meeting summary
Tuesday, February 19, 2002
LA Film School
------7:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. ------
------Cover charge: FREE (Sponsored by Adobe)------

Lineup: Kevin Dole and Digikam / Sonic Desktop Sonicfire Pro / Apple Final Cut Pro 3 / Guest Studio Belief / Valerian Bennett

This was our second meeting at the LA Film School. Around 200 people were around at the start of the meeting; we handed out over 170 door prize tickets at the end - a good crowd! It's nice that members don't have to scramble anymore for seats or parking. We're still having teething pains with the AV in the new room; thanks to everyone for their patience (volunteers to help with this part of the meeting appreciated).

A huge thank-you to Adobe for sponsoring the meetings, so we can keep admission free - their support of the community is much appreciated. Honorable mention also goes to ProMax for donating the G4 to the LAFCPUG, which we use at our meetings as well; ProMax is also donating us some wireless mics to use at future meetings.

pre-meeting Q&A

A lot of our time was spent grilling Paul Saccone of Apple over their recent acquisition of Nothing Real. Apple is saying very little officially about this deal, aside from they hope to use this technology in other products; Nothing Real's reps have been making a point of assuring their customers that they will continue to see their product Shake supported and evolved. Several people from ProMax were also on hand to answer additional questions, both during Q&A, and in the lobby during the break.

Kevin Dole, Digikam, & shooting toy commercials

We originally invited Kevin down to show off the interesting progressive-scan RGB video camera he's adapted from the medical industry to use in place of film. What we got was also a series of very funny stories about the practical and political realities of shooting commercials for kids.

Kevin describes his job as getting paid for thinking like an eight-year-old, but there are a lot of grown-up regulations he has to obey. For example: In a 30 second commercial, you can have no more than 10 seconds of "fantasy" which must be no more than 3 individual segments. The last 3.5 seconds must be a static shot. You can not enhance the product; you cannot have the product in the fantasy section. When you do show the product, it must be with real human fingers visible manipulating it when necessary - no claymation stop motion tricks. In Europe, the kids are not allowed to emote (cheer etc.); they can just smile. The list goes on and on. If you violate these rules, the manufacturer goes to "toy jail" - including fines leading up to the ads being banned from airing.

On the more practical side, many of these toys are small - the camera needs to be close, dramatic and follow fast moving toys. Kevin used to shoot on film, but it's hard to find lenses that allow you to shoot small toys and make them look heroic. It's also impossible to safely move a 40 pound camera to chase a toy moving up to 8 feet per second(!).

To solve these problems, Kevin found a Sony camera that was developed for the scientific and medical community: the DXC9000, which is a 3-chip upgrade to a previous "cigar" cam, working at 30 whole frames or 60 fields per second. It outputs RGB component, and is normally used by people who record data direct to a hard drive. It also outputs composite video, which he uses for monitoring (including through a headset rig, pictured below). Kevin has added an RGB to YUV transcoder to record to DigiBeta (he also captures straight to a PowerBook for quick selects and to build an EDL), and has built or had built for him a custom lens and a series of rigs built for it (think miniature dollies - also pictured below). The final rig ways closer to 5 pounds, with an umbilical that runs to the decks. The end price was not outrageous either, coming in under $10k.

Because the camera is really small it gets really right on small objects. As noted earlier, it can shoot in true progressive scan with a wide range of shutter speeds, which helps get much closer to a filmic look. It's not a solution for everything; for high speed shooting for slo-mo shots, you still need to use film. - but overall it's a pretty clever solution. If you want to hire Kevin and his camera rig, contact him at KevinDole@aol.com.

Sonic Desktop and Sonicfire Pro v2.1

Kevin Klinger of Sonic Desktop showed off the latest version of Sonicfire Pro, an advanced stock music application that is capable of auto-editing music from Sonic's specially-prepared libraries to fit the lengths you need. This new version supports OS X and Windows XP, and has a wealth of new features.

You can start by importing a reference movie for timing purposes. A marker is automatically placed in the soundtrack-to-be's timeline representing the start and end of the video; you can also place additional markers by playing or scrubbing through the movie to locate important hit points. Then, if you want to take full advantage of the auto-editing features, enter the Maestro module, which steps you through options for what style of music you want. You can audition different choices, and it will automatically edits its length to fit between your markers. If you don't like the result, it's easy to travel backwards through your choices and change them. The music can be made loopable as well.

If you want to dive deeper, Smartsound gives you lots of options to change the arrangement of musical segments that make up the final piece, to crossfade between different pieces of music, and even to import your own tracks and edit them into the overall soundtrack (including automatic slice-and-crossfade features to make your own music match the length you need).

Their music libraries come from individual composers as well as about 10 or so leading stock music houses, with a strong emphasis on live performance. The software comes with 2 CDs; a total of 40 are available, with a new one being released every month. Pricing for the software is $349; for those who attended the meeting, Sonic Desktop extended special pricing of $299 until the Friday after the meeting (plus they donated a free copy as a door prize). Pricing for additional libraries is $129 each ($99 each of if you buy 3 or more); pricing for the "whole enchilada" - software plus all the libraries - is around $3300, compared to a normal price of $4000.

Apple Final Cut Pro 3 & CineWave SD RT

Recovered from his grilling in the pre-meeting Q&A, Paul Saccone of Apple took the stage to show off Final Cut Pro 3 with a Pinnacle CineWave uncompressed SD realtime hardware system and a half a terrabyte of FiberChannel storage, courtesy of Rorke Data.

Although as a general rule we don't have the same company back twice in a year (to avoid monopolizing meetings), this latest update to FCP is so significant we happily broke our own rules. New in FCP 3 is support for both OS9 and OS X, realtime software-based effect and transition previews, an excellent new waveform monitor and color corrector, new realtime chroma keyer, a new voiceover tool, and numerous other productivity enhancements.

FCP3 keeps the same conventions as FCP2 that a green line in the sequence window indicates the clip can play without rendering. In the effects palette, every effect in bold can be played or previewed in real time. There has been some controversy in that some software-only effects that are realtime during preview must be rendered (or use a hardware assist) for final video output, but it seems that once you get past the semantics that the actual workflow is not that hampered. There was also discussion among the audience that in some cases, the software version of an effect might be better than a hardware one, so it's a good idea to plan on a render before final layoff to tape. If you want NTSC preview of the realtime soft effects, options include the s-video output on the TiBook or Radeon video card.

A big feature update in FCP3 is better handling of color and luminance. It has an "excess luma" check to show levels above 100 IRE. When you pull the whites down you get checkmarks showing safe white levels rather than an exclamation point. New effects include desaturate highlights and desaturate lows for removing tints in shadows and highlights The deep color corrector can also be used for effects treatments, and keyframed to change over time. There is also a new text tool from Boris included in the package. The list price is $999; you can upgrade from a prior version for $299.

Belief: Sony and Acura

Belief showed two interesting jobs they had recently completed. The first, for Sony India, had a quite a twisting path: Belief had done a network design for a new travel channel called Alive. Alive went bankrupt before airing (and before Belief was paid). But Sony had seen the work Belief did on Alive, and hired them to adapt those ideas to their own networks in India, including MAX.

Sony wanted their sister networks in India to share similar values and looks; previously, they had been quite different. They also wanted the new design to be based on white instead of the normal dark or black backgrounds. Belief notes that working with white brings out all the blemishes (in dark design you can layer and hide things).

Sony provided videos of what their networks looked like previously, as well as the looks of their competitors. Belief often has everyone in the shop come up with different ideas for a client. They developed 12 different concepts in all; they settled on three. Part of the job required them to recreate famous scenes from popular Indian movies, in silhouette, as elements in the package.

They shot 35mm film for 3 days - two for live action, one for additional textures. In addition to the movie recreations, they also shot things like cricket players (which had Belief recreating the sport with Indian talent on a Los Angeles soundstage). The last person they had to create was an update to Sony India's iconic "blue woman", to provide continuity with the station's previous identity. Belief even had a special dress made from scratch for the woman. The budget for the shoot alone was $200k.

The new look launched in January; ratings have already gone up, with the superclean look of the graphics and logo standing out in the market. Belief thinks one of the characteristics that also helps them stand apart is that they put a lot of effort into menus and lower thirds; some designers can forget that these end up being aired more often than the full channel IDs.

The Acura job had an entirely different challenge: creating graphics for a $4 million booth at an auto show (Belief's part of the job was roughly $50k), that included a horizontal row of 15 60" plasma flat screens built into its top. These screens were driven by a set of 15 DVD players synchronized to each other - none of the usual videowall cheats where a normal single frame is blown up to cover more than one monitor.

Belief ended up creating a final composition that was 10,540 pixels wide(!) so that some graphical elements could shoot across all the screens (including some light flashes rendered in Cinema 4D). In other cases, normal aspect ratio running footage of the cars was staggered across the screen segments to create a pulsing, kaleidoscopic effect. If Belief has a chance to do a similar job again, they would like to shoot fresh elements on film and scan it in a 4k pixel size, so they can also spread running footage of the car across multiple monitors.

Belief also wants MGLA members to know that they are starting their next "Untitled" project - Untitled:003-Embryo - to be shown at this June's BDA show. They have an open call for submissions; more information can be found on their web site under the Belief EXP button. You need to submit a dream idea that can be executed in 2 minutes, based on characters in an overall script they are generating. They see this as another step in their eventual goal of creating a full-length collaborative movie. Belief is also looking into putting together a book deal that documents the process of creating the individual pieces.

Demo Reels & Recent Projects

We ran out of time for demo reels, but we did end the evening showing a compelling project by Valerian Bennett. The concept was creating a video package for an awards ceremony honoring American Indians in the arts. There was no budget to create a set or shoot original footage, so Valerian put together a compelling dream-like collage that focused on the four elements: fire, water, air, and earth. Images representing these elements were "projected" in discreet's combustion onto a series of floating, traveling boxes generated in 3D Studio MAX. These shaded boxes provided an interesting matte for the imagery.

You can contact Valerian at valerian@seso.net. Also note that we're anxious to include more "mini" presentations such as these into our meetings - if you have a recent project you want to share, contact Dan Warvi at d2warvi@netscape.net so we can book you into a meeting!

Door Prizes

We had a good set of prizes, including a copy of Sonic Desktop SmartSound Sonicfire Pro (courtesy of Sonic Desktop), two stock footage libraries from current MGLA sponsor Bestshot, and a very appropriate three-day training class in Final Cut Pro from new MGLA sponsor Train Simple in Santa Monica. And of course, thanks again to Adobe for sponsoring the meetings overall.

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


door prizes provided by: