>New AE Plugin: ZbornToy

>Update: This plugin takes a while to figure out, and I asked the creator a couple of questions at the Adobe Forums. I’ve added his answers to three of my questions at the end of this post. Also, there’s now some sample AE projects to get you started with the demo.

Here’s a fresh new way to composite externally rendered 3D images in After Effects. The plug-in ZbornToy takes grayscale depth maps and magically let’s you continue tweaking and change many parameters from within AE.

In some ways, the technique is similar to Walker Effects’ Channel Lighting, but with ZbornToy, not only can you change the lighting afterwards, you can also render with background refractions, cast caustic reflections onto other layers, and much more.

According to this discussion thread on ZBrushCentral, the rendering is super-quick as well.

Check out the ZbornToy gallery, and post a comment when you’ve tried the demo, I’m way too busy at the moment!

From Adobe Forums:
1. What passes do you need to render from your 3D software?

It all depends on what it is you want to do with it. ZbT does ultimatively want at least a depth sequence (Zbuffer). It should be from black(back) to white(front)! From this it will create normals and is able to render 2.5d shadows, occlusion approx. and all the transparency stuff. BUT it is still just 2.5d (relief). You can additionally, if you want, save out a surface normal sequence. Using it will skip a whole computation section of the plugin and speed thigns up again. It also will add a more accurate element, because ZbT has to recreate the normals from pixel to pixel, while the 3d application knows the normal before rendering it! If you want more complex shadows, you might want to render out a shadow pass as well. You can render out surface color pass. You can render out texture passes (glossiness, translucency). But you should first be familiar with how the shading functions, because it is a real surprise to some artsits. Since glossiness is such a major player here and does nearly destroy the need for specularity, reflectivity and a few more complex features for diffusion. You just define the glossiness and have everything activated you want (like reflections of the environment turned on). A glossiness of 0 totally diffuses both specular highlights as well as reflections (and more). A glossiness of one gives you a sharp highlight and reflections, as if the surface was very glossy (perfectly glossy). It’s logical. So even if you needed more complex passes, you just need to render out a glossiness pass for many things contemporarily necessary in other packages. That’s…about…I think that’s it. I mean, you could come up with things you might need, which is part of the fun of it all, but that’s really pretty much it.

2. Are those passes “standard” in all the major 3D packages?
Yes, they are. People just don’t understand the nature of depth images entirely. And nowadays it just has to be 16bit or floats. Depth images are really the render of the actual geomtries. What ever subdivision level you have used, how ever find the polygons are on the geometry, this is how fine it will be on the depth image. So if you were just to use the ZbornToy on it, it would really be like a flat shader! It will also make the shadows accordingly! Now because you do not need to render textures and complicated materials, which take 3d render engines minutes and potentially hours, you should truely invest the little extra in more subdivisions, which should not take the renderer much longer. I’ve worked on messiah:Studio and believed and still believe in the power of the package, because it has such brilliant implementation of subdivision. I havn’t been used to long rendertimes, thanx to it, but now I’m of course entirely messed up. ZbT uses 1 second, 2 seconds maybe 10 seconds for truely complicated stuff at 1k or higher. Maybe even 15 seconds here and there. Anyway…back to the question. It doesn’t have to be pixel displacement, although that’s nice (hehe), but it should be high enough. For the rest you can really use normal sequences to get find and smooth details. If the difference between geometry density and normal suggestion is too big, it will show and it will most likely be not as pretty. When you encounter such a thing, increase subdivisions!

3. To what problem is ZbornToy a solution? Just tweaking lights during comping, plus quick refractions?
Ah yeah…to what ARTISTIC problem is the computer a solution?
Really, I mean, really, just think about it. Think about what a master painter would have thought about. You may come to a better answer to that questions than I could. And I believe that answer is partially individual to everyone out there.
I could try even harder and squeeeez my brains to say something like: Time! (because it’s a big time saver, for a whole bunch of rendering scenarios!). I could say …eehhhtweaking lights during comping, plus quick refractions…. (hihihi..sorry). But this is nothing, really, if you begin to figure out the things you can do. That’s all.

- Jonas

>Free Download: Beautiful Earth Animation Project

>Here’s a fully animatable Earth project complete with water reflections and moving clouds. If you move the Sun to the back of the planet, you’ll even see the night lights of the major cities!

Requires Adobe After Effects 7.0 Professional or later. If you don’t have the “CC Sphere” effect installed, you need to upgrade your After Effects to a later version. I recommend the latest version, it’s not the middle ages anymore!  :)

Download the project file first and then download NASA’s free textures:
Night texture (land_ocean_ice_lights_2048.tif)
Day texture (land_ocean_ice_2048.tif)
Cloud texture (cloud_combined_2048.tif)

Post a comment if you have any questions or just to let me know what you’ve used it for (I’m curious.)

Update: I’ve relinked the NASA textures since they had been changed.
- Jonas

>Write Your Own Plugin, The Way It Should Be

>Here’s a quick video tutorial showing how easy it is to create your own plugin in Final Cut Pro, created by Shane Ross at Little Frog in High Def.

After Effects’ alternative, the animation presets can only span a single layer, and it’s hard to build a user-friendly interface to an animation preset since there aren’t any listbox effects or radio button effects you can use to expose tweakable parameters to the user. The other AE option is to use JavaScripts, but they too are relegated to a few geeks since they are so invisible in the AE GUI, and they are so hard to write since you can’t click around and record your actions like you can in Maya or even Photoshop.

In Final Cut Pro there’s a framework called FXScript which let’s you script plugins and automate the program, much like Maya’s MELScript. Both FCP and Maya let’s you record and then edit the scripts that the program generates, where as AE forces you to start with a blank document, making the barrier to writing and tweaking your own scripts much higher.

Also missing from AE is a Maya-like shelf or palette in the GUI where you quickly access your favorite scripts.

- Jonas

>"It’s Not HD" – First Moving Sample From the Red Camera

>I’ve got a notoriously cranky collegue that always finds something to complain about when it comes to HD. I’ve been trying to discuss the HVX200 and other cameras that we have, but last time he claimed that:

None of today’s cameras are HD!

When I asked what he meant, since many of the professional and even some of the prosumer cameras are now have a true HD capture sensor, but the reason was apparently that he thought they all used too much compression. I bit my tongue considering he was recently instrumental in buying over 30 DVCPRO25 and DVCPRO50 cameras (that according to his own reasoning couldn’t even be SD since apparently it’s all about the compression and not the resolution…)

I won’t even mention what the same collegue said about the Red Camera but so far his statement applies to their first test footage that has just been posted as a torrent. It’s a 15 second clip at 106 MB, 8-bit 24p QuickTime with 1024 by 512 resolution compressed with the Motion JPEG A codec. Go get the torrent and keep it seeding until we get higher resolutions to marvel at!

- Jonas

>Mention "Mac Pro" to get a Discount: Dell Desperate?

>I’ve been trying to compare the prices of the Mac Pro and a similarly configured Dell Precision, but since Dell won’t let you choose their top-of-the-line processors from their webshop, I was forced to call Dell to get a quote.

I got a very friendly salesperson on the line and I happened to mention that I was choosing between a Mac Pro and a Dell. She was eager to help me, and within an hour she had emailed me an offer. As Dell forces you to get a Quadro graphics card for their high-end workstations, the prices didn’t exactly match up, making a price comparison difficult.

When she later called me to try to finish the deal, I was reluctant since I thought the price was to high. The salesrep then told me she had already knocked off over $1.000 from the list price, since the standard prices were “ridiculous.” When I still turned down her offer, she perplexed me by saying:

Well Jonas, how much do you want to pay? Give me an offer for the machine!

So after knocking off over 20% from the list price, she still had more to give? I’m not sure if Dell is finding the Apple competition feirce, or if they are coming close to ending a fiscal period, but only two weeks earlier I managed to get over 25% discount on two lovely 24-inch monitors by calling them and asking for a lower price instead of accepting their Internet price.

- Jonas

P.S. Sorry about the missing Flash-to-broadcast interview, I’ve been crazy-busy.

>Read This and Never Turn Back: How to Subscribe via RSS

>I’m constantly amazed how many smart people are still surfing the web in the same way they did five years ago.

I used to do the same; keeping a bunch of bookmarks to sites I knew where full of good stuff and regularly clicking my way through them to look for new info. That’s until I finally got tired of trying to manage these bookmarks on several computers and having to visit sites that were never updated.

At last I discovered RSS, being able to subscribe to exciting stuff that is automatically delivered to my virtual doorstep once anything new is published.

Looking at my logs for this humble blog, it seems like very few of you are using any kind of news reader. I’ve been thinking about writing up a tutorial on RSS for beginners, but of course someone has already done it. Here’s the Oprah Winfrey explanation:
RSS the Oprah Way: "Ready for Some Stories"

- Jonas

>15 Minutes to Air: Real-time Broadcast Graphics via Flash

>In 15 minutes the Swedish election TV-show airs, and we’ll be outputting a lot of real-time graphics directly from Flash. The show will last almost six hours, so Monday will be dedicated to sleep, but I promise to finish the post about how it’s all done when I recover.

- Jonas

>QuickTime 7.1.3 Stops Flash Playback

>There are a couple of bugs in Flash Player that could potentially let bad people do bad stuff. The Flash Player updater fixes these, but the problem gets worse since the latest QuickTime 7.1.3 patch stops Flash playback.

As I promised before, I’ll post more about SVT‘s bold move to use Flash as a real-time, fullscreen broadcast playback engine for the upcoming election on Sunday.

- Jonas

>DVCPro HD Decoder for Windows

>The DVCProHD Decoder is good news for all HVX-200 users that have had to transcode the MXF files into some other codec before using it.

Via Digital Production Buzz

– Jonas

>Mac Pro with 8 Cores, Plus Benchmarks under Windows XP

>For anyone thinking about getting a Mac Pro to run both OS X and Windows XP, check out Anandtech’s follow-up article on the Mac Pro with a solution to the low harddrive performance under Windows XP, plus info on how to optimally upgrade your RAM.

They’ve also replaced the current dual-core CPUs with new, unreleased, quad-core CPUs, bringing the total count up to 8 cores on one machine, so the upgrade path looks promising!

- Jonas

Photo by spullara

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