>Learn VFX from the Masters of the Universe

The world’s best supervisors including John Knoll, Scott Squires, John Dykstra, Pablo Helman, Dennis Murren, Mike Fink, Ken Ralson and Kim Libreri are part of a course in the new term at fxphd.com. Imagine learning stuff from the people behind such milestones as Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Star Wars I to VI, Wargames, Back to the Future, The Abyss, Indiana Jones, Terminator 2 & 3, The Matrix, Pirates of the Caribbean and many more of the films that have shaped the last decades.

You already know how much I can recommend fxphd, and the new term is even better than the last one. Make sure you look at the overview movie.

Here’s a complete list of available courses. The term starts on October 13 2008, but you can join later and have access to all the classes you’ve signed up for.

I’ve been swamped with work, so I still have a couple of courses left from the last term to watch (a tip: convert the classes so you can watch them on a portable media player of your choice; I watch classes in bed while waiting for the kids to fall asleep.)

This new term I’ll be taking the DIT course, the new RED course and either Mark Christiansen’s AE course or Tim Clapham’s AE+C4D course. I wish I had time to dig into the Fusion course as well, but we’ll see how it goes.

Oh, if you enter humlan in the Referring Member field on the signup page, I’ll get an extra class, which would be really nice. Thanks in advance!

- Jonas

>Watch and Embed YouTube Clips in High Quality

>The term “High Quality” has to be taken with a bucket of salt when we’re talking about YouTube, but there’s an easy way to at least lessen the compression artifacts, which is especially useful for full-screen viewing. Even a lot of clips that don’t have the “Watch in High Quality” link on the page actually exists in a less compressed version.

If you are watching the clip at YouTube.com, just add &fmt=18 at the end of the URL. The easiest way to do this is the create a bookmark in your browser’s toolbar. Just bookmark any site and then replace the URL of the bookmark’s Location with this simple JavaScript: javascript:window.location+=”&fmt=18″;
Every time you’re at YouTube you can just click the bookmark to see the clip with less compression (if it’s available, otherwise the standard clip will play.)

See the difference for yourself:

If you embed videos, you can do the same thing and even embed a larger version, but you have to append &ap=%2526fmt%3D18 to both URL’s in the code, plus change the sizes in both places to 480 by 360.

You can also watch YouTube videos with QuickTime embedded player if you’d like, and easily download the clips (if you have QuickTime Player Pro.)

- Jonas

Tip of the hat to My Digital Life and Tobias Lind.

>ProRes 422 Codec Finally Cross-platform (Sorta…)

>Before you get all excited about the Apple ProRes QuickTime Decoder 1.0 for Windows, let’s remember that you can only render to ProRes 422 if you’re on a Mac and have Final Cut Studio 2 installed. If you don’t you’ll be in the same boat as the Windows users and will need to install the Apple ProRes QuickTime Decoder 1.0 for Mac.

So, for true cross-platform goodness you’ll still be better off with the free (and in size and quality similar or better) Avid DNxHD codec that also supports an alpha channel.

ProRes 422 White Paper

- Jonas

>After Effects CS4 Will Not Work on PPC Macs

>The next version of After Effects (CS4) is dropping support for PPC Macs. While this may upset some people, I think it’s better to spend development effort on new features and an improved software rather than supporting legacy hardware.

A cheap PC or Mac that will run AE just as fast or faster than an old top-of-the-line PPC Mac costs under $600. If you don’t want to upgrade your hardware you’ll need to stay on After Effects CS3 (but remember it won’t be sold anymore once CS4 is shipping.)

Read more about the reasoning behind focusing on the newer platforms on Product Manager Michael Coleman’s blog.

- Jonas

Photo by Dan Dickinson

>Importing RED (.r3d) Files Into After Effects CS3 and Premiere Pro CS3

>UPDATE 2: It’s been a long wait, but it now looks like the plugins will be released on Nov 20th 2008.

UPDATE: Here’s a sneak peak from Adobe with RED including workflow videos.

According to Jim Jannard of RED, they will soon release a plug-in that will let users of Adobe After Effects CS3 and Adobe Premiere Pro CS3 import the raw files from the RED camera(s).

- Jonas

>Building a Pro Camera Crane / Jib, part 1


I was once told that my favorite interest seemed to be collecting hobbies. That may be truer than I’d like to admit, and for the last six months I’ve added yet a new project to all my previous (unfinished) tinkerings.

I have a Basic Stamp micro-controller and USB programming board left over from another project that I never finished. One day I realized that a fun use for it would be to build a joystick-controlled pan/tilt camera head that could be placed on the end of a camera crane.

After 30 minutes with a search engine I realized that buying a ready-made crane was out of the question, as the ones I found cost several thousand dollars. Working at a TV broadcaster I have first-hand access to professional jibs and saw that they weren’t as mechanically complicated as I had initially thought. I imagined the hard part would be controlling the camera head with a joystick. As the build have progressed I have come to understand that I had seriously underestimated the amount of mechanical work required.

My initial plan was to built a jib with a total length of 3 meter, based on that I found two light and sturdy metallic pipes (25 mm in diameter) in a local hardware store. These would be used as a parallelogram so that the camera head would always be vertical no matter how the jib was raised or lowered. With an arm of that length it would also be easy to fit the jib inside a car.

As the project has progressed I’ve abandoned these pipes for two reasons. Firstly I’ve found it hard to fasten the six ball-bearings to these pipes, since they aren’t very sturdy and I wouldn’t be able to make holes in them without weakening them too much. And secondly, I got megalomania and realized I wanted a longer arm that could still be stuffed into a car, so I decided to abandon the cheap pipes and go with two 3 meter long pieces of rectangular aluminum tube that could be assembled into a 5 meter crane. An added bonus is that the length of the arm can be shortened if necessary.

Using a single arm means that I need to use two pulleys with a wire between them. One pulley will be fastened to the camera head and the other to the tripod mount.

Without a sturdy tripod as a base, the jib would become wobbly and unstable. Luckily I found a great Manfrotto tripod with a fluid video head and detachable dolly wheels on Swedish ebay. You can’t complain about the price: $200 including shipping!

To attach the arm to the tripod I’ve bought a heavy construction bracket used for securing wooden beams. All I had to do was to chop off the protruding flanges and drill a hole for the tripod mounting screw. I’ll even be able to use the pre-drilled holes to fasten the axle!

The controller is housed in the clear acrylic case from an iPod Shuffle and is made up of a 9V battery, a Basic Stamp BS2p24 and a Pololu DC Motor Controller. Power to the motors come from an external 6V lead-acid battery that will be used as part of the counter-weight on the arm. The joystick is from a Sony PlayStation 2 and I’m using three potentiometers that will be used as separate pan and tilt speed adjustments plus a zero-point sensitivity adjustment. The code is still pretty rough, but I’ve added a routine that sets the zero-point of the joystick at boot time. I’ll publish the source-code when everything is working, if anyone’s interested.

As a camera I’m using my Canon HV-20 with a RedRock Micro M2 lens adapter with a used follow-focus (thanks to ebay again!) Unfortunately the HV-20 doesn’t have a LANC port so I’m using a 5 meter long optical fiber to send the IR remote signal from the back of the jib. A bit of a hack, but this is a rebel-style jib after all!

Yes, I know that with only one joystick I don’t yet have focus control, but based on previous experience I’ve chosen to complete version 1.0 before adding any more features. The motor controller can only be connected to two motors, but with my follow-focus I can easily attach a servo to the gear and control that directly from the Basic Stamp.

- So what will it be used for? you ask. Well, now we get into serious denial-territory. I’ve tried to justify the time and money spent so far with being able to sell really cool shots at iStockPhoto from our upcoming trip to the Norwegian coast , but lately I’ve come to terms with the fact that I just need the challenge.
I’ll keep posting with more pictures as I get closer to final assembly!
- Jonas

>Even More Great VFX Courses

>I’ve been on a long vacation, so I haven’t had a chance to write about the new term. I won’t bore regular readers who already know how much I can recommend fxphd.

Here’s a complete list of available courses. The term started on July 14 2008, but you can join later and have access to all the classes you’ve signed up for.

If you want to know more about fxphd, take a look at the fxphd Tour Movie. There’s also a great FAQ.

I think I’ll choose AFX302 – After Effects Masters, C4D202 – Cinema4D and After Effects in Production and DRK301 – VFX and Indie Films.

Oh, if you enter humlan in the Referring Member field on the signup page, I’ll get an extra class, which would be really nice. Thanks in advance!

- Jonas

>Phun and Typography 2.0

>Not enough distractions? Here’s a couple of ways to seriously kill your productivity:

Phun: Real-time Physics Sandbox

FontStruct: Online Typography Editor

And when you’re done, make sure you watch Animator vs. Animation part 1
and Animator vs. Animation part 2.
- Jonas

>What happens in Vegas doesn’t stay there

>Stuck at home? Me too…

Here’s how to keep tabs on NAB. I’ll keep on updating the links as we go…

Basically, if you want the latest as it happens, get a Twitter.com account and follow the people below!

If you are actually at NAB, the nice people at fxguide.com has written an fxguided Tour: Getting the Most Out of NAB

Oh, if someone could please record this key-note, I’d be a happy camper.

What sites did I miss? Write a comment and I’ll add them…

- Jonas (also on Twitter since today)

Image by Clinton Steeds

>Don’t Miss the New Term at fxphd.com

>Regular readers know I’m a big fan of fxphd.com and that you can’t get any more current and professional training even for ten times the price. I’ve been a member from the start, and the things I’ve picked up from the past seven terms come in useful every day in my work.

I’m hoping to shoot a documentary in the fall, and can with confidence say “I really think we should rent a Red One for this shoot” based on that I know I have both fxphd’s training and forum discussions to lean on for figuring out the workflow. Priceless…

Last term Tim Clapham held a great course on motion graphics in After Effects, and this term he’s in charge of a Cinema 4D course. And the creator of 250 HD effects shots in 5 months holds an After Effects course.

I really enjoyed the Photography for VFX course last term which is repeated this term, and I am happy to see a SynthEyes course that I will definitely take.

Here’s a complete list of available courses. The term starts on April 14 2008, but you can join later and have access to all the classes you’ve signed up for.

If you want to know more about fxphd, take a look at the fxphd Tour Movie. There’s also a great FAQ and the Orientation Week movie (torrent link) that covers all the upcoming classes.

Oh, if you enter humlan in the Referring Member field on the signup page, I’ll get an extra class, which would be really nice. Thanks in advance!

- Jonas

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