Tinderbox 2
at a Glance

Maker: The Foundry
Price: $595
Trial version available? Yes
Platforms: Macintosh and Windows
URL: http://www.thefoundry.co.uk

Overall Impression: This is a stellar set of general-purpose effects filters. The quality is very high, and the performance is excellent in most cases.

Key Benefits: The 21 filters included in this set offer a broad range of effects with enough versatility to make them useful for a long time to come. The output of every one of these filters is top-notch. As an added bonus, most of them are also incredibly speedy.

Disappointments: Very few. The price is a bit steep, and I'd like to see a discount for Tinderbox 1 customers. The registration process is a bit cumbersome. As for the product itself, it's tough to pinpoint a flaw in any of the filters.

Recommendation: Strong Buy


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The Foundry's Tinderbox 2
Visual effects filters for Adobe After Effects

by David Nagel
Executive Producer
[email protected]

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
Tinderbox 2 is a collection of 21 new filters, ranging from blurs and flares to artistic effects like paint and kaleidoscope filters. In After Effects, the filters are divided into five categories—Blurs, Effects, Generators, Tools and Warpers. So let's take a look at what each one contains and how well the filters work.

Tinderbox 2 includes three blur filters, each with a distinct purpose. BlurMasked is a Gaussian blur that uses a mask to control the size of a blur. RadialBlur simulates the effect of a crash zoom. And LensBlur simulates defocusing with lenses. Each one is remarkably fast and includes a number of controls for creating some stunning results. For example, LensBlur lets you control the shape of the camera diaphragm and control chromatic aberrations. It also lets you bloom highlights in the image for a pretty realistic focus pull effect.

The Effects category includes 10 effects, including Bandlimit, Chromatic, Contour, Glass, Glow, Kaleid, Newsprint, Paint, PseudoColor and Trail. The only filter in this collection that seems a bit lagging in the performance department is Paint. When you see the result, you'll know why.

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 precise—clean, if you prefer—that 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.

The Generators category includes Bars, Blobs, LensFlare and NightSky. These are all pretty straightforward filters and do what they say.

I'm not sure why the Tools category is called Tools. It includes two filters, Grain and Wobble, both of which create the effects that you'd expect. Grain places a film grain on the image, which can be applied in several styles. And Wobble creates a film wobble, complete with settings for shutter speed. It also motion blurs the image according to the degree of wobble applied.

There are two warp effects in this package—Swirl and Ripple. Like Kaleid, these are very high-quality distortion filters that do pretty much what they say.

How good is it?
As you've probably picked up on by now, I'm a big fan of the quality of the filters in this collection. I'm also a fan of the performance, scope and versatility of the filters. The controls provided in the Effects palette are not as numerous as those found in other packages, but they get the job done.

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 every review we do, we come up with at least one or two drawbacks to a product. After all, nothing's perfect. Tinderbox 2's failings, however, are almost nonexistent. On the installation front, the only hardship was having to register the product in order to gain access to the Kaleid filter. Big deal. In terms of pricing, I think Tinderbox 1 customers should receive a deep discount on this particular set. After all, I think the second volume is a supplement to the first. Not that it can't stand on its own as well, but still, it never hurts to reward loyalty.

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 a sensational addition to the offerings found in Tinderbox 1. The filters are useful and innovative, not to mention speedy, and the output is professional all the way. The price, again, is a bit steep, and I would like to see a discount for existing Tinderbox customers. But, on the whole, I think you'll be pleased with the results you get from this package. I give it a recommendation of Strong Buy.

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.
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