***Meeting Summary***
Tuesday, June 17, 2003
LA Film School
------7:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. ------
------Cover charge: FREE------

(Co-Sponsored by Apple Computer and Digital Film Tree)

Lineup: guest artist Brett Shapiro and The Chocolate Curse / Photoshop and After Effects integration & tricks / Zaxwerks ProAnimator

Our June meeting was both well rounded with respect to content and well attended with respect to our audience. As we do most every month, MGLA co-hosts Trish, Chris and Lucky sat down and opened the floor to questions. Topics included re-visiting the issue of FireWire cable connections frying other components (a hub is a good solution for isolating components). OSX font solutions and the use of "curly quotes" were discussed, as well as the rumor mill pertaining to future Apple and Adobe products. Nobody under NDA even so much as winked, of course.

Brett Shapiro & The Chocolate Curse

Our first presenter of the evening was Brett Shapiro who came down to discuss his process for producing an independent short film in HiDef. The film is called "The Chocolate Curse" and anyone interested in pulling off something like this can learn a lot from Brett. Brett's been using friends, borrowed gear, help from his folks, taking advantage of situations that present themselves (such as shooting at a Renaissance Faire) - not to mention his wits and acumen - to complete the project. As far as tools go, his group is using Maya, Shake, Final Cut Pro, Boujou and Mokey as their primary editing and effects applications. Brett's crew typically works from home and on off-hours. To make this work he set up an FTP server so they could all send and received files from any location.

He shot his film with a Sony F900. All the footage was then down-converted to DVCAM. They cut the whole thing at DV rez and then exported the EDL to master the HiDef footage. For effects and compositing they exported all HiDef footage a Tiff sequences as they found that most program preferred image sequences as opposed to single large clips. The Maya 3D stuff was exported at IFF and brought into Shake for compositing.

Brett noted that when he came from After Effects and went into Shake it took about two weeks of pain to make the transition, but after he got used to the new way of working he began to really like Shake. He specifically liked the fact that Shake files are text-based, so if you want to hack them, it's not that difficult. For example, he found that a 10-pixel blur might be just right for the DV footage, but when applied to the HiDef footage is was not nearly enough. They were able to go in and change the files and easily adjust the 10 to something higher as needed.

Next Brett discussed the idiosyncrasies of frame rates noting that the original was shot at 23.976, but they composited in 24. They converted back to 23.976 when they sync to the sound.

Brett then opened the floor to questions:

How did you gather your crew?
"The 3d team was a group of folks from the Bay Area school Expressions. The compositors are friends. Everyone's working from home. We're still looking for folks, but there's no budget."

How did you get to shoot on HD if it's a no budget film?
"Through years of work and making friends, I was connected with a number of folks who had gear. So after years of trying to get investors to get a larger project going, and then have them back out, I found a story from a student of my Mom's. And I just started going with it."

Brett explained that Apple had been helpful too (and one of the reasons he was down to present at MGLA). He said that it's clear that Apple's aggressively going after the graphics market, and the fact that he's using Shake is important.

Why did you shoot at 24 instead of 30?
"I wanted it to look like film-not quite 'real' - but I clearly couldn't afford to pay for 35mm film."

He then discussed some of the particular software they're using.

As far as color correction, or color grading, Shake is very good on an individual frame basis. But for a total solution they are looking at exporting to Cineon.

Boujou and Mokey are two other products that are being used extensively, explained Brett. Boujou is a 3D camera tracker. You bring in footage with a pan, you set it up and it tracks the camera. You can then transfer the tracked camera data to Maya for animating 3D elements. Boujou is quite expensive though he noted.

Mokey is one of the greatest compositing tools Brett has found. He explained that it's a motion keyer. This means you can take a shot, select an object in the shot, and then you track it. Once the object is tracked, the software can then identify which pixels are part of the moving object and key them out. Mokey will also attempt to rebuild the background to fill in where something's been taken out.

When asked about pricing for software capable of working with HiDef footage Brett noted that $10,000 is pretty much the magic price for high-end HD capable software.

Tina Eckman of Adobe with PS and AE tips

After our break we had Tina Eckman of Adobe come down to show us techniques for integrating Photoshop and AE. She began by illustrating the similarity between PS layers and AE layers, showing how transfer modes can be used to creatively determine the interaction between two or more graphics.

To show us how this works Tina grabbed a layered PS file and imported it as a composition into AE. She then illustrated how you can animate the elements, and also add elements such as a lens flare that she screened it on top of the original layers. Lastly, she showed us how easy it would be to transform the layered elements into a lower third design.

Tina's next tip involved creating a kaleidoscope effect. First, she drew a pie shaped mask and then used an expression to modify the rotation. She entered "index-1" multiplied by 45. When she duplicated it and each successive layer was rotate by 45 degrees. Once the template was set up, she added variations and created a cool effect.

Tina then moved on to animating a 2D object in 3D space. She began with a scan of an actual butterfly (how MGLA co-host Trish Meyer allowed a presentation involving dead butterflies is still a mystery to those who know her). The goal was to make the wings flap realistically and then animate it flying around a stationary object. Tina put a mask over each wing, thus separating the wing elements. She then put it into 3D space, applied a rotation on one wing, and added an expression that mirrored the rotation to the second wing. She then added a "loop out" expression to keep the wings flapping. Lastly, she applied a wiggle to the wings by parenting the object to a null and wiggling the null.

Tina's last tip of the evening involved performing a very cool 3D move on what was originally a 2D object. She began with a photograph of people sitting around a table. She then isolated each element as separate layers in PS, filling in the background holes via cloning. She then brought the separate elements in AE as layers in a comp. She moved the Z depth of the layers in 3D space so that the foreground elements were closer to her AE camera. She also set each element's anchor point to its center and had them auto-orient themselves to the camera. Once all this was configured a simple camera move produced a stunning 3D effect. Tina and Adobe gave away a copy of Photoshop for those emboldened to try similar tricks themselves - thanks!

Zaxwerks ProAnimator

Our final presenter for the evening was long-time MGLA pal Zax Dow of Zaxwerks who came down to show us the latest installment of the Invigorator series: Zaxwerks ProAnimator.Click on the image at right to play back a movie (2.5+ Meg) created by Alan Shisko of Toronto (one of the folks behind MOGRATO), created with the beta version of ProAnimator.

Zax explained that their early focus on making the creation of models quick and easy soon made animation the most difficult part hammering out a clip for a client. They studied the animation process and determined that keyframing was the culprit that was slowing things down. Their goal was to come up with an alternative to keyframing that would also make implementing changes quick and easy. Zax then showed us how the program works. The first step was to type in some text, set the font etc. then move into the animation window.

You create an animation by setting up a "start" state, a transition and an "end" state. The transitions automatically create the paths. So, if the client wants to change something you don't have to manually tweak curves. This is a huge time-saver.

Zax showed us the "TRY" button, which samples a number of pre-programmed moves, but quickly noted that ProAnimator is not just a bunch of presets. You can get as complex and custom as you like. If you want to isolate one character and have it do something different, you simply assign it to a separate animation track.

The program loops playback so you can adjust parameter while you're watching the animation in action, which is very nice. You can have the letters move in front-to-back, random, or user-defined order. And you can even go back and change the type-even adding or removing letters-and the program will keep same animation timing.

ZaxWerks ProAnimator will retail for $895. Zax gave away a copy this evening, with the string attached that the winner come back and show what they've done with it (which is happening at our August meeting).

Demo Reels

We managed to squeeze one demo reel into this busy night:

Jesse Anderson
130 S. Adams #22
Glendale, CA 91205

If you would like to show your reel, please note that they will be shown on a first come/first serve basis until we run out of time; we will go over the rules at the start of the meeting and manage collecting reels.

Click here to download a PDF file with guidelines for presenting Demo Reels and Projects. Reels must clock in at 3 minutes or under. Formats we can play include DVD, DigiBeta, BetaSP, VHS, DV, and DVCAM. Please bring your contact information so we can list you in the meeting summary.

We give highest priority to tips and projects. If you have a project or trick you'd like to share with the group, contact our new artist hosts (who will be presented at the August meeting - their contact info will also be available on the MGLA website).

Door Prizes

Our final event was our door-prize giveaway (nearly $3000 worth!). The following is a list of companies that donated prizes. It's much appreciated, as always

* a copy of Zaxwerks ProAnimator ($895 value)

* a copy of Adobe Photoshop 7 ($609 value)

* Digital Vision Fuse layered stock image library ($599 value)

* Artbeats Virtual Intensity stock footage library ($499 value)

* Total Training for Photoshop 7, Set 1: Fundamentals ($99 value)

* Total Training for Illustrator 10, Set 1: Fundamentals ($89 value)

* co-host Trish & Chris Meyer's latest book, Creating Motion Graphics
with After Effects Volume 2: Advanced Techniques
($60 value)

* a copy of The Unusually Useful Web Book from New Riders ($35 value)

* a copy of Mac OS X Hacks ($25 value) from O'Reilly

And again, thanks to Apple for being our primary sponsor in 2003, so admission was free!

Chris, Trish, and Lucky
Your MGLA co-hosts

door prizes provided by: