Review: Red Giant Magic Bullet Editors 2
Posted Apr 24, 2006

MBE 2 adds ten new looks and a greatly accelerated rendering engine to what was already, arguably, the leading product in the business for adding "film look" effects to digital video. With its improved performance (given a compatible video card), I'd give MBE 2 a 9 out of 10.

Price: $395 (individual plug-ins; $99 upgrade from MBE 1); $795 (plug-in suite)

For more information, contact:
Red Giant Software,

Eighteen months ago I reviewed Magic Bullet Editors for Final Cut Pro, published by Red Giant Software (November 2004). Essentially, I gave MBE a solid 7 out of 10 considering the pros of functionality versus the cons of pricing. I suggest referring to my original review as I'm not going to re-cover the same territory here in this follow-up of version 2.

But first, a quick summary of the functionality for those of you new to the software: Magic Bullet is a collection of effects and filters designed to bring the same kinds of effects used in big-budget films to more modest digital video productions. These filters add grain, artifacts, and color manipulation in ways that are generally more subtle than what you'd get with your NLE. There's also more specificity to certain kinds of effects than would make sense to include in a general-purpose NLE's standard effects palette; you can actually mimic the looks and processes used by actual films and TV shows with these filters and looks. All the effects are configurable as well.

Magic Bullet Editors is derived from the Magic Bullet custom effects package designed by former Industrial Light & Magic developer Stu Maschwitz for use in Hollywood productions. It's an off-the-shelf version of the original Magic Bullet that works as a plug-in for various NLEs. Hence the "Editors" portion of the name. Individual plug-ins go for $395 ($99 upgrade from MBE 1); the entire plug-in suite goes for $795.

MBE 2 is a full-step upgrade to the software. For more detail on specific features and effects, check out the review of MBE 1.

Rendering Speed

One major consideration in the first MBE review was rendering speed. For all its dazzling effects, the engine that rendered those effects in MBE 1—even on a state-of-the-art G5—was just too slow to fit into the workflow of many videographers who face tight deadlines and probably spend too much time in the editing bay on most projects anyway. MBE 2 promises to improve on its predecessor in that regard. And it does!

On a "standard," out-of-the-box G5 Mac, rendering is marginally faster than in the first version (really too close to call), but the real power comes to those who amp up their machines with one of the newer ATI or NVIDIA, with speed jumps ranging from 4X to 17X. See Table 1 for details.

Table 1

Speed Boost over MBE 1MacintoshSpeed Boost over MBE 1Windows


ATI 9600 Pro/XT


NVIDIA 6600 GT/6800, Quadro 540


ATI 9700 Pro, 9800 Pro/XT


NVIDIA 6800 GT/Ultra, Quadro 1400/3400/4000


ATI X800, X850 XT
NVIDIA 6800 GT/Ultra DDL


NVIDIA 7800 GT/GTX, Quadro 4400/4500

What accounts for this performance boost? The new, proprietary Deep Color RT Render Engine. This little creature alone makes up for any hindrance described in my previous review of MBE.

I found rendering speeds to be significantly faster and even surpassed some estimates given by Red Giant Software (depending on the effect applied).

So, What Else is New?

There are ten new Look presets that you can quickly and easily apply to your footage, as well as the Misfire Film Damage plug-in carried over from version 1. Combining these presets will give you complete control over just how much like film you want your footage to look.

The one thing that I like about this is the ability to adjust each element of the Looks to taste. There is so much control available to the user that the user's manual barely scratches the surface. If ever there were a plug-in begging for an in-depth training DVD or manual, this would certainly qualify. (And I'd be the first to sign up.)

In addition to Apple Motion 2 support for Mac users, there is also the new Compression Correction engine. This little diddy will allow you to smooth out the "jaggies" that have plagued the DV format since its inception, making for a cleaner finished image as well as better blue- and green-screen processing.

So, What's Wrong with It?

The initial release seemed a bit buggy for a few users judging by the reception MBE 2 received in the Red Giant Magic Bullet forum on Creative COW, but their engineers have been quick to respond and issues have been getting worked out in minutes and hours, it seems, rather than weeks and months. I should point out that I've experienced none of these problems, and I only mention it because of the speed of response. To me, that's awesome customer service.

I would liked to have seen more preset Looks packaged with the software, and I half expect it won't be long until I discover that someone has started a repository on the Web of user-designed looks to share.

The list price has jumped 30% as well, but for the added benefit of the Deep Color RT Render Engine, I'd say that's a fair trade—if you've already invested $150-$350-plus in an acceptable video card, that is.

I'm going to bite the bullet (pun intended, of course) and give Magic Bullet Editors 2 a more-than-respectable 9 out of 10.

System Requirements:
- Hardware: Mac G4+ running OS X 10.3+ with 256MB RAM or 600MHz Pentium 3 running Windows 2000/XP
- Software: Apple Final Cut Pro 4.1+, Apple Motion 2.0, Adobe Premiere Pro 1.5+, Avid Express 1.5+ or Media Composer (does not currently support Apple FCE, Avid Liquid, Ulead MSP, or Adobe After Effects)