Tuesday, August 2002
OUR FIVE YEAR ANNIVERSARY!!!
LA Film School
------7:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. ------
------Cover charge: FREE (Sponsored by Adobe)------
Lineup: Apple Shake 2.5 / Ultimatte AdvantEdge / TAG and Minority Report
It's hard to believe, but our August 20th meeting, held at the LA Film School, marked the fifth anniversary for MGLA. It was great that so many folks turned out. It's been a fun ride that Chris and Trish have been on from the beginning, Lucky caught after the train had just left the station, and Dan was pulled from the passenger section to the conductor's section mid-way through the trip. All four of us would like to thank all those who have helped along the way - including our many sponsors, who have helped cover our expenses as we've needed bigger and bigger rooms and more gear to hold our meetings, as well as those who have contributed the continuing bounty of door prizes we give away every month. Special nods have to go to Adobe, who have been paying the bulk of our expenses this year, and ProMax, who covered that bulk last year, and who continue to support us.
But enough history; you want to know what happened this month - and another good meeting it was!
We began our meeting with a brief Q&A. We then made time for Keith Hatounian from Apple to explain to us the updates with their new PowerMac desktop line, and their new v10.2 operating system called Jaguar. He explained that, with respect to this audience, what we'd benefit from included: more ram options, better graphics cards, the updated Quartz compositing engine (which takes some display load off the main CPUs), and the all digital displays. He noted that with the new graphics cards, if you can afford it (or have the desk space), you can indeed get two Apple Cinema displays and run them simultaneously on a single machine. There are also many changes on the inside of the new computers including 4 DDR RAM slots, 4 PCI slots, Airport, 4 drive bays. There's also the ability to install two optical drives. For example, a SuperDrive and a high-speed CD-RW. Lastly, he gave us a preview of an upcoming Apple fiber channel based hard drive array that could be very interesting to video professionals.
We began our regular meeting with Gary Meyer from Apple showing Apple's Shake 2.5 high-end compositing software running under OS X. Shake was designed from the ground up to handle large-format projects, including hi-def. He explained that Shake was originally a command-line application and it's Unix-base made it just right for OSX.
Gary showed a popular Blockbuster advertisement composited with Shake by the animation house Tippett. Gary took apart the project, showed the viewer and the various nodes used to construct the project. Unlike Adobe After Effects, with which our audience is quite familiar, Shake uses a "node" approach where elements and processes are "wired" together by connection various nodes. For example, a foreground 3D element of woodchips was wired to a color correction node before it was hooked into the background plate. Next, Gary brought in a multi-color shadow pass and added in a reflection.
Gary's second example involved some green-screen compositing used in a project done at UCLA. He noted that Shake ships with two industry-standard keyers: Keylight and Primatte, as well as Shakes own keyer (and Ultimatte makes a great third-party keyer as well). Gary pulled a key on some footage containing wispy hair and discussed some of the problems. Shake allows you to combine keys so you can pull one that works well on the hair and one that works well for everything else. After pulling the key Gary used a color-match node to match skin tones between two actors. By sampling shadow, mid-tone, and highlight areas it was very quick and easy to match the footage.
Next, Gary discussed an unseen, but extremely important, feature of Shake called Concatenation. This function allows Shake to look through nodes to see where it can combine mathematical functions. For example, in AE if you scale something down 20% in one comp and then back up 200% in another comp, you'll see some image degradation if you don't collapse transformations. In Shake, it combines the two scale functions to give you a single scale - here 40% - so the maximum resolution is retained.
Gary also discussed bit-depth, expressions and motion blur. He showed an example where he keyed color and kerning off a single blur parameter. This makes animation a numerous properties much simpler.
Gary then took us into Quickpaint. This was originally designed as an alpha clean up tool, but has become a viable painting too in its own right. He showed how you can corner-pin a Quickpaint node to match a layer with perspective. Then when you paint it automatically matches the perspective. This was quite impressive.
Gary then showed us how you can set up a group of nodes as a macro. For example, he created a blur and color correct effect that he saved out as a "Neon". He noted that when you create a macro you can choose which parameters to "expose." This will allow someone can modify certain aspects of a macro that you create, but not others. The Shake user community (who can be found on <http://www.highend2d.com>) is also known for sharing macros.
Gary then squeezed in a quick demo of Shakes tracking functions and rotospline modes. He then took some questions from the audience.
Shake 2.5 ships for Mac OS X ($4950), plus Linux and Windows ($9900). For details on prices, support contracts and more, click here.
During our break, ProMaxhad a new dual-processor G4 in the lobby for attendees to check out, and BDA were taking memberships plus orders for tapes from their recent conference. BDA also generously gave away the Gold and Silver award winner tapes as door prizes.
Continuing in the professional compositing realm, our next presenter was Ultimatte. Reid Baker from Ultimatte explained that this was a company with some history having been involved in optical keying since before most of us were born. He also mentioned that Ultimatte makes realtime hardware keying products for broadcast, but he was down to our meeting to discuss their AdvantEdge plug-in for Adobe, Apple, Avid and Discreet products.
AdvantEdge is designed to look and work the same no matter what software package it's working under. Jay Dunn took us through the "Less" and "More" interfaces, noting that the hard-core features are hidden away until you need them. Ultimatte uses a frame-based algorithm to keep the key solid throughout the entire clip. You pull an initial key and then continue to sample "problem areas" until you're happy with the key. The software displays the Matte, the Subject areas and the Transition Areas, allowing you to easily identify the areas on which you're working.
One very practical feature of AdvantEdge is called "Hold Shadow." This feature gives you the ability to isolate the shadow of the subject that falls in the keyed area and composite it back into the image-very useful. Another great feature is AdvantEdge's ability to "fix" DV footage. Due to its 4.1.1 or 4:2:0 compression, green screen footage shot on DV is difficult, if not impossible, to key. AdvantEdge pre-processes the footage to nearly eliminate the edge artifacts that are the source of the difficulties. The examples shown were quite impressive. In fact, AdvantEdge analyzes all footage to determine the best possible algorithms to use in pulling a key.
Ultimatte AdvantEdge is multiplatform, including OS X. The introductory price is $995, going up to the previous price of $1495. Upgrades are available for $495.00. Ultimatte generously donated a full copy as a door prize. For more information you can contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
TAG & Minority Report
Jim Kealy and Alan Douglas of TAG - who had previously been down to MGLA to show us some branding work the did for the Hallmark Channel -dropped in to show us some great work the did for Steven Spielberg's latest film, Minority Report. Since the film takes place circa 2048, Jim and Alan were tasked to come up with the ubiquitous public advertisements that will likely be part of daily life 50 years in the future. Their first thought was that personal privacy, and the invasion of that privacy, would be an important concept. As an example, an ad's spokesperson would be able to identify the viewer of the ad and tailor the message specifically for him, including calling him by name.
They noted that a future 50 years away is an interesting paradigm. Yes, many things would have changed, but not so much that there would be no ties to the present. Note that ads from the 1950's, while technically different (i.e. black and white), are not conceptually different from what we see today. Based on this Jim and Alan played liberally with technical aspects of presentation and form, but kept the basic advertising concepts true to what has always worked. They were able to abandon the 4x3 aspect ratio and put ads in many different types of locations - including holographic 3D ads.
Another interesting aspect of the project was that real companies were used in the film. These included Reebok, Bulgari, Pepsi, Nokia, Guinness and others. Thus Jim and Alan had to work with clients as if they were coming up with an ad campaign for 2002, with the understanding that many of the "rules" were not the same.
Yes, they admitted that some of their best work ended up on the cutting room floor, but they were quite happy with the end result. Below are ads for Bulgari and Pepsi that Jim and Alan respectively designed for the film:
Projects & Demo Reels
Yes, we had time for demo reels this month. Here's a list of those brave enough to show their reel. For their bravery, they were well-rewarded with pens from Ultimatte, t-shirts from ProMax and Discreet, and will be sent Jaguar posters from Apple. In order of appearance:
This month's prize tally from our generous sponsors and presenters totalled over $3400. Nearly every 1 in 10 attendees still at the meeting in the end won something - not bad, eh?
* A copy of the brand-new AdvantEdge keying software from Ultimatte ($995 value)
* Prototypical: Cinematix and Art & Era: Superstructure stock footage libraries from Bestshot ($499 value each)
* The 2002 BDA Gold and Silver Award Winner tapes ($75 value each)
* We also had a gaggle of cool pens from Ultimatte which were given to "runner-ups" - those seated on either side of prize winners.
Lastly, we again thank Adobe for sponsoring the meeting, so admission was free. Our next meeting will by on Tuesday, September 17th; preliminary info is already up on the Next Meeting page. We hope to see you there!
Chris, Trish, Lucky, and Dan
Your MGLA co-hosts