Video Copilot Optical Flares for After Effects
Final Score: 9.5
Reprinted with permission from Microfilmmaker Magazine.
A few months ago I raved about Boris Continuum Complete 6 for, among many other things, its awesome lens flare effect. So it is fair to say that for one reason or another I get almost overly enthused about adding lens flares to my motion graphics. This month I got to review Optical Flares, a lens flare design suite that takes the idea of the lens flare effect and expands it beyond what I ever imagined possible.
Ease of Use
Optical flares is a lens flare design suite. As I was raving about it to a friend (Microfilmmaker contributor Ryan Graham), he asked me "So, what's the big deal?" and I just blurted out "Someone finally did it! Someone finally made this happen!" He laughed at me, because I guess the idea of a comprehensive plug-in solely devoted to lens flares is kind of hard to wrap your head around. So I'll do my best to try to explain.
At first glance Optical Flares reminds me of Zaxwerks ProAnimator. A beautifully designed box pops up and the user has the option of designing custom lens flares from scratch. All sorts of lens objects are at your disposal: glows, irises, glints, spike balls, sparkles, even custom textures. Each object can be layered on top of the previous object multiple times. Additionally each object has its own set of unique and customizable properties while still being controlled by global parameters.
While this is all very impressive, what concerned me more was how the lens flares worked within a real project. This, to me, is where the fun of Optical Flares really begins. While traditional 2D lens flares are the default setting, Optical Flares stands out in that its lens objects are 3D compatible. This means they work together realistically in 3D space. If that isn't cool enough, the ability to effortlessly track the flares to your After Effects lights takes Optical Flares far beyond what is possible to do in After Effects alone, without relying on a ton of effort. This makes creating effects like a wall of lights or realistically recreating stage light setups possible. You can even track lens flares to real footage (the example they use is tracking the headlight of a moving vehicle and adding a realistic flare directly to it).
Depth of Options
There is an EXTREME amount of options within this suite. Every single thing is customizable, and I highly recommend purchasing the eclectic collection of Pro Presets along with the plugin. At a great price you'll get nearly double the amount of great looking flares to start designing with.
I think Video Copilot struck a nice balance between the amount of options while still making the suite fairly simple to use. While there is a ton of stuff to play with, the built-in presets that come with the program will quickly let you get to the nitty gritty and let you start designing immediately.
While the design aspects of the suite are vast, I found it somewhat peculiar that no animation presets were included with Optical Flares (the previously mentioned presets concern the design of the flares, not the animation). There are a few helpful animation controls that automate the flares' shimmer and flicker. But it would be cool to see some included preset keyframed animations for quick glints, transitions, and flare ups included in the next run of Optical Flares.
On my PowerPC running After Effects CS3, I found no issues with the performance of Optical Flares. The suite itself worked flawlessly, and I experienced no crashing once my flares were designed. Of course once you get into using multiple lights in complex 3D comps some system slowing is to be expected, but for the most part Optical Flares worked quite smoothly. Additionally, Video Copilot has already developed an update of the suite to work in 64-bit CS5.
Video Copilot has to be crazy to offer all of this for $129. They could easily double the price of this plugin and it would still be a bargain. In addition to the suite, the stellar tutorials, downloadable project files,and presets; the dedication of the Video Copilot developer team provides a lot value-added to your purchase. That being said, this plugin is not made for people who aren't seriously into exploring some cool new ideas with their motion graphics. Optical Flares is strictly for taking your designs OVER the edge. In size and scope, Optical Flares would appeal to designers who find great value in experimenting with "deep" plugins like Trapcode Particular or Zaxwerks ProAnimator. Failing that, any lens flare effect might suit you just as well.
I was initially super excited for the release of Optical Flares and Video Copilot blew me away by exceeding all of my expectations. There is no doubt that Optical Flares will become an industry-standard suite in no time. It's unfortunate that a demo is not available for download, because I'm convinced that once most users get their hands dirty with Optical Flares they will immediately be hooked.