Over two years ago I reviewed Magic Bullet Looks II for the IoV’s Focus magazine. I’d been a Magic Bullet convert well before that – almost at the same time as Philip Bloom picked up a DSLR! So that’s been a lot of water under the bridge and quite probably millions of frames of video treated.
In the intervening years, Magic Bullet has become almost a de facto term for NLE effects/grading plug-ins and checking the Red Giant site shows a panoply of products and bundles all with the Magic Bullet moniker in them somewhere. You can’t blame them of course for making the most of a name that is well on the way to becoming a generic term for plug-ins. Red Giant seems to have recognized this however and now you get given a bit of resident software to keep track of it all.
In fact, Red Giant’s products – especially since they took over and greatly improved the incredibly useful PluralEyes – have become so ubiquitous that you often only have to have a glance at a professionally-produced video and you’re likely to spot more than a few corrections and effects produced with presets of their software. Coming in on the back of the DSLR revolution, they’ve really been able to harness the requirements of videographers to deliver pictures that appeal, especially when you’re shooting on one of the popular DSLR profiles.
Earlier this year, word started circulating that Red Giant were working on something revolutionary in the way of plug-ins and at NAB they announced … Universe. Nothing to do with Magic Bullet. At all. Conventional marketing wisdom would have launched it as Magic Bullet ‘Ultra’ or some such name but as we’ll see, there seems to be a very good reason for going for a totally new name.
First, Universe is positioned as a ‘community’ which is a slightly nebulous concept but in theory offers users and developers a common forum for development and beta testing. Next, Universe has a completely different pricing structure. Users pay $10 monthly or $99 yearly. An added attraction is a lifetime license at $399.
But one thing that sets Universe apart is that there is actually a free version. In that, the effects are limited but as a sampler to potential new users it is useful. Bear in mind also, when you download Universe, everything works for 30 days so it’s definitely worth trying out.
Red Giant say they have had many thousands of sign-ups so far with the yearly pricing option being the most popular.
‘Free’ users get five families of effects with a total of thirty one variations, with each being infinitely variable as well as offering popular pre-sets, whilst at the time of writing Premium users (that is to say, anyone who pays) get thirteen families with a whole lot more. All effects are GPU-accelerated and on testing with my machine rendered pretty fast.
Before we go any further however let’s get one thing straight. Universe is not a replacement for anything else that Red Giant do. Although some of the effects are ports from other products, like Knoll Light Factory, they’re re-written to GPU-accelerate and simpler to use and set up. Neither is Universe a grading tool. You’d still need Magic Bullet and whatever else you use to grade as well. So it’s creating itself a new niche – and really there isn’t any other product there right now. So to go back to the naming issue – now it becomes clear why it had to have a new name.
Last, before I discuss the effects themselves, a note about what it’ll work with: Universe supports Final Cut Pro X 10.0.9, Premiere Pro CS 6, After Effects CS5.5 and Motion 5.0.4 – and obviously all later versions of those. The tools are consistent between hosts, and you can apply presets between projects and apps. The Universe environment lets you use the same effect across Mac OS X and Windows and in any of the host apps. I also asked about Vegas to be told ‘We are absolutely expanding host app support. We have heard from Vegas users a lot, and are strongly considering it.’ One assumes it’ll be the same for Edius and Avid.
Turning to the effects themselves, everyone will have their own opinions of what’s useful and what’s not. In any case the Red Giant site has examples of each (http://www.redgiant.com/store/universe/gallery) and as Universe is free for 30 days with every effect working fully, there is really no reason not to download it and play.
For the purposes of this review I went through every effect and found that (for my sort of work at least) some will be very useful, some quite useful and some – well – totally useless. For instance, the digital effects, although certainly more creative and user-friendly than the crude 80s-style native ones in my NLE, are something I’d never use – even though they are clever and work well. However other users may find these invaluable. Likewise, the many different types of blurring available will offer users a whole range of hitherto unavailable looks but some may not see the need.
Some tools are more useful in AE or Motion than in editing programs, but having a consistency between the way the apps work is useful and leads to a familiarity that allows fast work. For instance some of the transitions are also available as video effects to allow you more flexibility. As we know, sometimes it’s quicker to jump into Motion or AE to create an effect whilst sometimes it’s quicker to stick with the timeline. Universe works in the same way with both – much to its advantage.
Red Giant are promising updates and new effects every few weeks so by the time this review is in print there will doubtless be new ones to consider. They say they can bring new effects to market quickly because of what’s ‘under the hood’ – the way they’ve built their effects creation app which they call Supernova. Right now premium users are also being asked to vote on their choice of new effects for the next release.
In conclusion, although I can’t say that I am totally unbiased, having used RG’s products for some time (and in many cases their products having helped to pull me out of the mire!) I’m impressed with Universe – not just for now and the effects on offer for launch, but the prospect of new and innovative effects for many years to come. That makes me think the lifetime license could be a great deal long-term.
UPDATE 3rd September: With launch of Universe 1.2 it now also supports recent versions of Sony Vegas