Reported, written and edited by David Duberman
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By David Duberman
For digital video special effects at anything other than the ultra-high end, it's hard to beat Adobe After Effects. The current version, 5.5 (6 is coming soon), comes with a bevy of effects, but Adobe couldn't possibly have thought of everything. But they did think to let third parties concoct add-on effects, and Digital Anarchy has taken that ball and run with it with its line of eight AE plug-ins: Text Anarchy 2.0, Gradient!, Aurora Sky, Psunami, Geomancy, 3D Assistants, Color theory, and Microcosm. The first four are also available for Apple videographers who use Final Cut Pro.
Text Anarchy is itself a whole world of effects, comprising eight different plug-ins. The first, Cool Text, lets you apply up to five different animated effects to a layer, but before getting into those, we'll cover the settings it shares with the other plug-ins. You can enter the text or load it from a file, but some of the text effects let you use random characters instead. You can set the typeface from any TrueType or PostScript font on your system, and, in some cases, you can specify alternate fonts that the effect cycles through during the animation, randomly or in order. You can also set whether your words are to be displayed in the order you entered them or in random sequence. Other settings the text effects have in common include where on the screen the text first appears, how often the characters change, font size and rate of change, color, tracking (how spread out the letters are), exponential tracking (gradual increase or decrease in tracking toward the end of the line), kerning (space between individual pairs of characters), leading (space between lines of text), and character rotation. Many of these have additional settings to randomize them, and there's a Random Seed setting as well to change the randomization sequence.
Okay, back to Cool Text, which is essentially a powerful plug-in for animated titles. You can animate up to five of any combination of these properties: scale, rotation, opacity, color, and blur. For example, a project available from the Digital Anarchy Website starts out with blurred white text. When you play the animation, each character in turn rotates 180 degrees while swooping up in the air and then back down again as it comes into focus and its color changes to yellow and then orange. The way you specify which text an effect will affect is weird, though: you specify the position of the center character and the "width," or number of characters on either side. Why not just specify the first and last characters? You can also set, in frames, how long each character should take to get to the specified scale, rotation, etc., and how long after that it should take to return, or whether it shouldn't return at all. And the Baseline setting lets you define a vertical offset from the bottom of the characters for movement during rotation and scaling animation.
Cool Text's Scale effect lets you make a contiguous set of characters a different size from the rest of the text, which normally requires two layers in AE. The Rotate effect can work about any axis, so, for example, using the X axis gives you an effective wave animation. Also, you can set the amount of rotation higher than 360 to give multiple revolutions. Opacity lets you create such effects as a "window of transparency" sliding across the text, and Blur lets you set a negative amount for an intriguing "un-blur" effect.
The remaining Text Anarchy effects are perhaps a bit more mundane, if no less useful. Screen Text lets you scroll text across the screen in any direction at any speed, with such randomizable settings as color and space between lines and characters. Alternatively, you can cause it to display consecutive lines in the same place on the screen; you can also do this directly in AE, but with a great deal more effort. Then there's Text Matrix, which lets you move multiple streams of text across the screen with random characters and colors for that ultra-modern computer-display look. Text Grid, as its name suggests, lets you apply a grid of text to the screen; options include jittering the rows and columns for a less grid-like look, as well as flowing the text across the screen in any direction. Because characters can jump only between grid positions, the flow isn't as smooth as you might expect, but you can use Text Matrix for smoother flows. There's also a Magnify option (actually, two of them) that you can use for special effects such as passing a magnifying glass over the grid.
Spiral Text allows for animating text moving along not only spiral paths (curved or square), but also circular, triangular, and "infinity" (horizontal 8) paths, as well as several types of waves. The waves, being mathematically calculated, continue indefinitely, and the spiral paths have a "ping-pong" animation effect. What's even more special about Spiral Text is that you can set different parameters such as size and color for the start and end of the path, with the attributes changing gradually in between. Text Anarchy also gives you a TypeOn effect that makes it look as though someone is entering text from a keyboard, with options such as kerning; Text Hacker, so named because it gives the impression of a hacker decoding messages as you watch; and Font Changer … wait for it … changes fonts. So if you need to animate text cycling through various typefaces, this will do the job.
Geomancy is a set of three particle-based plug-ins that are useful for various types of animation of geometric shapes. Gridsquares, with loads of parameters, lets you shoot out particles of various shapes and colors (with optional outlines or outlines only) from an area of any size. Options include height and width, speed, birth rate, horizontal and vertical growth rate, viscosity, and spin; all of these are animatable and randomizable. The software gives you 27 different base shapes, including martini glass and lightning bolt, some of which you can randomize with a Jitter setting, but it doesn't look like you can provide your own. Despite that, Gridsquares is an impressively versatile effects generator.
By default, Gridlines, the second Geomancy plug-in, sends lines moving along a grid, changing direction randomly at intersections and curving around the corners. On a per-line basis, you can vary thickness, min/max length, lifespan, opacity, fade in/out, speed, and more. You can also set start and end colors, and blend mode (how the lines interact with each other). As with Gridsquares, the manual is older than the software (2001!), so it doesn't mention some of the parameters, such as Arbitrary Direction, which I couldn't seem get to work.
Last but not least of the Geomancy trio is Hairlines, which lets you move thin lines about on the screen. The lines follow a grid, and can be of finite or infinite length. They wave as they move, so can lend themselves to such effects as flowing water or rising smoke. You can spread them out evenly or unevenly, or compress them so they flow together. You can set the frequency and randomness of the wave form, and perhaps most interestingly, set a "stressed" color and width that the line changes to when veering away from the "normal" path. You can also use a Distortion control to make the lines seem to interact as they intersect.
After Effects isn't really a 3D graphics program, but, most likely due to numerous user requests, Adobe has added the ability to manipulate layers in three dimensions. Control is rudimentary, however; the program doesn't give you much in the way of tools for arranging and managing multiple 3D layers. Enter Digital Anarchy's 3D Assistants, which let you set up basic geometric shapes from groups of layers and manipulate them with relative ease. The shapes are spheroid, box, cylinder, a planar matrix, and a pyramid. The plug-in comes in two versions: EZ and Pro. The latter, which we review here, gives you more options for setting up the shape, and several additional utilities for distributing shapes and layers in the composition.
The 3D Assistants' tools are far too complex to go into here in any depth; the main thing to remember is that, for the most part, they work on existing 3D layers. The assistants move layers to form a 3D shape such as a cube or sphere. With these, you can set the starting location for the shape as well as its overall size. You can also use Distance settings to specify the separation between layers. The assistants also have the capability to repeat layers, creating them as duplicates of existing layers. There's much more to these; all I can tell you is that, if you use After Effects and want to create 3D effects, you need this software.
There's more software, but I've run out of time, so will have to conclude this review in a future issue of Spectrum. By way of a conclusion so far, the software doesn't come with printed manuals, but documentation in provided via information-filled PDF files with lots of images and tips. The reference manuals are good, but somewhat out of date, and could stand a proofreading pass. Some tutorials are available on the Website, but a number of links to images and support files are broken; Digital Anarchy needs to do some site maintenance.
The Digital Anarchy plug-ins offer an incredible wealth of functionality for users of After Effects and compatible programs (not all effects work in compatibles) as well as Final Cut Pro. They're not cheap, but if you're using them for your work, they're relatively inexpensive. Best of all, Digital Anarchy has created a number of favorites (example files) for some, but not all, of its plug-ins to give users a better idea of all that its software can do. If you get the software, be sure to check out the tutorials and examples on the Website.
New from Macromedia is ColdFusion MX 6.1 for Web application development. According to the developer, performance benchmarks of Macromedia ColdFusion MX 6.1 demonstrate runtime improvements of up to 172 percent over ColdFusion 5. In addition, dynamic e-mail generation has been enhanced, enabling users to deliver messages more than 50 times faster than with previous releases.
The new version, previously code-named "Red Sky," is also said to be easier to use and administer, with increased backward compatibility, improved installation and configuration tools, and updated Windows, Solaris, and Linux OS version support. It also includes a new offering of bundled installation support, providing customers with direct access to expert technical assistance.
ColdFusion MX 6.1 is available in
The entry-level edition has been renamed ColdFusion MX Standard and is targeted for organizations building basic Websites and small to medium-sized applications.
Japan-based Infinisys, Ltd. last week released Mail Magic Professional for Windows, an HTML email merge program for small businesses, organizations and groups that regularly send out large volumes of email to clients or members.
Featuring an HTML wizard that lets the user send an original HTML file as an attachment to as many as 30,000 people, the program includes over 150 templates suitable for business or personal use. Messages can be customized with information from up to 20 database fields, including name, customer number, and items last ordered. Users can also use the program to create, customize and send plain-text emails. Messages can be previewed before sending.
Along with the HTML functions, the database lets users import data from other programs or create new databases within Mail Magic. It also includes data editing, sorting and filtering functions; data check to avoid duplicate mailings or mailings to invalid addresses; and data export in CSV or tab-delineated format for use in other programs.
Infinisys also offers Mail Magic 2.0, a lighter version of the HTML email merge program designed for personal use or for businesses that send out smaller, less-frequent mailings.
Coming soon from Paris, France-based Virtools, a developer of 3D interactive media-authoring tools, is version 3.0 of its flagship product, Virtools Dev. The primary new features are:
vertex and pixel shader capabilities to improve real-time images and customize special effects, including support of DirectX 9.0
Action Manager with a customizable user interface, improving access to Virtools Scripting Language (VSL)
compatibility with NxN Alienbrain version control technology.
The Action Manager lets the user customize its interface. Designers can program certain iterative functions in VSL that are added to the Action Manager's customizable user interface. This is aimed at increasing productivity, letting users create their own dedicated tools to call and run frequently used scripts from keyboard shortcuts, and to manage commands specifically related to their work (iterative modification of media, for example).
Included with integration with the NxN Alienbrain asset management software are:
rights management, version control and an intuitive "check in/check out" procedure
access to information on each object for project archiving, recovery and management (NXN has a plug-in to link Alienbrain to Microsoft projects)
Built around Virtools Dev, the Virtools development package includes: the Physics Pack to add physical behaviors to 3D objects; the Multiuser Pack to enable the creation of shared universes; the Virtools Behavioral Server to deploy interactive content dynamically; and the Virtools VR Pack to create and experience 3D worlds on multiple screens, using any input device, and run it all on a PC cluster. Also, the Virtools AI Pack allows clients to create intelligent, autonomous characters.
Digimation recently began shipping Fractal Flow 1.1, with support for a variety of 2D platforms based on the After Effects plug-in specification. Fractal Flow supports Adobe After Effects 5.5, Digital Fusion 3.x and 4.x, DFX 3.x and 4.x, Adobe Premiere 6.5, 3ds max 4.x/5.x, and discreet Combustion 2.x on the Windows platforms. Support for Adobe’s newly announced After Effects 6 and Premiere Pro are pending.
Fractal Flow 1.1 support distortions, ripples, and waves as image-processing effects. In addition to the basic features, the plug-in also has support for lighting to add greater definition to the effects as well as masking and anti-aliasing. It also supports for the Intel Pentium 4 platform for improved performance. Licensing lets users purchase a single license and share it across a network and across any supported platform, to share a license with combustion users and After Effects users on the network.
The ManyOne Network, a subscriber-supported information service aiming to create a new Web-based 3D visual medium, recently signed a licensing agreement with GeoFusion, Inc., producer of the GeoMatrix Toolkit. GeoMatrix technology enables software developers to build interactive, realistic full-globe digital Earth and world-based applications. Features include the ability to integrate feature content overlays with GeoFusion-rendered worlds, 3D 360-degree global terrain scenes, and space-to-street-level interactive views.
ManyOne will integrate a GeoFusion client-based application with its Universal Browser caching technology to provide continuous, idle-time background updates, automatically downloading enhancements, improvements, new features and applications.
The GeoMatrix Toolkit is a C++ Software Development Kit (SDK) that provides an object-oriented Application Programmer’s Interface (API) for building Earth applications. Its development environment includes modular libraries, example applications, and documentation and sample data. Rendering and interactive features include multi-resolution support for imagery, terrain, vector, and annotation data types, rendering of multiple global and high-resolution imagery and terrain data inserts, and the ability to add content as well as customize look and feel to GeoMatrix-based digital world applications.
Dan Ritchie is a professional animator working in southern
Dan has been busy for the last six months on the latest version 1.6 of Dogwaffle, and now it's finally shipping.
Project Dogwaffle is an attempt to bring some fun and artistic fulfillment into the modern arena of image editing applications. Not content to be a mere image editor, Project Dogwaffle is “The (Un)natural Paint Program.” It includes natural-media tools as well as particle painting (Optipustics) for foliage, fur and hair effects, real-time filter effects, interactive undo, animated lens flares, and skies.
Also included is animation support with onion skin for traditional animators, animated brushes, anim painting, sequence retiming, de-interlacing, re-interlacing and more.
The University of Advancing Technology (UAT) announced the accreditation and launch of its online-only bachelor's degree program in game design.
With the video game industry surpassing the film industry in
revenues last year, companies are looking for individuals who can jump right
in. With several institutions recently launching game development programs, UAT
has been named one of the top five game design schools in the country by
Electronic Gaming Monthly and Game Pro magazines. The online program will make
this education available to those who cannot move to
Students in UAT-Online game design programs will graduate with skills in 3D modeling and animation, game documentation, Maya, 3ds max, game balance, interactive story telling, and interface development.
Apple's free iMovie software made history by tearing down the barriers to pro-quality filmmaking. Version 3 of the software offers audio enhancements, new photo effects, and integration with iTunes and iPhoto. But, notes David Pogue, the personal-technology columnist for the New York Times, "iMovie may be simple, but it isn't simplistic. Unfortunately, many of the best techniques aren't covered in the only 'manual' you get with iMovie--its sparse electronic help screens."
Punctuated with Pogue's trademark humor and strewn with information found nowhere else, "iMovie 3 & iDVD: The Missing Manual" covers every step of iMovie video production, from choosing and using a digital camcorder to burning the finished work onto DVDs. Videographers also gain a grounding in basic film technique. The new edition shows how to bring in and send out movies, pictures, and sound; for example, import audio from iTunes and images from iPhoto, and create chapter markers in movies that automatically turn into scene selection menus in iDVD. In addition, the book examines and explains all the new visual effects, audio controls, and sound effects.
For more information about the book, including table of contents, index, author bio, and samples, see: http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/imoviemm3/
Spectrum is an independent news service published every Monday for the interactive media professional community by Motion Blur Media. Spectrum covers the tools and technologies used to create interactive multimedia applications and infrastructure for business, education, and entertainment; and the interactive media industry scene. We love to receive interactive media/online-development tools and end product for review.
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- David Duberman
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