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Hey Everybody, My blog was hacked and not in a Creative Workflow way, so things are in a little disarray after restoring and not being sure what files were compromised. It may take a while to sort things out so thanks for your patience. Dale 

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Retrospect Orphaned?

Around Macworld time this year, there were rumors floating around that there were problems at the company that produces a pretty key piece of software for a lot of Mac production shops. The product? Retrospect. Retrospect is back up software. I’ve had a long 17 year love-hate relationship with Retrospect and my opinions have had the resultant peaks and valleys, so I wasn’t sure what to think of the rumors. There were initially some denials of problems with the program but now, it looks like Larry Zulch, the founder of Dantz the orginal parent company of Retrospect has left the company.

I’ve been here before, with an investment in a technology that seems to be going away. I tend to take a pragmatic approach as much as possible. Things usually don’t fall apart right away, but as each new software update is added to the puzzle you start to lose functionality. So you have to start your migration strategy early. I first do an inventory of the current technology landscape and what options are available. If there is a clear migration path (hint to backup vendors: If you can read a Retrospect catalog , reverse-engineer the tape format and make it seemless I’ll be the first in line) I’ll take that path. If not, it usually involves some sort of dual platform support until the first technology platform fades into the background. This path is less ideal because that first platform becomes so archaic, Jazz Disks anyone?, that you end up having ancient workstations dedicated to that format taking up valuable studio space. If the data is important, I’ve found that it makes sense to bite the bullet and migrate to the new format.

Either way, none of this is fun. I don’t have any definitive answers of what is the right direction to take, but I’ll be posting some of the information I find out as I do the research and see what’s out there. Feel free to leave comments about any information you have about good options for small and medium sizes businesses with the heavy back-up requirements that digital studios face.

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Apple Leopard Tech Talk Atlanta

I try really hard to be platform agnostic in the work that I do. When somebody feels more comfortable with a given tool or piece of hardware, productivity gains are likely to dwarf the costs of acquisition and support. That said, I’ve always been a bit of an Apple fan boy. Recently, I’ve also started to do some programming in Apple’s Cocoa environment and, despite the fairly steep initial learning curve, I’ve been amazed at how quickly a single developer can develop useful tools on the platform.

So, I was primed to enjoy the Apple Leopard tech talk as it rolled its way through the last stop of a 9 city North American tour. I can’t go into a lot of detail because of the NDA, but I left really inspired by the tools that will shortly be available. Apple’s frameworks make it really easy to develop compelling applications where they do so much of the work for you and the developer is able to concentrate on the parts that make the application interesting for his or her niche.

I also think it’s likely if you’re supporting Mac environments that you should plan on quick adoption of Leopard. There are some really compelling technologies that will be Leopard only and my gut says that a lot of must-have applications will start to appear that will require a Leopard install. Apple has traditionally had a quick adoption curve, especially compared to the folks toiling away in Redmond, but I bet it will be an even quicker ramp up with this release.

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Mark Christiansen’s New Blog

When asked to recommend an After Effects book, I’m quick to reach for Adobe After Effects 7.0 Studio Techniques by Mark Christiansen. Mark has a really in depth knowledge of After Effects and is a master at explaining difficult concepts in an in-depth, but approachable manner. So, I was excited to see that he has started a blog called flowseeker.

Mark writes…

This space will contain thoughts on matters relating to my book – digital cinema and visual effects compositing in particular – as well as whatever other miscellany takes hold. Paradoxically, it’s the way that writing these monologues/blogs puts people more in touch with other people that compels me to do it. By all means, especially if you liked the book, let me know what you want to hear more about. …

I’m really looking forward to following what Mark has to say. I’m sure it will be insightful, just like his book.

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Interface Gripes: Is your After Effects document dirty?

After Effects 7 has debuted to decidedly mixed reviews at work. While most folks are excited about the new features, there is a general unease with the new interface. It’s as if we’re dealing with a new Adobe OS. I think as we get a few projects under our belt the unease will dissipate a bit especially since we have such a history with the application and it is strong in features and implementation. My personal opinion is that user feedback will moderate the interface in future versions and I want to point out one example of a platform specific UI cue that is an example of why you might want to not make an application too uni-platform.

A dirty document in OS X is a document with unsaved changes. There is a clear way to indicate this. Here are a few examples in some Adobe apps.

In Photoshop, a document before making a change

A clean document in Adobe Photoshop

In Photoshop, after making a change

A dirty document in Adobe Photoshop

In Illustrator, a document before making a change

A clean document in Adobe Illustrator

In Illustrator, after making a change

A dirty document in Adobe Illustrator

Notice the filled in bubble on the left? Now let’s do the same thing in After Effects.

In After Effects, a document before making a change

A clean document in Adobe After Effects

In After Effects, after, umm, making a change

A dirty document in Adobe After Effects

In After Effects we lose an OS X interface cue. My guess, is this is an oversight from creating the interface with non-standard GUI widgets and that’ll get fixed in a later verson. But it is a great example of what happens when you try to go it alone in interface land, especially with Mac users who are a notoriously finicky lot. So, when I talk to Adobe developers, I’ll be sure to put in my voice for letting each platform retain its own individual personality.

btw…I am aware of the asterisk next to the file name cue, but this isn’t an either/or situation, so many interface cues are practically subliminal, and if a quick glance to the left corner doesn’t give me what I’m looking for, I’ll just think that it isn’t Mac like without really knowing why.

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Designer, developer, let’s call the whole thing off

I’ve always been skittish around After Effects expressions, which when you think about it really doesn’t make much sense. I’m pretty good at programming and I get the concepts, so why the discomfort? Recently, I was adding some expressions to scripts and found myself really enjoying the process. I thought about it a bit, and it wasn’t the expressions I was skittish about, it was the entering the expressions that was making me uncomfortable. The one line data entry, the hierarchical function list, even the pickwhip with its cool little animation feels utterly confining and claustrophobic. What I was struggling with was a programming interface developed for use by designers.

And it’s not just After Effects. Flash has had that same kind of push and pull between developers and designers. From the hideous Normal/Expert mode to the pick your identity at startup evolution, every version seems to take another stab at the right mix. Even tools that have evolved into developer focused applications continue to show the roots of the struggle. I wince when I watch my Filemaker Pro using friends developing Repetitive Stress Injuries from the legacy programming environment, which amounts to a 400px x 200px bit of screen real estate, filled with buttons. Ok, I exaggerate, but still.

I’ve always been the type of guy who pinballs between the left and right sides of the brain. I’ve got a design background, but I like to program and end up working on the technical side of projects a fair bit. I think this is pretty common these days, Jen deHann coined the term deseloper (not much here right now) to describe that combination of designer and developer. What happens sometimes when I have my developer cap on in a design tools environment is a sort of cognitive dissonance between the ideas I want to express and the program interface.

I think this happens from a misguided understanding of what being a designer is all about. Design is not about being able to twiddle buttons and graphics, but about problem solving. Some of the most amazing problem solvers and process experts I know are designers. There has to be a better toolkit for letting designers express their ideas. There is a term used in computer science about a languages expressiveness or its ability to let the programmer express her ideas easily and without hinderance. I think there is a lot of room for design tools to develop that expressiveness outside of the gui toolkit. It’s obvious from the experimentation in interfaces within design applications that there is an embrace of the problem I’m trying to articulate.

My main hope is that there continues to be a flowering of cross discipline avenues of exploration. I hear similar complaints from my developer friends who feel like they are pushed away from creative solution making. I think there will always be folks who are more comfortable in a more analytical setting as well as others who embrace the more feeling parts of the Myers Briggs spectrum, but there’s also a fertile middle ground for us deselopers to explore.

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MPEG Streamclip, a great little free utility for batch format conversions

As I alluded to here, I’m in the middle of a really big HDCam SR job right now. Lots and Lots of data. Part of the job involves batch format conversions. The kind of stuff I usually do with Cleaner, Compressor, or even Batch Export in FCP. For a number of reasons, each of these stepped up to the plate and wiffed. Limitations in cropping, some quality issues, some conversion time issues, etc.. I don’t want to be too critical or specific about my problems with each program because each of these products is great in its own way with individual strengths and weaknesses and our issues were pretty job specific.

What I do want to do however is rave about a great little freeware app from Squared 5 called MPEG Streamclip. When we started to have issues with our usual suite of software we looked around for some alternatives and ended up here. I must admit I was skeptical that it’d really be able to help us on a job of this scope. I’d played with earlier versions of this software when I was doing some HDV conversion and thought it was a pretty cool little utility, but the latest version is really fast, has really stunning quality options, does batch processing, is available in Mac and Windows versions and is free. Really nice work and it looks like the developer is adding features and tweaking the interface at a nice clip.

I’ve crashed a couple of times during heavy batches and it’s a little bit of a concern putting complete faith in a product where the support path is unclear, but download the app and see if it meets your needs. Looks like it’s going to really help in a pinch.

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Apple Pro Application Update 2006-01, must have for people working with FCP and After Effects.

Apple released Pro Application Update 2006-01 this morning. It’s mostly a bug fix update, but a couple of important things in the release notes caught my eye.

Uncompressed 422

Uncompressed 422 delivers a fix for changes in color-space and/or gamma when moving clips between Final Cut Pro and Adobe After Effects and addresses a codec issue leading to drawing errors in 16bpc After Effects projects. It also fixes discrepancies found between former AltiVec and the current Intel (scalar) code and delivers some performance improvements on Intel-based Macs.

This update is required for customers using Final Cut Pro 5.1 and recommended for customers using any of the Final Cut Studio 5.1 applications and Shake 4.1

This is a big deal if you work with FCP and After Effects. I’ve been chasing my tail with color shifts between these two apps for too long and I’m hoping this takes care of it once and for all.



FxPlug delivers a single image-processing plug-in architecture for pro applications.

This one has been out there for a while in Motion, but it’s good to see a cocoa plugin architecture develop for FCP which is a big deal if your a cocoaHead developer and great as a user because you get accelerated GL graphics and things like Core Image and Core Video. Combined with the rumblings about the Shake price reduction and rolling in to some unnamed future compositing app there seems to be a lot of rumblings behind the scenes. I just wish Apple wasn’t so secretive in announcing their plans so I could, I don’t know, plan and stuff. That’s why you get all of the crazy rumors sites, etc. and it’s kind of fun if your just a casual user, but it’s much less fun if your trying to figure out what your next steps should be. And while I’m wishing, I wish they’d publish the PRODataInterchange cocoa protocol as a public spec.

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Adobe After Effects SDK updated to 7.0r2

So it looks like Adobe has updated the After Effects SDK to version 7.0r2. Why should you care? Well if you’re a developer and on the Mac this is the first version with Xcode sample projects. So if you’ve been putting off developing plugins because you didn’t want to buy Code Warrior now’s your chance to dive in. I want to do some timed tests between AEGP plugins and scripting and see if it’s worth my time to dive into the minutia of C and C++. Also looks like the Windows side runs in Microsoft Visual Studio .NET 2005, though I’m less sure if you gain .NET benefits here.

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Using HDCAM SR as an acquisition format

We’ve been doing HD work at Primal Screen for a few years now. Both for delivery to fledgling HD Networks like Animania and as an acquisition format for live and studio shoots. Like any endavor there has been a bit of a learning curve. My biggest takeaway that I’d like to share is to treat your acquisition and delivery formats differently.

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