John Parazette-Tillar takes us to the Digital Video Conference and Exposition, where he leads us through the classes and shows us what's new.
It was one of those beautiful summer into fall days that makes Los Angeles the place to be - low 70s, slightly breezy, and clear (for a change!). This day also marked the start of the first Digital Video Conference and Exposition presented by Miller Freeman, publisher of Digital Video (DV), InterActivity and 3D Design magazines. The goal of the presenters was to provide an annual forum/training event where those involved in the various arms of digital video, one of the most rapidly evolving fields in the technology arena, could come together and tap one of the most up-to-date sources of knowledge and information.
The conferences ran the gamut of video and audio ranging from: concept to post-production; neophyte to professional; low bandwidth web video to D1 broadcast quality; 2-D and 3-D; and various hardware and software non-linear editing (NLE) choices In fact, it was a virtual cornucopia of classes in almost every aspect of digital video. One suggestion from the "peanut gallery" would be to group the classes into various tracks, such as "Web," "Broadcast," or "3-D." It would have been helpful as the 60+ courses over four days made choosing quite a chore! During the week, I attended quite a few classes, and found all of them to be full of valuable tidbits of information. One shining star in the series was "After Effects for Film and Video," presented by Trish Meyer, co-owner of CyberMotion in Los Angeles. A consummate After Effects professional, Trish brings years of experience to the table, yet expounds her knowledge in a highly approachable manner for both the beginner and intermediate user. Meanwhile, the advanced designer is never at a loss to garner a few prize tidbits from one of her presentations. As a contributor for Adobe Press' "Classroom in a Book" series, instructor at the American Film Institute, and contributing editor for DV magazine, she draws from a vast experience base. Kudos to a fine presentation.
Another highlight was the Keynote Address evening, which was kicked off by The Big Bang Happy Hour, a wonderful way to meet up with others who generally spend too much time in front of their computer monitors. The Keynote was presented by Billy Pittard, CEO of Pittard Sullivan. In his presentation, he spoke of many digital video concerns and potentials, from the diverse and competing hardware wars, with their confusing array of formats, to his amazement that nobody actually predicted the success of the Internet. One phrase regarding the vast confusion of hardware/format choices that still haunts me was, "I can guarantee you that it's going to get a lot worse before it gets better." The presentation was actually very upbeat, and filled with superb advice on real world business strategies and design creativity.
As a result of his talk, I was struck by the thought that we are faced with so many technological choices and advances bombarding us in rapid succession, that we can become almost inert when having to make a decision. How does one select between the plethora of hardware and software, let alone the various competing formats that arise from such technological advances? Where does one go to learn and study so as to make the best educated guess of platform, high-end vs. low-end hardware and converging delivery systems? We are at a stage in digital video development where what could only be produced on high-end (translate: big dollars), state-of-the-art workstations, can now be accomplished on hardware in a "garage band" style, with off-the-shelf hardware and software components. The only real plus to the high-end workstation route is the savings of time (translate: money). We need to focus on the human basics that drive us to create better, more informative, emotion wrenching content, not the bells and whistles. The type of tool is secondary to the final result on the screen.
Caught In The Middle
The Exposition, on the other hand, left me wanting more. The timing of the event places it in the middle of the two industry powerhouses, SIGGRAPH and COMDEX, which may explain why some major players in the digital video game were not there. It seemed as if the companies present were gearing their hardware and software releases to coincide with either COMDEX or SIGGRAPH (and maybe later at NAB?), which left the Digital Video Exposition as a platform for regurgitated SIGGRAPH announcements and hushed non-disclosure agreement rumors of product to be revealed at COMDEX this coming fall. That said, let's wander through the aisles and look at some of my highlights.
Play, Incorporated, famous for their consumer "gizmo" Snappy Video Snapshot (one of the best selling frame grabbers on the market), was there to tout Trinity. Trinity is one of the most eagerly awaited all-in-one video production boxes. It includes a live D1 production switcher, 3-D digital video effects, non-linear/linear editor, character generator, paint, animation, compositing, virtual sets, dual channel D1 still store, chroma keyer, two timebase correctors, etc. All in all everything one could want to create a broadcast presentation for a proposed U.S.$4,995. It works with a standard Pentium PC. As of this writing, it is yet to start shipping, but definitely keep an eye on this one.
Integrated Computing Engines, Inc. were showing their ICDfx 4.0, an integrated hardware/software special effects editor for Mac and WinNt. ICEfx is a rendering engine on a single PCI card and software suite that places your desktop system on a par with the big guns, providing accelerated rendering for After Effects. ICEfx is priced around $4,995.
Zoran, a major chip provider for PC multimedia markets (ATI, Avid, IBM, Matrox, Miro, Pinnacle, Truevision and others have used Zoran products and technologies), displayed Video Inlet, the first video capture design to enable high-quality, full motion capture via the USB (Uniform Serial Bus) on the PC. Expect to hear much more on this in the near future as USB compliant motherboards become the standard.
Intel graced us with some new technology. First, Intel Web Design Effects provides rich, animated special effects, such as water, fire and clouds, for web developers. It incorporates new technology available in Internet Explorer 4.0 browsers that provide the user with animated effects at very fast download times. Next, Intel Indeo Video Software 5.0 gives advanced capability to adjust video quality according to the end users Internet connection speed. Both of these products are a must see for web video content producers. Another Intel product, the Intel Smart Video Recorder III, a real-time video capture/compression card for IBM compatible machines, absolutely amazed me. At a price of $199, the cost to enter the world of digital video has never been lower, while the quality for multimedia and web presentations is astounding!
When putting together your next blockbuster, you must get in touch with the folks at Artbeats. Their products Realfire2 and ReelExplosions will give you the most realistic explosions and pyrotechnic displays available on disc. The effects are provided as high resolution QuickTime and TARGA sequences that can be used with any software that can import either format. Both are royalty-free and broadcast quality, digitized from 35mm and 16mm footage. After using these in an After Effects project, I was impressed at the quality. For a suggested $499 investment, you may never shoot a pyrotechnic insert on film or video again.
Another hot new plug-in for After Effects was Cinelook Broadcast from DigiEffects. The plug-in generates a "film" look for video footage. It can create film grain, control colors, luminance, curves and other film effects like duotone, scratches (my favorite is the leader damage preset), dust, etc. It is amazing how well one can match a particular film stock feel from video using this well produced tool. It's fairly intuitive and with a generous supply of presets to get you started, you can get down to work almost immediately. All in All The experience was positive and I feel that I benefited from the wealth of information presented at the conference. A general theme that was present at most of the sessions I attended was one of trying to figure out the Apple dilemma and the appearance of our favorite and most utilitarian pieces of software on the Windows platform. So how does one choose intelligently, and at the same time not get left in the dust by the next, latest, greatest technology that is just around the corner? That will be the "Quest for the Holy Grail" for everyone involved in the business of producing digital video content as we approach the coming millennium; and that is where gatherings of like-minded folk, such as the inaugural Digital Video Conference and Exposition in Burbank, will help us to keep our heads above water. John Parazette-Tillar has a background in multimedia graphic design, specializing in After Effects and Digital Video. He is a computer graphics instructor at Cal State Long Beach-UCES, and has received many certificates from the American Film Institute and Cal State Long Beach. He currently teaches courses in Illustrator and Interactive Media Desktop Presentation.