NoizetteMany useful effects, including some of the techniques featured in After Effects Studio Techniques rely on the Fractal Noise plug-in as a source of organic distortion. Fractal Noise is a bit long in the tooth, however, and it’s not as if it exhausts every possible pattern you would ever want; in fact, most of us return to the same two or three patterns 90% of the time.

Noted (legendary? at least if you were a Lightwave modeler in the 90’s) CG artist Taron announced this morning on CGTalk that a new option is soon to be available, and a couple of the examples linked there and available on Taron’s site are eye-popping.

Also notable is that there will apparently be a free version of noiZette, with a paid option to include layered textures and better super-sampling. Maybe if you buy it they throw in a jar of Nutella.
Mmm, now how soon can I get back to Giolitti Roma for some hazelnut gelato…

25 January 2007 | after effects | No Comments

I have an old friend from college who grew up in a farm house built during Shakespeare’s lifetime in Shrewsbury (Shropshire, England). A long time (over a decade) ago I was on the phone with him during my workday, explaining that I had time to chat because I was rendering. His reply was that rendering consisted of recycling pig and poultry carcasses. I wonder what he would make of a “render farm.”

A question came up about the excellent Nucleo Pro, which distributes renders across the processors in your multi-proc (and/or multl-core) machine. What about when you have procs distributed across a network and want your own render farm, a place where images grow on their own while you continue to work (or even sleep)? Before Nucleo there was X-Factor, which shipped with After Effects and created RAM Previews with network machines (an idea which turned out to be impractical, leading the product to be discontinued).
As many readers know there are several third-party solutions to help distribute an After Effects (or other 2d compositing or 3d animation) renders across a network. This has been possible in After Effects since version 6.0, which added automated rendering as part of the Scripting feature set. But Adobe doesn’t provide the means to do it; instead, they and other animation software developers provide the command-line “hooks” needed to let third-party software do it.

Thing is, this software, at least initially, isn’t so easy to install or maintain, and it tends to be larger studios with dedicated IT support who have the knowledge that it even exists, let alone how to implement it (hint: it’s not generally a matter of double-clicking an installer, instead involving setting up a domain controller on a centralized server and optimizing the network for speed and load-balancing).

This article from over a year ago lists some of the options available at that time and describes some of what is involved with implementing them. Since that time, Deadline from Frantic Films has appeared on the scene, which among other things apparently obviates the need for a server, but which is, alas, Windows-only. Also not listed from the Mac-only side is Qmaster, developed by Apple specifically for distributing Shake renders (but allegedly capable of distributing other applications’ renders as well – well, Maya, at least).

Thinking about this stuff revives a fantasy I had when the Mac Mini first appeared: get a bunch of those things with a little extra RAM and a gigabit switch and build a little farm right in my own studio.

I’ve heard others express this idea as well but haven’t encountered an actual implementation, and I’d love to hear (in the comments, perhaps?) from anyone who has created a cheap and easy (sub-$10K) render farm in a small studio, whether Mac or Windows based.

18 January 2007 | after effects | 4 Comments

While I’m on the subject of John Dickinson, I must also credit him with being the first reader diligent enough to send me a validated erratum from the book. I’m not talking different interpretation of physics here, I’m talking mistake: on page 170, it reads “…the effect of lowering Input White is something like dimming the image” – no, that would increase contrast in the bright values. Instead of Input White, that should read “Output White.”

See, I told you I was flying too close to the sun! This serves as living proof that Levels and Curves can be tricky to hold in your head even when writing your second edition of a chapter on the topic.

15 January 2007 | after effects | 1 Comment

CurvesI’ve been corresponding a little with John Dickinson about his infographics on the color correction tools in After Effects. Last week he took on Levels and today, Curves. Once you’ve studied these a little bit, you can test them out on an image with a full range of color in it. You can even display RGB alongside each of the three color channels in the 4-up (“4 Views”) mode as is suggested on page 197 of AE 7 Studio Techniques – why use it only for 3D?
I typically make some adjustments to midtones as well with Curves (making, you know, a curve tadalafil otc) and as John points out in his post, the book contains some that I’ve found to be typically useful. However I think I understand why, for the sake of visual simplicity, this one is displayed with all linear adjustments. Nice work, John, and I’m pleased to have the book cited as inspiration.

15 January 2007 | after effects | No Comments

Still trying to get my blog legs, evidently, but why not the topic de la semaine. Apparently Apple is no longer a computer company, and Macworld no longer features actual Macs. Fine. I can’t wait to see MotionShake ’08 get all Minority Report on a 30″ display with pinch and scroll. “Hold on, let me take a closer look at that matte – pinch!” (But oh, the fingerprints you’ll wipe).

Anyhow, Macworld Expo 2007. As always, if you blew it off because you don’t live a 12 minute downhill bicycle ride away, you didn’t miss anything essential except ftf with actual people (and what was undoubtedly a moving tribute to Bruce Frasier.

Here’s what else you might have missed:
– OmniFocus
Omni seems to be creating the best GTD-style productivity application yet. Release isn’t until later this year, and until Apple unlocks the API it won’t run on your iPhone (see below) but damn, from the preview I attended at the Apple Store this looks like a step up from kGTD (on which I’m nonetheless hooked – subject for another blog?)
– Stu debuts his book, and copies are actually available
I only just got my own copy of The Rebel’s Guide, but Stu gave us a nice taste of the pudding. I’ll have lots more thoughts on this once I read it; it’s already inspired some thoughts with the spine still more or less unbent. I’m psyched that his highly readable prose is now officially bound and not a bit gagged.
– 802.11n
Steve didn’t even mention that the new Airport Extreme base station unlocks that previously useless 802.11n card in your late model MacBook Pro (or, if you don’t have one yet, um, mine). But – one more thing – it has way more expansion than its predecessors, like actual ethernet ports (albeit 100 Mbps) and AirportDisk, a USB drive sharing scheme. Sounds like a perfect complement to the Squeezebox. Ships next month(-ish).
– Production Studio Mac debuts
The Adobe veterans sounded sentimental as the splash screen appeared for the first Premiere for OS X (although with the My Little Pony splash screen replaced with the new Periodic Table (Pt) branding, it’s like getting a Viking range to replace the Easy-Bake oven).
No new Production Studio features were shown, but on the other hand, nothing broke.
– Sonnet R400Q RAID enclosure
For maximum flexibility, this one has a port multiplier and both flavors of Firewire (plus even USB) in addition to eSATA. I’m into it with the MBP and the Tempo Express 34 card, although the MSRP is a tad rich. March.
– Apple TV support for 720p – when exactly?
Downloaded Apple TV looked – not so hot. Sub-DVD quality. Big old pixels. Lots of JPEG color noise.
But damn, 720p downloads of Paramount movies sounds hot hundred play video poker. If only they would announce it to go along with the fact that this device supports it.
– No one’s current phone is cool anymore
On the other hand: Cingular! Didn’t I leave them – twice? (once when they were AT&T) EDGE! are we continuing the backward nature of connectivity in the US?? 3) Software! If this thing doesn’t let third parties develop for it – and we may not know until WWDC this summer, which means no apps for a long time – oof, it’s more like an iPod than a Treo.
If you didn’t show up, don’t feel bad and maybe we’ll make it to Vegas (but you won’t see me on my bicycle).

11 January 2007 | news, punditry | No Comments

Shadows & LightIt’s certainly gratifying as an author to hear about a disputed fact instead than a plain old error. Some books have whole web pages for errata, but thanks in part to the professionalism of Peachpit (a.k.a. Adobe Press), the publisher, as well as my technical editor Alexandre Czetwertynski (Parisian filmmaker now in L.A. who got the gig due to thorough notes emailed about the previous book) AE 7 Studio Techniques seems to be more or less error free (and wow, it’s hot up here near the sun!).

Presenting at Siggraph this past year in Boston, I had the pleasure to see a bunch of artists and technicians, some of whom I’d corresponded with but never met; I also made new acquaintances, including Peter Lu, a Harvard scientist, who has been discovering new research possibilities using tools you probably know well: After Effects and Photoshop. These apparently haven’t been put even close to full use in scientific research – ordinary technologies such as motion tracking turn out to have breakthrough scientific applications (a potential topic for another post).

Peter read the book (and even contributed the current most popular Amazon review) and had one factual dispute, quoted in full:

One small note, and I’m afraid the physicist in me couldn’t quite keep quiet, but I don’t think your physics explanation of the need for feathered alpha channels on page 109 is correct. If I understand correctly, you’re saying that mass is bending the light around objects, thereby making their edges fuzzy. This is Einstein’s theory of general relativity. However, while this effect happens, I understand it to be way too small to observe in ordinary light. That is, the light-bending effect of the masses of everyday objects (say up to multiple tons) are just too small to observe. In fact, the first experimental confirmation of general relativity, by Eddington around 1919, involved using a telescope to look at the slight offset in the position of some far-away stars that appeared near the surface of the sun (because of the sun’s position at that time) during a total solar eclipse. So even with the mass of the sun, you need a telescope to see how the light is bent from faraway stars. Another piece of corroborating evidence is that, when you look at the sky at night, and the moon passes overhead, say during a new moon phase so you only see a small crescent and the rest is dark, you should see the the light from the surrounding stars bent by a huge amount if general relativity were powerful to affect ordinary objects of a few kilograms, as the moon weighs 7 * 10^22 kg. Yet you don’t see any distortion, and the mass difference between the moon and a baseball is roughly the same as the difference between a cup of water and a single water molecule. So I don’t think general relativity is playing any role at all.

So what causes the blurry edge, and the need for the feathered alpha channel? I think classical optical behavior is working here, and the blurriness potentially may be due to slight imperfections in camera optics causing a slight defocusing due to the fact that there is a slightdifference in how different colors are focused. Good lenses are apochromatic, of course, and should take care of most of this, but no piece of physical glass is perfectly corrected. It might also be due to illumination not originating from a point source, but rather having some spread, like the width of a filament inside a light bulb, that causes light approaching an edge or a corner not to be exactly parallel, but spread slightly over a distribution of angles. That would also blur an edge slightly. I’m not exactly sure about these explanations, but I’m almost positive that bending of light due to mass is not playing a significant role.

I was reminded of this again last week reviewing the debut Digital Color Theory 201 class at fxPhd.com – Lorne Miess pointed out that light “bends” (or one might more accurately say, diffuses) everywhere in nature: shadows of hard-edged objects appear soft.

Thus the phenomenon has more to do to with optics than relativity. The lens in your eye bends light to focus it on the retina, as does that of the camera on the back. Natural light is always somewhat scattered, leading not only shadows but “hard” edges to be ever so slightly soft, at the very least.

31 December 2006 | after effects, phenomena | No Comments

RSS Here is a link to the RSS feed (appears in the address bar in many browsers – but now I know not to rely on that). Apologies – it’s the holidays and I’m unwired, so this is a quick fix in an internet cafe in this quiet mountain town. You may also now find a link near the bottom of the page.
Masel tov!

23 December 2006 | rss | No Comments

fxPhd logo

As mentioned in the Filmmaking Central interview, I’m teaching a class based on After Effects 7.0 Studio Techniques at fxPhd.com in this, its third term. The class was just uploaded yesterday, and so if you’re actually interested in the class and this announcement has taken you by surprise, no worries – it’s possible to sign up at any time, and students can switch classes freely during the first two weeks of term, and because the first two weeks in this case span the holidays, week two won’t be until 2007.

It’s a unique opportunity for me to teach based on the book and learn more about how the information comes across to students. Because it’s an online course, the training is something like training videos, but then I the “professor” and the students interact in forums whose access is restricted only to students, adding an interactive element and fairly instantaneous feedback and dialog, which is what education is all about, right?

I even did a podcast (topping my biggest week of podcast exposure ever, a grand total of two) telling all about the class, so if you want more info, by all means, check it out. Otherwise, unless you’re my mom, you may prefer to save the space on your video iPod for ze Frank.

21 December 2006 | after effects, training | 3 Comments

It was promoting this blog on Filmmaking Central that finally pushed me off the fence. This space will contain thoughts on matters relating to my book – digital cinema and visual effects compositing in particular – as well as whatever other miscellany takes hold. Paradoxically, it’s the way that writing these monologues/blogs puts people more in touch with other people that compels me to do it. By all means, especially if you liked the book, let me know what you want to hear more about. I realize that’s optimistic for a blog that is launching rather stealthily just before Christmas, but do keep it in mind as you sip scotch and snack on ham.

20 December 2006 | Uncategorized | 7 Comments

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