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Leader of the Pack: Review of the HP Z840 Workstation & Z27s Display

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If you work in high-end post production, visual effects, animation, video editing, matte painting, audio recording or any creative field for that matter, you probably have already heard about HP’s top of the line workstation, the Z840, found throughout the industry in leading computer animation studios, color suites, editing facilities, production companies and by creative professionals.

In addition to reviewing the Z840 in this article, I will also review the HP Z27s 4k IPS display, a high resolution monitor that offers excellent color fidelity and the ability to reproduce intricate details (as well as plenty of pixels for the user interface).

I’ve created a comprehensive video review of both the HP Z840 workstation and the Z27s display which you can watch below. This article pretty much mirrors the video (with some extra things added to the mix). Depending on your preference you can either watch the video, or read the story. Or you can do both.

Here’s the video review of the Z840:

The first impression one has when removing the HP Z840 workstation from its box that it is one heck of a solid machine, designed to withstand the most demanding and punishing production environments. It’s built like a tank with thick solid metal sides that seem capable of repelling sledgehammer blows or surviving an earthquake.

The machine weighs more or less fifty pounds depending how you configure it with a height of 17.5 inches, width of 8 inches and a depth of 20 inches. It’s not that heavy, but not exactly light either, but workstations are not designed to be ultra light, there made to crunch through the most daunting computing challenges, often needing to render frames 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Thankfully there are sturdy handles at the top of the machine that make it easier to move around.

A new Z840 comes with a layer of protective plastic on the side which you’ll probably want to remove. It takes a little elbow grease to peel it off, so make sure you get a good grip. Don’t forget to peel of the plastic covering on the handle while you’re at it.

One of the first things I noticed about the HP Z840 is that it’s darker than its predecessors the Z820 and the original Z800. I prefer the darker look, and think it adds to a classier look.

On the Outside
The HP Z840 Workstation has a chassis that is one of the industry’s most expandable. We’ll take a look at what’s inside of the machine in a bit, but first let’s have a look at the outside.

If you like, you can mount the workstation on a rack with a set of extendable rails which you can purchase separately from HP. This is a handy option for large facilities and machine rooms. More information about rack mounting can be found here.

On the front of the workstation, there’s a slim line optical drive bay, two external 5.25 inch Bays into which you can install things like a front loading media card reader (or more drives), power button, hard drive activity LED, 4 USB ports (the top one has charging capability), headphone jack and microphone jack.

The front of the Z840.
The front of the HP Z840 Workstation.

On the back of the machine, there’s the power connection, a serial port, PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports, audio line in, audio line out, 2 USB 2.0 ports, 4 USB 3.0 ports, 2 RJ-45 Gigabit LAN ports, four displayPort 1.2 connections, One DVI connector, Thunderbolt 2, and a pair of keys which are used lock up the system and keep it safe when you’re not around.

The back of the HP Z840 Workstation.
The back of the HP Z840 Workstation.

On the Inside
Opening the chassis is easily done by pulling the side off from the handle. There’s a handy overview and diagram of the system board laser-etched on the back of the side panel for convenient reference.

Once the side is off, you’re greeted by green touchpoints which help indicate what to remove to access the internal components of the machine. There’s a door at the bottom to access the PCI slots, SATA and SAS ports. Above that is a structure which houses fans designed to cool the CPUs, memory and other components on the system board and is designed to guide the airflow effeciently through the interior.

To  access the interior of the workstation, pull on the handle on the side panel.
To access the interior, pull on the handle on the side panel.
Green touchpoints help guide access to the interior of the workstation.
Green touchpoints help guide access to the interior of the workstation.
The HP Z840 with the panels and fan  structures removed.
The HP Z840 with the panels and fan structures removed.

The Z840’s power supply is removable and is available in 850 or 1125 watt options. Being able to remove it makes it convenient to replace should something ever go wrong with it.

At the heart of the Z840 are two Intel Xeon E5-2600 Haswell processors which are available with up to eighteen processing cores each. These two have fourteen cores each for a total of twenty eight physical cores and 56 threads. The Haswell processor architecture delivers faster compute performance and feature Intel Advanced 256 bit Vector Extensions,floating point instructions and gather operations which improve codecs, image and digital signal processing and mathematical operations.

The two Xeon processors, which are located behind two large black ventilation housings, also support ECC memory logic and 40 lanes of PCIe Gen 3 i/o for each processor.

The HP Z840's two Haswell Xeon processors.
The HP Z840’s two Haswell Xeon processors.

The HP Z840 has a total of 16 DIMM slots which use new fast DDR4 2133 MHz ECC Memory (a 14% increase in performance speed over DDR3). The Workstation is able to support a maximum of two terabytes of memory if you add sixteen 128 MB DIMMS. That’s quite a lot of memory, if you don’t mind me saying. This system had a total of 64 Megabytes which results from eight megabyte DIMMs installed into eight of its slots.

The Z840 utilitizes PCIe Gen 3 technology which delivers a peak bandwidth of 16 GB/s, twice as fast as PCI Gen/2. There’s a total of up to seven high performance graphics and I/O slots including support for up to three PCIe 3.0 graphics cards in PCIe 3.0 x16 slots. That will be welcome news for 3D artists using GPU rendering software like Octane since the more GPUs you have, the faster the rendering.

The workstation in this review has a Quadro M6000 GPU, NVIDIA’s most powerful pro graphics card. The M6000 features NVIDIA’s powerful Maxwell GPU architecture, 3072 CUDA parallel processing cores and 12 GB of GDDR5 RAM with an ultra fast memory bandwidth of 317 GB/s. In addition the Quadro M6000 has a new display engine that drives up to four 4k displays natively with DisplayPort 1.2 support for high resolutions like 4096 X 2160. Four 4K displays, can you imagine how cool that would be?

The NVIDIA Quadro M6000 GPU.
The NVIDIA Quadro M6000 GPU.

Underneath the Quadro GPU, there was an HP Thunderbolt 2 PCIe I/O card in one of the PCI slots which provides 20 Gb/s of data in each direction, four times the speed of a USB 3.0 connection. The card also provides DisplayPort 1.2 capability with multi-stream transport support. Thunderbolt is a great connection for simultaneous 4k video capture and display as well as allows you to connect external GPUs and RAIDs to your system.

Beneath the Thunderbolt card in the Z840 is a 512 Gigabyte HP Z Turbo Drive G2. If you haven’t heard about HP’s Z Turbo Drive, it’s an innovative and revolutionary PCIe based SSD storage solution which uses Samsung’s NVMe technology. It allows for ultra-fast storage speeds and is great for things like 4k video editing among other things. Just how fast is it? We’ll talk about that in a minute.

The Z Turbo Drive G2 is a very fast PCIe based SSD storage solution.
The Z Turbo Drive G2 is a very fast PCIe based SSD storage solution.

Near the front of Z840 are four internal drive bays which are easily removed by a handle. The first two bays each contain 512 gigabyte SSDs which have been configured into a 1TB RAID. Under those was another SSD which was not part of the RAID. At the bottom of the stack was a 2TB spinning hard disk drive which can be used for storage and backup, or as a working drive if you like. Above the stack of hard drives are two more 5.25 inch external hard drive bays.

Speed Tests and Benchmarks
I used CrystalDiskMark to check the speed of the drives. I had heard that the Turbo Drive G2 was fast, and it certainly was. In the chart below, I’ve included results for the sequential reads and writes. As you can see, with a speed of 2,235 MB/s, the Z Turbo Drive G2 is more than four times faster than the SSDs.

A comparison of the drive speeds in the Z840.
A comparison of the drive speeds in the Z840.

However, if you think that’s fast, and it is, you’ve got another thing coming. The new Z Turbo Drive Quad Pro from HP is a new storage solution which effectively puts four M.2 Turbo Drive G2s in a RAID configuration onto a PCIe Express 3.0 x 16 card. Not only does that give you more storage space than a single Z Turbo Drive (up to two terabytes), but thanks to the RAID configuration, the Z Turbo Drive Quad Pro delivers speeds up to 9 GB/s. That’s more than sixteen times faster than an SSD and four times faster than a single Z Turbo Drive. Those are incredible, jaw dropping speeds and very useful for high resolution workflows. The nice thing is that it comes at a modest price too. Definitely worth looking into, in my opinion.

The new Z Turbo Drive Quad Pro combines 4 Z Turbo Drives onto one PCIe x16 card.
The new Z Turbo Drive Quad Pro combines 4 Z Turbo Drives onto one PCIe x16 card.

Cinebench is comprehensive benchmarking software that measures the performance of the CPU and GPU. I started with the GPU test which, in this case was the Quadro M600M. During the test, it runs a real time 3D animation of a car race that includes lighting, reflections, shadows and texture maps to see haw quickly the graphics card is able to render it.

The result of the GPU test was 145.61 frames per second. As you can see in the ranking, that blows the other graphics cards listed beneath it out of the water. To see how the Quadro M6000 compares to your graphics card, download Cinebench and run it on your own computer.

Results of the Cinebench GPU test.
Results of the Cinebench GPU test.

Next, I ran the CPU test which is comprised of a 3D render that includes reflections, global illumination, transparency and other advanced rendering challenges. The results of the CPU test was 3285. an extremely fast and impressive result and substantially faster than I have ever seen.

Results of the Cinebench CPU Test.
Results of the Cinebench CPU Test.

After I examined the internals and externals of the HP Z840, What else can you say but Wow. Between the powerful 14 core dual Xeons, fast DDR 4 2133 MHz memory, top shelf NVIDIA Quadro M6000 GPU, Z Turbo Drive G2 and Thunderbolt 2 ports this is certainly one of the most advanced and capable workstations on the planet that will help you realize your visions whether you are a filmmaker, animator, visual effects artist, digital painter or music producer.

HP has a great legacy in engineering and systems design which goes all the way back to the beginning of Silicon Valley. In the Z840, they have created a machine that represents the latest and greatest in workstation design.

The HP Z27s

If you work in 4K or just want more pixels to work with, you’ll definitely want to check out the HP Z27s IPS UHD 27 inch Display. It’s an Ultra High Definition (UHD) monitor with a resolution of 3820 x 2160 pixels. The Z27s has an sRGB color gamut with 1.07 billion colors for vivid and detailed color reproduction. Being an IPS display, it also has wide viewing angles of 178 degrees which makes it useful for presentations or work reviews with your team. You can even mirror your smart phone or tablet to the large screen through an MHL connection that also charges them up at the same time.

The HP Z27s IPS UHD 27 Inch Display
The HP Z27s IPS UHD 27 Inch Display

The Z27s comes with a collection of cables such as DisplayPort and mini DisplayPort, as well as a CD which contains drivers for the display.

The monitor swivels from side to side and can be lifted higher and lower as you like. You can also rotate the display 90 degrees and use it vertically. This can be useful if you are working on a tall matte painting, for example.

There are two Super Speed USB 3.0 ports conveniently located on the side of the Z27s in addition to the main connections which are under the display panel which include Display Port 1.2, mini DisplayPort, HDMI 1.4, MHL 2.0, USB 3.0, and audio connections.

I displayed several 4k images on the monitor and they were stunning to look at. I recommend you have a look with your own eyes. It is almost impossible to distinguish the individual pixels unless you look through a magnifier. The images appeared to be continuous tone with tiny miniscule details all rendered perfectly. The only thing better than this monitor is having two of them connected to your system, or why not three or four since the NVIDIA M6000 supports up to four 4k displays.

Images have stunning detail in 4k.
Images have stunning detail in 4k.

I used the HP Z840 and the Z27s disply to edit the video above in Premiere Pro. The HP Z80 was very snappy and responsive, just as you would expect with smooth scrubbing and playback, and the UHD display provided plenty of pixels to work with. In this case I worked at 1080p HD and was able to view the full image at 100% with plenty of room left over for the timeline and control panels. Next I opened a large Pro Tools project. Again, the 4k display provided ample room for the project window, mixer, midi editor and plug in controls, while the dual Xeons in the Z840 provided more than enough power to drive Pro Tools’ audio engine.

Editing a video in 1080p with Premiere Pro at 100% on the HP Z840 and the Z27s.
Editing a video in 1080p with Premiere Pro at 100% on the HP Z840 and the Z27s.
Using the Z27s with ProTools leaves plenty of pixels to work with.
Using the Z27s with ProTools leaves plenty of pixels to work with.

When using a 4K monitor, you might find that the menus and icons may seem a little small. I don’t mind small menus, keep in mind that Windows 10 has new scaling options for 4K displays. The machine I reviewed shipped with Windows 7, the operating system many still prefer since they can depend on its proven reliability. Personally I like Windows 10, but can understand if some are nervous about driver incompatibility.

The HP Performance Advisor
There’s a nice piece of software that comes with every HP workstation called the HP Performance Advisor that I demonstrated in the video and which I think is worth mentioning. You can use it to get all kinds of useful information about your system such as memory, drives, PCIe cards, processors and much more. Rather than describing it here, you can see it in action in the video (Maybe there is a reason to both watch the video and read the story as well after all).

Conclusion
What is a workstation? A very powerful computer? A movie making machine? A recording studio in a box? An artist’s creative playground? An enabler of dreams? A partner that helps you realize your wildest creative visions? Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes and yes. Its all of those things and more and the HP Z840 is the latest incarnation of the world’s leading workstation. Paired together with the Z27s 4K IPS display and you’ve got an unbeatable powerhouse of a system that can take you to new heights of creativity limited only by your imagination. More information about, as well as pricing details about the Z840 can be found here. To find out more about the HP Z27s UHD display, click here.

Note: If interested, you can see my review of the HP Z840’s predecessor, the Z820, by clicking here.

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Review of the Lenovo ThinkStation P900 Workstation

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I expected that Lenovo’s new top of the line ThinkStation P900 was going to be a hot machine when I first heard about it, and when it finally arrived for review, I can’t say I was disappointed.

While I don’t always make a video for every product I review, I often do when a new product is significant. Thus, I hope you enjoy the following video review I made describing the features of the P900:

In case the video’s not enough for you, and want more information about the P900 in written form, read on.

First Impressions

Sitting at the top of Lenovo’s ThinkStation family, the Lenovo ThinkStation P900 is a large machine at 7.87″ x 24.4″ x 17.5″, and while smaller might be better in some things, when it comes to workstations, bigger is usually better. The reason is simple. You need space to store all the good things that make a workstation what it is such as loads of hard drives, memory, heavy duty power supplies and beefy Graphics cards.

Even so, the Lenovo ThinkStation P900’s sleek lines and clean design give the workstation an elegant appearance. The case is matte black with a hexagonal grille on the front which is designed to provide maximum airflow through the machine. The ThinkStation logo on the front can be rotated ninety degrees if you wish to mount the machine horizontally, a nice touch.

Sleek lines characterize the design of the P900.
Sleek lines characterize the design of the P900.

The front of the machine has 4 speedy USB 3.0 ports, and an integrated 9 in 1 card reader. There are also three Flex Bays on the front with a DVD writer installed in one of them. You can also choose to add other i/o components to the Flex Bays such as an optional 29 in 1 card reader, an ultraslim ODD or even eSATA or Firewire drives. More on the Lenovo’s Flex system later.

The back of the workstation.
The back of the workstation.

The back of the machine contains most of the basic ports and connections that you might expect on a workstation including audio jacks, two Ethernet ports, four USB 2.0 and four USB 3.0 ports as well as two DVI connections and two Display Ports for hooking up your displays. There are six more PCIe slots in addition to the ones being used by the GPU.

On the inside

Opening the workstation is done via a handle on the side of the chassis. Once the side was removed, I was struck by the clean and well ordered design of the interior of the machine which has red touchpoints to guide your hands to the internal compenents of the machine that can be easily removed without the need for tools. See the video for more about removing and replacing parts.

The inside of the P900 with the air baffle in place.
The inside of the P900 with the air baffle in place.

The Lenovo ThinkStation P900 has a tri channel cooling system that guides air from the fans through the workstation via a large air baffle which is easily removed. Beneath it you’ll find the dual Intel Xeon E5-2600 V3 Haswell processors running at 3.1 GHz with a total of twenty physical chords and 40 threads. A powerful pair, and good for those heavy duty rendering and dynamics simulations projects.

Above and below the processors are the 16 memory slots and when you use 32 GB memory sticks, you can cram a half a terabyte (512 GB) of DDR4 ECC RAM into the P900. I’m also told that that the system was designed to take 64GB DDR4 memory modules once they are released in the future. That will boost the total memory capacity of the computer to one terabyte.

The interior of the machine with the CPUs exposed.
The interior of the machine with the CPUs exposed.

There’s space for two NVIDIA Quadro K6000 or K5200 GPUs in the machine in addition to an NVIDIA Tesla K40 GPU graphics accelerator. This is great for interactive visualizations, GPU rendering, as well as 4K and beyond video editing, compositing and color grading. You can also put other NVIDIA graphics cards in it if desired. The machine I reviewed had an NVIDIA K5200, a nice choice that combines value and power.

Flex, you say?

When I first read about Lenovo’s new Flex system, it got me a little confused, so I’ll explain to you what it is. Flex is comprised of four things, the Flex Bays (on the front of the machine), the Flex Module, The Flex Tray and the Flex connector.

The Flex drive trays inside the workstation connect directly to the motherboard without the need for messy cables. and can each support a 3.5″ drive, two 2.5″ drives or a 2.5″ and 3.5″ drive. The onboard Lenovo RAID controller supports configurations of 0, 1, 5 and 10. Once again see the video to see how the Flex trays are removed and replaced.

There are two Flex Connectors located directly on the motherboard, each one controlled by one of the dual CPUs. The Flex Connectors support SATA, SAS, PCIe and have advanced RAID solutions. This allows for more storage and i/o without using up your PCI slots needlessly.

Benchmarks

For benchmarking, I ran the software I usually run to evaluate the performance of a new workstation, MAXON’s CineBench, which tests the speed of the processing power of the CPUs as well as the Graphics card.

Cinebench results. GPU on top, CPU on bottom.
Cinebench results. GPU on top, CPU on bottom.

The results for both the CPU and the GPU were remarkable, and pretty much at the head of the class. The P900 had a CPU score of 2224 and 99.72 for the GPU. You can see in the graphic above how this stacks up compared to other systems. For example, in the CPU department, it’s almost double the performance of a 12 core (24 threads) Xeon X5650 system. You can also see how well the GPU fares compared to other offerings from NVIDIA.

CineBench is free, so you can download it and run it on your current rig for comparison. There is also a comprehensive CineBench online database with results from many other configurations you can check.

Conclusion

There’s a lot to like about the Lenovo ThinkStation P900 and it is unquestionably one of the top machines in its class. I focus on high end post production, animation, visual effects and editing projects and if you’re like me, and your work is high resolution and render intensive, the Lenovo ThinkStation P900 is a great choice. Oh, and just in case you missed it, don’t forget to watch the video.

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Mocha Pro 4 Review: Advanced Rotoscoping and Tracking

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Mocha Pro is a highly regarded application for visual effects that is used by leading studios around the world. It’s been used in the creation of such blockbuster motion pictures as The Hobbit, Black Swan, The Amazing Spiderman, Harry Potter and more. In February 2013, Imagineer Systems was honored by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences with a Scientific and Technical Award for mocha’s innovations, of which have caused it to gain widespread adoption in the VFX industry.

The fact that it won this prestigious award should be an indication that mocha Pro is an important and compelling piece of software with impressive capabilities, especially in the areas of rotoscoping and planar tracking.

Mocha Pro contains advanced tools for roto work as well as planar tracking.
Mocha Pro contains advanced tools for roto work as well as planar tracking.

Rotoscoping, as you may be aware, is the process of isolating objects in a scene over a series of frames. For example, you may wish to isolate a building in a scene to change its color. Or you might want to cut out a vehicle in order to lay it onto another background plate. Whatever the case might be, there are a million and one reasons to roto something and it is a common task in many large productions.

However, rotoscoping can be an extremely fussy and tedious process without the right tools. Programs such as After Effects might have built-in tools which allow for the rotoscoping of objects, however they fall far short of the roto tools found in mocha Pro.

The main reason that makes mocha so powerful is because it is a planar tracker as opposed to a point tracker. Planar tracking tracks the movement of planes in your scene, whether the planes are moving in two dimensions (horizontally and vertically) or in three dimensions with perspective.

This is incredibly useful in a wide variety of shots where you might like to do things like add images to television screens and computer monitors, or create those kind of slick looking graphical interfaces the kind which were first made popular in Steven Spielberg’s 2002 film Minority report and can be seen in many other movies such as Iron Man. The list of uses for planar tracking goes on from adding billboards and signs to walls, advertisements to the sides of a bus or a logo to the front of a book.

However, planar tracking is also very useful in rotoscoping. They are complementary. For example, you can track a plane (such as the surface of a wall), and then create roto shapes for, let’s say, the paintings on that wall. Next you can link the roto shapes to the planar track which causes them to automatically move in conjunction with the plane. If the linked roto masks happen to drift a bit during the shot, it can easily be fixed with a few judicious keyframes here and there.

Linking masks to a planar track makes tedious rotoscoping and masking jobs easier.
Linking masks to a planar track makes tedious rotoscoping and masking jobs easier.

By linking roto masks to a planar track, the process of rotoscoping becomes much easier than trying to rotoscope objects manually frame by frame. Of course this saves you a lot of time and frustration. If you have never used mocha before and are accustomed to doing manual roto work, once you do it this way, you’ll never look back.

Planar Tracking

As mentioned before, what makes mocha so powerful is that, unlike After Effects which contains a point tracker (that is to say it will track a single point in your shot, or two points if you are tracking rotation), mocha is a planar tracker. What that means is that mocha Pro tracks and analyzes an area, or pattern, of pixels and derives a plane from it.

If the plane is mostly moving in two dimensions you can tell the software to limit the track to translation, scale, rotation and shear. For more complicated tracks including three dimensional movements, you can add perspective.

One nice thing about tracking in mocha Pro that I like, is that you can change the tracking data as you go along. For example, let’s say you are tracking the floor in a scene and at some point the part of the ground you are tracking moves out of frame. No need to start over, simply move the area you are tracking to another suitable position on the ground and continue.

When you are done with tracking and rotoscoping, you can export the tracking data or the shape data from mocha Pro into a variety of different programs where it can be used. These programs include Adobe After Effects, NUKE, Flame, Quantel, Fusion and Adobe Premiere Pro.

In the case of After Effects, if you export the shape data you can simply paste it onto a layer by choosing Paste mocha mask in the Edit menu. The result is an identical AE mask on the layer with keys on every frame that cause it to perform precisely as it did in mocha Pro.

If you’re not after the mask, but rather the tracking data, you can export it from mocha Pro and paste it onto a layer in After Effects. This results in position, scale and rotation keyframes that cause the layer to move in the same way as the tracked object.

If you rather render out an image sequence or Quicktime movie to be used as a matte in your compositing program, you can do that too and include things like motion blur and per vertex feathering.

Other compelling features

Another feature I really like in mocha Pro is the Remove Tool. This handy tool is incredibly useful for rig and wire removal as well as removing things like imperfections, blemishes, microphones or even entire objects or actors. By creating a garbage matte around an object you want to remove, mocha will analyze the background and magically remove it from the scene. If there is not enough clean background in the shot for it to work its magic, you can provide your own clean plate for the purpose. This is an important and useful feature which can save you many hours of work.

mocha Pro can also analyze a scene and solve for a 3D camera which it can export to other applications such as After Effects, CINEMA 4D, NUKE, Maya, and other software. The camera solver is a useful feature, however these days programs such as After Effects, C4D and NUKE have capable motion trackers built in. However, if you don’t use those packages, mocha Pro’s camera solver should be useful to you.

Lens distortion can sometimes present a problem when working with a scene shot with a wide lens which has caused a bulging effect in the image. The lens tab in mocha Pro has tools that can rectify lens distortion and straighten things out. You can also track a plane with the lens distortion as is and export a distortion map for later use in compositing. Imagineer also provides a free lens effect plugin for use in After Effects.

New in Version 4

Now let’s examine some of the innovative features that are new in version 4. mocha Pro 4 has a new Stereoscopic 3D workflow which allows users to analyze differences between both left and right camera streams and solve for the disparity. This can then be applied when tracking, camera solving, as well as the object remove module and image stabilization. In other words, mocha Pro’s planar tracker can do multi-stream image analysis which automatically detects and keeps track of the difference between both eyes allowing tracking and roto tasks to be done on uncorrected footage. The outcome is that a lot less manual keyframing is needed for both solving tracks and creating roto shapes on stereoscopic footage.

In the past when working with typical stereoscopic production workflows, one would first correct the footage, such as its vertical alignment and other differences between the right and left eyes before doing any tracking or roto work.

While mocha has always played nicely with After Effects, version 4 now also allows for the pasting of roto masks directly into Premiere Pro timelines. This is useful to isolate elements, or to selectively blur or color correct areas in the shot. Now editors as well as visual effects artists can enjoy the benefits of mocha. Version 4 also improves Quicktime and MPEG support.

Advanced VFX production workflows in facilities that utilize Python scripting can now more deeply integrate mocha 4 into their pipelines thanks to newly added support for Python scripting. An example of this might be to integrate mocha Pro 4 with an asset management system or allowing technical directors to automate mocha Pro tasks.

Also new in mocha Pro 4 is an improved user interface as well as high resolution retina display support.

mocha Plus

If you are a freelance VFX artist and might not need all the features offered by mocha Pro, Imagineer Systems has released a version of mocha just for you called mocha Plus.

Mocha Plus is a less expensive, although powerful version of Mocha.
Mocha Plus is a less expensive, although powerful version of Mocha.

As you may be aware, every version of After Effects comes with a free version of mocha called mocha AE CC which allows for planar tracking and rotoscoping inside of After Effects. While this might do for some projects, mocha AE CC lacks many features such as the advanced modules for object removal and 3D tracking. In addition it only works with After Effects CC so if you’re using another program like NUKE, you won’t be able to export the tracking and shape data to another program.

mocha Plus 4 is a nice option for those who want more features than mocha AE CC, yet don’t need everything that mocha Pro has to offer. Like Pro, it also has powerful features such as planar tracking and roto tools as well as professional VFX modules such as the 3D camera solver, lens correction tools and support for copying and pasting mocha roto masks directly into Premiere Pro. In addition there are increased export options.

Conclusion

If you don’t already own it, mocha Pro 4 (and mocha Plus) will no doubt prove to be an important program in your VFX pipeline and occupy a place in the “go to” category of software in your toolbox. Any project that requires tracking and roto work will benefit from its advanced features and could save you many hours of tedious work. If you are currently using version 3, it is a worthy upgrade.

If you use After Effects, you can upgrade to mocha Plus or mocha Pro. More information and pricing can be found on Imagineer Systems’ website: http://www.imagineersystems.com/

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Review of the Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 Pro

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The Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 Pro is not your average Android tablet. It’s great for watching movies, surfing the web and using your favorite apps due to its large, high resolution screen and potent JBL sound system. However, it can also serve as a useful tablet for artists, animators and post production pros for showing off your reel and portfolio or watching dailies and rough cuts.

I’ve created a short video review about the tablet which you can watch here:

Several features make this tablet stand out from the pack. First of all, there is the large, high resolution 13.3 inch screen with a pixel dimension of 2560 X 1400 making watching movies or surfing the net really nice. It also has an Intel Atom quad-core 1.8GHz Z3745 processor, ample enough to serve up complex web pages and empower demanding games and apps.

The Yoga Tablet 2 Pro is a great tablet for media consumption such as watching movies on NetFlix.
The Yoga Tablet 2 Pro is a great tablet for media such as watching movies on NetFlix.

The Yoga Tablet 2 Pro comes with 32 GB of storage and is easily expandable by dropping in another 64GB Micro SD card, a feature I really like. The tablet feels substantial at 2.1 pounds, but not overly so. One thing you’re sure to appreciate is a kickstand which extends from the back of the tablet and provides sturdy, hands free support.

Audio is impressive on the Lenovo Tablet 2 Pro thanks to an 8 watt JBL sound system which includes two speakers on the front and a 5 watt subwoofer on the back. This makes watching your favorite movies or music videos even better.

The Yoga Tablet 2 can be supported by a sturdy metal kickstand on the back
The Yoga Tablet 2 can be supported by a sturdy metal kickstand on the back

One of the most interesting things about this tablet, however, is that it has a built in projector. When I first heard about the projector, I must admit I was skeptical. However, after trying it out my skepticism soon disappeared. The projected image was remarkably bright and vibrant and I could immediately imagine using it for screenings, lectures and demonstrations.

The tablet has a remarkably unique feature, a projector, which is surprisingly effective.
The tablet has a remarkably unique feature, a projector, which is surprisingly effective.

Another remarkable detail about the Yoga Tablet 2 is the price. For a large and powerful tablet such as this, I found its price of $469 to be quite reasonable compared with other tablets in its class. Considering all this, I’d say that, in my opinion, for its price and performance, this tablet is a great choice.

To see the Lenovo Tablet 2 Pro in action, watch the video above.




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Review of Resolve 11

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It’s been some time now since Blackmagic Design released version 11 of DaVinci Resolve. Long recognized as one of the world’s leading color correction applications, it’s been used to grade a long list of Hollywood blockbuster films, television commercials, music videos and documentaries including such recent features as The Grand Budapest Hotel, Captain Philips, Sacrifice and many more.

Blackmagic acquired Resolve from Davinci Systems in 2009. Before that, getting up and running with Davinci Resolve was an expensive proposition that could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Luckily for us, however, Blackmagic Design made some bold moves. Not only did they keep improving the product after they took it over, but they made it less expensive. Sounds like a good plan to me. How much less expensive you ask? A lot.

First there is Resolve Lite which is as cheap as it gets: Free. Although you might be inclined to think that the Lite version is brain dead, it isn’t. While there are differences between it and the full version of the software, Resolve Lite is remarkably robust.

The full version of Davinci Resolve software adds things like stereoscopic grading, collaborative tools, and noise reduction (among other things). It costs around a thousand dollars. It also comes free with the purchase of most Blackmagic cameras.

For high-end users looking to build a professional color suite, Blackmagic makes a sexy control surface with weighted trackballs, illuminated keys, soft knobs, LCD displays and buttons galore. DaVinci Resolve with the Blackmagic control surface costs $29,995, However, there are cheaper control surfaces that work with Resolve from companies such as Tangent, Avid and JL Cooper. While a control surface will give you a tactile feel to the grading process and increases your productivity, Resolve also works with a good old mouse and keyboard (with lots of keyboard shortcuts as well).

DaVinci Resolve is an advanced color grading application that now boasts a sophisticated Non-Linear-Editor (or NLE). Here it is pictured with the Blackmagic Resolve control surface.
DaVinci Resolve is an advanced color grading application that now boasts a sophisticated Non-Linear-Editor (or NLE). Here it is pictured with the Blackmagic Resolve control surface.

Advanced Editing Comes to Resolve

In traditional workflows, color grading is usually the final step in a production, after the editor and the director have sat for many hours in an edit suite “locking picture”. When they were done, the editor would export the movie’s timeline and send it over to the colorist who would then go about altering the color of the footage— either due to problems (too dark, too orange) or to create an artistic look. When the colorist’s work was done, the picture is rendered with the final color in place.

Naturally, there are some limitations to this way of working. For example, it’s not so easy to alter the editing timeline since it would mean going back and forth between the edit suite and the color suite. Things could get messy like that.

Now, here’s a better idea: What if world-class color grading and editing were combined into one application that did both? With it, you could freely go back and forth between editing and color grading instantaneously without waiting until the edit was done. Color grading and editing could be one organic process, with no penalty for moving between the two worlds — edit a little, grade a little. Repeat.

This is the major innovation and importance of Resolve 11 which adds advanced editing capabilities to one of the industry’s preeminent color correction applications. The result is a single package that allows you to edit, mix audio, color grade, finish and deliver a production. That’s exciting.

The Edit Page, where all editing happens in Resolve.
The Edit Page, where all editing happens in Resolve.

In fact, editing was introduced in Resolve 10, but lacked the sophistication found in mature NLEs. That has changed in release 11. The editing functions have been much improved and include over 70 new editing features based on input from professional editors. Things like multiple video and audio tracks, extensive trimming functions, titling tools, Bezier key frames and transitions.

In addition, there are important new collaborative workflow tools that I haven’t seen in other editing platforms. These new collaboration features allow an editor and multiple colorists to work at different desks while sharing the same timeline. Thus, a team of people can all work together at the same time, on the same production, to get the job done. What’s really nice about Resolve’s collaborative tools is that each colorist working on the project can see the timeline updated immediately as the editor edits.

Color enhancements

In addition to the editing functions, Resolve 11 also contains improvements to its color correction toolset such as new RAW image and color grading controls that are designed to make new users, especially photographers who are moving into cinematography, feel at home. The new camera RAW palette features controls for highlight and shadow recovery, mid tone detail, color boost, saturation, lift, gain and contrast adjustment.

You'll find DaVinci Resolve's world class color grading features on the Color Page.
You’ll find DaVinci Resolve’s world class color grading features on the Color Page.

Also new in Version 11 is the new Color Match feature, an automatic chart color balancing tool which works by doing a primary base grade by analyzing shots containing standard color chip charts. These shots may have been lit differently or with various exposures and color temperatures. It’s a great way to quickly get all of your clips to a common start-off point before you start fine tuning your grades.

Resolve is also used on set to quickly add looks to shots, manage media or prepare dailies. Version 11 also has new features that allow you to securely back up and save digital camera files. This includes a new Clone tool which copies media drives, memory cards and camera packs to multiple places at the same time. That’s useful for on set work.

DaVinci Resolve also contains a fully featured media management system found on the Media Page.
DaVinci Resolve’s Media Page contains a fully featured media management system.

Editing Impressions

I was eager to try out the new editing features in Resolve 11, so I imported some footage from a recent project and got to work.

While Resolve contains a lot of the editing features that you would expect in a pro-level editor, I won’t go into tremendous detail about each and every one of them (you can download Resolve Lite for free and see for yourself). However, I will touch on some of the more important ones. Note that the editing functionality in Resolve Lite is no different from the full version.

The first thing I noticed is the slick editing interface. I’ve always liked Resolve’s color grading UI, and the same goes for the NLE. I find it to be thoughtfully and aesthetically pleasing. This has an effect on the way you think about your work.

As in most professional NLEs there is a source viewer where you can set in and out points for your clips and a program viewer. Video and audio clips can easily be dragged into the timeline into any existing track or into a blank area above to create a new track. Tracks can also be targeted by clicking a button on the left of a track.

Each audio and video clip can be faded up and down over any number of frames from either end. On audio tracks, a horizontal line can be raised, lowered and key-framed vary the audio level over time. Resolve 11 also contains a multi-channel stereo mixer.

Dragging a clip into the program window instead of directly into the timeline will cause a menu overlay to conveniently pop up where you can choose the kind of edit you want to perform: Insert, Overwrite, Replace, Fit-to-Fill or Place on Top. That’s a nice touch. As in other pro NLEs, three-point editing is supported. It’s also easy to remove gaps between clips on the timeline. Simply click on gaps to select them and press delete.

Adding transitions between clips is done by dragging a transition from the Effects Library on top of the edit point. Transition parameters such as duration, border, edge color and feather can be modified in an inspector window which is brought up by double clicking on the transition. The parameters can also be key framed. For added finesse, key frames can be given Bezier handles in the timeline. That’s very cool.

There is a collection of standard transitions that come with Resolve such as cross dissolves, dip to color as well as various wipes. More transitions and effects which adhere to the OpenFX standard can be purchased, installed and used in Resolve 11 (such as Gen Arts’ Sapphire plug-ins).

Also contained in the Toolbox are Titling tools which create text, scrolls and lower thirds with parameters such as font, size color, rotation, drop shadow, stroke, background color, and transfer modes. The Toolbox also contains Generators to create grey scale ramps, color bars and solids.

Trimming is well thought out and implemented in Resolve 11. You can create ripple edits, rolls, slips or slides based upon where you click. For example, clicking and dragging on an edit point allows you to create a slide edit. Clicking and dragging to the right or left of the edit allows for ripple edits (tracks can be excluded if desired). When slipping or sliding, a four-up display appears.

Multiple edit points can also be selected and be edited at the same time. There is a razor tool to cut up a clip and clip snapping can be turned on or off in the timeline. Trimming can also be done with the keyboard which is important to some editors who don’t like to take their fingers off of the keyboard. Clips can be nudged with the comma and period key (the shift key can be added for ten frame increments) and the nearest edit point can be selected by pressing the V key. In addition, the industry standard JKL keys can be used to move forwards, backwards and stop playback.

Allover clip speed can be changed simply by right clicking on a clip and choosing Change Clip Speed. For more advanced time changes such as variable speed effects or freeze frames, clip on a clip and choose Retime Clip from the Edit menu.

Conclusion

Resolve 11’s editing environment provides practically all the tools you need to edit complex productions and has the features you would expect in a professional NLE. However, Resolve is much more than that. It is a complete system for managing media, editing, grading, finishing and delivery.

DaVinci Resolve is equally at home in a high end color, edit suite or your home studio.
DaVinci Resolve is equally at home in a high end color, edit suite or your home studio.

The nice part about it is that you can download the Lite version right now and try it for yourself (as well as the manual, which is very well designed). Incidentally, for those who wish to learn DaVinci Resolve 11, be sure to take a look at Patrick Inhofer’s Colorist Flight School at http://training.taoofcolor.com/. It’s an extremely comprehensive online course which covers every facet of Resolve from editing to color with an impressive attention to detail.

To be able to edit and color grade clips in one state of the art environment is game changing. Blackmagic Design has delivered a system that does just this with characteristic elegance and sophistication. With their recent acquisition of Eyeon Fusion, a highly capable compositing and visual effects program, Blackmagic looks poised to become a one stop shop for visual effects, editing and color grading not to speak of acquisition (cameras) as well as a plethora of hardware for all things video including switchers, capture and playback, film scanning, converters and encoding. This should give companies such as The Foundry and Adobe a run for their money. It will be interesting what happens. For more information, go to https://www.blackmagicdesign.com/products/davinciresolve.

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