I'll admit. I love going to trade shows. With this day of internet acessibility, many think the idea of the big conference is sort of a dinosaur. I disagree. What better opportunity do you have to actually get some hands on exposure to various products, tools and people that the point-click mentality of the internet just can't provide? Desiring to get my techno lust fix, I packed up the car and decided to go on a little road trip to Vegas. My final destination was NAB.
So how does this pertain to previs? Simple. Previs embraces a number of markets, one of which is broadcast design. I'll admit that the film community is a little more visible for using our beloved process, but if you really wanted to see where previs is being implemented, exploring the broadcast realm is really a good idea. Why? Because broadcasting is embracing the idea of real-time digital integration and virtual production at speeds that usually outpace its cinematic counterpart. Film typically pioneers new processes on the large scale, where broadcast tends to put those ideas into the hands of the many. Its at this point where technologies, terms, and new creative philosophies are given the chance to grow into something even bigger.
There was a lot to see and do at NAB this year. My biggest interest was to seek out various products that showed clear potential for the every day previs artist along with some bigger implementations of technologies that will really turn your head. Educational sessions like the one on "The Virtual Filmmaking Revolution" addressed the very essence of previs and real-time technologies that clearly indicated the direction where everything is going.
So what were some of the big trends? What kinds of wonderful toys did I find? Let's take a look:
Who would have thought a file i/o protocol would generate buzz so quickly? I found examples of Apple's new port technology on a number of products. At a theoretical transfer speed of 10Gps, Thunderbolt will spank USB 3.0 and combine data transfer and video data in a single cable. I headed over to the Lacie booth to find this quaint 1TB drive (Little Big DIsk ) that will be available in the summer of 2011. SSD versions up to 500GB's are also available. While I'm sure smaller, thinner, and cheaper Thunderbolt drives will emerge, this LaCie sports a strong metal housing which will help when carting them around on-set.
Motion Control and Virtual Sets for Previs:
One thing for certain, is its easy at NAB to find examples of great tools that integrate virtual set capabilities in a convenient package. My list would be too long if I tried to include them all. But what if you want to go a bit further? Were there any that specifically tried to target the previs community or provide a more precise mechanisms to incorporate the virtual with the real? Yes. Two companies, Lightcraft and Mo-Sys were on the show floor showing off updates to their product lineup.
Lightcraft's Previzion  now includes full support for encoded cranes and jibs using Encodacam and Kuper motion control technologies. They've also enhanced their photogrammetry tools for even higher resolution texture mapping and rapid virtual set construction with enhanced texture baking tools and export functions to Mari. With this new crane support option, Previzion users can enjoy an entirely new level of options for precision real to virtual integration.
Mo-Sys Chameleon  is similar to Previzion in that it too provides precision alignment between real and virtual worlds. Through use of its numerous tracking solutions Mo-Sys is very flexible and provides custom solutions with their own cranes and remote pan/tilt heads along with bolt-on tracking solutions for non-MoSys cranes and jibs. Through Chameleon, imported 3D scenes from Maya, Max, or XSI will provide the virtual world integration you're looking for.
Every previs artist has a personal connection to their video card. Well at least I do. I'm always looking for more RAM, faster speeds, and anything that will increase my previs throughput. Nvidia  was present sporting their new Fermi based Quadro lineup. With their new Digital Video Pipeline, Nvidia will couple highend Quadro GPUs with SDI Capture and Output that will really turn your head. There's even a stereo option. Look for web based stereo delivery at your home coming soon.
Expansion: Another vendor, Cubix , wants to make sure you can stuff as many of those Quadro bad boys as you want into their little box. Designed to provide PCI-E expansion capabilities to Mac or PCs, Cubix provides you with the ability to create your own portable GPU supercomputer in a box.
With the advancements in GPU technologies, there's also new software tools to take advantage of them. Adobe  announced CS5.5 in which its Mercury Engine will take advantage of every gigaflop these cards have to offer. After Effects and Premiere will benefit highly from this enhancement.
Apple and Avid stepped up their game as well by expanding their editing solutions to take advantage of these technologies. Final Cut Pro is now 64-bit native and tosses in OpenCL support which makes me want to buy a Quadro for my Mac right now.
I know for me, sitting at my desk all day plays havoc on my back. I happened to see this console from TBC  which really got me excited. Sure, adjustable desks are nothing new, but this one has a nice combination of form and function. Plus I love the idea of being able to stand at my workstation on short notice.
I've got more planned for you including an in-depth examination of Silverdraft's Mobilviz  previs studio on wheels for my next blog entry.