Archive for February, 2007

I Don’t Really Do This, I Play Keyboards

Having accidentally destroyed several of my computers’ keyboards over the years by spilling liquid on them, I decided to write today’s blog entry about keyboards and the next think you know I knocked an entire container of orange juice all over my desk.

Well, I was saved this time by virtue of this great little After Effects keyboard cover from KB Covers that Steve K gave me a few weeks ago. I wasn’t going to write about its protective nature until . . . well . . . you already know what happened.

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KB makes a nice line of rubber keyboard covers with keycaps for After Effects, Photoshop, and several other apps. Keycaps (i.e. key overlays that show you what specific keys do in an application) are a major helper when you’re learning keyboard shortcuts, and since you can work so much faster in AE by using both hands you should learn as many keyboard shortcuts as you can.

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If you’d prefer to have a keyboard with the AE keycaps built right in, there are several on the market (Google “After Effects Keyboard”) but one of the things I like about the KB Cover is that I can easily switch it to the Photoshop version or remove it entirely if I want to do some straight typing. Then, of course, there’s that built-in-spill-proofing . . .

AE to DVD

If you work with After Effects, sooner or later you’re going to have to get your beautiful AE composition onto a DVD (and if you don’t then what the heck are you waiting for???). I had to do this myself the other day and used an incredibly simple workflow in Production Studio that involved AE and Encore DVD to create an auto-playing DVD without any menus (a DVD that, when inserted into a set-top player or computer, starts playing automatically).

First, create a new project in Encore DVD. The first thing you’ll be asked is your Television standard. If you’re in North or South America (except Argentina & Brasil), Japan, the Philippines, South Korea or Taiwan it’s NTSC. For everyone else it’s PAL.

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Next, bring your After Effects comp into Encore DVD using the Dynamic Link feature. You can either drag the comp from the AE Project Panel into the Encore DVD Project Panel, or select File > Adobe Dynamic Link > Import After Effects Composition.

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If you use this menu selection, you’ll need to drive to the location of your AE project, then select the comp that you want to open in Encore DVD.

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Next, you’ll tell Encore DVD what MPEG-2 encoding settings to use. All video gets encoded to MPEG-2 for DVD and you want to use encoding settings that will make your video look its best. Start by selecting your Dynamically-Linked AE comp in the Encore DVD project panel. Then go to the File menu and select Transcode > Transcode Settings > NTSC DV High quality 7Mb VBR 2 Pass. This is a great preset for most AE work (and if you’re working in PAL you’ll see the PAL presets in that menu instead).

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If you know about encoding you can also select Edit Project Transcode Presets and create your own custom encoding settings. What the preset above means is that it will encode your video to MPEG-2 at a bitrate of 7 megabits per second, doing a 2-pass Variable Bit Rate encode. This is always a great place to start with MPEG-2 encoding settings.

Okay, now you’ll need to put your AE comp into an Encore timeline. With the Dynamically-Linked comp still selected in your Encore project panel, click on the New Item button (looks like a little page at the bottom of the project panel) and select Timeline.

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Your video (and audio if there is any in the AE comp) will now be in a timeline. Now it’s time to tell your DVD what to do after it finishes playing your AE comp. In most cases you’ll want it to stop, or maybe you’ll want the playback to loop instead. Either way, go to the Properties panel (in the upper-right hand corner of Encore’s UI) and in the End Action pulldown select either “Stop” to stop playback or “Link Back to Here” to loop playback.

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Now, click on the Disc panel, which should be nested behind the Project panel.

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You need to tell the DVD what to do if the viewer clicks the “Title” button on the DVD. Go back to the Properties panel (which now shows the properties for the disc) and in the Title Button pulldown select the first chapter of your timeline.

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Last but not least, it’s time to burn the disc. In the Disc panel click the Build DVD button and the Build DVD panel opens.

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In this panel you can give your disc a name, specify how many copies you want, then click the Build button to burn your DVD. Encore will take care of all the AE rendering and MPEG-2 transcoding behind the scenes.

Of course there is always more than one way to skin a cat. You can also Dynamically-Link your AE comp into Premiere Pro, put it in a timeline, select Window >DVD Layout, and output your DVD from there. One good reason to do it in Encore DVD, though, is if you’re thinking about adding menus or custom navigation somewhere down the line. You can use the project I just walked you through as a foundation to build on, quite easily I might add.

Legal Matters

If you started in video after the mid-90’s there’s a good chance you never used a tape-to-tape, linear, A/B Roll system or a flatbed (I’ve used the former but not the latter, which gives my wife bragging rights in that department). Today, for most people, the definition of “post production hardware” is a computer and maybe some bits and pieces plugged into it, but in the old days you needed a roomful of expensive and complicated gear to get anything done.

Software like Adobe’s DV Rack simulates a lot of the gear you’d find in an old-school edit suite like a broadcast monitor and waveform/vectorscopes.

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The first thing you learned in old-school editing school was how to read those scopes –they’re key to making sure your video is broadcast legal. You’ll also find them in Premiere Pro by opening your Reference Monitor (from the Program Monitor’s flyout menu) and selecting the scope you want from its flyout menu (the flyout menu is the little round button with the triangle inside it that’s in the upper-right corner of every panel in Adobe’s video & audio tools).

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The YC Waveform Monitor and the Vectorscope in Premiere Pro.

The basic idea is that TV screens, unlike computer screens, display an image comprised of Luma (brighness) and Chroma (color). The three channels that make up a video signal are Y (Luma) Cr (Chroma Red) and Cb (Chroma Blue), also referred to as YUV. Broadcast legal for NTSC video is within the range 7.5 IRE and 100 IRE on the waveform monitor (IRE stands for “Institute of Radio Engineers” for those of you keeping score).

7.5 IRE is black, and 100 IRE is white, and everything else needs to fall in between in order for video to be “broadcast legal” (exception is in Japan where they use NTSC with 0 IRE black). You can see the IRE scale on the right hand side of the YC Waveform Monitor in the image above.

If your video isn’t broadcast legal it will not be aired, and even if it will never be broadcast it will cause many TV sets to produce an annoying “buzz” in the audio.

Now you may be thinking “my videos aren’t for broadcast, they’re not even for a TV set, and I don’t need to worry about this.” Well, one reason you should care is that video looks completely different on a computer screen than it does on a TV screen and if your video is going to be viewed on a computer monitor (e.g. on the web) or a handheld device (e.g. iPod) you should color correct it. Computers display images in terms of RGB or Red (R) Green (G) and Blue (B) so if you want your video to look its best you’ll need to compensate.

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In computer land, 0 RGB is black and 255 RGB is white. The problem is that when you convert video black (7.5 IRE) to computer black it actually translates as 16 RGB, not 0 RGB where it should be. Likewise, video white (100 IRE) translates to 235 RGB, not 255. So what you wind up with is less contrast, and blacks & whites that aren’t true. Color correcting your video can fix this and here’s a quick and easy way to do it:

If you’re editing in Premiere Pro, once you’re finished and done apply the Levels effect to your entire sequence. Start by nesting your sequence in a new sequence by clicking the New Item button and selecting Sequence

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Accept the default settings in the New Sequence dialog, then drag your existing sequence from the Project Panel into the Video 1 track in your new sequence (this basically flattens all the layers in your original sequence so you can apply the Levels effect to the whole thing at once).

In the Effects panel, type “Levels” in the Contains field, and drag the Levels effect onto your nested sequence in Video 1. Open the Effect Controls panel and twirl down the controls for Levels

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Since your video has levels of 16 black and 235 white, change the settings for (RGB) Black Input Level to 16 and (RGB) White Input Level to 235. See the difference?

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Your blacks & whites are now where they should be, and you’ve regained the full contrast range in your video.

In After Effects, the same thing can be done by creating an Adjustment Layer, dragging it to the top of the layer stack in the Timeline, and applying the Levels effect to it (using the same settings above).

Remember, if you have graphics, photos, or other elements in your Premiere Pro edit or After Effects comp, you’ll have to take that into account when applying the Levels effect – but for many cases this is a great way to make video look its best on a non-TV viewing medium.

Where’s Bob?

Well, this picture says it all:

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There’s nothing like hanging around Shinjuku at 7 in the morning because you woke up at 4am due to jetlag and couldn’t get back to sleep. Doing a good job at Adobe means you get to repeat it around the globe. Having to go to Tokyo for 1 day to do a press briefing may sound like a suicide mission, but the results in terms of getting the word out about our video products coming Back to the Mac and introducing the former Serious Magic products DV Rack and Ultra to the Japanese market for the first time were definitely worth it. The auto-translator on the aricles in the aboe links are a hoot — my colleague Hideyuki Komura’s name came out as “Old Sonhideyuki”.

Well, thanks to the amazing Komura-san and Shinichiro-san of Adobe Japan (with me in the photo below) we had a great press briefing in Tokyo today.

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My goofy smile comes to you courtesy of sleep deprivation due to having crossed 17 time zones the day before.

One of the major highlights of the briefing was all the reporters bum-rushing the stage to get a photo of DV Rack running on my Mac Book Pro in Boot Camp. Mark Randall, if your reading this, I wish you could’ve been there, you would’ve been very proud (to fill the rest of yez in, Mark founded Serious Magic, invented DV Rack, and is now our Chief Strategist at Adobe).

For those of you paying attention to the technical stuff, Japan uses the NTSC standard for TV just like the US, but they use a different setup for their black levels (0 IRE for black, as opposed to 7.5 IRE which is what we use in the States). DV Rack has a menu option to adjust the setup for black to 0 IRE which was an amazing foresight considering the product hasn’t been available in Japan until today.

Getting to the Adobe office in the Osaki section of Tokyo can be an adventure in itself. Like NYC the best way to travel is by Subway, but trying to find your stop on this map can be a bit confusing if you can’t read Japanese.

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If you wanna read more about the things you’ll encounter if you visit Japan, read my BizFlyer blog here. You’re also welcome to use this handy cheat-sheet of useful Japanese phrases (bad transliteration courtesy of me).

Watashi no namae wa _______ des.
My name is ________.

Good Morning.
Ohio goziamas.

Good Afternoon.
Konichi-wa

Good Evening.
Konban-wa.

Thank you.
Arigato goziamas.

Pleased to meet you.
Hajime mashite.

One beer, please.
Ichi beeru, kudasai.

Coffee, please.
Kohi, kudasai.

Tea, please.
O-cha, kudasai.

Excuse me.
Sumimasen.

I am sorry.
Gomen nasai.

I like this.
Ski des.

This is good.
Eee des.

May I have the check, please?
O-Kanjo, kudasai.

I don’t speak Japanese.
Nihon-go dekimasen, gomen nasai.

I don’t understand what you’re saying.
Wakarimasen.

Do you understand me?
Wakarimashta ka?

Where is the toilet?
Toire wa doko des ka?

What is it?
Nan des ka?

The Japanese language is actually not that hard as far as pronounciation goes if you’re an English speaker. But, just like in New York, people talk crazy fast in Tokyo so understanding what people are saying can be impossible even if you speak fluent Japanese.

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That’s my name & title in Japanese. Unfortunately “Bob” does not fall within the pronunciation guidelines of Japanese, so I can be either “Bobo” or “Bobu” (apparently I’m the latter in this nametag) and my last name winds up being “Donron”.

I’m trying to learn some more Japanese for my next visit. Stay tuned to see how I make out. And also stay tuned for an explanation of what IRE means and why you should care.

In the meantime, I’ll send a limited-edition piece of Adobe swag to the first non-Japanese speaking person who can figure this sign out. I’m completely baffled, but for some reason I can’t help wishing I was the guy on the right.

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