Exploding images with final effects

Sutherland Lyall returns to video applications with MetaTools’ Final Effects for After Effects and asks if broadcast quality can be gained through Mac power

A FEW months ago I enthused about Adobe’s After Effects, the Photoshop-like application for video. Recently we tried out MetaTools’ Final Effects for After Effects and also the similar Final Effects for Premiere.

Final Effects – to continue the graphics metaphor – is a Kai’s Power Tool for After Effects. You can actually use Power Tools with After Effects and Premiere, but Final Effects is specifically designed for moving video footage.

Like the other plug-ins mentioned above, Final Effects has essential tools, plus some you might use only once every ten years. Its basic tools include slanting, plus a facility to create slanting drop shadows – this kicks normal drop shadows out of the door, especially with moving images. When used with zoom, the tiler tool enables you to start off with, say, 36 images on a screen and zoom into and out of any one you want. Another tool allows you to create spheres, rotate them and change the surface. Image control is featured, plus several thresholds for creating alpha channels and modifying their base colour over time.

The effects our reviewers were very excited about – and used extensively in a new rock band promo – are lightburst and particle systems. Lightburst is, literally, brilliant. It gives the impression of light streaming out of objects, text or whatever.

Particle systems, on the other hand, is very sophisticated. It turns your screen into a grid of small ping-pong ball-style objects. You set up values for aspects such as size, area, velocity, production rate, longevity, turbulence, opacity, shape, rotation and various types of movement from fractal through viscous to vortex. Then the image scatters, explodes and so on, according to the pre-determined values. The special effects in the current Hollywood blockbuster Twister were created using a tool not dissimilar to particle systems. Other applications like particle systems have been available on high-end platforms for less than a year, so MetaTools is right up there on the edge.

Another tool is Pixel Polly, which shatters pictures and movie frames to look like panes of breaking glass.

Final Effects also features scatterise, (which scatters logos in a puff of dust, if your client can bear it) a variety of wipes, and kaleida, which produces great kaleidoscope effects. Designers of title sequences and broadcast-quality video graphics will simply love Final Effects. However, they probably won’t like its interface any more than that of After Effects.

Incidentally, the Premiere version of the program enables you to preview the effect before making it permanent – something rather a lot of other Premiere plug-ins unfortunately won’t allow, but ought to.

Speed, however, is a problem. Macs aren’t the natural platforms for video graphics that Silicon Graphics Indy (SGI) machines are. By comparison Macs are extremely slow, which is not what you want with video effects. Some of the new Mac 3D applications boast Quantel-level features, but they are so slow that you’ll try them out once and vow never to use them again.

However many features such a program boasts, you will find that there are some that effectively you can never use. A Scandinavian group is supposed to be assembling a multi-multi processor Mac that will run After Effects in real-time – but you’ll have to pay for that super performance in SGI prices.

Nevertheless, next year will see the beginning of the serious multi-processor board for the design fraternity.

Admittedly, this column has a bee in its bonnet about speed. But, as one of our reviewers points out, these days you have to live in an economic environment. If a Mac application takes a little longer to render an image, then this has to be put against the fact that Mac investment costs are perhaps less than those for SGI. That rarely reflects relative performance.

So, what about Final Effects and speed? The answer is that lightburst effects take time to render but the result is worth the wait. The rest are surprisingly fast. Particle systems takes its time, in fact, not much longer than it takes to apply a large Gaussian blur to an image.

And quality? The bad news for SGI applications costing around 25 000 is that for broadcast and multimedia material, Final Effects – and After Effects – are almost indistinguishable from the output of such an SGI application as Flame. The caveat here is that unless you’re Industrial Light and Magic and use SGI Reality Engines, then nothing you output is going to be entirely naturalistic. But I thought they had film and video for that, anyway.

Final Effects has essential tools, plus some you might use once every ten years.

Its basic tools include a facility to create slanting drop shadows – this kicks normal drop shadows out of the door, especially with moving images

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