Archive for March, 2006

Oh, This Again

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The view from the UAL business class loungs @ SFO

Just when I thought it was safe to be home again . . .

This should be another fun trip. I’m flying to Sao Paulo, Brazil for the Production Studio Launch Seminar on Tuesday, as well as a press conference and some customer visits. I got a plane ticket for my “better half” Anne-Lise, and we’re going to fly up to Salvador da Bahia to visit some friends after the week’s Adobe activities are done.

Sao Paulo is the third largest city in the world. I’ve been there before and its sheer scale is mind-boggling. There are neighborhoods that run the gamut from shocking poverty to sky’s-the-limit condo high-rises with helecopter landing pads on the roof ( the mega-rich are at too big of a risk of kidnapping to travel by car). The food is really amazing — very unique — and I’m glad we’ll be there on Sunday for the traditional Fejoada lunch when the restaurants are always packed with families eating rich Fejoada stew & Pao de Quejo (small cheese bread puffs made with tapicoa flour), and drinking Capirhinas & Guarana.

15 hours of flying time ahead, connecting at O’Hare. No bussiness-class seat-bed this time, just the standard UAL deal. I’ll catch up with y’all from the Southern Hemisphere (for the 2nd time this month).

Into the Darkness

If you use previous versions of Adobe’s Video & Audio products, you’ve definitely noticed the darker User Interface in the new releases. Many of us at Adobe prefer the darker UI, but this is not the default setting — when you first install you’ll get the standard Adobe UI brightness.

The last version of After Effects had the capability to adjust the UI brightness, and now we’ve added that capability to all the Production Studio apps. You need to select Edit > Preferences and then go to User Interface Colors.

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The User Interface Prefs in After Effects 7.0

The slider widget adjusts the brightness of the entire UI. Personally, I find the darker setting easier on the eyes, and its also easier to focus on the artwork without the interface getting in the way.

Off to the Brazilian consulate now to pick up my visa. Flying to Sao Paulo tomorrow for a Production Studio Launch Seminar there on Tuesday, as well as some press briefings and customer visits. Obrigado.

It’s a Breeze

Today I presented my second “Breezo”, which is a Breeze Presentation (Breeze+Preso=Breezo). My teeth are aching just from thinking about trying to read that last sentence out loud.

Breeze is a product from the former Macromedia side of the house, and it allows for some really sophisticated real-time collaborative conferencing over IP.

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The Breeze interface, in this morning’s “Breezo” to Macromedia User Group leaders

Today I showed After Effects to Macromedia User Group leaders and other company partners — it all happened at 9 in the morning Pacific Time (where I live), and I was barely awake, sitting at my kitchen table drinking coffee, and speaking “& showing AE to lord knows how many people, all over the world. It’s a really strange experience since it’s just you alone talking for an hour, and then at the end you do a brief Q&A in Breeze’s Chat Pot, and it occurs to you that all of these people have just been listening to every word you’ve said, and seen everything you’ve done on your computer screen the whole time.

As you’d imagine, Adobe has adopted Breeze for all our internal meetings. It’s a really fascinating piece of technology.

Avast, ye Scurvy Scallywags!

Adobe Audition is the 7th most pirated software program in the world.

Other Adobe apps are up there on the list as well, as you can imagine. Believe it or not, I’m not about to launch into a rant on software piracy, but I just wanted to share some thoughts on the issue.

We all pirate intellectual property at one point or another, be it a song download, or copying software, or whatever. Of course, I’ve done it myself (although not the song downloads, I’ve always had a stick up my rear-end about that one). But at the point where you’re making money off the intellectual property, it’s time to buck up.

Big software companies like Adobe make good money, and piracy is something that comes with the territory. But to me, it’s more of an ethical issue. I’ve always made my living from intellectual property — first music then video & film, now software. As a personal thing, I couldn’t live with myself if I were not paying for the right to have my favorite band sing to me on my I-Pod, or for the tools that enable me to make a living. If you make a living from software, the time has come to buy it. Even if you’ve got low cash flow there’s always a way to make it happen. By doing this you truly become part of the “ecosystem” of creative software.

Things like music and software don’t have a the same type of “tangibility consciousness” in the general public to mean the same thing as a “hard good.” So it’s socially acceptable, albeit illegal., to pirate. People getting rich off intellectual property have no right to bitch and moan, but it’s really not about that. It’s about a mindset that needs to change — and it will, over time, as the global economy becomes more IP driven over the coming years.

Stepping down from the soapbox now . . .

The Fabulous Fifth Dimension

Usually I get ideas for “tips & tricks” postings going about my daily business of working in Production Studio. Then I have to think of a heading for the posting, and sometimes that thought process triggers memories, and in today’s posting, which is on After Effects’ 3D Camera, I was thinking “Third Dimension,” which led to “Fifth Dimension” (i.e. the famous ’60’s pop group), and then the “Fabulous Fifth Dimension,” which is what the Fifth Dimension were called when I played with them back in the early ’90’s.

The Fifth Dimension had loads of hits in the ’60’s, like “The Age of Aquarius,” “Up, Up And Away,” and a song that could have only been written & recorded in the ’60’s, “Stoned Soul Picnic.” I mean . . . lyrics like these:

Surry down to a stoned soul picnic
There’ll be lots of time and wine
Red yellow honey, sassafras and moonshine

Moonishine? You’ve gotta be freaking kidding me! Anyhow, by the time I played with them, the 2 most well-known of the 5 singers, Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis Jr., had long since departed the group. For legal reasons, the remaining 3 singers had to add “Fabulous” to the name of the act, and the act itself in the 1990’s was a half-hour “revue” of their most famous songs.

The first night I played with them, Florence La Rue (one of the singers) introduced me onstage, remembering my first and last name (which impressed me because we’d just met right before the show). Every show thereafter, she had to turn to me before introducing me and ask me what my name was. Too much moonshine in the ’60’s, eh Florence?

Alright, enough of that.

I find that many After Effects users never explore the powerful 3D capabilities within, which is a shame because you can do some really amazing things. One of the key things you need to understand in order to work in 3D are the Camera Settings.

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The Camera Settings dialog in After Effects 7.0

The Camera Settings dialog appears whenever you select Layer > New > Camera or double-click a Camera in the timeline. There are loads of settings in here, but when you’re just getting started with 3D you should stick to one of the lens presets. In the above screencap, you can see the selections in the Preset menu. The smaller the lens, the more depth-of-field you will get.

The default setting of 50mm will not adjust depth-of-field at all, meaning that your work will look pretty much the same way it did in 2D. A smaller lens gives a more exaggerated 3D, while a larger (wider) lens flattens things out.

I suggest starting out with a 20mm lens as it’s easier to get interesting results quickly. Another good idea is to add one camera to your comp for each of the lens presets, and then toggle them on & off to see the difference.

Slip Sliding Away

Okay, some days it’s hard to come up with decent headings, you’ve gotta expect that once in awhile.

My cousin Eric was asking me recently about fading out the audio at the end of a DVD slideshow. Encore DVD 2.0 has an incredibly powerful new Slideshow Editor, but it doesn’t give you the capability to do audio fades. Here’s the workflow for doing it using Audition.

1) Right-mouse-click the audio file in your Encore Project Panel, and select Reveal in Explorer.

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2) An Explorer window opens with the audio file highlighted. Right-mouse-click on the audio file and select Open With > Adobe Audition.

3) In Audition, click-drag on the last *X* seconds of the audio waveform to select it (X being the duration you’d like your fade to be — 2 or 3 seconds is a good place to start).

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4) Click on the Favorites panel (it should be in the upper-left corner of the UI, if not you can go to the Window menu and select Favorites to open it). Double click on the “Fade Out” favorite, and the fade out is applied.

5) Click to the left of the area you selected in the wafeform, and hit the Spacebar on your keyboard to play back the fade.

6) If you want to adjust the length, select Edit > Undo and repeat steps 3-5.

7) Once you’re happy with your fade-out, select File > Save and quit Audition.

Remember that editing an audio file in this fashion is destructive, i.e. the fade-out becomes a permanent part of that audio file, so it’s a good idea to make a backup copy of the original before you open it in Audidion.

NAB Sneak Preview

This year, I’ve got the conspicuous gig of programming the main theatre stage for our NAB exhibit. It’s gonna be a big one for us, hot on the heels of an enormously successful Production Studio launch, and we’re lucky to have a crack lineup of Adobe customers & product experts to show you what people all over the world have been doing with our products.

I can’t give up the goods on who’s presenting, but I can tell you that our friend Jacob Rosenberg of Formika Films will be with us once again. Jacob is one of the worlds’ foremost Premiere Pro experts, and he’ll be showing several projects that he’s done the past year with Adobe tools.

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The video “Cactusflower”, by John Gold – directed by Jacob Rosenberg and post-produced entirely with Adobe Production Studio

Jacob Rosenberg and our own Jason Levine collaborated on “Cactusflower” (screencap above), using Adobe Audition to record performances live on set, Adobe Premiere Pro for editing & color correction, Adobe After Effects for compositing, and Adobe Photoshop for creating the background plate for one of the shots. Click here to watch the video in glorious Flash Video 8.

Jacob shot in HD, but had the camera on its side to get long vertical plates to use in compositing. Come by our exhibit and see how he put this remarkable video together.

DVD to AVI (or Quicktime)

I get asked this one all the time — how to get video from a DVD into an editable form.

First off, you need to understand that commercial DVDs (i.e. Hollywood Films, TV Series, & the like) are copy protected with CSS (Content Scramble System) and/or Macrovision. If you’re trying to rip a copy-protected DVD to an AVI or Quicktime, the only way to do it is with illegal software.

Now if you’re honestly trying to get non-copywrited material from a DVD to an editable file format (as I myself had to do today) there are many companies out there that make conversion utilities. But I found out something today that I didn’t know — Adobe Premiere Elements has this capability build in! (thanks, Giles, for turning me on to this).

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The Adobe Premiere Elements Media Downloader, importing video from a DVD

It’s simply a matter of going to the File menu and selecting Add Media>From DVD Camera or Removable Drive. That opens the Media Downloader (above), which is very straighforward and intuitive (select the DVD and let ‘er rip)!

I learn something new every day at this job.

BTW — I picked up my Giants season tix today. Still a Mets fan, but I had to adopt the local team as well (and I have a birthright anyhow as the whole reason I’m a Mets fan is because my dad was a Giants fan back when they played in Manhattan. When the Giants moved to SF, he was without a team until the Mets started up in 1962. So I was born a Mets fan even though I grew up in Yankees country. So I guess I suffered enough with the Mets to feel too guilty about it . . .)

Rewind

The past few days in NYC were like a time capsule. Going back to the old ‘hood, seeing friends & family, and all that sort of stuff — there you expect that kind of feeling. But the benefit show I played @ Bowery Ballroom on Saturday night was a timewarp of a completely different nature.

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Tim Cloherty & I during The Rake’s Progress’ reunion on Saturday night (you can just see drummer Pete Klinger’s face to the right of Tim”s belt).

Walking into soundcheck was like stepping into a twisted kind of high-school reunion. Nearly all the bands on the bill had members of The Rake’s Progress or The Bogmen in them. We all toured together back in the early-mid ’90’s and the stories of on-the-road-hijinks could fill volumes (in fact, Bill Campion [nee Vic Thrill] of the Bogmen just optioned a movie screenplay to a major studio for some big bucks — kudos Bill).

The backstage scene was just like it was back in the old days — a beer-swigging family singalong (the “show within the show”), and all the onstage performances were stellar. We sold the joint out (that’s 625 people) and raised somewhere in the neighborhood of $15,000 for the education fund of Tim’s nieces & nephews who lost their dad Tom Cloherty to a heart attack earlier this year.

The “Rake’s Progress Reunion” was a blast — we haven’t been onstage together since 1999. But it all fell back into place instantly — I guess 10 years, 2 albums, and over 1,000 shows can do that to you. I turned to Tim at one point during the show and said “what the hell is going on?”. It was 1995 all of a sudden.

Today, back in SF, it’s very much 2006. I’m editing the video of the Sydney Production Studio Seminar, preparing some stuff for NAB, and yet again trying to shake off some serious jetlag.

A Few Notes About the Next Few Days

I’ll be on PTO (that’s “Personal Time Off” in Adobe lingo) until Tuesday — heading to NYC later today to visit friends & family. This will include a stop by my ancestral home, Co-op City, a bizarre public housing experiment gone horribly wrong.

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A panoramic view of “Co-op” from one of their early 1970’s sales brochures.

OK, so it’s really not that bad. No, wait, it is.

Build on swampland in the Northeast Bronx, Co-op City was designed to be a community for middle-class families. It’s not exactly the safest neighborhood in The Bronx, but not the worst either. It being on a swamp means that all the buildings are coming apart structurally, and they even had to go so far as to condemn all the parking garages and pave over the only green area in the place in order to park all the cars.

Luckily, we’ll be spending most of our time in NYC not in Co-op City. Crashing with some friends in the East Village, actually. Don’t forget the benefit show on Saturday @ Bowery Ballroom if you’re in the area.

Signing off ’til Tuesday. Please remember to turn the lights out when you leave.