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October 21, 2010

Table of Contents

In the Studio: Phyx Keyer Plug-in
Digital Juice Introduces a Brand New Collection of Juice Drop Layered Backgrounds for Photoshop
Zacuto USA Announces the Introduction of the Z-Finder EVF Electronic Viewfinder for DSLR Cameras
Sorenson Media Unveils Vid.vu, First-ever Professional Video URL Shortening Service
DVFilm Releases Epic I for Mac
Petrol Bags New Digiback Pack for DSLR Cameras
Amazing Speed Update for Beauty Box Video Skin Smoothing Plugin for HD, Video and Film

In the Studio: Phyx Keyer Plug-in

Pulling keys is usually a royal pain, especially if you’re working with footage that someone else shot. The lighting isn’t right, the key isn’t simple, garbage mattes have to be keyframed, and spill filters have to be tweaked. It was a lot of work—until now.

I’m writing this after having just run a new keyer plug-in through its paces. It’s Phyx Keyer, developed by PHYX, Inc., and it runs on the FxFactory plug-in engine.

It can function as a plug-in to Adobe After Effects, Apple Final Cut Pro (FCP), and Apple Motion. When installed via the FxFactory application, the Phyx Keyer package includes five plug-ins: Keyer, Lightwrap, DiffKeyer, Screencorrector, and Despill (Figure 1, below). All the plug-ins have a Help button that will launch your web browser into the appropriate Phyxware.com page.

Phyx Keyer
Figure 1. The five Phyx Keyer plug-ins, clockwise from top: Keyer, Lightwrap, DiffKeyer, Screencorrector, and Despill

This is the first thing I was impressed with: having Help actually built into the plug-in itself. I wish all plug-in developers did this. Being able to save my settings as presets in each of these plug-ins could make postproduction on larger projects much easier too. Because the presets are independent documents, saved to any location I want, I can move and share them between edit bays—another feature I wish more filters adopted.

I tested these plug-ins in both Final Cut Pro 7.0.2 and Motion 4.0.2 using Snow Leopard 10.6.4 on a Mac Pro running an ATI Radeon 4870 graphics card with 16GB RAM. I was also viewing my output through an AJA Kona LHi card, on an FSI LM-2450W production monitor. I wanted to be able to see as clearly as I could how clean or dirty this keyer would be.

Keyer Filter
I’ll run through these filters in the order I used them. Naturally, I started with Keyer. The first thing I noticed was the lack of controls. I was taken aback at first, but once I started to tweak the key, I was amazed at how much I could do with so little. This is a very simple keyer to use, and I was really impressed with the lack of time I had to spend with it, even on the first attempt, learning it from scratch. Being able to select my Chroma Reconstruction between 4:4:4, 4:2:2, and 4:1:1 was nice. Having three selections in the Keyer Types section is handy and makes things really simple. There is YUV Difference (use the standard color palette and eyedropper to chose your color), Channel Keyer (what you’d normally use for a blue/greenscreen shot), and a 3D Keyer (for work in 3D spaces).

Each of these selections brings up a set of controls. In each case, the controls are few but powerful. Nothing else is needed. I can also switch between my Output and my Alpha Channel to judge how cleanly my key is working. Comparing the same key in both FCP and Motion, I don’t see much difference—if anything, the key is cleaner in Motion, but only very slightly. They both look really nice and very clean.

Despill Filter
Like Keyer, Despill is very simple, but it works very well. Choose either Green or Blue as your Method. Adjust the Despill Amount, and that’s it. I wish it were a bit stronger, but it did a great job desaturating the green from my subject, not just around the edges but across the whole image, which I like. Easy, simple, and effective—this is a well-developed filter.

Lightwrap Filter
I ran my greenscreen clip against four different backgrounds in order to test the Lightwrap filter (Figure 2, below). This is a great filter that lets you drop your background image into an image well in the filter. Then, you can adjust the Blur, Width, and Amount of the wrap. What this means is that it’s using the background image to “wrap” lighting around the darker areas of your keyed subject.

PHYX Keyer
Figure 2. Keying in different backgrounds with the Lightwrap filter

I found this to be a great help in making the subject fit into the background lighting more constantly. Again, it’s very simple, powerful, efficient, and effective. Those three adjustments were all I needed to complete the keying on my shot. Quick, easy, and clean.

Clean Plates and Shadows
If you need to go further in your keying work and get more sophisticated, here’s where Phyx really shines. The final two filters use a Clean Plate. A very simple explanation of a Clean Plate is when you shoot your scene without talent (Figure 3, below, top left), then shoot it a second time with talent (Figure 3, top right). The shot without talent is the Clean Plate. These Clean Plates are used by compositing software to help key talent out of the background, by comparing the background Clean Plate to the foreground shot, and removing everything that doesn’t match. A Clean Plate is used in both the Screencorrector and DiffKeyer filters.

Phyx Keyer
Figure 3. Comparing the background Clean Plate to the foreground shot (top left and right), using Screencorrector to smooth out the greenscreen (bottom left), and killing off shadows with the DiffKeyer (bottom right)

Here is where the biggest enemy of keying work becomes very apparent. Shadows should be avoided at all cost when shooting blue/greenscreens. Take as much time and effort to kill off shadows as is necessary, and you’re home free. In keying, shadows are not our friends!

Screencorrector Filter
The Screencorrector is a nice plug-in for smoothing out your screen. It won’t fix drastic shadows, but it will smooth out reasonable areas where your screen isn’t lit evenly. If you have to work with poorly lit screens, this would be a very quick and easy way to smooth the green/blue background out. Apply the filter and drop your Clean Plate into the image well; Screencorrector does all the work automatically (Figure 3, bottom left).

You can tweak the color that you’re smoothing with Screencorrector using the standard color palette and eyedropper. But right off the bat, it works simply and effectively.

DiffKeyer Filter
Finally, there’s the DiffKeyer, which creates mattes using a Clean Plate. Again, shadows create a problem with Clean Pates in chromakeying work, and they’ll show up here more than anywhere (Figure 3, bottom right). If you’re really trying to key out your talent, light to kill off shadows!

The DiffKeyer is as simple as the other filters in the Phyx Keyer package, and it’s just as effective. Once you drop your Clean Plate into the image well, you can adjust the highlight and dark areas of your matte, overall brightness, and contrast. You can also switch between the Output and Alpha channel to better determine how clean your matte is.

Conclusion
All in all, the Phyx Keyer package is a deal at $199, considering all the tools you get with it. Is the keyer better than others, such as Motion’s Primatte RT? It’s not only as good but also a bit easier to use, and it comes with other tools (the Lightwrap, Screencorrector, and DiffKeyer) that are useful for serious keying work.

A major difference is that when doing spill suppression, Phyx seems to desaturate the greens in your subject image, while Primatte changes the overall hue to kill off the green. These are different approaches with different effects, and I like being able to choose the approach that works best for each individual key. Phyx also lets you save your settings as mobile presets—a huge plus.

All in all, Phyx Keyer is a great bargain and a very well-developed set of useful and easy-to-use filters that are effective and fast. Visit the Phyx site at www.phyxware.com or Noise Industries at www.noiseindustries.com for more information, tutorials, and ordering information.

Ben Balser (benb at bbalser.com) is an Apple Certified Master Trainer and Support Professional based in Louisiana. He produces media, consults for studios, and teaches media production nationally.

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Digital Juice Introduces a Brand New Collection of Juice Drop Layered Backgrounds for Photoshop

Digital Juice announced today that it has released Juice Drops® Collection One: clearINTENT, the first in a series of new and expanded layered Photoshop® graphics collections. These new Collections will each contain over 400-layered images delivered in a wide variety of styles, themes, looks and size formats.

This first offering, Juice Drops Collection One: clearINTENT, takes its inspiration primarily from the existing Digital Juice Fonts library with many of its illustrations designed to support the addition of DJ Fonts headlines and text layouts. The resulting collection contains more than 400 original customizable images in a useful text template format.

“Our focus the last three years has been on rapidly developing our motion design and compositing products,” says David Hebel, Founder and CEO of Digital Juice. “That’s why you haven’t seen any new print and graphics products lately. We are now getting back to our roots and plan to release a host of new video and print graphics products starting with the relaunch of the Juice Drops line."

What are Juice Drops?
The Juice Drops library is a collection of royalty-free layered backgrounds and illustrations that are completely customizable. Often described as “Art You Take Apart” each background is a finished complete graphic, delivered with all the original layers intact for easy customization for any type of design use — from billboards to web pages, from motion graphics to print advertising and packaging applications. Artists can use the graphics flattened in their original composition or they can mix and combine layers from different backgrounds to create new and unique looks.

The new Juice Drops layered Photoshop files are at least 20"x11.25" at 300 DPI so even the smallest element is shown in great detail. Each individual Juice Drop image contains an average of 10-20 layered elements so designers can tweak, delete, rearrange, colorize, scale, mix and add layers as needed. Video editors and motion graphics artists can use Juice Drops as full screen backdrops or as scrolling and panning backgrounds to support other motion elements. They can also take individual layers from the illustrations to animate and use as hero elements in show opens or promotional spots.

New and Expanded

Unlike the older Juice Drops volumes, which had up to 100 layered images per volume, each new Juice Drops collection will contain 400 or more brand new layered files. The previous incarnation of the line also focused each volume on a specific style or theme, whereas the new collections contain a wider variety of styles, themes, looks and size formats (landscape and portrait, square and rectangular) within each package. To make the images even more useful, image sizes were increased and the illustrations are now delivered at resolutions up to 6000 x 3375 pixels (20" x 11.25" @ 300dpi). This makes them perfect for billboards, vehicle wraps and other large format printing projects.

In Collection One: clearINTENT, artists will find an impressive collection of stylized backgrounds and illustrations that are aesthetically pleasing and conveniently organized into 36 completely useful themed categories such as Culture, Concept, Emotion, Material, People, Music, Industry, Nature, Food & Drink, Sports, Entertainment and Season, to name a few. The range of artistic styles used to render these illustrations includes Watercolor, Sketch, Airbrush, Crayon, Pen & Ink, Stained Glass and more.

Many of these new backgrounds were inspired by Digital Juice’s DJ Fonts product line. The company even includes a matching font texture file that artists can add to their DJ Fonts’ texture library, thereby expanding their custom font options at the same time.

“One thing you can be sure of is that the new Juice Drops Collections are designed with just as much care for quality and usefulness as ever,” says Digital Juice Senior Creative Director, Jacqui Dawson. “These illustrations come from the same talented team of artists that worked on over 70 volumes of the original Juice Drops and 10 volumes of Digital Juice Fonts.“

Browse, Search & Select
Digital Juice® provides a free Windows® and Mac® utility, Juicer™ 3, that makes it easy to browse, search, and select from any of the Juice Drops™ Collections. Juicer™ 3 layered preview technology allows users to preview the layers within the Juicer™ 3 browser without having to load the full resolution file into Photoshop® to see the layers. In addition to using the layered Photoshop® files right off the disc, Juicer™ 3 technology allows users to render an image from disc to hard drive into most major file formats including JPEG, PNG, TGA, TIF, PSD, and BMP.

Pricing & Availability

The new Juice Drops™ Collection One: clearINTENT can be ordered through Digital Juice's online store (http://www.digitaljuice.com) or by calling the company's customer service center toll-free at 800-525-2203. Individual collections retail for $349.95 each but can often be purchased in special promotions for as much as 40% off. Check the website for details on specials. The company's free Juicer™ 3 software can be found at http://www.digitaljuice.com/juicer/

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Zacuto USA Announces the Introduction of the Z-Finder EVF Electronic Viewfinder for DSLR Cameras

With the increasing popularity of DSLR cameras in the television, independent film and video industries, Zacuto USA, a high-end camera accessories manufacturer, introduces the Z-Finder EVF electronic viewfinder.

Zacuto USA is leading the way with the Z-Finder EVF: a 3.2 inch, high resolution monitor that will work in conjunction with existing Z-Finders optical loops. “The resolution of the screen is incredible,” says DP & Director Philip Bloom, “which makes focusing an absolute doddle. Finally, a proper true viewfinder for these DSLRs.” Today, “We’re gonna change the game...again," says Steve Weiss and Jens Bogehegn, veteran filmmakers, product designers and owners of Zacuto. “We have been working on the EVF design for the past five months and we are including features shooters need, such as, false color & peaking.”

Zacuto is the only camera accessories manufacturer to offer an EVF with a two-piece design. This design creates three functional uses:
1. Z-Finder attaches directly to a camera’s LCD screen for run'n'gun shooting.
2. Z-Finder attaches to EVF monitor creating the world’s first anti-fog EVF.
3. Flipping up the Z-Finder allows users an adjustable 3.2" high resolution monitor.

Product Specifications and Key Features:

  • 3.2 inch high resolution monitor
  • Actual 16x9 with 800x480 resolution
  • .87 dot pitch
  • Works with all Z-Finder models
  • Operates for a ½ day on a Canon LP-E6 camera battery or can use 12 volt external power
  • Focus Assist, False Color Exposure Assist and HDMI loop through
  • Includes a Zacuto proprietary hot shoe mount and mini HDMI cable
  • Convenient flip-up design: Z-Finder can flip up like a traditional ENG EVF’s to view 3.2” color screen
  • Z-Finder EVF: compatible with full range of HD-DSLR cameras: Canon 5D MKII, Canon 7D, Canon Rebel T2i, and Nikon D3s and D7000
  • EVF can be used on any manufacturer's rig via 1/4 20 screw, 15mm rod or articulating arm

“The wonderful part is we're half-way there considering we’ve had almost two-years to perfect the optics portion of our Z-Finder, especially with our new anti-fog system, which has become the mainstay in the industry," says Weiss. Additionally, Zacuto has created a video series on “The Evolution of the Z-Finder EVF” coming to market. As of Oct 2010, they have released two videos in the series: “Introduction” and “Ergonomics.” In each video, Zacuto brings in outside specialists, DP’s and engineers to talk about these revolutionary concepts, "This is the first time," says Weiss, "we have created a continuing video series involving users, customers, industry leaders and engineers, which will document the evolution of our Z-Finder EVF from inception to delivery."

Pricing and Availability
Z-Finder EVF has a list price of $775.00. An upgrade path for existing Z-Finder users and a combo-kit (Z-Finder with EVF) will be available at a discounted price (TBD). For more information, to watch the Z-Finder EVF Videos Series and to sign up for the Z-Finder EVF reservation list, visit http://zfinderevf.com.

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Sorenson Media Unveils Vid.vu, First-ever Professional Video URL Shortening Service

Sorenson Media today announced Vid.vu, the first feature-rich URL shortening service designed specifically for professional online video.

The web-based URL abbreviating service works seamlessly with Sorenson Squeeze Server, the company’s scalable, cloud-based, enterprise-grade encoding solution to be formally released in November. Vid.vu demos were part of Sorenson Media’s presentations at last week’s Streaming Media Europe conference in London where Sorenson Media won the European Readers’ Choice Award for Best Video Transcoding Solution, following three straight years of winning the award in the United States.

“There are many URL shorteners available out there, but none that are created specifically for professional, enterprise video needs,” said Eric Quanstrom, Sorenson Media’s COO. “Vid.vu not only provides automatically shorter URLs to video permalink pages—which are typically excessively long—it also has built-in protection against malware, phishing scams and spam. Vid.vu also enables Sorenson Squeeze Server users to create and track their own custom shortened video URLs, a feature that is exclusive to our customers.”

Vid.vu takes a URL link that could typically run two lines and slashes it down to fewer than 14 characters (including the vid.vu prefix). As part of the Squeeze Server platform, Vid.vu integrates seamlessly with a user’s workflow through intuitive APIs. As customers encode videos, they can choose to have an automatically generated shortened URL and can customize it by including intuitive keywords of their choosing.

Customizable Vid.vu URLs are also useful within a professional video workflow to track videos created. Because Squeeze Server is designed to encode high volumes of videos, having an organized, short link strategy benefits any company. Vid.vu enables users to easily track video analytics, including number of click-throughs to a given video or library of videos over any period of time. Vid.vu aggregates and displays this data, including geographic location of click-throughs, in an easy-to-use Web interface, allowing users to track where and when a video is being viewed regardless of where it is hosted.

Shortened Vid.vu links also aid search engine discovery and make URLs easily understandable when they are shared, rather than relying on a randomly generated set of letters and numbers. For instance, a company called XYZ Company could create video links such as vid.vu/media1 to simplify management of the corresponding video internally as it is shared with internal or external audiences.

“Vid.vu is another first in our 15-year history of innovating top-notch, easy-to-use, secure and customer-defined video applications and services,” said Quanstrom. “We have built a reputation for knowing online video like no one else, and we aim to maintain our leadership.”

Availability
URL shortening through Vid.vu is available exclusively to subscribers of the soon-to-be-released Sorenson Squeeze Server. For more information about Vid.vu, visit: http://vid.vu

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DVFilm Releases Epic I for Mac

Today DVFilm (dvfilm.com) releases EPIC I ("Epic One") for Mac, a DSLR editing Quicktime plug-in for use with Final Cut Pro 6 or 7.

Canon EOSdigital SLR's shoot amazing HD video with shallow depth of field and great low light sensitivity. However, one drawback is the H.264 codec these cameras use to record video. Most non-linear editing programs cannot play these files in real time unless you have an extremely fast computer. The footage must be transcoded to ProRes format or other intermediate formats before editing. This is where DVFilm Epic I (Epic One) for Mac comes in. The transcoding step is eliminated.

DVFilm Epic I for Mac is a real-time workflow tool that allows you to edit DSLR H.264 Quicktime files in real-time in Final Cut Pro using FCP's RT Extreme features, with no transcoding and no file swapping. It provides real-time editing, on practically any computer, without the tedious transcoding or Log and Transfer methods that slow down your workflow. The Epic I method is fully automated and prepares real-time playback in the background while you are editing. It works perfectly for the Canon 5d MkII, Canon 7d, Rebel T2i/550d and Rebel T1i/500d.

How does it work?
It's easy! Start Epic I for Mac, drag your folder of DSLR clips into the Epic I Control Panel, and click "Scan Now." In moments, Epic I will automatically start Final Cut Pro and import your clips so you can begin editing. While you edit, Epic I works in the background preparing for real-time playback. When each clip is ready, playback instantly becomes real-time for that clip. However in the meantime, Epic allows you to perform most editing tasks such as trimming each clip, assembling clips on the sequence, choosing transitions and filters for effects or color correction. You can use the FCP RT Extreme menu to switch back and forth between full quality and the Epic RT mode. When you are finished with your edit, you simply export from your sequence to whatever is your final format. Epic automatically uses the original H.264 data at full quality for the export.

How does the Epic I DSLR workflow compare to other methods like proxy editing and transcoding? The Epic I DSLR workflow can be seen as taking the best of both methods with none of their inherent disadvantages. And it's faster, much faster.

Unlike conventional proxy editing methods, there is no file swapping to worry about because the switching between real-time and high-quality modes is handled transparently by the plug-in. Unlike transcoding, Epic I allows you start editing immediately without waiting for the transcoding to finish. Editing with Epic I for Mac is also superior in quality to transcoding methods, because it avoids lossy recompression of the original video. You always render from the original H.264 master files.

Interested? Read more information by going to DVFilm.com, click on Software and then DVFilm Epic I for Mac. The direct link is http://dvfilm.com/epic/mac/index.htm

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Petrol Bags New Digiback Pack for DSLR Cameras

Petrol Bags, a Vitec Group brand, introduces the equipment protection solution for transporting and carrying video-enabled DSLR cameras. The new Digiback DSLR Backpack sports a smart, ergonomic shell design in black 900D and ballistic nylon fabrics and is packed with features designed to offer the ultimate in practicality, convenience, and equipment protection.

The top lid of the Digiback unzips smoothly to reveal an upper compartment contoured to fit a DSLR camera with the lens attached. When outfitted with a telephoto or other extra long lens, the camera can be inserted with the lens in a vertical position. The spacious lower chamber has ample room for accessories. Removable internal dividers help secure contents and create pockets perfect for holding a mattebox, camera plate, follow focus, extra lenses, camera light, spare batteries, viewfinder, and more. There’s even a space for holding a personal computer. The inside contents is cushioned by layers of soft, padded easy-view, brushed polyester.

The Digiback’s integral backpack system is constructed using breathable 3D mesh. Padded shoulder straps and adjustable sternum and waist straps provide correct weight distribution and ensure easier carrying. Cushioned back support is provided for optimal spinal comfort. A unique opening system is designed to protect the backpack system from damage by dirt or extra wear and tear when placed on the ground. Contents are accessible from either side, and a rear zipper completely exposes the pack’s interior. Additional features include double-sided exterior monopockets for additional storage and dual directional easy-glide zippers.

For further information on the Digiback (#PD331) please go to http://www.petrolbags.com

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Amazing Speed Update for Beauty Box Video Skin Smoothing Plugin for HD, Video and Film

Digital Anarchy today announced a free update to their award winning, best-of-breed skin retouching plugin, Beauty Box Video. Version 1.2 gives Beauty Box Video an amazing speed increase by taking advantage of the latest hardware and operating systems.

The update uses nVidia’s CUDA and other GPU optimizations to achieve rendering results that are 3–6x’s faster than version 1.0. The update also features UI changes and bug fixes that provide a smoother, faster workflow in After Effects, Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro. Beauty Box Video’s results are amazing and now fast as well.

"BeautyBox is almost magical. We didn't have time to properly light our scene, and the artists didn't look like themselves. Options were slim and costly. With BeautyBox, we were able to solve the problem the same afternoon we downloaded it. The facial tracking really works, the skin-tone algorithms are pretty natural, and the interface is simple. I'm still amazed." - Bill Evans, Radiant Records [Project: Steve Morse & Sarah Spencer promotional video.]

Beauty Box Video gives an actor or model an incredible makeover in post-production by incorporating state-of-the-art face detection and smoothing algorithms. Beauty Box automatically identifies the skin tones and removes imperfections and blemishes. A critical aspect of Beauty Box is it’s ability to keep important details, like eye lashes, lips, etc., razor sharp and keep the natural texture of the skin (pores).

“We’re very excited about this release. Beauty Box has won a couple awards and many accolades from users. “, said Jim Tierney, President of Digital Anarchy. “However, it’s always been a bit slow to render, which this release corrects. Especially for those with nVidia cards, the increased speed is really amazing.”

For the version 1.2 update, users with an nVidia card that supports CUDA will see the most drastic speed increases, particularly when used with a 64-bit operating system and multiple processors. nVidia’s CUDA gives Beauty Box an amazing speed boost and provides an impressive increase even with ‘gaming’ cards that support CUDA, like the GeForce 480GTX. Higher end video cards, like the Quadro FX4800, when used in conjunction with After Effects’ multi-processing can render HD footage up to 6 fps.

Pricing and Availability

Beauty Box Video 1.2 is regularly priced at $199 USD, but will be on sale for $149 USD until November 15, 2010.

Beauty Box Video runs in After Effects 7.0–CS5, Final Cut Pro 6.0–7.0 and Premiere Pro CS4–CS5. The plugin runs on Macintosh 10.4–10.6, Windows XP–7 and Vista systems. Demo filters and samples are available at http://www.digitalanarchy.com.

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