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Real-Time Grading in Your Edit Timeline: Evaluating the Tools in Red Giant Magic Bullet Suite 12.1

Along with feature and interface changes, Red Giant has focused on performance improvements across the board.

Red Giant released Magic Bullet Suite 12 in February, followed by a free 12.1 update in September. Popular tools were streamlined and a brand new film emulation tool was added. The suite now includes Magic Bullet Looks, Magic Bullet Colorista III, Magic Bullet Film, Magic Bullet Mojo, Magic Bullet Cosmo, Denoiser II and LUT Buddy. The update adds OpenFX compatibility.

Along with feature and interface changes, Red Giant has focused on performance improvements across the board, as well as bringing more of the tools into hosts like Apple Final Cut Pro X and Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve 12. A single installation of the suite will install the plug-ins into as many application hosts as you have on your system. However, check the compatibility list for your particular NLE. For example, everything installs into Adobe Premiere Pro CC and After Effects CC, but Final Cut Pro X gets just Colorista, Looks, Cosmo, Film and Mojo. Avid Media Composer is compatible with Looks only, and Resolve gets Mojo, Film, Looks and Cosmo.

Depending on your toolkit, you might opt for one or two of the individual plug-ins rather than the entire suite. If you’ve already installed version 12.0, you’ll need to download and reinstall 12.1 in order to add the plug-ins into new hosts, like Resolve 12.

Magic Bullet Looks (v3.1)

Magic Bullet Looks now includes a four-way color corrector.

Magic Bullet Looks is a go-to plug-in for sophisticated stylization of an image. It includes tool modules for color correction, lens effects, relighting and more. The interface design has been flattened and streamlined. As before, it runs as a separate application that opens whenever you launch the interface from a clip on the timeline. The frame that you are parked on becomes the reference frame to which you apply your looks.

You can now hover your mouse over the various presets and the larger viewer will be updated to preview that look on your frame. This will also preview the various tool modules used to create the look. Red Giant has created many new preset looks based on popular film and TV show treatments. All are customizable. The 3.1 update added a Trackpad Mode, enabling you to use a laptop or standalone trackpad like a control surface.

New tool modules have been added, such as a LUT tool and a four-way color corrector. The latter adds an intuitive luma range graph to easily change the crossover points between low/mid and mid/high. Importing LUTs into Looks doesn’t seem to work perfectly. It’s pretty solid in the Adobe applications, but color management with FCP X is quirky. When I imported LUTs into Looks with FCP X, the result was a lot more extreme than in the Adobe applications. This is likely an issue with FCP X’s color pipeline when an external program is involved.

Magic Bullet Colorista III (v1.1)

The Colorista III interface has been streamlined and now uses the

built-in masking of Premiere Pro CC.

The earlier version of Colorista was a feature-packed plug-in that functioned like a mini-grading application. It had master, primary and secondary grading, plus curves, a power mask and keyer. With Colorista III, Red Giant has simplified the plug-in, including one level of primary grading, curves, a keyer and HSL secondary adjustments. The power mask is gone—developers decided to rely on the built-in masking that’s part of Premiere Pro CC and Final Cut Pro X. Adobe added Bezier masks with built-in tracking to all effects, so if you are using Colorista III in Premiere Pro CC, you now have a better masking capability than in the past. Apple added shape masks to all effects with the introduction of FCP X 10.2.

With FCP X, developers were able to integrate the color grading wheels into the inspector pane, but in a vertical configuration. The response of the wheels is weighted so that you move the mouse farther in relationship to the puck’s travel on screen. This configuration results in better granularity to the adjustment, but new users might need a bit of time to get accustomed to the feel. Although Colorista III includes curves, these are not true multi-point curves, as you are limited to five control points along the line. These typically work best when you want an S-curve correction.

A big addition to Colorista III is Lightroom-style shadow and highlight control. Adjusting the shadows slider acts like you are adding or removing fill light from an image. There’s also a vignette slider that lets you quickly dial in the size and darkness of an edge vignette. Most of the Magic Bullet products include a strength slider, which enables you to dial back on the amount of the color treatment. The strength slider lets you make a more extreme correction, then tone it down for the final look. One welcome addition is an overall white balance control with a color picker to select what you determine as white in the image. This is good news for FCP X editors in particular.

New 1.1 features applicable to Adobe hosts include support for OpenCL and CUDA, which allows for real-time color correction during video playback via Adobe Premiere Pro’s Mercury Playback Engine. The Skin Overlay is back, and there’s a keyer “cut out” mode to create transparency for layered color corrections.

Magic Bullet Film (v1.0)

Multiple film stocks were sampled to create the presets in Magic Bullet Film.

Film-style LUTs (color lookup tables) are all the rage, and this one is particularly well thought out. Red Giant has reverse-engineered the LUTs from actual film and includes 22 negative stocks and four print stocks. These include the typical Kodak and Fuji variations as well as settings for some imaginary custom stocks designed by Red Giant. The key to this plug-in is that it is intended to pair a film negative LUT with a film print LUT in order to more accurately mimic a real-world film pipeline.

In addition to the LUTs, there are a number of control sliders for tint, exposure, contrast, saturation and skin tone. There’s a slider for the amount of built-in grain to be added, as well as an instant vignette and a strength slider. A particularly interesting control is the vintage/modern slider. Shift it all the way to “modern” and you get a very strong orange/teal effect, whereas going fully in the “vintage” direction leaves the image reddish and faded.

Magic Bullet Mojo (v2.0)

Magic Bullet Mojo can be used for quick, high-end color correction treatments.

Mojo is for the folks who want the extreme orange/teal coloration that many blockbuster films use. This is my least favorite filter in the suite because few films I see actually look like the results you get here—blockbuster or not. It’s a color treatment whose purpose is to cool off the background, independent of skin tones. Depending on the shot and the art direction used in production, sometimes you get great results, and other times not so much. Fortunately, there are plenty of adjustments to deliver a decent, albeit stylized color correction. As part of the Looks refresh, a set of Mojo tools has been built into Looks as well. Further, Mojo has been GPU-accelerated. Red Giant claims it’s 20 percent faster in Adobe products and 80 percent faster in FCP X. In my testing, results have been in line with these numbers.

Magic Bullet Cosmo (v2.0)

Cosmo is a skin smoothing filter. It’s effectively the “Vaseline on the lens” trick. If you have an actress with more textured skin and you need to soften it, Cosmo does one of the better jobs I’ve seen. It isolates skin from the background so you end up softening only skin, not losing background detail.

Cosmo isolates skin from the background to apply smoothing.

The new version has good performance, so you can keep on working with the filter applied without having to render. Cosmo is GPU-accelerated, with a 20 percent bump in Adobe products. In addition to FCP X, it is available in Sony Creative Software Vegas Pro.

Denoiser II and LUT Buddy

Denoiser II is a general solution for reducing video noise that works well with most footage.

LUT Buddy is a tool included with a number of Red Giant products. It is designed to import and export LUTs, although behavior was inconsistent in my testing. I was able to get it to generate a LUT but not import all LUTs that should have been compatible.

LUT Buddy is useful for turning the grade you create in one application into a LUT you can use in another. For example, you can use a number of different color correction filters in After Effects to grade a shot and then use LUT Buddy to turn that grade into a LUT. Then apply the LUT in Premiere Pro to get the desired look without having to use all the filters you used in After Effects.

Here’s where LUT Buddy should have worked to read its own grade, but it didn’t. When I applied the grade and played the clip, the color correction would flicker on and off. However, I was still able to import that LUT using Premiere Pro’s Lumetri filter, so the process is still functional. My initial testing was done with Adobe CC2014; in retesting with Adobe CC2015, I was no longer able to get LUT Buddy to export a LUT.

Better performance, new tools and now Resolve support to boot. Magic Bullet Suite 12.1 is the perfect package for editors who want to have plenty of control over the look of their image, yet stay inside the editing application.