Op­por­tu­nity and Con­fu­sion

Animation Magazine - - State Art - By Josh Selig

Ilove Net­flix and Ama­zon. Who doesn’t? But our in­dus­try con­tin­ues to strug­gle to in­cor­po­rate these “new” plat­forms with all the grace of a snake swal­low­ing a cow.

As with any kind of change, up­heaval re­veals hid­den op­por­tu­ni­ties and shakes them to the sur­face — of­ten vi­o­lently — like gold nuggets in a sluice box. Case in point, there’s a trove of lovely con­tent be­ing made by the SVOD plat­forms, like Hulu’s The Hand­maid’s Tale, which last year made his­tory by win­ning a Best Drama Emmy.

Yes, the stream­ers are great for grown-up con­tent where the mar­gins are good and li­cens­ing doesn’t mat­ter. Af­ter all, no one ex­pects The Hand­maid’s Tale to sell lit­tle un­wed fig­urines rid­ing on dystopian plas­tic ve­hi­cles. But, as we know, kids’ con­tent is an­other story.

Just as movie the­aters need to sell pop­corn, kids’ con­tent creators need to sell some­thing in ad­di­tion to their show. An an­i­mated se­ries is just the worm bob­bing on the hook, the shop win­dow, the loss leader. And our his­toric al­lies in mak­ing any sort of profit — the net­works, the toy com­pa­nies and the re­tail­ers — are all in a slow, steady de­cline as con­tent, prod­ucts and view­ers mi­grate on­line where li­cens­ing hits are as elu­sive as The Great Pump­kin.

On a long flight across the At­lantic I ran into my old friend Fred Seib­ert, who runs Fred­er­a­tor Stu­dios. I asked Fred what he thought was go­ing on and he said, “Ev­ery­one’s try­ing to fig­ure out what to do. We no longer know how to mon­e­tize con­tent, but that’s cer­tainly not stop­ping any of us from mak­ing con­tent and hav­ing a good time do­ing it.”

Then Fred paused, raised his fa­mous shaggy eye­brows, and added, “This con­vul­sion is some­what fa­mil­iar, it’s like broad­cast­ers to cable, but lit­er­ally multi-mil­lions of times larger. So is the op­por­tu­nity, as is the con­fu­sion.”

Op­por­tu­nity and con­fu­sion. Re­gard­less of whether you’re a small in­die or an in­ter­na­tional broad­caster, no two words bet­ter de­scribe the kids’ me­dia space in 2018. And be­cause the op­por­tu­nity is so big, there is an in­flux of new play­ers with new cash flow­ing into our wee sec­tor. In the short term, this is happy news for any­one who makes orig­i­nal con­tent. Af­ter all, there are more buy­ers to pitch to than ever be­fore. But how about the long term?

One of the more dire pre­dic­tions I’ve read came from Jef­frey Katzen­berg in The New York Times: “This idea that Ap­ple and Face­book and YouTube are now com­ing into Hol­ly­wood with these bil­lions of dol­lars and are in fact go­ing to change the en­ter­prise of tele­vi­sion is ac­tu­ally wrong. They’re not do­ing any­thing new or dif­fer­ent or unique. It sim­ply broad­ens the of­fer­ing, and it may broaden the des­ti­na­tions that you can go to, but in fact that frag­men­ta­tion at some point is go­ing to im­plode.”

Yes, and we’re all go­ing to die one day, but that does not keep us from en­joy­ing the tiramisu. Re­cently, I spoke with a col­league who was feel­ing very stressed out about it all. He said, “Given all the changes in the in­dus­try, I just don’t know what kind of show I should make any­more.”

“I’ll tell you what I tell my­self,” I said. “The de­vices may change, but peo­ple don’t. We’re still the same frail be­ings we’ve al­ways been. And any story that speaks to our need for real con­nec­tions, our fear of loss, and our en­dur­ing be­lief in love will al­ways move us. So, make your show, the one that you were born to make, the one that pulls at you like a child, and you’ll be fine.” Josh Selig is the multi-Emmy-win­ning founder and pres­i­dent of New York­based Lit­tle Air­plane Pro­duc­tions, ac­quired by Stu­dio 100 last year. He is the cre­ator and exec pro­ducer of P. King Duck­ling, Su­per Wings, Won­der Pets!, Oobi, 3rd & Bird and Small Pota­toes. Learn more at www.lit­tleair­plane.com.

Cloud ren­der­ing has been grow­ing in pop­u­lar­ity for some years now. With faster in­ter­net con­nec­tions and im­me­di­ate ac­cess to servers from Ama­zon, Mi­crosoft and Google, it has be­come eas­ier and eas­ier to use the cloud for ren­der­ing. Fur­ther­more, it’s not just for small stu­dios that need some spo­radic ren­der power here and there. Larger fa­cil­i­ties work­ing on huge tent­pole block­busters are us­ing the cloud. Movie stu­dios have be­come more com­fort­able with the se­cu­rity in­volved. One stu­dio, in par­tic­u­lar, has been lead­ing the charge — Atomic Fic­tion.

In the past, Atomic Fic­tion had been us­ing a cloud sys­tem that ul­ti­mately went away for a while, so they ended up de­vel­op­ing their own in­ter­nal sys­tem that took the enor­mous foot­print of ren­der­ing and moved it to the cloud. This al­lowed for a more stream­lined in­ter­nal sys­tem and kept the artist work­sta­tions avail­able for work­ing on shots. Once the sys­tem was tem­pered in the harsh, fiery en­vi­ron­ment of high-end visual ef­fects pro­duc­tion, they de­cided that oth­ers would ben­e­fit from this tool as well. That’s how Con­duc­tor, which was an­nounced last year at SIGGRAPH, came to be.

Con­duc­tor is the con­duit be­tween the fa­cil­ity and the cloud-ag­nos­tic en­vi­ron­ment, so you can de­cide the server fla­vor of choice. It sub­mits jobs to the cloud, but also main­tains de­pen­den­cies, which means that the as­sets, ren­dered ele­ments, tex­tures and caches that live within the walls of the stu­dio are mi­grated to the cloud so that the servers have ap­pro­pri­ate files. This is not just crit­i­cal for ren­der­ing CG from Maya, Arnold and V-Ray, but for com­posit­ing as well. Comps use a ton of ren­dered CG as­sets. In a cloud sys­tem, the CG is ren­dered in the cloud, but is then synched back to the stu­dio for lo­cal work. The comp is sent back to the cloud for ren­der­ing, and the ren­dered CG as­sets are still up in the cloud for server ac­cess, which greatly re­duces the net­work traf­fic back and forth.

Con­duc­tor comes with its own API, so for fa­cil­i­ties that might al­ready have a pipeline rigidly in place, ad­di­tional tools can be writ­ten to in­ter­face with it to keep the work­flow con­sis­tent with the meth­ods that have al­ready been es­tab­lished.

Those who some­time work at large fa­cil­i­ties, and then fre­quently work from their home stu­dio (like yours truly) know the pit­falls of both en­vi­ron­ments. I’ve looked at the cost con­sid­er­a­tions of cloud ren­der­ing in both sit­u­a­tions. For a large stu­dio ren­der­ing all the time, 24/7, ben­e­fit­ting from an IT de­part­ment that main­tains the farm — well, cloud ren­der­ing may not be cost effective. How­ever, I’ve wit­nessed shows that have hun­dreds of ren­der nodes at their dis­posal run into a sit­u­a­tion where renders will not get done in time. So they have to burst a bunch of nodes in the cloud to help bridge that gap.

When I work from home, with two to three work­sta­tions, I may have a crit­i­cal ren­der that I need the next morn­ing. Through Con­duc­tor, I can es­ti­mate the ren­der times, choose the power of the boxes I need, load-bal­ance the cost based on how fast I need things, and then spin those servers up and get my renders ren­der­ing.

Cloud ren­der­ing is truly the wave of the fu­ture, and Con­duc­tor is one of very few pro­duc­tion-ready tools that can work with the big guys as well as the small guys. Web­site: atom­ic­fic­tion.com/con­duc­tor Pric­ing: Varies per size of project and ser­vices.

Red Gi­ant is known for its su­per suite of com­posit­ing and mo­tion-graph­ics tools rang­ing from color grad­ing and looks to 2D par­ti­cle sys­tems to com­posit­ing aids. And they work across nu­mer­ous plat­forms and hosts, each one a key con­tri­bu­tion for any se­ri­ous film­maker or de­signer. Its lat­est of­fer­ing is an up­grade to its Uni­verse suite.

Uni­verse is a li­brary of looks, tran­si­tions and fil­ters to em­u­late dif­fer­ent medi­ums, such as 16mm or 8mm film, chro­matic aber­ra­tion, cam­era shake, Knoll Light Fac­tory or HUD com­po­nents. In fact, there are too many ef­fects to list. But in 2.2, Red Gi­ant has added 11 new tran­si­tions that build upon al­ready ex­ist­ing ef­fects.

Clock wipes, lin­ear wipes and shape wipes have al­ways been stock tran­si­tions, but they of­ten had to be cre­ated man­u­ally, or just fol­lowed a ba­sic style. With con­trol over shape, color and thick­ness of edges and glows, users can now cus­tom­ize to get a more sub­tle Star Wars- y iris wipe, or an in-your-face Won­der Woman wipe. All of which are GPU ac­cel­er­ated — as are all of the Uni­verse ef­fects.

Other tran­si­tions-du-jour in­clude flicker cuts (made pop­u­lar by hor­ror movies), cam­era shake tran­si­tions and color mo­saics. Some have a more retro-type feel, such as VHS tran­si­tions for when you are los­ing the mag­netic in­for­ma­tion of a tape, or ret­ro­grade tran­si­tion with frame jumps, show­ing the frame edge and sprock­ets. There’s even a slide carousel tran­si­tion for those Mad Men- style pre­sen­ta­tions.

Uni­verse also of­fers a cou­ple of up­dates to ex­ist­ing ef­fects: VHS now has ad­di­tional con­trols to not only get the feel of de­graded (or not so de­graded) video, but also the ar­ti­facts you get when paus­ing or fast-for­ward­ing. There’s also Ret­ro­grade, which pro­vides a 16mm or 8mm look to your footage — not just the grain, chroma, blur, etc. (which are still im­por­tant), but also the fram­ing, gate weave, jit­ter, etc.

Uni­verse is avail­able on Win­dows and OSX, and can be used in Af­ter Ef­fects, Fi­nal Cut, Mo­tion, Vegas, DaVinci Re­solve and HitFilm. And as of Uni­verse 2.2, most are avail­able on Avid Me­dia Com­poser 8.9.

Per­son­ally, I’m a visual ef­fects guy rather than a mo­tion graph­ics de­signer, so I would be us­ing a sub­set of these. That said, vfx peo­ple are al­ways in­sert­ing footage into mon­i­tors (peo­ple watch­ing a VHS in a film that takes place in 1983), or adding footage pro­jected onto a screen (maybe like Pen­ny­wise the Clown in the slideshow in IT), or a glitch-y holo­gram of Emperor Pal­pa­tine. So, if you are a mo­tiono­g­ra­pher you’ll get a ton of use from Uni­verse, and if you are a vfx guy, you still can ben­e­fit. For a yearly rental fee of $99, I think Uni­verse 2.2 is def­i­nitely some­thing that should be in your li­brary. Web­site: red­giant.com/uni­verse Price: $99 per year Todd Sheri­dan Perry is a vfx su­per­vi­sor and dig­i­tal artist whose cred­its in­clude Black Pan­ther, The Lord of The Rings: The Two Tow­ers and Avengers: Age of Ul­tron. You can reach him at todd@tea­spoon­vfx.com. [Re­viewed prod­ucts were all tested us­ing an HP ZBook 15 G3 Mo­bile Work­sta­tion run­ning Win­dows 7.]


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