A Silicon Guy Visits the Silicone World Order...
There are two shows that are "the biggies" in my opinion and I try hard to never miss either of them: The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) conference and expo held every April in Las Vegas; and SIGGRAPH, a designer's "nerdfest" if you will, held every August in rotating fashion between Los Angeles, Orlando and New Orleans. (New Orleans or Orlando in August??? Who thinks this stuff up? I'd really like to know!)
I go to Siggraph because it's just too much fun and there are amazing artists and creatives everywhere in attendance. Kathlyn and I have sat and had lunch with people like the background director of Disney's Tarzan at Siggraph -- that's the kind of place it is. I love Siggraph because it's so creative. But I go to NAB because it's important. You can get a feel of where things are going, what's ahead and what's winning or losing just by taking mental inventory at NAB. I may miss Siggraph if I can't help it but I never miss NAB.
Best of Show in My Humble Opinion goes to...
Two of the best systems that I saw at NAB 2001. One of them is a Mac-only video system and the other is a Windows-only video system. Both are incredible and you can't lose with either.
During NAB, I invited two of Creative Cow's most respected leaders to join Kathlyn and I for a demo of the PC-only Canopus DV Rex RT Professional. (Now, before you jump to conclusions and say: "But of course, they're the prime sponsor of this site!" Let me tell you that we've been watching these people for the last year or more and they are the prime sponsor of this site because we wouldn't let anything stand in the way of that! :0) We're simply amazed at what Hiro Yamada & Company can do to a DV stream -- or two or three streams for that matter.) One of the leaders we took to see this system was the award-winning editor from PBS's "Shining Time Station" -- Dennis Kutchera, a longtime Avid editor who founded all of the WWUG's Avid and Discreet resources years ago and is now a strong leader here at Creative Cow. The other leader I asked along was none other than Timothy Allen, the video guru with NASA's Langley Research Center. Both of these grizzled and "hype-weary" veterans were skeptical of the system that I had told them on the way to the booth "...can handle multiple DV streams and can composite beautiful keys -- both chroma and luma with full control of chokes, etc. -- in realtime." They didn't believe me at first. They do now. The Canopus DV Codec is nothing short of sensational and I do not know of another like it on any system at any price. (Maybe that's why Avid chose Canopus hardware and its accompanying codec to power Avid's own Xpress DV system. Who knows? But I say: "Why fight something this good?" Avid must agree and so they aren't fighting it.) So, if you are working with the DV format or plan to, this is the system to get. Don't waste a bunch of time searching around for options -- most are utter crap, I assure you -- just get this one. Then start working on it and see why Canopus Rex Pro owners are so fanatical about this system. In the world of DV, it just doesn't come any better than this.
The other system that I think deserves a nod as the Best of Show (and the editors of Video Systems magazine thought so as well and gave their Best of Show award to this pick), is the Aurora Video Systems Igniter. It's a Mac-only analog capture card that can handle just about anything you can throw at it. Simply said: No one on the Mac platform makes a better card. Period. No arguments and no debate. Kathlyn and I sat through about two hours of discussion with the team behind this great system -- thanks Mike, Jeff and Timothy for putting up with all of our questions guys! -- and we can say without reservation that this is the finest card on the Mac. There is everything here from full uncompressed to a 10bit option, to full support for about every format and frame speed you can imagine including full film support. These guys have even thought of the little niceties that allow editors to keep from pulling out their hair, like "on the fly" telecine prime frame conversion for when you get a bad telecine on a Friday afternoon and no one's in to help you with it until Monday. With the Aurora, you just set your dialog box to recognize where the frames are hitting and "Bam!" your telecine's fixed. Something missing that you really need? Pick up the phone and call these midwest "Heartlanders" and they'll probably write it for you fairly quick. These guys have the attitude of some of the great AE plug-in developers who will write a new feature for you as quick as they can and then email it to you for approval just to make sure they have it right. If you are on a Mac and are considering a new system, you will not find a better system than this one -- or a better bunch of guys behind it to work with.
New for After Effects Users:
There were a few new things that we saw for use with Adobe After Effects that were very impressive. The new "Elements of Anarchy" plug-ins from Digital Anarchy include three plug-ins for just $89 (US) that replicate those popular Matrix text effects and other text background effects in minutes. Kathlyn and I spent about a half-hour at lunch with Digital Anarchy's Jim Tierney and in that time he showed us how to create effects that before the meeting, would have taken hours or days to create. This is going to be a popular set of plug-ins -- at least until they allow everyone to do these effects and we all grow sick of them along with the audience. But that's going to be a while and "Hey!," they're only $89. When was the last time you saw anything great for AE that was only $89???
The Foundry's new Tinderbox 2 is nearing release. We watched as Ralph took us through the latest beta build and it never crashed once. But it could fly! Talk about fast renders on a PC or Mac. Amazing. The Tinderbox 2 series is much more visual and artistic than Tinderbox 1, which was a more technical set of plug-ins aimed at film and broadcast pros. There are many new plug-ins in T2 and they include some of the best paint techniques I've seen as part of this package. It won't do what Synthetik Studio Artist does but it will do most everything short of that. Gorgeous stuff. They have really beefed up the starfields plug-in as well and this one is like a starfields plug-in on steroids. There are far too many others in the package to go over here -- I just got home from NAB and I am burnt out and the pillow seems to be calling my name. So I need to hurry or you're liable to be left in mid-sentence.
Compositing that's Adobe Illustrator's Best Friend...
I've got to be honest, both Kathlyn and I love Tim Wilson and he's one of our dearest friends in this industry but we've never been as enthusiastic about Boris FX as he has always been -- even long before he ever joined the company. Don't get me wrong, I have always liked Boris and have been a user since v1.0 in June or July of 1995 when I first saw it. Made our old Nubus Media 100 2.0 sit up and go "Whooooppee!" But like many, I've always seen Boris as a "cubes, cylinders and spheres" tool and there just isn't much call for that in the things I do. But Boris RED 2 is nothing short of Adobe Illustrator's best friend and what it can do with AI vector files is (to quote the irrepressible Mr. Wilson) "Sweet, sweet, sweet!" Both Kathlyn and I walked away telling each other that we have to learn RED because, simply said, the things you can do in it just can't be done in After Effects. Both Kathlyn and I love AE, it's our favorite tool and we've never felt the need to even consider RED because we are so comfortable with AE. But watching RED do things that you know you'd never get close to in AE will change your mind -- it changed our minds. If you ever get a chance to watch it in action, do it. If one of Tim's roadshows comes through your area, go see RED in action -- it will make you see where all that's been Boris has been heading to...
Well, there's a few of my favorites from the show. I am pretty exhausted right now, so I may have missed a thing or two and if I have I'll amend this list and add an item or two. But this will give you a start and I hope you will explore an item or two from this list if they are things which strike your interest. All of them are worthy products and would be powerful additions to your studio.
All the best as always,
-- Ron Lindeboom
Ron Lindeboom is the founder of The WWUG (wwug.com) and served as its director from 1995 until 2001. Today, Ron puts much of his focus on working with his wife, Kathlyn, on the Creative Cow website and on writing for Sam's Publishing, a subsidiary of Macmillan Publishing. He is currently at work on a professional's guide to drawing the last ounce of power out of Adobe Premiere. Ron's background spans Media 100, Avid, Adobe After Effects and Photoshop. He hates the web but loves the people on it and so he works really hard at trying to get to know the technical side of it -- something hard for a guy who swears he'll never crack open a coding book.