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Boris Blue

Warp Speed, Mr. Sulu

Are you frustrated with the graphics power of your video workstation? Do you feel hampered by your inability to render 3D titles, composites and motion graphics in real time, making it impractical for you to experiment and innovate? Welcome to the club. We buy faster and faster graphics cards, yet we don’t see a commensurate improvement in our 3D renderings. Why not?
Most 3D rendering programs use the computer’s main processor (CPU) to render. Using the graphics processor (GPU) on the graphics card would provide much faster rendering, but it would be a massive headache for a developer to support the variety of cards that are currently available.

Boris FX has solved this conundrum with its new 3D compositing and motion graphics software package, Boris Blue ($1,995). It renders to the GPU, but only for a narrow set of cards. They currently include NVIDIA GeForce 6800, 7800 and 7900-based cards, as well as the NVIDIA Quadro FX 1500, 3450, 3500, 4000 and 4500. The software also requires specific sets of drivers, so you may not be able to upgrade to the latest drivers and still run Blue.
Bump Up Your Polygons
Is it worth all the trouble? Think of Blue as Boris Red on steroids. It offers almost all the capabilities of Red with significantly faster rendering speeds. Unlike Red, Blue lets you animate multiple objects on spline-based paths, as well as import models with large numbers of polygons. Blue has more animation options with its 3D deformers, a wider range of particle engine options and broader control over its 3D materials. Red, on the other hand, works with any Windows-compatible graphics card, has a built-in chart generator and includes a larger selection of software filters.

Blue uses OpenGL for its hardware-assisted 2D and 3D graphics rendering. It requires more than 256MB of texture memory, though a portion of that can be drawn from system memory. I tested the software using an NVIDIA Quadro FX 3500 with 256MB of onboard video RAM, yet Blue’s built-in OpenGL test indicated I had 512MB available for texture memory. Because it relies on hardware-accelerated rendering, Blue lets you adjust parameters in real-time, even when playing back video. Not all of Blue’s features are hardware-accelerated. Third-party After Effects filters that aren’t OpenGL optimized, as well as media-based animations (such as animated gradients and text on a path), are handed to the CPU.

You can preview to OpenGL or to RAM. Why not always preview to OpenGL in real time? It turns out that previewing to RAM can be more accurate. It offers an improved display and timing and lets you hear the accompanying audio (an OpenGL preview doesn’t support audio, while RAM preview does). Fortunately, Blue renders to RAM relatively quickly. Here it helps to have 2GB or more of system memory. The two draft playback modes are labeled as Frame Accurate and Time Accurate. The Time Accurate mode is the one that allows you to stream the accompanying audio.
Impress Your Clients
The biggest payoff for this program and a fast compatible graphics card is the ability to change parameters in real time. Using the built-in OpenGL vertex shaders, you can warp 3D objects via a single parameter. Create impressive 3D particle effects using multiple shapes as the particles and multiple particle types as the emitters. Give your objects highly realistic surfaces using bump maps and natural materials illuminated with dynamic reflections and shadows. You could create these kinds of objects with Red or other interactive rendering programs, but with Blue, you can adjust the parameters and see the results in real time. Your 3D titles and effects will look much better because you’ll be able to tweak them to match the underlying video. You’ll also have better results because you can freely experiment, though if an object is unusually complex, it may not render smoothly in real time.

The biggest downside-apart from the limited selection of supported cards-is the interface. It will be familiar to fans of Boris FX products, but it may confuse other users. For example, drag a video track onto the timeline, and it won’t show up in the composite window as expected. A search through the manual will reveal the video should be placed in a “3D container.” If you want to use the built-in light and camera controls, you’re encouraged to place any object, whether it’s 2D or 3D, into a 3D container. This may seem cumbersome if you’re accustomed to the simplicity of most video editing programs. The documentation is detailed and easy to follow, but expect to spend time sorting out a few interface peculiarities.

Boris FX is an evolutionary step forward for video professionals who want to add 3D and 2D graphics to their projects. It offers true 3D workstation performance for a relatively low price, particularly if you already own a supported NVIDIA graphics card. A trial version of the software is available on the Boris FX website, but be warned, the demo-as well as the program-will function only with a compatible card.

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Categories: Creativity, Review, Technology, Tutorial, VFX/Animation