meeting summary
Tuesday, November 18, 2003
LA Film School
------7:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. ------
------Cover charge: FREE------

(Co-Sponsored by Apple Computer and ProMax)

LINEUP: Apple LiveType / Profound Effects Useful Assistants / Trish Meyer on After Effects 6 Type / guest artist Susan Yoon


Those who managed to negotiate the horrible traffic this evening and arrive in time for the Q&A got to see co-host Trish Meyer describe some issues with AE and Illustrator CS. If you open in Illustrator CS a file created in a previous version of Illustrator, you have two choices: convert or not. If you don't, you can't edit any text. If you do, your text will be shifted relative to the page's guides once you import it into After Effects - a nasty surprise. Everything is fine if you stick with one version (CS or older); just don't update older files right now.

There was some discussion concerning FireWire 800 drives. Co-host Chris Meyer has been using one as a boot drive on a dual 2 Ghz G5 for several weeks now without incident. However, there is a known issue of trying to run Panther off of FW800 drive that uses the Oxford bridge chipset - you will need a firmware update. Companies such as LaCie have been posting this to their sites. Also, all involved sung the praises of gigabit ethernet - with 8-port unmanaged switches falling under $200, they make sense to connect your newer machines with, as the transfer speeds are competitive with FireWire 400 drives!

Minutes after happily finding the Vine off-ramp, co-host Lucky Westfall discussed some interesting file-renaming issues he discovered when posting from and OSX machine to an OS9 machine running a shared folder. It seems that OS9 will display a re-named file (via truncation and the addition of numbers) when it sees a file with a long name created under OSX. Interestingly, OSX will continue to display the original name.

After going over our bounty of door prizes we began our meeting.

Apple LiveType

Tom Langmacher, founder of Prismo Graphics and the designer of LiveType was our first presenter. Co-host Chris Meyer introduced the program by noting many designers thought LiveType was only for creating cheesy effects, but those who spend the time to dive in found a very powerful tool. Tom proceeded to convince the audience as well.

Tom explained that LiveType features many preset type animation and style effects (hence the "wedding video" label some give it) but these are just starting points and it's very easy mix or modify them, or to make your own complex effects. The real power of LiveType in that it allows you to easily animate and add effects to "glyphs" - and a glyph can be a character in a font, a character in LiveFont (a new format), a Photoshop file, a QuickTime movie, or any other file format QuickTime natively supports.

With the new version 1.1 (released that day) Tom explained that you can assign an effect to individual glyphs (characters) and showed us how easy it is to create some pretty sophisticated animations with very few keyframes. For organization, you can name effects and once you have an animation effect you can then styles such as outline, glow, shadow, extrude and more.

What really opens the program up is the fact that you can combine effects, for example, an animated tracking and a vertical bounce, very easy and very effectively. This results in effects that would be very difficult to re-create in another type of program. Tom explained that while you can crate zany over-the-top styles, you can also get subtle warped glow effects and other elegant looks.

Next, Tom showed us LiveFonts, and animated font format for use in LiveType and Final Cut Pro. To understand LiveFonts, just think of each character in a font as a looping QuickTime movie. Now you can use animated type very easily in your titles. LiveFonts is an open standard and Tom noted that Apple is encouraging artists and typographers to create and sell/distribute their own LiveFonts; indeed, a new site dedicated to LiveType and LiveFonts - LiveTypeCentral - went online just the day after the meeting. Creating a LiveFont is a simple as putting RGBA QuickTime movies for each glyph in a folder and LiveType will turn them into a Live Font. Tom showed us some amazing examples. The development of LiveFonts will be fun to watch in the coming months.

Jumping back to LiveType proper, Tom explained that you can also bring in Adobe Photoshop elements and assign them to an animation track just like text. In this case the Picts act like glyphs in a font. You can also do the same with Quicktime movies. So, rather than a simple "wedding videographer" tool, by the end of the evening LiveType was shown to be essentially a powerful particle emission and animation tool, with a strong leaning toward typography.

Tom then showed us the various matting and type-on-a-curve tools. He also noted that, while many of the effects have a 3D look, there's no real Z-depth in the program. Still, the fakes were very impressive - it easily passes as a "two-and-a-half-D" program.

LiveType is currently bundled with Apple's Final Cut Pro and is not sold separately. But if Apple was paying any attention to our attendees' response, we'd be surprised if this did not eventually become a stand-alone product.

We had several LiveType and FCP themed prizes this evening. Live Type Central donated some of their new fonts and templates as door prizes; Magnet Media provided Digital Media Training for FCP4, Intelligent Assistance provided their Killer Titles assistant for LiveType and Calligraphy, and CMP Books provided a copy of their new Final Cut Pro 4 On The Spot. More details on the prizes below.

We have a couple of door prizes that tie in nicely with this demo - Killer Titles: Useful Assistance for LiveType and Calligraphy, plus a copy of the new Final Cut Pro 4 On the Spot book from CMP Books, which includes a chapter on creating text effects in Final Cut Pro using tools such as LiveType and Photoshop.

Profound Effects Useful Assistants

Jeff Almasol of Profound Effects was next on our stage and brought with him a set of new keyframe assistants for AE, which allow you to automate time-consuming task in AE (although "keyframe" is a misleading term, as they can affect far more than keyframes!). Useful Assistants ships with 62 assistants that work with layers, comps, effects, and other aspects of AE. It can address AE layers, footage, keyframes, and mattes, but it cannot, for example, change individual pixels in a clip. In that sense it's not a duplicate of Photoshop actions in AE.

Jeff began by showing us simple assistants that expand or improve upon those that already come with AE. For example, UA comes with a "split layer and move up" assistant that will take one layer, split it, and then move the second part above the original, rather than always down as AE does. Another assistant snaps selected layers to the current time, keeping their relative times in order. You can then create a preset for this assistant that will snap to a specified time.

One very clever assistant look for hard cuts in a single clip and then places markers at this cuts. It includes a customizable algorithm with which you can define the sensitivity in how it detects a cut. A second assistant can then split layers at layer markers. These two can be assigned to a preset, which can then execute this normally tedious task automatically. Presets can be easily saved and reloaded on different systems.

Jeff then jumped back into showing off the various assistants they have developed-largely in response to things AE users have expressed interest in having. UA has a variation of AE's "sequence layers" that allows you to take layers and sequence them to a set of markers on another layer. If you enable "overlay" and set a transition, it will adjust the trimming and set the keyframes for you. Even better, if you enter a number into each marker's layer name, the asst, will read that and set each transition to that value - very cool.

Jeff showed a RAM preview assistant allows you to define oft-used RAM preview settings, eliminating the need to re-define the work area all the time.
UA comes with a scripting reference so you can write you own, if you're so inclined. The script language is Python and you get all the source code for the stuff you buy. Trish noted that Profound Effects is very interested in hearing from AE users and responding to what they need.

Useful Assistants sells for $295 and MGLA members can receive a $50 discount until Dec 1 - use code UAVIP. Profound generously provided copies of Useful Assistants and Useful Things as door prizes.


JD Wilcox of ProMax was in the lobby to answer any equipment questions. He brought a new G5, opened up, to answer installation questions directly (he had it running 2 internal drives stripped together as a RAID). Beverages and snacks were provided courtesy of Quantel.

Text Animation in After Effects 6.0

Continuing with our type-themed meeting co-host Trish Meyer returned to the stage to give us an in-depth look at the new type system in AE 6.0. She explained that Adobe essentially put the type engine from Illustrator and Photoshop into After Effects.

Instead of making a new solid and assigning a text effect, now you just grab the type tool and go. Text layers are automatically named for you when you enter them and you can easily change the font by simply selecting the layer. Trish noted that Cmd-Shft-H hides the selection so you can see the type without seeing the selection range. Once a range of type has been selected you can change the color and other attributes of that selection.

Since all non-nested type is continuously rasterized you no longer have to think about the font size. Scaling up is no problem. AE now features smart quotes so you no longer get to make the mistake of using inch and foot marks (at pet peeve of more than one MGLA host). You can work with type in wrapped paragraphs by drawing a box and inserting type. You can also adjust the word spacing in various ways.
Animation of type has also significantly changed in AE 6.0. Type animation properties are found in the timeline. Keyframes store all attributes of the type - including what words are typed.

Animating text on a path involves assigning a path, or mask, to the text layer. Then, under "text" you select the path and then animate the first margin to make your text moving along the path. Both open and closed mask shapes are supported.
Under the text layers "animate" pull down menu you'll find many additional animatable attributes for the text. You also get text range selectors to determine what range, or which characters, will be animated. Further, you can animate the range of the selection. This provides for nearly limitless possibilities. Once you have an animator with defined start and end points you can add additional attributes to it. As an example, Trish showed that when you scale a range of text, you can also track the same range by adding another attribute (track) to the same animator. You can have multiple properties animated inside one range; you can also set up multiple ranges and animate properties independently.

Selection ranges don't stop there. Each range can also have a shape. When the shape is set to square, you can adjust the smoothness of the transition, i.e. how quickly the effect takes hold as the range encounters the character. This is specific to the "Square" range. With "Round" and other shapes you get Ease High and Ease Low controls. The High point are the letters that are most effected by whatever attribute you're animating. If you increase the Ease High, the attribute is biased toward the High value within the selection range.

Ramp Up and Ramp Down work in a different way. Here, the Range control becomes the transition between the normal type, and the fully effected type. Trish showed how this is very useful for "typing on" effects, including creating elegant fades.

Lastly, Trish explained another selector type called Wiggly. Wiggly can be used to randomly affect attributes-and there are many, many attributes to Wiggle. Trish showed us how she used Wiggle to re-create a subtle vertical glow effect she saw on TV.
For those wanting to learn After Effects 6, we had a couple suitable prizes, including the exhaustive Total Training set for the Professional version, and the latest Adobe Classroom in a Book.

Guest Artist Susan Yoon

Co-host Tony Romain introduced our guest artist for the month, the very accomplished Susan Yoon of Sumo Graphics. Susan is a freelancer currently working for ABC Family. Tony saw an essentially 3D project Susan had done completely in After Effects. He correctly noted that this would make an excellent presentation for MGLA. Thankfully, Susan obliged.

The 30-second spot was and ad for Home Depot Susan's job was to animate from a storyboard, audio and Photoshop files. The started by importing all the elements and aligning them to the audio. She noted that a few of the Useful Assistants she saw earlier could have helped in that.

The most challenging aspect of the job involved creating a 3D kitchen that looked as if it grew out of blueprints. She was given each face of each object as a layer in Photoshop. By adjusting the pivot point of each object she was able to build cabinets and other elements in AE's 3D space. She then flew a camera through the scene and used AE's outline and radial wipe effects to create a "drawn-on" look that was very effective.

Susan initially learned her trade at Chicago's Columbia College, whose pioneering multimedia program put her at the helm of first-generation SGI workstations in the early 90s. She then moved to Seoul, South Korea, where she worked for 5 years as an on-air designer for the International Broadcasting Foundation. She returned to the US in 1999, and earned a Master's Degree in Digital Media at the American Film Institute. Her clients have included Columbia Pictures, ABC Family, MTV, CBS2, Toyota, and Disney Attractions. She is currently animating for Disney's ABC Family channel.

NOTE: if you are interested in showing off one of your projects (or other tips and tricks) at a future meeting, contact our Artist Hosts Tony Romain or Warren Heaton.

demo reels

Co-host Warren Heaton collected our first batch of demo reels in a while and had each person come down and talk about the work that was shown. It was great to have each artist talk a bit about their business and their work. The following is a list of contact information for reels shown

Dennis Hocking
Synergy Studios
909-687-6654 (tel)
909-687-6966 (fax)
2900 Adams St. Suite B-29
Riverside, CA 92504

MTEK MultiMedia Technologies
Charles White

Forrest Brown

Rob Wolpert

door prizes

Many thanks go out to all the companies who graciously provided us with prizes for our give-away, which exceeded $3000 in value!

* Digital Vision: Beauty stock photography library ($599 value)

* Total Training's After Effects 6 Professional Bundle DVD training - the full 4-volume set ($549 value)

* Profound Effects gave away copies of both Useful Things ($395 value) and Useful Assistants ($295 value).

* Artbeats: The Orient stock footage library ($249 value).

* Digital Media Training Series: Inside Editing with Final Cut Pro 4 from Magnet Media ($200 value)

* two custom keyboards from Bella Corporation: a Classic Series keyboard for After Effects ($130 value), and one of their new Professional Series keyboards with jog/shuttle ($170 value)

* two CD compilations of new LiveFonts as well as templates and other useful tools from LiveTypeCentral ($100 value each)

* Killer Titles: Intelligent Assistance for LiveType and Calligraphy interactive help system ($75 value)

* Photoshop for Nonlinear Editors, signed by the author Richard Harrington who was at the meeting ($55 value)

* a copy of Vegas 4 Editing Workshop Douglas Spotted Eagle from CMP Books ($50 value)

* a copy of Windows Media 9 Series by Example by Nels Johnson from CMP Books ($45 value)

* a copy of the new After Effects 6.0 Classroom in a Book from Adobe Press, courtesy of Peachpit Press ($45 value)

* a copy of the classic eye candy book Typography Now: The Next Wave by Edward Booth-Clibborn with an introduction by Rick Poynor, courtesy of Booth-Clibborn Editions ($40 value)

* a copy of Final Cut Pro 4 On The Spot by Richard Harrington and Abba Shapiro from CMP Books ($28 value)

* O'Reilly's Google Hacks - how to exploit Google as a user, and as a programmer adding it to your website ($25 value)

* and finally, a copy of the seminal type book The End of Print by Lewis Blackwell and David Carson, courtesy of Chronicle Books ($25 value)

And again, thanks to Apple's sponsorship of MGLA this year, admission was free! We think it was a great meeting all around.

Chris, Trish, Lucky, Tony, Warren, and Marshal
Your MGLA co-hosts

door prizes provided by: