With summer comes time for relaxing and ruminating. As the hazy heat descends, we find ourselves laying about, and inevitably, prognosticating. Impromptu salons gather, discussions are held, points gently debated, discoveries trumpeted….
Oops, sorry: we were waxing poetic. For us, summer is actually a time of discussion and discovery. Trade Shows like NAB and InfoComm have delivered their revelations. The Tonys were awarded, affecting many with the resulting ebb and flow of shows coming and going, not to mention the recognition for designs that break new ground. If all is well with the world, we are generally preparing for some fall shows. We also spend a lot of time in our summer working on education and discovery. To that end, we thought we might share a few things that are scribbled in our notebooks these days.
Oh boy, another acronym. HDV is the moniker for the new, widely recognized, high definition format delivered via the same digital mediums as standard definition DV. First out of the gate with HDV is JVC with an amazing single-chip camera that can store the 1080 and 720 flavors of high definition video on standard DV cassettes. This HD footage can then be transferred via the same 1394 firewire bus that has so enabled the DV revolution.
The standard has been almost universally adopted by all the major manufacturers of broadcast gear, including Sony, Canon, Avid, Apple®, and Adobe®; with all of the above announcing imminent introduction of cameras, editing decks, and software supporting the format. The beauty of this innovation is that it occupies the same level of economy as DV, making higher quality HD imagery available to designers on the DV budget. For projection designers HD represents a much higher quality choice for large-scale viewing. The quality of resolution and color reproduction far outstrips standard definition DV.
We've been publicly opinionated about the deficiencies of DV when used on big screens and in big projections. Compression artifacts that make the viewing experience marginal on normal-sized screens become utterly unacceptable at the scale of live production, and DV's compression and constriction of the color space leads to poor reproductions of saturate hues, and luminance values. The balance to these subjective considerations was DV's accessibility for restricted budgets. HDV obviates many of our concerns regarding digital video. Although still compressed, the format features much more color and luminance “information” than any SD format. We're looking forward to experimenting with HDV in production soon.
OLED is short for Organic Light Emitting Diode. Being the mega media geeks we are, it was inevitable that we saw this new technology at the Society For Information Display Symposium that took place in Seattle in June. How exciting can life get? OLED screens are literally printed using organically derived electro-reactive ink. The manufacturing process is thus quite a bit less expensive than typical LCD or LED processes. The technology has been successfully introduced in smaller displays like those used in digital cameras and handheld digital devices. Now the major display makers have succeeded in using it in much larger displays, up to 40' currently. Expect to see even bigger displays appearing, with prices that will seem unbelievably low for flat panel.
ADOBE® PHOTOSHOP® CS
Adobe took yet another giant step forward with the Photoshop application in upgrading to its new “CS” version. The CS stands for “Creative Suite,” and Adobe has been working steadily to tightly integrate the capabilities of all its applications, making media movement between them smooth and seamless. Photoshop CS shows a lot of subtle yet powerful enhancements. Projection designers working in the video resolutions will be pleased to see that Photoshop now deals with non-square pixels (video displays have rectangular pixels). Up to now designers had to simulate widescreen pixel aspect ratios by specifying a pixel resolution that stretched and showed the appropriate aspect. These files inevitably demanded rendering once they appeared in the video environment, due to their odd pixel resolution. Users can now specify .9 and 1.2 pixel aspect ratios for NTSC standard def and widescreen, respectively, directly in Photoshop.
SPEAKING OF PHOTOSHOP…
We've often written of how this application occupies the center of development for many of our images. In the spirit of our summer projection almanac, we'll now share a couple of simple, yet effective Photoshop tips for the budding image designers.
First, some function: you may have noticed that when you work in a Photoshop document there are often rulers along the top and side of the picture. If not, they can be turned on by pressing “Control” and “R.” These rulers can display a lot of useful marking standards, including pixels, inches, centimeters, or percent. We find percent to be immensely helpful in laying out compositions for displays. You can change what standard the rulers display by navigating to Edit>Preferences>Units & Rulers.
Photoshop is a layer-based program. Often a finished Photoshop image will be the result of combining and working with many layers. A simple example of this method also demonstrates how the functionality is useful in live design.
Imagine that you have found a perfect black and white stock photograph of a period city block. You'll be using the photo to represent the backdrop in your new production of West Side Story. As part of the projection cues, you need to create three different color versions of the image to help support the inevitable twilight, nighttime, and daytime lighting states. We'll do this using Photoshop layers and their interaction modes.
First, we'll import our background black and white image. Notice that the image appears in the layer window. We'll now create a new layer (navigate to Layer> New>Layer or Shift-Control-N). The new layer is blank. Let's pick a lovely amber for the foreground color, and a deep violet blue for the background color (in the toolbar). Now using the gradient tool (also in the toolbar, it's the little square icon with a gradient in it), we'll lay down a horizontal gradient with the amber gradiating into the blue from top to bottom.
This beautiful color layer has now obscured our photograph. Notice in the layer window the pull down menu with the layer mode. It probably says “Normal.” By clicking on the arrow, one can select from many different modes, such as overlay, multiply, color burn, saturation, luminosity…. Experimenting with these interaction modes will cause the color gradient layer to interact with the background photo in sometimes pleasing, and other times shocking ways. You can see how it is possible to apply the twilight color treatment. By adjusting the opacity of this gradient layer you can cause the effect to recede. Lovely.
Ah, what next…
For those of us who just can't get bright enough, Digital Projections, Barco, and Christie Digital have all rolled out new projectors to satiate our needs. DPI showed their new Lightning 35HD at InfoComm. With a whopping 35,000 center lumens, this projector could very well flash burn your shadow into the wall or set you hair on fire (just kidding). What it will do is punch through just about any lighting environment to deliver insanely bright imagery. It enjoys the benefits of sharing many of the great lensing options available on the other highly regarded Lightning platforms.
Barco has trotted out the XLM H25, a unit that closely resembles some sort of frightening alien weaponry. This unit outputs (you guessed it) 25,000 center lumens. Its impressive form bristles with the oh-so-handy built-in rigging accoutrements. These projectors have really been built with rental and staging firmly in mind.
Christie comes to the circus with its Roadie 25K. The Christie features some very cool innovations like separated ballast and head units, adjustable lamp power, and true 2K film resolution (2048×1080).
All of these units are going to play very well in large staging and entertainment applications. Think arena concert, large scale architectural projections, or large blended corporate backdrops.
THE COOLEST NEW STUDIO TOYS
We are always aggregating new tools and toys that make our lives easier and happier in the workplace. This summer we made the jump to provide every workstation with Wacom tablets. Digital tablets have existed for a while, allowing artists to draw much more naturally in software applications. They provide pressure sensitivity and highly accurate stylus tracking (it really beats drawing with a mouse). Until recently these accessories were pretty costly. We had a single large one that we all would wrestle for control of. Now Wacom has introduced the new Graphire series of tablets. They're smaller and cheaper (around $175), but no less useful. At that price, we equipped every workstation. The tablets save hundreds of man hours per project in accelerating the process, and easily pay for themselves.
Our other favorite new devices in the studio are the super groovy USB storage “keys.” About the size of a fat sharpie, they come in 256MB, 512MB, and now 1GB sizes! They plug in to any PC or Mac with a USB port, and provide handy, portable storage. We use them constantly to move big video and audio files around. Much faster than cramming it over a network. Some of our assistants are fond of putting whole projects on them and working at home (bless them).
Well, sunlight and lemonade call. Enough shop talk for now. Get out there and enjoy the weather!