The latest cloud-based subscription model for video and VFX tools arrives from Red Giant, which just launched its Universe platform. Membership in Universe, described by Red Giant as a "community" of editors, VFX artists, and motion designers, is free, although there is a premium subscription option, as well as a special one-time fee for a lifetime memberhsip.

Universe members will be able to use 31 Red Giant tools at no charge (including 22 effects and nine transitions) while another 19 tools will be available only to premium subscribers. Naturally, the Universe versions of some of the most popular Red Giant tools — at launch, they include Knoll Light Factory EZ, Holomatrix, Retrograde, and ToonIt — will be available only with the premium subscription. That will cost $10 per month or $99 per year. For many users, the most cost-effective option will be the $399 lifetime membership fee. For the time being, at least, new members get a 30-day trial subscription to the premium version.

Every tool in Universe is GPU-accelerated, works on Mac and Windows, and runs in After Effects CS 5.5 and later, Premiere Pro CS 6 and later, Final Cut Pro X 10.0.9 and later, and Motion 5.0.4 and later. Red Giant said the library of tools offered to Universe users will expand on a regular basis, with new additions based in part on user feedback. Members will be asked for input on which effects and transitions should be added to Universe, and will be invited to beta-test new offerings.

Access to the tools in Universe is granted through Red Giant Link, an application that allows users to log in to their Red Giant accounts. Once logged in, Universe members see the effects and transitions show up automatically in their app of choice. (Some existing Red Giant effects, like Toonit and Knoll Light Factory, have been reworked and streamlined for Universe so that they run faster and require less configuration.) After the trial runs out, free subscribers will be able to render clips with the premium effects, but those renders will be watermarked to prevent their use in finished projects.

You'll need Mac OS X 10.8.5 (Mountain Lion) or later, Windows 7 64-bit (home or pro), and Windows 8 to run Universe. While Universe requires GPU rendering, that won't be much of a limitation for pro users — graphics hardware as low-end as the Intel HD 3000 is supported, though more up to date cards from Nvidia and AMD are recommended.