DigiEffects Simulate: Illuma

Cheap lighting effects

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DigiEffects Simulate: Illuma
  • DigiEffects Simulate: Illuma
  • DigiEffects Simulate: Illuma
  • DigiEffects Simulate: Illuma

Pros

  • Low-cost, great lighting tools for motion-graphics artists, innovative preset and randomise system.

Cons

  • Subtle effects difficult to achieve, usable mainly with high-contrast footage

Bottom Line

Simulate: Illuma is a great low-cost selection of plug-ins for motion-graphics artists and other stylised work.

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Lighting is one of the hardest real-world phenomena to replicate with VFX. The intricate play of photons across surfaces is something five-frames-an-hour 3-D rendering engines have trouble with, so few compositing suites or their plug-ins can do it properly.

The most popular plug-in for lighting is part of GenArts Sapphire (which was reviewed here as part of our group test of visual effects plug-ins collections), which costs between £305 and £860 depending on how many other of the top-notch plug-ins you want — so DigiEffects’ launch of a lighting-specific set will be welcome news to creative pros on smaller budgets.

Simulate: Illuma includes five filters: Halo, Lightracer, Luminus, Photogust and Radiance. Halo simulates lens diffraction caused by light sources that are directly in shot, Lightracer mimics phosphorescent lighting, and Luminus is a traditional glow effect. Photogust is an expanded version of a light rays effects, while Radiance is a glow effect with per-colour channel controls.

Each filter includes a fairly large number of parameters — between 10 and 20 — plus some innovative preset tools. All have six buttons at the top of the Effect Controls/Filters palette: four numbered buttons, Record and Randomize. The numbered buttons allow access to some standard presets for the effect. Record allows you to save your current settings to a file, which can be manually renamed to replace these presets — which is fiddly but makes it almost impossible to accidentally delete your presets. This somewhat replicates After Effects’ Animation Presets, but is quicker on a day-to-day basis.

Randomize does exactly that, mixing up the parameters for some new effects. DigiEffects describes this as a brainstorming tool, but as with After Effects’ Brainstorm tool, randomly assigning values is a bit like flinging paint at the wall and hoping it produces art. Where it is useful is that by quickly flicking through random settings, you learn what all of the parameters do and how they work together (and how they don’t).

All of the filters work best with high-contrast material, with Halo and Lightracer only really of use for dark scenes with obvious bright light sources, such as the night shot of Hong Kong shown below. Luminus can apply glows to more balanced scenes, but it’s very difficult to use it to apply a warming glow to a skin tone, as in a million glossy ads.

Photogust seems like many other ‘light rays’ filters but has a nifty set of extra controls. On top of the usual centre-point selection tool and ray-length controls, there are sliders for adjusting channel levels to tint your effect. Radiance combines glows with a range of directional blurs — plus controls over tinting, threshold, channels and apply mode. It’s the most powerful tool here and almost worth buying the whole set for.

It’s hard to review Illuma without comparing it to Sapphire, despite the price difference. Sapphire’s plug-ins have the subtlety to work with a wider range of footage and create both realistic and stylish results — while Illuma’s tools almost always create something that looks like an ‘effect’. Sapphire also has a wider range of parameters than Illuma, and includes a larger number of tuned filters — including nine glows — that make it quicker to get to the final effect you want.

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