptor HD
2 GB Mushkin Ram
EVGA 8800GT Video Card
Asus P45 Mobo
Dell 24” Wide-screen Monitor
Canon Canoscan scanner

I'd like to thank Red Giant for providing Knoll Light Factor 2.5.2 for review. In particular, Amy Rascanin. Thanks for your help!

The Red Giant Software website has a good support and product page for Light Factory. There is an excellent video which describes what's new in KLF Pro 2.5.2, along with several tutorials. With some research you can find many other tuts for this excellent program.

Good, interactive display of all the standard flare effects here.

You can download a trial version here. Also, here is a chart that makes clear the differences between the Pro and Editors versions.

There is a Knoll Light Factory 3.0, but it's a plug-in for Photoshop. Perhaps we can cover it in a future review, because there are some great, great aspects to this version. Ah, well...


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.
August 18 , 2008

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