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Hot Club of Cowtown: Creative Cow West 2003
Posted Apr 1, 2003 Print Version     Page 1of 1

The Creative Cow West 2003 conference, held February 18-20 in the Westin LAX hotel, hit the ground running with the most brass-tacks, technical keynote that it's ever been my pleasure to attend—probably because it was delivered by a techie with a natural gift for comedy (and a name to suit). Stephen Wright, author of Digital Compositing for Film and Video, gave an address entitled "HDTV in Film and Video Production," and delivered a detailed how-to on just that, but with enough genuine humor to keep it lively. For me, the keynote hit its high note with a brief digression on the numerical synergy of the two sets of numbers associated with "fullscreen" and "widescreen" aspect ratios, 4:3 and 16:9. "Did you ever notice that 16 is 4 squared, and 9 is 3 squared?" Wright asked the audience, dead-pan. And continued: "I've spent months trying to assign meaning to that."

Of course, the keynote wasn't all set-ups and punchlines; Wright delivered good, solid information on HD-SD standards conversion (and vice versa); acceptable resolutions, scan modes, and frame rates for HD and how they're represented and mix-and-matched; current barriers to commercial HD digital projection ("We need lower-cost projectors and rent-lease programs so theater owners will ante up"); and the need to shoot video with delivery aspect ratios in mind (and the consequences of not doing so). All in all, his address hit its target perfectly for an "industry in a state of flux," as characterized by Cow director Ron Lindeboom, and a conference designed as a place "where some of the more serious people in DV meet film."

Cliff Meltzer, CEO of Digital Fountain, supplier of Transporter endpoint bandwidth management technology to studios needing to deliver "digital dailies" electronically over vast distances, told me on the show floor that "we're living in times when you can't sell vitamins—you can only sell aspirin." All of which sounds to me like a bad time for conferences and trade shows—which are much more analogous to vitamins than aspirin—especially a first-time show like Creative Cow, which aims to take their longstanding and densely populated online user community ( and turn it into a profitable three-day live experience. Sometimes the worst of times can be the best of times, too.

A big part of the live Cow experience was the conference program, which was almost entirely focused on illuminating specific practical aspects of popular digital video production tools like Adobe After Effects, Sonic Foundry's Vegas, and discreet's combustion. A full-day seminar on Vegas with V.A.S.S.T. trainer Douglas Spotted Eagle was an early highlight of the show, particularly as it gave attendees their first glance (and a prolonged one, at that) at Vegas 4.0, which dramatically upgrades the longstanding video editing tool and marks the first version to integrate DVD authoring capability in the first-generation DVD Architect. Calling the software "lightning fast," yet admitting that it has the predictable limitations of a 1.0 product, Spotted Eagle said DVD Architect "takes a whole different viewpoint of DVD authoring." One key advantage of Architect, like Vegas, he said, is its support of AC3 and 5.1 audio—a pleasant if only mild surprise, owing to Sonic Foundry's audio roots. Other tool tutorials involved Alias/Wavefront MAYA, Apple Final Cut Pro, and NewTek VideoToaster, with down-in-the-thick-of-it topics like "Motion Typography Effects in AE," "Speed Logging and First Cut in Final Cut," and "Paint FX and Scene-Dressing Techniques." Not for the faint of heart, but not your typical ho-hum marketing-presentation panel, either.

The last day of the show found EMedia (Creative Cow West's Media Partner) sponsoring a day-long DVD track, designed to help experienced DV pros make the transition to DVD.

The conference, organized and produced by Creative Cow in coordination with MEVmedia, also boasted an exhibit floor comprised of 39 companies from the intersecting worlds of digital video production and storage, 3D animation, and DVD authoring and delivery, with 1,800+ attendees circulating among the booths. Sonic Foundry had the biggest rollout in the digital studio space with the debut of Vegas 4.0 and Vegas+DVD; Sonic Solutions' Scenarist Studio, a feature-reduced introductory version of Scenarist Pro (see "Scenarist Goes Studio," also made its first trade show appearance at the Cow. Ulead Systems introduced AC-3 Powerpack, a key new plug-in which adds 5.1 surround file import and Stereo AC-3 creation to its popular corporate-level DVD authoring tool, DVD Workshop.

Another major rollout more or less coinciding with the Cow (though officially announced February 5) was Boris FX's Continuum Complete 2.0, an extensive set of filters for Adobe After Effects 5.5, Final Cut Pro 3, Discreet combustion 2.1, and the company's own Boris RED. The 110-filter package includes such features as 16-bit processing, optical flow for high-quality footage retiming, 32 new filters including new texture generators, hundreds of user-customizable presets, filter-specific electronic help, and substantial revisions to filters available in previous iterations of the product to enhance quality and speed.

On the graphical effects side, one of the more interesting new offerings in evidence was wondertouch's particleIllusion 3.0. Originally developed by Impulse as part of their Illusion particle effects software line, and designed by current wondertouch CEO Alan Lorence, particleIllusion 3.0 is a sprite-based particle effects generation tool designed for film post-production and pre-visualization environments and for use with both standard and HD video for commercial broadcast applications. Lorence notes that like video itself, particleIllusion is exclusively a 2D tool, which gives it significant advantages over 3D tools in rendering speed at little cost in terms of visual impact. "Ninety percent of the 3D shots you see don't need to be 3D. Faking 3D effectively"—with an additional payoff in speed and ease of use—"is what particleIllusion is all about." Lorence adds that as a "sprite-based tool," particleIllusion enables users to work with 2D objects (either preset, imported, or self-generated), and alter images or behaviors as needed to change the visual effect. Most important of all to the video workflow process, Lorence says, "particleIllusion is one tool you won't have to wait for."

Here's hoping we won't have to wait too long for another Creative Cow event, either.

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