One of the challenges of being a designer of any discipline is showing what you are thinking to the client, director, producer, or even any other person. That’s why we make lots of versions of drawings, renders, tests, and whatever else to show people. However, sometimes when you are in tech for a show, something happens, and you don’t have time to prepare something. Maybe a scene gets cut or a new song is added, or maybe a cue you’ve made just isn’t making sense anymore. A major difficulty for video and projection people, specifically, is that it takes a long time to render versions of a file, and often there just isn’t that time available. The problem further augmented by our very complicated editing tools, Apple Final Cut Pro and After Effects, because they are dense and esoteric, and can be clumsy to show someone lots of options quickly. You might be working with an incredibly talented theatre artist who understands visual ideas, style, and concept, and has five Tony Awards, but if he or she doesn’t understand what you’re showing, it isn’t going to help you.

I have always been a fan of Red Giant’s Magic Bullet Looks, but more recently I stumbled into using it as a collaboration tool. I can load up footage in After Effects or Final Cut, and work on it until I want to ask what direction to go, then call over the director, start the LooksBuilder, and be presented with a clean, intuitive interface with many, many thumbnails of different presets to use as starting points. Does the director want it to look old or new? Like a horror film? Bam! Click the look, and review. Don’t like it? Easy, just click another one. There is even a feature called Look Theater that just plays each preset, one after another, in a slideshow. This lets you see a bunch of versions instantly, so you can make a choice, and everyone can move on. Now, I don’t recommend that you just click a preset without tweaking it specifically for your footage, but you could do that in a pinch.

If I had to start over, Magic Bullet is simply the first plug-in I would buy. Being able to customize presets for your specific show and save them for later is Magic Bullet’s best feature, and strangely, also one of its weakest. Bizarrely, when you save a Look, it saves it to a file and does not add a thumbnail for it in its viewer. When you want to use a custom preset, the program wants you to open it each time without seeing it first. The LooksBuilder interface offers no intuitive way of adding it to the LooksBuilder library. However, with a bit of poking around my Mac, I was able to add custom folders and Look files by putting them in /Library/Application Support/LooksBuilder/Looks/. I’m sure that there is a comparable folder in the Windows file system as well.

Daniel Brodie is a freelance New York-based projection designer and multimedia artist. Check out