lstscreenshot pixelated

New version of Layer Selector Toolbar on sale now

Just released a new version of Layer Selector Toolbar. Save 25% this week only. 

Version 1.5 is a free upgrade, and lets you limit selections to layers active at the current time by ctrl/cmd-clicking. This is really useful for things like grabbing all the text currently on screen, or, inverted (ctrl/cmd+shift-click), for shying or turning off all the layers you’re not currently working on.

In less-visible updates, the script has also been rewritten from the ground up. 1.5 is made from faster, much more compact code. (Seriously, this thing is like a third as long as it used to be.) It should play a little bit nicer with giant comps.


Generate quick interview backgrounds with Archimesh for Blender

Here’s a puzzle:

You’re working on a science documentary where all but one of the interviews were shot on green screen — in different locations, with different lighting setups, different cameras/lenses with different operators. Some of them are over or underexposed and the blown out or crushed areas of the footage are unrecoverable. No background plates were shot, and none of the stock imagery you have to work with matches the lighting or camera angles. Quick, make the interviews look like they’re in ten different locations yet belong in the same film. 

Solution: throw together a couple of CG “science” “labs”, and make ‘em super blurry so no one can see how simple the geometry is.


(Note: these, and all the images in this post, are raw test outputs. The films haven’t been onlined or color corrected yet.)

I didn’t have a lot of time on this, but Antonio Vazquez’s Archimesh add-on for Blender makes it possible to build interiors very, very quickly.  Blender is definitely not my favorite 3D application, but there’s nothing like this add-on available for C4D. And Archimesh is free!

1. Enable three Blender add-ons: Archimesh, IvyGen and Sapling. Fake up some lab/office interiors with Archimesh (some great how-to videos here), then add some plants with the other tools. (Gotta have plants. It’s a documentary about plants, and these folks are pretty much all plant scientists. )


2. Export the geometry to C4D. Play with the materials, match camera angles and lighting to interviewees, then render out of focus. I only built a couple rooms for ten interviewees, just moved the camera around and changed the colors. It would be pretty trivial to adapt this setup for multicam interviews.



3. Composite and tweak color in AE. compositetest

As long as your final result is this blurry, your ivy can just be a bunch of square planes, and no one will ever know.



Iraq Map

Recent broadcast work: FRONTLINE: The Rise of ISIS

I designed a bunch of maps back in October for FRONTLINE: The Rise of ISIS. It’s free to watch online at the link. It got great reviews and I think is very much worth seeing, but a word of warning: this film contains some very graphic footage.

Mapping Arabic-speaking parts of the world turned out to be unexpectedly challenging: there are multiple ways to transliterate pretty much every place name, and good luck guessing which one your geolocation service has selected.

But there are perks to focusing on a region with such a long history. It was pretty cool finding ancient hand-drawn maps of Baghdad alongside OSM street data and satellite imagery.

Baghdad - Abu Ghraib v05

I learned a ton about QGIS working on this, too. I’d never done much with raster map data before, so this was basically Baby’s First Hillshade. In hindsight, as much as I like the final look there were definitely things I should have built differently — I ended up with a super-wonky workflow for adding new city points and one map in particular with insanely long render times.

Let’s hope the upcoming GEOlayers plugin for After Effects smooths out a lot of that process.


Layer Selector Toolbar: Now available on aescripts

Big news, everybody! My new After Effects script, Layer Selector Toolbar, is now for sale on

It’s a compact toolbar that comes in two flavors, vertical and horizontal. CS4+, Windows and OSX.



And it — surprise! — selects layers by property:



I’m hoping it turns out to be a useful little utility. I’ve found it especially handy for navigating giant comps with a ton of layers, and I’m loving not having to hunt for the camera layer when working in 3D.

Big thanks to Tomas Sinkunas and Zack Lovatt for beta testing.

In other news, I’m going to have some work on TV later this month. Stay tuned!


PATH Disruption Bingo

I made these a while back as a quick joke, but never got around to posting them. So in honor of tonight’s service outage, I now present: PATH Disruption Bingo, The Game Where No One Wins.™

You can print them out or save them on your phone. There are 10 different cards. Compete against your friends!

There is another game we like to play on the train. It’s very simple: if you are not trying to go to Hoboken, but still end up in Hoboken, you lose.


An Open Transit Map for Hudson County

Is the PATH down again and you need to find another way home? Want to show how limited transit options are in your neighborhood so you can fight for better service?

I’ve been hard at work on something that might help: a reasonably complete open map of all mass transit in Hudson County, free to use and adapt for your own purposes. At the moment the data’s set up as a series of shapefile layers in QGIS, and the project’s just been updated to work with the latest version (hyperthreading = so much faster).


When I say “reasonably complete” I mean it — trains (NJT + PATH), light rail, buses, ferries (NY Waterway, Liberty Landing, Statue Cruises),  even jitneys and smaller private bus companies like A&C.


There is more work to do, however: at the moment the map is still missing the Hoboken HOP bus, NY Waterway’s shuttle buses, and one bus from Pennsylvania that stops twice a day each way at Exchange Place. It’s also possible I’ll discover some other secret buses, as that’s happened several times so far — Hudson County is full of poorly documented transportation routes largely run on word of mouth. (You know it’s bad when I’m actually excited to discover a company’s website contains maps drawn in MS Paint, because at least that means there ARE maps).

The big goal of this project is to tie everything together in a clean digital format that can be adapted for a wide variety of uses. (That includes commercial use: if the smaller bus companies want to generate their own maps for riders based on the routes I drew for them, THAT WOULD BE AWESOME.) Eventually the plan is to build some sort of slippy map you can interact with on the web, but right now we’re still on the “get everything in one place” stage.

This project started as part of OpenJC‘s Hack for Change National Day of Civic Hacking (I won!), but I’ve continued working on it for several weeks now. And I have learned A LOT about QGIS in the process. The best single tip I can offer is to use the OpenStreetMap plugin to download a dataset, but to skip the spatialite db conversion steps and just import the .osm as a vector layer. It seems a bit slower on the redraw, but no more missing streets!

I’ve also learned a lot about hierarchical design for complex maps. When I’m designing maps for television, they need to be simple and easy to interpret at a distance, so I’ve never had to fit so many different types of things on screen at once. Getting them all to harmonize in any remotely readable fashion has been a real challenge, but I think I’m getting there. I expect in the end many users will not even want all the layers enabled at once, but I’m trying to make things slightly less spaghetti-like if they do.

Also, if you randomize a bunch of settings, you can generate some neat abstract art with this thing:



Nighthawks Piip-Show

Dramatis Birdsonae: The Birds of Piip-Show

I’ve been working late a lot, and the friendly birds of NRK’s Piip-Show have been keeping me company. But the species guide is in Norwegian (obviously, it’s a Norwegian show), and the usual translation tools do a terrible job with it.

So I made a little Tumblr to help curious English speakers identify the birds. I hope someone finds it useful, or at least entertaining. The disappointed woodpecker is my current favorite.

Documentary Animation | Motion Graphics | Design