Compositing tour-de-force Motion introduced at NAB 2004

It was day 2 of the biggest tech-fest in the world, NAB 2004 in fabulous Las Vegas. As our team of steely-eyed reporters searched every nook and cranny for the big stories, we all converged in a private suite where the Apple wizards held court. Find out what we saw, and then come along with me for a highlight or two of a pavement-pounding day in the desert that was as interesting as it was eventful.

Apple has been carving a bigger niche for itself in the broadcast space, with NAB growing in importance on its show schedule. That’s why we at DMN always look forward to our NAB appointment with Apple’s best and brightest each year. This encounter was a particularly exciting one, where Final Cut Pro went HD and a new compositing application, called Motion ($299, summer release), debuted with features that resulted in our genuine amazement. It was as if all of us present at the demo had the hiccups, but substituted the word «wow» for each involuntary spasm. Apple’s idea with Motion was to create an app that would do for compositing what Final Cut Pro did for editing. It will do that and then some, in my opinion. It’s a real time video design engine, that can work in HD with playback that’s as smooth as a baby’s butt. The thing is downright simple to use, where you don’t have to deal with keyframes at all. If you do want to drill down to the keyframe level, you can, but who needs to, with all you can accomplish with its beautiful user interface? The best thing about it is the way its playback loops for you while you make changes that you can see in real time. It feels like a music app, playing back as you work and responding to your adjustments. I also liked the way you can hit a Record button and then the software keeps track of all your actions, which you can smooth out and use immediately. You can also call up a mini-timeline, which shows you the clip you’ve selected, or call up a full timeline that looks a bit like Final Cut Pro. For layering, Photoshop users will like the Photoshop-like layer list, too. And speaking of Photoshop, like After Effects, you can import Photoshop layers into Motion. Who says you have to be Adobe to interact with Adobe software? And, you’re able to use all After Effects filters with Motion, although you won’t get the instant response you get with the 90 filters included in the software from Apple. After you’ve finished all your ministrations with Motion, you render your finished product using Apple’s Compressor, which happens very quickly with Apple’s mighty G5 workstation. Overall, I was bowled over by this application, which I think is so fun and easy to use that it will entice many editors into it who have always thought compositing was far too tedious for them. At the same time, this software has the potential to further alienate Adobe, making After Effects look like some nerdy science project in comparison. All I can say is one more «wow.»

Apple also showed us its new Final Cut Pro HD, whose mantra is like that of many products we’ve seen so far at NAB: «HD like SD.» The idea is to let you work on the desktop the same way you did in the past, but now you can use DVCPRO HD footage and get some great response. Further clearing the way is Apple’s new Digital Cinema Desktop, which lets you use the beautiful Apple Cinema Display for HD playback, saving you the expense of buying a costly HD monitor. Click here for Final Cut Pro expert Peter May’s full report about Apple’s latest version of its fine Final Cut Pro line.

Meanwhile, we kept moving, stopping next at the Pinnacle booth, where founder Ajay Chopra told us about the latest news from Pinnacle. Top of the list for editors is the new Liquid HD, which can handle four layers of HD playback in real time. The company showed 720p 30 footage playing back, without using any hardware acceleration, where the software upgrade for Liquid Edition costs just $200. The video looks great, and its responsiveness is downright remarkable. Pinnacle’s long-GOP compression makes HD as easy to bat around as standard definition, and its demo of this new software showed sho-goers the tremendous potential of the HDV format. Another interesting tidbit from Chopra: Liquid is selling well, with a 40% annual growth rate – there are now 70,000 Liquid seats out there, and the most amazing stat is that there have been 20,000 sold between now (April, 2004) and January of this year. The company also announced compatibility of its products with both Panasonic’s P2 technology and Sony’s XDCam as well. In Vegas, I guess it’s a good idea to cover your bets. Among the myriad of products introduced, I thought another standout was the new Deko3000, available this summer, that is the next version of the world’s most popular character generator. And, there’s no re-training necessary for the thousands of Deko operators, and new features galore have been added. Now you can bring in 3D Max animations, and it supports multiple clip playout, up to four at a time, with one clip per channel in the formidable setup. HD or SD, this new CG looks like it will be able to expand Pinnacle’s lead in the character generator market. Another spectacular demo was that of the newest version of CineWave, now in version 4.6 ($295 upgrade), which brings real time, all the time HD editing to the Mac. A result of collaboration between Apple, Panasonic and Pinnacle, the system can edit two streams and a key of HD in real time and then simultaneously out put HD and SD at the same time with no rendering. It’s quite an accomplishment, and it makes Final Cut Pro HD even more impressive. For even more inside info about Pinnacle’s huge raft of announcements at this year’s NAB, look for the full text of a wide-ranging interview with Pinnacle’s brilliant founding innovator Ajay Chopra, coming up soon here on DMN.

So now it’s back out there, into the fray, to gather the next round of astonishing developments for the perusal of all those lucky enough to be at home during the NAB festivities (just kidding — actually I find this stimulating and invigorating). Stay tuned for more about HD editing, graphics, innovations and much more.