adobelogoMeeting Summary

Tuesday, February 27, 2004
LA Film School

LINEUP: Projects with Combustion / 3D Motion Control Camera Moves / Graphics for "More Than Human" / Titles for "Cold Mountain"

Brendan Lambe - Projects with Discreet Combustion

Our first presenter of the evening was Brendan Lambe who came down to show us various projects he's produced with Combustion 2. (If you remember, Combustion 3 was hours away from being released when it was shown at our January meeting.) Brendan began by showing a DVD of the work he was going to discuss and then jumped right into the program.

Brendan created a background comprised of vector graphics and elements created via the various painting tools. He quickly and easily created a cool background using only tools found within Combustion. He then brought in a character who was shot in HD on green screen and overlaid it onto the background. There were some problems with the screen. To pull a good key he began by creating multiple selection areas, each of which had their own custom key. Once each section of the image was dealt with, he was able combine them into a single matte. Brendan noted that Combustion uses the same keyer as Flame and Inferno. Lastly he performed some manual spill removal, added some light and blur effects, and the shot was finished.

Next, Brendan showed a cool soap opera promo piece that was done via a single camera move through a 3D family tree - all built in Combustion. The first thing we all noticed was the nice depth of field effect created via animated blurs. Brendan showed us how he built the large 3D tree explaining how he moved elements in front of others based on their position in the family tree. He also explained how he timed the motion to imported audio since the names/faces were critical. He concluded by showing the keyframe area and the graph view for the numerous bezier keyframes used in this project. He noted that this was a 4-5 day render (which prompted much discussion as to why this was the case).

Tom Luth - Digital Motion Control Camera Moves in 3D

Second up was MGLA regular Tom Luth who dropped in to show us some multiplane camera techniques (AKA "the 'The Kid Stays in the Picture' technique").

First Tom showed a simple pan on a photograph, discussing how the lack of differentiated movement between foreground and background elements blows the effect. He added that a Zoom is the same - simply enlarging the picture is not enough. He then showed how you can cut the image apart and move foreground elements quicker than background elements to simulate real-world movement.

Another way to give the impression of movement and depth is with depth of field. Tom then showed a Rodney Asher piece that used very creative layering and blurring. Tom also showed Disney's big multiplane camera used on their classic animation pieces in the middle of the last century. More subtle effects involve making the background less saturated, less contrasty and a bit more blue.

Tom illustrated how he cuts up an image, specifically noting how he extends background sections via cloning and painting. To illustrate how he uses his techniques in real projects, he showed us a work-in-progress music video featuring both 2D and 3D versions of the techniques he discussed. He began with a storyboard. Since he was using stills, he choose to shoot outside in natural light and then roto the stills by hand; he felt this was a better route than shooting on green screen and then color correcting later.

Tom finished by showing us a couple of tips and tricks he uses. He pointed out that while painting masks it's often helpful to have a hot-pink color in the background so you can more easily identify edges. He reprised Alex Lindsay's contrast elimination technique as well. Tom then showed how you can use the LAB color space to help you get more detail and remove noise from dark areas in photos. He also noted that various plug-ins from Steven Walker of Walker Effects can help you do similar things in After Effects.


JD Wilcox from ProMax was in the lobby talking about the latest gear. Refreshments were sponsored by Discreet.

Quiet Earth Design - 3D Design for "More Than Human"

Post-break we featured a presentation by MGLA co-host Lachlan Westfall of Quiet Earth Design who's been buried for months creating 3D graphics for a weekly show airing on Discovery called More Than Human. Lachlan explained that the show focuses on people who have survived bizarre accidents, or have unique physical traits that make them stand out. Lachlan's company, Quiet Earth Design, was hired to re-create situations from folks who swallow swords or have large pieces of steel rebar stuck in their head, to folks who foolishly jump off of bridges, hook themselves up to ancient catapults, or swim over Niagara Falls. Lachlan explained that setting up a production workflow and keeping backgrounds, looks, textures and effects similar not only helped speed up the process, but also made for a consistent look for the show. He showed how he rendered the 3D elements out of Electric Image Universe in layers and then animated various levels of transparency in After Effects, which was a lot quicker and more flexible.

Lachlan continued by explaining that he and his partner Peter Lehrack decided early on that there were certain animation techniques that were best avoided due to excessive render times or other problems. However, sometimes you just can't avoid the need for a complex particle stream. These were big challenges in a project where you might create 3 to 5 shots in a day - including building the models.

Lastly, Lachlan noted that even though there were long days and months, it's really fun to work on a project where you have no idea what's coming next. He also explained that having a broad range of skills from 2D compositing to 3D modeling is essential in tackling jobs like this where there's little time and/or budget for a large staff.

movieTrish Meyer - Film Titles for Cold Mountain

Our final presenter of the evening was MGLA co-host Trish Meyer who talked about various issues she encountered when producing titles for the film Cold Mountain, designed by Deborah Ross Film Design. (Click image to see QT mov.)

Trish began by discussing how she used stock footage water from the Artbeats Liquid Ambience CD, and that the font was Old Style, a free font found on the internet from HPLHS, noting that you don't always have to go out and shoot something or create a custom font to create a very nice film title.

Trish explained that she also received the opening scene of the film digitally as she needed to fade to black from her graphics to the first scene which fades up from black. By adding a crossfade between "computer black" and "film black", you can avoid a hard cut that might be noticeable between the different black levels.

The title sequence featured water displacing an image of a mountain. The title and names were similarly displaced, but there were many subtle effects added. Trish explained about how displacement mapping works by using pixel luma values to displace pixels of a second image. She specifically noted that you must make sure your two layers are the same size. Also, since displacement mapping creates artifacts at the edges of the displaced image, she created the layers in precomps that were slightly larger than the final output so that these artifacts would be cropped out. A duplicate of the water layer was placed in a precomp and blurred, and this was used as the displacement map; the blurred images creates a smoother displacement than an image with lots of detail and film grain.

In working on this project, Trish explained that she first created a D1 NTSC version while the design was being worked out, but had to uprez from D1 to 2K as many of the elements as possible as the producers were previewing the movie using full film output proofs. The final output was being output anamorphic, but since the editing and production was carried out in London, it wasn't until the final stage that the output specs in pixels were defined. Much use was made of firewire drives and Midnight Express courier service (faster and cheaper than FedEx for delivery to London!).

Another daunting aspect of film titles is the exhaustive proofing process required since film titles on a major motion picture must be reviewed by lawyers to ensure that the requirements in multiple contracts are being met. Trish noted that by using Adobe Illustrator files (as opposed to AE text tool), it was easy to gang up and print out titles for faxing and spell checking.

Trish then jumped into explaining the specific techniques she used to animate the titles that appeared above the water. The words had two effects applied: The first effect was a displacement like that used on the mountains. In addition, there was a gradient wipe applied which faded the type on based on the luminance of the water. This gave the type a smokey mysterious feel as it appeared. She also chopped up the words and added a bit of rotation and position wiggle to the rotation to add a bit of randomness to the effect - this made it appear that the words were also bobbing on the surface of the water. A little Trapcode Starglow effect was added to accentuate the highlights in the water.

She finished by playing the movie of the closing titles, which also included a clip from Artbeats of blue sky and clouds, transitioning slowly to the water clip again.

Note: There was an excellent interview published in February 2004 issue of DV Magazine with Walter Murch, editor of Cold Mountain, which covers how the film was edited in Apple's Final Cut Pro.

Note: The HPLPS OldStyle font used for the titles has now been updated and rereleased as Coldstyle. There are more fonts from this font designer under the E-phemera Font Collection label and available through

Demo Reels

We had one attendee who came up to show his reel. Contact information follows:

Edward Raeker
tel: 310-913-2582

Again, thanks to Adobe's sponsorship of MGLA this year, admission was free!

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

Many thanks for Lucky Westfall for compiling this summary. Thanks also to Dale Ellis for coordinating the refreshments for the break.


Door prizes for the February 2004 meeting were provided by:


This month's list of prizes includes (over $2000 worth):

* courtesy of Adobe, a full copy of Adobe Photoshop CS (for either Mac or Windows; $649 value)

* Artbeats: Liquid Ambience stock footage library ($399 value).

* the just-released Total Training for Adobe Photoshop with Deke McClelland ($299 value)

* Unit 01 NTSC/PAL ProductionBlox stock footage elements from 12 Inch Design ($299 value). .

* a Logitech Z-560 THX-certified 400 watt speaker system, courtesy of 3Dconnexion ($200 value)

* Texturing Concepts Texture Map Fundamentals with Adobe Photoshop training DVD from Desktop Images ($60 value)

* a copy of After Effects in Production by MGLA co-hosts Trish & Chris Meyer from ($50 value)

* a copy of Creating Motion Graphics Volume 1: The Essentials by MGLA co-hosts Trish & Chris Meyer ($55 value)

* a copy of Creating Motion Graphics Volume 2: Advanced Techniques by MGLA co-hosts Trish & Chris Meyer ($60 value)

* a copy of Photoshop CS Artistry courtesy of Peachpit Press ($55 value)

* a copy of O'Reilly's Digital Photography Pocket Guide 2nd edition ($15 value)


Refreshments sponsored by Discreet
Powerbook provided by Apple
Wireless mics provided by ProMax