meeting summary
Tuesday, May 21, 2002
LA Film School
------7:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. ------
------Cover charge: FREE (Sponsored by Adobe)------

Lineup: BDA / Adobe Photoshop 7 / Steven Walker & Walker Effects / guest artist John Ridgway of Via Worldwide

Our May meeting was held as usual at the LA Film School and graciously sponsored by Adobe, so there was no cover charge for attending.

pre-meeting Q&A

Our May 21st meeting was yet another success and featured one of the largest crowed we've had at our new home at the LA Film School. We began our meeting with our standard Q&A session, focusing on Apple's OSX and what users might encounter when upgrading. MGLA co-hosts Chris Meyer, Dan Warvi and Lachlan Westfall were joined by one of the evening's presenters, visual effects artist Steven Walker, to talk about their experiences with Apple's new OS.

Both Chris and Dan are relatively recent converts to OSX. Lachlan, on the other hand, jumped into the new OS as soon as possible with mixed but mostly positive results. Steven mentioned that he currently uses OSX in production, indicating that it's reached a level of stability and application support that comfortable for him. Everyone agreed that it's probably best to install OS 9 and OS X on separate volumes and that the multiple user and log in features take some getting used to. Dan noted that he's created a specific username for just installing and updating software. With the understanding that Apple will no longer be updating OS 9, this is as good a time as any to get comfortable with the new OS.

On the learning front, both Chris and Dan found Gene Steinberg's Mac OS X Little Black Book to be handy; Chris found a good second book to be David Pogue's Mac OS X: The Missing Manual. Dan shared a listing of tips, tricks and shortcuts he found on the web. Two web sites in particular were the most useful were http://www.osxfaq.com, run by Macintosh old hand Bob LeVitus, and http://www.macosxhints.com, which offered a "shareware" .pdf file with almost all the sites documented tips and tricks.

Adobe Photoshop 7

Keeping with the theme of OSX, one the most anticipated applications to be made OSX-compatible was Adobe Photoshop. With version 7.0 we can now use this venerable image editing application under OS X. Adobe's Tina Eckman, who's talked to our group a number of time before, was on hand to show us some of the many new features found in the latest version of Adobe Photoshop. Tina first mentioned that Adobe has put the brushes palette back-something many users have apparently requested. She then showed us the powerful new file browser. This allows you to easily examine the countless images stored on your computer. You can also display the image's meta data as well as the EXIF data from stored with images taken with many digital cameras. The image browser lets you batch rename files-great for organizing and naming images taken with a digital camera.

Tina next showed us the new Auto Color tool that's similar to the Auto Levels and Auto Contrast tools, but also automatically adjusts the mid-tone colors.

Another very powerful new tool is the Healing Brush. It works much like the Clone Brush, but looks at the texture of the sampled source and the colors of the destination. This allows the new image data to better match the color and luminance of the existing image. The patch tool works the same way but uses a selection, allowing you to mask out certain areas. A member of the audience asked Tina about the a hard edge he gets with the patch tool. She suggested he use a feathered selection. Tina then mentioned http://www.adobeevangelists.com, a website with many good tips and tricks for Photoshop and other Adobe applications.

Tina continued by showing us the improved Liquefy effect. When moving the mesh you can now see the before and after, or just after. She showed us how turbulence will bend the mesh even more and noted that whatever liquification you do, you can save out the mesh used to warp the pixels. This allows you to work on a low-res proxy and later apply the mesh to a higher res version later.
Photoshop 7.0 features many new options for displaying brushes, and there are many brushes that are not installed which can be found on the CD. Tina showed us presets that allow you to change color and shape as you paint, with options for controlling jitter, diameter, scattering, etc. via a mouse or tablets. You can also use grayscale images to create a your own brushes. You can also have dual brushes where one acts as a mask.

Lastly, Tina showed us the Pattern Maker, many new preset sizes, (including ones for video) and the new spellchecker.

Adobe generously gave away a full copy as part of our door prizes. If you missed out, you can order the upgrade from Amazon: Click here for the Mac upgrade; here for the Windows upgrade.

John Ridgway of Via Worldwide

Our next presentation featured veteran designer John Ridgway, former Design Director at KCET and founder of GRFX (which became Novocom), and now Creative Director of Via Worldwide. Co-host Dan Warvi introduced John as a designer who's taken our industry from simple flying logos to what it is today. John showed the Novocom reel, commenting on the fact that it's a team effort.

John began by sharing with us some design principles he feels are key for being a successful broadcast designer. First was Clarity of Message. John noted that the client must have a clear message from the beginning, and that it's often necessary for the designer to help them define one. Once it's defined, its up to the designer. The second point involved Effective Presentation of Message and the importance of avoiding complex or unrelated design that cloud the message. Third was Flexibility. Good design should have legs, allowing you to build upon it. The Fourth point was Future Adaptability-the design must have staying power. Fifth was making sure that your work creates Value for the client. And the sixth and final point was Satisfaction of the Client. John noted that client satisfaction trumps the needs of the art director.

John then showed us bits and pieces of broadcast design throughout his career. He began with a show (The Wilton North Report) that premiered in 1987. He then showed the demo tape from GRFX production in the late '80s. He noted that this was right after the Quantel Paintbox came out and how that tool changed everything for the industry.

With respect to jobs in the industry John noted that while specializing was key a number of years ago, today artists need to have a broader scope. John also commented on that fact that much of the 3D stuff he had done years back took weeks and that it could now be done in a day or so by a kid with a desktop computer.

John then showed the Novocom reel, noting that this was a point in time where everyone was buying all the latest best equipment-a time where the top gear was required to create cutting-edge design. John is now surprised by how much you can do on a Mac and is seeing that they can now compete with any other tools out there. Before, access to the gear was half the battle, now the playing field is very even.

Next, John discussed how the aspects of remote connectivity are impacting our business. We're now able to work smaller and collaborate across the world. He's found that fewer designers are willing to come down and work on someone else's G4. He's also found that good design is trans-cultural, as long as you understand the message. On the other hand, he's also learned that there are some cultural faux pas, such as colors that represent death, for example, that should be understood. He also noted that this global nature in communications will extend to educational facilities such as Universities and that the will in the future need to be packaged much like a TV network is today.

John teaches at UCLA and now Otis. One of the books John uses as a reference when teaching is Philip Meggs' A History of Graphic Design (available from Amazon). Questions from the audience focused on his favorite 3D programs (John works with Max and Maya and gets good results, but he's personally more concerned with the look and content) and how you can learn more from him. John also mentioned that budgets are tighter these days-especially here in LA.

BDA

Anne White from BDA (Broadcast Designers Association) was our next guest this evening. Co-host Chris Meyer noted that BDA is now very different from what it was even a year ago. They have a big design conference coming up and are working with MGLA on developing a closer relationship that will hopefully allow MGLA members to attend portions of the upcoming conference. Anne noted that BDA is now trying to evolve with the industry and is specifically reaching out to groups like MGLA. She then explained that BDA has a sister group called Pro Max (not the Pro Max VAR with which we are all familiar) which covers marking and promotion. BDA's largest conference will be here in LA this year. It's three days long and features exhibits, sessions and social activities. Anne explained that the biggest parts of the conference are the sessions. Some of this years sessions will include folks talking about Steven Spielberg's upcoming film Minority Report and the design of the ubiquitous advertising shown in the film. There will also be other "visual extravaganza" sessions in addition to business sessions focusing on your career, and branding yourself--something that is often difficult for artists to focus on.

Steven Walker & Walker Effects

Our final presentation for the evening featured Steven Walker of Walker Effects, along with Mike Jackson of Strega Imaging, who came down to show a number of AE plug ins developed by Steven to aid in the construction of image composites, color correction and more. Steven explained that his focus for the last five years has been realistic 3D rendering. The first film on which he worked was Spawn and last year he helped create various shots for Behind Enemy Lines with Reality Check Studios. Steven has now made many of his custom tool into fully professional plug ins for Adobe After Effects.

Steven began by showing a free filter called Stargate. This allows you to create the slit-screen effect made famous in 1968's 2001 - A Space Odyssey. Steven explained that all his plug in were developed to address specific needs he came across in his own production work. Next he show us a variety of matte creation tools-each with its own unique applications and controls. Solid Fill and Ultra fill allow you to create masks that apply to very specific parts of an image. For example, you can use this to matte out foreground elements and apply a color correction to just background elements. Many of Steven filters take operations that can be performed in other more involved and complex ways and put them into a single convenient interface. These also include transfer modes, and even give you some additional transfer modes that Steven has developed.

Channel Lighting is one of those plug ins that comes along and completely alter the way in which you work-at least if you render and composite 3D elements. This tool gives you extensive control over the lighting of your 3D object from within After Effects. In a nutshell the process involves setting up Key, Fill and other lights in your 3D application. You render them in groups of three, with individual lights set to full red, full green and full blue. You then render out separate passes for diffuse, specular, reflection, etc. and then a specific lighting pass (or passes if more than three lights are used). Once your element is in AE you can use channel lighting to adjust the level of each light by extracting the color, changing it to luminance and adjusting it's intensity. Traditionally, adjusting lighting involved countless renders and re-renders from within the 3D application-a time-consuming process. With channel lighting you can make adjustments in the compositing phase which is much more efficient with respect to time.

Channel Noise is a filter that allows you to specify an amount of noise individually for each RGB channels. Further, you can select a transfer mode to determine how the noise is applied. This filter can be used to simulate and replicate various film looks.
Another very cool plug in from Walter Effects is called Color Space. This is a fairly simple tool that allows you to change the color space of a layer from RGB to CMYK, LAB or many other formats. The applications of this are numerous. For example, if you want to adjust just the luminance of an images you can convert it to LAB (which gives you an image made up of two color channels and one luminance channel) and apply a filter to just the luminance. You then use the same filter to convert it from LAB back to RGB.

Steven's Premultiply and Unmultiply filters can be used for creating mattes where none exist.

Steven the gave us some tips on creating mattes for fire and smoke-specifically related to including the organic aspects of the fire or smoke in the edge of the matte. Steven has many tutorials such as this on his website.

The last plug in Steven showed the group was Fast Tracker. This takes a luminous sphere rendered out from your 3D application and tracks both position and scale. It also determines the correct amount of motion blur.

Lastly, Steven mentioned that his plugs were recently update to version 1.1 and are now sold individually with prices ranging from $12 to $20. In our opinion making them a "no-brainer" for anyone compositing 3D elements via After Effects. All plugs are OS 9 and OSX-compatible and also work under Windows.

Steven then turned the stage over to Mike Jackson of Strega Imaging. Mike came down to show us a project in which he used many of the Walker Effects plug ins. Mike showed us a show opener he did with his partner Colin Cheer for Truth or Consequences that used Channel Lighting to great effect.

Mike then gave us a few tips about setting up lights in your 3D application-he was using Electric Image-to work with the Channel lighting filter. He set up two sets of red, green and blue lights. Because he did not want the lighting pass to contain any of the texture data he showed us a cool trick for instantly zapping textures. This involved the use of a camera map that projects pure white onto all objects. Thus allowing you to blow out all the diffuse elements without having to individually adjust each object's texture. Mike then took the individual render passes into AE and showed how easy it was to adjust the color and intensity of the individual lights.

Mike then showed the Strega Imaging demo reel which led into the demo reel portion of our meeting, which was necessarily short due to the jam-packed evening. Contact information for demo reels shown is listed at the end of this post. This was followed by Harry Mott of Otis showing the reel from his senior class, which included much commercial work which some students worked on as interns, and an excellent editing and pre-vis workout from Benjamin Hopkins.

Tips, Projects, and Demo Reels

We had three excellent reels to end our meeting, including work from the senior class at Otis. Here is the contact information for our presenters:

Michael Jackson
Strega Imaging
4130 Cahuenga Blvd., Suite 200
Universal City , CA 91602

Otis College of Art and Design
9045 Lincoln Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90045
(800) 527-OTIS [(800) 527-6847]
Local phone: (310) 665-6800
Email: otisart@otisart.edu

Benjamin Hopkins
Film Editor
1234 Tenth St. No. 2
Santa Monica, CA 90401
310-717-9493
ben@reflectorfilms.com

Door Prizes

Our final event of the evening was the giving away of our door prizes-of which we had many, totalling roughly $3500 in valye. A list of companies donating items is listed below. We very much appreciate their generosity and support of MGLA.

* Walker Effects for After Effects ($169 value)

* the winner's choice of either Final Draft or Final Draft AV screenwriting software ($179 to $249 value)

* Synergy: Business Tempo stock footage library from EyeWire ($499 value)

* Digital Moods stock footage library from Artbeats ($499 value)

* Elements stock footage library from Bestshot ($499 value)

* Adobe Photoshop 7 ($609 value)

BDA donated another full pass to their June 26-29 conference here in LA ($795 to $1015 value!)

And again, thanks to Adobe for sponsoring the meeting, so admission was free!

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


door prizes provided by: