OCTOBER 10, 2001
by David Nagel
There are really two categories of visual effects plugins for compositing applications. You have canned special effects and general-purpose image manipulation tools. Neither one is inherently superior to the other. But, in large part, canned special effects have limited applications for professional use. After all, once a special effect has been used in a widely distributed piece, subsequent uses are just copies. On the other hand, there is the fact that so many general image manipulation tools offer sub-par quality and dubious usefulness.
And then there's Tinderbox from The Foundry.
Last year The Foundry debuted Tinderbox 1, a collection of 20 general- and specific-purpose special effects that fairly blew the minds of everybody who had a chance to experience them. Tinderbox 2, released in the middle of this year, expands upon the original release with some truly useful additions, some stunning effects and, above all, high-quality results.
What it does
This is not a simple "paint on a path" type of filter. Its purpose is to make an image look as if it had been painted. The filter gives a number of controls for brush size, stroke length and paint properties. However, it does not provide options for the paint style, such as oil, watercolor, etc.
The two filters in this category worth noting above the others (for me, at least) are Kaleid and Newsprint. Kaleid is, as its name implies, a kaleidoscope filter. And Newsprint creates halftone effects. Both are speedy and offer all the controls you could possibly want for these kinds of effects. For me they're also the epitome of what this package offers over so many other packages on the market: total precision.
So many packages on the market skimp in this area. I mean, after all, in a kaleidoscope effect, what could a little aliasing hurt? But the effects in Tinderbox 2 are just so preciseclean, if you preferthat the results can't help but look spectacular.
Incidentally, Kaleid is a bonus filter provided by The Foundry upon registration of the product. Without registration, you can't use the filter.
How good is it?
It's difficult to quantify the quality of these filters. Do yourself a favor and download the demo version so you can see for yourself. Versatility is also a bit tough to quantify. As I mentioned above, these are general-purpose visual effects and can be used over and over without having the feel of canned effects.
Performance isn't difficult to quantify at all. In After Effects 5 on a G4 400 running OS 9.0.4, the blurs took anywhere from one to five seconds to render in "Best" mode on the first frame, less time on subsequent frames. Most of the other filters take one or two seconds. Paint, the slowest of the filters, will took about 10 seconds to render per frame. (In all cases, the test comp size was 720 x 486 with a variety of still and moving images.)
In terms of functionality, the filters provide three ways of working. You can adjust position and modifiers directly in the comp window. You can adjust numeric sliders. And you can work in the Output window (seen above) to adjust parameters like position, radius and direction of any given effect.
In terms of the product itself, it's tough to find anything wrong with it.
It is worth noting that anybody out there running After Effects under Classic in Mac OS X will not be able to use this set of filters. After Effects itself, so far, seems to run fine in Classic mode. But this filter set with crash the beejeezus out of you. It'll crash not just After Effects, but the whole Classic environment with it. I don't think this is too much of a problem just yet, since few professional compositors have been willing as yet to make the switch to the new OS. Nevertheless, it will be a problem in the future. I would like to hear word from The Foundry that they plan to offer a free or heavily discounted upgrade once an OS X version of both After Effects and Tinderbox become available.
The bottom line
Tinderbox 2 is available for Macintosh and Windows NT for $595. It requires After Effects 4.x or 5.0 and a Power Macintosh running Mac OS 8.6 or higher (but not OS X). For more information, visit http://www.thefoundry.co.uk.
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Dave Nagel is the producer of Creative Mac and Digital Media Designer; host of several World Wide User Groups, including Synthetik Studio Artist, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe InDesign, Adobe LiveMotion, Creative Mac and Digital Media Designer; and executive producer of the Digital Media Net family of publications.