Monday, 23 April 2012

Autodesk Release Smoke 2013, should we be happy or wary?

As is normal this time of year, much of the VFX industry will have been keeping an eye on NAB in Las Vegas for any juicy news of tech and toys that they can expect to see being launched this year. A lot of recent talk has been about the shift in power in regard to offline or NLE editing, and where it is heading. Apple looked to have made a conscious decision to turn their back on the professional market, by releasing what many industry users thought to be a poor replacement for FCP7 in Final Cut X (watch in glee as they back track furiously). On the other hand, AVID's new Media Composer 6, now recognises non proprietary video cards, promoting dual boot machines and making it a lot easier to join the AVID family. With Adobe releasing a new version of Premiere in CS6 and Editshare's 'Lightworks' returning after an 18 month beta programme, there are plenty of options out there.

Autodesk are joining the party and have recently announced their new version of Smoke for Mac, with the impending release of Smoke 2013. There isn't a beta or trial version expected until June this year with a full release due in the Autumn, however it appears to be quite a radical approach by Autodesk to combine more NLE editing with some of their powerful compositing tools.

Smoke has always featured a timeline, but the 2013 release appears to have been completely rethought with the aim to combine offline editing together with the compositing stage of a job. You don't have to look very hard at the screen grabs to see that they have made a conscious decision to replicate the recognised NLE format of Source/Timeline windows along with a panel for managing your media. Autodesk have introduced a feature they call Media Hub, which is focussed on allowing you to better manage your source material, with native support for RED, ARRIRAW, DNxHD and ProRes, which covers a lot of the popular digital cameras out there at the moment.

Autodesk are calling it an 'all-in-one creative workflow" enabling node based compositing within a timeline, which will obviously bring huge benefits in being able to make VFX changes "without leaving the editorial environment". I expect many companies will look to employ this way of working as it will have cost and time savings for them. I'm more interested to see how many editors look to add this to their skill set, plus the possibility of being able to link this into a Flame VFX pipeline intrigues me. For example, could this help us manage the conforming process more effectively? Maybe this will allow us to work a bit smarter, editing with raw camera footage (or DPX) and passing over the relevant data for the VFX work, in an already recognised and accepted format?

At first glance, a "super app" that does it all, is very appealing, but lets not forget the artists in this equation. Just because you make software that can do both NLE and (some) VFX, is that enough of a reason to mean that we should working like that? How many great editors are there who will fancy themselves as compositors and vice versa? Though I can't deny that for people in the early part of their careers, it makes great sense to get stuck in.

Secondly, there is a big concern amongst hardened SMAC fans, about the impact that the 2013 release will have on the incumbent 2012 version. Lets not forget that Smoke on Mac 2012 licenses are approximately 15K per machine (10K for license with another 5K for plugins), plus any yearly support that you may pay to Autodesk. No one quite knows if the 2013 version will effectively replace the 2012 Mac license, but if its does, it will have huge ramifications. The new version is very much a Smoke Lite (which is to be expected for 3K per license), missing important functionality such as Drag Brush, Autopaint, Shade or Wash. Updating to 2013 would cause chaos in some of our suites.

Many companies have invested a lot of money in Smoke on Mac, heck, I designed a whole department around it, so I'm mildly concerned as to what the impact will be. I'm inclined to think that Autodesk should have stripped Smoke back even further, reduced the cost and made a proper FCP killer. As its stands, it's too expensive for a pro-sumer (who won't have a Flame pipeline to link into) and is not comprehensive enough to take over from Smoke 2012. Will Autodesk support 2012 alongside this release? And what about our Linux versions?

With my pipeline hat on, I do find the introduction of software like this interesting (along with The Foundry's 'Hiero' software) and the impact it could have in regard to streamlining a VFX workflow. The real challenge is how to employ them in the most strategic and effective way, assuming of course that it doesn't have a detrimental impact on Autodesk's existing loyal customer base.

For more info and general overview of what Smoke 2013 is offering, click here for release video.

Friday, 21 October 2011

What the titles of Tintin should really look like...

With the release of Steven Spielberg and Peter Jacksons new take on The Adventures of Tintin Designer and animator James Curran decided to have a crack at what he thought the opening titles should be, and i think you'll agree, absolutely nailed it. Using the classic score by Ray Parker and Tom Szczesniak, which reminds me of summer holiday morning TV, it's already a big hit on Vimeo. I suggest you check it out and see how many of Herge's characters you can name. Check out more of his work

EVA - Sweet Opening Titles!

Amazing CG opening titles for Spanish film EVA, Created by Spanish company Dvein. Dvein is a 'collaborative project by the directors Fernando Domínguez, Teo Guillem and Carlos Pardo providing direction and art direction for live action and animation' who work out of Barcelona (as well as via London production company Stink in the UK). Invited by Spanish film director Kike Maillo to design and animate the main titles for his first feature film, they concentrated on representing the unique control process that the main character uses to control and programme his robotic creations. The organic nature of the strands and bulbs mixed with the complex glass mechanisms, make for a beautiful and engaging title sequence. Id like these guys to have a crack at the next Bond titles. Follow the link below for the film website where you can watch the full trailer.

Ninja Stop Motion

Some very slick stop motion animation by Olivier Trudeau, telling the story of 2 Ninjas battling it out, probably to see who gets to wear black to the next Ninja gathering. Using some famous fight scenes from movies such as Phantom Menace and Ninja Scroll as reference for movement, is a clever idea and one that enabled Olivier to deliver an awesome short film with some fantastic movement and some genuine moments of inertia and speed, even though the chick in the black cheated and used throwing stars to the face, which is frankly, not on...

Friday, 19 August 2011

En agosto - Andres Barrientos

A beautiful short film, written and directed by Andrés Barrientos and Carlos Andrés Reyes, which was 2 years in the making. Blending 2D and 3D animation together to tell a very touching story. If you have 15mins, I urge you to plug in your headphones and absorb the splendour. Really really lovely stuff.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

DC Comics 'New 52'

I've been reading comics for while, OK, longer than that, a long time. I drifted away for a bit when my favourite comic shop closed down (Kathies in Plymouth, you guys rocked!) and I was living in London on a teeny budget. I occasionally grabbed a new graphic novel or picked up a few issues when something caught my eye, but I've not been the comic consumer that I once was for some time.

Then I bought an iPad.

Overnight I was downloading issues (mostly free ones) like some superhero junky, to see how they looked, what the experience was like, was it as enjoyable as flicking through the pages of a freshly bought, still sealed Amazing Spiderman? Apart from the fact that they are missing the almost ubiquitous 'Got Milk' ads, I enjoy the digital comics a lot. Both the Marvel and DC readers are good, in fact I think Comic Zeal is even better, and has a few nice features, but essentially, it looks like I'm back in the market, my girlfriend will be soooooo happy.

Well, i say im back, I may have more expendable cash that the younger me, when I'm not splashing it on various other money eating habits, but I'm not too enamoured with a digital comic costing £2.99. I mean 3 quid? I could almost believe it if it was a paper vsn, wrapped is glistening cellophane with mandatory cardboard back, ripe and ready to slide into the comic box along with with its brothers and sisters. But a digital vsn, though convenient and awesome and modern etc etc should surely be cheaper, shouldn't it? Look at Wired, a digital magazine subscription that I quite frequently treat myself to, at £2.49 for a magazine that you would struggle to read in its entirety in a normal week, with digital video, animated graphics (and ads funnily enough) and more articles than you can shake a stick at. It blows a comice, that lets be honest might last 10 minutes (maybe if you're Ralph from the Simpsons) clean out of the water.

Stephen Lindsay, the independent comic creator who's responsible for 'Jesus Hates Zombies' makes a good point about the type of readers that Marvel & DC have to cater for:

“the comic industry really has three sets of consumer[s]: those inside the industry who buy comics to support one another, the casual reader, and the collector.” He said collectors don’t care about in-app subscriptions because “they always have, and always will, want the printed book” because the “ownership of it means something”

I guess I have moved from collector to the casual reader, but I wont be casual for long at costs like this, because, as Darrell Etherington at, "with individual titles costing between $1 and $3 for about five to 10 minutes of enjoyment, it quickly became a habit too costly to keep up." Surely they have to go the way of subscription? I wouldn't notice £15 a month if i had 15 new (decent sized) new titles appearing on my iPad each month...

Which leads me to the original reason I started this ramble in the first place, DC's new 52 release. Some are saying its a misguided attempt at attracting new, younger readers, by re-inventing their core characters (52 of them if you hadn't guessed). Will making Superman younger and wearing a tight t-shirt, appeal to the teenage masses? Im not sure, lets hope the writing is good, really good, and Jim Lee pulls out the stops like the old days. Marvel got a lot of stick recently by making the new Spiderman Black/Hispanic, but at least its gutsy. Making Wonder Woman wear long leggings is hardly competitive.

There's a very good article here, at Forbidden Planets UK blog, but essential there is a big concern amongst comic fans that DC have 'flipped out' and may not have the depth of talent to cater for 52 new releases. I am hoping that DC take this opportunity to sync up the release of the digital comics (now confirmed) and make the costs a great deal more attractive, after all, if they aiming at a younger market, then the price needs to be compelling, and it's this younger market which will dominiate the digital comics sales figures... OK, with some help from me too.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Phantom Flex and other time based fun

This week I've been mostly looking at slow mo or time lapse films, as theres a bunch of them online of late, due to the amazing capabilities of low to mid level DSLR's many of which are able to film HD video. At the other end of the spectrum are the new data cameras that folks are getting excited about such as the Phantom Flex, which can shoot up to 10,750 FPS @ 640x480! Below are a few of my highlights:

8 Hours in Brooklyn - by Next Level Pictures

Production company Next Level Pictures has produced a beautiful slo-mo film using the Phantom Flex camera. Directed by Jonathan Bregel, the entirely Brooklyn based short, shot over 8 hours, has some wonderful scenes captured at frame rates approaching 2570 FPS and true 1920x1080. My personal fave clip is the brief but brilliantly wobbly tattoo shot, if i do ever get a tattoo, someone please remind me to pick somewhere really firm on my body. Shot on the Phantom Flex Camera, using a Tokina 11-16 & an Arri 150mm Prime

Claymore Challenge - by Tom Guilmette

Secondly we have a film directed by High Speed Camera fan Tom Guilmette, this is a brilliant short, filmed at the Claymore Challenge which is a freestyle mountain bike competition in New Hampshire. Awesome shots, some utterly bonkers moves played out at ridiculous frame rates, plus the obligatory wipe-outs too. For some really useful tips and advice on how best to use the Phantom Flex, check out Toms website here

Manhattan in Motion - Mindrelic

One of my recent DSLR favourites is 'Manhattan in Motion', by Mindrelic (Josh Owens). Using a combination of Canon 5D & 7D's and a dynamic perception dolly rig, he filmed hours worth of footage from various NY Hotels over the course of the month. Some of the night scenes are EPIC!

A day in California - by Ryan Killackey

Finally, another time-lapse film with some Tilt-Shift thrown in. 'A day in California' by Ryan Killackey is all shot on a Canon Rebel (which is the Canon 550i here in the UK i think) with just a couple of kit lenses and no dolly right. Its really impressive to see what can be achieved with mid level pro-sumer gear, with a little thought and lot of patience. This film is made up from over 10,000 shots, made all the more impressive by the fact that he shot 10,000 photos with a LensBaby adapter on his DSLR, only to discover he hated the results and took them all over again and produced the Tilt Shift effect via After Effects. I doff my cap sir.