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Simple, elegant screenwriting.

Needables
  • Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GH4KBODY 16.05MP Digital Single Lens Mirrorless Camera with 4K Cinematic Video (Body Only)
    Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GH4KBODY 16.05MP Digital Single Lens Mirrorless Camera with 4K Cinematic Video (Body Only)
    Panasonic
  • TASCAM DR-100mkII 2-Channel Portable Digital Recorder
    TASCAM DR-100mkII 2-Channel Portable Digital Recorder
    TASCAM
  • The DV Rebel's Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap (Peachpit)
    The DV Rebel's Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap (Peachpit)
    by Stu Maschwitz

Entries in Apple (29)

Wednesday
Oct122011

The Misfits, the Rebels, the Troublemakers

This is long, personal, rambling, and a week too late. There are so many better things your could read about Jobs than this. I’m posting it because I didn’t want to look back at this year on Prolost and see just a hole here. If you decide to read on, this is as good a time as any for me to humbly thank your for your attention.

In 1985, i was learning to program BASIC on an Apple II in my 8th grade computer programming class. I wrote a Death Star trench flight simulator that was every bit as impressive as my ability to not ask girls to the dance.

That same year, a friend whose father worked at the local university took me to a special room where they had a Macintosh. Instead of our usual skateboarding and lighting things on fire, we spent hours drawing Opus the penguin in Macpaint.

In film school I used Amigas for filmmaking, but when I graduated I bought myself a PowerBook 170 with a black and white screen. I felt I could afford it because I was working at my dream job, using a $40,000 Silicon Graphics workstation to create visual effects for movies like Twister and Mission: Impossible. On the latter, I met John Knoll, who showed me how he was using his Mac to recreate space battle shots for the Star Wars special edition.

He looked like he was having so much fun. My SGI workstation felt like an incredibly powerful computer. John’s Mac seemed like a limitless creative tool. I started taking my own time to learn After Effects, Electric Image, and Photoshop. I spent close to $10,000 setting up a pimped-out PowerMac at home. I started writing screenplays and dreaming up short films. After a year of learning how to be a post-graduate human, I was back to making my own movies with computers.

John Knoll started the Rebel Mac Unit at ILM and asked me to lead it. The systems guys took my SGI workstation away and replaced it with a Mac. For a minute, I panicked. I was about to bet my career on the theory that I could create ILM-quality effects using a computer and software that any idiot could buy.

We made space battles for Star Trek, displays for Men in Black, a minefield for Galaxy Quest, and hundreds of shots for a new Star Wars movie. We had jackets made with the Rebel Alliance logo on one shoulder and an Apple logo on the other, stitched black-on-black because there were people at the company who genuinely hated what we were doing.

When I saw the first digital video camera, the Sony VX1000, I bought it immediately. I got my hands on an early prototype of a FireWire card and put it in one of the two Macs I had on my desk (that was Rebel Mac’s version of a multitaksing OS). I started writing a short film that would be finished completely on a home computer.

The name “Rebel Mac” hearkened back to the stories of Jobs starting the Mac division at an Apple that had sprawled out of his control. But we couldn’t use it in public, because ILM had an exclusive PR deal with SGI that ended the year I quit that dream job.

Rendering The Last Birthday Card in After Effects 4 on the blue G3 in 1999. Click to enlarge. Don’t miss the render time.

With my new blue G3 tower and version 1.0 of Final Cut, I finished my short and joined two friends in starting a company to make films and effects. We had grandiose ideas and “Lombard” PowerBooks. To promote our launch at the Sundance film festival, we made a promotional DVD with a pre-release version of Apple’s DVD Studio Pro.

We released version 1.0 of Magic Bullet. It was Mac-only and cost $999.

Our company grew, and our PowerPC-based Mac Pro workstations started to feel slow. We decided to switch to Windows, in part for access to faster Intel processors. Adobe and Intel worked with us on that transition, and I even took out an “advertorial” with them talking about our decision. We didn’t receive much in exchange for the promotion. Amidst rumors of a skunkworks division at Apple testing OS X on Intel processors, I had been considering writing a letter to Steve Jobs explaining the difficult position we were in. The advertorial was the easiest way to make sure he’d read it.

Apple responded by terminating our beta testing of Final Cut Pro, and retracting an offer to bid on the launch video for a new PowerPC Mac. I heard through a friend who got the video gig that Steve Jobs had referred to me as a “whore.”

I remember being so thrilled that he knew who I was.

Two years later at WWDC, Jobs announced that Apple would be switching to Intel.

That was 2005. Around this time, I was collecting my thinking about accessibility, creativity, filmmaking technology and post production into a book. It’s pointless to describe how essential my Apple laptop was to creating The DV Rebel’s Guide. Now you can read it on an iPad.

I directed the Second Unit on a movie in 2007. I had my 17” MacBook Pro with me every day. So integral to my process was it that the grip crew built a stand for it on my monitor cart. We called it the Nerd Station.

When we closed our company in 2009, I was once again left with nothing more than my Mac laptop. Now, when I walk into the offices of an executive who might be greenlighting the next phase of my career, it’s either that laptop in my hand, or my iPad.

Steve Jobs was instrumental in creating the tools that were not only the means of my creative work, they made me feel that there was no limit to what I could do. Everyone else makes computers for people who like computers. Steve Jobs made computers for people who like life.

He also made computers for people who can’t help but make things. When I’m working on the next Magic Bullet idea, there’s not a moment that I don’t try to imagine what Jobs would do in my shoes. How would he handle this idea, these products, this launch? On my best days I feel like I’m channeling a hundredth of a percent of his design principals—but in my own way, as he so eloquently reminded us.

As it happens, the day we all learned that Steve Jobs was gone, I had lunch at Pixar. A beautiful place full of amazing people using groundbreaking technology to do great work.

That’s the world I live in. That’s the world Steve left behind.

Shot with my iPhone 4 and processed in Noir for iPhone

Tuesday
Jun212011

Final Cut Pro X Is Here

I’m downloading it now for the first time.

So is the rest of Red Giant Software.

In the past two months, Red Giant has cancelled two products and one appearance out of uncertainty regarding Final Cut Pro X’s support for the cool stuff we love to build for you guys to get your work done.

Anyone care for a drink?

Wednesday
Jun152011

What I Do With My iPad Part 1: Storyboarding

There’s an iPad stylus review buried in here. But first, some background on why I’m so excited to be storyboarding on a tablet.

As I detailed in The DV Rebel’s Guide, storyboards don’t have to be immaculately drawn to be effective. Which is lucky for me, because I have let wither whatever drawing ability I once had. To me, the boarding process is about flow. I need a tool that allows me to bang out my ideas as they come. For as long as I can remember, that’s been printed storyboard templates and a mechanical pencil. That’s how I whip up my “thumbnail boards,” which are usually stick figures, arrows, and incomprehensible squiggles.

This process is then followed by a rather ugly chore of scanning, cleaning up, and cropping in Photoshop.

To speed the process and avoid the manual labor, I’ve tried using various storyboarding systems and software, including ClipSketch and Storyboards on the iPad and SketchUp on my laptop, but I always come back to the simple, expressive basics of hand-drawn boards. They may be simple, but they’re my simple, and the camera angles I draw are never limited by what clip art I had on hand.

In the early days of the iPad, one of the first apps I bought was Penultimate by Cocoa Box Design. Penultimate was designed to be your digital Moleskine notebook, a simple and elegant blank page on which to doodle, sketch, or write. Whether it was the elegance of the app or the fluidity of the pseudo-pressure-sensitive drawing, Penultimate earned a permanent place on the front screen of my iPad.

I approached the developer, Ben Zotto, about my desire to use Penultimate for storyboarding. The app then offered a selection of three paper styles; plain, lined, and graph. Rather than myopically suggesting he add storyboarding templates, a rather niche use case, I suggested that it might be of general interest to his users to allow custom papers. I must not have been the only one thinking this, because just this May, Ben released Penultimate 3.0 with exactly that feature. He even used a film storyboard as his example.

Why is Penultimate, a simple, general-purpose notebook app, the best iPad storyboarding tool? Turns out there’s a critical mass of features that add up to awesome: 

  • Custom templates (papers)
  • Delete, re-order, and duplicate pages in a lovely thumbnail view
  • The best “feel” of any iPad drawing app (especially with a stylus, see below)
  • Just the right number of ink colors (almost, see below)
  • Easy PDF export of all or just some of your pages

The DV Rebel often repurposes tools from other disciplines. Penultimate is a great example of filmmaking software that isn’t just for filmmaking. I’m so fired up about my new storyboarding workflow that I’m sharing my Prolost storyboarding templates.

There are templates for HD aspect ratio and ‘scope, portrait and landscape. The landscape ones come in variations featuring a rule-of-thirds grid and a “blackout” look. Tap these links on your iPad and they’ll open in Penultimate.

Prolost Scope

Prolost Scope Grid

Prolost Scope Blackout

Prolost Scope Verbose

Prolost Scope Triple

Prolost HD

Prolost HD Grid

Prolost HD Blackout

Prolost HD Verbose

Prolost HD Double

Some tips:

  • You can change papers anytime as you’re working. So, for example, you could switch the thirds grid on and off as needed.
  • Most of the HD templates have a corresponding layout in the ‘scope aspect, so you can see how your shots will look framed for either format by switching papers.
  • You can choose whether the paper pattern is exported with the drawings or not.
  • You can choose which pages get exported when saving/sharing a PDF.
  • Landscape mode is not as slick as it should be when re-ordering pages or exporting. On the Mac, you can use Preview to rotate your pages to the correct orientation and re-save the PDF.
  • To make your own template, make a black-on-white PNG file at 718 by 865 pixels, and save it to your iPad’s Photo Library. You can then import it in the Papers popover menu.

Aside from better landscape support, what’s missing from Penultimate? Not much. The app allows single frames to be saved and shared as JPEGs, but only allows multi-page export as PDF. For my workflow, I’d occasionally like to export a series of JPEGs. I’d also like just one more pen color: a barely-there gray for roughing-in a drawing before refining it in black or dark gray.

The Boxwave Capacitive Stylus and the Wacom Bamboo Stylus for iPad

If you’re going to be drawing on your iPad, you’re going to want a stylus. I’ve owned three, the PogoSketch, the BoxWave, and Wacom’s Bamboo Stylus for iPad.

The Pogo Sketch is affordable enough to buy just to decide if you like using a stylus with your iPad. It’s also available at most Apple retail stores, although you’ll have to ask for it — it’s not on display.

The BoxWave is almost as affordable as the Pogo, but I found it to be much better. It’s small, as these things seem pathologically intent on being, and light. But the rubber tip gives a great drawing feel on the iPad screen, and it features a clever tether with a plastic plug at the end that fits in your tablet’s headphone jack, which improves your chances of actually having the dang thing with you when inspiration strikes.

Wacom makes the wonderful and not inexpensive tablets and Cintiq pen displays, so leave it to them to come out with a premium capacitive stylus. Their Bamboo Stylus for iPad is the most expensive one I considered. It’s got a nice heft, it’s long enough for grown-ups, and it has the finest tip I’ve seen on an iPad stylus — which may or may not mean anything tangible, but it just seems to feel better in use.

Expensive things are expensive. But to me, a $10 stylus that I never use is more expensive than a $30 that I love and use often. The Bamboo is by far my favorite and worth every penny it cost, and every day I waited for it to arrive.

What do you do with all these drawings once they’re done? You might consider dropping them into Storyboard Composer (UPDATE: Now available for iPad as Storyboard Composer HD) or build an interactive presentation of them in Keynote or the excellent Portfolio (all of which would be much easier with multi-page JPEG output). You might bring them into After Effects or your favorite NLE to cut them into an animatic. Our you might just work with them as a PDF or a printout. Whatever you do, I think you’ll find that drawing storyboards on your iPad is finally ready to replace paper and pencil.

See also: What I Do With My iPad Part 2: Write With a Keyboard

Tuesday
Apr192011

Introducing Movie Looks and Noir, Plus Plastic Bullet Free For a Limited Time

Today Red Giant Software has released two new iOS apps that I helped design and create, Movie Looks and Noir. To celebrate the launch, Plastic Bullet is free on the iTunes app store for just two days.

Ever since we released Plastic Bullet, folks have been asking for some kind of “Magic Bullet Looks for the iPhone.” It probably surprises no one to learn that we’ve been working on just that for a while now. Pick a video, trim it down to just the part you want, choose from a variety of preset Looks, and then adjust those Looks to taste using Strength and Brightness controls.

Noir converts photos to black and white and allows you to re-light them using an editable vignette. It’s like a Colorista Power Mask for your phone. Noir is a universal app—buy it once and install it on both iPhone/iPod Touch and iPad.

Noir started as a little passion project for me. I wanted a way to prep my iPhone shots for use with Cinemek’s powerful Storyboard Composer app, but I was frustrated with iPhone image editing apps that forced me to tap my way through byzantine mazes of menus and ugly sliders to adjust my images. I wanted to quickly give my images a storytelling quality, with all the necessary controls on one screen. Then a funny thing happened—we distributed an early beta of Noir within Red Giant, and people flipped for it. The images they were making were gorgeous, and they were having crazy fun making them. In case it’s not obvious, that’s pretty much all I ever hope for the tools I create.

Movie Looks has been an equally fun challenge. Getting a tiny little phone to render HD video effects is no easy task, especially when you don’t want to compromise on image quality. We’ve built a completely new rendering engine and worked hard to make it as seamless as possible on the phone.

Noir and Movie Looks are available now, each for $2.99. More information is available at Red Giant. Plastic Bullet is free for April 19–20.