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You can build your own special looks with the intuitive Looksbuilder by editing any of the 100 presets.
Anyone who watches TV—and commercials—has seen Magic Bullet in action. From subtle color tweaks to wild chromatic distortion, it’s become a go-to process for even the most die-hard effects pros. Looks brings the software to a whole new level, with fresh visual styles and a radical interface, and the results are simply stunning.
Magic Bullet Looks consists of a plug-in and standalone Looksbuilder program. The plug-in is essentially a link to the app, which loads the video footage and lets you edit Look settings, then takes you back to the host program when you’re done. We tested Looks primarily with Adobe After Effects CS3, but can confirm that it works fine with Final Cut Pro and Premiere Pro, too.
The real meat of the software: the 100 preset color effects and Looksbuilder app, which deliver a highly interactive interface for building up the effects layers. The interface metaphor consists of a camera, with slots for inserting processing blocks in specific positions—Subject, Matte, Lens, Camera, and Post—that works much like layers in apps like After Effects. Placing the same effect on different positions in a layer yields subtly different saturation effects, based on the interplay with other effects layers.
Two primary control panes slide out of the left and right sides of the interface when invoked. The left side contains all of the preset Looks, which can be displayed as thumbnail previews when they’re applied, or as tiny flowcharts of the specific effects blocks that make up each look. The presets are all useful, ranging from basic noir-like black and white to variations of the washed-out bleach-bypass process (seen quite often in movies such as Three Kings and Saving Private Ryan) to those lovely soft-diffusion effects we’ve seen all over television.
In order to customize an existing Look or create a new one from scratch, you click any of the five processing blocks mentioned earlier (found along the bottom of the window), and the processing modules panel slides out from the right. You’ll see modules for color correction, tinting, lens flares, color channel processing, exposure, film grain simulation, and much, much more. The effects render instantaneously in the interface, and you can toggle individual modules on or off. The overall experience is a virtual visual processing laboratory that lacks gratuitous effects and instead focuses on professional treatments and useful experimentation. Along with the Looks app, the software includes a suite of filters, called MisFire, for emulating damaged film effects, from microscratches and splotches to dust and “funk.” The results are perfect for artificially aging video far beyond its years.
Here’s a cool thing about the Looksbuilder app: You can use it to design Looks presets with static JPEG or TIFF images without having the licensed plug-in available. Then you’d just load that preset into the full, licensed version of the software—good news for effects setups with just one designated rendering machine, but more than a couple of color-correction stations. The major drawback is that you can’t keyframe any of the many effects parameters that can be tweaked in the application, meaning that you’ll need to create duplicates of tweaked layers and crossfade between them, a lengthy workaround to the problem. As of the time of this writing, Magic Bullet Looks 1.0 was still not Leopard-compatible, though this was due to be fixed by the time you read this.
The bottom line. Although it’s not inexpensive, Magic Bullet Looks will pay for itself on a single commercial or industrial video. It provides a delicious buffet of attractive and useful video treatments, and the best collection of damaged film plug-ins you’ll find in the digital realm. If you’ve got the budget, Magic Bullet Looks has the mojo.
COMPANY: Red Giant
PRICE: $399; $99 upgrade
REQUIREMENTS: G5 or Intel CPU, Mac OS 10.4, 1GB RAM
Vast range of visual looks. Intuitive interface. Deep customization potential. MisFire damage plug-ins are icing on the cake.
Somewhat expensive. Lacks keyframing abilities. Not Leopard-compatible at press time.