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AutoFX Dreamsuite II Review

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AutoFX Dreamsuite II  Review: AutoFX DreamSuite IIAutoFX are famous for their Photo/Graphic Edges plug-in effects that are used to create superb edge effects on digital photographs. They have since gone on to produce some other very useful software that works as a standalone program or within Photoshop as a plug-in, DreamSuite II is their latest offering costing around 129. It provides a selection of graphical tricks that can be applied to photographs, like Photo/Graphic Edges and allows advanced control over each effect.

To test the machine we used the office workhorse - a G3 Mac with a 350Mhz processor running OSX. This is now far from the fastest machine available, but its a fair test for users running computers that are around two to three years old. We also tried it out on a PC with a more modern AMD Duron 800Mhz processor to ensure we have a more current reference point.

AutoFX Dreamsuite II  Review: AutoFX DreamSuite IIOpening the program brings up a full-page menu layout with a preview area to the right and all the controls down the left. The interface is modern looking but has a few quirky bits that make it confusing to use at first, which well explain later.

As with most programs you have a selection of preferences to allow customisation of the program. These are activated by selecting the Edit>Preferences menu option and before you start its well worth paying attention to the Render option.

The default is set to No Delay, which means that every time you try and do anything the program goes into action to perform the adjustments and, in the case of our test machine, made the operation very jerky and sluggish. Selecting the Render Button option makes the software wait for you to make as many changes as you want and only updates the preview when you press the control bars Render button.

AutoFX Dreamsuite II  Review: AutoFX DreamSuite IIIf you have a fast processing computer you can select various options of the default Delayed Render, which controls how long the DreamSuite software waits before automatically rendering an effect.
You call up the effect you want to use from the Special Effects menu bar and either start from scratch creating a new effect or select one of the presets from the menu.

These options and our opinions are as follows:

2.25 Frame
This produces medium-format film rebates around your picture and an automatic drop shadow behind, giving the image a 3D feeling as though the film is lifted from the page. Calling it 2.25 is confusing as this is 2 1/4 film, 120 would have been a good title. You can change size between 6x6cm, 6x7cm and 6x9cm formats and alter the data recorded on the rebate using a basic text editor. You can also change depth of shadow, the reflectivity of the film and much more. We feel this is a very useful filter for enhancing images used on your brochure, catalogue, newsletter or web page graphics.

4x5 Frame
As above, but with a 5x4in large format sheet film style. Here you can change the style of the film notches too. Another one that adds a professional looking appearance to your graphics.

FilmFrame Art
As above, but this combines several variations of film frames on one image each with a section of the picture displayed. This is a little over the top for most applications, but you can start with the preset and strip it down to a more reasonable result. Okay for the occasional projects, but not one you would use regularly.

A very good film grain control offering far more options than Photoshops Noise filter. Great for black & white where you originally shot on a fine grain film and now wished you hadnt. Also good for use on photos taken with digital cameras that sometimes lack realism.

Creates a 35mm strip of film with sprocket holes and has many effects including torn sprockets for those who want to recreate films taken using Zenith cameras! Another useful one for enhancing design projects.

Lets you create a woven pattern out of a photograph with options to interweave two photographs and change the size, length and number of strips. A bit gimmicky and maybe good for the occasional image, but use carefully.

This is similar to above, but displays horizontal or vertical strips that appear at different angles to make a shredded paper effect. This is a little more practical than the Mesh filter, but should also be used occasionally to avoid repetitive results.

Presses a selection area of a photo into the rest of the picture. Not the most interesting filter weve come across!

Plastic Wrap
Makes the picture look as though its cling film and can be stretched and warped to make realistic effects. Needs plenty of time to experiment here though as results can look awful.

Puzzle Pieces
This one puts a jigsaw pattern over your photo and is good for the occasional effect as it can, if used well, produce some very creative images.

Another jigsaw style filter that produces tiles that can be moved around like a puzzle or stacked in a pile for an interesting, but occasional, effects.

This one adds a new dimension to the Photo/Graphic Edges series. It wrinkles up the paper making the edges ragged, so it looks as though the photo is printed on a piece of uncrumpled paper or a floppy dish cloth. We feel its one of the best in this collection and has lots of potential.

AutoFX Dreamsuite II  Review: AutoFX DreamSuite II

A pop-up window appears with various controls when a filter is selected and the preview picture appears on the main canvas. Each effect has its own mix of settings within four main tabs. These include Effect, Surface, Environment and Lighting controls and are accessed by clicking on the associated icons at the top of the effect control bar.

When youre new to the program youll want to play around with each control to see what it does, some sliders are obvious from their titles others less so. It will take a while for you to become used to what works and what doesnt so youll find the Memory Dot button useful. Here you make snapshots of various stages of effects that you can revert back to. You also have a Preset option to store an unlimited amount of your favorite settings to apply again in the future.

AutoFX Dreamsuite II  Review: AutoFX DreamSuite II

If you are running DreamSuite from within PhotoShop you can use the Last Filter command and apply the same effect on subsequent pictures, without having to go back and reapply all the individual settings. You can also use the Fade filter command.

Another useful trick is being able to apply an effect on one photograph and then change the photo, or add others, if you like the effect, but think it would work better with another photo. You can also select the Object Transformation tool to Select, Move, Scale, Stretch and Rotate the surrounding effect or image within the effect.

When you are happy with the result you dont click on the Save button as youd expect, you have to go to the File button and select save from there. There isnt even a Ctlr+S shortcut! The Save button is for saving presets and caught me out on several occasions. Also theres a button that says Original that I was tempted to click on to take me back to the original photo so I could start again. It just shows a preview of the original so you can check what the effect has done to the picture and where essential parts are in the original. Also clicking on revert doesnt take you back to an unedited picture, it just removes the last filter effect. I would like to see a Save option and a Revert to save. Also a back to original unedited option to start again would be useful.

AutoFX Dreamsuite II  Review: AutoFX DreamSuite IIThis is an image created using the wrinkle filter. Nice and easy and very effective.

AutoFX Dreamsuite II  Review: AutoFX DreamSuite IIHere one of the presets was used for FilmFrame Art and the bottom picture was substituted with a different part of the image than the program selected.

AutoFX Dreamsuite II  Review: AutoFX DreamSuite IIHere we tried the film frame a 6x6cm on the left and a 5x4in on the right. Very convincing effects that can be used on many projects to add a level of professionalism to your graphics.

When saving pictures you have a choice of native format or .bmp, .psd, .tif, .jpg and .png. In Jpeg format you are not given the usual choice of quality as DreamSuite automatically selects best quality mode. If you want pictures for the Web and always use a certain level of compression youll have to open them up again in Photoshop. This is time consuming and unnecessary.

Talking of time consuming I thought that a photo would save quickly as it often took between one and four minutes just to process the preview. You have to wait at least the same amount, often much longer to save the result. When we commented on this AutoFX said; The strength (and weakness) we face is that our software does dozens of different algorithms and steps to produce a visual look. Each time a setting is changed, we must update many, if not all, of the processes to refresh the visual.
Speed is one of the major areas on the Mac that we strive to improve with each update of our software. Memory management and slower processors on the Mac make the software run at 1/2 the speed or slower than on PC, but we still look for ways to improve our speed despite the limitations.
We tested version 1.1.6, which at the time of writing is the best. It reminded me of the early days of using Photoshop 4.0 when it took minutes to apply a filter using an old 66Mhz processor machine. DreamSuite appears to have turned my G3 Mac into a dinosaur!

AutoFX produce products that are well away from the me-too category and DreamSuite II offers some excellent effects along with some that are, frankly, a waste of time. The good outweighs the bad, though, and its a great tool to add to your collection, especially if you are a designer looking for new graphical tricks. PC users running one of the latest Intel or AMD machines will not find the speed an issue, but if you have an older computer, especially a Mac, you may feel frustrated waiting for things to happen. The interface could be improved to make things a little more logical, otherwise no real issues. Ill be using enough of the grain, wrinkle and film rebate tools to make it well worth the cost.

There is a 28Mb trial version available to download on the AutoFX web-site.
Test by Peter Bargh

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