Rampant Design video effects: Look ma, no plug-ins

You can literally stuff your NLE with loads of plug-ins. The result will be a slow launching app, but you’ll have access to a number of effects, mattes, and what have you got. Rampant Design takes a different approach. It creates its video effects, transitions and mattes simply as movies that you can load in any NLE of choice, thereby avoiding plug-in overload. I tried some 100+ effects from the huge Rampant Design library and found them to be as flexible as plug-ins without the sometimes slow loading speed associated with them.

Rampant Design is a small shop for video post-production editors and artists. The founder of Rampant Design is an Emmy award winning VFX artist whose work has touched acclaimed Hollywood and TV productions including Charmed, Ally McBeal, NCIS, etc.

For this review, I was allowed to download some 37GB worth of video effects. I chose to try out a multitude of Style Mattes, DustFX, LightFX, Soft LightFX, Transitions, FlashFX, FlareFX, and more. All of these effects exist as self-contained QuickTime movies. More specifically, these are 1080p or 4K movies encoded with the Apple PNG codec. They include a timecode. Before I checked the codec I thought these would be ProRes 4444 files, which would make them less snappy to load and use in NLEs such as Avid’s Media Composer and Symphony. But they’re not, so they’ll load and work just as efficiently and effectively as with Adobe Premiere Pro CS6 and Final Cut Pro X — my two testing platforms.

Video effects by Rampant Design

Perhaps I should start with the one flaw (if you want to call it that) I found: the naming of the video effects is not terribly helpful. What’s inside a file called “RampantStyleMattes02007″? You’ll only know after scrubbing the clip. That’s just a tad less useful than the naming convention Crumplepop uses on their Irmiter Dacar lens effects series. At least, Crumplepop tries to come up with something descriptive, but to be honest, even with a “better” naming scheme you really can’t tell what an effect will look like until you scrubbed the clip.

Personally, I think you should ideally have a DAM or catalogue application with video support so you can more efficiently scrub each file and decide which to use — especially with a library the size of Rampant Design’s!

The quality of the effects is stunning, without exceptions. The PNG codec clearly allows for a high image quality.

The DustFX series was the least appealing to me, but that’s more because I wouldn’t really have footage that would benefit of it. To me the most appealing were style mattes and all of the light effects.

Especially the latter are incredibly well done, with subtle but still clear differences between similar files.

Flexibility

The real benefit of Rampant Design’s approach, however, isn’t the quality or the sheer number of clips you can buy for very decent prices. The real benefit is the flexibility of the concept. When you’re working Rampant Design’s video effects, you’re working with regular QuickTime movies.

In Final Cut Pro X, as in Premiere Pro, you can easily change the ‘blend’ mode to anything but normal. By using a Rampant Design light effect (for example) on a secondary video track above the main video timeline and switching the blend mode to Screen, Color Dodge, or any of the other blend modes, you create a composite of the Rampant Design effect and the clip underneath.

Depending on the result you want to achieve, you can choose a different blend mode and extend the number of results you can achieve by at least a factor 10. This is not possible with plug-ins of which the effects are ‘baked in’ as it were with the main video timeline.

As Rampant Design effects are clips of a pre-defined period, you can apply an effect to a limited part of your main video clip, without the need to cut the clip up in pieces in the Sequence or the Timeline. You just place the Rampant Design effect above the main timeline, choose your blend mode and repeat as often as you wish.

Better yet, as some of the light effects differ from each other only in terms of the corners where (again: an example) a light ‘blob’ starts and ends, you can place several of these effect clips one after the other. I’m not a very creative person, but even I managed to turn a dull clip into something more mysterious or add grunge without overdoing it.

Is it more difficult than a plug-in?

Using Rampant Design’s method is very simple and easy to do for simple things. Adding a semi-transparent colour blob that looks like your lens was having a bad day, is only a matter of dragging the clip on top of the main timeline and doing the blend dance.

But if you want to add a title or have a video effect start and end at specific spots, it does become a bit more tricky. One of the more tricky things that I tested was having a flash of light appear in a specific location. In Final Cut Pro X I can drag the clip’s frame to any location I want, but that didn’t work because the flash creates stray light, so there are no 100% transparent areas in this particular clip. The result showed the clip’s frame borders.

Rampant Design video effects: FlashFX
The FlashFX clip below the main scene cut clip. Compositing set at Screen. FlashFX clip dragged down to get the flash effect in the right place.

Changing the blend mode to something else wasn’t an option either, and dragging the transparency slider to make the effect less visible didn’t give me the result I was after. The way I solved it was to reverse the process. Instead of adding the Rampant Design FlashFX clip above my main videoclip, I added the Rampant Design clip to the main timeline, cut the main scene so it fitted the effect clip exactly and dropped it above the FlashFX clip. Setting the blend mode to Screen did the job. The frame borders were gone, my flash was in exactly the right place, and the colours, contrast or brightness of the cut clip that belonged to my scene weren’t affected in any way.

With titles, the process can become even a bit more complex if you’re working with the mattes. To make something exciting, you’ll need the effect and two clips. In Final Cut Pro X, you can take a lot of complexity out of this process by using compound clips. In Premiere Pro or any other NLE, you will find yourself not so lucky.

Conclusion: Rampant Design or a plug-in after all?

Personally, I favour Rampant Design — both their methodology and the products themselves — for three reasons:

  • The quality is stunning
  • You can really be creative, without being limited by a plug-in developer’s creative views
  • You can make it as complex and difficult as you want

Most of the Rampant Design effects cost something in the region of €75.00 per series/DVD. Even for amateur shooters, that is inexpensive enough to justify and add that bit of extra that sets their result apart from the me-too’s.

The Rampant Design Style Mattes “How-To” video:

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