CineLook vs. Magic Bullet

OK, so here are the results of the bake-off.  DigiEffects CineLook vs. Red Giant Software Magic Bullet.  They both do the "film look" for video thing.  I had to pull a lot of info together, so in the interests of saving some work for anyone else trying to figure this out, I'll dump some knowledge here.
The first thing anyone will tell you (and the documentation for both software packages reports the same) is that you can't make bad source material look good.  So, bare minimum you need to start with something like miniDV source.  Second, much of the look of film has to do with lighting, angles, composition of shots, attention to detail in sets, quality of acting, etc.  If you come at it from the get go with professional techniques and approach, the final result will be much better.
With all that said, the final step is running a plugin to achieve the technical flourish of 24 fps conversion, color correction, etc.  CineLook and Magic Bullet take different approaches to this.  Funny to note that on CineLook's web site they talk about how their plugin is not a "magic bullet."  I'm guessing that was a little inspiration for the Red Giant developers.
DigiEffects CineLook
CineLook has been around for a while, and it seems as though it hasn't gotten much development attention in recent years.  It's focus is the bundled presets that simulate a variety of film stocks from Agfa, Kodak, Fuji, and more, in 8mm, 16mm, 35mm, color and black and white.  This was intruiging, since I was hoping to simulate the look of certain films for which I knew the film stock used.  So, in addition to the 24 fps conversion, the preset has the gamma and color correction, and simulates the grain of the stock.
I ran my test video (Cleary's "Time Is My Crisis", directed by Jeremy Provost) using a number of the presets.  The frame rate conversion looked very good, it was very smooth, not at all jerky as I was told poor frame rate conversion could be.  The presets gamma and color correction seemed over the top (more on that later).  I can't imagine any film giving the extreme look I was getting.  The grain really detracted from the look, it added a lot of noise, and looked very stylized.  Really, the grain of 35mm film is so fine, that in DV resolution, it should not be visible at all.  Finally, CL adds a ghosting effect to simulate the typical 1/48 shutter speed of a film camera and the supposed slight motion blur this would create.  Well, this effect was also very over the top.  My clean cuts became quick fades due to the persistence of the image.
Overall, the result looked pretty bad.  I'd say it really changed the video, where it should really just enhance it.
Red Giant Software Magic Bullet
MB is a newer package, which has supposedly been used in a number of major films.  It takes a different approach, with modular plugins that can be mixed and matched.  The Magic Bullet plugin proper performs the 60i->24p-60i frame rate conversion, Look Suite has the gamma/color correction presets, Letterbox does what you would expect, and Broadcast does a final color correction for broadcast colors.
So, the Magic Bullet frame rate conversion produced superior results in terms of deinterlacing and deartifcating to create some very slick looking stills.  However, it's conversion back to 60i, the 3:2 pull down process, created obvious jerkiness on playback.  This could be a show-stopper.
The Look Suite presets take a different approach than CL.  Instead of simulating specific film stocks, they simulate certain film processing and development techniques, such as leaving the skipping the bleaching process and leaving silver on the film to create a desaturated look.  They have presets that reference a number of major films, such The Matrix, Amelie, and more.  The effects are much more subtle, and when you see them in action, they are immediately recognizable as film.  The look is very high quality, and combine a lot of film concepts, such as grads, black and white diffusion, and more.
Look Suite actually helps me to think a different way about the whole process, and made me feel more comfortable about tweaking presets to create something is unique.  Since I'm simulating looks, not film stock, I'm free to mix and match within a project, and give certain scenes a unique fell, such as when a certain character is present.  And since it's modular, I could conceivably use Look Suite on all my raw footage first, then Magic Bullet and the others later.  I'm free!
Letterbox allowed me to clean up the letterboxing on the project, which could be blurry, or could be inconsistent.  Or, I could go with a narrower letterbox altogether, going from 16:9 to 1.85:1.
Broadcast worked as advertised.
Overall, MB skips grain and motion blur, giving it a slick look that on PC/DVD looks more like real film and less like an effect.
Final Analysis
After my tests, I found another article where the creator of CineLook admitted that the presets were intentionally over-the-top so that average users could see a dramatic result.  Subtlety had been thrown out the window.  That bugs me, but I'm not averse to using CL where it works well, the smooth frame rate conversion, if I can't get Magic Bullet working right.  I could use MB for looks, CL for conversion, and finish with MB for letterbox, etc.
Another option is to let MB convert to 24p, and have the DVD player perform 3:2 pulldown in realtime.  Will have to test that.
I think what I have learned is that the real-world techniques of filmmaking are going to make or break a project, not plugins.  My sample video was reasonably well made, even though it was shot guerilla-style.  When the shots are steady, framed properly, and we lucked into decent lighting, there is a certain illusion.  But the shots that are poorly lit and where lip synching wasn't perfect detract from the professionalism.
All in all, after watching any of the processed clips and then going back to the original finished video, the difference between film and video becomes very obvious.  The video is overly crisp and clean and the motion is ultra-real.

1 comment:

Gabe said...

Excellent info, Josh. I had an advertisement for Magic Bullet in my Sony Vegas Video Editor box. I was wondering what it was all about.