On opening Mirage you’re greeted with the standard menu/window layout found in most compositing/effects applications. It looks a bit like Discreet Combustion, but has elements of Painter, Photoshop and Shake, too. This mixture of references gives a clue to the nature of the software – Mirage is a hybrid paint, compositing, rotoscoping and visual-effects tool – and as such provides a serious option for motion-graphics artists, animators and video editors.
The innovation starts with the interface. Mirage buttons allow a variation on the usual menu collection: a left-click of the mouse enables the feature, while a right-click on the icon gives access to the variable attributes. A second option is also available when clicking on any drawing tools for the second time - a square tool becomes a filled square, for example.
The Colour Picker options include the ability to pick a colour from anywhere on the interface, including the colours on menu buttons. An interesting feature of the painting toolset is the Redo function. You can undo a paint stroke, then change the settings (brush size, opacity and so on) then hit the Redo button to automatically paint the same stroke again with the new settings.
You add video and animation over time using layers on a timeline as usual, but you can also drag a single frame out along the timeline to create animations with adjustable keyframes. Animators in particular can also make use of a light-table feature in the Project Display window.
When loading footage there is support for a large amount of video file formats – QuickTime, AVI and so on. You can change the frame rate or resolution while importing, and can also choose to preload animation
or video – so that the entire file is loaded into RAM.
This makes it quicker to work with and also means that if you add layers and export it, you have the complete project in one place. Footage can be added as a new layer in an existing project, as a new project, or as a custom animated brush. You can also have video streaming in from an external source such as a Video Toaster or webcam, and this can be viewed at any time by clicking the V button on the main window.
You can perform basic compositing with the unlimited 32-bit layers – scaling, rotating and adding effects like drop-shadows and gradients. There is also the Advanced Keyer, a serious compositing tool with an excellent spill-removal feature for getting rid of green or blue edges. Mirage also has a pixel tracker (down to the sub-pixel level) for image stabilization – useful when working with jerky handheld video or adding CG elements or new logos to footage.
The process is simple, and compares favourably to that found in Combustion or more-dedicated tracking tools.
So far, so After Effects – but the FX Stack in Mirage changes the playing field. This works a little like the Filter Gallery in Photoshop CS by allowing multiple effects and previews of how their options and various configurations will affect the footage, animation or still image. Adding the stack (or the individual effects) to a Bin saves them for use in other projects. Each effect can be keyframed by setting different variables over time. Custom brushes using multiple effects can be created in this way – it’s all very quick and easy.
Auto Paint is a neat feature that appears in other applications, but is most welcome here. Simply record a text brushstroke, apply it to a set period of time, and save it to the Bin. Then you can apply the stroke over new projects and apply effects to it, slow it down and so on. In reality, a motion path has been created that any element can follow – so you could, for example, make a lightning bolt follow the text stroke to provide an ethereal writing effect. Auto Paint is also useful when creating reveals. It obviously needs to work on video or animated frames and it can be a bit fiddly to get right, but it has the potential to be a very useful tool.
Particle effects are a key area for motion graphics and Mirage offers a simple way of applying animated particle elements. When combined in the FX Stack with the Auto Paint feature it’s possible to create highly professional looking titles.
There are also loads of colour-correction tools, including the rather nifty colour-eraser tool. This lives up to its name and allows single colours to be removed from the scene, or isolated in an otherwise greyscale image. The colour effects can be keyframed and applied to the total footage using the Apply FX Stack command.
On the rendering side, Mirage offers volumetric lighting for impressive text effects and even more impressive video manipulation. For example, luminosity values of the image can be used to create dramatic glowing auras. Attributes for this effect, like everything else, can be adjusted and animated over time using keyframes.
The application is almost too responsive; mistakes were easily made when drop-down menus and dialog boxes popped open at high speed. The undo function isn’t the greatest in the world, either. The application crashed only once during testing, but some of the problems came from unfamiliarity – things didn’t always happen as expected. Although Mirage provides quick solutions to common visual-effects tasks, there’s a lot to take in. Inline help pop-ups get you orientated, though, and there’s also a link to the forums and
FAQs on the Bauhaus site.
So, who’s going to buy Mirage? It provides the capabilities of After Effects/Combustion and Photoshop in one package, is affordable, and doesn’t have the latter’s print-oriented focus. As such, it would be ideal for a solo production house running Final Cut Pro HD or Avid Xpress DV. It’s fast and can produce production-level results – so Mirage is definitely an option if you’re taking on the big facilities for the odd piece of TV work, or just want to dabble with a very powerful paint, effects and rotoscoping tool.