Saturday, March 04, 2006

Fast and the Furious

There is a Boxx Tech workstation on the way and I can't wait!! But I'm going to have to... I'll keep you updated. I'm so excited.

11 Comments:

Blogger Lady K said...

Okay, so this helps with animation? Tell me what this will do... I'm computer literate enough to turn on my computer without blowing up the apartment building but not much more. Which oddly enough makes me a genius at work.

I've been putting off getting a more professional version of Illustrator or Photoshop for my own work because I'm concerned that I won't use it to it's potential or just get frustrated and not use it at all.

I admire your ability to balance your artistic side with your technological side. And I'm still waiting for more green screen sock puppet adventures!

3:41 AM  
Blogger Gina said...

Hi lady k, it's good to see you : ) I love your computer skills description, you are always so creative and such a fun read!
Yes, the work station will help me, mostly in speed. See when I make the 3d models and then animate them, the final stage is to output it from the program (which is called rendering), like for example into an .mov or an .avi movie (of course with the big ones I've learned to only render them out as individual frames and later put them together in my post edit compositing program). But anyway, when I'm done with my animation and I need to render it, this can take hours for shorter ones and days or weeks etc. for longer ones. The longer the animation the longer the render. Rendering uses pretty much all of the cpu power, all the memory and heats the computer up like no tomorrow. In the Dermal Display animation I had some spontaneous crashes and soon figured out that it was due to overheating, the system can only work at full capacity for so long. I downloaded a program called speed fan (via the suggestion of a fellow commenter here on the blog) and watched my temperature, I also put a human size fan right next to my computer when I was rendering, I soon figured out that I could only render say 500 frames at once and would stop it, shut down the computer for a few hours, letting it rest and then would start it up again. If I tried to render more than 500 I would crash my system. This was one of the other really nice benefits of rendering my animation as individual stills instead of movies, because this way when I stopped I would just continue on the next frame instead of losing a whole movie file (which would mean starting over, which would mean crashing). Was that too much information? Okay my point about the workstation is that it has a duel processor so the work load is divided up. It has a 4 Gig RAM which is the maximum that Windows can have, so that's tons of new memory, so when I render with these specs it should render much faster leaving me more time to meet deadines and work on other parts of my projects. With my next project I will be attempting to render a total of an hour to two hours of material so I know that the laptop that I have been using won't hold up under this kind of pressure. In fact I think I have a blown fan in my laptop anyway (I've have a flat fan sitting underneath it right now - if I forget to turn it on before I turn my system on, I crash pretty quickly). It sounds shocking that I use a laptop, and I do have a desktop but my laptop was custom built for animating and actually has higher specs than my desktop! When the workstation gets here and I have all of my programs installed, I am going to run a test to compare the difference between my current system and the new one, it will be interesting to time the two rendering the same scene and see how much faster the workstation is.

Although I have used Illustrator in the past, I don't use it currently, but I do know it's vector based so it's nice clean no pixel images. I do however use Photoshop and I couldn't do any of my work without it. I make my materials to apply to my models with it and do tons of pre and after editing, slicing, dicing, color manipulating, and webpage jazz with it. If I were not a animator or webpage designer I could probably get away with using the image/photo programs that come preloaded with Windows XP. It really comes down to is it worth the money in comparison to your needs (and if it will pay for itself). But either way, do not be afraid! When you don't know something it's daunting, it's a little scary but if you do decide that it's worth it to you, you could learn it if you sat down and worked through some of the tutorials.

The green screen! This is one of the big issues left for me that I am trying to resolve before I get working on my next project (which I will begin when the workstation arrives). My next project requires that I really get my green screen problem fixed. I was having some discussion with my animator friend (same one as mentioned above) about this problem and it might be that my particular green screen is not high enough quality, although it might be a lighting issue as well, or more than likely, both. I might also need to take a good look at my camera. Within the next few days I am going to run some experiments to see if it can be resolved with a flood light. If its not I might have to get a new green screen. I did download a demo of one of the stand alone green screen programs and figured out that my footage is just not quality enough to be successful the way it is. So I don't really think it's a program problem (mine is probably fine) but rather a filming problem. Maybe I'll run my tests with the puppet! Thank you for the nice words, smile : )

3:35 PM  
Blogger Gina said...

Hey lady k, check my newest post : )

2:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Windows only addresses 2 gigs of Ram unless BOXX has already addressed the 3 gig switch.

Have you gone to start>control panel>system? How much ram is being recognized?

Anyway... I had a friend walk me through a dos interface command to get windows to recognize 3 gigs of ram. Which is great because I can go into Combustion's preferences and take the RAM number up to 2 Gigs. Makes for better ram previews.

When vista launches this is going to make stuff fly. That is once apps are ported to Vista. Because the RAM limits go WAAAAAAAAAY up. I forget how high, but they are huge... like 32 or more gigs of RAM. Which would mean you could cache huge animations in combustion.

BOXX is great. Top of the line. Congrats.

Mike James
vfxpodcast.com

6:08 PM  
Blogger Gina said...

Hi Mike, I talk with the box representative on the phone and she assured me that it can recognize up to 4, but I don't have it yet so I can't prove it : ) I called today and they said that if it passed the test today it would be going out tomorrow, and get here sometime between Friday and Monday. It has a dual Opteron model 280 (dual core), the ram is described as Dual Channel 4GB DDR400 ECC (4 DIMMS) and it's got a raid core for storage. I won't go on with every little detail but you get the drift. I was really pleased with how they dealt with me and with the purchase options and the ability to upgrade along the way. I'm really looking forward to seeing how much quicker my work will be finished with the workstation, but I will have a lot to do to set it up too. I researched around before I selected Boxx, but I'm glad to hear your stamp of approval!

Hmmm, very curious about your Dos finagling.

Yes I've been keeping up with when Vista will be released but I had no idea about the huge increase in Ram capability, wow! 32!!!! I can hardly believe it.

You can see I've got that green screen test done pretty well using the flood light on the green (posterboard in this case). I ran another test though, right after this snake one which had a different puppet with hair in it (but big yarn hair, not thin human like hair) and I had troubles with the area between her shoulder and head. There was some grey muddle that the clean up didn't remove, and of course if I put on a second keyer, the whole thing is to washed out. I've been using a linear keyer. When I get a second light I'll try again with both background and subject lit up and I'll let you know how it goes. What are your thoughts regarding cameras?

I've got another question for you Mike, to the best of your knowledge, and I know that it depends on the variables but how long to you think it would take for some one to animate and render out an hour or two hours of material for television?
Thanks for always sticking around and always providing great advice! And how is your project going?

12:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The project is coming along fine. Unfortunately I'm under an NDA and you'll never see any of it. Most of it is Real Estate related. Private deals being inked not on MLS and between developers. Thousands of acres that will be complete communities, but I can't say where or who. I've been given renderings of condos, houses, etc. Most of my work is using Max, Boujou for 3D tracking and Combustion/Shake for compositing stuff. Then I'll go out to DVD for the private investor presentations.

It sucks because it will never be seen or be able to be used on a portfolio, but at least I am getting paid for my time. Not great pay, but at least I am doing something that I am passionate about.

BTW, I'll bet that you won't have to worry about the boot.ini file. That is how you tweak the settings for a windows system to recognize more than 2 gigs of ram. Actually the LIMIT is 3.75 gigs. So even though you have 4 gigs. It will only show 3.75 in your settings as I described earlier. That is not anyone's fault but microsoft. Such is life.

But don't sweat it. You did the right thing. BOXX is awesome. I wear one of their tshirts regularly that I got at a Maya meeting. They are the best in the VFX market for online sellers. If you work with a systems integrator locally you can find something out of HP a bit cheaper, but BOXX has better support.

I have access to HP systems which are used by Pixar, Dreamworks, etc... but they are not that much cheaper than BOXX and you would have to bring them in locally to get them fixed if anything went wrong. Bottom line? You did good.

Even though Dell announced today that it is buying Alienware. Alienware is NOT a good VFX solution. They are good for gaming machines, but NOT for hard core 3D or VFX work. BOXX is.

As for cameras? Wow. That is a loaded gun.

I'd say the "best" handheld low end 3CCD camera is the one I have. It is a Panisonic GS-250. It retails for roughly $1000, but I bought brand new from a guy in Japan for $599. It comes with japanese writing on the outside of the camera, but the menu screen can be set to english and it comes with a printed english manual. Japan is on NTSC (not PAL) so it is already set to our standards. The images are easily as good as a GL2 (Canon GL2 which is a $2400 camera).

The GS-250 has less manual features as the GL2, but it does has manual focus and many extra settings that make it (in my opinion) the best hand held DV cam on the market. It is over a year old though. And the new Panasonic cameras have come down in price, but they have also stripped out features and lens stuff. So I still say the GS-250 is the best 3CCD camera on the market.

more....

7:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

However, if you intend to go to HD resolutions you might want to wait for April. Sony will be shipping a hand held $999 HDV camera. Not as many features as their higher end models, but it does record to tape with HDV resolutions.

Of course if you asked me what would I buy right now if I wanted to do HD???? I 'd get the HVX-200 (panasonic). It is roughly $5995 + extra for the P2 cards which are solid state. This camera is literally changing the marketplace because of it's resolution, it's variable frame rates and the fact that it records to the P2 cards at 4:2:2 color space. And it can record to It records to DVCPro, etc. More here:
http://www.panasonic.com/business/provideo/hvx200/index.asp
and here:
http://catalog2.panasonic.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/ModelDetail?displayTab=O&storeId=11201&catalogId=13051&itemId=93120&catGroupId=15768&modelNo=AG-HVX200&surfModel=AG-HVX200

DV is 4:1:1 which is why it is tough to key. HDV is 4:2:0. This HVX-200 records to 4:2:2 which is GREAT for keying. This is a dream camera. It has features like Varicam (a $60,000 camera) and other features as well, but even with the P2 cards (which can be inserted into a laptop's PCMIA slot for instant transer) it is still under $9000 in total price.

The next level up is way way up there in price. But at NAB this year the founder of Oakley sunglasses is revealing the "Red" camera. The specs are totally crazy. 4K resolution with 60FPS down to 2FPS variable rates in between. Unreal. I"ll bet it is $25K or so, but the nearest competitor is over $125,000. This camera won't even release until late '06 early '07, but they promised more info for NAB2006 and pricing estimates as well. Red.com is the temporary and incomplete site for info.

BTW, the info / review for the GS-250 is at this link ( a great site for camcorder info ) http://www.camcorderinfo.com/content/Panasonic-PV-GS250-Camcorder-Review.htm

For digital cameras I have a Canon 350D (a.k.a. Digital Rebel) and I have a Canon 20D (30D was just announced and releasing). The digital rebel is a DSLR with an 8 megapixel res. The 20D is bigger and more sturdy and an 8.2 megapixel res. Both of course, shoot raw.

Then I have a Sony DSC-H1 which is a 5.1 megapixel digital zoom series. It is a no brainer point and shoot camera that takes amazing pictures for a point and shoot. I'm actually looking to throw this on ebay at some point so if you know anyone looking for a great no-brainer camera let me know. I have a 1 gig sony pro-memory stick and lens filters with it.

That's all I can think of for now.

Mike James
VFXpodcast.com

7:27 PM  
Blogger Gina said...

I'm so glad to hear your project is going well, it sounds like interesting work. It is too bad you can't save it for demonstration, but like you said, it's a job and with your experience and knowledge I don't need to see it to know that it's got to be good work.
Thanks for the confirm on the BOXX, I hadn't looked into service, so that's another great point.

Wow, that's really great information, thank you so much! It's funny I had been looking at that Cannon since I saw it as one of the most popular mentions on some of the boards. Panasonic is a good price for the good results you're getting, and as long as the manual and settings are in English, no matter what's on the camera right! See, HD is what I am trying to decide. I haven't figured it out yet. This would be for t.v but since HD isn't everywhere yet and would increase render time by 3 (am I right?) I'm not sure if it's worth it. It would be worth it on the other hand to have one great for keying. I will definitely be using this for green screen work. The 25 - 125 is out of my price range. Have you seen this page: http://www.dvxuser.com/articles/shoot3/
I can't tell you how valuable your posts are to me, I very much appreciate your taking the time to provide your insight.

By the way, your podcast has such great audio quality.

2:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No problem (sharing info). It's what it is all about to me. Another friend of mine does a lot of free articles and has written a book on dvd authoring. He had a great site, but got tired of trying to keep hackers from ruining his forums and hosting companies not backing up the data. His site is Editorsbin.com. Worth watching if you want NLE or DVD info.

NAB is a month away so new cameras and such will be released and current models will be marked down a little. That high end camera stuff is out of my reach as well, BTW. That is just crazy.

BTW, I have a contact for high end workstations (HP). HP is what dreamworks, Pixar and LucasFilms uses. But they ain't cheap ($3000-$7000), but I have a contact that can get them 10% off because he is a reseller of HP products. Boxx is solid though. You did well.

The only difference that HP would give you is that they "certify" their workstations for certain products. Like 3DS Max, Maya, etc... basically all the high end 3D and 2D apps, NLEs etc. What it means is that you can call autodesk and there is actually an HP person on staff there that can troubleshoot max/hardware issues for example. But... they are expensive systems.

The Boxx you bought is solid. I'm just telling you about the HP workstations to let you know they exist. Many a movie or high end VFX work is done on Boxx and HP workstations.

Thanks for the comment about the audio quality. It takes a lot of fiddling with the room itself and then in processing with ProTools. I have the little Mbox with ProTools 7 LE and a RODE studio microphone. The Mbox is bundled with the ProTools for $500 and the rode mic was $199. With a stand and cables to hook up to the Mbox it was around $770. Not cheap, but not too bad when you consider the audio quality. After all the Mbox just connects to the back of a computer via a USB cable to record direct to disk. But the key is to have a dedicated hard drive for audio. The little booklet tells you how to format the drive for audio as well.

I haven't done them because of my schedule and it really does take a lot of time to do each one. But I'll start again sometime after I finish this gig.

I saw you have new publications with your nano stuff in it! That's cool! Good job.

-MJ vfxpodcast.com

5:01 PM  
Anonymous eddy said...

Hi Gina,
Im new to the world of animation and currently still in the process of learning. I start with my 2D animation and mostly using flash and other imaging software such as Illustrator and photoshop and might start with my 3D next year. What suprise me is, you are working with your laptop. I have heard some of the opinion regarding the system that we have to used when we are really getting serious into animation. Most my colleague recommend me mac system rather than windows system. So according your experience does it really make a big difference? because those who recommended me to use that kind of system is not an animator they are just technology savvy, they dont have a real experience as the basis of their recommendation. Obviously when i look at you website and your works it tells me the quality, what i want to know is the difficulty/ frustration your encounter when using your exisiting system if there is any.. Btw you really have a quality work and well done

10:41 PM  
Blogger Gina said...

Hi eddy, sounds like you are on your way. Congratulations! Yes, I was using a laptop but it was customized with two hard drives and a hi graphics card (if you look at gaming systems, often times they work very well for animators too - that was how I had this one built). It worked well for me at the time but since this post I have gone on to bigger projects that have bigger requirements and I am now leasing a workstation. If you are learning or doing short movies, you'll be fine with the typical desktop system (make sure to back up and render out in image stills so you don't lose anything if you crash), but if you are going to be doing TV, games, movies, DVD's etc. on your own you'll want a bigger system, but NOT if you are hired by someone else! If you are hired to work at a production house they will have their own systems for you to work on so you don't really need to worry about that yet. I work for myself so I have to have all my own equipment, you can keep this very basic if you are looking to work with others.

As far as PC vs. Mac, yes Mac's have a reputation for their stability, (this was due to all the parts made by the same company) and while I think the two systems (Apple vs. Windows) were more different in the past I'm not so sure about that any more, especially now with Mac using an Intel chip. Now, while I've used both, I haven't done animation work on a Mac, I know that until now the rumor is they allocate memory in such a way that it renders faster (3d not 2d), but I can't verify that and honestly while I've heard the rumors I have not seen any statistical comparisons to confirm it either. Honestly I don't think you can go wrong either way, I know there is a sense of loyalty with users (remember this when you are getting advice!) but it's really going to depend on what you are working with. For example, before I started and got my training, I used demo's of the major animation programs (Lightwave, Maya and Max) this helped me decide what I felt most comfortable using. This is a good idea for making your own personal choice, I chose Max and since Max runs on a PC, this is the operating system I must use. Most of my programs use Windows and the truth is that more programs are made for Windows than are for Apple systems, so I find that I have more tools available to me by using Windows. Another good thing about Windows is that their new system, Vista has such a huge memory capability, but I don't have Vista yet. I always wait a while before upgrading systems so that I know all my programs have been updated to use them. But I am really looking forward to it. It's going to really improve my work timelines.

Before making up your mind I would figure out what programs you prefer and move on from there... that's really the best way to make your decision, basing it on what you feel most comfortable using. After all you're going to be spending a lot of time there. And thank you for the compliments!

4:54 PM  

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