Thursday, April 15, 2010

DV Student Blog: Notes from NAB, Day 2

by Monica Thies

Day 2 at NAB… focus on Post Production...

My dad and I typically stick together at this since he knows so many people and can introduce me (we all know its “who you know” a lot of times…foot in the door..that whole deal). Also, I know that it helps my professionalism level, since everyone knows I look about 16, and when wandering around at a conference this large, I look about 12 (starry eyed and all with the exhibits). Well this morning he had two meetings to attend, and no thank you to sitting in on those, they are about frequency and blah blah blah…snoooore. (Even dad gets bored at them).

So I decided that while he was away for a few hours I would “hang out” where I’m most comfortable, in the Post Production area (South Hall in case you ever attend). Walking into the Avid booth (where better to start than with our favorite editing software…ha.) they have a Pro Tools DX presentation in progress, the second part of the editing audio/video presentation to show how to effectively utilize the software. Something to always remember if attending a conference is that although they enjoy educating users, most of it is still about marketing their products and showing off what it can do, meaning there are often things they could be leaving out. Such as, leaning into a “mini” presentation given specifically at the “Avid Media Composer” section of the booth, I caught that Avid Media Composer 5 (Nitris DX) is NOT releasing initially in 64-bit version and will release later instead, 3-5 months later. (Big issue for me since the CS5 suite is releasing 64 bit native…) But anyways, at the editing video/audio presentation I walked into, they were using the Pro Tools program to recreate the sound effects from 2012. The Pro Tools was using the Video Satellite integration, meaning you can watch the video as you are doing the sound effects and audio editing. The sound board was the largest sound board I have ever seen, and it has four monitors. The digiboard had to be around my arm span (so 5 feet?) in width. The Avid MC5 integration was beautiful, you could see the timeline through the Video Satellite (and dear gods was that a complex timeline for that movie) and all the video as well as the timeline in Pro Tools with all its editing capabilities for sound.

One of the newest features Avid is priding itself on is at release of Media Composer 5, it will be supporting native RED camera and native QuickTime. (RED camera resolution is incredible by the way… never really noticed until it was on a beautiful LED display). Avid also was demoing Avid DS, the Avid equivalent to After Effects or Combustion/Smoke. As a compositor, I was not a fan of the interface on the program. Like all other Avid products, the interface is more complex and less convenient looking. The work flow view was not easy to follow and I would not instantly recommend this software based on what I saw during a quick demonstration.

Avid had a newer piece of software that I had not seen yet, called Avid Interplay. It is an engine that all clips can be logged, labeled, organized and I’m sure other things that weren’t covered during the “Managing Assets” presentation. As the presenter said, “the main editor doesn’t have the time to log clips and label them” and this way the “assistant editor can log and label clips without having to open Avid Media Composer.” It enables two editors to simultaneously be working and the one working in MC5 has to click “Update bin from Interplay” and the bin is updated based on the work the second editor could have been doing “merely seconds before.” (She was very eloquent with her words). Interplay allows for clips to be automatically sorted based on time code, camera or a few other preset options. Interplay also allows for inter-computer usage and allows for customizable folders, for example, if clips need to be approved before they can be exported, then a “needs approval” folder can be setup and the clip can be highlighted and a drop down changed to “approved” or “denied.” Interplay allows for the clips and media to be exported out of MC5 without actually using MC5, this is helpful for quick exports and reduces the amount of time needed to load software just to do one simple task. Avid MC5 can also be set up for “multi-camera editing” in the source monitor, with a green line around the one which is actively being used in the timeline. The Metadata tools in the MC5 software are the best in the industry, especially for multi-camera editing, and it is easy to see why, since the bins can be organized based on camera groupings. With the multi-camera editing, an editor can easily select a clip, right click, and select a different camera view from the same grouping, just separate angle if needed without having to drop in a separate clip. The clip locator allows you to find the clip within two mouse clicks and find the original bin, and all connected metadata associated with the clip. Very useful when we begin doing multi camera shoots for our program.

Asset management seemed to be the hot topic of post production of NAB this year, as I heard CNN giving an Adobe CS5 presentation about it, then continued on to Autodesk just in time to catch two of the visual effects supervisors from Avatar (Lightstorm Entertainment, Daniel Neufeldt and Nolan Multha) present about their asset management. I was super excited and completely in shock. It was one of those just stop what I was doing (pretty sure I even almost dropped my phone) and just listen and absorb information (I wish I was better at auditory learning….) They were midway through their presentation but I showed up for the best part. Just in time to hear them say Avatar used around 16,000 processors for rendering. Each FRAME took 60-70 hours (because of R/L eye for stereoscopic 3D), totaling to over 100 million hours of rendering. In total, it was around 2 ½ years of just rendering the movie. Keeping track of each and every plant, leaf of that plant, and every root that was part of that leaf was the hardest part. Hundreds and hundreds of low-res proxies were done as the movie was being filmed so James Cameron could use his “virtual camera.” Avid WAS used to edit Avatar, just in case anyone had any questions still about it really being the industry standard software.

And the best part yet??? They showed us the bonus features from the DVD early. Yeah, I know, it comes out in the next few days, but that still gives me the chance to blog about it real fast before it does release. James Cameron’s opening line of “this is not an animated movie” sort of made me perk up instantly, since, yes I knew it wasn’t animated, but that he was going to show us why it wasn’t and can never be considered that. The actors and actresses had to do EVERYTHING their characters did, so those way badass jumps the Nav'i would do onto their animals, from branches to branches, all of it, was them actually acting. James Cameron had hundreds of extra cameras set up around set just to capture the body movement on the actors to recreate it perfectly. To create the avatars the actors and actresses had to sit in a sphere of lights and have hundreds of pictures taken of their face from every angle possible so that the avatars really were individual to each person. On top of that, while filming, any close up shots would also include a mini camera on a boom attached to a helmet, but the camera was angled at the face, so there were mega-close ups of the facial reactions, once again, for animators to recreate each eye twitch, each slight eye narrowing that the actors did naturally while acting. The set? Except for props, it was pretty much the equivalent of a giant warehouse. The Avatar Mo-cap suits had the hair and ears, most likely for placement, and often times the actors/actresses had to put tiny green dots over their face and lips (I’m guessing for tracking purposes). James Cameron showed us his virtual camera and how he could hold up the camera to any actor on the “set” and be able to see that actor’s avatar and the environment they were in instead of seeing them sitting on a warehouse. All animations and tracking were done in Maya.

Be prepared to watch the Avatar special effects the minute you get the DVD, it truly is amazing what visual effects work was accomplished for this movie. And the best part? It was all done about five years ago, then they had to render.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

DV Student Blog: Notes from NAB, Day 1

by Monica Thies

Ahh…NAB Show Day #1…so much to talk about…

First, NAB stands for National Association of Broadcasters, the “show” part meaning it is the largest convention the association puts on and includes every gadget, gizmo, software, hardware, bells and whistles ever needed for radio or television production in any phase. Although typically marketed towards news and broadcasting, a lot of the technology seen is intuition to where film is taking us as a society and how we’re getting there. This is my third year at this show, and by now I have established “regular stops.” Today was my day out on the floor, and I managed to hit up “The Big A’s” (Adobe, Autodesk and Avid) along with the ever-favorite Sony, Panasonic and Canon. I’ll discuss a little bit about what is going on with each of these further along in this post. Reading carefully “between the lines” of the broadcast market, the other software and hardware that is more commonly used at our school can be seen.

Each year, there is always a “big push” or “fad” that every vendor, every company and every person through the company is promoting so heavily its beyond obvious. Last year was High Def and the big switch over to HD alongside with the beginnings of 3D technology. This year, I walked into the convention center and the first thing I see is the giant Evertz booth (a broadcasting company that does mostly routing and audio for news broadcasting) with the slogan of “Real 3D solutions.” 3D is the "it" thing this year. The booth next to it, Miranda (similar to Evertz) was heavily pushing 3D as well, and how they are developing a way to have a “stereoscopic signal” in order to broadcast 3D (hmm... 3D news soon?) Both Evertz and Miranda had 3D cameras on display, a rig created out of two different cameras one horizontal in the normal position, the other, vertical pointing downwards, perpendicular with the first camera, wired together, one big lens added on and thrown on a tripod. I found this absolutely fascinating until I wandered (with Paul’s advice) over towards the Panasonic booth (shall I say area? They took up a lot of space).

At the Panasonic area, they had not just a stereoscopic 3D camera, but it was a twin lens 3D camera to create real 3D without needing to point one camera down and one camera in a normal direction. It was a 3D camera that was about as portable as the cameras at school. This was the Panasonic AG-3DA1 camera. The 3D coming out of the camera was phenomenal. It will be the camera that pushes us into the pro-sumer level of 3D movies.

Over at Canon, they had an interesting new handheld camera at a pro-sumer level. Smaller than our resident XL-H1’s and XL-2 camera’s but just as powerful, if not more powerful. It is the Canon XF-305. It is a “better than HD” resolution camera with compact flash storage. It can hold multiple CF cards, and when one is full, will flip seamlessly to the other CF storage card without skipping a frame (very convenient for those long shoots). My favorite part was the LCD viewing screen onboard the camera, it was flipped inside the handle for portability, and had wonderful resolution, as well as being able to flip out on both the left and right side of the camera.

We practically ran into Sony, in fact, you couldn’t miss it. Sony takes up its own region in the conference central hall (by the way, Vegas has one of the biggest conference centers in the nation, so taking up its own region is pretty big) Sony was a complete playground. With a good half of it devoted to awing people with a massive, absolutely massive, 3D LED TV. No surprise that they had a 3D LED TV, but I will say this for it, it is incredible. They played pieces of a football game, and it was the same as standing on the field next to my dad at a Seahawks game. It was exactly like being right there. They played an underwater in Hawaii series of clips, it was just like diving off the beach of Maui all over again. The glasses we were given to use were the basic Real 3D glasses, and I decided they are not that bulky at all. Rather they are light weight and do not affect your vision when not looking at a 3D screen. If I have to walk around in glasses like that for the rest of my life in order to continually watch football as though I’m standing on the sideline, it may be worth the fashion no-no.

While over at the Sony booth (playground) there was a 3D truck, a mobile broadcasting truck to be able to broadcast in 3D, didn’t make it in though, there was a long line of men from Japan anxious to see. Of course, there was the Sony Vegas area (skipped that, not worth my time) and the camera booths showing the camera quality. There were two 3D cameras that Sony was promoting, neither a twin lens one such as the Panasonic camera. This I was surprised about. I would think that a company who is so heavily promoting their new 3D LED television would have a camera that is as high tech as the television itself. Not that having two cameras perpendicular isn’t high tech, obviously more than I came up with, just surprised they did not have the twin lens camera at least in development as competitor Panasonic does.

Sony had multiple designs of their display monitors up. It amazes me how cheap LCD monitors now are; yet our school still relies on CRT monitors. The LCD ones are nice and lightweight, and even relatively low cost now. The LCD monitors can show us more clarity when shooting HD video. It is also interesting to me how analog anything is practically illegal to mention at NAB, everything is digital. Even broadcasting frequency spectrum has gone 100% digital and the numbers lowered to adapt to our Digital Age.

And finally…the Triple A’s. The big dogs of what we do in our Digital Video Program at school. The guru’s who make the software so we can make it happen. The…okay enough raging about how “A”-mazing (ha.ha.ha …not.) are. Let us start with Avid. Avid is up to Media Composer 5, I did not, however, manage to make it to a presentation today on the Avid editing software, though did see the interface being quite pretty. They have released new Mojo boxes and Digiboards to run with the Media Composer Software (all locked up in a nice case so I couldn’t examine either). The entire series is referred to as “Avid Nitrix DX” I will be curious to see tomorrow what has changed about it all. I can already guess it is a 64 bit native software and pro tools has seamless integration (make a change in Pro Tools, makes the change in Avid without extra hoops to jump through).

Autodesk. Surprisingly, they were not focusing on just Lustre (color correction) as normal. They were focusing on the usability and how to use, Smoke (Autodesk’s version of After Effects…the new Combustion). On a Mac. Very specifically. On a Mac. My favorite feature after watching part of a demonstration on Smoke was the flow chart organization. It is similar to the old Combustion flowchart setup, but I feel as though this one was easier to understand than when I learned Combustion. The keying features were nice, but then again they had a lot of the effects preset so he could easily demonstrate what the software can do. (Of course maybe they come preset in the software too…)

The other demonstration going on at the time was about 3DS Max 2011. Now I’m not a big 3DS Max user, in fact I have used it very minimally and not to much success. The feature he was really showing off though was the ability to texture right within Max, and how you could begin a texture wrap in Max, export and link the file to Photoshop, continue it in Photoshop and it would make the change right there in the Max texture wrap as well, and instantly apply it to the model. (Just a side note to everyone, ALL and I mean ALL design users, from Autodesk and Adobe were using tablets only, nothing else. They were incredible with the tablets too, and when asked one said he is “faster with a tablet than with a mouse and keyboard anyways”).

Annnnd finally…Adobe. With the release of their Creative Suite 5 today, (and if you bought it on the floor today you were eligible to win an Nvidia Quadro FX 4800 and a free gift with purchase…OoOo). The CS5 Suite is native 64 bit design. This is supposedly one of the biggest changes made to the software. Adobe claims that this will make “HD just as fast as SD”. Adobe has made collaborating between multiple software’s easier. Not just between Adobe software’s (that was always easy) but collaborating footage and images between Avid, Final Cut Pro and of course, Premier Pro. Adobe has partnered with CNN to create an easier to use workspace for “journalism” and “news editing”. Meaning for us moviemakers that the interface will be very easy to use (if it wasn’t already before….) In CS5, they have decoupled the rendering capabilities, meaning a project can be created on one machine, but sent to another to render instead. This would be extremely useful for us if we wanted to set render queues up on 2-4 reliable machines and not use the entire DV Lab plus three classrooms hoping ten machines will actually finish renders and not crash halfway through. CS5 looks to be a good upgrade but not necessary if 64 Bit systems are not being used.

Blackberries, iPhones, Androids, Oh NO!!! Smartphones smartphones smartphones! They are everywhere! Everyone is on one all the time! It is actually incredible the amount of people who are on a smart phone. Streambox, a media encoding/decoding to help stream mobile media, even now has an iPhone app to stream video back to the “station” and provide on the go footage for news stories. Next up, live shots from the phone, you don’t even need a camera anymore!

And last but not of the vendors, Harris, had this sign above their booth…I thought it was amusing due to the wording, which includes one of our school’s absolute favorite words…

Thursday, April 8, 2010

From the UAT Intranet: "UAT Short Film in Phoenix Film Festival"

Short Film

Story by Trevor Green

UAT's Digital Video short film A Turkey is an Official Selection in the 2010 Phoenix Film Festival, taking place April 8-15. Created by the DVA442 HDV Production class during the spring 2009 semester, the bowling-based action/drama will screen in the "Arizona Shorts Program A" category.

A Turkey was produced and photographed by UAT students, with Professor Paul DeNigris in the director's chair. Undergrads Nicholas Wassenberg and Susanna Morgan served as producers, Zac Donner photographed the action, Joel Terry was the film's editor, Ryan Loveland was in charge of costume design and Justin Gagen headed the art department. Adjunct Instructor Steve Briscoe wrote the screenplay and acted in the film.

Wassenberg and Morgan took on new tests as producers, putting their stamp on the movie from start to finish. The pair contacted and auditioned actors, set up and scheduled shoot locations, catered, communicated between departments and ensured that everything was on set to facilitate filming. Both chose the script, drawn to the gritty story about a contract killer who has too much information for his boss to handle.

Wassenberg knew he was in for a challenge in accepting the producer role.

"It's a huge change because usually I just take what other people have done and add my own little thing to them in post-production [visual effects] , but now it was an entirely new facet of the industry that I hadn't experienced before," he said. "I'm not the most organized person in the world, and the job requires a fair share of organization, so it's not my cup of tea."

Morgan found the workload mostly enjoyable, finding a potential career focus in the process.

"There were definitely moments when I was working on this project where I wished I didn't have so much to take care of it. But most of the time, it really is a lot of fun. And, when the film is finished, you can sit back and say, 'This really is my movie. I had a part in it every step of the way. I really helped to make this thing happen.' And that's a great feeling."

Short Film

Gagen utilized his handyman skills as art director to tackle set design, assemble props - which included a false bottom bowling bag and table for a decapitated head - and create makeup effects like fake blood. He found his calling with the role, taking on similar duties in subsequent movies.

"It was my first adventures into art direction, so I really fell in love with it really quick, though. I've been doing it a lot ever since," he admitted. "Everything I've learned from A Turkey has really helped me in [production] since then."

DeNigris took a mostly hands-off approach with overseeing the film, offering feedback and letting the students get their hands dirty with their roles.

"I tried to do as little as possible on it, so I was just directing and the students had to do everything else. And they all stepped up really well," he noted. "Usually, I give them enough specific direction up front and then they can just take it and run with it, and what they come up with definitely fits within my vision."

The vision is one that everyone involved enjoyed gain acceptance into the Festival - with some, like Wassenberg and Morgan, surprised to learn that the film was submitted.

"A lot of hard work did go into the making of A Turkey. To have it accepted into the Phoenix Film Festival, well, that really just shows us that all of that work paid off. That's a really wonderful feeling," Morgan declared.

"It turned out a lot better than a lot of us thought it was going to. I mean, we had high expectations because we were in a 400-level class and we wanted it to be professional-level, but I think it really exceeded all of our expectations on how well we achieved our goals," said Gagen. "We were really surprised how much we could really do with all we learned here. It really put our skills in perspective."

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Tutorial: Exporting 3d Camera Data from Maya into After Effects

Jostein Finnekasa over at CG Tuts+ has produced a great brief tutorial on how to transfer camera keyframes from Maya into Adobe After Effects. This is a great technique for seamlessly integrating 3D animation and 2D compositing techniques in a shot.

Check it out here!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

UAT Alum Part of Academy Award-Winning VFX Team for AVATAR

Surely by now all our regular readers have seen James Cameron's film Avatar and know that its groundbreaking visual effects picked up an Academy Awards at this year's Oscars. What you may not know is that a UAT alumnus was part of that award-winning team.

Rick Ravenell, a 2007 UAT graduate, was part of the team at Prime Focus (one of a number of visual effects vendors working under the primary team at WETA Digital). Rick's responsibilities on Avatar were for the design and creation of heads-up display graphics in the command center and the various human military vehicles seen throughout the film. This image here of the large holographic tactical display in the command center is a good representative sample of the work that Rick contributed to this blockbuster film.

UAT Digital Video is proud to congratulate alum Rick Ravenell and the entire Avatar VFX team on their Oscar win!

Rick's website:
Rick's IMDB page: