Ever since late 2001, it's been de rigueur when talking about trade shows to focus on the numbers, and at virtually every show for the last two years, those numbers—whether you're talking square footage, attendance, or revenue—have been down. So it'd be easy to spin the story of Entertainment Technology World (ETW), held in Chicago November 6-9, into a by-the-numbers tale.
But that would be missing the point. Sure, ETW—new owner Mindshare Ventures' combination of the venerable ShowBiz Expo, which has 20 years under its belt in Los Angeles, and L.A. Digital—fell short of attendance predictions for its inaugural Windy City event, with 3,500 registrants as of the end of Friday. And with just over 100 exhibitors and sponsors, it certainly lacked the visceral punch of some of the shows we're used to attending on the coasts. (Note to Mindshare: The dimly lit confines of the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center didn't help matters any.)
Still, you couldn't help but wonder if this ETW represented the brave new world of trade shows, where bigger isn't always better, and you've got to go to the people rather than expecting them to come to you. Even if the expo was short on new product announcements, it offered a conference program and keynotes that, frankly, boasted more appeal than those at some of the bigger shows we've been to in 2003. Judging from the cities and organizations on the badges—lots of indie filmmakers, colleges, and small post houses—ETW furnished something else those big shows can't: The chance for folks on the Third Coast, not to mention points north and south, to get an up-close look at the latest in cameras and post-production tools without having to fly halfway across the country.
Pinnacle was there, with hands-on demos of Liquid Edition sponsored by Syntax Media, a Chicago firm combines the functions of reseller, trainer, and post-production facility, as well as offering their own software, a nifty little program called M2CD, which creates autorun presentations on CD and DVD. Syntax also trains on Canopus Edius and Adobe Premiere, both of which were represented at the show with well-attended demo booths.
Avid also was on hand with the show's only major product announcement, a new version of the company's Xpress DV software that retails for $695, a marked decrease from the last version, which was introduced in late 2002 for $1,699. The Xpress DV bundle includes Boris Graffiti LTD, Sorenson Squeeze 3 Lite, and Sonic's DVDit! SE. Unlike the latest version of Adobe Premiere, Xpress DV is still compatible with both Windows and Mac machines, and ships with both Mac and Windows versions in the same box.
ETW offered the first trade show look at Primera's Accent Disc Laminator, which offers glossy or matte coatings on top of its color inkjet CD and DVD printing. Though the Primera booth didn't have a working Accent unit, the Accent demo discs looked snazzy indeed; even the matte laminate enhances contrast and makes the underlying colors more vibrant, and the holographic effect allows the addition of an unobtrusive but clear corporate logo on top of the actual printing. As for Primera's flaghship product, the Bravo Disc Publisher, central marketing rep Chris Lange said that the Mac-compatible version, introduced at the January 2003 MacWorld, has been an unqualified success. "For a while there, sales of the Mac product were far and away outpacing the PC version," Lange says. "Even now, we're selling about 50/50 Mac and PC."
Focus on 3D
If you walked away learning anything from ETW, it was likely that 3D effects and animation are the next frontier that editors and compositors are eager to explore. "More and more customers are coming to us looking for 3D training," says Syntax Media marketing director Sharon Wagner, and her sentiments were echoed across the show floor. Boris FX and Apple Shake 3 drew big crowds for demos of their compositing tools, but there were surprisingly few 3D animation tools on hand to take advantage of the growing market. Alias stood out with its Maya 5.0, the only professional-level 3D software on the floor.
The lack of mid- or high-end 3D tools just meant more traffic for some entry-level alternatives, like Hash, Inc.'s Animation Master, a spline-based modeling and animation tool that gives hobbyists and prosumers entry into the 3D world for $299. While not as full-featured as Maya (or, for that matter, absentees like Discreet's 3ds max and NewTek's Lightwave 3D), the tool has plenty to offer at a low-budget price.
Equally impressive was Wondertouch's particleIllusion, a 2D tool that achieves 3D looks with its sprite-based particle effects. "Some people are still hesitant to make the leap to 3D," says Wondertouch president and founder Alan Lorence, who took over the product he designed from its former distributor, Impulse, in July 2002. "The people who use particleIllusion are usually creative types who are visual-minded, not programmers." Though the software's been used on TV shows and feature films—including Smallville and Star Trek: Enterprise, as well as for the collapsing dam sequence in X2: X-Men United—it offers the ability to change settings with the drag of a mouse, making it ideal for hobbyists. Plus, since it's only 2D, it renders in near-real time.
DV, DVD, and Beyond
Conference sessions included tracks focusing on everything from digital video production and event videography "bootcamps" to two-day Final Cut Pro and After Effects users conferences, while the keynotes ran the gamut from "Building a Top-Notch Corporate Digital Video Department" to "Editing The Sopranos."
Two highlights demonstrate the range that ETW tried to cover. On the technical side was a 75-minute session called "Solving the Mysteries of Competing DVD Formats" presented by Maxell director of technology Rich D'Ambrise. Most of what he had to say is old news to EMedia readers, but for the standing-room only crowd, D'Ambrise offered a concise, clear breakdown of the history of the format, as well as suggesting direction for the future.
Most notably, perhaps, he predicted that media and hardware manufacturers will finally achieve the long-elusive 100% disc-player compatibility by spring of 2004. When asked about the latest technology, dual-layer recording, D'Ambrise didn't mince words. "I have my doubts that we'll see much dual-layer recording at all, much less rewritable dual-layer recording," he says. "People aren't going to want to invest in the hardware just to double capacity."
As for future formats that he thought might fare better, D'Ambrise pointed to the 27GB BluRay, introduced earlier this year by Sony in Japan, and the 20GB Advanced Optical Disc that D'Ambrise says Toshiba, Maxell, and NEC will introduce shortly, Currently, Maxell is working on a format called High-Speed Write Once, a 200GB-per-side disc with a 400Mbps transfer rate that D'Ambrise says will be able to store pure high-definition content. He also said Maxell is working on the Mammos format, a 50GB, 50Mpbs high-end magneto-optical disc. He predicts both formats will come to market in late 2004 or early 2005.
On the creative side, filmmaker Albert Maysles gave an inspiring keynote on "Documentaries: Handheld and From the Heart." Best-known for Gimme Shelter, the documentary he shot with his brother David at the Rolling Stones' ill-fated 1969 concert at Altamont Speedway in 1969—during which Hell's Angels beat to death an 18-year-old black fan—Maysles talked about the need for filmmakers to let stories tell themselves rather than imposing an auteur's will upon the content. "Michael Moore is a terrible documentary filmmaker," Maysles said. "He doesn't want anything in his films to question the merit of his original propositions. That's outrageous. That's not knowledge, that's prejudice. What is knowledge if it's not truthful?"
Maysles acknowledged that the biggest problem facing documentary filmmakers has always been distribution; even as a widely known practitioner of the art, he rarely gets his films shown on television. But he looks to DVD as the savior of the genre, letting fimmakers get their stories out cheaply through self-distribution.
While Maysles' talk was mostly a refreshing combination of cynicism about the current state of entertainment affairs and romanticism about its untapped possibilities, even he wasn't immune from getting down to the nuts and bolts of technology. "So what if the image in DV isn't quite as good as in film?" he says, adding that he shoots everything now with a Sony DSR PD-150 that he loves for its manual zoom. "That kind of quality isn't need for a documentary, so it's just not worth the sacrifices of using film."
Maysles recently shot a documentary of the Dalai Lama's visit to New York in September. His favorite sequence in the movie, he says, was one that would have been unthinkable had he been shooting on film. "I went in to shoot the Dalai Lama's daily meditation at 5 a.m., and was told that I'd probably have to turn some lights on," Maysles recalls, cringing at the thought of intruding on the holy man's sacred time. "I just smiled and thought, ‘Not with DV I won't.'"