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The MOX SNAFU

With a strange mix of bewilderment and confusion I’ve been following the MOX file format discussion ever since it started out on the After Effects Mailing List. Let me start off by saying that in fact it would be great to have something that matches what MXF and AAF once aspired to be in a form that actually works and solve all those problems with Gamma shifts, different marker and timecode handling, audio track assignments and whatnot. A replacement for the ageing Quicktime has long been overdue, too. So far, so good. But something doesn’t feel right. So far we only have quite sketchy information and well, to me none of it sounds convincing. After reading this interview, let me run you through some of my thoughts.

  • The promise of only relying on OpenSource or patent-free formats is already prematurely limiting the scope of what could possibly achieved. The point is that if you use properly licensed commercial programs that support e.g. MPEG formats or use them natively in their inner workings, there would be nothing wrong putting them into a MOX container and it could still improve workflows by fixing what the others get wrong.
  • Similar to the previous point, hardware devices such as cameras do not record to these free formats (not at all or not as default, at least), meaning that conversions have to happen. That by all means should occur automatically on ingest or import/export or otherwise people will just keep working with what they have and trust.
  • OpenSource does not necessarily mean everything is free (forever) nor that it’s completely without any patent claims. You never know when someone might decide that a specific algorithm or implementation is not hurting another patent and files respective complaints or imposes licensing fees. Or someone could just revoke the use of his stuff completely and then everything collapses from top to bottom.
  • Conversely, even if the MOX spec itself is published as OpenSource and developers are encouraged to let their experiences flow into it, that doesn’t mean it will actually happen. Companies could implement proprietary stuff all the time and just like today, other companies will have to reverse-engineer these parts and implement their own compatibility fixes. Some of the really good stuff may in fact never even become known to the public because someone uses it to have an edge over a competitor in an internal workflow.
  • Just because something is OpenSource or a managed commercial standard doesn’t mean that people get implementations right. Every 3D artist knows how all over the place different OpenEXR, FBX, Alembic and Collada routines are in different programs and what trouble and headaches they can cause. Ergo, long before MOX can work its magic, it’s probably safe to say that software vendors will have to straighten out such basic stuff first.
  • Even if the previous point were less of an issue, you still have to know how formats work, what their shortcomings and limitations are. You have to implement pertinent workarounds and safeguards to make up for that.
  • As formats and programs evolve, so MOX will have to evolve. In this industry, nothing lasts forever and today’s “standard format” could be old news tomorrow. Different development levels will further contribute to fragmentation across versions and ironically at some point 10 years from now people may be discussing all the same frustrations about compatibility and performance issues, the software being bloated, the source code poorly documented and you know what…. SNAFU – situation normal, all fucked up.
  • Especially with the two previous points the whole thing may actually be too ambitious and crumble under its own weight, which again isn’t that untypical for many such projects – they all start out with great, noble goals and in the end the horse becomes too big too ride when only a handful of developers work on it and the rest of the world doesn’t care and loses interest. You just need to visit the “graveyards” of dead projects on GitHub, SourceForge, Kickstarter and elsewhere to have that verified.
  • Finally, and perhaps that’s what gets me most, it seems to me while the people involved seem to have an idea about the technical aspects, they don’t have worked out  how to make it user friendly. There’s simply too much talking about specific technical aspects like CoDecs, compression rates, bit-depths and so on, but to tell you the truth, that, to me, is just the same Quicktime mess all over again. It’s 2014 and I really do not even want to care about what bit-depth or the finer points of the Pros and Cons of different OpenEXR compressions. Why should it even matter to me? If the format uses 32bit internally and has to inflate my 8bit stuff for transfer only to deflate it back when importing in product X then so be it. as long as the conversion is robust enough, and ultimately that should be the point, then there is nothing wrong with that.

As is obvious, in summary I’m a little more than skeptical. Perhaps it simply sounds too good to be true, perhaps seeing things come and go in almost 20 years in the media business has told me otherwise. Either way, even if it takes it will be quite a while before we will see the fruits of the whole endeavor…

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Bigger is better!

For a while now I had this desire for a bigger monitor. My old trusty HP 24″ wasn’t bad even after 8 years, but when pushing around palettes in After Effects and Cinema 4D it always felt like there were a few pixels missing left and right, top and bottom to just display that much more. The hissing sound from the backlight CRTs indicated that it would eventually bite the dust, anyway, even if it still provided a nice color rendition almost native sRGB without many tweaks or excessive calibration. Talk about quality! Now I finally got myself and affordable Asus 27″ as a bit of a self-indulging present for my birthday. By comparison of course it makes my old monitor look pale. The finer pixel pitch alone makes for a completely different feel and my towel-long expressions in After Effects certainly benefit from being able to display more lines. Neat stuff… I just hope it doesn’t impact GPU performance too much on my ageing GTX 580. Dang, do those 980s have to be so expensive… ;-)

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Sketchy Panda

Yesterday I was sifting through my stack of half-finished bedtime evening doodles and decided what to keep and what to trash. one of those things to keep is the little Panda below which inevitably was one of those ideas that came to mind while I was trying my hand at the little nappy bear. It’s not finished and i think the eyes need to be a lot smaller and farther apart to convey that Panda feeling, but I kinda like the idea of him just lazily leaning against a bunch of bamboo stalks and just bending one down to feast on its leaves.

Lazy Panda

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Toddster Alert!

The world is a mad place. If you need any proof of that you only need to follow the career of the one and only  Todd Kopriva. After hanging around there forever, they have now appointed him the product manger for After Effects, replacing the Canadian with the deep voice, Steve Forde. Mmh. I still don’t know what to make of it, as within the complicated mix that are the hierarchies in such big companies as Adobe such positions ultimately may not mean much. The good news is, that with Mr. T. hanging around forums and other places I can’t imagine someone who feels the pulse of the community more, something which was greatly lacking with the predecessors. Still the goal is the same: To turn the product around and actually make it future-proof. For now the biggest challenge remains if they can actually break out of this “Adding new features introduced some issues for which we need a bugfix update that introduces bugs for which we are going to need an update…”. Releasing updates like the just fresh off the production lines 13.1.1 one week after the initial release really should not be necessary. And they seriously need to stop futzing around with the interface. The last time After Effects looked like a trendwhore in CS3 (rounded corners were en vogue back then) it didn’t last very long and just because log-in screens and web configuration pages use cyan-turquoise text on dark grey doesn’t mean I want to look at that all day in a graphics app. I dearly miss the bright interface (always had it up a notch just so it flipped from dark to light)…

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Delays, Delays

With my life now revolving around spending two days or more at doctors or other medical stuff every week, I find myself less and less able to catch up even with the most trivial things. Yesterday I finally managed to polish up my download pages and properly list some content that I had previously only posted here on my blog and if you keep an eye on that, you will notice that I have begun some reorganization on the Error Code Database and sneak in the occasional new article or paragraph.

Much to my regret my constant occupation with taking care of my illness also infinitely delays my activities as a Beta tester (Sorry to everyone who suffers from my lameness with uncaught bugs!) and as it is, I haven’t spent nearly as much time with the latest FreeForm Pro and Shapeshifter updates as the good people at Mettle probably would have wanted me to. On the bright side, the update is free to everyone and actually has some really interesting features, not just bug fixes, the most notable being the Delay options for animation. While it may seem a trivial thing, it adds quite a few interesting ways of using instances similar to how you would use Cloners and Effectors with falloff in Cinema 4D‘s MoGraph to fake particle stuff or simply mass-animate items. From 1980s video feedback effects to stacking cards and coins there is so much you can do with it. If I get around to it, I might actually finish up an idea I have in my head. in the meantime head over to the mettle site and grab your updated plug-ins!

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Flares are a Go!

I swore to myself that I’ll never ever do lens flares again, but inevitably one can’t help but dabble around and try out ideas and once you reach a certain point you actually want to finish what you started. So here is one more collection of flares that I’ve been toying with on and off over the last year or so.

Since even my older packs are still wildly popular and are downloaded several times a week, this time I thought I’d capitalize on it a bit. Yupp, if I had even just one Euro for every download I’d be driving a Mercedes, that’s how popular they appear to be. This means that this time around the flares are not free. Only a few days away is my 40th birthday and Christmas will happen just like every year and since I love buying nice things just as the next guy, trading in a flares pack for Amazon gift cards is a fun idea. 2 Euros per flare seems a fair price to me, but I perfectly understand if you feel differently. When it comes to it, we are all short on money, are we not? ;-) As a consolation you get at least some free projects and I think you can learn some interesting techniques from them.

As in the past the presets come in GenArts‘ own preset format, so they can be used with any program that supports Sapphire effects like Nuke, Fusion, Premiere Pro and so on. If you feel so inclined to get more info and possibly make me a happy man with those vouchers, head over to my content site:

GenArts Lens Flares Pack 4

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X times 3

While I’m often on the verge of giving Cinema 4D the boot because I’m so tired of its shortcomings and quirks, other times I’m still amazed what you can do with it once you can get over those frustrations (insert or subtract the still valid complaints about the renderer as you see fit here). A good part of this positive impression is of course a handful of interesting plug-ins. I’ve written about X-Particles a couple of times and this time is no exception. Yepp, version 3 has just been announced and once more raises the bar by adding even more features, in particular a hybrid particle/ fluid solver, which of course with the introduction of simple liquids in v2 already only seems logical or even inevitable. This looks promising and the good news for you is that this will be a public Beta, so you can try it out soon enough if you sign up. And the price is still more than fair, so I’m in the boat for buying the upgrade most likely, even if I rarely find the time to just dabble around with this stuff.

Edit: The picture for the Electrix modifier reminded me that this setup also contains something similar using Hair and a few trick with deformers. If you don’t want to wait until the Beta and are in desperate need of lightning bolts, you might give this a whirl.

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