The people over at Red Giant have made some amazing plugins over the years. While I certainly don’t use them all; there are a handful that I use on a regular basis in my day to day production work. One of the most useful to me has been Magic Bullet Looks.
Looks is a combination of a few of the plug-ins that come included with the full Magic Bullet Suite, as well as some effects that are native in AE or PP (like curves). You can also add all sorts of useful tweaks like a key or fill light, spot exposure, gradients and a ton of preset effect “Looks” where all you do is drag and drop the effect.
Looks within the Premiere Pro effects panel
How you use Looks and which of these effects you use will depend entirely on the types of projects you work on and your workflow. This will not be a comprehensive review of Looks but rather a antecdotal review of the features that I use on a regular basis.
My favorite features
Within Looks there are some Red Giant features that can be purchased individually (like Cosmo and Mojo) or you can purchase the Magic Bullet suite which includes them both as well as:
Looks itself combines some of Red Giants proprietary plugins (Cosmo, etc) with many of the most used post-processing tools that a user may need. The ones I use the most within Looks itself are the Vingette and the Edge Softness. I use these when I am trying to create a very refined and professional tone to my piece and don’t mind losing some of the edges of the frame to darkness or blurriness.
There is also a filter called “Pop” that will sharpen and slightly brighten or expose the subjects face in your image. In my experience it can serve almost like and “eye light” or even save your a$! when if you have accidentally shot your subject slightly soft (in combination with premiere’s sharpen filter). Another filter that you may find useful is the spot exposure. Use this filter if you want to brighten up (expose) the subjects face more so it stands out from the rest of the image. You can use this really anywhere you want but I have only used it for lightening up faces that are too dark.
You might be saying I can do all that in Premiere or AE with masks and filters! That’s true. Everything I just listed can be done in those programs with a combination of masks, lights, etc. However, from my experience, using Looks creates a one stop shop for you where you can make all your image adjustments in one fell swoop.
The Preset “Looks” pane to the left
For my post-production process this works extremely well. Once my editorial decisions are in order and my cuts are all semi-locked; I will go into my clips and do my basic color correction and apply any “Looks” type effects to them. You don’t have to leave either PP or AE to access Looks; just apply the effect and the Magic Bullet window will open.
With Cosmo Effect applied
Cosmo also can really enhance the look of your subject (especially if they have facial blemishes or acne). Cosmo essentially softens the skin, reduces wrinkles or blemishes, and balances skin tones. There is a slider control so you can modify and adjust each of these elements to your liking. It can be very easy to overdo the Cosmo effect- so use it sparingly. In my early days with Looks, I used Cosmo on almost all of my footage. However, now I only use Cosmo if the subject has significant skin problems that can be marginalized with its controls.
Now I would be lying if I said that I didn’t still use some of the default effects that Looks offers in PP and AE instead. Why? Honestly, its just a matter of habit. I have gotten so used to applying curves filters in PP and AE over the years that I just feel more comfortable with the interface. Thats not to say Looks interface is bad; I just have lots of experience with the Adobe suite in this specific circumstance.
I still do most of my primary color correction (curves, contrast, saturation, etc) in PP (or AE) and leave most of the finer tuning (cosmo, vingettes, etc) to Looks. I also will admit that the Looks interface does take a little time to get used to. I would not consider it the most user friendly interface around (but hey neither are PP or AE :))
Since I mostly work in corporate video, most of the extreme preset stylizations in Looks are not things that I use at all. Almost all the preset looks are too dramatic or extreme for my usage. However, I can certainly see how a filmmaker or high-end commercial producer may find them useful in creating a stylized look.
Probably the biggest drawback that I have seen to using looks is that it does crash PP sometimes. I haven’t seen the same behavior with AE; but it does happen fairly regularly with Looks. Perhaps it could be that my machine at work needs updating.
The other thing I find as a small drawback is the interface. Since it does not open natively in PP or AE; getting the muscle memory for the interface will take some practice. Again, once you get used to it; it functions just fine. However, switching from a workflow in AE or Premiere for color correction and stylizing over to Looks may take some time.
So if you have a hard deadline my advice would be to get your feet wet when you have a little more time to explore the features. Once you have adapted your normal workflow to Looks it can be incredibly powerful, easy to use tool and can really help create a professional and polished look.