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The Expanding Universe: Working Within Red Giant’s Editing and Effects Environment

Red Giant Software recently launched Red Giant Universe.

Red Giant Software, the developer of popular effects and editing tools including Trapcode and Magic Bullet, recently launched Red Giant Universe. Red Giant has adopted a hybrid free/subscription model for Universe. Once you sign in to Universe with a Red Giant ID, you have access to all the filters and transitions that are part of this package. Initially this includes 31 free plug-ins (22 effects, 9 transitions) and 19 premium plug-ins (12 effects, 7 transitions).

Since Universe has been officially released (it launched on April 30), users have a 30-day trial period before the premium effects become watermarked. Premium membership pricing is $10 per month or $99 per year. Users who want the benefits of membership but would prefer to opt out of the subscription model can purchase a lifetime membership for $399. Lifetime members will receive routine updates without any further cost.

Holomatrix is an example of a premium Universe effect brought over from the Effects Suite.

A New Approach to a Fresh and Growing Library of Effects

The general mood among content creators has been against subscription models; however, when I asked people on an online forum their opinion about the Universe model, comments were positive.

From reading early press coverage of Universe, my initial impression was that Universe would be an environment in which users could create their own custom effects. In fact, this isn’t the case at all. The Universe concept is built on Supernova, a JavaScript-based internal development tool that Red Giant’s designers use to develop effects and transitions. Supernova draws from a library of building block filters that can be combined to create new plug-in effects. The idea is similar to Apple’s Quartz Composer development tool, except that Supernova is not part of the package that Universe members can access.

Red Giant is building a community around Universe members, who will have some input into which new plug-ins are created. Future Universe plug-ins will be generated only by Red Giant designers and partner developers. Red Giant is currently working with CrumplePop, with whom they created Retrograde, one of the premium plug-ins. The point of being a paid premium member is to continue receiving routine updates that add to the repertoire of Universe effects. Additionally, some existing Red Giant products will be ported to Universe as new premium effects.

Universe currently includes seven free blur filters, including Masked Blur.

The Universe model is similar to what GenArts has done with Sapphire, which is based on an upfront purchase, plus a subscription for updated effects “collections” (essentially new preset versions of a Sapphire plug-in). These are created by approved designers and added to the library each month. Unlike Sapphire “collections,” the Universe updates are not limited to presets, but will include brand new plug-ins. Red Giant tells me they have several dozen in the development pipeline already.

(Two months after launch Red Giant released a v1.1 update to Universe that added nine free and premium effects and updated several tools. One of the new tools, Compound Blur, was added based on community voting in Universe Labs.)

Red Giant Universe supports both Mac and Windows and runs in recent versions of Adobe After Effects, Adobe Premiere Pro, Apple Final Cut Pro X and Apple Motion. At least for now, Universe doesn’t support Avid Media Composer, Sony Creative Software Vegas, Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve, Grass Valley EDIUS or The Foundry Nuke hosts. Members will be able to install the software on two computers, and a single installation of Universe will install these effects into all applicable hosts, so only one purchase is necessary for all.

Free and Premium Effects with GPU Acceleration

In this initial release, the range of effects includes many standards as free effects, including blurs, glows, distortion effects, generators and transitions. Premium effects include some that have been ported over from other Red Giant products, including Knoll Light Factory EZ, Holomatrix, Retrograde and ToonIt.

Retrograde is a GPU-accelerated film emulation effect with parameters for grain type, dust, hair, flicker, fading and more.

Users who have already purchased some of these effects may be concerned about duplication. Red Giant addresses this concern in the FAQ: “We’ve retooled the tools. Premium tools are faster, sleeker versions of the Red Giant products that you already know and love. ToonIt is 10x faster. Knoll Light Factory is 5x faster. We’ve streamlined [them] with fewer controls so you can work faster. All of the tools work seamlessly with [all of the] host apps, unlike some tools in the Effects Suite.”

The big selling point is that these are high-quality, GPU-accelerated effects that use 32-bit float processing for trillions of colors. Red Giant is using OpenGL rather than OpenCL or NVIDIA’s CUDA technology because it is easier to provide support across various graphics cards and operating systems. The recommendation is to have one of the newer, faster NVIDIA or AMD cards or mobile GPUs. The minimum GPU is an Intel HD 3000 integrated graphics chip. According to Red Giant, “Everything is rendered on the GPU, which makes Universe up to 10 times faster than CPU-based graphics. Many tools use advanced render technology that’s typically used in game development and simulation.”

In Actual Use

For this review, I installed the beta version of Universe. (I have since updated to the release version.) After you’ve installed Universe on your machine, updates are managed through the Red Giant Link utility, which keeps track of all installed Red Giant products (including Universe) and lets you update as needed.

The popular Knoll Light Factory EZ lens flare package has been ported as a premium Universe effect.

The Universe effects themselves are nice and the quality is high, but the offerings released so far are primarily standard effects. There’s nothing yet that isn’t already represented by a similar effect in the filters and transitions built in to FCP X, Motion or After Effects. Obviously there are subjective differences between one company’s “bad TV” or “cartoon” look and another’s, so whether you need additional plug-ins becomes a personal decision.

As far as GPU acceleration is concerned, I found the effects to be responsive when I adjusted parameters and previewed the video. This is especially true in a host like Final Cut Pro X, which is really tuned for the GPU. For example, a Knoll lens flare from the Universe package performed better on my 2009 Mac Pro (8-core with an NVIDIA Quadro 4000) than did the other third-party flare filters available on my computer.

The field is pretty crowded when you stack Universe up against such established competitors as GenArts Sapphire, Boris Continuum Complete and Noise Industries FxFactory Pro. As yet, Universe does not offer tools that fill in workflow gaps, like tracking, masking or even keyers.

I’m not sure the monthly subscription makes sense for many customers, unless you need to add it on a machine in order to be compatible with an incoming client’s project. It would seem that “free” will be attractive to many, while an annual or lifetime subscription will be the way most users purchase Universe. The lifetime price lines up well when compared to the cost of purchasing a traditional filter package.

Red Giant Universe is an ideal set of effects for editors. While Apple has developed a system with Motion whereby any user can create new FCP X effects based on templates, the reality is that few working editors have the time or interest to do that. They want effects that can be applied quickly with a minimum of tweaking, and that perform well on a timeline. This is what impresses clients and attracts editors to your product. With that target in mind, Red Giant will do well with Universe if it holds to its promise. Ultimately the success of Universe will depend on how prolific the developers are and how quickly new effects come through the subscription pipeline.

Product:Red Giant Universe


Pros: Cross-platform support for popular hosts. Easy installation and updating via Red Giant Link utility. GPU acceleration for fast performance.

Cons: Initial release includes many effects that are similar to existing effects within the hosts. No Avid Media Composer support.

Bottom Line: This is a reimagining of many popular effects designed for modern GPU acceleration and 64-bit operation. Offers an attractive pricing model that allows your effects library to grow without additional upgrade costs.

MSRP: Free / Subscription ($10 per month or $99 per year) / $399 lifetime