***Meeting Summary***

Tuesday, August 17, 2004
LA Film School


LINEUP: Curious Software gFx and World Maps / Darkling Interactive Noise / guest artist Jen Smith / guest artist Ken Nakada / door prize drawing

Our August meeting marked our 7th Anniversary and we celebrated with a great meeting showing new tools, an experimental art video, and superb examples of digital matte painting. And as always, we had an extensive list of prizes to give away at the end - over $4000 worth!


Our pre-meeting Q&A session focussed on the recent SIGRAPH show, questions about Panasonic's HD recorder, the new Apple displays and delivery of the new dual 2.5Ghz Power Macs.

Curious Software gFx and World Maps

Curious Software is focused upon providing high performance graphics tools for the broadcast, film, presentation and web markets. Representing Curious Software was Chris Valle who dropped in to show two products: World Maps and gFx.

Curious World MapsChris began with their extremely robust and customizable map creation software called World Maps. The software provides you with a system for creating custom maps for broadcast. Elements include vector graphics, bit-mapped satellite imagery and even detailed elevation maps allowing you to do 3D fly-bys. Chris showed a series of maps done for a Phoenix, AZ new broadcast as well as other custom maps. The package starts at $6,500 and goes up as you add in more options.

Curious gFxCurious gFx is a 16-bit raster paint system that supports Cineon and other formats. It includes powerful tools for matte painting and rotoscoping, as well as tools for morphing and warping. Chris began with the cloning tool showing how it worked on moving images. He also notes that cloned data can be saved on a separate layer as to be non-destructive. He also showed other non-destructive effects such as lights and glow. The roto tools in gFx were impressive. One very convenient feature is that all the points on a Bezier curve are numbered, so it's easy to identify points as the matte is animated. He also demonstrated how you can adjust feathering individually between each adjacent point. Next, he showed level adjustments, keyframing and the very fast RAM previews. gFx also includes a tracking system that can track forward and backwards and conveniently skip trouble frames. The program also includes a nice wire-removal tool and an impressive Rotopaint tool. Chris showed how to use a "difference" tool to quickly identify which parts of a frame are different from the previous one - very useful. Finally, he showed how to create a composite in gFx Pro with layers, type, drop shadows, mattes, etc. There are two levels to the program: Curious gFx costs $999 for the Pro version and $1999 for the Pro+ version. There is a free demo version downloadable from their web site.


Members enjoyed snacks and drinks courtesy of Discreet and Red Bull.

Guest artist: Jen Smith

Jen Smith is a photographer that lives in Venice Beach. Jen gave us a look at an 11-minute film project on which she's working called Voyageur en Revant (or "Dream Traveler"). She began by showing a shortened 4-minute version of the piece.

Arch Tunnel Chair

The work is a series of still photos, all shot by Jen. She shot in a variety of formats, scanned both negative and positive, and then brought the photos into After Effects for manipulation. In fact, she learned After Effects just for this project. She explained she was basically shooting a movie with a still camera. It was a very nice and creative piece, we look forward to seeing the final 11-minute version.

DINDarkling Interactive Noise

MGLA co-host Lachlan Westfall was up next to show an interesting "procedural noise" generation plug-in for After Effects. The plug-in is called DIN (Darkling Interactive Noise) and is from Darkling Interactive. At its core DIN has a powerful noise-generation engine with a variety of fractal modes and the ability to use imported patterns. What makes the program unique is its procedural approach (borrowed from Darkling's 3D procedural shaders) to controlling the noise. DIN allows you to use an underlying gray map to control numerous functions of the noise generation. For example, size and density can be controlled and animated by an animated layer in After Effects. Lachlan showed various examples from Darkling as well as some he had come up with in working with the program. Lachlan explained that right away, it was great for creating moving looping backgrounds, but there are so many other options in DIN that he expected that many other applications of the plug-in would soon make themselves apparent.

DIN is cross-platform, and compatible with After Effects 5.5 and later, as well as combustion 3. Click here to download a free demo. Price is $159

Riot Pictures logoGuest Artist: Ken Nakada on Digital Matte Painting

Our final presenter of the evening was Ken Nakada from Riot Pictures who came down to discuss digital matte painting and his work on high-profile feature films such as The Matrix Trilogy, Scorpion King, The One, Queen of the Damned and others. Ken explained that he uses combustion, Commotion, Shake and After Effects as well as many other programs to create and animate his imagery.

Ken starts by using reference photos and then repaints to create the image he'll use. Once the image is created he'll often project it onto geometry in Maya. This allows him to perform a 3D move on the painting if needed. Often he'll combine actual 3D geometry and a digital matte painting if a more complex move is needed. He explained that because there are no hard-and-fast rules in the effects game, he'll often have two teams approach the task from different directions, and use the one that works out the best. Ken does his painting in Photoshop and says it's not uncommon for him to be working with 200 layers. He showed a painting from The Matrix that was 3K wide, but noted that he's occasionally had to have images that were upwards of 25K wide! His greatest nightmare is when the director changes the light around as that usually means he has to start over from scratch.

Note: If you'd like to show a demo reel at a future meeting please contact MGLA co-host Warren Heaton at the beginning of the meeting. Please keep the running time under 3 minutes, and make sure your sources are copyright cleared and properly attributed. Formats we can play include DVD, DigiBeta, BetaSP, VHS, miniDV, and DVCAM (sorry, no VHS). Please bring your contact information so we can list you in the meeting summary.

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

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


Door prizes provided by:
Curious Software buttonArtbeats button12 Inch Design button
Final Draft buttonTotal Training buttonDarkling Simulations button
Zoom In buttonThe Anvel button
CMP_Books_buttonFocal Press button


Another fine list of free treats - you would think it was our birthday or something... Many thanks to those individuals and companies who donated prizes for our door prize giveaway:

* a copy of Curious gFx Pro+ (the full 16-bit film version) courtesy of this evening's presenter Curious Software ($1999 value)

* Digital Edge stock footage library of techie abstract backgrounds, courtesy of Artbeats ($499 value)

* PowerBlox Unit 01 stock library of DVD menus, mattes, display screens, textures, and other goodies, courtesy 12 Inch Design ($299 value)

* the winner's choice of a copy of Final Draft 6 screenwriting software or Final Draft AV 2 scriptwriting software, courtesy of Final Draft ($179-$229 value)

* Total Training for Illustrator CS 5 DVD set ($179 value)

* a copy of the Darkling Interactive Noise plug-in for After Effects and combustion, courtesy of Darkling Simulations ($159 value)

* a 10 CD set of motion graphics project lessons for Photoshop and After Effects from Dean Velez of The Anvel ($150 value)

* Total Training's What's New in After Effects 6.5 DVD ($149 value)

* a copy of DMTS Inside After Effects 6 training DVD, courtesy of Magnet Media ($99 value)

* a copy of DTMS Inside Photoshop CS training DVD, courtesy of Magnet Media ($99 value)

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

* a copy of Motion Graphic Design and Fine Art Animation Principles and Practice by Jon Krasner, courtesy of Focal Press ($50 value)

* Total Training's Photoshop Tips & Tricks DVD ($49 value)

* two copies of the latest motion graphics DVD magazine Zoom In, including a mini-documentary on the use of After Effects to create Comedy Central's South Park promos ($49 value each)

* a copy of Premiere Pro Editing Workshop by Marcus Geduld, courtesy of CMP Books ($40 value)

* a copy of Character Animation in 3D by Steve Roberts, courtesy of Focal Press ($37 value)

* a copy of After Effects on the Spot, courtesy of CMP Books ($28 value)


Wireless mics provided by ProMax