Friday, March 28, 2008

Video Sharing Sites Compared

You might have noticed that I started using a different service to host my videos on this blog. I've been looking for something better than Google Video and YouTube to host my videos. So I did some research, compared the services, and found a service that I really like.

I uploaded the same video to test each of these services, and here are the results.

Google Video


YouTube quality. This is what I've been using previously. The bitrate is low and the frame size is small.

Blip.tv



I've heard that these are the best guys to go through for high-quality video hosting. And they are not bad. The quality per frame is the highest out of any of these services that I've tested, and they also change the aspect ratio of the movie player so there's no letter boxing for my widescreen videos. The big problem is they dropped the frame rate to reduce bandwidth. That's a big bummer, and is why I decided not to use their service. You can enable advertising (which is off be default), and they do the 50/50 split of ad revenue just like Revver.

Revver


I've heard about these guys because of the ad revenue sharing, the 50/50 split from ad revenue they make off your movie. The frame size is really good, but I don't like the letter boxing. The big problem I have with it are the ads during and at the end of the video, and you can't seem to disable them.

Vimeo



BlenderNation uses this service a lot, so I gave it a try. The bitrate is good, the video player is at the right aspect ratio, and my favorite part is that the interface goes away shortly after it starts, only showing you the movie. There's parameters that you can set when you create the embed code that changes the way the video player looks, like the color of the buttons, if the movie title is displayed or not, and what size. They also host the original video file that I uploaded as well.

Now, this is a standard sized video. If you upload a video that's 1280x720 or better, Vimeo can stream it as a HD. Just click on the full screen button and there it is. I've uploaded one of the CMC ads so you can see how it looks.


Watch "CMC Ad 1" in HD

Well, apparently you can't embed HD content; it has to be viewed from their web site. So click on the link underneath the video to see it in HD, streamed right to your web browser. You can also check out other HD videos at Vimeo HD.

The only problem I have with Vimeo is the comments screen at the end of the video. It's florescent orange! I tried to see if there's a parameter that turns that off, or at least changes the color of the background, but I found no such option. If you watch the video on the Vimeo site the player doesn't do that; the code is the same, but if the video is displayed on a site other than Vimeo it will appear.

Regardless, Vimeo is the winner, and I've already replaced most of my videos on the blog with that service. I'm so glad I don't have to use Google Video anymore.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Sneakers Title Sequence (Redesign)

This was the final assignment for my motion design class (the same class that I did Wonder for). The assignment was to create a title sequence for a movie, preferably one that didn't already have an elaborate title sequence. So I chose one of my favorite movies: Sneakers.

>> Watch this video streamed in HD (720p)

I wanted the first part of the title sequence to look like the good old days of the BBS and ANSI art. The only way to do that was to animate the text frame by frame. In After Effects you can change the content of a text layer at any time, so it was just a matter of filling a text box full of white space (using a mono space font), and then edit the text for each frame as if you were using a text editor. The funny thing is that this crude bit of animation is the strongest part of the motion piece.

I used to be an ANSI artist, so animating text in this way felt pretty comfortable to me even after all these years. It was a nice departure from all the key-framed animations I've been doing and going back to my roots of text-only graphics and animation.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Massively Useful Software: Launchy

I've been using this nifty little program for a while. If you've ever used Quicksilver on the Mac and wished something like that existed for Windows, Launchy is it.

The way it works is you press a keyboard shortcut (Alt-Space by default) and start typing the name of the program. It has a memory of everything in your start menu and browser bookmarks, so as you type the name it'll show what it thinks you are referring to. For example, all I have to do to launch Adobe Illustrator is press Alt-Space, type "illu" (for Illustrator) and press enter. I don't have to use the mouse to launch the program.

I used to have a really organized Start Menu becuase that was my primary method of running programs, but now I don't have to. In fact I don't use my start menu anymore. Even things like the Control Panel are perfectly accessible from Launchy.

It's open source and apparently written in Qt, which means that there could be a Linux release soon. Yes, I know there's something called the command line interface that let's you run programs with tab-completion. But for people like me who think of the command console as creepy basement--dark and scary as hell, but it's the only way to get to the water heater to fix it--Launchy is a nice way to run programs without having to use the mouse.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Massively Useful Software: Apophysis

Apophysis is an open source program that creates flame fractals. The only thing I can say about this program that contains any amount of profound insight is this: the fractals look awesome! Seriously, tinker around with the program. It comes with plenty of presets and all kinds of ways to manipulate them.

I'll probably do a series of sketches based on the designs of these fractal patterns at some point because they look so cool. I'm also planning on using Apophysis to create animated magic/sci-fi effects for use with 3D animations. And I can finally make some cool dual screen backgrounds too.

Anyway, lots of potential applications for these images and people will wonder how you did it. Expect more blabbing about Apophysis-generated content in the future.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Massively Useful Software: Celtx

I decided that I'll start sharing software that I've discovered to be massively useful or just really cool. I'm not talking about popular software, I'm talking about obscure or open source programs that people don't really know about but has lots of value. So let's start.

When it comes to recording ideas and collaborating on stories and other projects, our team has used our private wiki for the past few years. Wikis are great because they're accessible online and you can edit any page you want. But that's pretty much all I find them useful for.

I have some issues with using wikis: I have to wait for a page to load, tree-like organization of sub-articles is a big pain in the neck for large projects in that you have to click and load a new page to go to the next sub-article, unless you manually create a table of contents, and when you finally get to the page you want you have to go into edit mode to make changes.

That's a lot of clicking links and waiting. It wasn't so bad when the Wiki was hosted on our network, but it's on a web server so each page takes some time to process and download. I realize that these are mainly interface issues, and could be fixed with something like AJAX. But for solo writers who don't know how to set up Apache, PHP, MySQL, and a wiki, that form of collaboration isn't an option.

This is why Adam and I came up with some designs for a piece of software which would be perfect for organizing story ideas and collaboration. The problem is that since this software doesn't exist yet we really can't use it. So, after doing some research on existing software, I came across an open source program called Celtx (pronounced kel-ticks).

Celtx, like Blender, is one of those programs that I previously downloaded but quickly dismissed because it wasn't exactly what I was looking for. But with time--and desperation--I gave it a second chance and started to like the software. In this case, I gave Celtx a try for no other reason then to see if Celtx will be a suitable substitute for my dream story-writing-program that doesn't exist yet, as well as deciding if it's worth bugging Bryan some more to get him to code it because there would be a huge demand for a program like that.

Celtx is designed for media production (film, plays, A/V, radio) and allows you to upload the project to their secure server called Project Central for collaboration. You can download the newest version of the project and upload changes. Unfortunately, it uploads the entire project at once, so only one person can be working on it at a time. It also takes a while to upload and download when you use storyboards or other large files in the project because you download the entire project as opposed to just the changes. The devs did say that they are planning on better collaboration tools, but collaboration isn't why I started using Celtx. I'm the only writer so I don't really need Project Central--heck, even on the wiki I was the only one writing--and even if we did have more than one writer we wouldn't put our work on someone else's server out of pure paranoia. If I want feedback I just send them the project or just a PDF of a script. As for realtime collaboration, VNC works just fine.

So far I've been using Celtx for two weeks rewriting the story and I can honestly say that I'm very pleased. I like being able to sort and rearrange the documents in my project however I want in a collapsible project tree, which is always visible on the sidebar. Scripts like screenplays and stageplays are automatically formated for you, and you are always in edit mode. Nothing is getting in the way of me organizing ideas and writing the story.

There's a basic storyboarding tool in Celtx as well. It's not robust enough for animatics: there's no sound or the ability to have variable timing for each frame. But it's not a bad system and we've already used it in a couple of projects.

There's one last thing I really like about Celtx. The .cetlx file format is a Zip file with each document saved as an HTML file, and any other file you've attached into the project is included as well. So if I decide to go back to using the wiki, or if we develop our own writing software, it'll be easy to convert the files. And even if the Celtx project dies, the content I've written will still be readable. There is a problem with compressing the entire project, of course. What if you are working on a huge project with tons of concept art and movie files? Decompressing a 500MB file every time you load the project could be a real drag. It would be nice if you had the option of saving the project as an uncompressed directory, only loading files when necessary.

Aside from the collaboration sucking, the primary problem I have with Celtx is how specialized it is for film as opposed to just writing. There's a lot of useless templates listed when you try to add a new document. Do I really need a list of 34 categories for things like animal handler, electrics, greenery and livestock if I'm doing a CG film? Yeah, I can see it being useful for a movie, but not for a writer. Fortunately, you can turn any of these off in the preferences, so that's not a big deal.

So instead of using these templates for various parts of the story, I've been creating folders full of text documents. It works just fine for me; I know writers who don't use fancy software at all for their work, just a text editor or word processor. I do however use Celtx's Character and Scene Details templates every once in a while because the templates may contain good questions such as, "What is the goal of the antagonist in this scene?" "How does the antagonist achieve this goal?" "What is the central event of this scene?" "How does this event affect the overall plot?" Those are some good reminders of things to consider when writing. It would be nice if I could make my own custom templates because there are other things I like to consider when writing scenes and developing characters, and I won't have to refer to my notes as much.

Celtx is designed with the assumption that you are working on a TV show or movie project. There aren't any tools that help you organize your ideas aside from the project tree on the sidebar. They do have index cards which allow you to rearrange scenes in a script, but not all writers want to use index cards in that way only.

Because I'm just writing a story and don't know for sure what the final medium is going to be, and since 80% of the documents in the project so far are just text documents, a lot of the features in Celtx seem like bloat. But again, that's only because of how I'm using it. And I don't mind.

With all of it's shortcomings when compared to my perfect and imaginary writing program, Celtx has nonetheless helped me as a writer since I started using it two weeks ago. The automatic screenplay formating has made writing dialog a lot of fun, I can finally organize files however I want, I don't need a fast internet connection to write efficiently, it works on all three major operating systems, and it's really simple and straight forward to use.

So if you are writing for film, I highly recommend using Celtx. If you are writing a novel and would like some way to organize all of these documents and have them easily accessible without using your operating system's file browser, I'd recommend Celtx as well. Now don't misunderstand, I'm not completely dumping wikis. But Celtx has been so useful for quickly coming up with ideas and organizing them that I'll probably use it for most of my projects until we need better collaboration at the expense of the interface.