Post Production

REVIEW – GenArts Sapphire 10 for Media Composer

With a reduced price and Node-based compositing in Media Composer, Sapphire 10 will make you take notice!

Well Ladies and Gentlemen, we are definitely in an interesting time!  I’ve written this review on the heels of probably the second biggest announcement in our industry in recent memory, and the funny thing is that the same company was behind both big news announcements.  Boris FX’s purchase of Imagineer Systems was a groundbreaking purchase as, at the time, it gave editors the hope of having Mocha tracking capabilities in their NLE timelines and, needless to say, Boris FX and Imagineer Systems delivered.  Big time.  The second biggest announcement in our industry in recent memory is, again, another Boris FX acquisition, and this time it’s the purchase of their main competitor, Genarts.  This is huge, as it means that there is now really only two main companies that focuses on the Avid Editor and that is Boris FX and New Blue FX.  Something that I do want to mention in this review, and it’s something that’s important for me to say is that from what we’ve heard directly from Boris Yamnitsky, President and CEO of Boris FX, is that BCC and Sapphire will remain as two completely separate products (see Scott Simmons’ interview with Boris for the full details), so let’s take a look at Sapphire 10, the newest effects package from GenArts, and the first under the Boris FX banner.  Before we jump into the price of GenArts Sapphire 10, I want to point out that version 10 is supported in Media Composer 6-8, but there is limited functionality in the S_Effect and S_Transition effect in versions 6 – 7.0.3, with full compatibility kicking in, in version 7.04 and higher.


I thought that it would be important to start out talking about price, as it’s always one of the biggest sticking points when I review Sapphire, as I always find the price to be a little expensive, and at first glance, it’s still looking pretty expensive, but much like the Transformers, there’s more than meets the eye here.  Genarts offers Sapphire on a tiered purchasing option, and right now, we’re only going to look at new licenses, and not upgrade licenses as they are, obviously, way less expensive than a new license.  The way that Genarts has the licenses tiered is as follows.  Group One, is the least expensive option.  $1699, and that includes a license for all the following hosts – Resolve, Nuke, Premiere, After Effects, Vegas, Flare, Smoke and other OFX hosts.  I’ll say it right out of the gate, that that is a spectacular price to pay.  One price, gets you all those host applications, and it works out especially great for Premiere and After Effects users.  Not so much for Media Composer users, as Media Composer falls into Group 2.  Actually, it’s the only application in Group 2, and the price for Group 2 is $2800 (US).  Now, for me, that’s a huge chunk of change, and something that I have been beating a drum about is that most Media Composer editors are not After Effects users, and having the AVX version of Sapphire bundled into the other hosts for a bigger price will turn off a lot of MC editors, and I do have some great news about the pricing for Sapphire for Media Composer.  After addressing my concerns with the team at Boris FX about the Sapphire pricing specifically, I was told that much like with Boris Continuum Complete, which currently runs at a price tag of $1695, Media Composer editors will have the opportunity to now pick up Sapphire for the same price.  This is big, as it’s a huge price reduction to what Sapphire has been ($1200 less), and now it’s not necessary for Media Composer editors to get effects for hosts they don’t use.  They can just go with what they will use.  One thing that I am hoping will come to Sapphire in the next little while is the subscription model for AVX users, that includes everything.  Currently BCC users have the luxury of subscribing to BCC for $595 per year, and that gets them the AVX, Adobe and OFX hosts for ⅓ the cost of the full bundle.  Basically a three year subscription covers the cost of one permanent license, and this gets you not only all the updates for the next three years, but all the host applications as well.  I’ll keep my fingers crossed for this, but I will say that it’s a HUGE victory for Media Composer editors, to have such a significant Sapphire price drop moving forward ($1100 US price difference).


As always, the first thing that everyone wants to know is “What’s new in the latest version?”, and Sapphire is back in this version with three new effects, as well as new presets and improvements to the Builder and the Preset Browser.  Let’s start out by talking about the new effects that are in version 10.


Romantile is an interesting effect.  Interesting from the standpoint of the effect is named one thing, because what it really does is already an effect name in Sapphire.  Romantile is a mosaic effect.  The only problem is that there is already an effect called “S_Mosaic”, and it is more along the lines of a BCC Witness Protection kind of effect.  Basically an effect to blur out someone or something by turning everything blocky.  So, I guess if the real Mosaic effect needed a name, why not name it Romantile. (pronounced ROMAN-TILE not RO-MAN-TILE).  Once applied, the effect is broken down into three main categories.  The general look of the tile(s) (size, roughness, height, cracks, etc), the look of the grout, and the light on the tiles.  Fairly simple and straightforward.  



I always have a good chuckle when I see this type of effect, and not for a bad reason.  This type of effect was always the “Holy Grail” of effects WAY back in the days when you could use Photoshop effects in After Effects.  Don’t remember those days?  Probably because it was about 20 years ago, but it was always a super cool effect that took forever to render, but always looked pretty cool.  Well, fast forward twenty years, and we have S_Brush included in Sapphire that’s broken down into two main main “styles”.  Oil and Chalk. Once the effect is applied, you’ll see immediate results that, chances are, you’ll want to change.  What’s great about this effect is the development team has taken a lot of time to get in and choose brush shapes that would be appropriate to real world situations like Felt Tip, Water Color, Pencil, Sponge and many others.  Most of the parameters are the same across both brush styles, but there are a few differences like Roughness, Intensity and Deterioration in the Oil style and Contrast, Chalkiness, Contrast and Blending in the Chalk sytle. Overall, another good, solid effect that recreates a real world scenario very well.



Well, I’ve purposely saved the best for last.  The Luna effect is one of the most photorealistic effects I’ve ever seen in a plug-in package.  Luna is an effect to create the Moon.  Plain and simple.  It actually makes perfect sense that this effect is in Sapphire 10 as Aurora (an effect to build the Northern Lights) and NightSky (and effect to build, you guessed it, the night sky) were included in version 9 of Sapphire.  Now, much like with the Brush Effect, Luna has two different modes you can work in, depending on how specific and accurate you want to get with your moons.  The standard “Luna” mode gives you the ability to set the basic parameters for your moon like Size, Lunar Phase (Half Moon, Crescent Moon, etc), Rotation, Bumpiness, etc.  You also have the ability to add parameters like the color of the Earth’s glow, the Sky Color, Glow, Halo, and even Atmosphere, so you might be thinking, well, what’s the other mode you can work in, and this mode really speaks to the quality and authenticity of the effects in Sapphire.  The other mode is simply called LunaDate.  Do you need to see your Moon on a specific date at a specific time?  Simply punch in the date and time, and Luna will give you a completely accurate representation of the Moon for your to put in your productions.  This is a very cool effect, and will hopefully lead to the next step in the effect for version 11, which I would honestly call “S_Planet”, giving editors, motion graphic designers and compositors the ability to add realistic looking planets to their edits and composites.


Now, these are the three main new features in Sapphire version 10, but that doesn’t’ mean that it’s the only thing that’s new or updated.  There are other new features such as having the ability to perform offline license activations on the command line as well as:

  • S_InfiniteZoom now handles large values of Twist and Zoom better
  • S_PanAndZoom will now reload images when they are changed on disk
  • Improvements to Preset Browser:
    • “Builder Effects” button shows all multi-effect presets
    • “New” button shows all presets added in the current version of Sapphire
    • Some older presets have been deprecated and hidden. Visit the Settings dialog in the Preset Browser to show deprecated presets.
    • Previews no longer animate by default, press play to begin animation (animation will continue if another preset is selected)

Now, I’ve purposely left what’s new to the Builder tool to the end, as I want to talk about builder and why it’s the single biggest reason why Media Composer editors should be adding Sapphire to their toolkits.

I was reading a post on the Avid Editors of Facebook page, and the Cliffsnotes version of the post was basically how editors would give their left arm for Avid to update certain older tools in Media Composer and have standard effects not trickle down to below layers, when ALT or OPT dragging multiple effects on top of each other, etc, etc.  Well, I’m sorry to say that it will never happen.  You are (you know what) out of luck.  If you haven’t noticed, there are a ton of things that don’t work right in Media Composer.  Why has the Title Tool, probably the most used “effect” in Media Composer never been given an update?  We got Marquee, but to be honest, there are a ton of things that dont’ work properly in there either, and they will also never be fixed.  This is where Avid, much like Adobe, relies on their third party partner companies like GenArts and Boris FX to fill the gaps that, to be honest, they don’t have the time or resources to fix or improve.  Now, don’t start complaining, because Adobe is doing the exact same thing.  Remember the built in 3D text feature that was added?  It sucked, and was never updated.  It’s now going to get an overhaul when they add Cinema 4D functionality to it, in an upcoming release.  I even saw people complaining about Avid DS, and it being EOL, and Avid not figuring out a way to incorporate it into Media Composer.  To be honest, they don’t have to, as GenArts has (almost) done it for them in Sapphire.  

BUILDER  (Updates)

If you’re not familiar with the Builder tool, you should be.  The core of the S_Effect effect, builder is a node-based compositing workflow, much like Avid DS, right in your Media Composer timeline.  It works very simply.  Apply S_Effect to any clip in your timeline, including titles, head into effects mode, and simply hit “Edit Effect”.  Now, if you’re familiar with the Builder Tool (which is how I will refer to both S_Effect and Builder from here on out), you’ll notice something different right away, when heading into effects mode, and that is the addition of two new parameters, Background and Matte as drop down menus under the “Input Tracks” dropdown  in the Effect Editor, but you will now also notice them as nodes in the Builder tool itself.  What purpose do they serve?  Well, those two inputs will let you get both a background and matte element into your Builder composite from your timeline.  The background parameter is cool to have, but the Mask parameter is essential, and here’s how Sapphire and BCC can start working together inside of Media Composer.  Let’s say that you have a shot that you would like to build a look around, and you would like to do some roto work.  I’ll be honest with you.  I would never wish Rotoscoping work on my worst enemy in Media Composer.  That is, until Mocha was integrated into the BCC Pixel Chooser.  Now, you can quickly track and roto a layer with BCC’s Pixel Chooser, and then have Builder use it as a Matte Layer in Builder.  Very slick, and a great workaround until Mocha is integrated into Sapphire (fingers crossed).

Let’s now head into Builder, and check out a few other enhancements that have been made.  I’ll be honest, when I started working with Builder, my nodes could be quite a mess, so thankfully one of the enhancements to Builder is that you can snap nodes to grids, which is very handy.  Keep in mind that, by default, the grid is not turned on, and once turned on, you can adjust the opacity by using the slider!  A couple of other new features inside the Builder are that when you duplicate a node, a much “nicer” name is used for the new node (GenArts words, not mine), and the option to preview selected nodes is now remembered across all Builder Sessions.

I also want to point out that there are more presets to work with (96 to be precise), and speaking of presets, I wanted to bring a workflow to editors attentions that they might not be aware of, working with Builder.  We are all familiar with how to add presets to clips. Once an effect is applied, simply hit the “Load Preset” button to see all the presets for that particular effect.  Well, it works a little differently with Builder.  Once you click “Load Preset”, you’ll have access to all the presets across all the effects in Sapphire 10.  You can narrow things down using the buttons below the canvas, and above the presets themselves.  Things are broken down into five categories. “Groups”, letting you choose the type of preset you want, by the type of look you’re trying to create (Abstract, Artistic, Glowing, Texture, etc).  “Effects”, which lists all effects in alphabetical order, and you can double click on each category to choose the preset you want.  “Builder Effects” – This button is new in version 10, and gives you the opportunity to, well, the Builder Effects.  And, what are those you ask?  Well this is a great way to get in and really learn how the S_Effect and Builder tool work.  When applied, Builder Effects are multi-effect looks that will immediately be added to your shots.  What’s every cool is that once you say “Load”, and have the preset on your footage, you can simply click “Edit Effect” to then get a look at the exact breakdown of how your “look” was created.  Very cool, and a great way to get in and see how complex looks are built.


Last but not least, we have the “New” button, which will show you all the new presets, and the “Favorites” button, that will show you all the presets and Builder Effects you’ve tagged as favorites.


I’m not going to beat around the bush on this one.  If you want to do high end visual effects right from within your Media Composer timeline, S_Effect (and S_Transition) and the Builder tool make the price of Sapphire 1000% worth it.  I’ve really gotten into it in the last year, and the workflow is so simple and intuitive, it’s hard to believe that we used to have to go to an Avid DS for this type of workflow.  The funniest part about DS was that editors would always complain that they would want more of a Media Composer-like timeline in DS and, well, they now have it with Builder.

What about people who are looking to upgrade?  Well, if you’re running on a pre-version 8 of Sapphire, an upgrade is a must.  Version 8 introduced the S_Effect and S_Transition effects which are now at the core of just about every job you will do in Sapphire.  To be honest, I pretty much never apply effects anymore.  I just apply S_Effect and work from there.  This, plus the addition of some great photo realistic looking effects (NightSky, Aurora, Light Leaks, Luna) make Sapphire a must own.


If I had to pick something that I didn’t like about my experience with Sapphire it’s the GenArts website.  I find it to be hard to find things, getting information like release notes, or known issues is practically impossible, I won’t ask you to even attempt to find any training on their site, as the support section hasn’t been updated for a year, and there’s no information on the site about what upgrade licenses cost.  What we’re told is “to contact their sales department” at the listed e-mail address, and normally when you read something like that it means that if you have to ask you can’t afford it, and I seriously don’t think that’s the case (it’s not).

To be honest, this might all be a mute point, as with Imagineer Systems, they still have their own website and web presence, but it has been completely revamped to look and function exactly as the current Boris FX website does, and they have also have been integrated into the main Boris FX website as well, which is slick, easy to navigate, has all the information you need about full and upgrade license costs, and has an extensive training library to get you up and running as quickly as possible.

My only other issue with Sapphire is that there is no subscription model for Media Composer editors.  Now, something that’s important to keep in mind is that technically there’s no subscription model for BCC’s standalone AVX version either.  It’s bundled with the Adobe, Apple and OFX versions for $595 US (After Effects and Resolve are the important ones for Media Composer editors).  Genarts offers subscriptions for Sapphire that includes Adobe and OFX (there is no FCPX/Motion version of Sapphire), so they need to get onto adding Media Composer in there, which would put this great product in the hands of more editors even faster.  Again, this could be a non-issue shortly with Boris FX taking over, and possibly implementing a similar price and package layout for all their products across the board.

In the end, Media Composer editors are at an exciting crossroads when it comes to visual effects in our timelines.  One company can now provide us with all the tools we need to get, well, all the jobs done that we need to get done.  The only thing that’s missing right now is the “one license to rule them all” (BCC, Mocha & Sapphire), but I seriously (hopefully) don’t think we’re that far away from that.  Sapphire’s Builder tool (for effects, transition AND lens flare building) make Sapphire a must own, and with some hopefully great sale days coming up (Black Friday and Boxing Day), and Sapphire’s recently reduced price, there’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t add Sapphire to your editing toolkit.  For more information, or to download a free trail, you can check it out at www.genarts.com .

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Kevin P McAuliffe is a three time North American ProMax award winning editor and a Media Composer editor for over 15 years. He is a featured trainer at MacProVideo and is also one of the…