Cook Your Looks
Red Giant Magic Bullet Looks is a great jump forward in ease of use and still delivers stunning new looks for your digital video. If you want to give your video a certain mood or motif or simply make it jump off the screen like never before, Magic Bullet Looks can get you there. And, for most of us, it won’t require too much time reading how to do it.
You can get your hands on the demo version right away with a 54MB download from Red Giant Software’s website. The demo will add a red X watermark across your images as a result, but it’s fully functional and, like any effects software package, it’s extremely fun to play with for hours and hours.
Our installation took just a couple of minutes, and there were no updates at the time. Throughout our tests, we saw no hiccups that would suggest that an update would chase this initial 18.104.22.168 release. Magic Bullet Looks is available to both Mac and PC users, and it works with Apple Final Cut Pro and Motion 3, Avid Xpress and Media Composer and Adobe After Effects and Premiere Pro (be sure to check the technical specifications to see which versions apply).
We quickly checked the Help documentation before setting off on our journey. We chose to install Looks in Premiere Pro CS3 on our HP xw4600 workstation (2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Quad processor, 2GB RAM, NVIDIA Quadro FX1700 with 512MB video memory). A few minutes later, we felt confident that this latest version would be much easier to navigate than previous versions.
Just like any other effects plug-in, Magic Bullet Looks installs the Looks effect as well as a myriad of Magic Bullet MisFire effects (i.e., dust, scratches and other film effects) into the effects library of your editing software. We chose to make some outdoor action-sports footage get a Looks makeover. One drag, one drop and soon we’re launching the LooksBuilder application from the Effects tab in Premiere Pro.
The LooksBuilder is the main software interface for manipulating your different Looks. By “Looks,” we mean the grouping of different image adjustments and effects that you tweak within the LooksBuilder to create the final look of that image or video clip. It might sound complicated, but it’s far from intimidating, as the LooksBuilder has a new graphical interface that’s incredibly simple to use. We don’t want to fool you, however, as the practice of color timing and its theory are not at all elementary. But the LooksBuilder will allow beginners to tinker and learn how to apply these effects with a straightforward building-block approach.
At the launch of LooksBuilder, a still frame of our video clip is at the top left position. Looks chooses the still from where our playhead rests in Premiere Pro (you can change this in the Preferences). To the right of the image, you can toggle on and off an RGB Parade monitor or a Slice Graph monitor. Both monitors are a necessity for understanding in general terms what you are doing to your image. Below, you’ll find the new Tool Chain, which organizes your image adjustment tools into different stages to help you make better use of each tool. The stages are Subject, Matte, Lens, Camera and Post. Certain tools will correspond only to their relevant process stages, so a general understanding of color timing will help you achieve maximum effectiveness within the Tool Chain. Red Giant has done a great job with this interface, removing any mystery in what’s happening by adopting a graphical interface. This greatly benefits new users, too, as the Tool QuickDrawer lays out your tools by the process stages.
The QuickDrawers are windows that slide in and out, giving the editor a quick peek at either the preset Looks (located on the left side of the interface) or the individual tools (right side of the interface). Using a cooking analogy, consider the Looks QuickDrawer a library of recipes you can pull from and apply to your clip immediately. Meanwhile, the Tool QuickDrawer contains all the separate spices/ingredients that you can choose in unique combinations to customize your own Look.
Overall, we were very impressed with the new LooksBuilder. As in the last version of Looks, the presets are incredibly useful, and the customization options allow for endless possibilities. There’s more under the hood than we have space to write about, so to summarize: Red Giant Software has nailed its new LooksBuilder in terms of functionality. But, there’s one tiny exception. Several times during our test, we applied a tool from the Tool QuickDrawer and decided fairly quickly to remove it from the Tool Chain. We then acted on this decision by clicking the Cancel button. This task seemed intuitive, but we should have dragged the tool to the trash bin to remove it. The unfortunate result is that we closed LooksBuilder altogether without saving our latest changes. A good fix would be to add a prompt to the Cancel button that asks if you really want to cancel and close the application (make it idiot-proof). This would save users from the accidental Cancel syndrome that seemed to plague us. Otherwise, you may end up learning the hard way not to hit the Cancel button unless you really, really mean to cancel your Look.
We ran a few tests in Premiere Pro CS3 with some native HDV clips. We put together a very short sequence: two outdoor sports-action shots that ran a total of 9 seconds. First, we added a Look preset to see how long it would take to render. We chose the Buffalo preset, which basically crushed our black levels a bit and bumped up the blue channel (overall, there are 6 image adjustments in this effect). Render time for our workstation to process the Buffalo preset came in at 1 minute, 34 seconds. Your experience will differ, depending on your workstation and video card, but, when rendering Looks Presets, you can expect to spend a good amount of time waiting to see the final results. We could play back our clips at draft quality with a noticeable number of skipped frames. The un-rendered draft-quality playback is fair, but you’ll definitely want to save Looks for when you’ve locked down your edit. Lastly, we decided to make a custom Look, but, instead of a wild concoction, we simply added a single Contrast filter. Draft-quality playback improved significantly, yet it was still a bit choppy. Naturally, our render time was much faster, clocking in at 34 seconds.
Red Giant Software Magic Bullet Looks is a joy to use and delivers stunning looks to your digital video. It allows editors to use this tool in different applications (e.g., both After Effects and Premiere Pro). That flexibility is key and reminds us that the Looks software team is looking after its editors. The power is there, too, with improved Power Mask features allowing editors to be selective about the application of their looks. The possibilities seem endless. That’s just what we like to see in an application like this.
OS: Mac OS X 10.3.2, Windows XP SP 1 32-bit
Processor: Power Mac G5, Mac Intel, Pentium 4 2.4GHz
Install: 15MB of hard drive space
Video Cards: NVIDIA 6600, 7800, 8800, ATI 9600, 1800, 1900
Compatible Editing Software: Adobe After Effects 6.5, 7.0, CS3, Adobe Premiere Pro 2.0, CS3, Apple
Motion 3, Apple Final Cut Pro 5.1.4, 6.0.x, Avid Express Pro 5.5 or later,
Avid Media Composer 2.5 or later
- New, friendly GUI
- Power masks
- Beautiful Looks presets
- Compatibility with multiple applications
- No Cancel button prompt (yeah, we’re picky)
Red Giant Software Magic Bullet Looks has revamped its GUI, with improved ease of use and functionality everybody is sure to enjoy.
Mark Montgomery is Videomaker‘s Tech Editor.
Red Giant Software
13619 Pendleton Mills Court
Fort Wayne, IN 46814
$399, $99 upgrade