The latest suite of filters for After Effects adds stabilization, cartoon effects and a handy pixel fixer to the mix

When I reviewed Boris Continuum Complete (BCC) 5 two years ago, I was impressed with its wide range of effects that could be run directly from within Adobe Premiere Pro, without having to go into After Effects. BCC 6 AE adds some significant new effects, as well as new ways to purchase the suite.

The new effects in version 6 include a broad set of text and image-styling filters, including Extruded Text, Type-On Text, Extruded Spline, Layer Deformer, Extruded EPS, DV Fixer, Smooth Tone, Cartoon Look, Charcoal Sketch, Pencil Sketch, Water Color, Pixel Fixer, Lightning, Tile Mosaic, and Swish Pan.

The first new filter I tried out was the “pixel fixer,” a handy tool that aims to fix every camera owner’s nightmare, dead pixels. The filter works by letting you identify up to 20 dead pixels before blurring them out. When I first saw it demonstrated at NAB, they showed it in a short dark scene with little background detail. When I discovered a large cluster of dead pixels in footage I shot on my Panasonic AG-DVC200, I tried to fix the whole 90-minute DV file at once. Maybe that was too ambitious. The result ended up looking like a blurry spot on the lens. Those with shorter clips to fix may have better luck, but I won’t be using this one too often.

Next I tried the new optical image stabilizer. I’ve tried a number of stabilizer programs over the years and this one in BCC 6 is the best I’ve seen. I tried it on some HD home video and was amazed at not only how well it stabilized the video but also the quality of the output of the final product. The other stabilization software I tried was passable, at best. The results I saw here were great and didn’t end up looking blocky, either. I’ll never ask myself again, “should I leave this a little shaky or stabilize it and make it look blocky?” No blocks here.

I’m familiar with Red Giant’s Toonit filters (I reviewed Digital Anarchy’s version for Premiere Pro and After Effects two years ago), which make video look like different types of animation. BCC 6 includes four filters of the same variety: Cartoon Look, Charcoal Sketch, Pencil Sketch and Watercolor. Want to make your video look like the Charles Schwab brokerage commercials? Just hit the effect preset called “Charles Schwab” and you’re halfway home. While my Matrox MXO2 LE gave me a real-time preview on an external monitor, you will need to do some rendering to see it in motion. Testing a 30-second clip, it would have taken my HP z800 with two quadcore 3.2 GHz Nahalem Xeon CPUs about 11 minutes to render. It takes a lot to slow down HP’s top-of-the-line workstation, but this filter, which uses hardware-accelerated rendering, did it. It did look cool though.

To my eye, Charcoal Sketch and Pencil Sketch look very similar, though Charcoal is softer and less detailed and Pencil is sharper and more detailed. Both filters turn an image into a black-and-white drawing. Each one, however, has many customization parameters, so you could end up with very different looking results after a few tweaks.

Watercolor will give your video a colored, blurred look. After my latest surgery (to fix my right hand after a car accident), I was on Percocet. Strong stuff: When I was on it, at times I felt like I was living inside the Watercolor filter. If you need to give the perspective of someone on drugs, this could be the filter. You can alter this filter’s settings in any number of ways to give your video a “far out” look.

Tile Mosaic takes video and makes it look like different types of tiles, from strait rows to motifs with different sizes and textures, such as sand stone. I couldn’t think how I’d use this particular filter in my daily work, but I know I want to try it out. This filter also needs some horsepower to render.

The Lightning filter lets you make custom lightning bolts that shoot from one point to another.   There are many presets to get you started. I easily drew a couple of pillars in the Premiere Pro CS4 titler, then put it over some video, then easily set the lightning bolts to emanate from the two electrodes. I can see church videographers going to town with this filter.

The Swish Pan filter is really more of a transition. It is based on the popular optical film transition effect where the camera person swishes the camera at the end of a scene, then starts rolling for the next scene, beginning with another swish to continue the movement. It’s a really cool effect when done correctly. Unfortunately, I had a lot of trouble getting this filter to work properly. As a matter of fact, as of this writing I’m still stumped. My suggestion to Boris is to redo this filter as a transition. It would be so much easier to drop it on the junction of two clips on a timeline or sequence then to try and pull it off as a filter. Boris does have a very good reason for doing it this way, however, and told me, “Because BCC integrates with Premiere Pro as native filters, we must use the After Effects plug-in API; the After Effects plug-in API does not provide for true two-input transition effects.” Maybe they can make it a Boris FX transition then?

Most of BCC 6 AE’s effects run in Adobe’s Premiere Pro CS4, my NLE of choice, and After Effects, an application with which I have a love-hate relationship. There are a few new effects that only run in After Effects. They tend to involve 3D text, or both. The BCC 6 filters that run in AE I find easier to use than many native AE filters. One that was surprisingly easy to use was the Type-On Text filter. While I’ve used AE’s templates to make animated titles before, this lets you do much more, with less work. It also creates the text in 3D, with a wide array of textures, and pre-made motion files that far exceeds what you can do in AE alone.

If you decide that you don’t need every one of these many new effects and don’t want to shell out $995, you have some nice flexible buying options. Specialized, task-specific units of BCC 6 sell for $99 to $399.

There’s a lot to like inside the full version of Boris Continuum Complete 6 AE, however. If you already have a previous version, the $295 upgrade price will give you not just more effects but better overall functionality. If you are editing HD, keep in mind that you’ll need the most powerful system you can get if you want to use some of the new effects. I tested the suite on my very fast HP z800 workstation running 64-bit Vista Business, along with NVIDIA’s Quadro FX4800 GPU, 12 GB of RAM and Matrox’s MXO 2 LE (for I/O). If some of these effects tax your system, as they did mine, you should be prepared to spend some time rendering. The good news is that the results are worth the wait. Though there were a couple of filters that had me scratching my head, Boris has some really good online tutorials that helped me get up to speed quickly. I highly recommend BCC 6. While there were a couple effects in this package that didn’t work as well as I had hoped, the vast majority of these filters are useful in numerous ways. If you are upgrading from a previous version, it is a no brainer for $295.