Bill Desowitz returns to Las Vegas to report on some of the highlights of the recent NAB2007, which attracted the third highest attendance in its history.
For the second year in a row, the soon-to-be-released Red Digital Camera dominated NAB, with the 2007 show recording its third highest attendance (108, 232) at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Only this time, there was something to actually show off in Red: an 11-minute short written and directed by none other than Peter Jackson. No wonder there were crowds lining up for two hours non-stop throughout the show last month.
What started out as a test session in Masterton, New Zealand, quickly turned into a short. Crossing the Line is a World War I drama involving an ace pilot and infantryman trying to hold on to their keepsakes while staying alive in the heat of battle: a teddy bear and a picture of a sweetheart.
Jackson and his team (which included vfx supervisor Matt Aitken, digital producer Kim Lavery and senior animator Andrew Calder of Weta Digital) shot Red Alpha prototypes, "Boris" and "Natasha," for two days just two weeks before the opening of NAB. All footage was shot using Red's proprietary Redcode Raw 4K codec and recorded to Red Drives. Jackson hand-held the camera himself and the Red 2K workflow was done using Cooke lenses and Apple's new ProRes 422 next-gen post-production format.
Not to worry: as usual, there was plenty of 3D graphics action, too, as we segue to SIGGRAPH later this summer. And not surprisingly, the familiar buzzwords from Autodesk, Avid/Softimage, Apple, Adobe and others were "greater interoperability" and "more efficient workflow."
In launching a series of extensions for its latest visual effects, editing/finishing and color grading products (including 3ds Max 9 and Maya 8.5), Autodesk took the opportunity to stress how "3D plays a role throughout TV broadcast [and how] more visually appealing content needs to be film quality -- but without extra time." Workflow needs to be more efficient. Greater interoperability and scripting for proprietary plug-ins are a must for customers who want more efficiency. More work is required in less time, and they are working with FBX as the open-standard, interchange format as a way to move through the pipeline. Workflow demos for commercial post and film trailers were demo'd at the show.
In addition, the company presented Autodesk Incinerator 2007 clustering technology for the Autodesk Lustre digital color grading system, and launched Lustre Color Management, an integrated, out-of-the-box solution that provides greater fidelity in color reproduction between Autodesk systems products. With custom-built look up tables (LUTs), this toolset accurately and consistently emulates how a digital image will appear when printed to film. It also brings various image input formats into a common frame of reference so they can be previewed and converted to the necessary output format.
The Lustre Color Management feature is included in the new extension releases for Autodesk Inferno, Autodesk Flame and Autodesk Toxik visual effects systems, Autodesk Fire and Autodesk Smoke editing/finishing system, Autodesk Backdraft Conform background media management and I/O software, and Autodesk Lustre digital color grading system.
Extension 1 for Inferno, Flame, Flint, Fire and Smoke, offer numerous workflow enhancements, including QuickTime support for the Linux platform, enhanced timeline editing, and Autodesk Burn network processing solution embedded within modules. The extensions also provide new color calibration capabilities with Lustre Color Management, major improvements to conform, and new features such as a redesigned Automatic 3D Tracker and Lens Distortion.
Toxik Extension 2 provides new creative tools for film visual effects and enhances features introduced in Toxik 2007. New features include Retimer, which allows artists to change the speed of a clip, and Grain Management, which enables artists to add and remove grain characteristics from live and computer-generated footage.
With two extensions since the release of the Lustre 2007 system, Autodesk continues to build on the solution's graphics processing unit (GPU) feature set. Features in Lustre 2007 extension 1 and 2 include: VTR emulation for playback control, GPU-acceleration with all Secondary layers and additional GPU accelerated grading functions such as RGB curves, gamma and shape softness.
Apple made its own color management splash as part of the launch of Final Cut Studio 2, a significant upgrade to its leading video production suite. New to Final Cut Studio is Color, which puts a logical task-based color grading and finishing workflow in the hands of every Final Cut Pro editor. The primaries in Color include advanced color correction tools such as gamma, lift and gain adjustments, as well as custom R, G, B and luma curves, and the secondaries provide the ability to isolate specific areas of an image with soft-edged mattes and custom-shaped vignettes, which can be tracked with ease. Professional scopes provide precise monitoring of chrominance and luminance values via waveforms, histograms and new 3D scopes. Color includes more than 20 signature looks which can be customized to create a unique mood for any given project, and offers a seamless roundtrip workflow where projects can be sent from Final Cut Pro 6 directly to Color for grading, finishing and final rendering with 32-bit float 4:4:4 image processing.
Motion 3, the latest version of Apple's motion graphics software, takes all the familiar Motion tools and extends them to a 3D environment. New camera behaviors add depth and realism with drag-and-drop simplicity. Vector based paint tools allow editors to easily create brushes with color, particles, video or pictures. A simple, yet highly precise matchmoving tool automatically maps any image or effect to the path of any other object. New retiming behaviors enable editors to slip and slide retiming effects on the Timeline without keyframes, while new audio behaviors allow users to easily create animations that respond to soundtrack volume and frequency. Motion 3 includes more than 1,500 new design elements including professional stock imagery, beautifully animated line drawings and stunning vector artwork.
Speaking of Apple, AJA Video, which garnered six awards at NAB2007 for its Io HD and FS1 input/output and video conversion products, announced that its Io HD is the first device to natively support Apple's newly introduced ProRes 422 post-production format in hardware.
Io HD is the next-generation of the popular Io video ingest and output devices, introduced by AJA four years ago. Io HD brings HD editing to the MacBook Pro and Mac Pro utilizing Apple's ProRes 422 technology, while also supporting SD editing workflows. Io HD includes many high-end features such as Up-, Down- and Cross-conversion, all at 10-bit hardware-based quality.
Io HD offers unmatched connectivity via its myriad of professional analog and digital interfaces. Io HD is a portable device that works with Apple's new Final Cut Pro 6 for professional editing, and also with other QuickTime applications on Mac OS X for graphics, audio and digital content creation.
Io HD leverages Apple's new ProRes 422 format, freeing up system processors for other production tasks, and allowing true 10-bit editing on a MacBook Pro. Io HD supports both Apple ProRes 422 and ProRes 422 HQ, in 720 and 1080 HD, all in realtime, full-resolution 10-bit 4:2:2. ProRes 422 capture (compression) and playback (decompression) are all handled directly in the Io HD.
Softimage, meanwhile, showed off XSI 6.01 and its facial animation package, Face Robot, which is being utilized in a new graduate performance capture course at USC, co-taught by Robert Zemeckis (Beowulf) and Face Robot co-creator and animation instructor Thomas Kang. Softimage additionally got a big break recently with the announcement of a 3D game pipeline built and co-developed with Electronic Arts Chicago utilizing XSI 3D software.
In addition, XSI is being used on a new web-distributed HD sci-fi series, Sanctuary, created by Damian Kindler (Stargate SG-I and Stargate: Atlantis) and starring and exec produced by Amanda Tapping (Stargate SG-I and Stargate: Atlantis). Produced by Stage 3 Media of Vancouver, Sanctuary launches May 14 on www.sanctuaryforall.com. Computer-generated visual effects and production design are handled by Ron Martin (Marvel Nemesis and Soft Image) and Todd Van Hulzen (The Girl with the Pearl Earring).
In showing off its new intermediary product, the 3DBOXX RTX Workstation, running the new Quad-Core Intel Xeon processors 5300 series in a unique chassis designed to house up to 15 data drives for up to 1GB/s of storage bandwidth, Boxx Technologies discussed its commitment to finding new rendering solutions for greater vfx performance. Boxx has identified a major pipeline bottleneck through a research study and we can look forward to "The Rendering Challenge" product roadmap in the future to solve this bottleneck, which involves, among other things, programming for GPU assistance, and moving iterations and attaining better quality during render time. Stress level is going down and confidence to try one more time builds.
Speaking of removing bottlenecks, the launch of the Adobe Creative Suite 3 Production Premium (as part of its extensive new family of products), is designed for just that purpose: a complete integrated post-production solution for video and rich media professionals. "You need compelling features but workflow is trumping features," said Simon Hayburst, director of Product Management Dynamic Media.
In terms of compositing, eyeon Software announced two new complements to Fusion (which is now in version 5.1): Vision and Rotation. The former is a versatile post-production system for broadcast work, with extensive motion graphics and a thorough scripting engine; the latter is an all-inclusive package for rotoscoping, keying and re-touching.
The Foundry, of course, was touting its recent acquisition of NUKE from Digital Domain's D2 Software. The London-based company will be responsible for development, marketing and sales of NUKE from here on out, and recently launched Furnace 4 for Shake (its flagship product). The Foundry plans to introduce NUKE 4.7 in May: its first build. It plans on making NUKE more accessible for Shake users, and is currently analyzing scripting, the 3D element and improved UI.
Artbeats, the leading provider of high-quality, royalty-free, HD stock footage, debuted dozens of new solo clips, including Burning House; Grow!; Lightning Storms; Storm Clouds 2; Mayhem HD; Code Rage; Timelapse Flowers 3; Protestants; Catholics. "We do things our competitors won't do for stock footage," proclaims ceo Phil Bates, who directs the shoots and especially enjoys the aerial treks (the most recent of which consisted of aerial cloud plates for 3D). They get a lot of requests for water and shot three weeks of water drops with a Phantom HD camera at 1,000 frames-per-second. Bates, incidentally, is high on the Red Digital Camera and can't wait to get his hands on one.
In terms of visual presentations, there was much to offer in the latest edition of the Digital Cinema Sunday Summit, presented by Entertainment Technology Center at USC, hosted by the new exec director David Wertheimer. The two most interesting case studies involved 300 and Meet the Robinsons in 3-D.
Chris Watts, the vfx supervisor of 300, discussed how the stylized adaptation of the Frank Miller graphic novel overcame "sword & sandal fatigue," and stressed that a philosophy for the film's overall look was essential in pulling off the mainly bluescreen CG production with 1,306 effects shots, which was made in a tiny studio in Montreal. "Keeping creative and aesthetic continuity was important," Watts suggested. They divided the vfx work among several vendors and they lucked out in having the four battles contain a different look.
Philippe Erwin, exec producer of the videogame, 300: March to Glory, from Collision Studios, remarked that his team only had 11 months to pull the project together for the PSP platform. "We tried to understand the color philosophy so the game developers could create it in-game. The color, speed-up, slow-down was a challenge. Cloth physics was tough. We got the Sparta files and had to recreate Sparta."
As for the challenge of creating the 3-D version of the animated Meet the Robinsons, Digital Domain certainly enjoyed learning all about stereoscopic work. "Doing the 3-D at Digital Domain was a new process for us," visual effects producer Dan Brimer told VFXWorld. "We had never done a feature before so from the outset we had to learn it as we went along. Once we got awarded the show, Disney was about ready to turn over shots to us. So it was a matter of going into their pipeline a little bit [Disney uses Shake] and also looking to see how we could adapt a process we already knew, software that we already had in-house [NUKE and Maya] to better match what they had. The film that Disney did was basically the left eye, so when they handed it over to us, it was our responsibility to do the [right eye view]."
"In order to make the process work, we actually had to re-composite the left eye as well, so we did deliver both the right eye and left eye going through our pipeline," added computer graphics supervisor Nordin Rahhali. "The main reason is to remove any discrepancies in the left eye and our reconstructed right eye. We also created effects as well; namely, rain and dust. We couldn't raytrace those scenes: all we could was take the imagery that they had given us and re-project those, and, in some cases, where you have a very reflective surface, we had to actually recreate them by projection techniques. It's an interesting process."
Bill Desowitz is editor of VFXWorld.