meeting summary
Tuesday, January 15, 2002
LA Film School
------7:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. ------
------Cover charge: FREE (Sponsored by Adobe)------

Lineup: Lachlan Westfall and New York Islanders video / Ken Locsmandi and Smashmouth music video / Expressions & 3D Effects / Adobe After Effects 5.5

Our January meeting was our first at our new home at the LA Film School. The room has a much higher capacity (around 330 seats) plus more parking options, making meetings a bit more comfortable to attend (especially for those who couldn't get there an hour early <g>). This was also the start of our relationship with Adobe, who are sponsoring our meetings for 2002, keeping admission free! Many thanks.

Q&A and random gossip (7:00-7:30)

We opened the meeting with our standard Q&A. The main topic involved downsizing and changes in our industry. Co-host Chris Meyer of CyberMotion mentioned that Discreet was restructuring their company and product line, and that ABC Family (formerly Fox Family) has very recently laid off a number of folks - including one of our MGLA family, co-host Dan Warvi.

The state of Apple's OS X for the Mac was also discussed. Chris Meyer noted that he had not even installed it yet as of the January meeting (he installed it a few weeks after) while co-host Lachlan Westfall of Quiet Earth Design mentioned that he was trying to use it as much as possible via Adobe's AE .5.5 and Illustrator 10 as well as Electric Image Universe 4.0. However, the current lack of OS X support for AE plug-ins and OS X-native Photoshop make it difficult.

Lachlan Westfall and New York Islanders video (7:30-8:00)

Lachlan Westfall of Quiet Earth then started off the evening presentations by showing some tips and tricks he used in creating a three-minute in-stadium video presentation for the New York Islanders NHL Hockey team in conjunction with Hornet Animation.

The project was a study in working with source footage that was moderate to ghastly with respect to quality. Lachlan showed how he used layering and transfer modes to mix footage with various paper/canvas textures (including from a rare old CD-ROM, Missy Hamilton's Textures) to create an artistic feel - as well as a look that helped to mask the imperfections in the footage. Lachlan also talked about how he managed to fit 30 years of hockey into 3 minutes (short quick clips) and how he timed everything to the music.

The whole project was done in AE but, after a question from the audience, Lachlan acknowledged that sequencing the footage in a video editing system and then moving into AE for processing might have been a more efficient approach. Lachlan finished by noting that even thought the project was full of compromises, the client (and the many old-time New York Islanders fans) were quite happy with the end result.

Ken Locsmandi and Smashmouth music video (8:00-8:30)

Our next presenter was Ken Locsmandi of Filmworks/FX (who is rapidly becoming an MGLA regular) who dropped in to show us how he approached a tight-budget, fast-turnaround music video for the band Smashmouth.

Ken first showed the video which had the band performing on a platform floating in the ocean and then explained that 95-percent of the shots were composites. The issues Ken and his team of 12 had to deal with ran the gamut of compositing and content creation. There was a run-up over the ocean as the camera approached the band, which was all done in 3D via Alias/Wavefront's Maya, they had to add clouds to the sky in virtually every shot; the singer at one point walked by a bright light so the had to composite in a new head and then put the lips back in where he was singing, and many other challenging issues.

One consistent difficulty was the constant presence of water. Ken went into detail on how he composited in a jet skier and a dolphin. He was able to pull an adequate luma key to isolate a large water wave splash. Ken also noted that color correction and creating the blown-out look that the art-director was after was important. To save time, he had the client approve the color correction at the telecine transfer stage, while work continued in parallel on the pre-corrected shots.

In doing this type of project in a short amount of time, Ken noted that organization was critical, so much so that he built a custom HTML site for tracking each of the 124 shots. Lastly he commented at AE as his tool of choice due to its speed and flexibility and that a number of Flame and Shake artists commented on how quickly he was able to pull a key in AE via the Primatte keyer. Ken's shop is 100% PC and he uses a 12-cpu network rendering system to crank through the AE renders.

Expressions and 3D Effects in After Effects (8:30-8:45)

We were running behind schedule, so co-host Chris Meyer had to cut out his mini-demonstration of using expressions to integrate older 3D effects plug-ins into After Effects' new 3D space. An explanation of the trick can be found in the MGLA forum, in his and Trish's DV column in the February 2002 issue, and in their new book After Effects in Production.

break (8:45-9:05)

BDA was in the lobby soliciting entries for their next awards show and putting out a call for speakers at this year's BDA conference (which is June 26-29 in LA). This was a great chance to speak with people from the BDA and let them know what you would like to see from them. They came away from the meeting impressed; don't be surprised if you see MGLA and BDA working together more closely in the future.

Adobe After Effects 5.5 (9:05-10:20)

What better way to kick off a year of Adobe sponsoring our meetings, than to have a new release of Adobe After Effects on display? In addition Automatic Duck and Maxon were on hand to show how their products work with AE 5.5.

Steve Kilisky of Adobe took the stage after he ran out of t-shirts to throw at attendees. With so much to cover Steve began going over the many new features of AE 5.5. These included: more flexibility when dragging footage down to make a comp, global replacing of a footage item, shadows that pick up the color of layer it's shining through, multiple simultaneous views of a comp, a new effects palette where you can better organize effects, a color stabilizer for fixing flickering footage and more.

One significant new feature shown was Smart Mask Interpolation where one mask can intelligently morph into another. This new effect can be used effectively to morph one font into another, for example. Other mask-related improvements include the ability to duplicate masks and improved control over motion blur.

Steve explained that there are many new web-related features including real-media SDK export. File format support has also been expanded to include SGI, RLA, Maya, IFF, RPF and 16-bit Quicktime.

Post render actions have been added in this version. This ties the render cue back into the project window. Drag footage into the render cue and it creates a comp for you. The Create Proxy command renders a low-rez version of your footage and replaces in the project as a proxy-very cool.

Steven then had Wes Plate from Automatic Duck take the stage to show a pair of plug ins they have that allow you to bring a Final Cut Pro timeline into AE. Wes explained that the software works so quickly because it's not copying any footage, it's just writing pointers to the data on your disks. The price is $395, and it is now shipping.

Next, Paul Babb from Maxon cam up to show us how Cinema 4D integrates with AE 5.5. Cinema can now import/export AE camera and lighting data making it much easier to integrate 3D and 2D projects. This, in addition to Cinema's robust multi-pass rendering options make this one of the most powerful cross-product integration schemes we've seen.

(Co-hosts Trish and Chris Meyer have since written about how After Effects integrates with both products; watch their column in DV magazine later this spring/early summer.)

Steve came back to explain that AE not only imports Cinema camera data, but also single-node, two-node and targeted cameras from Maya.

Door Prizes (10:20-10:30)

We had a great selection of door prizes, including copies of:

Bestshot's Adrenaline stock footage CD-ROM
Artbeats' Digital Edge CD-ROM
Final Draft or Final Draft AV (your choice) screenwriting software

After Effects in Production, the second book by co-hosts Trish and Chris Meyer (signed by the authors)

We will also had coupons worth a free exhibits pass or 20% of any conference or platinum package pass at the upcoming QuickTime Live conference (February 11-14, Beverly Hilton Hotel).

And thanks again to Adobe for sponsoring the meeting, so admission was free, and to everyone who attended for supporting MGLA!

Chris, Trish, Lucky, and Dan
Your MGLA co-hosts

door prizes provided by: