Category Archives: News

What I’ve been up to lately and where you can see my work.

Eyebeam Vision Research Group is back next week

Join us next Monday:

The Eyebeam Vision Research Group is a monthly meetup focused on new forms of visual data and display. We play with experimental hardware and software, explore the possibilities created by the proliferation of affordable, hackable tools for capturing depth and motion, and try to figure out how to incorporate them into our work, whether that’s animation, digital art, live or interactive visuals.

We’re kicking off the fall season with a meeting on October 7 at 7PM at Eyebeam. Bring work you’d like to present, find out about upcoming projects, try out cool tools, meet potential collaborators, share your wild ideas.

It’s gonna be fun. Bring cool stuff!

On the Creative Cloud Controversey

After witnessing the collective freakout of basically everyone I know in production yesterday over the announcement that Adobe’s going subscription-only, I’ve been thinking a lot about the news. There are plenty of legitimate concerns (can’t say I’m thrilled about it myself), but I don’t think there’s any need to abandon ship immediately. A few things I haven’t seen mentioned much in the uproar:

– Yes, Adobe is beholden to shareholders and as a public company has to maximize profit. But their revenue still comes from the people actually buying their product. If they make everyone furious enough to stop using their software, they don’t make money. If CC is a massive failure, it won’t be around forever — hell, a year ago they said they would keep selling new standalone CS releases!

– We’re used to thinking of software as a product, and now that big companies are moving away from that business model you see a lot of people using the phrase “software as service” to discuss subscription sales — as if After Effects is somehow akin to electricity or a broadband connection. I think that’s the wrong way to look at it. I’m beginning to think of subscription software not as a recurring purchase of something you need to run your business, but more like hiring a team of outside developers to do your R&D and, in Adobe’s case, plan your production pipeline. That’s the “service” part — not the software itself. And it’s not necessarily a bad model: it’s certainly not as if the company I work for has the means to do that type of development work on our own. And, after all, if I want to be able to do cooler things better and faster, I need the people who make the tools I use to make a living to be able to make a good living themselves. That said, if, a few years down the road, you get rid of your R&D department, you’d still have the results of their work, no? Maybe CC should be more like (shudder) a phone contract: after two years, whatever version you’re using is yours forever.

– There are some huge benefits for people who do short-term, project-based work: no more worrying about version compatibility between team members, ability to get the software you need for only the time you need it, no initial big investment in a tool you may or may not end up using frequently. An example: I own Production Premium, but once every three or four months or so I really need to use InDesign for about half an hour. I don’t use it nearly enough to justify purchasing it as a standalone tool, so I end up borrowing a laptop from a coworker who has it. It’s super annoying and interrupts everyone’s day, and even though it only happens a few times a year it’d be nice not to worry about it happening again. And interoperability between collaborators is going to be increasingly important. Adobe Anywhere is enterprise-only at the moment, but give it a year or two and being able to connect to the company server is going to be a basic requirement for almost any freelancer in this business.

Unless, of course, the “OMG GONNA USE BLENDER + GIMP NOW BYE” folks prevail… But let’s be honest: there just isn’t a good alternative for the PS-IL-AE-PR suite. That’s why people are feeling trapped. There’s just not really anywhere else to go, and that makes them (and me!) a bit uncomfortable. I’ll be sticking with CS6 for the time being, but I’m sure there will come a point when I cannot live without a feature that didn’t exist a few months previously, and I’ll sign up for CC. At least if my company explodes or I end up broke or something, I can cancel and I’ll still have software that I own to go back to. CS6 is Good Enough for everything I do now, so it ought to be Good Enough for the majority of my work going forward.

The most fascinating thing about all of this: in the uproar over the pricing scheme, I’ve heard absolutely zero discussion of the new software itself!

Sample - Early 20th

Yearspace: Sneak Peek #2

Yearspace, my snazzy new timeline-making script for After Effects, is feature-complete and allllmost ready to go.  Check out what you can do with it:

I’ve gone kinda nuts with the era background feature in these examples — it’s really fun to play with. As the timeline moves, the era regions slide back and forth with the years they’re linked to, but they function as mattes so their image backgrounds remain static. It looks super-cool in motion.

There are a few wonky bits that still need working out (and one missing function that seems to be just plain un-scriptable, sigh), but I’m hoping to have it done soon — I’m going to be using it a ton at work in the next few months.

Interested in beta-testing? Let me know!

In AE on my machine at DocGroup...

DIY Adobe Anywhere: Collaborating in After Effects and Premiere via a Synced Dropbox Folder

So Nick Campbell of Greyscalegorilla fame mentioned at NAB that he got Cineware working across multiple machines via a Dropbox shared folder.

Someone else at the same presentation mentioned that Cineware + Dynamic Link lets you go C4D -> AE -> Premiere without rendering.

I put two and two together, and went “Wait a sec. Does that mean you use Dynamic Link via a Dropbox Shared Folder?”

Tested this in CS6 today with Mike Feldman of Hungry Man, and… it… works? Sort of?

It’s not true live updating — you need to unlink/relink the comps or reopen the Premiere project to get them to refresh. But it’s pretty damn seamless. No more downloading/saving/rendering/cutting in etc. Just “Oh hey, it’s here.”

I can see this being especially useful for projects where you have a ton of small, lightweight things that change frequently, like lower thirds and titles, but there’s no reason you couldn’t do more.

stele-lion

Blasting rocks with lasers: a “monumental” birthday present

When Kevin‘s brother turned 30, Kevin said we should get him something “monumental”. I, being my usual smartass self, said “What, like a monument?”

And, well, here it is: a victory stele commemorating the first 30 years of Dennis’ life.

stele-wide

There are fish because he’s had to travel to Norway in the dead of winter to inspect salmon farms, and a winged lion because WINGED LION.

It’s laser-engraved on stone, a medium I’ve never had a chance to try before. The design is an intentional mishmash of multiple ancient cultures, and the text is transliterated into Linear B, so, uh, it’s going to be a delightfully confusing find for any future archaeologist who stumbles across it.

stele-text

stele-lion

The stone is actually a floor tile, and for unknown reasons when the EtchPop guys carved it the laser turned it white, so it’s actually easier to read than I expected!

…except for the whole “Linear B” thing, which makes it… not exactly easy to read? Dennis is trying, though:
stele-dennis

This was really fun to do, so… If you need anything designed to be carved into stone with a laser, let me know!

Keep your head on: Automating scaling in KinectToPin with Z-axis data

I’ve spent a lot of time recently creating the latest version of KinectToPin’s UI Panel for After Effects. It has a ton of great new features, and makes things a lot easier to use.

But now that that’s out, I’m working on something new that gets around one of the biggest remaining issues with rigging 2.5D Kinect characters: automating layer scaling based on Z-distance. It’s one of the most annoying things to deal with, and until now the best options were “stay in one depth plane” or “manually scale things up and down.” Ugh.

The guy on the left is what happened if you walked back and forth toward the camera and didn’t account for it:

KinectToPin - AutoZ 1

KinectToPin - AutoZ 2

The little expression I came up with this morning turns the same character with the same mocap data into the guy on the right.

Keep in mind this is an experimental feature and at the moment only works for camera-facing characters. It won’t be added to the UI Panel until I’ve worked out the necessary layer space transforms and a couple bugs. In the meantime, if you’d like to try it out, do the following: The new code will be added to the UI Panel shortly, but if you’re eager to try it out, here it is:

In the 3D template, set this as the “mocap” layer’s position expression:

mocap = thisLayer;
try{cam = thisComp.activeCamera;}catch(err){ cam = mocap};
torso = mocap.effect("torso")("3D Point");
tW = mocap.toWorld(torso);
fW = cam.fromWorld(tW);
[value[0],value[1],value[2]+(1500-fW[2])*2]

I swear, it seems like the main thing I’ve been doing for the last year and a half is finding ways to make people’s heads stop flying off. This is yet another.

Timeline Sample 01

Sneak peek at Yearspace: A timeline-building script for After Effects

I’ve been working on a new After Effects script (probably going to end up as a UI Panel, actually) designed to automate the process of building an animated timeline. Before you get too confused: when I say “timeline” I mean “a graphic display of years of history” not the program timeline. I work on a lot of history documentaries, and being able to snap things to years should make life a lot easier.

If the only thing you do is give it a start and end year, you get:

  • Year, decade and/or 5-year tick marks
  • Year and decade text labels (with optional BCE labels if you need to go back that far!)
  • A snazzy controller null that lets you zoom through the whole timeline without leaving the frame window
  • Display settings so you can resize elements for different looks, offset the ends of the timeline from the edges of the screen, and switch between center and bottom aligned tick marks

…and all you have to do is type in two numbers!

But wait, there’s more! Once you’ve created a timeline, there are a bunch more fun things you can add to it:

  • Eras — screen-height regions that span a set of years. You can add section headers and set images or video as backgrounds
  • Events — flag important events and have them automatically snap to the year they happened
  • Link any layer to a year in time and have it stay in place — even if you change the start or end dates
  • Auto-fade out the smaller details when you zoom out for a wider view

Would you use a tool like this? Any other features on your wishlist?