NEWS


The Future Ain't What It Used to Be
Siggraph 05 Offers More of the Here-and-Now
by Michael Kunkes photos by Tomm Carroll

On the plus side, Siggraph 2005 in Los Angeles, the 32nd conference on computer graphics and interactive techniques, was attended by 29,122 artists, research scientists, developers, production and post-production talent and academics from 81 countries. From July 31 till August 4, there were five days of conferences and three days of exhibits, featuring more than 250 companies in 70,000 square feet of exhibit space at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

However, the attendance belied a convention that was largely running in place and was basically a repeat of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) trade show from earlier this year. A lot of companies displayed incremental improvements on existing products rather than presenting much that was new and groundbreaking, while headhunting studios trolled for new talent. The ever-expanding world of Final Cut Pro was increasingly visible, however, via numerous plug-ins, accelerators and capture and storage solutions.

With the technology sessions, papers and classrooms geared towards 3-D topics, one panel did offer something off the beaten path for the sound branch. In a panel titled “Ubiquitous Music: How are sharing, copyright and really cool technology changing the roles of the artist and the audience,” Atau Tanaka of Sony CSL Paris presented his Malleable Mobile Music project, a hub-based experience based on a handheld mobile terminal connected to a wireless network with streaming audio, a local synthesis engine and a sensor subsystem. The point, he said, is to create a “social remix,” to which users log in to listen to a single piece of music that is being streamed, with all connected users logging into the same stream.

“The idea, which I call ‘reflective translucence,’ is to bring magic back into music,” says Tanaka. “Each user has a clear sense of his part in the whole and can hear everyone else’s contribution.” Issues of quality and bandwidth aside, Malleable Mobile Music would seem to offer music editors and music supervisors an opportunity to add to and exchange sound and music files on the go, while en route to or from sessions.

Sound editors and electronic composers with a dramatic flair might check out the Sonic City Project, introduced by Lalya Gaye of Sweden’s Viktoria Institute’s Future Applications Lab. Using city streets as a musical interface, the prototype consists of a laptop, micro-controlled sensors that are worn over the body––á la virtual reality––a microphone and headphones. Tested in Goteborg, Sweden (the very height of urban sprawl), Sonic City acts as an enhancer of everyday settings, kind of an ad hoc interaction with the local resources at hand, and lets the user navigate through the city, motivated, says Gaye, “by an ever increasing search for sources of input. It’s an incredible way to create and socialize music and sound in an urban setting,” she explains.

The exhibit hall, while less esoteric, offered more of the here-and-now for post professionals, starting with MetaCommunications, Inc. (www.meta-comm.com). The company debuted Digital Storage Manager, which it says is the first Intranet search and archive management system for creative workgroups. Similar to Mac OS 10.4 Tiger’s new Spotlight search technology, Digital Storage Manager is built for networks of servers and online and offline storage.

“Digital Storage Manager is intended as a solution for some growing problems in the post industry––namely, finding, tagging and archiving the vast numbers of files used in the post-production process,” says Robert Long, the company’s executive vice president. “We allow you to tag files with all the information that’s useable to find the files, plus there’s an automated system for archiving it all off to tape, DVD or anything else.”

A turnkey system, Digital Storage Manager utilizes MetaCommunications’ Virtual Ticket, which enables users to easily search an entire network of online servers and offline repositories to accurately find any file, regardless of location. Online production servers are automatically indexed by server agents, creating a mirror of pointers to actual files. Users can then use customizable file tickets to easily add metadata to individual files or entire folders in real time.

“The cool part is that the indexing engine picks up all kinds of metadata, and it’s all searchable,” Long adds. “Our system is geared for the creative production workers because the search engine is built around their own files, not some external entity.” Digital Storage Manager is licensed by the total amount of storage under management. Prices start at $995 for 100 gigabytes, and go up to $19,995 for unlimited storage.

At the plug-in pavilion, Digital Anarchy (www.digitalanarchy.com) showed its set of eight plug-ins aimed at creating effects for Final Cut Pro and After Effects users. Ideal for editors dropping in temp effects, doing previsualization, or even final effects on lower-budgeted movies, commercials, TV shows or documentaries, a couple of the plug-ins proved especially interesting.

Psunami Water is a 3-D photorealistic water simulation tool for After Effects and Final Cut Pro. Used on sequences in Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator, Psunami’s effects are all created within the software, according to Digital Anarchy President Jim Tierney. “You can go above or below the water, texture-map the water surface with logos or surface reflections and use displacement maps for ripples and whirlpools. You can even attach the After Effects’ 3-D camera to the water’s surface and capture the up and down movement perfectly.”

For environments above the waves, Tierney also displayed Aurora Sky, which creates photorealistic 3-D clouds and skies, as well as suns, stars, volumetric haze and light, smoke, etc. Built-in camera controls allow users to navigate and animate the sky; they can also project graphics or skywriting, and use a displacement map or Bézier path (a definition of a curve) to shape 2- or 3-D clouds. “We support Final Cut Pro primarily because Apple supports the After Effects API [application program interface],” says Tierney. “That makes it very easy for us to port things over.” Psunami Water is available for $199; Aurora sells for $169, or both are available for $299 in a “nature bundle.”

da vinci Systems LLC (www.davsys. com), a fixture in the color-correction business for two decades, introduced Revival, an extremely sophisticated set of digital restoration and remastering tools for aging motion picture film. A server-based system, Revival counteracts the time intensiveness, high cost and generally poor tools that are currently the norm, putting the repair of even the most obscure titles within affordable reach. Available in stand-alone, SGI (Silicon Graphics) and Intel platforms, Revival is resolution-independent, and supports eight- or ten-bit images in 2k or 4k resolutions.

“Most of the time, a digital noise reducer is the only solution post-production people have for digital restoration,” says da vinci’s product manager, Gary Adams. “The beauty of Revival is that you are able to go frame by frame to repair vertical scratches, fix actual physical tears in the film, stabilize the image, de-flicker, remove grain and hide scratches. You can also import and export EDLs for scene detection, batch generation and quality control. It’s a very powerful tool, and I just don’t think anything is going to ever replace film, especially for preservation and archival purposes.”
Revival is priced around $25,000, depending on versions and options.

AJA Video Systems, Inc. (www.aja. com), a ten-year-old company that specializes in video capture products for post-production, displayed Kona 2, a line of high-end, Tiger OS-ready video capture cards built to provide capture and playback for Final Cut Studio. The company also makes a line of stand-alone firewire capture boxes, identical to the cards, that attach to a desktop Mac or PowerBook with a single firewire cable, making them ideal for portable news editing, live capture in the field, reality shows and sporting events.

Introduced last year, Kona 2 provides uncompressed video, eight-channel AES and embedded audio, up/down high definition/standard definition (HD/SD) format conversion and component analogue output, all on a PCI-X 133 MHz card. The card also provides for dual-monitor desktop viewing to accommodate any editing situation, with full support for Final Cut Pro High Definition Real Time Extreme effects as well as hardware acceleration for the new DVC PRO HD (digital video compressed) codec.

AJA also displayed its Io, Io LD and Io LA products, co-developed with Apple to provide a cost-efficient “everything in, everything out” video finishing system for Final Cut Pro. Full connectivity to video tape recorders (VTR), generator locking devices, and OS X drivers is provided, as well as direct video output to common applications such as After Effects, Combustion and Apple’s Motion 2.

“Our products have been embraced by the broadcast industry,” says Chuck Whitlock, AJA’s marketing manager. “This year, we’re also showing a beta of our new utility software for the whole product line that allows you to use the products without Final Cut Pro, just doing batch capture and using a VTR exchange utility to lay captured material onto disc. It’s free to our customers.”

Kona 2 sells for $2,490, and a stripped-down version––the SD-only Kona LS (also available in a box)––goes for $990. Io carries a list price of $2,290, while the lower cost LD and LA configurations go for about $1,000.

All in all, Siggraph ‘05 was a not a bad place to be for editors––but only if they knew where to look.

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