EXPOSED! Outside In’s dirty little secret (and hot juicy details about Adobe After Effects CS5)

Shocking headlines seems to work for the rest of the media, so why not here 🙂 I’ve been sitting on a “dirty little secret” about Outside In for almost exactly a year. But now, thanks to the release of Adobe CS5, the ugly truth (and I mean ugly) can come out. I have been under an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) and had to sit on the good news for a long time.

The frightening secret (well, it was frightening to me) – Outside In could not be made as described, as promised. Severe memory problems and limitations in previous versions of Adobe After Effects had left the film with some ugly choices. How ugly? Well pictures can tell a story.

If you read these posts, you’ll recall that IMAX is a huge canvas. You need images that look good at huge sizes on an 8-story high screen. We’ve all experienced trying to blow up a picture and the fugly results. Here’s what happens to a nice image of Saturn available online:

lovely saturn

Now, let’s say you want to make it IMAX size and zoom then flyby the image:

saturn fugly

Okay, that’s not pretty. But you say, well, maybe I can live with that (actually I can’t but some people are okay with uprezzing). But the real crime is about light. Light is the miracle of the universe and the prime ingredient in art and of course filmmaking. Those wonderful little photons, emitted by the sun, traveling billions of kilometers to hit Saturn, bounce into the Cassini camera and then transmitting back to earth to be projected in a beam of light onto the screen that reflects those photos into your eyes and into your mind. Wow. Mind blown.

But that amazing journey has a cost. Especially when you start processing images on your computer. Most all computer image processing is done is something called “8-bit color”. Basically that means that there are 256 values assigned for light and darkness. Well, that does make it easy to work with on computers, especially in years past, but it’s huge violation of the natural world. Our eyes see more than this of course, but the real issue is what happens when you heavily process an 8-bit image. Bad things, bad, bad things.

So I knew that for this to work, I needed to be at least in 16-bit color – which gives you over 16,000 values for light and dark. The first couple of film-out tests for Outside In were done at 4000 x 3000 pixels in 16-bit color. They looked good but I still had to hide the dirty little secret. The flyby of Saturn rings? My recipe for creating it required intensive use of processing light in Adobe After Effects in order to main the visual integrity of the photographs. This is what the process looks like at various color depths.

First, 8-bit color, the standard for digital cameras, the web, desktop computing, video etc. :

yikes, what happened to the rings?

Now the exact same thing but in 16-bit color (some pro photo and video people work in 10, 12 or 14-bit and process in 16 bits, but it can be difficult and cumbersome):

okay, i see rings, but WTF?

And now, 32-bit color, as nature intended and Adobe After Effects CS5 makes possible at very large frame sizes with it’s new 64-bit engine:

lovely saturn again

So, you can see – the dirty secret on Outside In was the film could only be made at high resolution in low-color or low resolution in high-color. But not both. So last year, after outputting shots without the super coolness, I began looking at options for moving to another software program. But the results of my search would not encouraging (and often would require spending the price of a new house to find out).

Then I heard a rumor of a new version of After Effects. I decided to wait – I helped my friend Jason Pierce shoot his film “Hellphone” and worked on other projects. Then I was lucky enough to have access to a prerelease version of the new After Effects. You can imagine the very, very, very first thing I tried to do with it. And yes it immediately worked and was near ballin’ my eyes out. But I could say nothing, until now.

But it’s on – Outside In is in production. Feel free to sign up with Team 11 and help bring these stunning images to the giant screen.


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