Edit Review: Boris Continuum Complete 4
Sep 1, 2006 12:00 PM, Reviewer: S.D. Katz
New version adds more impressive filters to a healthy base set.
As good as Adobe After Effects (AE), Apple Final Cut Pro, and other 2D programs may be, their usefulness is multiplied by plug-ins. There are many filter options out there, but there is also a lot of redundancy when it comes to large sets of individual effects. Because some filter sets cost about half the price of AE or more, buying more than one product quickly becomes expensive. There are lots of filters to be had for AE and Final Cut Pro; however, with a price point starting at $795 for the full program and $249 for an upgrade, Boris Continuum Complete 4 (BCC4) is a logical addition to your NLE or compositing program.
Over many years, I have routinely recommended Boris FX filters as the best buy for editors' core filter needs. There are certainly other great products, such as Trapcode's unique filter effects, but for a wide-ranging set of options, BCC4 remains the best value on the market. With every new version, Boris adds a few new filters or upgrades older filters to 16-bit rendering or some other enhancement, so getting an upgrade with each new version makes sense.
Reasons I like Continuum Complete:
- There are 157 filters (170 filters in the AVX version) for a cost of about $5 each.
- Pixel Chooser is very useful for selectively filtering an image. This can be done using luma or chroma matte control values, while region select allows you to choose what pixels are selected. The AVX version of BCC also allows you to make Bezier selections.
- Presets get you started quickly, and there is a great deal of control for each filter.
- One license can be installed on all supported host programs on a single system.
Lately, Boris has taken advantage of OpenGL in a big way, and several of the filters — such as Lens Flare and Glare — make good use of hardware rendering. Because all the classic filters of the past that are included in the current version have been reviewed several times (for reviews of past versions, see digitalcontentproducer.com/dcc/revfeat/video_boris_continuum_complete and digitalcontentproducer.com/dcc/revfeat/video_boris_continuum_complete_2), I'll cover these quickly and look at the seven new filters in BCC4 a little more closely.
The filters in BCC4 come in the following groups: color blurs, distortion/perspective, effects, generators, keys/mattes, lights, time, wipe, and transitions. Most of these filters are standard effects that are used frequently. Some filters have newer versions, but the older versions are also included in BCC4 so that older projects can still be rendered. A help guide for each filter provides a basic explanation of the parameters, and many filters also have a motion tracker and Pixel Chooser included in the parameter palette. Yes, you can open up the AE tracker, but most of the time, you only need a basic one-point track to attach an effect to a moving object — for instance, the flame effect attached to a torch. Doing this within the Boris effects palette is a little bit more convenient.
Many of the filters, such as Film Grain and Film Damage, are almost as good as effects by competitors that alone sell for the price of the BCC4 upgrade. Targeting pricey one-shot filters is one of the general strategies of Continuum Complete — filters that were premium products from other developers are included in BCC4 at a fraction of the cost.
We see this again as BCC4 delves into optical flow technology, which is the basis for the best new filters in BCC4 and the main reason for upgrading. Optical flow begins with tracking every pixel value over time. This is accomplished by reading several frames before and after the current frame. A comparison is made between frames to intelligently interpolate new frames. This can be used to add motion blur, create slow-motion effects, and add many other high-level effects.
The optical flow technology used in Motion Key allows an artist to remove a moving foreground object from the background. A few years ago, the only way to achieve this result was with a pricey product that came out of the United Kingdom, for which a single workstation license was thousands of dollars. Motion Key in BCC4 provides the same effect for a fraction of the cost.
Pulling a clean background plate has lots of uses — for instance, removing a car that passes through a shot so you can replace it with a truck. However, Continuum's implementation of the effect cannot be reversed to isolate an object from the background — at least not in the current version. In addition, for the effect to work at all, an object must pass through the frame. In other words, you cannot remove an object from the background if the background is never unobstructed.
Motion Key even works when the camera is moving — for example, within a dolly shot or a handheld shot. However, there are limitations to the amount of movement the effect will tolerate, and it works best when the camera moves sideways as opposed to along the Z-axis.
BCC4 also uses the same optical flow technology for the new Optical Stabilizer filter. There are several versions of similar filters on the market, including The Pixel Farm's PFStable, The Foundry's F_Steadiness, and 2d3's SteadyMove. Like these other products, Optical Stabilizer removes limited camera shake of the kind you find in hand-held shots — and it does this automatically. This means that, while you select areas to track, you don't have to wait for the software to solve the track, which you would then manually apply to footage. This is all handled in one step.
As with any tracker, limited depth of field or blurred footage from excessive motion confuse the filter. But for any sharp, handheld footage, Optical Stabilizer will do a reasonably good job of removing shaky camera work. It's particularly effective at removing camera bumps on otherwise smooth shots. However, you have to scale the shot up because the stabilization holds the footage steady by moving the entire shot beyond the edges of the comp window, leaving a empty screen in places. The solution is to scale the footage up 10 percent to 25 percent so that the footage fills the frame. In any case, this is an effect that seems like it can fix many different types of shaky camera problems, when, in fact, it only works within a fairly narrow set of condition. This is true of all filters of this type — not just Continuum's implementation.
A few other new effects
BCC4 also has added a halftone filter, for which I've already found a use in a print project. One of the other more powerful new filters is 3D Extruded Image Shatter. Continuum has had a shatter effect for some time, but now you can enhance the shattered pieces by giving them depth. This filter has dozens of parameters for shard size, extrusion depth, tumble speed, spin speed, master scale, lights, explosion type, and many other controls. 3D Extruded Image Shatter might not replace a 3D program, but it provides 2D artists with an reasonable alternative for motion graphic and light visual effects work.
A real workhorse filter that's new to BCC4 is Corner Pin Tracker. This lets you track an image to a shape in a clip — for instance, a billboard on a truck that drives past camera. This feature is available in just about every compositing program, but BCC takes it a step further by combining corner-pinning with a built in tracker. Corner pinning typically requires tracking, but that's usually done as a separate pass. BCC Corner Pin Tracker is a good, fast solution that makes use of BCC4's improved tracker.
It would be great to see a few more new filters in Continuum Complete. The last two versions have only added incrementally to the core of very good filters that were an essential purchase a few years ago and, while still a good value today, were due for the big upgrade. For instance, other filter sets have shown more innovation in the area of Blur effects. Optical flow technology will open the door to new powerful effects, and adding foreground extraction to Motion Key would be a coup. However, Boris Continuum Complete 4 adds just enough new effects to the solid foundation of well-implemented old standards that I still strongly recommend it.
Company: Boris FX
Boston; (888) 772-6747
Product: Continuum Complete 4
Assets: Numerous effects filters support Avid Xpress Pro and AVX, Apple Final Cut Pro, Motion, Adobe After Effects, Premiere Pro, Eyeon Fusion, Autodesk Combustion, and Boris Red, for Mac and Windows.
Caveats: Could stand a few more upgrades to older filters.
PRICE: STARTING AT $795 FOR FULL PROGRAM; $249 FOR UPGRADE
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