meeting summary
Tuesday, April 16, 2002
LA Film School
------7:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. ------
------Cover charge: FREE (Sponsored by Adobe)------

Lineup: RE:Vision Effects / Digital Film Tools / TAG and Hallmark Channel launch / demo reels

The week after the NAB convention in Las Vegas, we were back at the LA Film School for our April meeting. We had not just a great design studio, but also two families of plug-ins for After Effects designed by people well-versed in the real-world production environment. The meeting was graciously sponsored by Adobe, so there was no cover charge for attending.

pre-meeting Q&A (7:00-7:30)

We opened our regular pre-meeting Q&A session with co-host Chris and Trish Meyer going over what they saw at the recent National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) conference. One of the more interesting scenes was the battle for desktop video editing supremacy played out in the adjacent Apple and Avid booths. Co-host Lachlan Westfall noted that there had been a number of significant pricing changes in the 3D market, with Maya Complete dropping from $7000 to under $2000. We also discussed the best format for submitting demo reels to prospective clients. VHS (but not SVHS) is still the most popular format, but DVD is beginning to be an attractive option.

Digital Film Tools 55MM (7:30-8:00)

Our first presenter of the evening was Marco Paolini of Digital Film Tools, an offshoot of the production house Digital FilmWorks. Marco started off by showing us DFW's reel, and then launched into demonstrations of Composite Suite, a powerful matte generating and compositing tool, and 55MM, a relatively new, thirteen plug-in set for Adobe After Effects designed to simulate popular optical glass camera filters as well as specialized lenses.

Composite Suite works on both PC and Mac and they do have OS X versions. They also work in Avid Media Composer.

Marco explained that for normal green or blue screen keying, Primatte, Ultimate and other keyers work great. However, in the real world Marco often get shots that require keying that were not shot with keying in mind (in other words, not against a nice blue or green background). In this case standard keyers are not up to the task. Because of this Digital Film Tools came up with a unique way of pulling a matte and turned this into a suite of AE plug-ins.

Composite Suite lets you create 5 different mattes within a single plug-in. You can then combine them via transfer modes including hue, saturation, average, RGB and others. Extensive controls include black/white point specification, grow, invert etc. This lets you combine the five mattes to create an effective key. Marco explained that while Composite Suite can be used for blue and green keying, other tools are probably more suited for that. These plug-ins are designed for the tough stuff.

Marco then showed how you can use the matte generator to set specific areas for color correction. He also showed Digital Film Tool’s very good fast blur - a free plug in available for downloading by clicking here.

Marco continued by showing other plug-ins including a defocus plug in for blooming highlights as well as a selective soft focus tool. Their CS Grain plug in lets you set the size and amount of grain individually for each RGB channel giving you the ability to replicate virtually any film stock.

Light Composite is a very impressive plug in that simulates scene lighting. This tool provides you with many patterns such as windows, leaves, etc. with which to can put natural looking light into an existing scene. The light can also be displaced to better match the scene, and you can have a layer in AE act as a luma source for the light.

Marco then showed a "hold out" tool for smoke, fire and other composites that retain the detail in a composite in which bright elements tend to blow out the details.

55mm is a plug in suite that replicates common optical glass effects. One plug in features a built in gradient that can be used to set horizon lines, another is special tint (developed for the film Red Planet) that retains highlights and shadows. The suite also includes mist and fog filters as well as a filter that very effectively smoothes out skin.

RE:Vision Effects RE:Rex and SmoothKit (8:00-8:45)

Our next presenter was Pete Litwinowicz from RE:Vision Effects. Pete’s been down to MGLA before to show off ReelSmart Motion Blur and Twixtor. This time he brought RE:Flex a powerful morphing and warping tool and SmoothKit an intelligent blurring filter. Pete also noted extended NAB special ‘till the end of the week for MGLA attendees.

RE:Flex’s morph tool you draw a "from" geometry and a "to" geometry. Shapes do not need the same number of points and they can even be open shapes. You can also set a boundary area that will limit the area in which the morph takes place.

Warping transitions between two different pictures and is more complex, giving you shapes for individual frames and much more control. With RE:Flex you can perform a warp where both images are moving.

SmoothKit is a powerful five-plug-in set that’s useful for getting rid of artifacts. Pete explained that it’s tough to pull a matte from DV footage due to the JPEG artifacting. These plug-ins help with these artifacting issues. Often you’ll want to get rid of artifacts, wrinkles, etc. but at the same time retain the edge detail. To accomplish this RE:Vision’s tools allow you to specify the max amount a pixel can deviate from surrounding pixels. This is good for wrinkle removal as you can blur regions of like nature and keep sharpness in areas of high contrast. In addition, this maximum deviation can react to a matte allowing you to, for example, have more deviation in the shadows, and less in the highlights.

SmoothKit features directional blurs that can be based on a grayscale matte. This blurring can be used to help with stair-stepped edges. The Staircase filter similarly attempts to find edges that have become aliased, and smooth them out along the contour of the edge, so that the staircasing - not the edge boundary itself - is blurred.. All of the filters have a sharpening operation for bringing in more detail after edges have been blurred.

Pete then showed us a recipe for a cartoon look. He explained that normal posterization of each frame would yield a result that shimmers. RE:Vision’s tools give you a more stable movement. This sparked an Audience question about RE:Vision’s Video Gogh filter and its stability vs. applying standard paint filters to each frame.

We were then shown RE:Vision’s de-interlacer and talked about how it relates to creating a more filmic look. One of the things that makes film look like film is that the shutter is open longer. It’s not simply taking 30fps to 24 back to 30 with pulldown. Their de-interlacer has an edge detection and filling method that results in a much cleaner removal of fields. If you also add in their Real Smart Motion Blur, you get a very nice progressive image. The de-interlacing can also be very effective for treating the image before tracking and/or time stretching. Pete also mentioned that has an interesting article on film looks.

Finally, Pete noted that all plug ins except RE:Flex work in both After Effects and other programs that support AE plug ins.

announcements & break (8:45-9:05)

Before our break co-host Chris Meyer announced that back in September at our meeting someone lost a watch of sentimental value. If you happen to know anything about this, please contact Dan Warvi or Chris Meyer.

In addition, Digital Voodoo announced a few upgrade specials for their line of uncompressed capture and playback board. Info on the upgrades can be found at their web site.

During the break, BDA had a table in the lobby answering questions about their upcoming conference this June in LA and taking orders for awards tapes (a great source of inspiration). Also, our old friends ProMax were also in the lobby answering your gear questions. We would like to thank ProMax again for providing the computer, DVCAM deck, and wireless mics that both us and the LAFCPUG share at our meetings.

TAG and the Hallmark Channel launch (9:05-10:05)

After our break co-host Dan Warvi introducing this month’s artist presentation, Jim Kealy and Alan Douglas of the design studio TAG.

Jim and Alan explained that now they’re much more than simply a "design firm" since they handle much more than design these days. This evening discussed with our group how they approached designing and producing a re-branding for The Hallmark Channel while they were working at 3 Ring Circus.

Hallmark had recently consolidated their cable channel and wanted to get the message across to the viewer that they were "storytellers to the world." Jim and Alan began the project by investigating the specific elements that go into effective storytelling. First they researched the history of story telling. They initially discovered that there are really only eight plot-lines, such good vs. evil, triumph over adversity, etc. Then they came across a list detailing 36 plot-lines of which all stories are comprised. Finally, a simpler list surfaced that all stories are made up of only two plot-lines: "someone goes on a journey" and "a stranger comes to town." In addition to compiling these plot lines, they also made a list of emotions, an essential part of any story.

After research they stared writing creative platforms for presentation to the client. They then showed us the style frames and the individual IDs. Because the IDs were only ten seconds in length (actually long for a typical ID) they didn’t want to attempt to show the beginning, middle and end of a story. Their plan was to show parts of a story, to keep the viewer intrigued.

They then went through the development and production of each of the Hallmark channel ID’s showing how they related to the aspects of storytelling. Some were fanciful, some had odd twists, many played on emotion. As they went through each ID they showed us how the elements were filmed and ultimately composited. The production work was performed by Stargate. Much of the work included 3D elements and there was a good amount of complex compositing. Many shoots also required large greenscreen sets, including outdoors to shoot horses running by. Most of the greenscreen shots had camera movement; it was interesting to see the liberal use of tracking dots on the backgrounds. The final composites looked great.

A consistent visual theme throughout the spots was presenting the action letterboxed, with the Hallmark logo sitting in the black area outside the action - a nice solution to being able to read the client's logo without compromising the action. Occasionally, the action extended outside the letterbox into these black areas, adding the dimension that the action was coming out of the screen and into your room - a nice touch. They ended by showing us all the ID’s back to back and taking questions from the audience.

For those who want to know more about Jim and Alan's backgrounds:

Jim Kealy, Creative Director
An Emmy Award winning Designer and Creative Director, Jim Kealy has more than 16 years of experience in broadcast design with clients ranging from ABC Nightline and HBO, to RTL (Germany) and CBS. Kealy’s proven expertise in building integrated graphic systems has benefited clients such as Hallmark Channel (USA), Sony Entertainment Television (Latin America/Taiwan/India), Telecine (Brazil), Mega (Greece), Kermit Channel (India/Asia), and Starz! (USA). Kealy’s creative use of live action and 3D has earned him numerous BDA awards and Tellys as well as accolades from the New York Film Festival and New York Art Director’s Club.

Alan Douglas, Creative Director
Alan Douglas worked for over 10 years in Australia and Singapore, winning numerous awards for his commercial work, before Pittard Sullivan brought his exceptional talent to the US in 1996. Douglas’s strategic thinking is enhanced by his diversity of stylistic executions ranging from rich cinematic to playfully graphic. His reel includes work for Ogilvy & Mather, Grey Advertising, Leo Burnett, and McCann Erickson, as well as entertainment clients such as ESPN, Sony, Hallmark Channel, CBS, NBC, Discovery Channel, Dreamworks SKG and Food Network.

Tips, Projects, and Demo Reels (10:05-10:30)

We've been making a point of reserving more time to show reels at the end of each meeting. However, we give priority to those who have a specific project, tip, or trick to show. This month, co-host Trish Meyer returned to show the final version of a clip CyberMotion produced for Isuzu. Last meeting, due to restrictions on the showing of images of the new Isuzu Ascender before it had officially been shown to the public, she had shown only part of the clip in which she creatively used Digital Anarchy’s Geomancy AE plug-in. This time she was able to show the whole thing, and again walked through how she used floods of boxes created by Geomancy as mattes for the imagery.

We then worked our way the backlog of reels we've been accumulating, introduced and coordinated by co-host Dan Warvi. The following is a list of contact information for the reels shown at this meeting:

Diana Kado

Aaron B. Trask

Chris Rogers

David Dodge

Stephen Wolf Media Design

Laurie Apthorp

Dylan Cole

David Cimaglia Motion Design

We're going to continue to make a point of reserving the last 20-30 minutes of our meetings for demo reels, recent projects, or any tips you might want to share with the group. Priority will be given to those who have a tip or project to share (contact Dan Warvi to reserve your slot); demo reels will be shown on a first come/first serve basis until we run out of time. Click here to download a PDF file with guidelines for presenting Demo Reels and Projects.

Door Prizes (10:30)

We had a bumper crop of door prizes, including a set of the 55mm plug-ins from Digital Film Tools, RE:Rex and SmoothKit fromRE:Vision Effects, two stock footage CDs from Bestshot (Prototypical collection: Electronic Anatomy and Spectral collection: Effusion) plus one from EyeWire (Edit Effects 3). We also had a copy of the new After Effects 5.5 Magic book, and finally BDA donated another full pass to their June 26-29 conference here in LA.

And again, thanks to Adobe for sponsoring the meeting, so admission is free. See you next month, where we will have Adobe Photoshop 7, Stephen Walker of Walker effects, and John Ridgeley of Via Worldwide, as a well as a great selection of door prizes including another BDA conference pass and a copy of Photoshop 7.

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

door prizes provided by: