The EclipseCX review is now posted

My review of the EclipseCX is now posted to this website. You can read it here. I'm just now sending it to Ken Stone, on whose terrific FCP Resource site it'll also be posted (for wider circulation).

It's written in a diary format, since I found that my perception of the device changed as I used it and became more proficient on it. I think it'll help mouse-driven Color'ists better understand what the transition to the control surface was like.

I've got a few blog postings on Color workflow that have been bottled up as I was focused on (1) working on paid jobs and (2) writing the review.

- pi

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Review: Magic Bullet "Looks" - Slick, Sexy, A Few Flaws

I've been a long time owner of the Magic Bullet filters. Originally - back in 2002 - I bought it to emulate the 24p "Look" for a job. Even then, I've never been enamored with post-processing 29.97fps to 24p. I've found most filmmakers use it as a crutch. As if it were some sort of... magic bullet. I'd much rather filmmakers forget about frame rate and focus more on framing, lighting, and exposure. Those elements get you far more production value than simply emulating 24p.

But times, they are a-changing. True 24p cameras are affordable and available. With some forethought these cameras mitigate much of the need for 24p emulation (yay!).

Far more in demand is the ability to create the ever elusive "Look". Whether for a flashback, dream sequence, historical recreation, emotional impact, stock emulation, or mimicking an in-camera technique (diffusion) - coming up with some "Look" (always - one which nobody has ever seen before) is a frequent request. The Magic Bullet Looks subset of filters has always been a stand-by of mine - though, unfortunately, it stands-by a bit more than I would have preferred.

Why? It suffered from having to work within the Final Cut Pro (or After Effect) filter User Interface.
Old Magic Bullet UI
The Looks Suite consisted of long run-on lists of numerical entry boxes and sliders. It's like trying to color correct with the 3 Way Color Corrector's numerical rather than graphical interface; it's powerful, but it gets old fast...

..and that sums up how I've long felt about the older Magic Bullet Editors package. Powerful, but it gets old fast.

In mid-October Red Giant Software released Magic Bullet Looks. It's an upgrade for Magic Bullet Editors - and my first impression was, "Wow. Sexy".

New Magic Bullet Looks Interface

My second impression: This is easily the best-looking, best-feeling interface I've seen... anywhere. It's fast. It's responsive. And best of all - the 100+ Look presets all update to show you a preview using the current frame you've got loaded! What a time-saver.

Preset display updates live

The point of the presets isn't to just apply it and move on (you know who you are) - but to use it as a starting point. With the new Magic Bullet Looks, if a client asks for a contrasty diffuse look - I can open the presets tab, reveal the Diffusion presets, and by looking at the small thumbnail pick the preset that seems to get me closest to the desired look. Once applied, I can start tweaking until I dial-in a pleasing result.

In comparison, the ColorFX room in Apple's Color makes much of the same promise as Looks. It has a bunch of prebuilt presets. But the thumbnails provide zero insight into how any particular preset might react with the current image (unless my image is a low-angle shot of the Golden Gate B
Presets display in Color
ridge). Either I've got to go through and apply every preset to find my jumping-off point, or I'll just start from scratch.

I offer this up as my highest praise: In many respects, I wish Looks was the ColorFX room in Color. The nodal approach that Color uses to creating a look is very powerful but very unintuitive. To be fair, Looks doesn't have the kind of repair (RGB split), grain management, and math tools of the ColorFX room. But the Color interface doesn't try to help me along as Looks does. MB Looks has a nifty help feature that describes every filter I can apply as I hover my mouse over the filter. Unfortunately, the help text is unhelpfully located at the polar opposite end of the screen from where my mouse is hovering. The font size of the help text also assumes I've got my 20-something set of eyeballs. Us "experienced" folk need a little more help than that, please.

Another shortcoming of Looks is that as I'm working on a Look, I can't see it output to my external monitor. I'm finding color decisions I make within Looks have to be tweaked once I press the "Apply" button and my monitor updates to show me what's really happening with the image. I don't think I can blame the Red Giant folks, I believe this is a limitation of the Final Cut plug-in architecture. Color Finesse suffers from the same problem when used as an FCP plug-in.

Lastly, it's clear that much thought went into assisting us in designing a look. Looks uses a Subject / Matte Box / Lens / Camera / Post metaphor, guiding a filmmaker in deciding what effects to apply in what order.

Filters are applied in a order that mimicks real-world workflow

For a more general audience I think this is fine. But I would like to be able to toggle into a PowerUser mode that doesn't restrict me from placing filters that exclusively belong to the Camera elsewhere in the chain. At times, I felt more restricted that I should have been. I understand the metaphor / paradigm that Looks is using and that much of its target audience is actually freed by following this logical workflow. Still, I'd like the opportunity to be freed from the shackles of reality when creating unreal or hyper-real looks.

Overall, Looks is a fantastic product. There are a dozen nice little interface elements I haven't mentioned that really speed up user interaction. It's an amazing upgrade for anyone who owns the previous version of Magic Bullet Looks. And if you find yourself constantly trying to implement specialty looks, it's worth the full purchase price. I hope Apple's Pro Apps team takes a close look at this software... while it's missing some of the power features I'd like to see (flexible re-ordering of filters), it has a certain "fun-factor" missing from much of today's professional apps. And the rendered results look great.

Be sure to check out the blog of the creator of Magic Bullet Looks. There's a secret feature that I haven't gotten into that's very nifty.

You can download a demo here.

- pi

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