NAB 2014 has been over for about seven months now, and most people might be wondering why I am writing a review of Red Giant Universe now, as opposed to when it was first announced/released around the time of NAB. To be honest with you, the review I’m writing today is very different from the one I would have written then.
There are a few big players out there in the Effects business. For me, the big three are Boris FX, Genarts, and Red Giant. Don’t get me wrong, there are others out there, but those three really are the big ones. At NAB 2014, both Boris FX and Genarts had brought their tried and true effects packages, Boris Continuum Complete and Sapphire respectively, to NAB to show off the newest version of each. Red Giant, on the other hand, was taking things in a new direction. Universe was what they had on their minds, and they wanted it on your mind as well. Their booth was packed every day I was at the show, and the only reason I didn’t sit down with them at the time, was that my voice was completely shot, and an audio interview with Aharon Rabinowitz, wouldn’t have sounded great, as I sounded like Super Dave Osborne. To be honest, I’m glad I didn’t. Red Giant Universe was a big risk for the company. Most people immediately thought of “Universe” to mean their entire product line, and that was not the case. Universe was something entirely new, and in my opinion, a big risk, especially to go down the road of a subscription based pricing structure for an unproven product. For a company like Genarts to go this route makes sense. Sapphire is a proven product that is not cheap. $1700 for a new license is asking a lot of its customer base (granted, this is the cost for a new license, and upgrade is significantly cheaper), but eight versions gives them the ability to do this. Red Giant as a proven track record on its CURRENT product line. The “Suites” (Color, Keying, Trapcode, Effects and Shooter) are it’s core business. How will the Red Giant userbase respond to Universe, and more importantly, how will the non-Red Giant users, the people that Red Giant is trying to convince to take a chance on this new, unproven IP, react to it? If NAB was the litmus test, Universe was going to be huge, and the NAB hype proved it.
If that’s the case, then why did I say in the intro that if I had written the review at NAB, that it wouldn’t be pretty? To be honest, I wasn’t thrilled with Universe at all at it’s release. Fifty effects, of which thirty one of them were free, made it nineteen that were going to be taking my (and your) $10 per month, and to be honest, we have been inundated in the last year with subscriptions. Adobe has it, Avid has it and now plug-in companies have it. I was surprised that Red Giant was expecting me (well, the user base) to pay $10 per month ($99 per year, or even $400 for a lifetime license) for thirty-one Free Tools (twenty two effects and Nine Transitions) and nineteen Premium Tools (twelve effects and seven transitions). I know that “more were coming”, but to be honest, I thought that was really just industry speak for “you’ll be getting more when we get around to it”. And then, something happened. What was it, you ask? Knoll Light Factory EZ. Yep, that’s right, one effect got me hooked. I’ll admit it. I’m a lens flare junkie. I use them in just about every piece I work on, and I’ve always thought that the Knoll package was one of the best ones out there. So, I started using it. A lot. It’s one of the effects included in the full version of Universe when it launched. It’s simple to use, and it renders super fast! So that’s how it started. To be honest, there was a few other “big” effects in the initial release like Holomatrix, ToonIt, and Retrograde from CrumplePop and Red Giant, but for me, they were very “nichey”, and not something I used in very many productions (if any). So I kept going with my one effect, and didn’t think much of it.
Then version 1.1 came along. This for me, is where things started to come off the rails a bit. I didn’t think Universe had a great start out of the gate, and update 1.1 was reinforcing it. This release included:
- Universe Noise: Luminance Noise
- Universe Blur: Compound Blur (Labs)
- Universe Utilities: Color Gamma Conversion
- Universe Glow: Glimmer
- Universe Stylize: Carousel
- Universe Stylize: Holomatrix EZ
- Universe CrumplePop: SplitScreen Blocks
- Universe CrumplePop: SplitScreen Custom Block
- Universe ToonIt: ToonIt Sketch
I’ll be honest with you. After that release, I went back to my Knoll Light Factory, and was content with the fact that Universe was going to be an underwhelming plug-in package. Then, something happened that I think took Universe in a whole new direction. I had a nagging thought in the back of my head as I was working with Universe. I have always been a HUGE fan of Crumplepop’s plug-ins, but they were an island for me, as they work in FCPX and I don’t use it. So, unfortunately, I’ve never really gave them much consideration. With that being said, I’ve now started to notice a few of their effects popping up in Universe, and with the 1.2 release even more were starting to appear, granted, not the ones I was looking for (ShrinkRay X and Finisher to name a couple), but maybe things are moving in the right direction. With the 1.2 update we received:
- Universe Transition: Exposure Blur
- Universe Glow: Edge Glow
- Universe Generator: Billowed Background
- Universe Stylize: Glitch
- Universe Transition: Glitch
- Universe Crumplepop Transition: Halflight
- Universe Transition: Diamond Wave
- Universe Transition: Triangle Wave
There were two other big “announcements” with 1.2. Universe’s Premiere Pro transitions were now native transitions, meaning that they worked just as any other PP transition would (previously you had to go through another dialogue box to get the transitions to apply properly), and now, there was support for Sony’s Vegas as well. Now, again, I’m not a Vegas editor, but what is important to keep in mind is that once you purchase the Universe plug-ins, you get them for all host applications, so adding Vegas into the mix has now opened up the plug-in package to a whole new group of editors, who would gladly accept it.
For me, the two highlights of the 1.2 release was the Glitch effect, which has to be one of the most realistic glitch effects I’ve seen, as well as the Halflight transition that basically simulates light leaks. I don’t normally use 3rd party transitions, as I never really feel they are very good, but I like light leaks, and one of the best light leak transitions I’ve used to date. Okay. Things have definitely turned a corner, and I have hope that things are moving in the right direction. Then update 1.3 hits, and I have to say that I’m shocked.
What’s important to keep in mind about the updates that I’m writing about is that they are coming about one every 5-6 weeks, so there’s not a lot of time to get used to what has been released, before a new version is out. This is very promising, and something I hope keeps up, as the development of Universe continues. Okay, now back to the 1.3 update. New with this release is:
- Universe CrumplePop: Photo 2
- Universe CrumplePop: Noir Moderne Light
- Universe Glow: PixelGlow EZ (voted on by the community)
- Universe Transition: 3D Venetian Transition
- Universe Utility: Fill Alpha
- Universe Stylize: Sobel Edges
- Universe CrumplePop: Fisheye Fixer
- Universe CrumplePop: ShrinkRay
- Universe CrumplePop: Finisher
- Universe CrumplePop: Overlight
- Universe CrumplePop: Grain 16
- Universe Stylize: VHS
- Universe Glow: Chromatic Aberration
So, that’s where we’re up to, as far as the effects are concerned. But how does the pricing work? You’ve heard me talking about subscriptions, but what are the details? Well, the first detail is simple. Free. Hard to argue with that. Right now there are forty-three free effects (looks and transitions) ready for you to use right now. There are also two different subscription models that will run you either ten dollars per month, or one hundred dollars for the year (saving you twenty dollars over the monthly subscription). In the beginning, I would have told you to stick with the free version to see where things were going with Universe. After the 1.2 release, I would have told you that the $10 per month would have been the right way to go. Now, with the 1.3 release, the Crumplepop filters alone would run you three to four hundred dollars, so I would just go with the “Lifetime” purchase. Make it once, and then just sit back and reap the rewards. With what they have added since its release, I think there is only more good things to come.
I want to make sure I talk, briefly, about the community aspect of Universe, as it is more important than you might think. Hidden away on the Universe page, on the Red Giant website is a little link called simply “LABS”. This will take you to a voting page that let’s you shape what is to come with future updates to Universe, Frequently, Red Giant will reach out to the community and ask them what type of plug-in(s) they want in an upcoming point release, and they will actually give you a sample shot of the effect, and let you vote on it as well. I really like this idea, as it not only gives the community a chance to participate, and decide the type of effects that will come in the life of Universe, but it also gives Red Giant an idea of exactly what type of effects that editors and motion graphic designers out there want to have at their disposal, to add that extra edge, to the project they are working on.
I will be the first to admit that I wasn’t happy with how Red Giant Universe launched. Huge hype and, for me, a package that in the hands of a lesser company, would have died a slow death. What Red Giant has done with Universe is make major improvements in each point update, not to just the effects themselves, but by adding new host applications (Vegas and Resolve), fixing major issues (Premiere Pro transitions), and even partnering with another company altogether (CrumplePop), to bring effects to After Effects, Premiere, Vegas and Resolve users, that we have never had access to before. If the last time you checked out Universe was at NAB, and weren’t impressed like I was, check it out now. You won’t be disappointed.
WHY CHECK OUT UNIVERSE?:
80+ Effects, 43 of which are free, and more coming all the time
Crumplepop Effects rebuilt for Universe
Option for subscription or purchase
Community involvement in choosing new effects
Pay one price, get access to all supported host applications.
Some Effects Suite effects have been ported over to Universe
OVERALL RATING : 4.5 out of 5
If you haven’t checked out Universe since it’s launch at NAB, now is the time to do it. Who hates free? No one, but trust me, once you look past the free effects with Universe, you’ll see some excellent ones that will become a part of every project you work on, and with the choice of either subscription of outright purchase, there’s no excuse why Universe can’t be added to your graphics and editing toolkit. For more information, or to download Universe, you can check it out at www.redgiant.com/universe .
Kevin P McAuliffe is a Senior Editor at Extreme Reach, in Toronto, Canada. You can send him an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @kpmcauliffe.
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