• Price When Reviewed: 285 . 95 . 815 . 285

  • Pros: Highest-quality effects. Excellent level of control and on-screen tools. Many useful additions. Fast rendering.

  • Cons: Pricey. No new must-have tools.

  • Expert Rating: We rate this 8 out of 10We rate this 8 out of 10We rate this 8 out of 10We rate this 8 out of 10We rate this 8 out of 10 We rate this 8 out of 10

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Sapphire is the most prestigious – and priciest – collection of visual-effects plug-ins for compositing applications and suites. Version 2 has been available for Shake since June 2006 – and the edition for Autodesk systems such as Flame is version 4 – but the second release of the collection for After Effects and a wide range of compatible hosts is now finally available.

Sapphire 2 adds more than 30 new filters, revamps many more, and adds support for After Effects CS3. This allows all of the filters to run in AE CS3’s 32-bit-per-colour mode, and under Windows Vista. GenArts claims Sapphire 2 supports Apple’s new Mac OS X 10.5 ‘Leopard’ too – though as After Effects won’t support it until an update due in December, this should be regarded more as ‘ready to support’.

The Bleach Bypass effect.

As with version 1, the set is available in four Boxes: Lighting; Stylize; Adjust, Blur+Sharpen, Composite & Distort; and Render, Time & Transitions – or as the full Package, which saves you £325 overall. This provides a convenient way to build up the full collection if the full set is too pricey for your budgets.

The original Sapphire was a must-have set for many VFX artists. For many the superb-quality lighting tools alone – which include nine glow filters that have seen use on a huge number of feature films and top-flight ads – were worth the cost of the collection.

The Dog Vision effect.

Unfortunately, version 2 doesn’t add any groundbreaking filters – but it does flesh out the set of tools with some very high quality effects. Artists working with 3D elements will be pleased with a number of filters that manipulate scenes based on input from a Z-depth rendering.

ZDefocus pushes areas in and out of focus based on this input, while other filters use this to control convolutions and glows. There’s also a new Light3D filter, which relights a clip based on an input clip rendered with the directions of surface normals.

The Texture Flux effect.

Other new filters are less successful. Cartoon works reasonably well, but if a project requires a decent cartoon or A Scanner Darkly look, you’d be much better paying for Digital Anarchy’s £145 ToonIt plug-in. Bleach Bypass and Film Damage work well, but no better than other versions – and if you need the highest-grade versions, you’ll need to invest in Red Giant Software’s £190 Magic Bullet Looks.

The new filters use the same combination of on-screen handles and pared-down controls to enable you to get the effect you want as quickly as possible. Many of the new filters are essentially variations of others, but with different controls tailored to particular tasks or functions.

The Warp Magnify effect.

While there’s no new glow filters, Glare has been upgraded with four new types – while the useful Lens Flare filters gain 14 flare types, a matte input and a separate version that follows any track you create.

Most of the filters preview and render quicker than you’d expect – especially on our test Mac Pro 8-core.

Sapphire is still the collection that every visual-effects artist will want to own – but owners of version 1 will likely want to upgrade as much for After Effects CS3 and 32-bit colour support more than for its new filters.
Neil Bennett

Filters are split into nine folders to make it easier to find the effect that you’re after.