Price When Reviewed: $99 (around £55)
Pros: Exposure controls based upon F-stop numbers.
Cons: The software is slow. Manual installation of plug-ins. Results aren’t that different from built-in tools.
Au Naturel is an After Effects plug-in that restores a more realistic gamma curve to video footage, instead of the one imposed through your camera or MPEG compression. The software allows you to manipulate footage in a 32-bit per channel, floating point linear RGB colour space.
If you don’t have any idea what that means, the program can be tried before buying – you can download it from the Buena Web site. After copying the program to the host application’s appropriate plug-in folder, the Au Naturel filter is applied like any other.
To make changes to footage using the filter, you first have to select the appropriate gamma from a drop-down menu. The correct options must be chosen depending upon whether the source footage originates from DV, animation, or artwork.
There are then six effects that can be used individually or all at once. You can fiddle with levels and exposure, and add a gaussian blur, directional blur, transformation, and composite.
Despite all the variables for the effects being stacked underneath one another and adjustable at all times, they only work when the appropriate action is selected from one of the six drop down boxes above. This can be disconcerting at first as you can be changing options with no effect on the footage. It would make more sense for these options to be uncontrollable unless the appropriate effect was selected from the drop-down menu.
Almost all the variables for each effect perform as expected, with the exception of exposure. The exposure setting, rather than using a range of say 0-255, is adjusted in F-stop numbers. This scale, familiar to all camera operators, gives users a much better feel for just how much they are under or over exposing any particular shot.
With the amount of conversion processing involved it’s no surprise that rendering takes a significant amount of time. A single two-second clip with directional blur and exposure changes added took just under 40 seconds to render on a Dual 1.8Ghz G5 with over 1GB of memory. These aren’t the filters to use if you’re in a hurry.
Whether this plug-in is a worthy investment to all but the most exacting of users is debatable. The images are sharper with Au Naturel’s filters, but only just. Ultimately, the majority of clients are unlikely to spot the difference between a blur in Au Naturel and a standard blur effect from the host application.
The main shot (top right) has two F-Stops added from Au Naturel’s ‘Exposure’ setting. The original footage, minus the filter, is shown below: