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Version2 Creates a Surreal ShowpieceGenArts Sapphire Plugins for Autodesk Inferno
In business since 2000, Version2 is an independent, 30-person company with collaborative design, visual effects and editorial divisions. Their creative kit includes the Autodesk troika - Inferno, Flame, and Smoke - with Sapphire Plug-ins installed on all systems. GenArts Sapphire Plug-ins is a collection of over 200 high-end, organic visual effects, each with comprehensive and intuitive parameter controls for unlimited, unique results. The recently released version 4 for Autodesk systems contains over 45 new effects and significant enhancements to existing effects and rendering speed. According to Kieran, "I have been using Sapphire Plug-ins since their introduction, and have never used an Autodesk system without them. I consider them an integral part of the Inferno toolset. Unlike many other plug-ins which tend to be gimmicky, Sapphire provides truly useful functionality that ups the production value of any project."
Version2's concept for the AICP show packaging, which ultimately included a one minute opening title sequence and twenty-one five second interstitials, was to create a surreal, Dali-esque world with seemingly capricious thematic and spatial juxtapositions of imagery. Inspired by vintage photographic portraits, as well as many quirky and whimsical found objects and props, the piece evokes a haunting, nostalgic collage which is transiently elegant, ominous and peculiar - by design. The overall effect is visually stunning and unexpected, with Sapphire Plug-ins playing an integral role in creating the highly stylized look and feel. Kieran enthuses, "From my experience with Sapphire 'sparks' over the years, and in acclimating to the new version 4, I was confident that there were a variety of effects I could draw upon to enhance many elements of the piece."
And according to Kieran, there were elements galore. "This concept involved a wide array of mediums - from sculptural and contemporary 3D objects, to deconstructed vintage pieces - giving us an intriguing blend of aesthetics. We created a library of elements with an in-house greenscreen prop shoot using HD cam. Most objects were simply shot on a turntable. Others were shot utilizing a puppeteer-like technique using monofilament, or shot as stop motion digital stills," he explains. In fact, the entire opening sequence is a complex composite of these live action elements combined with multi-layered matte paintings and 3D passes.
With such a disparate array of source elements, the challenge was to achieve seamless compositing - and this is where Kieran turned to the Sapphire Layer effect. Layer allows the combining of two source clips with various blending options, and has built-in parameters to adjust blurring, opacity, saturation and color. The original elements were initially clean and visually very flat. According to Kieran, the Sapphire Layer spark enabled a fluid integration of mediums, and was used throughout the entire piece to this end.
A trio of Sapphire effects - SoftFocus, Glow, and Vignette - were also essential in Kieran's effort to integrate all of the source material in a cohesive, articulate way, while heightening the densely atmospheric quality of the piece as a whole. SoftFocus combines a blurred version of the input clip with the original to create a soft glow effect, while Glow takes areas of the source clip that are brighter than a given threshold and enhances the area around them to create an atmospheric lighting effect. The Sapphire Vignette effect, which darkens the outer edges of a clip, is evidenced in many frames throughout, evoking the feeling of a bygone-era portrait.
Another ubiquitous effect was the ZDefocus plug-in, one of 45 new effects in version 4. True to its name, this effect defocuses areas of the source clip by different amounts on the z-axis, using depth values from a ZBuffer input. Kieran and his team used this effect to keep background elements in focus while blurring out the foreground, and vice versa. The goal was to provide subtle focal points, thereby amplifying the cinematic feel of the spot.
FilmDamage and Convolve, two more new effects in version 4, were used in artful ways to add shifts in focus, luminance and image stability. FilmDamage simulates aged film by adding scratches, dust, stains, grain, flicker and other purposeful imperfections to a clip, while Convolve creates a wide variety of blur effects - using arbitrary filter shapes and coloration - by performing a mathematical convolution of two source clips. According to Kieran, "We were going for a slightly analog, hand-made quality, and these effects gave us exactly that look. Convolve in particular gave us beautiful, irregular defocus passes that really brought the whole piece to life. In general, when you look at the composites before treatment it's remarkable how much Sapphire sparks brought to the finished project."
The Version2 team was involved in the beta cycle for Sapphire version 4 for Autodesk systems, and collaborated closely throughout the process with the GenArts' engineering team to encourage specific plug-in development and overall enhancements. "Aside from all the great new plug-ins in v4, there are numerous improvements to existing ones. The crew at GenArts was very open to feedback during beta, and incorporated quite a few of our suggestions - such as being able to add noise to an effect like RackDefocus without the need for additional downstream nodes." Kieran enthuses.
Reliable, efficient rendering is crucial during client-supervised sessions, notes Kieran, and Sapphire does not disappoint. "The efforts made to optimize speed and interactivity in version 4 is obvious, and being able to preview in real time while adjusting effect parameters is a huge time-saver. Simply put, I'm sold on Sapphire. It's an indispensable part of my workflow."
The full version of Version2's AICP piece can be viewed at: http://www.version2.net/VFX/AICP.html
Sapphire Plug-ins 4.0 for Autodesk systems was released in June 2007. To learn more please visit: http://www.genarts.com/sapphire-sparks.html
About GenArts, Inc.
Founded in 1996 in Cambridge, Mass., GenArts, Inc. is the premier provider of digital visual effects plug-ins for the film, broadcast and video industries. Their product, Sapphire Plug-ins, equips digital artists with a collection of over 200 state-of-the-art image processing and synthesis effects such as: Glows, EdgeRays, LensFlare, Lightning, FilmEffect, Warps and Textures. The effects seamlessly integrate into a number of editing and compositing systems including: Adobe® After Effects®, Premiere® Pro and Premiere® Elements; Apple® Final Cut Pro® and Shake®; Avid® AVX Products; Autodesk® Compositing & Editing Systems, and Combustion®; Eyeon® Fusion®; and Quantel® generationQ products.
Sapphire Plug-ins have become the industry standard for high-end visual effects creation by providing unrivaled image quality, a unique organic look, and ease of use. They have been used extensively in an array of television programs, music videos and feature films, including: Pirates of the Caribbean 1, 2, and 3, Spider-Man 1, 2 and 3, Superman Returns, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Star Wars - Episode I, II and III, Sin City, The Matrix trilogy, X-Men 1, 2 and 3, Titanic, Lost and CSI. Additional GenArts product information can be found at www.genarts.com.
Nicole Panas, GenArts, Inc.
©2007 GenArts, Inc. All rights reserved. GenArts and Sapphire Plug-ins are registered trademarks of GenArts, Inc.
All other trademarks mentioned herein belong to their respective owners.
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