MGLA March 6 2001 Meeting Summary

------Meeting Sponsored by ProMax------

Lineup: Adobe After Effects 5 / Discreet 3D Studio Max Release 4

With the exception of special event meetings at other venues such as trade shows, our March MGLA meeting was easily the best-attended gathering we've ever had. And this was certainly due to our having Adobe unveil After Effects 5.0 and Discreet present 3D Studio Max 4.0.

PRE-MEETING

Prior to the meeting MGLA members snacked on dolmas, pasta, sandwiches and drinks graciously provided by Adobe - thanks from all of us. As attendees settled down Adobe was showing their After Effect Demo Reel on the main screen. Thanks to additional funding from Adobe and Discreet, we also had monitors piped out to the lobby; as usual, ProMax graciously sponsored the main room, so admission was free.

During our opening Q&A session, co-host Trish Meyer showed and discussed a hi-def broadcast title sequence for the CBS drama Kate Brasher she recently completed with Deborah Ross Film Design (this topic will be covered in an upcoming Motion Graphics column for DV magazine). Co host Lachlan Westfall then mentioned that network rendering had been the issue-of-the-month at his studio where he's working out the details of remotely rendering After Effects projects and working with the new distributed rendering in Electric Image Universe. Lastly, co-host Dan Warvi talked about his recent experience as a BDA judge. While he couldn't discuss details about the work he's seen, he did note that the next BDA awards reel will be something to look at, with a lot of variety in style and studios represented.

AFTER EFFECTS 5

Our first presenter of the evening was Adobe who offered a first-look at After Effects 5.0, the soon-to-be-released update to their popular program. To be honest, "update" is not the right word. In many ways AE5 is a brand new program. Steve Kilisky, senior product manager for After Effects Adobe came down from the Adobe Seattle office, along with Michael Coleman who designed the user interface and many of the new features. There wasn't enough time to go into detail on every new feature, so they gave us a rapid overview of all the highlights.

First up was the fact that AE now works in 3D. What this means is that AE now features an animatable camera and the ability to position layers with respect to z-depth, or distance from the camera. They've added 3D lights with soft shadows and many other features found in standard 3D applications such as specularity, shininess, diffuse, etc. While adding 3D gives you a completely new way to work in AE, they do allow you to set layers to be strictly 2D and work just as they have in previous versions. You can even mix 2D layers and 3D layers in the same composition. In AE5 you can create multiple cameras from a very detailed camera creation tool based on real-world cameras. 3D layers feature depth-of-field and can be set to auto-orient toward the camera.

However, 3D was only one of the major new additions to AE5. In previous versions of AE you used nested comps in order to "parent" one comp to another. In AE5 you have direct parenting where you can link one layer to another. Moving, scaling or rotating the parent, for example, will then affect the children.

Yet another ground-breaking addition in AE5 is expressions. With expressions you can use Java script to write simple or complex formulae that can control virtually any aspect of a layer. As an example we were shown a clock where the rotation of the hour hand controlled the rotation of the minute hand with an expression that featured a multiplier of 12 so that it acted like a real clock. Thus, instead of having to separately keyframe two objects (the hour hand and the minute hand) we only need to keyframe one and the expression took care of the rest.

In addition to the major new feature additions there were scores of workflow enhancements and other updates. Here are some of the ones that were shown: hot-scrubbing of parameter values; a "find" command for locating missing footage; dynamic resolution changing when scrubbing the timeline or parameters for a more "real time" feel; RAM preview enhancements so that only changed areas of a comp are rerendered; each comp can now have its own motion blur setting up to 720 degrees; you can now start a comp at a timecode other than zero; masks now respect motion blur; comps can be mirrored to a monitor via FireWire; Flash output support; many new video editing additions including a "slip" tool; support of 16-bit color, and many, many others.

Lastly, AE5 will include many plug-ins that were previously available through third parties. These include Cycore's Cult Effects, Atomic Power's Evolution and others. Specifically, Cycore's Vector Paint is now part of the AE5 Production bundle.

Upgrade price from version 3 or 4 Standard is $199. For the production bundle, the upgrade is $299. And there's an initial offer for upgrading to the production bundle from the standard version as well as a limited-time second license offer. For all the current details, check out <http://www.adobe.com/store/products/aftereffects.html>

3DS Max 4

After the break we had the second major presenter of the evening: Discreet with 3DS Max V4.0 who where graciously offering a copy of the program for one lucky raffle winner.

Discreet's Shawn Steiner took the stage to tell us a bit about 3DS Max. He mentioned that Max was used extensively in the Academy Award Winning film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and that the new program ships with 13 lbs of manuals.

Shawn then introduced Mike Huber to show us how he uses Max. First off Mike showed us his short film titled "Shade" which was done completely in Max. Mike had a concept and had been approaching various 3D companies to find the best package for realizing his film. Mike noted that the folks at Discreet were very supportive and that Max was both affordable and powerful enough for him to create the characters and effects for "Shade."

Mike then walked us through various parts of the program. He showed us how he used the context-sensitive Quad Menus to get to a wide variety of parameters very quickly no matter what he was working on. He also discussed the customizable UI and new bezier splines and rotation functions for easier animation.

Mike then launched Character Studio, a secondary program that greatly facilitates character animation in Max. He used the "bi-ped" function to create a two-legged character and showed us many ways to modify the character, even to the point of adding a tail. Once he created the character he simply laid down a series of footsteps and the character immediately locked into a walk cycle defined by the footsteps-and the tail automatically swayed appropriately. Mike then showed us how to create a character by linking bones and setting constraints. He noted that Max's IK was very powerful and flexible, but you just couldn't beat the "automatic" features of character studio.

Next Mike showed us how you can use expressions to create animation helpers. He specifically set up a number of facial morph targets and used sliders to combine existing expressions and create new ones. He then discussed a few of the new features aimed at creating animations for games including in-camera motion blur, camera-facing particles, powerful new skinning tools and weight-painting for linking a skin to a bone.

Lastly, Mike showed us the powerful multi-pass rendering features where the program will automatically render out reflection, specular, diffuse and other passes. This is an immense time-saver and make compositing in programs like Discreet's Combustion and other compositing packages very flexible.

Shawn then came back to cover pricing for Max which is $3500 retail. Character Studio is an additional $1500. Upgrades from 3.1 to 4.0 are $799. More information can be found at <http://www2.discreet.com>

At the end of the evening our traditional door prizes included a full copy of 3DS Max and some Max books (thanks Shawn!), a copy of After Effects, and a number of other prizes.

Again, we thank our overall sponsor ProMax <http://www.promax.com> for their generous support, and Adobe and Discreet for helping us put on a special event.

Trish, Chris, Lucky, and Dan
Your MGLA Hosts

door prizes for this meeting contributed by: