sampleImage() is fun

sampleImage() is a new layer method expression introduced in After Effects CS3 that allows you to access a layer’s color pixel data. Combined with sophisticated particle systems like Particular, I think we’re likely to see some really interesting designer driven explorations a la Processing, but with more of a tinkering, let’s try things out approach.

I’ll have more scripts, and automated stuff as I explore further, but until then you might want to take a look at theĀ reference and examples that Dan Ebberts is posting at the brilliant MotionScript.com

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Automator Action: Final Cut Pro XML to Tape Log via Markers

I’ve never spent much time with Apple’s Automator technology. Which is a little strange, considering how interested I am in automation and workflow technologies. I think some of it is a sense that it seems inaccessible, it doesn’t seem clear how to make things generalizable enough to be useful, and at least part of it is my aversion to Applescript as a scripting language That said, it’s clear that there is a lot of power available with Automator and I’ve started to dip my toe in the water and seeing If I can learn a few things and maybe create something useful.

This is the first fruit of my experimentation. I often need to make a tape log of a sequence in Final Cut Pro, and a quick way to get the sequence details into a text file could be useful. The most approachable way to address the problem seems to be with markers. You can store all of the values I need for a tape log in a marker – item number, name, description, length and the starting timecode. So, that’s how we’ll approach it.

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Apple Sample Code: QTKitTimeCode

Apple posted some sample code demonstrating how to extract timecode from Quicktime files using the objective-c based QTKit only dropping down into the low level C API when “absolutely required”.

I’ve found myself deep into the Quicktime API before and the modernization of the Quicktime architecture can’t come too soon. Unfortunately, digging deeper into the sample code, it’s clear that it’s going to be slow-sledding before we get NSString *timeCodeTime = [movie tcTime]; or some such. Anyway, it’s good to have this info from the definitive source, it’s taken a bit of research to find before now.

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Restricting text entry to a certain number of lines in Actionscript

This one deviates a bit from my usual video workflow stuff, but I’ve been writing a lot of Actionscript and spent too much time researching this topic without a lot of great answers.

It’s surprisingly hard to restrict text entry to a limited number of lines in an input text field in Flash. You can restrict characters, but unless you’re using a monospaced font it can produce inconsistent results and you have to make sure you catch the return and enter keys so that you don’t scroll into oblivion. The following code simply replaces the return and enter key with a space and uses an onChange handler to make sure we don’t exceed maxscroll, which in this case is hard coded at 3 lines. It works pretty well and handles some edge cases like copy/pasting by restricting the paste to just visible characters in the text field.

textEntry.onChanged = function(){
     var symbol:String = "\r";
     var symbolPos:Number = textEntry.text.indexOf(symbol);

     if (symbolPos > -1) {
		textEntry.replaceText(symbolPos, symbolPos + 1, ' ');
	} else {
		//trace("symbol '"+symbol+"' not found.");
	}
						
	for(i=0; i< textEntry.text.length;  i++){
		
		textEntry.scroll = textEntry.maxscroll;

		if(textEntry.bottomScroll > 3){
			  textEntry.text = textEntry.text.slice(0, textEntry.text.length-1);
		}	
	}


}

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New Apple Sample Code – TimelineToTC

Apple posted some interesting sample code called TimelineToTC that takes a Sequence XML file and returns a basic edl file of the selected attributes. Not very full featured, as is typical of Apple sample code, but is a good starting place for someone looking to do conversion work or a more full featured edl. Worth a look especially for a nicely packaged function/method called FormatTimecode which takes a frame count and returns a formatted time code string accounting for drop and non-drop frame sequences. handy.

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Exporting Camera Data from After Effects to Cinema 4D

Paul Tuersley has written a script for exporting camera data from After Effects to Cinema 4D. Paul has also written an extensive brain dump on his process of writing the script and it’s a great example of how research and development of scripts and tools can take on a life of its own. I’ve talked to a couple of people lately who feel that scripting is just beyond their reach, but I hope by reading posts like Paul’s, folks realize that a bit of tenacity and letting a problem gestate and get under your skin until you “just have to solve this” goes a long way to developing really useful tools.

Paul was also kind enough to send me his upgrades and update to my Auto Rig Script for After Effects. I’ve posted his version of the script and I hope to make his changes permanent once I can get some field testing of it working out in all situations. So, I’d appreciate it if you’d download it and give me feedback if you have any issues.

Great work Paul!

UPDATE 04.24.2007

Paul posted a project (riggedCam_noXYZ.zip) set up to animate the null instead of the camera that will allow the use of motion paths addressed in the comments below. It also sounds like Paul has a lot of ideas about new features and is looking for feedback at the thread he’s set for the script at aenhancers.

UPDATE 06.09.2007
Paul has updated his script to version 1.1

Paul writes…
I’ve posted a new version of that AEtoC4D script that exports normal
AE cameras, and more.

AE to C4D

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Final Cut Pro to After Effects Scripting without the hassle

With the release of Automatic Duck as a free product there really isn’t a great reason to use this script except as an example of XML parsing and Comp creation from parsed properties. For general FCP to AE workflows I’d recommend downloading Automatic Duck Pro Import AE 5.0. Depending on what happens with FCPX and After Effects I may write new tools for import from FCPX.

One of the most popular pieces of content here is Moving Between Final Cut Pro and After Effects: The Scripting Option. I think the idea of using scripting to move between Final Cut Pro and After Effects resonated with people working in a production environment.

Unfortunately, the post was more of a tech demo of the kinds of things that were possible with After Effects scripting and less of a practical demonstration for non-technical users. I still urge non-technical folks to dip their toes into the scripting waters, it can be really rewarding, but the challenges presented in “rolling your own” in this situation may be a bit much. So, I decided to write a small application to provide a way for readers who don’t want to deal with the scripting hassle to use some of the techniques I described in the article.

FCPToAE (working title) is an application for OSX 10.4 and above designed to create a .jsx file from a Final Cut XML file for import into After Effects without the hassle of scripting the different parts yourself. Read the rest of this entry »

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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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Using Apple Motion with Adobe After Effects

Looks like Apple’s chocolate is in Adobe’s peanut butter, or is it the other way around? Import Motion Files Into Adobe After Effects is an Apple tutorial on how to bring Motion files into After Effects.

The cool thing about Motion files is that the project format is a well formed XML file that Quicktime understands how to render. That’s how you get cool products like Digital Heaven’s Automotion. If you’ve got more of a DIY bent, that also opens up a lot of possibilities for creating cool projects via XML transforms and scripting. More to come as I explore some of the possibilities.

Update 03.08.2007

While I was researching, it looks likes the folks at motionsmarts have already been hard at work with cool scripts for Motion. After Effects Position to Motion Position script looks particularly useful for the kind of stuff I do.

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Apple Online Seminar – Creating a Rich Media Podcast with Final Cut Pro

Apple is hosting an online seminar on creating rich media podcasts with Final Cut Pro.

It’s a nicely paced tutorial with a lot of useful information marred only slightly by too many required fields in the registration. Interface gripe – Is anybody else tired of web forms with every country in the world included in alphabetical order and the most common countries like I don’t know, the US and the UK requiring days of scrolling. I’m sure all those users in Antarctica are happy to not scroll.

Update 03.02.2007
Martin Baker writes a nice scrolling tip to address the above

Avoid scrolling tip:
Click the menu once and release mouse. Press a letter on the keyboard and the list will scroll to it.

It’s a beginner level tutorial, but you’re likely to pick up at least a few tips. I’ve gotten to where I play this kind of stuff in the background while I work as an alternative to music. Yeah, I’m a geek.

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