Meeting Summary

Tuesday, March 16, 2004
LA Film School

LINEUP: Motion Capture for Lord of the Rings / Character Animation / Final Draft / GenArts plug-ins for After Effects

We had another solid crowd on hand for our March meeting. Many thanks to all who came out to attend. We began with our informal Q&A/gossip session. Topics included issues with Apple's G5 (video board problems, a noisy audio out, fan problems and issues with the front FireWire port). Also mentioned were issues reading Microsoft's variation on MPEG formats, VCDs and a new two-layer DVD+RW format.

Final Draft scriptwriting software

Frank Colin, VP of Product Development for Final Draft, was our first presenter of the evening. Frank came down to show Final Draft AV 2.0.5, a program for creating dual-column audio/video scripts. Frank explained that while other programs can do a two-column format, it's difficult to edit them and simultaneously keep sections of a script aligned. You can also instantly turn off the video column for showing just the dialogue. Frank showed how the latest version exports to Apple's Keynote, allowing you to story-board with images. Frank also showed a preview of Final Draft 7 which will allow you to split the screen and have one side contain index cards for notes. Lastly, he demo'd the programs ability to speak the script back to you via Apple's Speech functions. Upgrades will be $59.00 for the first month, and then $89.00 thereafter. Frank donated copies of both Final Draft and Fina Draft A/V as door prizes.

Motion Capture and Motion Tracking on The Matrix and Lord of the Rings

David Bawel and Clark Graff of Motion Works gave us an in-depth look at the state-of-the-art in motion tracking and motion capture (mocap). David began by explaining that he'd been doing this from the time where mocap "sucked" until now. He noted that his background in character work gave him some initial disdain for mocap, but now he sees that it's very complimentary to traditional keyframe animation. David and Clark began by discussing the differences between the two large projects - The Matrix trilogy and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King - on which they'd recently worked. With the Matrix it was a very controlled environment, but for The Lord of the Rings it was the exact opposite.

For a huge fight scene in The Matrix Reloaded they constructed the largest mocap rig at the time (50 x 50 x 35 feet). This rig, they explained, became their personal torture chamber for various actors.

For The Lord of the Rings it was a different situation entirely. Here they were doing mocap during principal photography - a first, and a challenge to be sure. One of their primary concerns was that the lights used by their system not pollute the light that the cameras were seeing (requiring a light wavelength longer than visible light). In addition, they had to shoot from farther away since they were on actual sets. This resulted in many burned-out light elements since they had to crank them up so high. The pair then showed some of their raw footage with actor Andy Sirkis who played the character Gollum in The Lord of the Rings. Sirkis acted the part wearing a suit which allowed them to capture his motion and apply it to a fully CG character. David noted that by doing this direct replacement and capturing during principal photography you can achieve incredible realism. For example, in a scene where the Gollum character grabs another actor's shirt, you see the fabric rumple. This is because the original actor was, of course, really grabbing the shirt.

David and Clark also talked about their work in real-time mocap for animated television shows and how they are now streaming multiple characters into Maya in real time. They also discussed the possibility of markerless capture, but noted that, realistically, that's a way off.

Bio: David Bawel has been supervising visual effects for over ten years. Clark Graff has more earrings than David and has been involved in motion capture for over seven years. David was Facial Motion Capture Supervisor for Matrix Revolutions and the Enter the Matrix video game and Motion Capture Supervisor for The Return of the King. Clark was Facial Motion Capture Producer for Matrix Revolutions and the Enter the Matrix video game and Main Unit Motion Capture Producer for The Return of the King.


In the lobby folks checked out the latest toys from DV411, and grabbed snacks and beverages provided courtesy of Discreet and Red Bull.

3D Character Animation

Todd Grimes of Evil Plan was next up and showed us the other side of character animation. He explained that he started his career in traditional animation but began working with the Commodore Amiga in the very early days of 3D. While he really wanted to do CG characters, those early tools were not up to it. When the tools got better, while they were excited that they were able to do character animation in a computer, the first results were only "okay" and quickly became unacceptable because the motion created in the computer just looked "wrong."

EndoMorph Mixer

To make it "right" Todd explained that he approaches his work in the same way he would with traditional animation. He listens to the audio and sets up key poses for the characters. Once the key poses are set and work well with the audio, he goes back and tweaks the interpolation that the computer originally came up with. As an example he showed some work done for a Bozo the Clown TV spot. He showed how he makes extensive use of easing in or out of keyframes and will even significantly distort the figure to create arcs of movement that give it the "cartooney" look he's after. He demo'd in Lightwave but noted that most of the character tools are similar in all packages. He explained that he always works at 24 fps, and rarely uses motion blur as this more accurately replicates traditional hand-animated cartoons.

archery image clown image

Bio: Todd is an experienced Hollywood animator and co-founder of Evil Plan Studios. He has worked at numerous studios including Threshold Entertainment, Nickelodeon, Omation, and Warner Brothers Home Video. His production credits include Hershey's Really Big 3D Show stereoscopic ride, FoodFight!, Edward Fudwupper Fibbed Big (a short based on Berkeley Breathed stories) and Butt Ugly Martians. In early 2003, Todd formed a production company with a foundation built on character animation. Todd Grimes Productions focuses on the development of intellectual properties for original content as well as existing licenses.

Todd has done training DVDs on the subject of CG character animation for Desktop Images and donated a set of these as a door prize. Thanks Todd!

GenArts Sapphire plug-ins for After Effects, Combustion & others

MGLA co-host Trish Meyer was our final presenter and showed us the recently released GenArts Sapphire set of plug-ins for Adobe After Effects. She began by explaining that while the set was new to AE, these plug-ins have been around for a while and are a staple for Flame users.

Trish went through the package, demo'ing a number of her favorite plug-ins. First, she showed a handy monochrome filter that allows you to determine the influence of each RGB channel. She also noted that every effect has a brightness control built-in. Next she demo'd some of the excellent blur plugs as well as camera shake and ripple effects. Other noteworthy effects were the numerous lighting plug-ins such as Edge Rays and various star glow and lens flare effects. The package also includes some a robust film grain plug-in which can separate fields and remove pulldown. Even the Transition plug-ins included some unusual and useful effects.

The entire package consists of 175 plug-ins distributed as four boxed sets. The sets are $600 each, the entire collection goes for $1600. Trish noted that while this may seem comparatively expensive, she found the plug-ins extremely stable and very useful. They are serialized to a single machine, but do allow for network rendering. All plug-ins are 16-bit, dual-processor enabled. Trish encouraged everyone to download the fully-featured timed demo from the GenArts website.

Demo Reels

We had time for a couple of demo reels. The first was a compilation of work from students at Otis, introduced by Harry Mott. Contact information follows:

Otis Compilation

Will Harrison

If you'd like to show a demo reel at a future meeting please contact MGLA co-host Warren Heaton at the beginning of the meeting. Please keep the running time under 3 minutes, and make sure your sources are copyright cleared and properly attributed. Formats we can play include DVD, DigiBeta, BetaSP, VHS, miniDV, and DVCAM. Please bring your contact information so we can list you in the meeting summary.

And again, thanks to Adobe's sponsorship of MGLA this year, admission was free!

Chris, Trish, Lucky, Tony, Warren, and Marshal
Your MGLA co-hosts

Thanks for Lucky Westfall for compiling this summary. Thanks also to Dale Ellis for coordinating drinks and snack for this month's meeting.


Door prizes for the March 2004 meeting were provided by:
GenArts buttonArtbeats button
Final Draft buttonDesktop Images buttonZoom In button
Discreet_buttonCMP_Books_buttonTotal Training button

Many thanks to those individuals and companies who donated prizes for our door prize giveaway. The prize total for this meeting was nearly $3000:

* your choice of any of the four sets of Sapphire plug-ins for After Effects, courtesy of GenArts ($599 value)

* Alien Atmospheres stock footage library, courtesy of Artbeats ($499 value)

* a complete set of the Character Modeling and Animation DVD training series by Todd Grimes, courtesy of Desktop Images ($315 value)

* two sets of Adobe Photoshop CS training DVDs by Deke McClelland, courtesy of Total Training ($299 value each)

* a copy of Final Draft 6 screenwriting software, courtesy of Final Draft ($200 value)

* a copy of Final Draft AV 2 scriptwriting software, courtesy of Final Draft ($179 value)

* Ignition Advanced Training for Combustion (Volume 1; 4 DVD set), courtesy of Discreet ($150 value)

* a copy of DMTS Inside Adobe Encore DVD training DVD, courtesy of Magnet Media ($99 value)

* Adobe Creative Suite from Design to Delivery training by Steve Holmes, courtesy of Total Training ($99 value)

* a copy of Creating Motion Graphics Volume 2: Advanced Techniques by MGLA co-hosts Trish & Chris Meyer ($60 value)

* a copy of the just-released Zoom-In Issue 4 media tutorial & interview DVD, courtesy of Magnet Media ($56 value)


Refreshments sponsored by Discreet
Powerbook provided by Apple
Wireless mics provided by ProMax