This review was provided to us by David Arbor who is an editor, videographer, motion graphics designer, and Adobe Certified Expert in Premiere Pro in the Washington, D.C. metro area - and a friend and customer of Videoguys.com. Check out his portfolio at www.davidarbor.com
Red Giant’s Magic Bullet Suite has been around a long time, and recently, version 12 came out. I got a chance to test it out and what I found was an impressive toolset that’s been significantly improved from previous iterations; and good news for FCP X editors, you now have access to the (most of the) suite as well!
The suite contains seven products, five of which are newly updated: Magic Bullet Looks 3; Colorista III; Mojo 2; Cosmo 2; Magic Bullet Film, which is a brand new product; Denoiser II; and LUT Buddy, which is actually a free download. And no, the mix of Roman and Arabic numerals isn’t a typo, the products are actually named that way.
My favorite part about the suite is that all of these new tools are fast
. I’ve said it before, but I don’t like using plug-ins that aren’t GPU accelerated anymore. The payoff isn’t worth it, and quite frankly, I’m too impatient when it comes to tweaking plug-ins that constantly need to be re-rendered because they only run on the CPU.
Here’s a quick overview of each of the six paid products and what’s new in the five updated ones:
Magic Bullet Looks 3
is the same as it’s always been… but better! There are a ton of new look presets which are, of course, fully customizable; the UI has been updated for efficiency, and most of the individual color tools (Colorista, Mojo, Cosmo) are accessible inside, so you can go absolutely crazy and really get the full power of the entire suite in a single Looks effect. As a side note, I didn’t see Denoiser in there, so you would have add that separately, if you need it.
Looks is laid out in a very clever way: in the center you have your video and the Tools Chain which contains categorized slots for different tools, which are “Subject,” “Matte,” “Lens,” “Camera,” and “Post.” On the left you have your looks presets which you only need to hover over to see a preview AND what tools would go into each of the aforementioned slots, which is very cool. Oh, and, there’s totally a Look preset called Potatocorn, it looks great. On the right you have your controls for each tool and the tools themselves which are divided into those same categories you see in the center, according to the order of operations, and you can build your own custom looks as simple or as detailed as you want.
Some of the tools that I like are Fill Light, Warm/Cool, HSL Colors, and Pop. Yes, there’s actually a tool called Pop. So the next time your client asks you to add 10% more pop, you can! What Pop actually looks like is an unsharp mask with a radius option, or perhaps something similar to the Clarity slider from Lightroom. Basically it’s a local contrast adjustment that’s not too harsh.
Some of the tools have an intuitive UI to adjust right on your video. So vignettes, gradients, and relighting effects, are easy to change; and for the rest of the tools that don’t have on screen controls, the UI for those in the actual Controls panel are easy to use as well.
When you’re all done with your Look you can close out the Looks Editor and in your Effects Controls panel (at least in Premiere) you see a little set of icons for each of the tools you use. If you get familiar enough with these, you can quickly read what your preset contains. Below that is a Strength slider which lets you dial back the overall intensity of your look.
One thing you have to appreciate is the developers’ attention to detail when you apply tools to each of the different slots in the chain. The icons for most (if not all) tools actually react to your adjustments. So the Chromatic Aberration icon is a white circle, but when you start adjusting the controls the icon reflects those changes and you’ll see R, G, or B spread out and the white circle will disappear. The Film Print icon reflects the brand of film stock you select, the Exposure icon is, of course, an iris that actually opens or closes, and the Curves icon mimics your actual curve. This is a relatively small, and arguably unnecessary thing, but I really love it. Plus, if you get good enough at reading the icons then when you hover over Looks presets you can get a better idea of what each of the tools are doing because the icons are reflective of the actual adjustments.
As much love as I have for Magic Bullet looks, there are two things that really bothered me. Given how intuitive everything is, I couldn’t figure out how to save my own custom look. The obvious place to do so is in at the bottom where you see “Look Name” and text box. Any time you create your own custom look, or even if you take a preset and change a single parameter, that text box shows the words “Untitled Look.” Well, the obvious thing to do is go there and make your own name, right? Well, yes, that’s exactly what you’re supposed to do, but what I didn’t do is hit the Enter key. I guess I was looking for a plus icon or a Save button, just something less hidden to create my preset. Maybe if I wasn’t thinking about it it would have been more obvious, but most tools have a much more overt way to save a preset. The other thing I wasn’t a fan of was that there’s no Solo switch for an effect/tool in your Tools Chain. You can bypass an individual tool, and you can even bypass the entire Tool Chain, but when you do that you can’t individually UNbypass a tool. So as far as I could tell, there’s no workaround for a solo option.
If Magic Bullet Looks is the heart of the suite, then Colorista III is the muscle
. Colorista blows the traditional 3-way CC out of the water. In addition to the regular controls that you would expect, you get: the excellent local contrast adjustment, Pop; a Vignette slider; a BRILLIANT HSL section that will make Lightroom users happy; Curves that are much easier to use than traditional ones; and a Keyer with a pop-up interface, and again, brilliant, intuitive controls – all in a single color correction plug-in! Oh, and the absolute best part is that Colorista III works with the awesome new masking features inside Premiere Pro! This means that secondaries are no longer a part of the plug-in, leading to a simpler UI.
Magic Bullet Film
is a brand new product that simulates the look of well… film. Do we need another plug-in to do this? No, but if you’re getting the suite then this one does a really nice job. Not much needs to be said here because it’s a dead simple plug-in, but according to Red Giant you get “22 negative stocks and 4 print stocks, giving you 88 possible cinematic combinations.”
Mojo’s another really simple and intuitive plug-in to use
. It’s core function is to make it look like Michael Bay smacked your NLE with his “Michael Bay Stick.” I have it on good authority that that’s a real thing and that’s why all of his movies look the same. To use Mojo, all you have to do is make sure your skin tones are protected with the very clever Skin section (more about that below) and then use the aptly named sliders such as “Warm It,” “Punch It,” “Bleach It,” and of course, the namesake “Mojo” slider. Make fun of it all you want, but the Hollywood Blockbuster look isn’t going anywhere, and Mojo is a really great way to achieve it with minimal effort.
Cosmo is an incredibly impressive plug-in for skin smoothing
. If you thought Film and Mojo were simple, this is even simpler. This plug-in is built around the Skin section I mentioned above, so all you do is toggle a checkbox to see the Skin Overlay, change the color until only the skin tones are covered in an orange checkered pattern (this lets you know your skin tones are the correct color), and then you dial in the Soften parameter. The default value of 25 is too much in my opinion, and for a regular interview where you don’t use makeup, I found that a value of 10 or even less has been perfect for evening things out and reducing wrinkles. I make a strict point to apply Cosmo so that you don’t know it’s there, just enough to achieve similar results as with some powder and makeup. Make sure you don’t go overboard because even with the default value of 25 (out of 100) your subjects start to lose a lot of skin detail and look “retouched.”
Rounding out the suite is Denoiser
. It doesn’t have any new features, but it’s still amazing in its noise reduction capabilities. Again, in terms of difficulty, there is a descending scale here. It’s even easier to use than Cosmo because all you have to do is apply the plug-in and you’re done. There are plenty of options for fine tuning, but I’ve found that the default settings work insanely well. Denoiser often gets compared to Neat Video for noise reduction and in terms of simplicity, hands down Denoiser is the winner. Both plug-ins work incredibly well, but Denoiser doesn’t open up in a separate interface, if that's something that's important to you. Just for fun I had a clip from my C100 Mark II shot at ISO 20000, and while I was blown away with the quality of the image at that high of an ISO from the Mark II, I was equally blown away with what Denoiser did with the image.
Finally, there’s LUT Buddy, which is only available for Premiere Pro
. LUT Buddy is a great utility for applying, but also for creating and converting LUTs. It supports a ton of formats and if you have a LUT that isn’t supported by say, the Lumetri effect inside Premiere, you can quickly add LUT Buddy and convert it. Oh, and you should check out the documentation for it as well because it’s actually pretty funny. LUT Buddy is included in the suite, but it’s actually a free download for anyone. So whether or not you have any of the aforementioned plug-ins, give this one a look if you’re having issues applying LUTs and you need to convert to a different format.
Overall the new Magic Bullet Suite has killer tools that are powerful and easy to use.
Looks is a fantastic way to get the power of (almost) all the plug-ins in the suite in a single effect instance; Colorista continues to prove its dominance as a marvelous third party color corrector; Film is yet another emulation plug-in, albeit one that looks great; Cosmo is amazing and fast for simple skin smoothing, but please, please don’t abuse it; and Denoiser is as simple as it sounds. The entire Magic Bullet Suite 12 costs $799 for a full license and $199 for an upgrade, which is roughly a $300 savings vs buying each product individually. You can find the Suite overview here: http://www.redgiant.com/products/magic-bullet-suite/ as well as host compatibility and individual product pricing.
David Arbor is an editor, videographer, motion graphics designer, and Adobe Certified Expert in Premiere Pro in the Washington, D.C. metro area. Check out his portfolio at www.davidarbor.com