Archive for April, 2007

NAB’s Greatest Kicks

This year was my 10th consecutive NAB, and for the first time I didn’t get to take a vacation immediately thereafter (therefore protecting my sanity – meaning I no longer have my sanity as I went directly from NAB to the AsiaPac Creative Suite 3 Launch Tour). There are so many things that went on at NAB that are just starting to emerge from the crevices of my brain.

One of those things I’d like to share with y’all today, a gem of a tutorial created by Steve Holmes who took the new Shape Layers feature in After Effects CS3 to a new level. If you saw any of his presentations in our NAB Theater, then this’ll be a step-by-step reminder, if not, then you’ll want to try this out yourself in the AE CS3 Public Beta (which you can download now for free if you’re an owner of AE7 or Production Studio).

You’ll need to start with a piece of video that has an alpha channel (like, for example, the footage I’m using which is an actor we shot on greenscreen then chroma-keyed to create the alpha).


Then, you need to create a path (i.e. outline) of the alpha for each frame, which AE can do automatically with the Auto-trace feature. The general idea is that you can create a Shape Layer by copying and pasting a path from things like a piece of Illustrator artwork or the traced alpha of a piece of video.

Make sure the layer containing your video is selected in your timeline, then select Layer > Auto-trace and the Auto-trace dialog appears.


Make sure you have Work Area selected at the top of the dialog, and check the Preview button at the bottom. You’ll see a preview of the outline – if it looks good to you then accept the default settings and click OK. If not, you can modify the settings until the outline looks the way you want (the settings let you make the outline more or less refined – I’m using the default settings myself but do feel free to experiment here).

It may take awhile for Auto-trace to think if you have lots of frames (it is going frame-by-frame and creating a mask based on the alpha for each frame). Once it’s done, you’ll see your first frame with its brand new mask. Drag the Current Time Indicator to the right in your Timeline and you’ll see that you now have an “animated mask” of the alpha of your video.


Making sure your layer is still selected in your timeline, hit the letter M key on your keyboard to reveal its Masks properties. Twirl down Mask 1 to reveal the Mask Path and its keyframes.


This is what you will need to copy and paste into your shape layer. Click the words Mask Path to select all its keyframes and copy to your clipboard. Go ahead and delete this layer, you don’t need it anymore.

Now, create a new shape layer by right-mouse-clicking (or ctrl-clicking) in any empty space in your timeline. Twirl down its controls, and from the “Add” flyout menu that appears on the right, select Path.


This creates a path for your shape layer which is what you will be pasting the copied keyframes into. Twirl down the controls for Path 1 to reveal its Path parameter. Click the word Path to select, and paste in your keyframes (note, you must have “Path” selected, otherwise you will be pasting the keyframes into the Mask of the layer, which will make this whole thing not work).


Now you need to add a Fill and/or Stroke to your layer, which you can also do from the Add flyout menu. The swatches for Stroke and Fill will appear at the top of the UI — in addition to selecting solid colors you can apply gradients by opt-clicking (mac) or alt-clicking (win) the swatches to cycle through different gradient types. Here’s what I chose:


RAM preview and see what you’ve got.

Then, for added dimension, add a Repeater from the Add flyout menu. Twirl down its controls, then the controls for Transform: Repeater 1.


Manipulate the Scale property (start by scrubbing the X value – i.e. the first number – to the left) to stack the copies closer together. Then, add more Copies.


At this point, it’s up to you to experiment. Try playing with the other controls in Transform: Repeater 1 to see how you can make the copies fade off into the distance, twist around, and animate in an uniimited number of geometric patterns. I keyframed my Anchor Point, Rotation, and Offset to get this:

Thanks again to Señor Steve Homes for coming up with another great gem.

Television 3.0

If you need evidence that TV as we know it is about to go completely out the window, check this out:

I’ve been watching baseball on my laptop every morning during breakfast here on my business trip in Asia, streaming live over the web on MLB.TV (the subscription is worth every penny to a baseball addict like me).

Watch what you want, when you want, where you want. That’s where it’s all going. Heady times for a video geek like me . . .

p.s. – follow me home from Asia in realtime on Bizflyer.

Last Stop On This Train

I’ve finally arrived at my last stop on the Adobe Creative Suite 3 Launch Tour (Asia Pacific section). Hong Kong is one of the most high-tech cities in the world and flat panel TV screens are used for advertising wherever you go — even in the subway. They don’t seem to be too concerned about theft.

I know it’s a little hard to tell that it’s a flat panel display, but trust me it is…

I’m looking forward to getting back to San Francisco to resume blogging about new CS3 features, but for now here’s the view from the back of the room in HK. Thomas DiMeo, our Director of Product Management for Creative Suite, is speaking to the crowd.

There’s another room downstairs with another 500 or so people watching the event via a video feed. Sure are a lot of folks out there . . .

These trips are great because I get to meet and talk to so many Adobe customers. I get handed demo reels by many of them, and my favorite part is getting to watch ’em on the 14 hour flight home (which is currently staring me down like an angry elephant — I need to leave for Hong Kong airport shortly).

There really is nothing like going back home. For those of you in the SF Bay Area, I’ll be giving a talk at the Bay Area Motion Graphics User Group (BAMG) at the Apple Store in SF on May 7 at 6pm. Jim Tierney, founder and “Chief Anarchist” of the After Effects plug-in developer Digital Anarchy, is the brilliant and affable leader of this group, so if you’re in the area please do come on down.

But for now, it’s farewell to Asia… see you next time.

The most beautiful skyline in the world . . . after the Manhattan skyline that is (naturally).

First Time Censored

A moment after I wrote the previous entry (commenting on the fact that the song “One Night in Bangkok” is banned here in Thailand) I went to upload some video to YouTube where I host the video for my personal blog Bizflyer.

Nothing loaded.

Then I went to Bizflyer and none of the video loaded.

Then I was told by one of the local crew that the government banned YouTube after the military coup.

This is the first time I’ve actually seen censorship firsthand, and actually been censored myself.

(note: I stand corrected, the coup was not the reason for the YouTube ban, read the comments for more details . . .)

One Night In Bangkok

Sorry, I just couldn’t resist.

I believe that song is actually banned here.

As someone who has made stuff for television, I’m always intrigued by what’s on local TV in the foreign countries that I visit for Adobe. Thais are avid TV watchers, and there were no less than 20 local Thai language channels on the TV in my hotel room, showing everything from unfathomable game shows involving eating contests to monks chanting.

At least today the room I’m presenting in is a bit smaller than the ones in KL and Singapore, so I can remind myself of where I am. Have a look:

That was Marianne Young from our Singapore office jumping into the frame at the very end. Too bad my Canon PowerShot SD400 that I’m shooting these videos on can only capture 23 seconds at a time, that’s why she got cut off (what she said was “and they don’t speak English”). She’s our Solutions Engineer for Southeast Asia, and is presenting our Design Premium suite as well as Photoshop CS3 Extended. Make sure to check out her blog CSdeSigns.

If you want to see more video & photos of my Asia trip, you can find all that on my personal blog Bizflyer.

The Traveling Launchpad

You know the old expression “don’t make a big production out of it”? Well that’s one expression I’ve never heard uttered at Adobe. We go all out at our launch events, and the ones I’m currently presenting at in Asia are no exception.


Aah, what a beautiful sight, the brand new CS3 boxes neatly stacked at the entrance to the Raffles Convention Center in downtown Singapore (there’s really not much else in Singapore other than downtown, it’s pretty compact). The next thing you encounter is the registration table.


After a chat with the charming receptionists you’re admitted to the inner sanctum to explore new technologies from Adobe’s partners.


Of course, you can buy any Adobe product you want (normally at a special “event discount” price) from our local resellers. There are also special promotional offers to entice you.


I still don’t really know what to make of that one. “CS3 Musketeers”? Some things are definitely different in this part of the world.

After you’ve mingled, checked out the technology exhibits, and had a tea or coffee, it’s time to enter the ballroom, take one of the 1,000 or so seats, and see some of the great new features in Adobe Creative Suite 3. I’m writing this in the ballroom right now as we are finishing setup before the doors open.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

I Hear Voices

There are some new voices in the Adobe blogosphere that you should definitely check out if you’re into Digital Video (and if you’re not, what the heck are you doing reading this blog – – – except if you’re my Mom. Hi Mom!)

First off, the venerable Jason Levine, who without a doubt is the most entertaining presenter at Adobe (if you’ve seen him before you know what I’m talking about). He’s also my partner in crime (a.k.a. co-host) on Total Training for Adobe Production Studio. Check out his blog Jason Levine – Healing People Daily with the Power of Digital Video & Audio.

Next, my colleague Dennis Radeke, one of the sharpest DVA guys out there in the field, offers up tips, tricks, and tutorials on several Adobe products, especially After Effects, Premiere Pro, and Photoshop on his blog The Genesis Project.

If you’re a Flash designer or developer (or just want to learn more about Flash) check out Richard Galvan’s blog Galvan on Flash. Richard is the Technical Product Manager for Flash and is also one of the world’s leading experts on Flash authoring.

And finally, Bridge product manager (and my neighbor from up the hill in SF) Gunar Penikis writes about all things Bridge at From Gunar.

Look for some others to spring up in the near future – check the All Adobe Blogs page to see what’s new (the most recently added blogs are at the bottom of the page).

All Over The World

I’ve managed to seamlessly go from the Creative Suite 3 Launch Event in New York, directly to NAB in Las Vegas (where, amongst other things we announced that the BBC is migrating to Premiere Pro and Production Premium for all it’s PC-based editing throughout their entire organization, that’ll be 500 seats within a year), and now I write to you from the first Creative Suite 3 Launch Event in Southeast Asia, at the Shangri-La Hotel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I’m sitting on the stage getting my machine ready and here’s what it looks like from here:

We’re expecting over 1,000 people to attend today to see myself and the great Tim Cole show off the new goods.


What I’m about to show you is one of the things in CS3 that makes people go “hmmmmm…” the first time they see it, because it’s one of the more compelling things that has come so far from the marriage of Adobe and Macromedia (and I emphasize the word yet in that sentence, just wait ‘til NAB . . .). You probably wouldn’t think of this type of thing coming from a DVD authoring tool – after all there are so many of those on the market that the one you’re using probably has more to do with your overall workflow than anything else.

While Encore stands tall amongst DVD authoring tools, it’s now got something that redefines what’s possible. You can author a DVD in Encore, and then with a click of a button output it to Flash.


In a single authoring, you can now output to DVD, Blu-Ray, and Flash. The experience you get in Flash is identical to the experience you get on a DVD player (with the obvious exception that the video quality will be optimized for the web and thus not high-quality MPEG-2 as on a real DVD). All the video, chapter points, menus, interactivity, etc. is neatly packaged for you and published for the web. No Flash authoring knowledge or experience required.


So – in a nutshell – you can now author interactive Flash content without having to have an iota of knowledge on how to author interactive Flash content. You can also push the DVD to the web, creating new audiences and even creating preview versions of your actual DVD for people to view online.

How about making a proof of a DVD for a client, so they can see menus, interactivity, etc without you having to bun a disc and overnight it to them?

How about taking the DVD thing out of the equation entirely and just using this to create interactive content? Encore interfaces better with Photoshop and After Effects than any DVD tool on the market, so its easy to design things in Photoshop, animate them in After Effects, add the interactivity in Encore, then publish to Flash.

There are loads of us wanting (and needing, due to client demand) to create interactive Flash content. There are few of us with the time to really learn Flash authoring. This is an early step in the concept of “Flash authoring for the rest of us” and I think it’s a great beginning.

Auto Begone

For today’s CS3 new feature on the hit-parade (which I reckon will take me straight through June, at least, with the new stuff in the video suite Production Premium alone) we look at something we’ve done with the most widely used software tool in the world of video and film production, Adobe Photoshop.

The new Photoshop CS3 Extended lets you work with video (opening video files directly and painting on each frame i.e. rotoscoping, for example) and that includes extracting frames from video clips and achieving some pretty neat still imagery from ‘em.

Take this example, shown to me recently by my esteemed colleague Russell Brown. We’ve got some video of the Golden Gate Bridge, taken from a tripod without any panning or zooming (i.e. “locked down”).

First thing is to go to File > Import > Video Frames to Layers. Then navigate to your video file and open it. You’ll be presented with this dialog.


In this example I was able to achieve good results importing every 5 frames. For the effect you’re about to see unfold that’s all we’re gonna need.

Next, you’ll see a bunch of new layers in your newly created PSD, each containing a frame of video.


You’ll need to group them into a Smart Layer, so go to Select > All Layers and then Layer > Smart Objects > Convert to Smart Object. You’ll see everything collapse into a single Smart Object in your Layers Panel.

Then, go to Layer > Smart Objects > Stack Mode > Median. The new Stack Mode feature in Photoshop CS3 Extended analyzes an image stack (such as the one that you just created) and gives a result depending on the mode you select. In this case, the Median does more-or-less a pixel averaging of the entire stack of images, and delivers an “average image”. Well, maybe that’s not the best way to put it. Here’s what I got:


I got rid of the cars. Imagine getting a photo of the Golden Gate Bridge in daylight hours without any cars. No freaking way that’s ever gonna happen. So using this new Photoshop CS3 Extended feature, along with locked-down video, I was able to get a still image that would’ve taken me eons to create if I had to paint out all those cars by hand. Now, granted, there’s some stuff still at the top of the road there, but that’ll take minutes, or an hour at the most if you’re sleep deprived like me, to paint away using the Clone Tool, Healing Brush, etc…