Author Archives: Randi Altman

MSI’s new Intel Core i9 ultra-thin WS65 mobile workstation, curved monitors

MSI has introduced its new WS65 mobile workstation and announced the availability of its PS42 professional laptop and Optix MAG241C and MAG271C gaming monitors.

The WS65 mobile workstation features a chassis similar to that of the GS65 Stealth Thin, with attractive styling and 15.6-inch, ultra-thin bezel display. With up to Intel’s 8th Generation Core i9 processor and up to Nvidia Quadro P4200 graphics, the WS65 is up to 40 percent faster than the previous-generation model. Although it is designed for portability, the WS65 also incorporates an 82Whr battery for up to eight hours of battery life.

The WS65 features a 15.6-inch Full HD IPS display with 72 percent coverage of the NTSC color gamut. For storage, the workstation offers one PCI-e SSD / SATA combo and one PCI-e SSD. Ports include three USB 3.1 Type-A, one USB 3.1 Type-C, one HDMI 2.0, one mDP 1.4, one mic-in and a headphone out. The WS65 will be available this September, and it will bear the new elegant and minimalistic MSI workstation logo tailored to the business environment.

The PS42 notebook is the newest member of the MSI Prestige series. Measuring 0.63 inches thick, weighing 2.6 pounds and featuring a nearly bezel-free screen, the notebook offers high performance. The PS42 is powered by an Intel 8th Generation Core i7 processor and an Nvidia MX150 GPU and provides 10 hours of battery life, plus a Windows Hello Certified fingerprint sensor. It is now available at major e-tailers, starting at $899.

The Optix MAG271C and MAG241C feature a 144Hz curved VA LED display and fast -ms response time. The series also uses MSI’s Gaming On-Screen Display software to allow users to control monitor settings, including contrast ratio and brightness, from their Windows desktops. The software also supports hotkey options, so users can switch profiles while in-game or use the MSI remote display app on their Android phones. The MAG271C and MAG241C are now available on Amazon for $299.99 and $229.99, respectively.

SIGGRAPH: Nvidia intros Quadro RTX raytracing GPU

At SIGGRAPH, Nvidia announced its first Turing architecture-based GPUs, which enable artists to render photorealistic scenes in realtime, add new AI-based capabilities to their workflows and experience fluid interactivity with complex models and scenes.

The Nvidia Quadro RTX 8000, Quadro RTX 6000 and Quadro RTX 5000 enable hardware-accelerated raytracing, AI, advanced shading and simulation. Also announced was the Quadro RTX Server, a reference architecture for highly configurable, on-demand rendering and virtual workstation solutions from the datacenter.

“Quadro RTX marks the launch of a new era for the global computer graphics industry,” says Bob Pette, VP of professional visualization at Nvidia. “Users can now enjoy powerful capabilities that weren’t expected to be available for at least five more years. Designers and artists can interact in realtime with their complex designs and visual effects in raytraced photo-realistic detail. And film studios and production houses can now realize increased throughput with their rendering workloads, leading to significant time and cost savings.”

Quadro RTX GPUs are designed for demanding visual computing workloads, such as those used in film and video content creation, automotive and architectural design and scientific visualization.

Quadro RTX Server

Features include:
• New RT cores to enable realtime raytracing of objects and environments with physically accurate shadows, reflections, refractions and global illumination.
• Turing Tensor Cores to accelerate deep neural network training and inference, which are critical to powering AI-enhanced rendering, products and services.
• New Turing Streaming Multiprocessor architecture, featuring up to 4,608 CUDA cores, that delivers up to 16 trillion floating point operations in parallel with 16 trillion integer operations per second to accelerate complex simulation of real-world physics.
• Advanced programmable shading technologies to improve the performance of complex visual effects and graphics-intensive experiences.
• First implementation of ultra-fast Samsung 16Gb GDDR6 memory to support more complex designs, massive architectural datasets, 8K movie content and more.
• Nvidia NVLink to combine two GPUs with a high-speed link to scale memory capacity up to 96GB and drive higher performance with up to 100GB/s of data transfer.
• Hardware support for USB Type-C and VirtualLink, a new open industry standard being developed to meet the power, display and bandwidth demands of next-generation VR headsets through a single USB-C connector.• New and enhanced technologies to improve performance of VR applications, including Variable-Rate Shading, Multi-View Rendering and VRWorks Audio.

The Quadro RTX Server combines Quadro RTX GPUs with new Quadro Infinity software (available in the 1st quarter of 2019) to deliver a flexible architecture to meet the demands of creative pros. Quadro Infinity will enable multiple users to access a single GPU through virtual workstations, dramatically increasing the density of the datacenter. End-users can also easily provision render nodes and workstations based on their specific needs.

Quadro RTX GPUs will be available starting in the 4th quarter. Pricing is as follows:
Quadro RTX 8000 with 48GB memory: $10,000 estimated street price
Quadro RTX 6000 with 24GB memory: $6,300 ESP
Quadro RTX 5000 with 16GB memory: $2,300 ESP

Using VFX to bring the new Volkswagen Jetta to life

LA-based studio Jamm provided visual effects for the all-new 2019 Volkswagen Jetta campaign Betta Getta Jetta. Created by Deutsch and produced by ManvsMachine, the series of 12 spots bring the Jetta to life by combining Jamm’s CG design with a color palette inspired by the car’s 10-color ambient lighting system.

“The VW campaign offered up some incredibly fun and intricate challenges. Most notably was the volume of work to complete in a limited amount of time — 12 full-CG spots in just nine weeks, each one unique with its own personality,” says VFX supervisor Andy Boyd.

Collaboration was key to delivering so many spots in such a short span of time. Jamm worked closely with ManvsMachine on every shot. “The team had a very strong creative vision which is crucial in the full 3D world where anything is possible,” explains Boyd.

Jamm employed a variety of techniques for the music-centric campaign, which highlights updated features such as ambient lighting and Beats Audio. The series includes spots titled  Remix, Bumper-to-Bumper, Turb-Whoa, Moods, Bass, Rings, Puzzle and App Magnet, along with 15-second teasers, all of which aired on various broadcast, digital and social channels during the World Cup.

For “Remix,” Jamm brought both a 1985 and a 2019 Jetta to life, along with a hybrid mix of the two, adding a cool layer of turntablist VFX, whereas for “Puzzle,” they cut up the car procedurally in Houdini​, which allowed the team to change around the slices as needed.

For Bass, Jamm helped bring personality to the car while keeping its movements grounded in reality. Animation supervisor Stew Burris pushed the car’s performance and dialed in the choreography of the dance with ManvsMachine as the Jetta discovered the beat, adding exciting life to the car as it bounced to the bassline and hit the switches on a little three-wheel motion.

We reached out to Jamm’s Boyd to find out more.

How early did Jamm get involved?
We got involved as soon as agency boards were client approved. We worked hand in hand with ManvMachine to previs each of the spots in order to lay the foundation for our CG team to execute both agency and directors’ vision.

What were the challenges of working on so many spots at once.
The biggest challenge was for editorial to keep up with the volume of previs options we gave them to present to agency.

Other than Houdini, what tools did they use?
Flame, Nuke and Maya were used as well.

What was your favorite spot of the 12 and why?
Puzzle was our favorite to work on. It was the last of the bunch delivered to Deutsch which we treated with a more technical approach, slicing up the car like a Rubix’s Cube.

 

Colorist Asa Shoul joins Warner Bros. De Lane Lea

Warner Bros. De Lane Lea (WBDLL) has added colorist Asa Shoul to its new picture services department, which will launch this September. Shoul’s recent credits include Mission Impossible: Fallout, Baby Driver, Amazon’s Tin Star and he recently received a BAFTA craft award for his work on the multi award-winning Netflix series The Crown.

Shoul will be joined by his assistant Katie McCulloch, senior post producer Louise Stewart and online editor Gareth Parry, as well as additional industry-leading creative, technical and operations staff, yet to be announced.

The expansion will include the launch of two new 4K HDR grading theaters, in addition to online suites, mastering, content handling services and dark fibre connectivity for both Dolby UK and Leavesden Studios. A full-service production dailies offering based at Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden will also launched to help service the needs of productions.

Recent features at WBDLL include Wonder Woman; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; Fantastic Beasts and Early Man. It also has an impressive roster of high-end television clients including Netflix, Amazon, Starz, BBC and ITV.

Last year the company announced it will cement its future in Soho by moving to a new purpose-built post production facility located in the centre of Soho, which is currently under construction. WBDLL will be the anchor tenant within the Ilona Rose building which is slated to open in 2021.

Siggraph: StarVR One’s VR headset with integrated eye tracking

StarVR was at SIGGRAPH 2018 with its StarVR One, its next-generation VR headset built to support the most optimal lifelike VR experience. Featuring advanced optics, VR-optimized displays, integrated eye tracking and a vendor-agnostic tracking architecture, StarVR One is built from the ground up to support use cases in the commercial and enterprise sectors.

The StarVR One VR head-mounted display provides a nearly 100 percent human viewing angle — a 210-degree horizontal and 130-degree vertical field-of-view — and supports a more expansive user experience. Approximating natural human peripheral vision, StarVR One can support rigorous and exacting VR experiences such as driving and flight simulations, as well as tasks such as identifying design issues in engineering applications.

StarVR’s custom AMOLED displays serve up 16 million subpixels at a refresh rate of 90 frames per second. The proprietary displays are designed specifically for VR with a unique full-RGB-per-pixel arrangement to provide a professional-grade color spectrum for real-life color. Coupled with StarVR’s custom Fresnel lenses, the result is a clear visual experience within the entire field of view.

StarVR One automatically measures interpupillary distance (IPD) and instantly provides the best image adjusted for every user. Integrated Tobii eye-tracking technology enables foveated rendering, a technology that concentrates high-quality rendering only where the eyes are focused. As a result, the headset pushes the highest-quality imagery to the eye-focus area while maintaining the right amount of peripheral image detail.

StarVR One eye-tracking thus opens up commercial possibilities that leverage user-intent data for content gaze analysis and improved interactivity, including heat maps.

Two products are available with two different integrated tracking systems. The StarVR One is ready out of the box for the SteamVR 2.0 tracking solution. Alternatively, StarVR One XT is embedded with active optical markers for compatibility with optical tracking systems for more demanding use cases. It is further enhanced with ready-to-use plugins for a variety of tracking systems and with additional customization tools.

The StarVR One headset weighs 450 grams, and its ergonomic headband design evenly distributes this weight to ensure comfort even during extended sessions.

The StarVR software development kit (SDK) simplifies the development of new content or the upgrade of an existing VR experience to StarVR’s premium wide-field-of-view platform. Developers also have the option of leveraging the StarVR One dual-input VR SLI mode, maximizing the rendering performance. The StarVR SDK API is designed to be familiar to developers working with existing industry standards.

The development effort that culminated in the launch of StarVR One involved extensive collaboration with StarVR technology partners, which include Intel, Nvidia and Epic Games.

Siggraph: Chaos Group releases the open beta for V-Ray for Houdini

With V-Ray for Houdini now in open beta, Chaos Group is ensuring that its rendering technology can be used on to each part of the VFX pipeline. With V-Ray for Houdini, artists can apply high-performance raytracing to all of their creative projects, connecting standard applications like Autodesk’s 3ds Max and Maya, and Foundry’s Katana and Nuke.

“Adding V-Ray for Houdini streamlines so many aspects of our pipeline,” says Grant Miller, creative director at Ingenuity Studios. “Combined with V-Ray for Maya and Nuke, we have a complete rendering solution that allows look-dev on individual assets to be packaged and easily transferred between applications.” V-Ray for Houdini was used by Ingenuity on the Taylor Swift music video for Look What You Made Me Do. (See our main image.) 

V-Ray for Houdini uses the same smart rendering technology introduced in V-Ray Next, including powerful scene intelligence, fast adaptive lighting and production-ready GPU rendering. V-Ray for Houdini includes two rendering engines – V-Ray and V-Ray GPU – allowing visual effects artists to choose the one that best takes advantage of their hardware.

V-Ray for Houdini, Beta 1 features include:
• GPU & CPU Rendering – High-performance GPU & CPU rendering capabilities for high-speed look development and final frame rendering.
• Volume Rendering – Fast, accurate illumination and rendering of VDB volumes through the V-Ray Volume Grid. Support for Houdini volumes and Mac OS are coming soon.
• V-Ray Scene Support – Easily transfer and manipulate the properties of V-Ray scenes from applications such as Maya and 3ds Max.
• Alembic Support – Full support for Alembic workflows including transformations, instancing and per object material overrides.
• Physical Hair – New Physical Hair shader renders realistic-looking hair with accurate highlights. Only hair as SOP geometry is supported currently.
• Particles – Drive shader parameters such as color, alpha and particle size through custom, per-point attributes.
• Packed Primitives – Fast and efficient handling of Houdini’s native packed primitives at render time.
• Material Stylesheets – Full support for material overrides based on groups, bundles and attributes. VEX and per-primitive string overrides such as texture randomization are planned for launch.
• Instancing – Supports copying any object type (including volumes) using Packed Primitives, Instancer and “instancepath” attribute.
• Light Instances – Instancing of lights is supported, with options for per-instance overrides of the light parameters and constant storage of light link settings.

To join the beta, check out the Chaos Group website.

V-Ray for Houdini is currently available for Houdini and Houdini Indie 16.5.473 and later. V-Ray for Houdini supports Windows, Linux and Mac OS.

2nd-gen AMD Ryzen Threadripper processors

At the SIGGRAPH show, AMD announced the availability of its 2nd-generation AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX processor with 32 cores and 64 threads. These new AMD Ryzen Threadripper processors are built using 12nm “Zen+” x86 processor architecture. Second-gen AMD Ryzen Threadripper processors support the most I/O and are compatible with existing AMD X399 chipset motherboards via a simple BIOS update, offering builders a broad choice for designing the ultimate high-end desktop or workstation PC.

The 32-core/64-thread Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX and the 24-core/48-thread Ryzen Threadripper 2970WX are purpose-built for prosumers who crave raw computational compute power to dispatch the heaviest workloads. The 2nd-gen AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX offers up to 53 percent faster multithread performance and up to 47 percent more rendering performance for creators than the core i9-7980XE.

This new AMD Ryzen Threadripper X series comes with a higher base and boost clocks for users who need high performance. The 16 cores and 32 threads in the 2950X model offer up to 41 percent more multithreaded performance than the Core i9-7900X.

Additional performance and value come from:
• AMD StoreMI technology: All X399 platform users will now have free access to AMD StoreMI technology, enabling configured PCs to load files, games and applications from a high-capacity hard drive at SSD-like read speeds.
• Ryzen Master Utility: Like all AMD Ryzen processors, the 2nd-generation AMD Ryzen Threadripper CPUs are fully unlocked. With the updated AMD Ryzen Master Utility, AMD has added new features, such as fast core detection both on die and per CCX; advanced hardware controls; and simple, one-click workload optimizations.
• Precision Boost Overdrive (PBO): A new performance-enhancing feature that allows multithreaded boost limits to be raised by tapping into extra power delivery headroom in premium motherboards.

With a simple BIOS update, all 2nd-generation AMD Ryzen Threadripper CPUs are supported by a full ecosystem of new motherboards and all existing X399 platforms. Designs are available from top motherboard manufacturers, including ASRock, ASUS, Gigabyte and MSI.

The 32-core, 64-thread AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX is available now from global retailers and system integrators. The 16-core, 32-thread AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2950X processor is expected to launch on August 31, and the AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2970WX and 2920X models are slated for launch in October.

Colorist Bob Festa on Yellowstone’s modern Western look

Paramount Network’s Yellowstone, from creator, writer and director Taylor Sheridan (Sicario, Hell or High Water), is a 10-episode modern-day Western starring Kevin Costner as the patriarch of the Duttons, owners of the largest ranch in the contiguous United States.

The Dutton family is in constant conflict with owners of the property surrounding their land, including developers, an Indian reservation and a national park. The series follows Costner’s character and his dysfunctional children as they navigate their bumpy road.

Cinematographer Ben Richardson and Efilm senior colorist Mitch Paulson already had a color lock on the pilot for Yellowstone, but brought on Encore senior colorist Bob Festa to work on the episodes. “As a Deluxe sister company, it was only natural to employ Encore Hollywood’s television resources,” explains Festa. “I was keen to collaborate with both Ben and Mitch. Mitch then served as supervising colorist.”

Let’s find out more from the veteran colorist.

How did you work with the director and DP?
Honestly, my first discussions with Ben were quite involved and fully articulated. For instance, while Ben’s work with Beasts of the Southern Wild and Wind River are wildly different looking projects —and shot on different formats — the fundamentals that he shared with me were fully in place in both of those projects, as well as with Yellowstone.

There is always a great deal of talking that goes on beforehand, but nothing replaces collaboration in the studio. I guess I auditioned for the job by spending a full day with Ben and Mitch at Encore. Talk is a cheap abstraction, and there is nothing like the feeling you get when you dim the lights, sit in the chair and communicate with pictures.

The only way I can describe it is it’s like improvising with another musician when you have never played together before. There’s this buildup of ideas and concepts that happens over a few shots, grades get thrown out or refined, layers are added, apprehension gives way to creativity, and a theme takes place. If you do this over 50 shots, you develop a language that is unique to a given project and a “look” is born.

What was your workflow for this project? What did you use tool-wise on Yellowstone?
ARRI RAW and Resolve were the foundation, but the major lifting came from using a Log Offset workflow, better known as the printer lights workflow. Although printer lights has its roots in a photochemical laboratory setting, it has tremendous real-world digital applications. Many feel this relationship to printer lights is very elementary, but the results can be scaled up very quickly to build an amazingly natural and beautiful grade.

The Resolve advanced panel can be remapped to use an additional fourth trackball as a fuel-injected printer light tool that is not only very fast and intuitive, but also exceptionally high quality. The quality angle comes from the fact that Log Offset grading works in a fashion that keeps all of the color channels moving together during a grade. All curves work in complete synchronicity, resulting in a very natural transition between the toe and the knee, and the shoulder and head of the grade.

This is all enhanced using pivot and contrast controls to establish the transfer characteristic of a scene. There is always a place for cross process, bleach bypass and other twisted aggressive grades, but this show demanded honest emotion and beauty from the outset. The Log Offset workflow delivered that.

What inspired the look of Yellowstone? Are there any specific film looks it is modeled after?
As a contemporary western, you can draw many correlations to cinematic looks from the past, from Sergio Leone to Deadwood, but the reality is the look is decidedly modern western.

In the classic film world, the look is very akin to a release print, or in the DI world it emulates a show print (generationally closer to the original negative). The look demands that the curves and saturation are very high quality. Ben has refined an ARRI LUT that really enhances the skies and flesh tones to create a very printy film laboratory look. We also use Livegrain for the most part using a 35mm 5219 emulation for night shots and a 5207 look for day exteriors to create texture. That is the Yellowstone recipe.

How did you approach the sweeping landscape shots?
Broad, cinematic and we let the corners bleed. Vignettes were never used on the wide vistas. The elements are simple: you have Kevin Costner on a horse in Montana. The best thing I can think of is to follow the medical credo of “do no harm.”

What was the most challenging aspect of coloring Yellowstone?
Really just the time constraints. Coordinating with the DP, the VFX teams and the post crew on a weekly basis for color review sessions is hard for everyone. The show is finished week by week, generally delivering just days before air. VFX shots are dropped in daily. Throw in the 150 promos, teasers and trailers, and scheduling that is a full-time job.

Other than color, did you perform any VFX shots?
Every VFX vendor supplied external mattes with their composites. We always color composite plates using a foreground and a background grade to serve the story. This is where the Resolves external matte node structure can be a lifesaver.

What is your favorite scene or scenes?
I have to go with episode one of the pilot. That opening shot sets the tone for the entire series. The first time I saw that opening shot, my jaw dropped both from a cinematography and story background. If you have seen the show, you know what I’m talking about.

Review: OConnor camera assistant bag

By Brady Betzel

After years and years of gear acquisition, I often forget to secure proper bags and protection for my equipment. From Pelican cases to the cheapest camera bags, a truly high-quality bag will extend the life of your equipment.

In this review I am going to go over a super-heavy-duty assistant camera bag by OConnor, which is a part of the Vitec Group. While the Vitec Group provides many different products — from LED lighting to robotic camera systems — OConnor is typically known for their professional fluid heads and tripods. This camera bag is made to not only fit their products, but also other gear, such as pan bars and ARRI plates. The OConnor AC bag is a no-nonsense camera and accessory bag with velcro enforced-repositionable inserts that will accommodate most cameras and accessories you have.

As soon as I opened the box and touched the AC bag I could tell it was high quality. The bag exterior is waterproof and easily wipeable. But, more importantly, there is an internal water- and dust-proof liner that allows the lid to be hinged while the equipment is close at hand while the liner is fully zipped. This internal waterproofing is resistant up to a 1.2M/4ft. column of water. Once I got past the quality of materials, my second inspection focused on the zippers. If I have a camera bag with bad zippers or snaps, it usually is given away or tossed, but the AC bag has strong and easy gliding zippers.

On the lid and inside of the front pockets are extremely tough and see-through mesh pockets for everything from batteries to memory cards. On the front is a business card/label holder. Around the outside are multiple pockets with fixing points for Carabiner hooks. In addition, there are d-rings for the included leather strap if you want to carry this bag over your shoulder instead of using the handles. The bag comes with five dividers to be velcroed on the inside, including two right angle dividers.The dividers are made to securely tie down all OConnor heads and accessories. Finally, the AC bag comes with a separate pouch to use on set for quick use.

Summing Up
In the end, the OConnor AC bag is a well made and roomy bag that will protect your camera gear and accessories from dust as well as water for $375. The inside measures in at 18x12x10.5 inches while the outside measures in at 22×14.5×10.5 inches and has been designed to fit inside of a Pelicase 1620. You can check out the OConnor AC bag on their website and find a dealer in your area.


Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.

NIM 3.0 studio management tool debuts at Siggraph

NIM Labs’ new NIM 3.0 is an all-in-one studio management platform that helps visual effects and post production houses track projects and manage their company. Created by creative directors and studio heads, NIM 3.0 helps studios do more under one roof with a redesigned review tool, grouped bidding and a live link to Adobe Premiere.

What began as an in-house toolset for Ntropic is now the studio management software in-house at Digital Domain, Logan, Taylor James and Intelligent Creatures. With NIM 3.0, studios get access tools to handle bidding, tracking, versioning, scheduling, reviews, finances and time cards in one place.

The creative review tool has been rewritten from the ground up to make screening and markup of videos, PDFs and still frames even easier. Review capabilities have also been extended to more parts of NIM, so users can do more in a single location. With Review Bins, teams can stay organized using saveable smart filters and grouped elements for later use. Review Bins come with a new Theater View, which allows for a larger viewer experience and the ability to zoom, fit, fill and pan review items during playback. Review items can also be stacked according to version, allowing supervisors and clients to quickly visualize progress.

After years of building NIM Connectors into Maya, Houdini, 3ds Max, Nuke and Flame, NIM Labs is introducing its first direct workflow for Adobe Premiere editors. With NIM 3.0, Adobe Premiere becomes a conform tool, helping VFX, VR and post houses do everything from creating timeline shots to round-tripping elements rendered in other packages, all without leaving the app. Thanks to the new NIM Connector, the entire creative review process can be conducted from within Premiere, creating a seamless experience. Premiere is NIM’s third Adobe connection, following After Effects and Photoshop.

NIM’s bidding system was created to get bids out the door faster using studio-wide templates. In NIM 3.0, new organizational tools let producers define the different sections of their bid using groups, allowing greater flexibility and speed when responding to a large RFP. Through item linking, users will be able to modify multiple line items simultaneously, with the ability to attach further information like images, notes and descriptions when the need arises.

Companies with existing directory systems can now immediately integrate NIM with their users. By accessing NIM 3.0’s on-board security controls, organizations can manage permissions and security groups from Active Directory (AD) or Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP). Support for multiple domains will add even more authentication controls across networks.

NIM 3.0 will be available in the fall. Active user licenses cost $360 annually and $40 monthly. NIM 2.8 is currently available as a free 30-day trial.