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SpiceMaster AVX - Tasty Stuff Indeed - by Dennis Kutchera

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SpiceMaster AVX - Tasty Stuff Indeed - by Dennis Kutchera
A CreativeCow.net Software Review


by Dennis Kutchera
Dennis Kutchera Post Production Inc., Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

©2001 Dennis Kutchera. All Rights Reserved. Used at CreativeCow.net by kind permission of the author.

Ron Lindeboom

Article Focus:
Dennis Kutchera explores Pixelan Software's SpiceMaster plug-in with special emphasis on what it brings to Avid users who can now add SpiceMaster AVX to their systems. Those using other systems will also benefit from Dennis's exploration as he looks at many of the functions and benefits of the SpiceMaster system. He points out some of his favourite features as well as some tips and work-arounds to get around limitations in the Avid plug-in architecture.



Do your video productions seem a little bland from time to time? Do they need that little something extra to "spice" them up? If you're an Avid user, you probably got tired of the Avid effects palette years ago. Sure I love all the real time power, but other than the 3-D stuff that came out about 5 years ago, ye olde Avid effects pallete has not changed much since the early 90's. Some of the "Johnnie Come Latelies" have some pretty funky transitions, but a lot of those are just a little too cheesy for my taste. I like editing using the natural elements from the camera and I tend to work hard to make the most of timing rather than relying on heavy-handed post effects. SpiceMaster effects can compliment that kind of work.

I was asked on a recent job bid what kind of "organic transitions" I had available. Not long ago, I would have been sweating not very organic looking bricks over that question but I had the good fortune to have recently installed the newly released AVX plug-in for Avid -- SpiceMaster from Pixelan Software.

To call SpiceMaster the ultimate wipe generator would be doing it an injustice. To quote from Pixelan's own literature: "SpiceMaster gives you complete creative control for custom 2D transitions & dynamic mattes." Under the hood, SpiceMaster uses black and white mattes to create highly modifiable wipes and directional dissolves. In fact, you can purchase as many as 500 effects or "spices" as Pixelan calls them.

A LOOK UNDER THE HOOD
The SpiceMaster interface is clean and simple (see below) with a preview window to see your transition preview, a spice pattern and position window and all the modifier controls.

Note: My initial response to this interface was negative because I did not like the tiny preview subsampler. Fortunately, in the final release for Avid, the preview was made available to the Meridien hardware and can be seen on your program monitor, making it much easier to judege things like shadow depth.

Controls are offered for edge softness, a border or glow with control over width and transparency. The border/glow softness is selected as a multple choice of "hard, soft, or softer", rather than an infinite sliding control. The same holds true for the shadow control. For the most part it seems sufficient in both cases. Shadows can be selected as "A over B" or "B over A" for a nice illusion of 'z depth' between the video layers. There is also a transparency control for the shadow. Shadow depth is achieved by dragging a shadow under a square block. There is also an interesting selector for an edge texture along with a control for the strength of the selected texture. The position of the wipe centre is also modifiable. I can't do the math, but there must be a dozen distinct variances for each effect in your library.




KEYFRAMEABLE
Effects are keyframeable, although the use is limited because you can only preview with a single frame of the two video sources. This is a limitation of the AVX architecture for plug-ins that use their own interface rather than the bland Avid spec'd controls. I suspect this limitation is not present on other hosts supported by SpiceMaster. This is my experience with Boris FX at least. SpiceMaster's AVX version is limited to single frame previews for each layer, whereas I have used it on Media 100 and Edit* with complete picture updates as you work.

Editor's Note: Paul Miller, one of the Avid engineers responsible for the AVX architecture, informed Creative Cow that this limitation was fixed with the 1.5 release of the AVX architecture, which now supports multiple frames in each layer previewed. We strongly suspect that the Pixelan team will update their AVX version plug-in from the 1.0 to 1.5 architecture to take advantage of these new preview features.

One use for keyframing is to simply park the effect at 50% because the Spice effects can be used like any Avid wipe pattern as either a transition or a segment effect. They can also be used to mask keys or DVE effects.

Here's a tip: be sure to leave any empty track between the layer you are "spicing" -- and the background layer because in some cases, the spice will mask both layers. The same holds true for Avid originated wipes.

GREAT FEATURES & ANIMATED SURPRISES
My favourite feature in Spicemaster is how you pick your wipe pattern. You click on "Choose Spice" to open your transition library and then you see a pallet of animated thumbnails similar to those found in Adobe Premiere, I wish other transition and effects plug-ins would do this. It can be tedious sifting through descriptions that don't necessarily fulfill your expectations as I find with other AVX transitions.

Another pleasant surprise was the fast rendering of SpiceMaster effects. I would say they are nearly as fast to render as Avid's realtime hardware-based effects. That is sweet music to this old SuperSuite editor who was used to realtime everything until I entered Avidland in 1993.

The effects offered by SpiceMaster are fresh, artistic and can be so unobtrusive that they are the kinds of effects that never go out of style. SpiceMaster effects are often "invisible" to the audience because they use the action and timing onscreen in subtle, dramatic ways that are natural to the eye. Sure, there are effects here that you can use in heavy-handed ways when needed to satisfy client demands but most editors will appreciate the artistry of SpiceMaster's organic look and feel. Simply said, these are effects that belong in your productions; not effects that are jammed into your productions.

You can buy a starter kit with 100 effects -- or as Pixelan calls them: "Spices" -- or go for the deluxe edition of 500 effects. With all the modifiers, 500 effects is only the beginning. Plus, with the wipe patterns being black and white high contrast BMP files. In fact, SpiceMaster can read many popular graphics formats, so you can roll your own spices very easily or even experiment with existing graphic files.


MY NUMBER ONE PLUG-IN
Since installing SpiceMaster, it has become my number one plug-in because the effects can be soft and seamless, lending a subtle enhancement where previously only a dissolve may have seemed appropriate. Clients love it. SpiceMaster is always fresh. No "Best if used before 1993" effects here! SpiceMaster is a must have for any Avid or for that matter any of the other nonlinear systems supported by SpiceMaster. A must-have at a price that will pay for itself in less than half an edit session.

You can download a preview at www.pixelan.com. For more information about SpiceMaster read David Hague's report at Creative Cow.

-- Dennis Kutchera, Editor at Large™

###


Dennis Kutchera's online work in support of editors worldwide began in the early 1990's and in early 1997, he founded all of The WWUG's (wwug.com) Avid and Discreet editors resources. Today, Dennis is an active and honoured part of the leadership of CreativeCow.net, a user's resource targeted at support services for media professionals. Dennis is an award winning editor whose work for the noted PBS series "Shining Time Station" still airs around much of the world. He has a long career with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and today runs Dennis Kutchera Post Production in Halifax, Nova Scotia.



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