MGLA Meeting Summary for April 3, 2000

Our April meeting found us back at AFI with a pretty good crowd even though we were competing with the national college basketball championship. This is important to note since 2/3 of your MGLA hosts are serious sports fans (Trish only likes golf...).

Our Q&A session started at 7 and covered topics related to Mac OS System 9 and some new features in After Effects 4.1 that may help you a little more than you would like. AE will now automatically interpret many file types, and thus separate fields without you specifically telling it to. This can be a problem if you don't catch it when you're simply bringing in field-rendered material and crunching it to a new QT codec, where you frame render on output.

Our first presenter and sponsor for the evening's event (many thanks) was Artel Software. Glen Seaman came down to show Boris FX Pro, Boris Graffiti and Boris Red.

With version 5.0 Boris FX Pro has added their own interface to their plug in system--complete with their own keyframing, layering, importing and RAM preview systems. Instead of multiple effects menu items with Boris 5.0 you get a single menu item that brings up their software. You can also work in the old AE style of individual effects, as well.

Boris Graffiti is a powerful titling/text editing plug-in for After Effects. With Graffiti you get margins, word-wrap, superscript, subscript and many other text-editing features you'd find in a word processing application. You can import text from Simple Text documents and also apply effects such as fill and stroke. Tracking and individual pair kerning are also supported. Graffiti was designed to allow you to easily build a title roll, crawls, fades, zooms, etc. You can also automatically "break up" text so that different effects can be applied to individual letters. Motion blur of moving text is also supported.

Boris Red is the third new software package from Boris and focuses on doing 3D inside of After Effects. Similar to the two other new packages Boris Red features it's own user interface that works inside AE. Boris Red features Z depth controls so you can accurately place layers in front of or behind other layers. Thus when you perform 3D moves the layers will respect the Z depth and react accordingly by casting accurate shadows, having correct plane intersections, etc. You can also add light sources with various application modes.

Even though it's an AE plug-in you can apply other AE plug-ins to layers inside Boris Red. While this can get strangely self-referential, it will allow you to use AE plug-ins via Boris Red on other systems such as Media 100 on which Boris Red also runs. Other key features of Boris' interface include the ability to drag and drop effects between layers and apply effects to a group of layers by enclosing them in a "container".

These new Boris software packages work in Adobe After Effects, Adobe Premier and Media 100. If you buy a package you get the software for all systems. Preliminary prices are as follows: Graffiti = $399; FX Pro $1000; Red $2000.

*****

Next up was Jim Tierney now of Cycore. He dropped by to show us Cycore's new Cult 3D, an impressive system for delivering interactive 3D content over the Web. Cult 3D allows you to create or process 3D objects that can be viewed and manipulated in Netscape and Internet Explorer via the appropriate plug-ins.

The plug-in is essentially a realtime rendering engine. Featuring specular highlights and reflections the quality was, frankly, amazing. The authoring software allows you to attach Java applets to sections of the model, which allows you to interact with the model by pushing buttons, turning dials, etc. Jim showed us an example of a watch where you could adjust the hands and a Palm Pilot where you could bring up pages on the screen by pressing the appropriate buttons - you could even take the stylus out of its holder!

Currently the authoring software only runs on PC, but a Mac version is coming. Objects can be created within the authoring software or imported from 3D Studio Max. Import from Strata, Maya (and we hope other 3D packages) is promised.

Pricing structure for the authoring tool is as follows: Free to students; $360 for web designers; and $3600 per URL for commercial sites.

For more information can be found at Cycore's web site. There's also a forum at: <http://www.worldof3D.com> that may be of interest.

*****

We continued on the web front with our next presenter Michael Ninness of Adobe who came down to show us a preliminary version of Adobe's Live Motion, a program designed to create Flash animation's for the web.

The program takes many of the basic principles of After Effects and puts them in a simple easy-to-use program that outputs web graphics.

Most of the basic operating principles were familiar to the many AE users in our group so we may have seemed like a tough audience to Michael. However, when he moved into some of the more advanced features he quickly impressed this group of "hard core" motion graphics professionals. Key features include the ability to import and automatically update layered Adobe Photoshop files, non-destructive resampling of bitmapped images and text break apart features. Michael then really got the crowd going when he demonstrated a magnifying glass effect where one object transformed an underlying object.

Mind you, we were a bit surprised by the oohs and aahs that accompanied the demo of hot keying a layer over to Photoshop, editing it, and having Live Motion automatically reimport the updated layer. After Effects has had the same feature for years (look under the Edit menu...).

Adobe's Live Motion is expected to ship in May. The price is undetermined at this point. A public beta can be downloaded from <http://www.adobe.com/products/livemotion/betareg.html>

*****

Another event of note is that MGLA co-host Chris and Trish Meyer have finished their book "Creating Motion Graphics with After Effects", and it's on the presses this week (expect it in bookstores by the end of the month). Since co-host Lachlan Westfall is writing this summary I can heartily recommend purchasing this book without appearing self-serving (grin). You can read all about it, and download the Table of Contents and a sample chapter by clicking on this link.

****

Our final presenter of the evening was MGLA favorite Alex Lindsay who came down to de-construct an effect shot from start to finish. After a long stint at Industrial Light and Magic, where he worked on both the Star Wars Special Editions and Phantom Menace (if you were impressed with the Queen's chrome ship in Phantom Menace, then you've seen Alex's work). Alex has now founded dvGarage, an organization aimed at assisting and educating users in creating content.

Alex began by explaining his file naming conventions which help him keep track of the many files and layers he ultimately uses to create his final shot. The following is a summary of Alex's step-by-step process:

Step 1: The concept artwork. Here sketches show what the artist want's the elements of the shot to look like. In this example its was a small space ship. In the best of all situations the artist will give you orthographic drawings which you can use as templates in your modeling software.

Step 2: The storyboard. This is a very, very initial look at the animation. However, with the increasing use of animatics and previsualization it's quite common to have many modification after the storyboard stage.

Step 3: Modeling and Texturing: This process is fairly straightforward but depends greatly on the complexity of the elements. A simple ship is one thing, an organic, animated character is another.

Step 4: Basic Wireframe Animation. Here the movement of the elements are created and refined. Alex notes that most people don't spend enough time here. He also explained that he always has clients sign off at this stage as changes to the animation become more difficult after this stage.

Step 5: Creating the Background Image. Alex showed how he built a background image by compositing elements from various images. and then placed them in the scene via the camera mapping feature in Electric Image.

When it comes to rendering and producing the final piece Alex explained how he renders everything as separate elements and with multiple passes for each element. For example the spaceship he was using would be rendered with, perhaps, a few diffuse passes, a reflection pass, two or three specular passes, a separate shadow pass, etc. This allows him to modify all these elements later in After Effects. As an example he explained how he may apply various directional blurs to a specular pass to create "specular blooms." Alex noted that as times he'll render out as many as fourteen different passes to gain the flexibility he needs to get the look he's after.

Finally Alex noted a number of other things to take note of when creating an effects shot. Matching contrast and image density between CG and "real" elements is critical, as is adding elements such as light wrap and the very subtle use of lens flares.

*****

With such a packed schedule we once again had no time for demo reels and we just squeezed in our raffle where one lucky attendee won a software package from Boris, our evening's sponsor.

Our next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday May 2nd at AFI, with a tentative lineup including Alias/Wavefront showing Maya 3, a wrap up from next week's NAB show and more.

We hope to see you there!

Your MGLA co-hosts:
Trish, Chris, &Lucky