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Edit Review: Boris Blue

The Vertex Deformers allow 3D objects to warp on a vertex level. This enables easier control for creating effects, which had previously been complex and time consuming to implement.

We have been waiting a long time for Blue. I think I first heard about it before NAB 2005, and I was excited to see how the advancement of the Boris Red engine would blossom into a realtime effects tool. Red 3GL was an important step in harnessing the power of OpenGL to preview effects in realtime, but as with any tool, the more realtime options in the program, the more graphically creative we can be. Blue breaks new ground in its own Red world with this update, but does it head the front of the pack when compared to other compositing/effects programs? Let’s find out.

Realtime power

Blue is billed as a realtime 3D compositing and motion graphics solution, and that is a fitting description. Red does much of the same; however, you will spend a lot of time rendering complex animations in Red, whereas most of Blue’s playback happens in realtime.

Blue’s most important feature is 3D. Where other compositing programs only mock 3D or extruded fonts, Blue goes the distance and actually allows you to import a 3D object, then spin, animate, and swirl 3D colored lights around it.

Vertex Deformers also allow you to do 3D warping of 3D objects — a very powerful feature. When it comes to extruding fonts, Blue packs a punch with realtime extrusion options and deformers. Drop an effect on your title to spin and warp it, and watch it play back right away via OpenGL. You can also create entirely new custom bevels by using the spline tools or by importing an EPS-format graphic. Any element in Blue can be altered via pixel shaders, and you can generate bump maps, natural materials, noise effects, reflections, refractions, 3D lighting, 3D shading, and warping. The program ships with a lot of presets, so you can drag, drop, then alter.

Blue also does particle generation. Any graphic or 3D object can be a particle, and you can attract/repel and animate in realtime. Rendering particles can be a major bummer, so it’s cool to see it happen so fast and effortlessly in Blue. A new bitmap-to-vector trace option also makes it easy to take a graphic and make it into a 3D object with just a few clicks.

Blue even provides better masking and motion blur control — most of which can be viewed in realtime. Motion blur does slow down the playback to less than realtime, but it’s still much faster than Red.

One thing that is handy with Blue is the ability to put groups of objects into a container on the timeline. Instead of applying effects to individual tracks, you can set up a whole group and then apply an effect all at once — and it’s just as easy to toggle it off.

Another great timeline bonus is SmartView. This view allows you to see only the parameters (keyframes) you have actually adjusted. With so many twirl-down menus for each object, this definitely saves some screen real estate.

Even with bevel, 3D warp, and particle effects applied, a text logo plays back in realtime within the main interface of Boris Blue. The program offers better realtime playback than many competitors; however, it supports only a handful of GPU cards to
make this happen.

Compositing comparison

Blue begs comparison to similarly equipped and priced alternatives out there, most notably Adobe After Effects 7 and Autodesk Combustion 4. And yes, technology has marched on from last NAB to this year’s.

First off, Blue is roughly twice as much as these other programs — unless you already own Red. In that case, the price points are more even. Blue lists for $1,995, but Red owners can upgrade for $995. I consider this a steep upgrade tier, especially considering that Red and Blue seemingly share the same core engine and a good chunk of the legacy feature set; however, realtime is always worth the price of admission, and you will unquestionably get more done in less time with Blue. (Update: After press time, Boris FX lowered the price of Blue to $995. The upgrade from Red now costs $595.)

Particle effects in Combustion continue to be advanced (even if they have not been upgraded), so it’s easier to dazzle in Combustion thanks to the extendable and delightful array of particle presets. Combustion’s realtime feel is also in line with Blue, in addition to providing some really advanced keying tools. The price point of Combustion is probably the most attractive, coming in at half of what Blue retails.

Though After Effects has never been a complete realtime solution, it is Mac compatible (Blue is currently XP only), and it has a wide range of plug-in solutions (Blue’s plug-in format is proprietary, and it does not currently provide 100 percent compatability of After Effects plug-ins.) In the past year, After Effects has also introduced a beautiful redesigned interface that makes using and configuring it a breeze. Blue on the other hand retains Red’s awkward, unintuitive interface that demands at least a few hours of figuring out where everything is and why this program has so many windows with so many duplicate pull-down menus.

Conclusion

Where does Blue nail it? With harnessing the power of current Nvidia cards. Although I was disappointed I had to roll back the driver of my current Nvidia card to an earlier version to maintain compatibility with the current release of Blue (not cool), the program does slurp every ounce of juice from your GPU to make your animated creations spin and shake like butter. It’s important to note that, currently, the only OpenGL cards certified to work with Blue are indeed Nvidia cards (Quadro and GeForce), which may affect your purchasing decision. I have stuck with Nvidia for years, but owners of cards from ATI and others will have to wait for updates.

Blue also excels with its huge array of features. It’s one of those programs that you may never fully exploit. There are so many subcommands of subcommands that you can do just about anything you want, and there’s probably some things many power users have yet to discover. If you are a Red user, and you can swallow the upgrade price, your ship has indeed come in. Think of Blue as Red on steroids: lots of new features and all happening in glorious realtime smoothness.

If you already own a few compositing programs, or are choosing your first one, you have a tough decision. Blue does indeed move ahead of some very strong competition in several departments — most notably in realtime speed, object nesting in effect containers, easy title and bevel creation, and true 3D compositing with support for 3D object importing as well as 3D warping. If those elements are most important to you, you need to own Blue.

Company: BorisFX
Boston; (888) 772-6747
www.borisfx.com

bottomline

Product: Blue

Assets: Object nesting in effect containers, true 3D compositing, easy title and bevel creation.

Caveats: Only Nvidia GeForce and Quadro cards certified so far.

Demographic: Production houses looking for a 3D compositing system that takes full advantage of current GPU video hardware.

Price: $995; $595 (upgrade)

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