***Meeting Summary***
Tuesday, February 18, 2003
LA Film School
------7:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. ------
------Cover charge: FREE------

(Co-Sponsored by Apple Computer and Moviola Digital)

Lineup: Apple Xserve RAID / Profound Effects Useful Things / Using SDI to Improve DV Workflow / Brian Maffitt of Total Training / Roger Nall on Creating the Holly Rick Dees KIIS-mas spot

We want to thank Apple Computer and Moviola Digital for co-sponsoring the meeting, so that admission was free. Moviola was also in the lobby before the meeting and during the break, answering questions about the latest gear - thank you!

Apple Xserve RAID

Alex Grossman, Director of Servers and Storage at Apple Computer, came down to give us the details behind Apple's new Xserve RAID, which has caused quite a stir for its impressive price/performance ratio in the land of high-end storage. This system is based around inexpensive ATA 100 drives to keep the overall costs down. You can add drives to increase storage and speed, topping out at 14 drives for 2.5 terabytes of storage and transfer rates over 200 megabytes per second (enough for 1080i hi-def). Prices range from $6k for 720 gigs to $11k for the for the full 2.5 TB, which are significantly lower than other fiber channel solutions. A fiber channel card for PCI Macs costs $499 with cables, which is also a price breakthrough. Other features include multiple redundancy options and remote monitoring. Alex and Keith Hatounian hung around afterwards and answered a lot of questions on this new system. About the only thing it lacks right now are an inexpensive file sharing software solution (which is hopefully in the works from a third party), and backup…

Profound Effects Useful Things

Co-host Trish Meyer presented this unique plug-in system for After Effects. Useful Things is not your typical effect - it's an effects engine, that currently comes with well over 130 scripts and counting. You can get under the hood and rewire or customize these scripts, and if your so inclined, even write your own modules for the engine using the Python programming language (but not that you need to know Python to use it!).

Many of its scripts focus on creating "stuff" and other graphical elements (although by no means is it restricted to this - you really should browse the scripts link above to get a taste for what it can do). it renders fast, and can calculate motion blur. Trish noted that UT's strength seems to be taking very labor-intensive animations you could do by hand, and making them easy. Its flexibility under the hood relieves the frustration you often experience when you come across another effect, and wish it did just one more thing - such as replace particles with text in a cyclone or rain effect, for example. You can go into the script and select certain parameters that will be sent out to the AE user interface for direct editing, keyframing, or hooking up to expressions.
There are standalone scripts that do things. But the real power of this effect is the the fact that its made up of Generators, Converters, and Renderers. You can have other scripts generate input for main script. To wit, you can have a script that generates colors, feed into a script that generates elements. You can also use Flash elements as input shapes.

Profound Effects gave away a copy of Useful Things as a door prize, which we bundled with a Python reference book from O'Reilly. MGLA members can get a 25% discount on all Profound Effects products; just enter the code "mgla" when you check out. A free trial version of Useful Things is also on their web site for download (limitations: 320x240, no audio). Remember: Trish is organizing a contest for those who create an animation with the demo version, with the prize being a full copy of Useful Things plus a stack of Python books from O'Reilly.

Using SDI to Improve DV Workflow

DV is a great format for shooting video. However, its compression and reduced color space can cause problems as you try to do compositing with it, or save synthetic graphics to its format. The new DeckLink SDI card from Blackmagic Design, offering uncompressed or compressed video for $995, has gotten more people thinking about how to create hybrid workflows that allows one to capture with DV but composite in a higher colorspace in the middle of their project. JD Wilcox of ProMax Systems presented their findings to date on the subject.

In general, JD noted great gains when DV footage was played back through a Sony DVCAM deck fitted with SDI output, and then captured through an SDI card such as DeckLink, Kona, or Digital Voodoo. This was especially obvious with bluescreen keying, which is notoriously difficult with DV footage. You would think that any degradation would already be built in with the DV capture to tape, but not so according to the examples JD showed. This points the finger instead to the colorspace conversion to RGB: It seems higher quality is maintained with a path that goes DV-compressed YUV to uncompressed YUV over SDI and then converted to RGB in the computer, than DV-compressed YUV directly converted to RGB.

Trickier to figure out is compositing in a DV environment versus uncompressed. JD gave an example of adding a logo in Final Cut Pro over DV footage. At first glance, the DV composited version looked sharper(!). Upon closer inspection, however, it seems that some of this "sharpness" was missing antialiasing - a 50% blended edge that should have been all around the composited logo was missing in some places in the DV composited version, probably due to DV's color undersampling. More research is needed here.

Where the gains were lost was if the transfer went back to the DV format. It did not matter if the transfer back to a DVCAM deck took place over FireWire or SDI; the compression and color undersampling artifacts returned. If you want to maintain maximum quality, it therefore seems worthwhile to rent in a DigiBeta deck for final layoff, or to hire time at post house (for example, MGLA sponsor point360 offers reasonably priced layoff services if you bring them an uncompressed QuickTime movie file). Also, Blackmagic donated a new DeckLink 2 as a very appropriate door prize - many thanks!

Brian Maffitt of Total Training

After Effects guru Brian Maffitt of Total Training took time off from the Creative Cow Conference to share with us some tricks on using 3D space in After Effects.

In his first example, he took some 3D layers that were elements of a biplane, enabling the Advanced rendering engine to take intersections into account. He then precomposed the biplane layers. The initial result was a flattened, 2D version of the plane. However, once he enabled the Collapse Transformations switch for the precomp, he now had a fully 3D plane again, with the advantage that it could be manipulated by animating the single precomp layer - a very nice trick

Brian then moved onto a demo that used a sliced human head that he downloaded from The Visible Human Project. He took the layers, distributed them horizontally by small intervals, and then turned them all into 3D layers. He then rotated them all in 3D space. Next he precomped them, resulting in a solid 3D head that he could spin around. To make the head semitransparent, he reduced the Opacity of the slices and blended them using Transfer Modes, resulting in a luminous, volumetric model of the head. Different transfer modes resulted in different features being highlighted.

Brian then showed other ways you could use this technique to create volumetric 3D models in After Effects. For example, he created a loop using the Fractal Noise plug-in, duplicated it 60 times, offset them in 3D space, and then offset them in time from each other. The result was a series of cloud formations that seemed to rise up from a floor. These examples are included on his After Effects training DVD series - which he gave away as a door prize (many thanks). As an added bonus, Brian brought a large box of Atomic Power Evolution t-shirts plus some from the Creative Cow conference, which we gave away to attendees plus our lone brave demo reel volunteer (see below).

Roger Nall of11:11 MediaWorks and the Holly Rick Dees KIIS-mas spot

And then, for something completely different: A stop-animation commercial for ClearChannel Radio's local station KIIS-FM by 11:11 MediaWorks. The idea behind this project was to capture the nostalgic feel of the Rankin/Bass classic television special "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" with caricatures of Rick Dees morning show and other on-air personalities.

The first step was creating a poster, based on a Rick Dees model. This initial project helped them work out the overall methodology for creating the models, and also to get client sign-off on the overall approach. All in all, they built six puppets and a snowy set at their studio. They created animatics in Cinema 4D XL and found an outstanding stop-motion animator, Michael Walsh, to do the actual animation. They acquired the footage via an Olympus digital still camera and dumped the frames directly into their Macs, using an application called Thief. In an effort to meet the tight deadline (with music assets being delivered late), all the lip sync animation was done in After Effects instead of on set through the clever use of animated masks. 2-D snow and 3-D falling dollar bills were composited in AE, with a little grain and film damage added for final touches, attempting to match the degraded look of the original Rudolph video. The spot aired locally on dozens of cable channels, plus KTLA and on CBS during some of their holiday specials.

If you have a project or trick you'd like to share with the group, contact our artist host, Dan Warvi. (Of course, Dan is always on the lookout for larger artist presentations as well.) Project presenters get an extra door prize ticket as a thank-you.

Demo Reels

Only one person was brave enough to show a demo reel to the group: Doug Spice. If you liked Doug's work, contact him at 323-839-1970 or view his web site.

Door Prizes

We had another stellar selection of door prizes donated by our presenters and sponsors, headlined by a just-released DeckLink 2 card from Blackmagic (one of only two in the country at the time). The total take was near $4000, including:

* The latest version of the Blackmagic DeckLink SDI capture and playback card ($995 value)

* Pinnacle Plug-in Pack, including Primatte keyer, Composite Wizard, and Image Lounge Mac version ($995 value)

* Two training sets from new MGLA sponsor Total Training including their complete set for After Effects ($699 value)

* A copy of Profound Effects Useful Things bundled with the Python Pocket Reference from O'Reilly (over $400 value)

* Cool Lounge stock music library from Digital Vision ($499 value)

* copies of the BDA Silver Award Winners tape from their 2002 conference, as well as their Logos, Titles, Holiday and Special Events tape ($55 value each to nonmembers; $40 to members)

* a copy of Color Correction for Digital Video by Steve Hullfish and Jaime Fowler ($50 value), plus a copy of Producing Great Sound for Digital Video Second Edition by Jay Rose ($45 value), both from CMP Books

And again, thanks to Apple for being our meeting sponsor in 2003, so admission was free. Hope you enjoyed the meeting!

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

door prizes provided by: