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Production Values

by Mark Christiansen

Mark Christiansen is the author of After Effects Studio Techniques (Adobe Press). He has created visual effects and animations for feature films including Pirates of the Caribbean 3, The Day After Tomorrow and films by Robert Rodriguez. Past corporate clients include Adobe, Cisco, Sun, Cadence, Seagate, Intel and Medtronic, and broadcast work has appeared on HBO and the History Channel. Mark's roles have included producing, directing, designing and effects supervision, and his solo work has appeared at film festivals including L.A. Shorts Fest....

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Pixel Farm to Launch “Radical New Approach to Tracking” at SIGGRAPH

Fundamental changes to the 3D tracking process on the way? Stay tuned...

By Mark Christiansen | July 20, 2010

One normally doesn't put much stock in press releases, but sometimes you can read between the lines and see some substance behind the hype. At SIGGRAPH next week in Los Angeles, anyone involved in the process of combining 3D and live action footage will want to check out the latest upcoming release from Pixel Farm, makers of PF Track.What can we expect? Here's what can be gleaned at this stage: Read More

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The Foundry unveils 3D Camera Tracker for After Effects

First look at breakthrough addition to the world's most popular compositing application.

By Mark Christiansen | April 20, 2010

At NAB 2010, The Foundry revealed its work on a plug-in to bring 3D camera tracking directly into Adobe After Effects. Their Camera Tracker plug-in, currently in pre-beta, looks set to provide long-missing functionality to After Effects, and once it has been added, it will likely transform the type of work seen from After Effects artists. Read More

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Is a Visual Effects Guild to Materialize this Decade?

Stranahan's Open Letter one month later, on the eve of the Oscars

By Mark Christiansen | March 05, 2010

The decade of the twenty-teens is only a couple of months old - or hasn't started yet - but already, there has been something of a shot heard ‘round the world for VFX artists, particularly those located in the U.S. Lee Stranahan's Open Letter to James Cameron: Fairness for Visual Effects Artists has become a hot topic of discussion among VFX artists across the U.S. since its publication at Huffington Post one month ago.

Why? Because while visual effects has moved to the top of the list of what makes a bankable blockbuster movie, the artists and studios creating those effects find their own commercial viability compromised by many factors that make a career in visual effects one with high risks. And while other Hollywood-related creative professions from writing, directing and producing to cinematography right down to theatrical stage employees are typically members of unions which negotiate on their behalf, visual effects in particular and post-production in general has not united to negotiate better compensation and fairer treatment.

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Smoke Gets On Your Mac

Maybe it's not just about high-priced clientele.

By Mark Christiansen | December 03, 2009

Last week, Autodesk offered a preview of its Smoke software on the Macintosh at the Inter BEE 2009 Conference in Tokyo, where the software was announced at a $14,995 price point - cheap for Smoke, very expensive for Mac-based studios relying solely on some mixture of Final Cut Pro, After Effects, Avid or Nuke.In the short term, this clearly will not revolutionize video production because it will only reach a select audience who see a clear return on the investment It is nonetheless hugely significant for several reasons, not the least of which is that there is no other software available for Mac that does exactly what Smoke offers: editing and compositing in a single tool optimized for interactive, over-the-shoulder client work.The question is whether client-attended work is the big deal that it was earlier this decade, or whether Smoke's true advantage may lay elsewhere. Read More

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Online Post-Production Management with ShotRunner

2 specialized alternatives to Basecamp are in late beta and already in use in production. Here's my experience using one of them

By Mark Christiansen | October 02, 2009

The days of cobbling together a database to track shots, assets and progress are numbered. Although nowadays it has become common for many post-production projects to be managed with Basecamp, it's an application hardly specialized to our industry.Two web based tools currently in late beta anticipate the needs of post production more directly. Shotgun has been adopted at large facilities around the world and will be profiled separately; this article focuses on ShotRunner, and my own experiences using it as a visual effects supervisor on a pair of feature films. Read More

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The Foundry releases Rolling Shutter for After Effects & Nuke

Optical flow plug-in corrects for "jello vision" in CMOS cameras from 5D MkII to iPhone 3GS

By Mark Christiansen | August 03, 2009

The Foundry today released Rolling Shutter, a new plug-in available for After Effects and Nuke.This plug-in cleverly reuses one of The Foundry's strongest bits of intellectual property - optical flow as utilized in effects in the Furnace plug-in set including Kronos, as well as licensed by Adobe for use in the Timewarp effect for After Effects - in order to solve a problem particular to video cameras containing CMOS chips, which require an interval of time to scan an entire frame, line by line, and generally top to bottom.In cameras with a speedy frame refresh rate, such as RED One, the effect is rarely noticeable other than under extreme conditions, but it is more commonplace when shooting with the Canon 5D Mark II and completely ubiquitous with consumer level cameras such as the latest iPhone.Because a given shot typically contains multiple planes of action, correcting rolling shutter artifacts involves more than simply un-skewing the image. The problem is similar to that faced when compositing a 3D shot, and The Foundry has added similar technology to Nuke to make it a leader in 3D compositing.Rolling Shutter will help not only to make an image look better but also to make it possible to matchmove the shot in 3D, which would otherwise be a nightmare with an unevenly scanned shot. As long as the movement of the camera is unidirectional - whether sideways, forward or backward, this plug-in will correct for it; more chaotic handheld shots with circular or otherwise inconsistent motion might be beyond its abilities.Rolling Shutter $500 for Nuke or After Effects, direct from The Foundry website. A demo version is also available for download. Read More

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AEScripts.com revamped as a comprehensive script destination site

Immigration is the first shareware script ever, the rest are still freeware

By Mark Christiansen | August 03, 2009

Lloyd Alvarez, creator of aescripts.com as well as some of the most useful After Effects scripts available, released a new version of the site that may finally put an end to the need to google for the best available After Effects scripts. All of the scripts listed from the half dozen top current developers are freeware except for one - Immigration, which also appeared in its final version today as the first script shareware product.Scripts have moved from a marginal, obscure and difficult-to-create feature introduced in After Effects 6.0 to an outlet for After Effects artists who are also coding nerds to add what might otherwise be considered new features to After Effects. One key to this change has been that many of the most useful scripts, among them Immigration and BG Renderer, appear in the After Effects UI as regular panels.Immigration transforms what was a major After Effects deficit - difficulty importing and replacing image sequences via an import dialog that does not recognize them as such - and created one of the best sequence-handling interfaces available in any software in its place. Not only can Immigration tell how multiple sequences in a folder are grouped, it can automatically scan existing sequences already present in an After Effects project and intelligently replace updated versions all at once.The cost for an Immigration license is $20, marking the first time a script has been offered other than as freeware. Is this an ominous trend or a fair way to compensate innovation, coding effort and time savings? Immigration is an excellent test case, as it offers clear added efficiency for those who want it and want to pay for it. It also helps compensate Lloyd for releasing the most valuable script of all time, BGRenderer, which literally can replace a Nucleo Pro license (not available for CS4 until Tuesday, August 4) or even obviate the need for an extra rendering workstation on a big project.Why, I have a BGRenderer terminal session running even as I type this. Read More

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Training: Visual Effects for Directors

7 DVD set is full of solid fundamentals for production people moving into VFX

By Mark Christiansen | July 27, 2009

The past decade has seen visual effects pervade film and television production to the extent that it is rare to see a television commercial with no visual effects, even documentary-style dramatic programs are sweetened and cleaned up via compositing, and films outside the big-budget action movie genre often have vfx shot counts in the dozens or even hundred.This changing of the guard has not been without its difficulties; principle among these are the veteran directors and art directors who learned how to craft compelling images and stories before the computer became a routine part of the process. Good visual effects shooting is all about planning, but effective planning requires experience.Visual Effects for Directors, a 7 DVD set released by Hollywood Camera Work, is inspiring for how thoroughly and patiently it visually explains how to shoot ordinary, bread-and-butter visual effects shots. Far from the mystifyingly complex techniques used to push the entire medium forward in, say, the latest recipient of the Visual Effects Oscar, the approaches shown on these seven videos are in the realm of what should be common knowledge among effects professionals. Read More

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VLC Goes 1.0

Free open source QuickTime Player alternative, around for most of the decade, is finally out of beta.

By Mark Christiansen | July 08, 2009

VLC, possibly the most versatile desktop video player in the world, was announced as version 1.0.0 (aka "GoldenEye" if you prefer Ian Fleming style nicknames). Its features are widespread, but among the most significant is that it is the only major alternative to QuickTime Player that allows you to step frame by frame through a video file, a limitation which has frankly stymied professional use of Windows Media, Real and other closed-source players.But that's not all. With VLC 1.0.0 you can also:• record live video• play dozens of file formats on Mac, Windows or Linux, many of them otherwise unsupported (including QuickTime on Linux, apparently)• play DVDs from any region• play damaged or partially downloaded files otherwise considered "unplayable"• view full screen (and even pipe audio out to AirTunes)• since some readers are already using VLC 1.0.0, I encourage you to add other favorites in the comments!The feature list is quite long and - due to the intense rush to download VLC - the forum and wiki, major sources of information, are disabled today and perhaps for some time. If there were one feature I would hope they would add for version 1.5, it would be playback of image sequences. A nerd can dream. Read More

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Is Nuke the new Shake?

Weta becomes the latest big VFX house to license The Foundry's compositing app.

By Mark Christiansen | July 06, 2009

A series of press releases from The Foundry since NAB have marked major steps forward for Nuke as the emerging software leader for visual effects compositing. The latest of these is this morning's news that Weta Digital has invested in a Nuke site license, less than a month after ILM announced the same. During that time the Nuke founder/developers managed to reacquire ownership of the software in what may have appeared from the outside like a confusing flip-flop of assets between Digital Domain and Foundry. The bottom line seems to be that the people who make Nuke have secured control of its destiny for the forseeable future, and major studios have responded by investing in that future. Read More

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GridIron Flow Ships with Surprise Additions

Unique workflow software designed to help manage assets in a small studio makes big additions, ships.

By Mark Christiansen | June 29, 2009

GridIron Software this morning announced on a conference call that Flow, the one-of-a-kind visual file management, workflow and time tracking tool that has been in development for three years, is now available for purchase or 30 day demo from the GridIron site.In addition to a demonstration of how the software can be used to recover otherwise lost versions of graphics files, to discover the use of an element - including even a font - in a given file, or to track time spent on a project, Steve Forde, CEO of GridIron, brought on John Nack, Product Manager at Adobe, to show how Flow has been integrated directly into CS4 via Flash Panels.A Flow icon was shown right in the tool bar of Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign - and reportedly is available for all CS4 apps - that opens a Flash panel showing a miniature version of Flow and allowing capabilities such as coordinating fonts with a file from a different CS4 application that have never been possible.Steve also announced a new feature added to Flow that did not appear in the public beta: the ability to see the same Flow map regardless of user or system. To support this, GridIron offers a multi-machine license, three systems for $100 more than the single system license. Read More

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Tip: Force an After Effects Render to Fail (and Save!) on a Mac

Trigger a segmentation fault, win a prize: your project back.

By Mark Christiansen | April 30, 2009

No doubt you already make liberal use of the After Effects Auto-Save feature, which incrementally stores sub-versions of your current saved project in set increments of time. By default, the last 5 20 minute increments are saved, with the oldest replaced by the newest, but you can freely change the interval and number of saves. Still, what happens when your session hangs up and you have valuable unsaved information? Read More

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Tip: Force an After Effects Render not to Fail

Tip: Force an After Effects Render not to Fail

Had it with Out of Memory errors? Here's a hack to help in CS3 and CS4.

By Mark Christiansen | April 29, 2009

If you've ever tried rendering a composition made up of one or more large images - say, a single huge matte painting or several layers of 4k footage - you have probably encountered the dreaded Out of Memory error causing your render to fail. What to do about this? Read More

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Convert RED Camera R3D Footage Losslessly, Painlessly, Confidently

Do it the way Autodesk recommends and don't fret about lost data

By Mark Christiansen | April 28, 2009

If you're a regular at this site you may recall 5 Tips to Maintain Sanity in RED Post.. The key point of that article was to assert that since you cannot write an R3D file, you must convert and it is best to do so early in order to save many wasted cycles processing full 4K (when the output is actually HD or less). Today's tip tells how to convert an R3D losslessly to either 10-bit Cineon or 16-bit TIFF, and it's backed up by a whitepaper from Autodesk. Read More

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NAB 2009 RED Reel Online

Not the same as 4K, but definitely entertaining and pleasing to the eye.

By Mark Christiansen | April 27, 2009

The RED reel that showed at NAB 2009 is now viewable online (right click to download it). There are even a couple of shots on there from a shoot I was on as fx supervisor. It's a gorgeous, cinematic reel and an entertaining viewing. Read More

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Tip: Use More than One Processor with Apple Compressor

If you're rendering with the defaults, you're doing it the slow way.

By Mark Christiansen | April 27, 2009

Today's tip is prompted by a tweet that appeared last evening from Jim Geduldick of finalcutuser.com and AENY, the NYC After Effects user group, reminding the owner of a new 8-core Mac that Compressor works best when using fewer than all 8 cores. The thing about that tip is, by default, Compressor only uses a single core to render regardless of how many are on your computer, so first you must understand how to get past that limitation. Read More

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Tip: Browse After Effects Scripts as if Looking for Plug-ins

Redefinery.com makes it easy to find what you need.

By Mark Christiansen | April 26, 2009

The point of scripts in After Effects is to reduce tedious tasks, although the best of them effectively add functionality because what they allow you to do would never be worth the trouble to do manually. Therefore if you find yourself faced with a tedious task, it's not a bad idea to try and find a script that will help. Some sites do this better than others, and today I'm highlighting Jeff Almasol's Redefinery as a site you can go visit right now and find the solution to one or many problems you've faced in the past, and are likely to re-encounter. Read More

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Tip: Play Anything - YouTube included - in QuickTime Mac with Perian

Open-source tool makes QuickTime playback nearly universal - but only on a Mac.

By Mark Christiansen | April 25, 2009

The QuickTime file format can be the cause of trouble in a production pipeline, with its moving-target gamma and all-or-nothing file integrity (if there's one corrupted frame in an .mov, forget about opening it and recovering the rest). QuickTime Player Pro, however, has many great features missing from other standalone players (including the fantastic VLC); it just requires that anything it opens be readable as a QuickTime movie. Although it seems at times to support other formats, they will often tend to open blank. Wouldn't it be great to just be able to double click any moving image file and open it in QuickTime? Read More

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NAB 2009 - The Foundry Demos 3 Upcoming Versions of Nuke

Compositing software will soon have many new features.

By Mark Christiansen | April 24, 2009

At a private demo on Wednesday, Matt Plec demonstrated several of the major new features that will be in Nuke 5.2 and 6, as well as the new NukeX. Here's what I learned. Read More

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Tip: Preview a Chapter of After Effects Studio Techniques, Gratis

A taste test of my book is available online.

By Mark Christiansen | April 24, 2009

After Effects CS4 Visual Effects & Compositing Studio Techniques is quite a mouthful for a book title, which may explain why I often use the shorthand above. The book stands out for a couple of reasons: one is that it deals explicitly with visual effects compositing, the process of fooling the eye into thinking disparate elements were shot together. Also, there is very little in the way of beginner information in this book; it is aimed at professionals who either have used After Effects and want to improve their compositing, or compositors who want to learn to use After Effects. But is it for you? Read More

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