|Barend Onneweer's IBC 2004 Report
Independent Producer, raamw3rk studios
Instructor, Art Academy, Rotterdam, Holland
©2004 by Barend Onneweer and CreativeCOW.net. All rights are reserved.
Creative Cow's Barend Onneweer gives Cow members his look at some of the things he saw while visiting IBC 2004 which were noteworthy -- some, even quite impressive, while others were great time-savers for those in the production bay. While most of what Barend reports on are Windows tools, he makes a quick detour by the Apple booth to take a look at the latest version of Shake. Here is Barend's complete report...
IBC is often called NABs European little sister. Traditionally, a lot of big industry announcements are made around April, when NAB hits Las Vegas every year. But this year, it seemed that IBC had almost as much buzz around it as its bigger brother with press releases coming out almost continuously during the weeks surrounding the show. One such big announcement was Sony's preemptive leak that they'd be showing their new sub-$4,000 HDV camcorder, the HDR-FX1, but that's already been covered in part here at Creative Cow in Ron Lindeboom's HDR-FX1 article, so I won't cover that story here.
With the internet arguably becoming the most important channel for connecting the developers to the users, the value of these massive tradeshows will probably have to be reconsidered somewhere in the next decade as most small developers have more cost-effective ways of reaching their prospective clients these days.
But since I live right around the corner (measured by American standards) of the Amsterdam RAI expo hall where IBC is held each year, a big part of my visit to IBC is actually meeting up with people from all over the world that Ive come to know through the internet. A lot of the industry developments can be followed by over the internet these days.
That said, the following is an impression of what I found on my path while I was walking through the halls of the RAI this year.
I first stopped by Pinnacle. Pinnacle has always been a tough company to place in the industry. With their product line ranging from entry-level consumer editing package, to CinéWave HD, News Production software and Content Delivery tools, they have a very wide audience to address. Add to that their acquisition of Steinberg (developers of most notably Cubase and Nuendo), and things become even more complex. But for their presence at IBC this year they mostly stuck to their core message of newsroom tools and video editing the latter represented in the Pinnacle Liquid editing line.
Pinnacle has put a lot of effort in unifying their NLE product line into an easy upgrade path. The whole interface and workflow is now the same across the whole Liquid range. The differences between the different incarnations of the Liquid series are mostly in the toolset, realtime capabilities and I/O options. But this approach makes Liquid a very scalable and network-friendly tool, where editing and finishing stations share the same interface and workflow.
Obviously the transition into HD is a big issue these days, and Pinnacle prides itself in being able to mix and match SD and HD in different formats, all in the same timeline, up to 1080i. Liquids SmartEDIT engine supports native HDV editing without transcoding, and all Liquid versions support direct integration with Panasonic P2 and Sony XDCAM tapeless cameras.
So whats the main attraction to the Liquid interface? Its been out there for a while and its a different approach from that of its competition in many ways. I wont delve into the unique interface paradigms here, but one of the coolest features thats been there for a couple of years now is Background Processing. You can apply an effect or transition and keep on working on your edits while its being rendered, and then come back to see how it turned out. Obviously theres a lot of realtime effects in Liquid these days, but as we all know, at a certain point you bump into the limits of what can be done realtime -- and its a great feature to be able to keep on working while the processing continues in the background. Its one of those things that I wonder why we havent seen in any other NLE yet
Whats new is a very powerful Multicam mode, that operates similar to a switcher between multiple camera recordings even in multiple formats. You can do realtime switching during playback (with multiple preview monitors on screen) and later on, you can refine your edits in the timeline. And this is even in the $499 version of Liquid Edition.
And theres DVD authoring integrated seamlessly into Liquid. Straight from the timeline you can do motion menus, motion buttons etc.
Finally, the acquisition of Steinberg by Pinnacle manifests itself in the new expanded audio features of Liquid Edition. Theres a new audio effects engine with an full audio mixer, surround sound and VST plug-in support.
On a personal note: I liked the previous iMac design a lot better than the new one. I guess that sub-consciously, it reminded me of the Pixar Luxo animation
On a more serious note, I very much enjoyed the demo of Shake 3.5. Very impressive. Desktop compositing doesnt really get any better well, that is my personal feeling anyway. And the price has dropped once again, this time to $2999!
Without going into a review, heres a couple of things that I feel are worth mentioning:
Speed. Shake is very fast. Even very complex shots rarely seem to render over 10 seconds a frame. Its hard to judge the actual speed from a tradeshow demo but speed is something Shake has always had a reputation for, so I can only guess that the demo results were somewhat true to reality.
That said, what impressed me most in the Apple demo wasnt so much Shake, as it was one of the plug-ins they showed in action:
Edgematte: a rotoscoper's dream come true
Click graphic above for a higher resolution version
Besides the complete set of included Keyers (Keylight and Primatte) and a very nice color corrector, the Shake demo also showed an incredible Edgematte tool that will be part of the Furnace 2 plug-n set by The Foundry.
Its a rotoscoper's dream come true. Draw a rough mask with a couple of points. The software will analyse the edges of the image, and produce an accurate matte that snaps to those edges. Sometimes it will pick the wrong edge, so youll need to add details in your mask. I havent had a chance to test it hands-on, but it looked as if it could save loads of time in many situations. The set of 19 plug-ins come at the hefty price of $6000 for a floating license though. But coming from The Foundry, you know theyll be good. Ranging from time-stretching tools, to image stabilizing, motion-tracking, grain matching, scratch removal and more. Looks like an essential toybox for serious compositing.
Immediately after the Shake demo I walked up to the Foundry stand, where I talked to one of the engineers responsible for porting their software to other platforms such as Discreet Combustion* and Adobe After Effects. The newly available Furnace for After Effects only consists of two plug-ins (Kronos and Steadiness) so I made careful inquiries about the possibility of porting at least Edgematte to After Effects. I was assured that it could definitely be done within the current After Effects API, but that it wasnt on their roadmap at this moment
We can only dream, I guess.
Red Giant Software
Red Giant was showing a preview of their new Film Fix desktop film restoration software. It runs in Adobe After Effects and Eyeon Digital Fusion and looked pretty impressive from what I could see on their stand. Its a fully automated dirt and scratch removal tool, based on many years of research by a group of imaging scientists in Ireland. With more and more attention to restoring classic movies for DVD release or HD broadcast, there seems to be a good market for cost-effective film-restoration.
FilmFix is scheduled for release around October, although the MacOS version wont be available until early 2005. FilmFix will cost just under 2,000 dollars.
When I walked up to Bob Currier at the Synthetic Aperture stand, what immediately caught my eye was the very cool backlit trackball interface (www.jlcooper.com) that he was using to control the Color Finesse interface...
JL Cooper MCS Spectrum
After a brief chat, I learned that Color Finesse will be available as a standalone tool in the near future and at that time CF will no longer need to run in a host application like Final Cut Pro or After Effects. This opens up the interface to a new range of options, like a quick comparison between previous and following frames and of course the hardware control surface!
To use Color Finesse as a standalone tool one needs to be able to import video of course. But more importantly, Color Finesse standalone will be able to import EDLs (and probably OMFs and other file formats), for a very comfortable workflow.
Combining the functionality of Color Finesse with the backlit trackball interface made it look like a poor man's DaVinci or Pandora Pogle. Obviously it wont have the realtime functionality, and I couldnt tell if it would have power windows, but itll come at a fraction of the cost of the other options. We probably wont see it until some time in 2005, but it definitely looked very interesting.
Eyeon Digital Fusion
If theres any direct competition for Shake on other platforms, it must be Digital Fusion. It shares a similar node-based approach with Shake although there seems to be more animation and time-based controls. For a while it looked like Digital Fusion was even going for a piece of the motion graphics pie, but I havent really seen that happen. The tools are there though, and a preview of a new version 5 -- scheduled for release by the end of this year -- even showed manipulation of type in true 3D.
Digital Fusion comes in many flavours and prices, but if you need 16-bit support and a wide range of tools, youll spend around $5,000 which partly explains why Adobe After Effects is still the industry standard when it comes to desktop motion graphics.
But if youre serious about high-end compositing, and are tied to the Windows platform, Digital Fusion is a safe bet. Its fast, extremely flexible and a very open platform: Eyeon is part of the OpenFX (OFX) initiative that is developing an open plug-in solution. Digital Fusion was also one of the first desktop compositing tools to support ILMs OpenEXR extended dynamic range fileformat.
I didnt actually spend a lot of time at the Adobe booth itself this year. There werent a lot of new developments around IBC, apart from Adobe's announcement of HDV support for Premiere Pro 1.5. HDV support seems to be slowly becoming a hot item after a slow start for the format especially now that Sony is going to be supporting the format. Maybe now well see it grow to become the successor of DV, despite all the skeptics. So HDV support seemed to be the biggest news around Adobe's IBC stand this year Adobe having released a couple of major updates to After Effects and Premiere Pro earlier this spring at NAB. So well have to wait a bit longer for new developments from the Adobe front.
Although just after IBC I stumbled upon a press-release that announced Premiere Elements, a trimmed down NLE aimed at the hobbyist market. Probably a good business opportunity, but I dont think any of the Creative Cow readers need to be bored with that.
General Overall Reflections
Well, I must admit that this years IBC had a couple of interesting surprises for me. Most companies seem to try to bring an extra wow-factor to the floor, to avoid the impression that weve already seen everything on the internet. Many stands showed a glimpse of the near or not so near future and that made the visit worthwhile.
On another note, the HDV format seems to be getting more support in the industry with Sony now offering an HDV camera, and many NLEs are starting to support the format. Were clearly in a transitional phase leading in the direction of HD in any way, shape or form. I have the feeling that HDV is only a small intermediate step in that development, but it might just be a necessary step for the lower-end broadcast to bridge the gap.
I have to finish this article and get back to work but I haven't yet mentioned the improved Motion Tracker in After Effects -- which now also tracks scale -- and Guide Layers which can also have effects on them, but don't render in the final result. Great for creating custom Look Up Tables (LUT's) when doing film work, which is why eLin - the very cool new toolset developed by The Orphanage (and distributed by Red Giant Software) relies so heavily on them.
-- Barend Onneweer
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