LINEUP: Alias Maya 5 / introduction to Apple DVD Studio Pro 2 / guest studio Belief: Chain Reaction
A stimulating meeting it was, with a high-end slant and many interesting questions. Let's cut to the chase:
Q & A
One of our main functions this evening was introducing our new Artist Host panel: Tony Romain from Trance, Warren Heaton from Ractive Media, and Marshal Fontaine from Discreet. Three heads are better than one; we're looking forward to a good variety of artistic presentations at upcoming meetings. And by the way, we'd love to have YOU show your work (a recent project, a tip, etc.) at an upcoming meeting - it's a great way to give back to MGLA, and also to get some publicity. Their contact information is on the Contact page.
Another topic of conversation was Apple's G5s. The single-proc machines were shipping, but when we took a poll of attendees, everyone who had ordered one had ordered the dual-proc models (power users that we are).
Marcel de Jong from Alias (no longer Alias|Wavefront) gave us a fasten-your-seatbelts tour of some of the higher end features of Maya 5, the latest version of Alias's award-winning 3D animation and effects software. Maya 5 features improvements in the areas of polygonal modeling, rendering options, rendering formats (including Flash and Adobe Illustrator) and more.
Marcel first dove into the area of character functionality. One of the biggest new things was a way to seamless merge Forward Kinematics (normal keyframing and motion capture) with Inverse Kinematics (the ability to grab, say, a finger and have the rest of the arm move properly behind it). The new system is very interactive: For example, you can take a motion capture data set, and then add a gesture without losing any of the captured motion for that limb. The user interface allows the display of "ghosted" copies of the limbs pre-edit to get an idea of what you're doing to them. You can mute an animation channel without removing the dependency. thus you can temporary freeze a limb, but not destroy the hierarchy.
Along similar lines, Marcel demonstrated Parent Constraints. These do not have a hierarchical relationship to the object it's controlling. Marcel showed an example of a helicopter landing on a ship. You can set up a motion path and an area off the path, and then set a bias between the two and animate between them. Maya will constrain the position and orientation - thus you can have a hand pick something up by weighting between a Parent Constraint in a hand and one on the table.
Another major area Marcel demonstrated was the new Computational Fluid Dynamics engine (CFD for short). If you can wrap your head around this concept, it does not have attributes; it has properties - for example, you can place fluid inside a container. Transparency can be based on density, but you can also have color or other things based on density. In general, this approach is a lot faster to set up than particles, at the cost of being more render-intensive.
2D fluids work well for most things, but you also can do 3D fluid containers. Marcel gave an example of setting up a container and an emitter. He added a texture to a the 3D fluid, then added a spherical shading based on Voxel rendering. You can also render simple surfaces, plus you can freeze it and turn it into polygons (instant organic model). The dynamics of the fluids can also be used to texture an object, and the fluid can interact with standard textures by influencing how they are applied. You can also paint an image and have the fluids displace it.
In addition to creating a tempest in a teacup (actually, swirling liquid in a coffee cup), Marcel also demonstrated a great ocean shader. You can add an object and set it's buoyancy, and it will float. You can also give it a motor and it will sail away. Ponds work well too.
Marcel ended with a quick tour of Paint Effects. There are 115 new presets. You can also now convert anything from paint effects into 3D geometry.
We were treated to a great introductory demo of the latest version of Apple's professional DVD authoring software, DVD Studio Pro. Version 2 is a major overhaul, which now runs on OS X. Some of the new features include context sensitive drop menus and a timeline similar to Final Cut Pro. DVDSP supports DVD-5, DVD-9, DVD-10 and DVD-19 formats (single or dual layer and/or side). You can set the dual layer break point, and more. The new price is $499 (down from $999) and the upgrade from any previous version is $199.
The idea behind DVDSP is to be a powerful program that's easy to use. You can go simple and just use templates, or dive in deep to create more complex, powerful DVDs. Unlike iDVD where the themes are not very customizable, in DVDSP they are. You can also create your own templates. You can also custom-name the buttons in the template to automatically have certain functionality.
You can now organize your assets into folders. Any thing that writes a QT file format will work well with the DVDSP. You can easily access your iTunes playlist, see your iPhoto library, and you can look in the movies folder as well. When you drag something, you now get a context-sensitive list of things asking you what you'd like to do. When you bring in a movie from FCP, DVDSP will import the chapter markers, with chapter names assigned to the buttons.
From an interactivity standpoint, you can have a movie with an intro and set the loop point to be different from the beginning. You can have 9 video angles (a rarity, shall we say, in an authoring tool this inexpensive). The multiple angles are dynamic - for example, if there is a section where the different angles are of the same image, they can point to that same file, saving disc space. You can create different language discs; NTSC and PAL are both supported. And finally in the power-feature realm, they have a new point and click script editor.
This provocative talk was presented by Mike Goedecke, Founder and Kane Roberts, Creative Producer, of the well-known design studio (and MGLA regular) Belief. In it, they proposed a controversial (to some) approach to creativity: Yes, be influenced by others in your work, but don't resort to just the usual suspects.
Their multimedia presentation was a combination of visual examples (including moving images, photography, sculpture and architecture) and verbal challenges (including quotes and works by artists of impact to help us trace the sources of their inspiration and methods of accessing their best creative energy).
Belief's goal was to help us experience how the contemporary creative process seeds the ideas and trends that shape our culture.They encouraged us to look outside the immediate realm of commercial motion graphics for your inspiration. Step outside of the box. Don't take just from current trends; don't just steal from TV; don't cannibalize our industry. How many times can you photocopy something before the original is gone? Find inspiration from other mediums.
A large portion of their talk centered on passion - "Passion is a Magnet." Follow instincts, not style. How do you become an iconographer, as Kubrik did with Clockwork Orange, for example? Genius comes from ideas, not technique. Abstract a common element from familiar things; personify an inanimate object. Seek out unexpected collaborations, such as the one between Alice Cooper and Salvador Dali. Hire people that cause you to see the world in a different way. Once you get rid of your ego, you can be honest.
(Click here to download a companion PDF file from their talk with additional nuggets of inspiration.)
Some of those who are used to thinking more in black-and-white terms of "should you copy or not?" found all this difficult to digest, as Belief seemed to say one moment not to copy, and another that it was okay. If your hosts may be allowed to slip into a philosophical mood for a moment, this is akin to Don Juan's advice to go between the horns of a charging bull, or Taoism's encouragement to synthesize apparent opposites - hard to explain in words, but once you get your head there, it opens up a lot of creative freedoms.
We had another great giveaway, with prizes totaling over $2200 in value:
a copy of Apple DVD Studio Pro 2 ($499 value)
Artbeats Floral Twist stock footage library ($499 value)
Digital Vision's The Sound of Jah Wobble stock music library ($499 value)
a free pass to co-host Trish & Chris Meyer's Creative Explosion After Effects seminar August 22 at the Los Angeles Airport Hilton ($179 value)
Total Training's What's New in Photoshop 7 CD training by Deke McClelland ($99 value)
a copy of Final Cut Express Editing Workshop by Tom Wolsky from CMP Books ($30 value)
a copy of iMovie 3 & iDVD - The Missing Manual by David Pogue from Pogue Press and O'Reilly Books ($25 value)
a copy of the Mac OS X Pocket Guide (2nd Edition) from O'Reilly Books ($15 value)
And again, thanks to Apple's sponsorship of MGLA this year, admission is free! We look forward to seeing you on the 19th.
Chris, Trish, Lucky, Tony, Warren,
Your MGLA co-hosts