Red Giant Software has been developing After Effects plugins for over 15 years, and today they’ve launched their newest product. The brand new Red Giant VFX Suite is comprised of nine individual After Effects plugins, including an updated Primatte Keyer and the latest version of Knoll Light Factory. The new VFX suite replaces the older Keying Suite and Effects Suite, which have both been discontinued.
All nine plugins include GPU acceleration, and all support projects with 8, 16 and 32 bit depth. Where relevant, they support motion blur.
Of the nine plugins, four are updates to older products and five are completely new. And of the new plugins, by far the most surprising and ambitious is the aptly named “Supercomp” – a self-contained compositing render engine packaged as an After Effects plugin.
Supercomp is unlike any After Effects plugin I’ve ever seen, in some ways it’s an After Effects plugin that’s a mini-After Effects. Supercomp is so wildly ambitious it deserves a full article to itself, and it will be interesting to re-visit it in 6 months or a year to see what impact it’s had on real-world users. But while Supercomp really ties the suite together, let’s start at the very beginning.
What’s in the box?
- Optical Glow
- Chromatic Displacement
- King Pin Tracker
- Spot Clone Tracker
- Knoll Light Factory
Bang for your buck – what price per pixel for plugins?
One of After Effects’ greatest strengths is the size of its user base, and the strong support from software developers. In 1995 “Final Effects” became the first suite of After Effects plugins to be developed and sold by a 3rd party, closely followed by “Knoll Lens Flare”, and since then there have been countless more. Some developers have appeared with a single plugin and then faded into obscurity, others have grown into fully-fledged software companies with an extensive range of products. Over the years, various websites have attempted to keep track of all the plugins available for After Effects but the sheer volume has made it difficult to keep up.
When I first began working professionally in 1997, I was primarily a non-linear editor. After Effects had been bundled with our Media 100 suite as a tool for making titles, but I’d never heard of it and it took me a while to figure out exactly what it could do. Not long after I started, I was sent the brochure for “Final Effects” – which featured glossy thumbnail images to demonstrate what each plugin did. From my perspective as an editor, Final Effects made sense. The plugins did things that After Effects couldn’t do, and those thumbnails looked awesome. I didn’t stop to think why I might need a plugin called Mr Mercury, or what I might use something like Flo Motion for. The pictures just looked cool, so I asked the company accountant if we could buy them. He said no.
It took me a while to figure out the way businesses work, but gradually I deduced that if you’re working for a company you can’t just buy stuff because someone sends you a brochure with pretty pictures. Acquisitions needed to be justified and budgeted for, you’re supposed to get three quotes, purchase orders needed to be written up and attached to specific projects. So I would have to wait before I could get my hands on plugins like Drizzle, Bubbles or the exotic sounding Pixel Polly.
Because of the red tape and corporate hoops I needed to jump through to purchase After Effects plugins, as more and more plugins became available I was constantly trying to evaluate their usefulness and value for money. Some of them seemed to duplicate effects that After Effects already had, which I found confusing. After Effects came with plugins like “Find Edges”, “Corner Pin” and a range of blurs, so why would I buy a plugin that seemed to do the same thing? If I was going to go to the effort of convincing our accountant that I needed a new plugin, I wanted something new! I wanted to make light rays shine from text, or logos to shatter into pieces, or images to transition with a jaws effect. Those plugins would obviously be value for money, because After Effects couldn’t do it without them.
A few years later in 1999, I was fortunate enough to win a copy of “Composite Wizard”, a new set of plugins designed to help with keying and compositing in After Effects. While I was thrilled to win something, I was even more excited by the user manual. The Composite Wizard manual was printed in the same booklet as a separate keying plugin called “Primatte”, and there was all sorts of technical information about visual fx that I eagerly devoured. Composite Wizard taught me about lightwraps, multi-layered blurs, matte feathering and other basic digital compositing techniques. For the next few years, the techniques outlined in the Composite Wizard manual formed the basis for all the keying and effects work that I did in After Effects.
Composite Wizard included a few of its own blur plugins – the aptly named “Super Blur”, a “Super Compound Blur”, and a rack focus effect. These opened my eyes to the value of 3rd party plugins even if they did the same thing as existing After Effects plugins. Sure, After Effects came with its own Gaussian Blur plugin, but it was SLOW! Amaaaaazingly slow. The Composite Wizard Super Blur was so much faster that I was able to use it in ways that weren’t feasible with the After Effects Gaussian Blur. Keep in mind that this was around 1999/2000, and if you knew how to blur text at the same time as fading it up/down then you were pretty cool.
Still, for many years every time I saw a plugin package that included effects that seemed to duplicate what After Effects could already do, my first reaction was “why”? There is an answer, of course. Mostly, large plugin suites such as Sapphire and the now-obsolete Tinderbox range began life on other platforms, and were ported to After Effects as a secondary market. Features that Adobe includes with After Effects are not necessarily included with other compositing applications, leading to double-ups when everything is bundled together.
But sometimes the native After Effects tools lack specific features that can make a more powerful 3rd party version worth the money. When I was young, freshly graduated and inexperienced, the flashy brochure for “Final Effects” seemed impressive because the plugins sounded unique. But over time, other suites such as Composite Wizard and Tinderbox taught me to value workflow, speed and flexibility just as much as crazy colours. I could see that money spent on a faster blur plugin, or a better chroma-keyer could pay for itself many times over, even if the product description or thumbnail images on the brochure weren’t as eye-catching. Yes, After Effects came with a simple chromakey plugin, but Primatte was just better.
Back to the future
All of this reminiscing brings us back to where we are now. As of today, the Composite Wizard suite of plugins has been discontinued. The Primatte keyer has been updated to version 6, Knoll Light Factory has been updated to version 3.1, and they’ve both been bundled together with seven other plugins as the new Red Giant VFX Suite.
When Knoll Lens Flare was first released around 1995 it had no competition, but 24 years later there’s an entire software industry devoted to supporting After Effects. After Effects itself has advanced dramatically over the same time period, including features and plugins that used to be sold separately but are now either licensed or owned outright by Adobe.
These ongoing developments make evaluating the new Red Giant VFX suite more complex, as nearly every one of the plugins that makes up the VFX Suite has some form of existing alternative. The glaring exception is Supercomp, perhaps the most ambitious and unprecedented plugin for After Effects I’ve ever seen. But without Supercomp, it’s a matter of looking at each plugin, considering the alternatives, and deciding if the Red Giant version is the best choice for you.
If you already own Primatte or Knoll Light Factory, then upgrading to the VFX Suite is a no-brainer – even if it’s just for the added performance that comes with GPU support. But if you’re happy with Keylight, or if you’ve invested in a different plugin for Lens Flares, then the question of value is more nuanced.
Supercomp is easily the most eyebrow raising, unexpected and exciting new toy to play with, but let’s start with some of the other tools and work our way up.
Shadow & Reflection
The shadow and reflection plugins were previously part of Red Giant’s “Effect Warp” package, but they’ve been completely re-written from the ground up. Like all the plugins in the new VFX Suite, they’re GPU accelerated and support 8, 16 and 32 bit projects as well as motion blur.
The controls and functionality appear the same as the older versions. While I may be mistaken, it appears to me that the two plugins are almost identical, but while the reflection plugin uses the source layer to render the result, the shadow plugin fills it with colour. It did occur to me that these two plugins could have been combined into one, with a setting for either shadow or reflection, but that might have made the interface messier.
In the olden days, it was possible to fudge a simple fake shadow/reflection using the standard After Effects mirror, transform and linear wipe plugins. Then in 2009 Video CoPilot generously released their free VC Reflect plugin, which made fake shadows and reflections so much easier – and prettier.
While it’s hard to compete with free, the new Red Giant plugins have an easy to use interface that makes them much faster and more intuitive. They work with images that aren’t flat-on to the camera, which you can’t do easily with VC Reflect. In addition to visible guidelines and a friendly UI, there’s also the option to bend the shadows and reflections, allowing simple integration with walls and flat objects. Again, this is not something that can be done with the free VC Reflect plugin.
They’re probably the least-sexy plugins in the VFX Suite, but there will be plenty of situations where you need them, and even though they seem simple enough you’ll find it difficult to replicate their results without them. While the rendered shadows and reflections are always going to be limited by the flat 2D nature of the source layers, the plugins work as well as you could expect them to, and are so fast and easy to adjust that you’ll find yourself using them without a second thought.
The standard After Effects “Glow” plugin may be one of the most often used effects, but that doesn’t mean it’s great. For years there have been articles and tutorials on how to get the most out of the standard glow effect, or use alternative methods to roll-your-own glow by stacking up loads of blurs with CC Composite. Several software developers have recognized the demand for a better looking glow effect, and the competing Sapphire suite not only includes its own Glow plugin, but another 8 plugins all prefixed with “Glow”. So how does the new Red Giant Optical Glow stack up?
Again, it’s super fast thanks to GPU acceleration, but what’s important is the appearance. Red Giant are promoting Optical Glow as a “photo-realistic” effect, mainly due to the inverse-square falloff. Optical Glow produces a much more natural gradation between thresholds, and more control over HDR sources. Most importantly, it allows you to adjust the glow falloff to suit your compositions and avoid the flat blurry appearance that the After Effects glow produces.
No doubt it’s been tested on all sorts of visual FX elements such as light sabers and other sci-fi weapons, and the vibrance control alone makes it pop – providing the “magic” that clients famously ask for. But for motion graphics, where realism isn’t the primary consideration, then it’s more of a mixed bag. For any designers who are familiar with other 3rd party glow plugins, the most obvious feature that’s missing is some sort of chromatic aberration or individual channel adjustments. I’ve worked with designers who use other glow plugins not just for the glow, but for the ability to tweak channels individually and introduce colour fringing. The Red Giant Chromatic Displacement effect (below) includes a “Spread Chroma” control that is key to making simple displacements look “wow”, and honestly I’m a little disappointed that the Optical Glow effect lacks the same feature.
Yes, the Red Giant Optical Glow effect is more realistic, more powerful, and more flexible than the standard After Effects glow effect. Yes, it will look more beautiful than the standard After Effects Glow plugin, and if you’re consistently working with linear and HDR images then you’ll appreciate the 32 bit support and built-in HDR controls.
As part of the overall VFX Suite it’s a welcome and valuable tool. But is it the “most beautiful, highest-quality glow you’ve ever had on your timeline”? With so many competing glow plugins from other vendors, I’d have to say that the jury is still out on that claim. Your opinion might have more to do with whether you value photo-realism over controls you can fiddle with to make stuff look cool.
Displacement Maps are a fundamental visual FX tool, and in one form or another there are various plugins that use pixels from one layer to distort another layer. The After Effects displacement map effect is a very basic plugin, which moves pixels horizontally and vertically based on the value of pixels in another layer.
While this can be fine for simple compositions, such as integrating text and logos onto textured backgrounds, there are more powerful alternatives that can produce much more attractive results.
The CC Glass plugin can also function as a displacement map effect, but with the added features of bump mapping and reacting to After Effects lights. The often-overlooked Caustics plugin, unfortunately a neglected 8-bit relic from the old “Evolution” suite, can also be used as a creative alternative to the basic displacement map effect. Personally, I’ve continued to use the old Caustics plugin because – despite its 8 bit limitations – it simply looks good.
The new Red Giant Chromatic Displacement effect is similar in this regard. Red Giant have recognized the need for a displacement tool that is more powerful and better looking than a simple 2D displacement map. Chromatic Displacement is simpler to use than the Caustics effect, while being more beautiful than the equally-vintage CC Glass effect. Chromatic aberration (labelled “Spread Chroma”) is a simple slider, softness is fast and easy to adjust. Again – the flexibility to work with 8, 16 and 32 bits with motion blur gives you the freedom to play with controls and concentrate on what looks good without feeling restricted by technical quirks.
This is a plugin that can be quickly and intuitively used to produce beautiful results for visual fx including heat haze, pulses, portals, force fields and so on. Again, it’s a case where After Effects can produce roughly comparable results with native plugins (and a lot of effort), but this new Red Giant effect is simply faster, easier, and better looking.
Primatte is the most advanced chroma key plugin available for After Effects, and in some form or another it’s been available for roughly twenty years.
Primatte is slightly unusual when compared to other After Effects plugins, because “Primatte” refers to an underlying algorithm that was originally developed in the early 1990s. Many different software developers have licensed the algorithm, each creating distinct Primatte plugins for various editing and compositing apps, including After Effects. However this presents us with the unique situation where two different After Effects developers have licensed the core Primatte technology and produced their own version. There are two competing Primatte plugins available to After Effects users – one by Red Giant, and one by Boris FX.
Primatte describes itself as a “3D” keyer, and the algorithm works by treating the RGB colour values of a pixel as though they are XYZ coordinates in space. By treating colour as a position, different colours can be compared by calculating how far apart they are and from what direction. This approach is how Primatte decides if a colour is part of the background or foreground, and how transparent it should be.
Unlike Keylight, which is included with After Effects, Primatte allows you to sample multiple background colours from your footage, and uses them to build a 3D shape that represents the background colour, even if the lighting is uneven. Edge detail, colour and spill correction are calculated by comparing each pixel in the image to the 3D shape that represents the screen colour. For more information on Primatte, and how it works compared to other chromakey plugins, check out my 5-part series on advanced keying in After Effects.
Primatte is a well-established visual fx tool, and there are countless articles and tutorials that offer tips and advice on how to use it. As part of the new VFX Suite, the most obvious questions are: what’s new, and what’s different to the Boris FX version?
Again, the official line is that the plugin has been re-written to incorporate GPU acceleration and the interface has been given an overhaul to bring it in line with other Red Giant products. Additionally, the Red Giant plugin includes two unique features – the ability to adjust spill suppression, or even turn it off completely, and the ability to output a core matte.
While After Effects comes with several different keying plugins, including the very-capable Keylight, Primatte works in a completely different way. Different keying plugins give different results, and if you do a lot of chromakey work then it’s useful to have several different keying plugins at hand. The biggest advantage Primatte has over Keylight is the ability to key any colour, as Keylight is primarily designed for either green or blue.
A quick Google search reveals that when Primatte was first released for After Effects in 1999, it cost $695. As a standalone product, Red Giant have been selling Primatte v5 for $499, so the v6 plugin clearly represents a significant chunk of the value of the VFX Suite.
While Primatte isn’t magic, and I’ve devoted an entire article to the notion that it’s unrealistic to expect a perfect chromakey with a single mouse click, Red Giant’s Primatte v6 is not only the most sophisticated chromakey plugin on the market, but possibly the fastest.
Knoll Light Factory
In 1995 Knoll Lens Flare was one of the earliest 3rd party plugins available for After Effects, based on John Knoll’s work at Industrial Light & Magic. It’s often pointed out that subsequent competing products copied the terminology that John Knoll devised to describe lens flare components.
The original plugin evolved to become a suite of plugins collectively called Knoll Light Factory, and they quickly became indispensible tools for motion graphics artists and designers. Hollywood directors such as JJ Abrams even bought lens flares into the public consciousness, with judicial flarage used in blockbusters such as Star Trek and Transformers.
Personally, I loved the Knoll Light Factory plugins, and they were the secret to a small corporate video I made in 2006. Without Knoll Lens Flares, it would have looked dreadful. With them, it turned out quite well for something made by one person in their bedroom. I even made a tutorial for Red Giant TV to promote Knoll Light Factory in 2009, and you can still watch it today – along with an interview with the plugin’s creator, John Knoll.
But after enjoying almost fifteen years of market dominance, Video CoPilot surprised the After Effects community with Optical Flares in 2010. Its custom interface felt sleek and modern, the presets looked great, and it launched for about ¼ of the cost of Knoll Light Factory. It included advanced features that Knoll Light Factory lacked, such as AE Camera and 3D light integration, edge triggering and textures to simulate dirt on the lens. But most of all, Optical Flares felt like it was made for designers. Almost overnight, Optical Flares made Knoll Light Factory feel old and outdated. Having thought about it now, carefully, I’ve realized that I haven’t used Knoll Light Factory since Optical Flares was launched almost ten years ago. Over the same period, the Lens Flares in the Sapphire package have also built up a steady following among After Effects users.
But Knoll Light Factory never went away, and the latest release shows how healthy a bit of competition can be. Not long after Optical Flares launched in 2010, KLF was updated to version 3, introducing an attractive new lens editor, lens textures, edge reactions, and automatic behaviors for pulsing, flickering and strobing lights as well as integration with After Effects 3D cameras and lights. I haven’t sat down and done a side-by-side comparison (other people have, if you Google it) but I believe there are features that Optical Flares has that KLF doesn’t, and features that KLF has that Optical Flares doesn’t.
The VFX Suite brings KLF up to version 3.1, introducing GPU acceleration and a lot of new presets. Red Giant commissioned an industry professional to create over 100 new presets based on real-life lens flares from iconic films. For designers who are getting sick of the presets in Optical Flares, or just want a point of difference, Knoll Light Factory offers a new set of looks. The total number of lens flare presets is now over 200.
Lens Flares are such a fundamental component of visual FX that other websites have devoted multi-part articles to comparing features and results from the competing plugins available to After Effects. As part of the Red Giant VFX suite, Knoll Light Factory version 3.1 can be summarized by one word: PRESETS!
Knoll Light Factory originated with VFX giant Industrial Light and Magic, and this prestigious heritage is something that other plugins will never have.
KingPin Tracker & Spot Clone tracker
After Effects has never had a great reputation for tracking. To their credit, Adobe have taken various steps to rectify that, but these two plugins suggest there is always room for another tracking tool.
The original 2D tracker that came with After Effects version 3 was almost as inaccurate as it was slow, to the point of being borderline useless. Adobe completely overhauled the tracker with version 6, making it much faster and more accurate – it’s the point tracker we have today. But it still isn’t amazing, and dedicated tracking apps such as Syntheyes offer faster solutions, as well as being a lot more accurate. Adobe responded to user complaints by bundling a custom version of Mocha with After Effects, beginning with CS4 in 2008. Mocha is an established planar tracker that is developed and sold by Boris FX, and the cut-down version bundled with After Effects is generally referred to as Mocha AE.
The original integration between Mocha and After Effects CS4 wasn’t great, but over the years it’s steadily improved. The most recent release of After Effects CC 2019 makes it easier to access and use Mocha than ever before, although it’s taken over ten years to get to this point. A number of 3rd party scripts are available to help with workflows, but from personal experience Mocha seems to be a powerful feature that’s routinely ignored by designers and motion graphics artists. But that doesn’t mean it’s bad, and as someone who works primarily in visual FX I’ve always thought Mocha was a great companion to After Effects, and I’ve always been thankful that it’s there.
On one hand, with Mocha having been bundled with After Effects for over ten years, it’s somewhat surprising that Red Giant have written their own tracking plugins. On the other hand, if motion designers and other non-vfx users have ignored Mocha for this long, perhaps a plugin is what they’ve been waiting for.
So here we are, with two brand new plugins that include built-in tracking capabilities.
The Red Giant King Pin Tracker is an evolution of the older Red Giant corner pin plugin, with two new tricks up its sleeve.
The first is the ability to set “from” pins, so the source layer doesn’t have to be perfectly sized, cropped and positioned. And the second is to build the tracker into the plugin itself. The result is a single plugin that can crop and corner pin content from one layer while also being able to track another.
The Spot Clone Tracker takes a similar philosophy, but applies it to cloning specific points instead of corner pinned rectangles. This is especially useful for cleaning up tracking markers or small blemishes.
By integrating the tracking into the plugin itself, the overall workflow is simplified, and offers fast and intuitive feedback to the user. If the tracking works, it works faster and more easily than setting up a separate tracking pipeline, or linking layers with expressions and so on. On the other hand, if it doesn’t work then you can always try Mocha, or your own preferred tracking approach.
I was able to pull out a few clips from recent projects that involved tracking, and I was surprised at how well the Spot Clone tracker worked. Once I got used to the idea that a plugin could track, cleaning up small areas worked well. The cloning options were much easier to use than the After Effects clone tool. Despite my initial surprise, this is a great, fast and welcome tool to have in the cleanup arsenal. One of the jokes-that-isn’t-really-a-joke is that cleaning up tracking markers from shots takes longer than the time saved by having tracking markers there in the first place. Anyone who’s routinely had to paint or otherwise roto tracking markers out of footage will appreciate how handy this new tool will be.
The King Pin Tracker follows the same approach, but based on a corner pin tool. Again, by incorporating the tracker into the plugin itself, the overall workflow is much simpler. For basic screen replacements this becomes a very fast tool, and easy to understand. The ability to apply the effect to an image that is a different size to the composition, and define the source area from inside a larger image is incredibly useful. Even if the built-in tracker doesn’t work, you can still use Mocha AE to do the tracking, and the King Pin plugin to do the corner pinning.
Both tracking plugins produce tracking keyframes, so you can use the plugins as tracking tools only. Likewise, both can also work with position data from other sources, so you’re not locked into tracking with the plugin. If the track doesn’t work for you, then you can always use Mocha, or try your luck with the AE point tracker. Like all of the tools in the VFX Suite, you get GPU acceleration, motion blur and 32 bit support, all of which make King Pin a powerful corner pinning tool with or without the built-in tracker.
Tracking is a fickle beast, so new tools are always welcome no matter how unexpected they are. While these plugins have obvious functions, what they also provide is a clearer workflow, leading to projects that are more easily understood and less reliant on pre-comps and expressions. For some studios, the ability to use these plugins to create simpler and more easily-understood projects will be just as important as the result.
It’s difficult to know where to start with Supercomp, but one thing for sure is that it’s unique. The other eight plugins in the VFX Suite are either updates to existing products, or share features with products from competing vendors. But not Supercomp.
I could say that I’ve never seen anything like Supercomp, but that’s not quite true. Because I have, and that would be After Effects.
Supercomp is a self-contained visual fx compositor. It’s a mini-After Effects that works as an After Effects plugin. It’s what Red Giant call a “compositing environment”. It’s the Inception of After Effects plugins. If I had my way, you’d hear the “BRRRAAAAWWWWW” sound effect when it launches.
The reason I mentioned Composite Wizard earlier, is because all of the techniques outlined in the Composite Wizard manual underline the problems with vfx compositing in After Effects. One problem is that high quality compositing is generally complicated and involved. Combining two images into a single seamless image does not mean the After Effects composition will only have two layers. Sometime multiple mattes and layers of effects are required, which leads us to another problem: pre-comps. Some of the techniques outlined in the Composite Wizard manual require lots of pre-comps to implement. This can quickly lead to After Effects projects that are messy, difficult to understand, and slow and clunky to update.
To really understand Supercomp, first you need to understand the problems it’s solving. This video demonstrates the old way and the new.
Supercomp aims to solve these problems by taking care of the technicalities. The idea is to take the attention away from the technical process, and focus on the creative. Supercomp takes visual fx compositing and turns it into a design process. It can vastly reduce – or eliminate altogether – the number of pre-comps required, while making it simple to add elements that might otherwise be overlooked or simply ignored because they’re too complex. It makes it fun, it makes it creative, and it goes a long way towards taking the swearing out of using After Effects.
In order to use Supercomp, you set up a normal After Effects composition that includes all of your layers. You apply Supercomp to a solid, which opens up the main Supercomp panel. The Supercomp panel is broadly comparable to After Effects itself – you have a window that shows all of the layers available to you, and then you stack them up in order – just like in AE. There are effect controls, if you use them, and a window that displays the output. Generally, anyone who’s familiar with Colorista or Magic Bullet will find the interface familiar, but to anyone who isn’t the basic concept is the same as After Effects (and Premiere), just simplified.
Supercomp itself contains 17 individual effects, including the same Optical Glow effect mentioned above. Red Giant have taken inspiration from 3D apps by implementing radial menus, and Supercomp itself works inside a panel that can be docked in your workspace to suit your preference. Lightwraps, haze and other compositing effects that would usually take several layers and mattes in After Effects can all be accomplished with a click. It doesn’t matter what size the source layers are or where you position them, everything automatically aligns.
Layers are still positioned, scaled and otherwise animated within the main After Effects timeline. Supercomp hasn’t replaced keyframes or expressions or any other part of the animation process. But from this point on, the overall rendering is done by Supercomp. Just to be sure, you can turn off the visibility of all the layers in the timeline – the single solid at the top is in charge of everything.
I’m sure that Red Giant will produce loads of beautiful images to promote their new VFX suite, but what’s significant here isn’t the final result, but how it’s made. There’s no shortage of beautiful work that’s been made with After Effects, it’s been around for over 30 years. But Supercomp is overturning decades of established techniques and processes to produce visual FX in a new way, without the traditional complexity that’s required to deal with After Effects’ quirky rendering pipeline.
Supercomp is a solution to a bunch of problems, but it’s so sweeping in its scope that’s it’s difficult to predict the impact it will have on real-world, established workflows. The biggest problem facing Supercomp is the dedication it requires. Regardless of the technical quirks that make After Effects what it is, there’s a huge user base that have grown up with After Effects and know how to use it. Supercomp is asking us to push years of experience and established practices aside, and embrace a new workflow. That’s a big leap of faith, especially for a version 1 product.
I have no insight into Red Giant’s future plans for Supercomp. Perhaps they’re happy with it as-is, perhaps this is just the start and there’s a whole range of features to come in the future. If you let your imagination run free then maybe, in years to come, Supercomp will provide deep compositing in After Effects, or at least read Z-depth passes and provide automatic depth sorting. Only time will tell.
The Red Giant VFX Suite is a welcome update to a number of ageing products. Primatte and Knoll Light Factory provide the obvious core value of the suite, while Shadow and Reflection are the least exciting but still very valuable and capable tools. I wouldn’t be surprised if, over the course of a year, the Shadow plugin was the most used, even though it won’t be grabbing any headlines.
The new Chromatic Displacement effect will find uses for both realistic effects (think heat haze) and all sorts of sci-fi weaponry. The King Pin Tracker and the Spot Clone Tracker both provide a simpler alternative for cleaning and tracking tasks that are already possible with After Effects, but only with more difficulty. I’m still slightly stumped as to why Red Giant wrote their own planar tracker when Mocha is bundled with AE, but then again I’ve always been equally stumped as to why Mocha is routinely overlooked by After Effects users who are so quick to complain about the basic AE point tracker. Maybe having such a capable tracker built-in to a plugin is what they’ve been wanting. If so, then kudos to Red Giant for understanding the market and meeting the demand.
Of all the plugins in the VFX Suite, I found the new Optical Glow to have the least “wow” factor. Not because there’s anything wrong with it – it does what it says on the tin – just that there’s a wide range of competing glow products already out there. Red Giant’s isn’t especially different and some of the others offer more flexibility. It sounds like Red Giant have prioritized photorealism over creative options, but I would have loved the same “Spread Chroma” control that’s in the Chromatic Displacement effect to be incorporated into Optical Glow. I haven’t tried Optical Glow extensively with 32bit HDR images, and that’s where other glow plugins can start to fall apart, so maybe that’s an area where it really shines (ha!).
But the conversation has to begin and end with Supercomp. It rightly elicits a “wow” response in so many ways, and it really takes some time to fully grasp just what Red Giant are proposing. They’ve effectively bypassed the quirky After Effects rendering engine and written their own, eliminating the need for multiple pre-comps while offering advanced effects with the click of a button. In doing so, they’ve not only offered a glimpse at how simple and creative vfx compositing can be, but also shown the cost of accepting their proposition – giving up decades of established techniques and workflow procedures to invest in a proprietary 3rdparty solution instead.
It would have been easy to build a gallery of pretty pictures made using the effects in Supercomp. But while a few thumbnails of fog or haze or pretty glows are good for the odd “wow”, in this case the real “WOW” comes from the very concept of Supercomp, and not just the images it can create.
I really have no idea how the industry will react to Supercomp. The other plugins in the Red Giant VFX suite offer a tangible value proposition. Primatte is the most sophisticated keyer around, Knoll Light Factory has a history with ILM. The shadow & reflection plugins provide essential utilities and the optical glow and chromatic displacement effects are new, modern tools for beautiful visual fx.
But Supercomp… well I really don’t know. I don’t know if the leap of faith it requires to become a daily tool is too large, or whether it will forge a whole new workflow where it becomes the de facto rendering engine. It will be interesting to re-visit Supercomp in a year and see what the consensus is.
Until then, I can only suggest you download the trial from Red Giant and make your own decision.