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The Foundry's Tinderbox 3

Plugin effects for Adobe After Effects By Dave Nagel
What stands out in my mind about The Foundry's products to date is not so much the variety of the tools (though there is plenty of variety) but the quality. The Foundry is, above all, a developer dedicated to the professional video industry, and their effects plugins reflect this not only in terms of the tools they choose to develop, but also in terms of functionality and, maybe more importantly, the final result.

The Foundry develops packages for a wide range of high- and mid-range compositing and motion graphics packages, from Discreet and Avid systems to Shake and Maya Composer. The company now has three collections of Effects for Adobe After Effects, conveniently named Tinderbox 1, Tinderbox 2 and Tinderbox 3. I've previously reviewed Tinderbox 1 and 2, which still stand out as exceptional tools for motion graphics professionals. And now we take a look at Tinderbox 3, The Foundry's latest foray into effects plugins for After Effects.

What it does and how well it does it
Tinderbox 3 is a collection of 21 plugins for Adobe After Effects. Most of these fall into the category of canned special effects, such as Lightning and Condensation. But the collection also includes some motion and time tools; "look and feel" effects like old film and bad television signals; a matte tool; and new blur effects.

For the most part, the effects are quite innovative and are not mere redundant iterations of effects already available for After Effects. Where there is crossover with already existing effects, such as the Lightning plugin, the Tinderbox version adds controls that were previously unavailable and also provides what I think are higher-quality versions of these effects than what's I've seen in other packages.

In terms of performance, Tinderbox is quite quick--with one notable exception. The Lightning plugin is zippy in its default configuration, but it becomes a slow, painful behemoth when adding numerous forks, and it's impossible to interrupt the plugin's calculation process. I had to force quit out of After Effects twice when experimenting with this plugin just because I couldn't otherwise escape out of it. So definitely save before applying this effect and certainly be wary of experimenting with complex lightning effects. (Actually, this problem renders the Lightning plugin almost useless, unless you're willing to waste time experimenting with settings to see which ones will work and which ones will not. But, if you are willing to do so, the lightning effects possible with this plugin can be worth the effort. I hope this is a bug that will be fixed in the very near future.)

It's sort of odd that the Lightning plugin would have this problem. It falls into the Tinderbox category of Generators, which also includes Plasma, Sparks and Starfield. None of the other generators have anything near a problem like this. In fact Plasma, a fractal generator, doesn't get bogged down in the least even with fractals cranked up from the default of 5 to 5,000. And the number of impulses barely causes a stir when it gets bumped up from the default 100 to 600 or so with 5,000 fractals turned on.

The other effects in the collection perform equally well. Yes, you will see some slowdown when you try to blur a billion pixels or go absolutely nuts with generators, but these filters perform within reason for whatever task is at hand (again, with the exception of Lightning).

The plugins
Tinderbox 3 plugins fall into four categories: Blurs, Effects, Generators and Tools. Well look at the general principles, functionality and highlights from the categories, as well as some specific filters that stand out.

To start off, all of the effects contain an enormous amount of controls. Just to give you an example, the Circular Blur plugin, which creates a fairly simple effect, includes no fewer than 29 individual controls. It's an extraordinary amount of control over this effect, and all of the other effects in the collection also include vast numbers of dials, sliders and other setting controls.

All of the effects in the collection also have certain controls in common. These include Blending options (multiply, darken, etc.) with blend amounts and source and effect gain controls; and Source Crops, which, of course, allow you to crop the source and choose how the extra data is processed--with wrap-around edges, reflections, color borders, etc. Some of the filters also include Matte Crop controls.

Finally, all of the effects are 16-bit and also work with 8-bit compositions.

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