Review: Shooter Suite

Publisher: Red Giant (www.redgiant.com)

Price: See text

Reviewer: Ian Sandall F Inst V

Written: 11 Sept 14

I still have a camera that takes videotapes. I know I should’ve sold it years ago when I could still get a decent price for it but something made me hang on to it and I think it’s this: A reminder of simpler times. Times when you didn’t need to worry about running out of cards during a long shoot – and then making sure that the cards were copied and backed up. You kept on recording tapes and when the elapsed indicator went red (or when you were told to if it was a really organized shoot) you ejected that tape and went on to the next!

As the price of kit decreases and resolutions increase, the data we shoot is growing almost exponentially. Twenty years ago you walked away from a shoot with a few tapes or cans of exposed stock. Now for a multi-camera shoot of any size you’re liable to have several terabytes of data. And you live in trepidation until that data is safely backed up.

So witness the rise of the DIT and a whole new profession – seemingly overnight. Any shoot worth its salt will have a DIT or two and it’s an important job – especially when shooting data-hungry formats like 4K, RAW or high-speed. For instance I’ve just bought a 128 Gb SD XC card for my Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera. According to the counter that would give me just 25 minutes of RAW or 80 minutes of ProResHQ!

Bulletproof 1.2 for Mac/PC

Bulletproof - the ultimate DIT's tool

So this is all a long-winded way of setting up the problem that just one of the pieces of software in the Red Giant Shooter suite is designed to solve.

The software is called Bulletproof and it’s part of what you could find to be the most useful set of shooting and post utilities ever put together. Or depending on the type of work you do, it may be the most useless…. It all depends on your workflow and how organized you like to be.

So let’s start with the problem. Imagine a multi-camera shoot with a lot of slates to get through in a limited time. It’s inevitable that shooters will be changing cards (In fact they ought to be as it’s good practice to not put all your rushes on one card in case of corruption.) so inevitably there will be a growing pile of cards that needs logging, labelling and copying off. Now you could take a risk and do it all after the shoot but the safer way is to use a DIT to copy off and log whilst you go. And that’s what this software is designed to do. It’s a DIT’s tool.

Set it up with all your back-up drives and put in a card. The software copies everything over (to several drives at once if required) and verifies the integrity of each file. That’s a good start.

Next you can review the footage, marking (non-destructively is the default) in and out points, adding simple colour grading and apply LUTs.

You can also add notes into the metadata and finally (should you have FCP on your laptop as well) convert all the rushes to various flavours of ProRes to help your editor. Of course for those who use Premiere Pro this step is superfluous; ever since CS5, PP has been able to natively accept anything you throw at it!

Last, you can also export everything direct into Pluraleyes, allowing you to create synced sequences quickly – useful for on-set review.

I’ve spoken to various people in the business about this software and it seems that they are split almost equally into two camps; those who think that on the right sort of shoot it would be truly useful whilst the others think it’s a waste of time and not needed at all – in effect, creating a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist. For single or two-person shoots, this is certainly the case – you just don’t have enough time (or the mindset) to apply yourself to it.

Now having tried it, I feel it’s a useful tool for the DIT on dramas, commercials and productions where it’s absolutely mission-critical to get specific pre-planned shots. It saves time, works seamlessly and most important gives you the added security of knowing rushes are safely back up. If you get involved in those sorts of shoots, this will be a useful tool.

(Finally if you’ve been reading this and don’t know what a DIT does or have never seen one at work, I’d suggest this software isn’t for you….!)

Pluraleyes 3.5: Mac/PC for FCP/PP

Pluraleyes - I couldn't live without it!

Pluraleyes has been around for some time now and I have reviewed an earlier version for Focus Magazine. Having been an early adopter of DSLR for self-shooting, I knew from the outset that anything more than ‘atmos’ would need to be recorded on a discrete sound recorder and equipped myself accordingly. However until I discovered Pluraleyes, syncing rushes was a real timewaster.

Early versions were a revelation – but still used to take some time to deliver a sync (especially when syncing more than two sources – say for a music video with multiple takes against the same audio track) and had a less-than-intuitive GUI.

Since being bought by Red Giant, it’s come on immensely and this latest version offers a lightning-fast sync as well as lots of options in terms of how it presents you with your synced material.

Since version 3, Pluraleyes had had a new interface which makes sense once you get your head round it and allows drag’n’drop file opening. There’s no need to chronologically sort out rushes beforehand either. Just dump everything into the bin and it’ll do it for you. New features in this release allow for reducing the effects of drift which can be noticeable on longer takes as well as footage converted from Smartphones where the frame rate isn’t as constant as you’d like it to be…

Personally I couldn’t imagine life without Pluraleyes – certainly I don’t miss the time I used to spend manually syncing up rushes – and for any project whether sync sound or music-based, it’s an absolute essential, allowing you to get on with the creative editing and not worry about the ‘housekeeping’! Highly recommended!

The Rest

There are several other bits of software in the Shoot suite and here’s a quick rundown:

DeNoiser II provides immediate one-step results and does what it says basically – but takes some considerable time to render, so use sparingly! It is really useful for removing noise if you’ve had to shoot at a high ISO or somewhere pretty dark. Depending on the shot – mainly the contrast affects this I found – details are well-preserved and as well as the defaults there are more options to try.

Frames 1.1 is really of more use to NTSC users as it will convert interlaced video footage to 24 fps.

Instant 4K might seem superfluous as hardly anyone is shooting or editing 4K yet but actually is more useful than that.

It can up-scale almost any file to resolutions up to 4K, so is useful to convert SD up to HD 720 or 1080 – which it does reasonably quickly and without any noticeable artefacts, actually ‘filling in’ pixels.

Of course it is possible in PP to ‘scale to frame size’ in the timeline, but this is at the expense of quality. Instant 4K does a better and cleaner job of it. This software is a re-tooled version of Red Giant’s established ‘Instant HD’ but works far quicker. Useful – but only when you need it.

Last there’s LUT Buddy which is a tool which has been out for some time to allow you to create and export LUTs for Resolve, Magic Bullet and lots more programs. Basically if you use and create LUTs you’re probably already using it or aware of it. If you don’t you’ll have little use for it. So it’s a little disingenuous to include it in Shooter Suite when it is a free program anyway!

Conclusion

So at $399 for the full suite does this represent good value? The two main programs – Bulletproof and Pluraleyes cost $199 each individually. So for a dollar you’re getting four more programs, three of which have a $99 price point. Now whether these programs are worth it to you depends on what you shoot and how you workflow it. For me, DeNoiser II is useful as is Instant 4K – but only on the odd occasions. Neither would be used day-in, day-out as I don’t do the sort of work that needs them.

With Shooter Suite, I get the impression Red Giant are trying to package a square peg into a round hole – and it’s all a bit obvious. Individually, the software is great but do shooters who need Bulletproof also need what is really an editor’s tool – Pluraleyes? And these extra items like DeNoiser II and Instant 4K – are they worth $99 …. or nothing?

From my point of view, Pluraleyes is worth its weight in gold, Bulletproof will be useful for some shoots (I have yet to try it at a conference which could be the acid test) but the rest have limited use for the work I do.

The redeeming thing about all Red Giant software is that everything is available as a free trial so you can try these things out before you commit – and that’s my recommendation.

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