Lineup : ATTIK & NoiseFour / Synthetic Aperture & Color Finesse / Visual Infinity & Grain Surgery / Associated Production Music
November 6th marked what was likely MGLA's last meeting at AFI's Mark Goodson Screening Room, as we look to move to the LA Film School in 2002. This should double the seating capacity, as well as ease the parking situation considerably as there is a parking structure in the same building. More news on this, as well as sponsorship developments for 2002, as things firm up. In the meantime, we want to extend our most gracious thanks to AFI, who has been our home for some time now, and ProMax, who has paid for our use of the room at AFI for the past year.
We also reminded everyone that the December meeting will be Wednesday, December 5, 7-9 PM at the LA Convention Center as part of DV Expo. You will need a DV Expo conference or exhibit pass to attend; exhibit passes are available for free - details have already been sent in previous email, and are on our Announcements forum. At that meeting we will be featuring our popular "Running Your Own Business" panel; details to follow.
* Q&A *
Up first on our agenda (after AFI's A/V guru Shannon Burroughs scrambling to coax the projector to work) was Q&A. Co-host Lachlan Westfall inquired whether Adobe After Effects featured variable levels of anti-aliasing like many 3D apps do, but other than the "draft" (= nearest neighbor) and "best" (= interpolated) options there are no further controls. In response to other questions (especially from the software developers who would be demonstrating later that evening), Co-host Chris Meyer queried the audience as to how many use Macs vs. Windows - it seemed that a third to half of the hands went up for Windows, and over three-quarters for Mac, indicating a lot of people were using both - and how may attendees exclusively used Mac OS-X (just a few). Audience questions pertained to when After Effects might be carbonized to work under OS-X (no details available) and when Electric Image Universe 4.0 might come out (ditto).
* Synthetic Aperture & Echo Fire plus Color Finesse *
Our first presenter of the evening was Bob Currier from Synthetic Aperture who came down to show Echo Fire and an upcoming AE plug in called Color Finesse.
Echo Fire is software that gives you a method of previewing your AE comp window on an NTSC monitor. The image in your comp window is sent out the Mac's Firewire port where you can then use a converter to display the signal on an NTSC monitor. Echo Fire also works with installed video cards such as Digital Voodoo and Aurora Igniter. The Rapid Preview function renders a range of frames to a disk buffer displays a looping preview (with audio) on the monitor. Additional features include a waveform monitor and a vector scope to analyze the components of your video signal. You can also preview 16:9 cropping/scaling in a variety of formats. Echo Fire can also run under Photoshop so you can do an NTSC preview of work before it even gets into AE. There's a video color picker and you can easily set black/white levels to 0-255 or 16 - 235 depending on your system.
Other ancillary programs the come with Echo Fire include Screen Writer which echoes the monitor out the Firewire port, and Drop Play which allows you to play a DV compressed Quicktime movie through the Firewire port (with features reminiscent of Radius's Studio Player of yore). Finally, there is a 72 hour time-limited demo of Echo Fire on the Synthetic Aperture website.
Next, Bob showed us a preview of Color Finesse an upcoming powerful color correction plug in for AE. The Color Finesse screen features four areas: 1) Waveform monitor, vector scope, curves and histogram; 2) Split screen source and result display; 3) A color sampler and; 4) control sliders for hue, saturation, brightness, contrast, contrast center, RGB gain, gamma pedestal, and more. The program is very powerful and uses 32-bit floating point math for all calculations. This means that you can push highlights and shadows beyond their limits and then get detail back via subsequent adjustments. Further, this program uses non-linear adjustment for contrast, making that adjustment much more useful. You can define which areas of the image fall into shadow, mid-tone and highlight and there's powerful hue offset feature and color selection features which make this one of the most powerful color correction features available for AE.
Echo Fire sells for $275.00 ($255.00 for web delivery). Color Finesse is expected to retail for $695.00 and requires a Mac G4. We have already emailed a special offer on Echo Fire; Synthetic Aperture also donated a copy of each for our door prizes (thanks!).
* Visual Infinity & Grain Surgery *
Continuing with the theme of powerful and professional AE plug ins, our next presenter was Visual Infinity with their Grain Surgery plug in. The concept of Grain Surgery was inspired by folks doing restorations and other work involving the replication and matching of film grains. The result is a plug in that gives you tools for very practical problem solving that can also be used for purely aesthetic purposes.
Louise Shekter showed us footage shot on 16mm, which was then to Betatcam SP and finally digitized into an Avid at AVR75. The issues with which we dealt were the grain, JPG artifacting of the grain and JPG edge artifacting. First she de-grained the footage. This works by having the software identify whatever stochastic (random and across the entire image) grain is present in the image and then removing it and smoothing the image temporally. This technique did not remove the edge artifacting, but also did not soften the crispness of the image.
While you will often de-grain footage, many times you may want to add grain, to footage to help in compositing. This is most common when you are incorporating CG elements into a scene shot on film. Louise showed us how this works. Grain Surgery samples various 24-pixel areas that have very little RGB variance (i.e. areas where the image variances are only due to the grain). This allows the program to define a "noise signature" for that footage and gives you many options for ways to work with it.
As an example, Louise showed a composite of Mars and a NASA shuttle vehicle. The filmed vehicle with grain "popped" as the sequence played but the photographic background image of the planet didn't. To make things look more integrated Louise matched the grain from the shuttle and put it onto the Mars shot. An additional Noise Compensation features finds the grain in the background image and only adds what's needed from the foreground image to make it match. Lastly, she illustrated how you can take the grain out of a background green-screen and keep the grain in the regular image.
Grain Surgery sells for $499.00 and Visual Infinity is offering a 20% discount to MGLA members who provided their email names during the meeting. They also donated a copy of Grain Surgery for After Effects and for Photoshop as door prizes (thanks again!).
* Associated Production Music *
In a rare move away from both 2D and 3D graphics we next featured Tia Sommer, West Coast Sales Director, and Edwina Travis-Chin, Music Director, from Associated Production Music to talk about music licensing issues. They explained that it's uncommon for visual artists to know the ins and outs of all the legal issues relating to using a piece of music along with their visuals. They explained that you need to clear music just like you need to clear visuals and you should always check with a music licensing attorney for the final word. Music licensing is a fairly complicated issue as there are a number of rights to consider when using an existing song. Publishing (or sync) rights deal with the song itself-the specific melody and lyrics. In addition, you have the master recording rights which pertain to a specific audio recording of the song in question. And nowadays with so many collaborative songwriting ventures (notably rap and hip-hop) sync rights can be a nightmare to sort out.
Tia and Edwina offered a few options for securing music to use with your graphics:
1) Secure the rights to use a particular song and recording. This has the advantage of giving you a recognizable finished tune, but can be expensive. In addition, they mentioned that using a very popular tune may actually pull the viewers attention away from your graphic work.
2) Hire a composer to write a song for you. You won't get the recognition value of using a hot pop tune, but you'll be able to tailor the music to your visuals and likely have exclusive rights to the use of the music.
3) Purchase stock music from a firm such as APM. This way you can browse until you find a piece of music that works for your visuals and not have to worry about any licensing headaches.
APM also set up a table in the lobby to show off their own music and answer questions. They were still answering questions past 11 PM, so it seems they were well received! A demo of the types of music available from APM is available on their website.
* design studio ATTIK and NoiseFour *
Our artist presentation for this month was a very special one indeed. Co-host Dan Warvi described the design firm ATTIK as having a world-wide influence on design over the last decade. We were very pleased to have ATTIK in the person of Creative Director Monica Perez (who's been with them since 1997) down to talk to our group about approaches to creativity and their latest book NoiseFour which will be released in January 2002.
Monica first explained that the completion of NoiseFour was an interesting marker for design in our time on light of recent world-wide events. She then explained how the SF office approached the NoiseFour project. She noted that there was a bit of a rebellion against computer-generated imagery. Their artists wanted to get away from the computer to be expressive and experimental and involve themselves in things they wouldn't normally do.
ATTIK has been working on NoiseFour for about a year and near the end dedicated Fridays to working on the project. She noted that this was an extremely collaborative effort between their five studios, the artists and the printer. Their intent was illustrated by the phrase "Passion What You Do and Refine Living." They wanted to blur the distinction between work and play.
In San Francisco the project was titled Nave, with Nave being a hub or a vessel which would hold a conceptual space be it fashion, architecture, music, literature, film, photographic arts and more.
Monica showed us stills from the Ma_Zee project which was an interactive installation with the theme of measuring interpersonal distances. Attendees were given either a ball of yarn or a scissors as they entered the installation. The entire event was photographed and the images used to influence subsequent design.
A second installation involved building a collaborative sculpture within an 8-foot by 8 foot hypercube. Monica documented the development of the sculpture day by day with both macro and micro photographic observations.
The last was Nave_Birth, another large installation where artists took an old abandoned warehouse made "creativity circles" or "pods" within which creativity and design were explored.
NoiseFour has a list price of $85; it is available on Amazon.com for $56; Monica brought down forms to order the book directly from ATTIK for $65, as well as a stack of CDs with additional content (some of which we gave away that evening, with others to give away later). They also have plans to release a DVD, as well as a book focused on their work.
Speaking of their work, Monica ended the evening by playing the results of two projects they had recently completed for Fox NFL Sunday and Seattle's Experience Music Project. The influence of themes explored in ATTIK's NoiseFour were very apparent in both of these spots.
Our final event of the evening was our popular raffle which included both Echo Fire and Color Finesse from Synthetic Aperture, After Effects and Photoshop versions of Grain Surgery from Visual Infinity, two texture CD's from new MGLA sponsor Bestshot, as well as a number of NoiseFour supplemental CD-ROMs.
Thanks to all who attended and presented, it was a fine evening.
Trish, Chris, Lucky, and Dan
Your MGLA Hosts