***Meeting Summary***
Tuesday, November 19, 2002
LA Film School
------7:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. ------
------Cover charge: FREE (Sponsored by Adobe)------

Lineup: Maya Complete 4.5 / Alex Lindsay & Multipass Compositing / Push, Nevada opening titles / Do Over opening titles

We had a nice crowd at our November meeting – both regulars, and Maya users interested in seeing the latest version. It was great to see you all!


As people filed in, our co-hosts related their recent experiences with uncompressed video card codecs (including the new DeckLink card from Black Magic Design and is big brother, Kona from AJA), which After Effects plug-ins are finally going to be released for OS X (including Final Effects Complete – thank you, Media 100), and Quantel’s change in strategy where now they seem themselves as a hub for many desktop systems – and have released desktop versions of some of their own systems (one of which we’ll get a demo of at our January 2003 meeting). We also had questions and discussion from the audience about network sharing between Mac, Windows, Linux, and SGI boxes.

Maya Complete 4.5

Alex Alvarez and Darren Krumweide from the high-end training facility Gnomon came down to show us the latest version of Maya: version 4.5. First up Darren shared a bit about Gnomon and the wide variety of classes and training the offered. Then he showed a project he and Alex produced to essentially show off many of the features of Maya. The virtual world they produced was very creative - but not somewhere you'd want to take your kids on Saturday afternoon. Darren also mentioned Moviola, a reseller of Maya, who came down to deliver a wealth of donations for our door-prize giveaway.

Darren then launched Maya with a scene from the short that they had just shown. He talked about how they set scenery in foreground and back ground elements to facilitate multi-pass rendering. The OpenGL performance on the machine he was using was impressive as he spun around a massive scene very quickly.

Next, Darren took us through Maya from the ground up - not an easy task to accomplish in under an hour, but he did an admirable job. He began with modeling and showed us the basics of building objects. Maya offers a number of methods for creating objects from simple polygonal modeling to more complex Nurbs modeling. Darren built and combined various objects to show the advantages of each technique.

To show us what you can do after you create a model, Darren took a spaceship he'd constructed and attached it to a motion path. He then showed us how you can determine the motion of the object along the patch via function curves.

Darren then took us into a new tool found in Maya 4.5 which allows you to bring in vector graphics from programs such as Adobe Illustrator and easily apply various bevels to the object.

At this point we were just scratching the surface of this very deep program. Darren quickly walked us through Maya Paint Effects a stunning tool for creating landscapes, trees and other semi-repeating organic elements. With Paint Effects you create basic vectors and the program "grows" elements from these vectors. For example, you could draw a line representing a vine of ivy and the program would generate all the leaves along the way. This is a very unique and impressive tool with an extremely high "wow" factor.

Lastly, Daren touched on one of Maya's strengths-character animation. He opened a "rigged" character and showed us how you create a chain of bones and then link those bones to the geometry of the character.

Maya Complete is priced at $1,999 (US). Maya Unlimited is priced at $6,999 (US). Version upgrades are priced at $699 (US) for Maya Complete, and $999 (US) for Maya Unlimited. There is also a special promotion through December 20: Buy Maya, and Apple will give you $2000 off the price of Shake (shown at our August 2002 meeting). Click here for more details.


ProMax were in the lobby from well before the meeting to well after, showing off both the new Panasonic 24p DV camera that has been causing quite a stir, and the new DeckLink $1k SDI uncompressed capture card from Black Magic Design.

Opening titles for Push, Nevada

After our break we jumped from the pinnacle of computer-generated graphics to one of most non-computer-generated presentations we've ever featured: Blair Hayes and Adam Jensen from Area51Films discussing the myriad techniques they employed while creating the opening title sequence to the visually adventurous, but nonetheless short-lived television show Push, Nevada.

After humorously apologizing for not using enough After Effects in the Push title, Blair Explained that he'd actually never done a title sequence before - having concentrated on commercials and a few album covers. The producers wanted something very "Seven-ish" (i.e. like the ground-breaking opening title for the movie "Seven"). Blair explained that he didn't want to be tied to using portraits or scenes from the show when creating the title. Fortunately, the producers simple said "do whatever you like."

Blair explained that he used a variety of techniques to come up with the "organic" (an adjective he used reluctantly) look of the piece. He shot some on film, some on Digital 8. And, once shot, just about everything was re-shot back onto 35mm film before the process was complete. He also explained that he used and old Bell and Howell Eyemo camera extensively because of his ability to work the camera in the field. Blair confessed that he never shoots anything straight. He'll tweak the focus, the F-stops and more. He'll shoot on black and white and then tint the film later and more. One of the more interesting techniques he described was how he took film and ran in through a moviola machine (a film editors tool). He would then re-shoot the film as it ran through the viewer of the moviola. And if it wasn't quite right, he'd throw some spider webs or dog hair in 'till it was just right.

In the end Blair explained that, while he does use computers and software from time to time, the look he's after can only be achieved by working with and tweaking real film and real physical objects. In other words, if it's a choice between a software "grunge filter" or throwing some dog hair onto the film while you re-shoot it, if Blair's in charge you better keep Fido on a leash.


Alex Lindsay and Multipass Compositing

We were again privileged to have our old friend Alex Lindsay of dvGarage drop in to share some of his techniques-which often involve making CG elements look more.... dare we say it... "organic."

On this night, Alex was discussing multi-pass rendering techniques. He began by explaining that he looks at the compositing software as the center of his workflow, not the 3D application. In his world, the 3D app simply feeds the compositing app where most of the finishing work occurs. Alex took a model of a simple spaceship sitting on a tarmac and showed us how he renders out various passes to create the final look of the shot. He began with the background object, the tarmac, and then rendered a separate shadow pass, which detailed how the foreground object cast a shadow on the background object. With the shadow pass as a separate element, it was easy to adjust the level, color, density, etc. of that shadow at a later time.

Next up was the ship itself. Here Alex rendered separate passes for Diffuse, Specular and Reflection. For attenuating the reflection, Alex rendered a separate pass that was simply a single light from the position of the camera illuminating the object. This gave us an image where faces perpendicular to the camera were well-lit and faces parallel to the camera where not. He later used this as a matte for the reflection so that, just as in the real world, parts of an object facing the viewer appear more reflective that parts facing away.

Alex then showed us how he can tweak these separate passes in AE. He created a specular bloom by simply duplicating the spec channel, adding a bit of blur, and compositing it back in via an Add transfer mode.

By the way, the aircraft details that he used on the spaceship, plus the waterspots and fingerprints he showed on the glass model at the very end, were previews of new texture mapping products dvGarage just released – visit their web site for more details.

Projects: Do Over opening titles

We love showing member's demo reels when we have time available. However, what we like even better is for members to come up with a short presentation illustrating interesting techniques or approaches they've found in their work. Quico Encinas, Director of Animation at Autonomy did just that at this meeting. Quico showed us the main title for a WB program called "Do Over." The design involved placing images on the faces of an old flipping panel clock from the '80s. He created a mock up of the eight-panel clock and used AE's 3D features to flip the element down. There were more challenges in this technique than you can imagine, but Quico used a number of expressions to keep the hand-keyframing to a minimum. Once the flipping process was under control it was much more manageable for him to swap in new footage, apply color correction, etc.

If you'd like to show your reel or, even better, show a project please contact MGLA co-host Dan Warvi and let us know. We'd be happy to have you.

Door Prizes

We had the biggest collection of prizes for our giveaway that we can remember, worth nearly $5000 total! The following is a list of companies who graciously donated prizes:

* Alias|Wavefront: The Art of Maya (book), Learning Maya: Games and Interactive (book), Learning Maya: Character Rigging and Animation, Maya Resources: 2D & 3D Procedural Texture Plug-ins (CD-ROM), Getting Started on Maya for Mac OS X (DVD).

* Gnomon: A great assortment training DVD's from The Gnomon Workshop

* Synergy: Kaleidoscope stock footage library from EyeWire ($599 value)

* Alien Atmospheres stock footage library from Artbeats ($499 value)

* The Best of Acid Jazz stock music (yes, music!) library from Digital Vision ($499 value)

* Arts & Era Collection: Retrovision and Ambiance Collection: Texture Flow stock footage libraries from Bestshot ($499 value each)

* Pinnacle Impression DVD-Pro authoring software ($399 value)

* Your choice of either Final Draft or Final Draft AV software ($179-$249 value)

* copies of 3D Toolkit ($199 value), Camera Mapping Lab ($99 value), Surface Toolkit ($199 value), Reflection Toolkit ($129 value), and Composite Toolkit ($199 value), all from dvGarage

* a copy of co-host Trish & Chris Meyer's VideoSyncrasies (new DVD edition; $100 value) from Desktop Images

* a copy of After Effects in Production ($50 value) from CMP Books, which contains a tutorial from Alex Lindsay on multipass compositing

* a copy of Audio Postproduction for Digital Video by Jay Rose ($45 value) from CMP Books

We'll also have a stack of free Exhibit passes to DV Expo. Remember that this pass will also get you into the Super Sessions, which include The State of Design - a great deal.

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

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

NOTE: The December meeting will be held 1 week early - December 10 - at the LA Convention Center as part of DV Expo West. It will be a special panel discussion on running a motion graphics business in these difficult economic times. We'll post more details as the meeting draws closer. We hope to see you there!

door prizes provided by: