What’s in a name? A lot or a little … but when it comes to roses, as Shakespeare said, ‘By any other name would smell as sweet.’
Coincidentally (but slightly tenuously) the headquarters of Red Giant, publishers of the Magic Bullet Suite reviewed here are a few miles west of Portland, Oregon – a city known for warm dry summers and wet chilly winters – ideal conditions for growing roses. In fact, Portland is known as The City of Roses.
I’ll come back to the significance of that later but in the meantime let’s hunker down and look at what you get for your money with Magic Bullet Suite 12.
The centre-piece of the suite is Magic Bullet Looks itself. Introducing a whole generation to the concept of creative grading, MBL’s acceptance and evolution has been hand-in-hand with the DSLR/large sensor revolution and has in no small part contributed to the classic ‘look’ of films of the early ‘10s.
But that period has almost passed now and hardly anyone makes those moody ‘sixteenth of an inch DoF’ films any more. We’ve all grown up a bit and so has Magic Bullet. But fortunately not too much – as we’ll see.
This third generation of MBL shows that Red Giant have been doing more than just a bit of tinkering to the way it works; there’s obviously been some continued and serious work ‘under the hood’ which (to me at least) results in faster renders and a more stable workflow. Every preset is new or re-worked and there are now a lot more of them – 198 at the last count! And someone with a whimsical sense of humour has been let loose naming them too! You’ll discover just how amusing once you get into the program but first time for me caused more than a few smiles … ideal to relieve the stress of a heavy edit!
For those who have never looked into Magic Bullet, the program works in much the same way as it ever did. It’s basically a big fancy plug-in and once you apply it to a clip, the fun starts. Editing it opens a separate screen and from there a mass of presets can be accessed from the left, or individual tools from the right. These can be mixed and matched at will, giving an infinite variety of looks (not all good, of course, but that bit is up to you …) Usefully histograms and other graphs are now more accessible (great for keeping video levels legal) and compared with previous iterations, the interface is now slicker and far more intuitive.
Of course (and depending on your hardware) the more manipulation you do, the longer things will take to render afterwards – notwithstanding the fact that each generation of Magic Bullet renders faster than the one it replaced. So for a programme of any length you could easily end up with long renders, but normally I do these overnight anyway.
What is impressive is that a far greater variety of presets is presented to you as starting points for your grade, making it easier and quicker to get to the feel that you require.
In conclusion, this latest and greatest iteration of MBL is far more useful and creatively inspiring than previous versions. Red Giant have achieved what I thought was impossible – they’ve improved something that was already merely great. Now it’s fantastic!
Turning now to the rest of the Suite, there are plenty more tools to get the grade you want – and many you’ve never even thought about!
Colorista III is an update of what you may have seen before. This time round it too has been extensively re-worked and with a little application can create beautiful and subtle grades that hitherto were really in Resolve territory. It also borrows and builds upon some of the tools previously seen in MBL. The advantage here is that this grading can be applied to shots within your timeline and users of PP and AE will be pleased to know that it works with the masking tools inside those programs. Thus, effects can be applied to specific parts of shots without altering the rest. Really it offers most of the main functionality of Resolve without having to go into another program – a great time-saver.
The grading controls of Colorista III are simple but the results are powerful. Three colour wheels for Shadows, Midtones and Highlights are presented to you – this allows you to get your main grade and after a while adjustments become intuitive.
Additionally there are now features that allow you to use a keyer to highlight and change specific colours – something that works far better than any native adjustments in most mainstream NLEs. You can create and manipulate vignettes and there’s a really useful tool to play with the white balance – useful for mixed lighting conditions.
Pop (a simpler version of which we’ve seen in earlier versions of MBL) allows manipulation of skin tones and sharpness whilst a new Shadow and Highlights tool allows region-based control over the brightness of shadows and highlights which can be useful for recovering highlight detail, or adding fill light to shadows.
Finally Red Giant say that the whole program has been rebuilt to allow your GPU to render – so that should make it a lot faster. Although I have not done a back-to-back test, this seems to be the case.
Next, Magic Bullet Film includes presets for 22 negative stocks and 4 print stocks, giving you 88 possible cinematic combinations. Red Giant say Magic Bullet Film gives your digital footage the look of real film by emulating the entire photochemical process – from the original film negative, to color grading, and finally to the print stock.
They also say that the presets have been developed with the help of a real ‘industry expert’. Whatever, for some uses – but probably not your standard industrial corporate video – these work a treat and it’s worth experimenting.
Now we come to Mojo II. This plug-in makes it easy to instantly give footage the stylized colour grade of a Hollywood blockbuster film according to Red Giant. Mojo accentuates skin tones, cooling off backgrounds so that actors stand out.
Basically this is a stand-alone version of something that you could approach yourself with a bit of ‘fettling’ in MBL – but in this form it works quickly and offers up some interesting starting points. Again, not for every production though!
I’ve been using Cosmo II, the plug-in that makes skin tones look sexy on some recent productions and can say it works very well. It instantly identifies and targets skin tones for fast and easy cosmetic cleanup. Intuitive skin colour controls make it simple to keep skin looking natural and consistent. From shot-to-shot, it’s also easy to keep a consistent grade on skin tones – which is very important.
Finally the suite throws in a couple of programs we’ve seen before. De-Noiser does what it says on the can – albeit rather slowly! This really does banish a lot of noise and cleans up dirty shots no end. Although it now has the option to use the GPU for rendering, I’ve found that it’s not the fastest to render but you have to offset this against what it’ll do!
Last is LUT Bubby. We’ve seen this before but as part of a grading suite it’s a useful addition here. Basically LUT Buddy allows you to generate Look Up Tables within its host app and then export them as either 1D or 3D. Magic Bullet Looks (and Red Giant’s Bulletproof which I have reviewed here in the past) reads and understands these, so a useful tool for maintaining a set of grades/LUTs over a longer project or a project where several people will contribute to.
In conclusion, Red Giant have really put together an incredibly useful suite of colour grading tools here. They’ve massively improved and build on what was already a useful set of tools to make it probably unbeatable at the price. Individual programs are also available but the ‘bundle’ price for the suite makes sense even if you don’t use all of them all of the time. As ever, all the programs are available to try before you buy at www.redgiant.com so it’s worth downloading to see what you like.
To finish off – what about that name thing? When I reviewed Magic Bullet Looks 2.5 about 18 months ago (here) I did mention that I found the naming conventions at Red Giant confusing. MBL was then part of their ‘Color Suite’.
To me that was a confusing name and seeing as Magic Bullet has become almost a byword for creative grading, a retrograde move to boot. Now however it’s been changed (back?) to ‘Magic Bullet Suite’.
It’s only a name, and of course ‘smells as sweet’ just as The Bard put it, but now all seems well with the world again. Yes, everything in the garden smells ‘rosy’!