***Meeting Summary***

Tuesday, September 21, 2004
LA Film School

LINEUP: dvGarage & Greenscreen Techniques / Alias Maya / XFX Widescreen PAL DVD trade show video case study / Book Signing / Door Prizes

CMG Volume 1In our half-hour Q&A session we were joined by our friend Alex Lindsay of dvGarage who helped us field questions from the audience while also discussing his innovative training group, the Pixel Corps. Meanwhile, co-host Trish and Chris Meyer were selling and signing copies of their book Creating Motion Graphics Volume 1 (3rd Edition) out in the lobby. The books were donated by CMP Books and $1200 in proceeds were raised to be shared by the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund (hurricane relief) and the San Fernando Valley chapter of the Audubon Society (SFVAS). We then quickly jumped into our first presentation as we had a jam-packed evening ahead of us.

Greenscreen Techniques

Alex Lindsay of dvGarage was also our first presenter and he had already set up a portable greenscreen to the side of the stage. Alex explained that he brought the screen, a Lowell light kit and a Panasonic DDX-100A to show us how to shoot and key in real time – noting that it would be infinitely easier than getting all this gear past airport security. Alex pointed out that the camera's ability to shoot both 24p and 30p was important as you very much want to avoid keying interlaced footage if at all possible. It's also important to have a good monitoring system to make sure the green is as even as possible. He also pointed out that you should always turn sharpening OFF (if possible) in the camera as it will mess with the edges that are so important to pulling a good key.

Next, Alex discussed lighting the subject – in this case co-host Warren Heaton who was very adeptly spinning a hula-hoop non-stop for the entire demo! Alex explained that you should light your subject and background independently in order to avoid shadows being cast on the greenscreen, noting that every 10 minutes spent getting things set up right at the beginning can save hours in production. Alex and Warren noted that it's fairly safe to avoid metering when shooting video, but with film you really should take the extra time to get it perfect. Lastly, Alex noted that you should lean toward warm color in the foreground to contrast with the green in the background, and use greenscreen for darker skinned subjects, and bluescreen for light skinned/blonde subjects.

Alex then took us into his DV Matte Pro plug-in for Adobe After Effects and Apple's Final Cut Pro (as well as other software). He captured some footage of Warren working the hula-hoop to perfection and then brought it into AE. He began by creating a quick garbage matte using a simple color key and a min/max. This left him only the edge to be concerned with. He then went at the edge with DV Matte and finished by pulling a decent key in very little time.

Alex always brings a bag full o' goodies to give away, and this meeting was no exception (see list with links at the end of this page).


Folks were able to stretch, chat, and check out the cool controllers from 3Dconnexion, get answers to your tech questions from ProMax, and grab a drink/snack courtesy of Discreet and Red Bull.

Alias MayaAlias Maya

We were please to once again have Alias' Marcel de Jong down to show us the latest version of Maya. Marcel always packs as much detail as possible into a 45-minute presentation and, as expected, he did not disappoint. Marcel began by showing that Maya now had an integrated web browser that provides unprecedented integration with project management sites. He showed how you can grab actual Mel scripts off the web and even control the Maya interface over IP.

With respect to rendering, Mental Ray now supports blurred reflections and particle motion blur. It also features new fixes and speed improvements.

Marcel then showed us some very powerful and impressive particle system deformation functions. He began by explaining that it's often way too difficult to control a particle system in the way you want with a specific set of rules that control the physics of the system. With deformations, you can basically grab the particle system and physically move it, bend it, twist it, etc. the way you like. Marcel did this and showed us how to quickly create a swirling tornado. He also showed us the Soft Modification function which allows you to separately manipulate a section of a specific deformation.

Next, Marcel took us into Version 6's new Hair Module. He explained that while Maya's Paint Effects can do some hair quite nicely, long flowing hair was always a challenge. Maya now has Dynamic Nurbs Curves for replicating the natural dynamics of long hair. The system allows you to use a combination of physics and keyframing. You can set a "glue strength" constraint so that the nurbs will stick, but only to a certain point. Lastly, Marcel showed us that this new system can be used for much more than hair; he set up the Nurbs dynamics to control the joint rotation of an insect-like character. In his example he could simply move the body around and all the limbs flowed naturally.

The new modeling functions were next. Marcel demonstrated the new Mirror Cut tool. With this you can replicate and mirror a specific geometrical form numerous times. Then, if you change the original, all subsequent iterations will similarly change.

Marcel noted that Alias had acquired Kaydara's Motion Builder software. He then wrapped tonight's demo by showing the new Adobe Photoshop integration which allows you to export a Maya AV mesh and easily open it in Photoshop to facilitate painting detailed textures.

Alias also brought some of their Learning Tools as door prizes, including two of their Maya Beginner's Guide Bundle including DVDs on Introduction, Animation and Modeling, Rendering and Dynamics, and a copy of the Maya Personal Learning Edition 6 software, plus for more advanced users a copy of their Rendering 2D Effects in a 3D Environment training which will show you how to leverage Maya's node-based architecture to "spice up your renders and create effects you never thought possible."

Project: XFX trade show video

MGLA co-host Chris Meyer of Cybermotion was up next to show a project he and Trish Meyer (as well as co-host Lachlan Westfall) recently completed for XFX, a computer gaming card manufacturer, and produced by the branding company, Crisp Digital of Newport Beach, CA.

Chris explained that he was originally very excited to be working on a high-energy project for an edgy gaming company. Indeed, the music provided by the client was a loud, trashy rock track selected from the Video Helper library. He soon found out, however, that XFX were a bit more conservative than he'd expected. Another challenge was that the bulk of imagery that the client provided was in the form of 320x240 MPG1 clips of very low quality. This dictated a design that featured interesting backgrounds over which the small clips could be displayed and animated in 3D space. Interesting frames were added to these videos using mask shapes created in After Effects. Chris then showed how he deconstructed a logo created in Adobe Illustrator in order to extrude it via Zaxwerks Invigorator in After Effects.

XFX graphic 1 XFX graphic 2

The next challenge was the amount of type that the client wanted to include in each 30 second spot. He explained the process of initially mapping out the text to the music and getting the client to edit it down before the complex graphics were created.

Another issue was that Chris noticed that banding was occurring in many of the subtle gradients (created with Trapcode's Shine plug-in). This was caused by the level of compression required for the final output to DVD (at 8MB per second) widescreen PAL. To reduce the banding Chris would introduce subtle smoke effects as a luma matte into the gradients to break them up and reduce the banding.

The entire project was in four 30-second parts, and the last two were done by Lachlan Westfall of Quiet Earth Design who took the stage next to explain his approach. Lachlan first noted that it's always quite interesting to inherit AE projects from other designers as no-one works the same way. For Lachlan, the level of organization in Chris and Trish's project was staggering. His approach is basically to throw everything at the canvas and remove all the ugly stuff. Another challenge was to develop text effects and design elements that were not identical to what had come before, but not so dissimilar that it created an incongruous design. In the end, everyone felt that was achieved.

If you have a project you would like to share, contact our artist hosts Warren Heaton or Tony Romain. Anyone who shares a project with us will receive a free copy of the DVD magazine Zoom In.

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:
dvGarage 3Dconnexion Artbeats
Automatic Duck 12 Inch Design The Anvel
Alias Zoom In Total Training
CMP_Books Focal Press button Peachpit Press button


A long list of great prizes, totalling $4500 in value!

* the dvGarage Power Pak Bundle of most of their software and textureware ($1100 value)

* Spaceball 5000 3D input device from 3Dconnexion - works with Maya, among others! ($499 value)

* Digital Refractions abstract backgrounds royalty-free stock footage library from Artbeats ($499 value)

* a copy of new MGLA sponsor Automatic Duck's Pro Import AE (Mac or Windows version; $495 value)

* ProductionBlox Unit 05 stock footage library, courtesy 12 Inch Design ($249 value)

* a copy of dvGarage's Surface Suite ($249 value)

* a copy of dvGarage's dvMatte Pro ($199 Value)

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

* 3 Pixel Corps 3-Month Memberships ($135 value each)

* Maya Rendering 2D Effects in a 3D Environment training, courtesy of Alias ($125 value)

* two sets of the Maya Beginner's Bundle (DVDs plus a copy of Maya Personal Learning Edition 6), also courtesy of Alias ($25 value each)

* a dvGarage Maya Lab Bundle - Volume 1 and Volume 2 ($99 value)

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

* Digital Compositing for Film and Video by Steve Wright, courtesy of Focal Press ($55 value)

* Designing Menus with Encore DVD by John Skidgel, courtesy of CMP Books ($50 value)

* Deconstructing the Elements with 3ds max 6 by Pete Draper ($50 value)

* Total Training's Premiere Pro Tips & Tricks training DVD ($49 value)

*the lastest issue of the DVD magazine Zoom In, - an HD Special Issue - which also includes tutorials on After Effects 6.5, Photoshop CS, DVD Studio Pro 3, and Apple's Motion ($49 value)

* Creative Titling with Final Cut Pro by Diannah Morgan, courtesy of CMP Books ($45 value)

* and finally, a copy of the just-released Adobe Audition 1.5 Classroom in a Book, courtesy of Peachpit Press ($45 value)


Wireless mics provided by Promax