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The History of VFX: A Chat with Red Giant CCO, Stu Maschwitz

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Legendary Hollywood VFX artist and Red Giant Chief Creative Officer Stu Maschwitz hops on the podcast to chat with Mark Christiansen about his epic career in the VFX industry.

Stu Maschwitz has been in the industry for so long that the techniques you use on a daily basis probably only exist because of Stu's pioneering work. From Star Wars Episode 1, Iron Man and Pirates of the Caribbean, Stu has been working in VFX for a long time.

Today's podcast is pulled directly from VFX for Motion, a course hosted by Stu's former colleague, Mark Christiansen. When it comes to pulling knowledge directly from the source, this podcast is the holy grail.

In the podcast, Mark chat's about Stu's entrance into the visual effects industry, the development of After Effects, and his new role at Red Giant.

Looking to get into the VFX Industry? This is the best podcast on the market to get you inspired and ready to go. Grab a pen, paper, and clear your schedule. It's time to get into VFX history 101 with Stu Maschwitz and Mark Christiansen.

Stu Maschwitz Podcast Interview

Stu Maschwitz Podcast Show Notes






Learn More About VFX

Feeling inspired to take your VFX skills even further? Go check out VFX for Motion with Mark Christiansen. This in-depth course is the best way to learn the basics of compositing, match-moving, keying and more in After Effects. Mark is ready to share his extensive VFX knowledge with you.

Stu Maschwitz Podcast Transcript

Mark:The man, the myth, the six-foot-seven-inch-tall legend. If you're aren't already familiar with my guest today, I think as we chat you'll start to recognize who I'm talking to. I, Mark Christiansen, hello, have known Stu personally for over two decades at this point, starting back when he was just coming up, leading the fabled Rebel Mac Unit under John Knoll at ILM. I got to say, I work with some amazing people, but Stu is the closest to an actual mentor I've ever had in this business. Without him, and this is no exaggeration, I literally would not be here talking to you. His willingness to thoroughly answer my many questions allowed me to articulate strong opinions about best practices as a VFX compositor. That really helped my humble After Effects book stand out.

Mark:Nowadays, Stu is best known as the chief creative officer and force behind many of your favorite tools at Red Giant Software. Not long ago, he also made his animation debut with a project that truly has no exact precedent called Tank. In this conversation, we start with recent history, but quickly jump to the roots that allowed him to be doing what he does today. This was a really fun conversation that even fills in some blanks about the development of After Effects itself, and I hope you enjoy it.

Mark:All right, Stu. Well, it's tricky to know where to start, but I kind of actually, in your case, want to work backwards, if you will, and talk about what you're doing now, and we could start with Red Giant. We could start with Red Giant Software. I mean, there's so much you've offered to the community, but I think that's a great starting point.

Stu:Just to kind of clarify the facts in this situation, I am the chief creative officer of Red Giant. It is now my full-time gig, which is relatively recent, but it's been a very smooth, gradual transition getting there. I've been doing that for a couple years now, but up until that point, I was very, very actively involved in designing the Magic Bullet plugins for Red Giant, and the only reason that wasn't a full-time gig is that that was a product cycle for Red Giant that was folded in with the other stuff like Trapcode and Universe and all that, meaning that we would kind of pick-

Mark:What does that mean, folded in?

Stu:... oh, this is the year where there's going to be a big Magic Bullet update, or this is the year where there's going to be a big Trapcode update or something like that. So, I would have... Yeah, yeah. Well, all the products-

Mark:Got it, and those would be the haymakers, as it were.

Stu:... that give attention to Red Giant, they're all doing fine. Those were the big-ticket items, although there was a big focus on Universe, kind of bringing it up from something that a lot of people are using now. So, yeah.

Mark:Well, okay. Since we're going back like that, I'm really curious. Well, let's see. I have two different questions right now. So, you're chief creative officer, and you seem to have a knack for coming up with tools that bring things that might in one way or another be industry standard elsewhere. At least, they allow you to do things that people are already doing, but they're designed specifically for After Effects and to make it much easier, if not even just plain possible-

Stu:Yeah, and there's maybe kind of two answers to that, because I think it comes from two places.

Mark:... when it wasn't before.

Stu:One is this kind of tinkering impulse that I have, which is that I can't do a thing without wanting to make tools to help me do the things easier, and the analogy I always make is a woodworker working in a wood shop. If they have to build one chair, they'll build the chair, but if they have to build three chairs, they will build a jig to make it easier so that they can cut multiple legs or whatever of the chair simultaneously.

Stu:So, at some point you kind of naturally go doing the work to trying to somehow automate the work, or in visual effects we want to think of it as a pipeline. If you have one visual effects shot to do for a short, then maybe you would just make the slate as the first frame by just opening up a text layer in After Effects. But if you have 20 visual effects shots to do for a short, maybe you would make a slate that could read text information from a comma-separated value text file, so you have only one place to update it, and it's all automated. Well, it might've been, but maybe I just couldn't justify it.

Mark:Which otherwise would not have been my idea of fun, but suddenly-

Stu:I mean, that was the kind of thing I realized that I was enjoying, the meta work, a lot, and then I was also kind of wanting to share it with people out of kind of a dual impulse. One is a bit of extroverted tendency of just wanting to share, and then the other is when you make something good enough to share with other people, you actually wind up making it better for yourself. It's sort of the opensource software mentality, or even not opensource. In Amazon's case, they turned Amazon Web Services into a product based on the idea that if they made it good enough to sell, it would be really good for their backend. You know?

Mark:Yeah, indeed. I'm realizing, I don't even know... This is the other thing I wanted to ask you about, because I don't fully know the origin story of how you and Red Giant end up... how that came to be, because that goes way back.

Stu:Yeah, it sure does. Yeah. The answer to that is kind of buried in the other half of the equation for why I kind of love making these tools, and has to do with accessibility. Like you said, I've designed a lot of tools that bring a capability to kind of either the quote-unquote low end or to a broader audience of creators, and in the early days, that was Magic Bullet. Magic Bullet started as kind of a process that I was working on to give a film look to standard def DV footage in the '90s, and then at The Orphanage, the visual effects company that I co-founded in 1999, in addition to doing visual effects for films, we also had a very early digital kind of post-production arm, and the service itself was called Magic Bullet. Yeah. Yeah.

Mark:Oh, right. I remember this. So, that's when Jackass has you doing [crosstalk 00:08:00]

Stu:We did Jackass. We did a bunch of films for... It was the era where a bunch of actors and directors were kind of discovering grabbing a DV camera and making... Richard Linklater was doing it, and Gary Winick with InDigEnt, they were making all these... They were really kind of embodying this spirit of the independent film based on the incredible accessibility of these DV cameras, but the results looked like video unless you did a bunch of careful processing, and there were all these kind of secret sauce facilities out there that would take your video and shoot it out to film, but a lot of filmmakers were frustrated because the first time they ever saw their film quote-unquote looking like film was on film, and at that point they'd spent a huge chunk of their budget.

Stu:So, our service was that we would convert to 24-frame-per-second progressive using the Magic Bullet, the interlacing technology, which was kind of the earlier incarnation of Magic Bullet, then do digital color correction, and then shoot the whole thing out to film in a color-calibrated way, but you could have a high-quality video master that was 24p, as well as a film print, and a lot of people really liked that, including Jackass, which was a hilarious project to work on.

Mark:Right, right. So, at that time it was effectively a recipe of things you could do, along with probably some custom tools at that point.

Stu:Yeah. So, it had graduated from a very kind of elaborate After Effects project to an actual set of plugins, and at that time, the sort of earliest incarnation of The Orphanage was just the three of us sharing an office with the RESFest guys in San Francisco, and right across the hallway was Toolfarm. So, that's where we met Drew Little and Sean Safreed, the founders of what would ultimately become Red Giant. They were kind of looking to do their own thing in the plugin space, and they basically said, "If we could get Magic Bullet from Stu and The Orphanage and Knoll Light Factory from John Knoll, we could start a company." So, that's what they did. They started Red Giant based on those two products.

Mark:Holy mackerel. So, that place you guys had down at the Civic Center was like a... It turned out to be kind of an incubator.

Stu:Yeah, it really did. That was no small part of why the RES guys were so kind to invite us to share their space, because they loved that sense of a filmmaking community developing around their magazine and their festival. So, it really did feel like a cool, special time, and a lot of interesting things were going on.

Mark:Yeah. For those who don't know it, or would have to imagine it, RESFest was an annual festival that would tour around the world, and this is, of course, long before YouTube. I mean, we're talking about late '90s, right around the turn of millennium, and the good work was still relatively rare. So, RES, John Wells, was curating material for the magazine. There was a print magazine. This is so dated.

Stu:Yeah, it was amazing.

Mark:And a festival, and the festival was great because it would really... Yeah. I mean, the content was fun. They would do associated events, like DJs and musicians with it. The parties were great, and the parties were great also because it would draw all the like kind people that you would want to met.

Stu:Yeah, very much so. Whenever we'd go to one of those, I would just be like, where are all these people hanging out when they're not at this festival? Because it just felt like there was a big community of people who not only wanted to see the latest Chris Cunningham music video or... Yeah, him and a couple others.

Mark:Wow. Yeah.

Stu:There would be future screenings, like Blair Witch and Waking Life.

Mark:Yeah, he was the superstar of that whole scene.

Stu:But yeah. No, it was definitely a different time.


Stu:Things were new, and you had to actually all get together in a physical space to kind of see what the state of the art was in digital filmmaking, and it was a cool thing to be a part of.

Mark:Right, and it does feel like Final Cut Pro, the original 1.0 version, and the VHX-1000 were really kind of the keys to the car there.

Stu:Absolutely. Yeah, VHX... That was what got me so excited. I mean, that was what caused me to leave my dream job at ILM, was this idea of accessibility. Right? We could do ILM-quality visual effects on a home computer. We'd already shown that because we were literally doing that at the Rebel Mac Unit, and then these DV cameras came out, and I bought one immediately on my own credit card.

Mark:Yeah, which we'll get into. Yeah, yeah.

Stu:It was kind of a big investment at the time, and started imagining a short film that I might make with it, and that short film was called The Last Birthday Card, and that kind of became the living example of a combination of the Magic Bullet to add production value to digital video, and then what we could do with visual effects on a very modest budget if we were kind of... Yes.

Mark:Right, using stuff like even available footage for the fire department. Okay. So, there you were. So, The Orphanage didn't last very long in this incubator setting before you guys moved out the Presidio.

Stu:That's right, yeah. San Francisco Film Center was kind of the first of the Presidio buildings to kind of get opened up to local businesses, and...



Mark:Another amazing bit of synergy, that you guys ended up as the anchor tenant of it.

Stu:It was a great place to be, and we were there before Lucasfilm arrived, but as soon as they... We watched them tear down that old hospital building and build the Lucas digital complex there, and we kind of felt even more like there was a real kind of hub of digital filmmaking ideas happening in the Bay Area there.

Mark:Yes. Yeah. So, that then is the time that you started getting more resources to turn Magic Bullet into a tool that could be resold for other people to do this.

Stu:Yeah. Yeah, and it was great because that was something that Sean of Red Giant kind of... He came with a bunch of ideas, saying, "This is more than just frame rate conversion. This is also color correction," and that was where the idea of Magic Bullet as a suite of tools came out. My career trajectory was kind of moving a little bit away from day-to-day visual effects and moving more into doing music videos and commercials, directing. So, I got to sit with colorists working on DaVinci Resolve and see what they were doing, and I kind of plugged myself excitedly into that world of... Color correction is... At the time, people just didn't really appreciate how much of a big deal it was. In fact, I always laugh to think back. When we first were releasing Magic Bullet as a product, all of our marketing was about trying to convince people why they should do color correction, not why they should buy Magic Bullet, why they should just think about doing color correction at all.


Stu:Yeah. So, that sort of sense of you could go buy a DV camera-


Stu:... and that you could buy a plugin, and now you have the production value that actually a much higher-budget film would actually struggle to match. That was kind of what excited me as a filmmaker, was that this incredibly high production value was possible at a very low budget.

Mark:Yeah, and I'm trying to remember the timeline. I mean, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, whatever year that came out, the first fully digitally color looked and corrected feature. Right?

Stu:Yeah, but it wasn't because of what we had been doing. That was the hilarious thing. We beat them to it by a couple years, but they were the first one shot on film.

Mark:Oh, of course.

Stu:That was the...

Mark:Right. They had a very specific aesthetic that really stood out.

Stu:Yeah, and that was the beginning of the concept of... That was where the term DI came about, was digital intermediate. In other words, came from the lab terminology of, okay, you're going to go into a timing session, and you're going to make an intermediate, which is literally an interpositive that came off of the negative that is timed, and then that is the master that is used to make all the prints. Then you have to make an internegative off of that, and then you make prints. If you're the filmmaker, you might get a first-generation print. Famously, there's a few of those floating around for some fancy movies, and if you get to see one, they miss skipping two generations of film printing.

Mark:Oh, yeah.

Stu:But yeah, that intermediate step of your color timing, which is literally how long the red, green and blue lights were turned on to expose through the film. Your work was recorded to a piece of film. The digital intermediate, that work was recorded to a digital file, and so that was... It's fun to think back of just how crazy all that was, but that's where the term DI comes from, is this...

Mark:Wow. Yeah. I didn't know that about color timing. I actually always took color timing to mean you were making the sequence all over time look like it holds together.

Stu:No. In fact, yeah, it's literally printer lights, and it literally is... You measure points. In printer lights, it's talking about-


Stu:It's a brightness, but the way that amount of brightness is actually committed to the film is by turning on a light bulb for a certain amount of time.

Mark:Crazy. Well, some of these terms are still with us, and others effectively kind of faded into the background.

Stu:Yep. Exactly. Yep.

Mark:That all resulted more or less in Colorista. Yeah, yeah. Okay.

Stu:Yeah, Colorista and Magic Bullet Looks, kind of the idea there was I wanted to take the color correction techniques and tools that I was seeing in use in the professional world in these high-end color suites, and I wanted to make them available to folks in Final Cut, Premiere, After Effects, and that was before any of those tools had any kind of credible color correction really built in, and that was in the era of Silicon Color, which had their line of software-based color correction tools that ran on Mac, and that ultimately Apple bought and turned into the color product, but before Apple bought them and included them with the Final Cut suite, or Final Cut Studio, or whatever it was called, that was $20,000 for the standard def edition, I think, and then on up into $40,000 for the high-def version or something. So, that's where color correction was at when we came out with a couple-hundred-dollar plugin that could do the same thing. Yep.

Mark:So, I want to stop you because Colorista I buy is based very much on color pots and the wheels, and that whole model. It had very specific choices that over time evolved to work really well in the context of what you're doing in software. Looks is more like Supercomp and some of the other tools that you have commandeered or helped bring into life at Red Giant, where that's got a whole bunch of other stuff, and it's based on a completely different model, which is you start with light, and it goes through these parts of a camera, and then it goes through post-processing. So, it's almost as if Colorista's just the post-processing part. I know that, whether people fully understood that or not, Looks really just kind of lit a candle under nontechnical people to suddenly get access to all of these very accessible try-before-you-buy kind of toys.

Stu:Oh, thanks. Yeah. No. I think you described it really well, and I actually love that appraisal of it-

Mark:I mean, it's a very playful interface as well.

Stu:... the idea of it being a fun environment to experiment with something that mattered a lot to me, and that was where I was really kind of discovering my excitement and love for designing a different approach to color, just designing a different approach to these very technical problems, because I figured people may not know what lift, gamma, gain means. But they know that if you put an orange filter in front of a lens, that the image is going to look orange, and they might even know that if you're shooting on black-and-white film and you put a red filter in front of the lens, the sky is going to look darker than if you shoot without that red filter. But if they don't know that, hey, they can find out real quick by experimenting. You know?


Stu:So, yeah, we built this user interface that allowed people to kind of accumulate these little tools in a way that had real-world correlations to something like a particular type of film or a bleach bypass way of treating the film, or whatever. Of course, a lot of people start in Magic Bullet Looks by applying a preset, but when you apply a preset, it's not a black box. You see all the tools that were used to make it, and I think even just the feeling of not being locked into the preset, but being able to go in and adjust one tiny little thing to make it your own is the difference between people feeling a little bit like, okay, yeah, I just applied a filter. There's all these LUTs out there, and they can be great-

Mark:They just used a filter.

Stu:... but they can be a little hard to use, and they can also make you feel a little bit dirty, like oh, I just kind of applied a LUT and I didn't get really get too involved. Also, what's going on in that LUT? I don't really know. So, it looks great-

Mark:Bye-bye, creativity.

Stu:Yeah. It looks great on 10 shots, and then somebody comes in wearing a bright red outfit-

Mark:I hope it holds up.

Stu:... and it looks weird, and now you don't really know what to do other than just reduce the opacity of the LUT. Hopefully, if that same thing was happening with a look in Magic Bullet Looks, you could see, oh, yeah, look. There's that color tool there that is doing something weird to red, so on this shot I'll back off on just that specific ingredient in the look. It mattered to me to not be... I wanted to give people a shortcut to getting a look that they liked quickly, but I didn't want them to feel shut out of the creative process. I think you're right. I think that formula has been the key to people's ongoing interest in using Looks, is that it just allows people to feel creative.

Mark:Yeah. Well, what's remarkable to me, I'm going to say something about editors, that in my experience, they're not necessarily the most technical people. Some of them are, but many editors are much more aesthetically-driven, and that tool set just became... It just really opened the door for some editors to just not fret about that anymore, and go kind of work their magic.

Stu:Yeah. I mean, it's funny to think back, but before Magic Bullet Looks, there was not anything you could buy or use anyway that would show you a screen full of thumbnails of your image with a bunch of different visual looks applied to it. Yeah, yeah.

Mark:Right, and have a metaphor that guides you through how you might want to tweak it, if you want to go there. Yeah. Nice work. Well, I was intending to start at the present and work our way back, and we're now hanging out in the knots, which is fine because there are a couple other things in that decade I kind of want to get to at the same time. So, Red Giant is getting going in that era-

Stu:That's right.

Mark:... and you're still the CTO of The Orphanage, and there were some things that happened in that era. We'll talk about The DV Rebel's Guide, but also, in The Orphanage, something really remarkable was happening. After Effects was getting used to comp feature films, and sometimes those features were even using things in After Effects that really, it only could deliver, and then it other cases, you were adding things to After Effects that it couldn't deliver. So, an example of the first one would be... The one that comes to mind is Sin City, which I brought up a little bit with Kevin, and he totally segued to you as getting the credit on this crazy recipe that went into creating the very unique look for that film.

Stu:We were kind of piggybacking on work that we had set up for Spy Kids 3-D.

Mark:Do you want to say anything about that, and just kind of how that came about?

Stu:So, we transitioned from working on that with Robert Rodriguez into doing Sin City, and Spy Kids 3-D, very quick turnaround for us on that project. We just had, I think, 30 days to delivery tons and tons of shots, and it was hard work. It was essential to, again, as that gets back to that kind of if you need to make three chairs-

Mark:Yeah, I remember.

Stu:... then we needed to make quite a few chairs in a very short amount of time, so we needed a jig, and that jig was this After Effects template project so that every artist would start with the same After Effects project, because usually there was kind of a formula to the shots. It was the green screen kids comped in front of a CG background, maybe with a foreground element, maybe with some other effects added in there, and it was in stereo, which was not something that After Effects was kind of natively set up to really support, and you needed all those stereo tweaks that you tend to do, like tweaking the interocular of the shot over time or whatever.

Stu:So, I rigged up a kind of complex After Effects project, but that allowed you to compartmentalize your thinking, like, okay, over here I will just work on the keying. Okay, over here I will just work on the integration of the foreground and background. Okay, over here I will just work on the stereo impression for the viewer. Then Sin City comes along, and instead of stereo, blessedly, we've got... I always prefer less information than more. We've got this wonderful kind of black-and-white treatment, but very cleverly, Robert had figured out this method of shooting where certain types of wardrobe elements might have a fluorescent ink or paint on them, and would fluoresce certain colors, which would allow us to key them out and turn them into some of the poster colors for the film.

Stu:So, our sequence that we worked on on Sin City, the film has three stories, and we worked on the Bruce Willis/Jessica Alba one, which is called That Yellow Bastard. So, the yellow bastard character is yellow, but his makeup was blue screen blue. So, he was a blue screen blue guy on a green screen backdrop, and we had to extract the backdrop and make him keyable in front of the backdrop, and then extract his blueness and turn that into a yellow wash that would appear.

Stu:When bad things happen to him and his blood goes flying, his blood is yellow as well, which means that at various times you've got Bruce Willis, who's black-and-white, but he's got bandages on his face that are fluorescing a different color so that they can turn white, and then he's got yellow blood on him, which is actually blue on the set. Huge props to Robert for figuring all that out and kind of trusting in the process and understanding the digital post-pipeline well enough to know that that would all work. It totally did work, but it meant that every new shot was a piece of footage that could slot into-

Mark:Damn. Yeah. Yeah.

Stu:... this very complex formula that was kind of pre-laid out in this giant After Effects project, and there was still plenty of room for the artist to be creative, but the look would be consistent. I mean, I told Robert, I'm like, "I really want to hand you these shots, and I want you to just be able to drop them in the film and not do any post-work on them at all." He did take it to EFILM and have it digitally color corrected, but I was very gratified to hear that they didn't feel like they had to do a whole lot to our sections, so that made me very happy.

Mark:Oh, that's cool. The other thing from that era is that kind of a piece of history that most people don't know... So, The Orphanage was the first place to put After Effects into floating-point color land, and for people who aren't familiar, that is how you generally want to work with film-quality images, working with overbrights and preserving them, and working linearly with color, and that was totally unfamiliar territory for After Effects. Without getting too much in the weeds on this, the piece of the story that I love... So, we were, on Day After Tomorrow, using a kind of... It was a set of custom plugins, in-house, that at some point the After Effects team and visited and took a look at, and Dan Wilk's words were, "Okay, you embarrassed us into adding this into After Effects."

Stu:Yeah. That was a nice way for him to put that. What was happening for me, when I started the Rebel Mac Unit at ILM with John Knoll, our motto there was I was told there would be no math, and the reason for that was actually kind of a reaction against the incredibly technical nature of the work at ILM at the time. In the '90s, everything was still new, and so everything was... All the wires were exposed. You were spending as much time under the hood of the race car as you were ripping it around the track because no one was an expert on anything, and everything was still being invented as we were working. Yeah, yeah.

Mark:ILM itself was literally a garage operation.

Stu:Oh, right. Yeah.

Mark:It was a bunch of warehouses. I was just over there the other day at [C Theater 00:31:02] watching Joker.

Stu:Yeah, it's perfect, and still maintains so much [crosstalk 00:31:06]

Mark:I just love the shabby elegance of that place.

Stu:Yeah, it's both a parking lot and a strip mall, and also the world's first 2HX theater. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So, that sense of how typical-

Mark:Right, film history. Yeah.

Stu:... things were on the ILM pipeline side, and how free and creative it was to just make the pictures without a big pipeline supporting you, but also without a big pipeline holding you back. Famously, or infamously in the Rebel Mac history, Jon Rothbart and I were trying to figure out how to add some water to a beautiful Paul Houston map painting for Star Wars: Episode I, and we realized that I had my DV camera there with me, and we just actually went for lunch down in Sausalito, and we drove over the Golden Gate Bridge and shot a bunch of slates of the bay. They were standard def, but they didn't need to be much higher resolution than that because we were fitting them into a small section of this map painting.

Stu:We actually got in trouble. A bunch of people at ILM were freaked out that we had done that, and it was like, "But we made the water," and it was like somehow we were bad boys for thinking outside the box a little bit. So, along with kind of the technical nature of things came the sort of regimented nature, and it caused me... My nature is to rebel against all of those things. But in a weird way, it set back my nerd education a bit, and what happened when I started to be responsible for these things, the hippies always become the bureaucrats. Right? So, ultimately, I became the one who started inflicting all these rigorous color pipelines on all my artists, even though I had been the rebellious one before.

Stu:But I was doing it to try to make people feel more creative, and that was the big discovery, was that particularly floating-point, working in floating-point linear color space turned pixels into light, and it meant that if you doubled the pixel value, it actually looked like increasing the value by one step. Suddenly, I realized that I had actually been forced to be a lot more technical by having to develop so many workarounds. Here's an example that I'll try to run down quickly.

Stu:Compositing shots in 8-bit, essentially video gamma for Star Wars: Episode I, we would render a spaceship, an electric image, with motion blur, and it looked great, and then we would render a bunch of... We had a bunch of kind of blaster bolt elements that we had pre-rendered in a few different perspectives, and we would position those in After Effects to add all the lasers and flack and stuff to a space battle shot. But I knew that a bright laser beam behind a motion-blurred spaceship, the laser beam should kind of erode through the motion blur. Right? It should overexpose kind of through the motion blur. But that wasn't happening because we were in video gamma, and we had no overbrights.

Stu:So, I would do this thing where I would take the alpha channel of the spaceship, and I would gamma correct it according to the brightness values of the laser element, and then reunite it with the spaceship element, remultiply the alpha, and now as you put the spaceship over the laser, the laser would appear to erode through the motion blur. So, that was a huge amount of pre-comping and workaround to try to simulate what my technical eye knew I wanted to see, that if we were comping in floating-point linear, that would just come for free.

Stu:As soon as I got the religion on that, I just couldn't ever see it any other way. What happened is that before After Effects went 32-bit, they went to 16, and just the extra fidelity of having, instead of 256 values of gray, it was in the thousands, because it wasn't a true 16-bit. It was a 15 plus one. It's very technical and not worth going into, but that's what Photoshop had done. So, we had now thousands of shades of gray, which meant that we could kind of get some of the effects of holding onto bright values, brighter than your eye could see, by just... Yeah. What that meant was basically taking everything in and darkening it-

Mark:Right. As long as you could use those pixels in an unorthodox way. Yeah.

Stu:... and then working in this dark space. So, there's also a gamma adjustment, of course. But we would unite everything into this dark space where overbrights were just mapped into the brighter registers, but a lot of things broke when we did that, including our most important tool of all time, levels, the levels effect. So, we had to write-

Mark:That's right.

Stu:So, we called this thing ELIN, for extended linear, and we wrote a suite of plugins that would basically convert video or log footage into ELIN, and then convert it back at the end. But an essential intermediate tool was e-levels, which was just your good old fashioned After Effects levels but with overbright handling. In doing that, we actually had the opportunity to develop an opinion about what should happen to the overbrights in a typical levels adjustment, and I don't think it's any coincidence that the After Effects levels effect in 32-bit works exactly the way that we had kind of designed into e-levels.

Stu:By the way, that was an example of my extroverted tendencies. I wanted the world to know about ELIN, and I blogged about it, but I actually got Red Giant to release it as a free product, which they really hadn't ever done before. They didn't really have the mechanism to do that, but I didn't think it was something you could charge for, but I wanted other folks to be able to use it. I was really gratified that a couple people actually did build a pipeline around it and use it on some shows.

Mark:Yeah, that is remarkable. That was pretty revolutionary at that time.

Stu:It gave the After Effects community a little bit of an on ramp into what the shake world already knew about, which is that floating-point was cool.

Mark:So, that could fast forward as to Supercomp, and also your short animation, Tank. I want to get to those, but while we've delved into the past, I have more questions. I'm curious about your take on how the Rebel Mac Unit even came to be at After Effects, and I have a theory. I mean, John Knoll was certainly in the mix on this, if not the responsible party, but also, John Knoll, being a good guy who understood what you could do on a Mac that you really couldn't easily or at all do with other approaches. Is that kind of in the realm, what happened?

Stu:Yeah, there were two things. So, he was doing effects on his Mac, and he understood well enough what the limitations were, that he knew the exact sweet spots for where he could be effective with it. John...

Mark:I should jump in, by the way, and say for those who don't know, John Knoll, who now effectively runs ILM, and who started there I think in the late '80s-

Stu:Yeah, and who with his brother Thomas created Photoshop.

Mark:... doing motion. Yeah, go ahead.

Stu:Yeah, that. But he's a brilliant visual effects supervisor, and is chief creative officer-

Mark:Oh, yeah, that. Right.

Stu:... at Lucasfilm, which is basically Disney, so yeah, he's a busy guy, and invented the lens flare plugin that we're still selling at Red Giant today. Great guy, and I was excited to work with him on Mission: Impossible, and folks can hear me actually yammer on endlessly about that on a recent episode, or a series of episodes, on the Light the Fuse podcast, which is all about the Mission: Impossible franchise. I got to talk about this little particular bit of history, which is that John was the supervisor on the Brian De Palma Mission: Impossible, and I was working on the helicopter tunnel sequence, and at the same time, he was doing...

Mark:Oh, wow.

Stu:He did a couple shots for Mission, and he also did... He was busy working on redoing the entire space battle of the original Star Wars on his little beige Mac, and that was the thing. I'd come up to his office to talk about helicopters, and then I'd see that he was rendering X-wings in Electric Image on his Mac, and I was just like, "Oh, man. How do I do this for a living?" and he's like, "Well, funny you should ask. The next show-"

Mark:At home.

Stu:"... I'm working on after this is a Star Trek movie, and I was kind of thinking that this little pipeline might be appropriate for that," because ironically, the one thing that ILM's pipeline at the time was not really set up to handle was hard-surface models or polygonal models, whereas Electric Image could blaze through them. So, Electric Image's renderer was ideally suited to rendering spaceships, and ILM's was not. In fact, that caused us endless headaches on Mission: Impossible, because even just doing something like rendering the spinning blades of the helicopter actually really choked RenderMan.

Stu:[Joel Aterri 00:41:14] figured out some really clever shader and geometry workarounds for that, but I had one shot where I rendered the rotor blades separately from the helicopter, and the one bucket of pixels in the middle of the spinning blades would just never render, because Renderman was just like, "I don't know, you guys." I would just manually launch that frame, let it render up to the point where that bucket was hanging, kill the render, rescue the buffer out of RAM, save it to a file, and about 20 frames of the shot are manually sort of rescued. Yeah, and then put a little blur on top of it.

Mark:That's not good, dude.

Stu:Yeah. Yeah, dark times, dark times. But yeah. Anyways, so that's the origin story of Rebel Mac-

Mark:Spin blur.

Stu:... was John Knoll saying, "I think this idea that I have is portable."


Stu:The two things that made a shot Rebel Mac-able was a rigid model, a hard-surface model like a spaceship or something like it, was it kind of... Not necessarily a one-off, but a situation where you didn't necessarily want to build a whole pipeline around. So, in John's case, in the sort of Langley sequence in Mission: Impossible where Tom Cruise is hanging from the rig and clenching floppy disks in his teeth, Jean Reno's knife falls to the floor, and that knife is a CG model rendered by John in Electric Image, and the reason that made sense to John was that that was just one shot.

Mark:Oh, yeah, iconic.

Stu:Don't build a whole pipeline around it. Just make the shot. When you do that, you get to think efficiently, like, oh, let's only build the part of the model that we see, or let's... In other words, let's not turntable the... There's two establishing shots of airliners in Mission: Impossible. He did both of those, and the camera only ever sees one side of the plane. He only modeled and textured one side of the plane. It's the classic kind of bit of efficiency that... Yeah. Of course, we would come to get totally bit by that on the first Rebel Mac project that we did without John, which was Men in Black. We were so excited we got to make this spaceship. Barry Sonnenfeld was like, "I got this great idea. This spaceship flies over the camera," and we're like, "Yeah, okay. That sounds like a very ILM idea."

Mark:Yeah. Super smart guy. Right. Yeah.

Stu:We only built the bottom of it, and we did the shot, and then we saw it, and he's like, "Well, that just looks exactly like the opening shot of Star Wars," and we're like, "Yeah. We kind of thought that's what you were going for," and he's like, "Oh, we can't have that, man. We got to be on top of the spaceship." So, then we had to start over and build the top of the spaceship. So, sometimes there's such a thing as too much efficiency. Yeah, that's right, and that was kind of, I guess-

Mark:Now, that movie, you guys also were responsible for screen graphics.

Stu:... maybe the third leg of the table of what would make a shot kind of make sense for After Effects, is if it had a strong motion graphics component to it. In that case, that artwork was developed in the art department at ILM in Photoshop, and the ability to just take that stuff straight into After Effects with all the blend modes and everything intact meant a certain amount of efficiency, but then we had the additional challenge of having to track that stuff in the camera moves and put it out of focus and put it behind actors and things like that. So, that got us into the territory of actually doing rather complex composites in Rebel Mac, and that got me really thinking pretty hard about where After Effects was holding up really well and providing a lot of really cool, creative options, and where it maybe needed a little help in terms of being a kind of facility pipeline compositing tool.

Mark:Right. So, fast forward a decade or so, and you've published The DV Rebel's Guide based on... It's heavily based around After Effects and what you can do there, along with the tape-based DV cameras that were common at the time. On the one hand, it was a book that bound to, in some ways, become dated really quickly because of all the tools and how fast they were evolving, and yet it's still considered by a lot of people to be kind of the keys to the car and the kind of opening view, followed up by your Prolost blog of how to do this stuff and get really creative with almost deliberately not turning to the turnkey solution that you can buy, almost making an exercise out of not doing that, even as those become more available, which in some cases they have. So, people are really curious about... I mean, people want to see another book, but what's your... I mean, we're over a decade on from that. What have you seen that become, that movement?

Stu:I mean, the thing is that book represents a fight that I was fighting, and you know what? We won. We won. Now there's a hundred cameras that are bending over backwards to build the exact little features I want into increasingly inexpensive setups. Right? So, boom, mission accomplished. Just go make a movie. I have nothing left to say. I mean, I think it's still hard, but it's not hard for any reasons having anything to do... I don't need to stand on anyone's lawn with a boombox and say, "God damn it, Canon. We need 24p," or, "Hey, certain plugin manufacturer, you really need to update your stuff for 32-bit."

Stu:All of those fights have been fought, and they have been won, and because of all kinds of reasons that I couldn't have predicted back when I wrote the book, everything from the phone in your pocket to a low-end consumer point-and-shoot camera can shoot way better video than any camera I had access to when I wrote all that stuff, and yeah. So, I know that there's still an endless appetite for information about all of this stuff, but around the time that I was really posting weekly, if not daily, about that on Prolost, there were plenty of other blogs coming up as well, and they're still around.

Stu:They made a business out of keeping us all up-to-date on that stuff, and I couldn't ever keep up with that, nor did I want to. So, my ability to chime in from time to time on these issues on Twitter is kind of satisfying almost all of my impulse to kind of share that stuff, and where it's not, I try to make time to do longer-form kind of tutorials, including the making of that I put together for that Tank short you mentioned, which honestly, I've got to find a way to do more of that stuff-

Mark:Yeah, I want to talk about that. Yeah.

Stu:... because I find it really gratifying, but I also find it really labor-intensive. Well, yeah. I'm not talking about the film. I'll always find time to-

Mark:Well, you made it extra labor-intensive.

Stu:... have ridiculous labor-intensive filmmaking stuff. It's just that I also really like sharing the process, and Tank took a year-and-a-half to make, but the making of Tank, and it's three minutes long or whatever, the making of Tank is 20 minutes, and I had a week-and-a-half to do it, and that felt like a deadline. You know?

Mark:Yeah. Well, you've developed quite a culture, and I realize not everybody's physically in the same space very often in Red Giant, but a culture has really developed there of being creatives, and effectively letting products market themselves by doing cool stuff with them.

Stu:Yeah. Thank you. That's very much the goal. It's something I love about the company, and it was why it was so easy to sign on to be with the company full-time, because it didn't mean switching from being a filmmaker to being a software maker. It actually means-

Mark:Software guy, yeah.

Stu:... better and more access to filmmaking resources. I'm surrounded by an awesome group of creative people who love to make films. After we did the Plot Device short that Seth Worley directed, that was kind of like the...

Mark:Yeah, wow.

Stu:Yeah, and it was-

Mark:How viral did that thing go? Just so many people noticed that thing.

Stu:There was something kind of perfect about how it was a product video, but it was also a gift to the audience. It was fun to watch, and everyone who commented on it online would say, "Hey, look. Let's be honest. This is an ad, but it's an ad that you're going to want to watch." That gave us license to actually make the films less and less about the products as we went on. Plot Device was really a way to show off a bunch of different looks in Magic Bullet Looks, and do it in a really fun and enjoyable way for the audience.

Stu:But at this point now, when we make a film, there is absolutely no pressure applied on the filmmakers to make the subject matter of the film in any way related to the product that's being marketed, because people like to watch the films, but they love to watch the making of, and in the making of we get to talk about all the stuff we use, and we talk about our tools, and we talk about the other tools that we use. We've done so many tutorials where we're talking about how to use Video Copilot plugins. There's a real ethos at Red Giant of just wanting to share and be a part of the community, and that predates my day-to-day involvement in the company, and I was just happy to join in.

Mark:Yeah, and that whole theme of offering value to the community and also providing products that can actually help them really has... That's something that those two companies have certainly in common.

Stu:Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. I mean, Kramer, well, he delays his own product releases of paid products because he feels a constant impulse to put out an amazing, detailed, free tutorial where he'll make a huge point of saying, "This doesn't require any third-party plugins."



Mark:Actually, I was chatting with [Hashi 00:52:13] recently, and he was mentioning how generalists are even people who don't do this stuff at all, like watching his very, very in-depth...

Stu:Oh, yeah. No, because he's so dynamic and interesting, and he's got this wonderful self-effacing way of kind of saying, "I'm pretty sure I'm doing this wrong, but here's how I figured it out," and the rest of us who know how to do it right are watching, and you're going, "Yeah, but you're wrong way is way better than my right way."

Mark:All right. Well, that brings us right up to Tank, which if people haven't seen it, it's about three minutes long, but it's slightly less, of goodness, and then the behind-the-scenes is a must watch along with it, because you can't possibly appreciate how many obstacles Stu put in his way to make this thing until you see that, but then of course, you see... I mean, that phrase that you pull out in the making, of which I'm probably going to get wrong, but it's basically that creativity is bred by limitations, is fully in play there.

Mark:It's almost like a real microcosm of Stu in there because you've got gadgets that you worked together, you've got your expressions-driven vehicles that you've built, and that's how the targeting of the weapons occurs, using expressions nerdery that you were able to rig up, and also the overall obstacle of giving it this look that required kind of an analog, in certain cases, literal analog, and then in other cases a very elaborate recreation of how analog slash early vector digital would have, what would've been the limitations of that, and why it's even important to do that, to honor that.

Mark:This is so great for this podcast, I think, because this is... I mean, it's an animation movie, and it is using visual stylings of motion graphics, and I'm not even getting into where visual effects and motion graphics kind of bleed together, which they do all over the place these days, but really, the point is that there were faster ways you could've made it, and obviously it would've kind of... It would be like making the food without the spice, if you were.

Stu:Yeah, yeah. Well, it's funny too because there kind of were faster ways I could've made it, but none that wouldn't have necessarily compromised things that were important to me. If you think about the 3-D tools out there that you could render a wireframe animation with a very specific kind of shade or look for the wireframes, and then also, in one go, have that be projected onto a virtual television, which illuminates the bezel around its screen, and then gets double exposed onto a piece of virtual film. I'm actually not sure where... You could probably do that in Houdini, but I actually don't think you could do that in Maya. You could easily do the 3-D in C4D, but then... Yeah.



Mark:Yeah, exactly.

Stu:Yeah. Yeah.

Mark:You might get lucky with some shader in C4D somewhere, but it would probably break. No, but even the vector shading, it's like... But those tools, if you try to push them that hard, suddenly you hit something that nobody ever thought of you wanting to do, and you're right. Houdini is the only one that lets you go, "Okay. Work your magic." That's why they call it Houdini. So, it was critical then, and this kind of ties together our whole discussion, that the look really have the authenticity, but also the inspiration of physical reality. I mean, that's really what you're talking about when you're emulating optics and old monitors and the way they work, is something that's real. It's not just something arbitrary. It's something that exists in the real world, and so it gets your interest because it's got all these qualities that you can never predict.

Stu:That's what I think, and I'm kind of infamous for making simple things take a very long time to render in After Effects, and it goes back to the early Magic Bullet days where I had had this great privilege in my career of being able to take all this professional cinematography that had been scanned in at ILM and study it on a pixel-by-pixel basis, which in the '90s you really kind of had to have that job in order to be able to see that stuff. I got to really understand a lot about grain or halation, because we were trying to simulate it. Chromatic aberration, all these qualities that I would see from anamorphic lenses that had been used on big movies. They were gloriously imperfect, and we were trying to duplicate those qualities.

Stu:So, that technical exercise of trying to duplicate the imperfections of a lens also kind of made me realize, well, of course, if we're doing an entirely CG shot, adding those imperfections in will make this look as though it is filmed in the same way, and then that led me down this road of actually exploring the aesthetic of imperfections. So, I did this PlayStation commercial for a game called Dark Cloud that was meant to look... Only parts of it were really time lapsed. A lot of it was CG, and a lot of it was compositing, and part of the way that we made it look like time lapse was introducing imperfections, like skipping out frames or having the frame jump a little bit as if the camera had been bumped, or changing the exposure in an interesting way, and that led to another commercial that I directed for... Oh, God. I'm so sorry to say it. I directed a commercial for PG&E. God, that's terrible. I feel like I'm... I wouldn't do it now, man. I would take a moral stance. Screw those guys.

Mark:It was a pretty cool commercial though.

Stu:I guess people not listening from California don't know how vile our alleged public utility is here.

Mark:That's right. It's hard not to get your hands dirty in this world. [crosstalk 00:58:32]

Stu:But at the time, they were doing a nice thing with schools, and I made this nice little ad for them that had a stop-motion look and feel to it, and we introduced a ton of artifacts into that, and that led to some commercials I'm still really proud of, these antismoking spots that I did where we simulated a hand-crank camera, and we did CG in a hand-crank camera look, which I was super excited about. I'm still very proud of that work. So, I suddenly... This kind of ability that I had to technologically match certain-

Mark:Oh, yeah. Those are great.

Stu:... imperfections in photography actually led me down this road of kind of professionally utilizing my mastery of weird analog imperfections in a digital world. So, I've got a long history of kind of rigging up elaborate pipelines just to give something a certain feel.

Mark:Yeah. So, that segues nicely into Supercomp and the latest effects suite and the future. So, Supercomp is kind of... It reminds me a little bit of ELIN, and taking the exact... Well, one very exact set of something 3-D would be another one, but one exact set of stuff in After Effects that is really... You bump your head against it a lot, and there are workarounds, but they're painful compared to, let's say, an environment where you could make a gizmo and throw your stuff in there and tweak that as opposed to... I mean, just taking the example of edge blur, just the trouble it takes you to just do that and then replicate that.

Stu:Yeah. No. You could wind all the way back to those lasers over those spaceships. Right? So, in addition to having the laser kind of erode through the spaceship, sometimes I would also take the lasers, blur them, mix them through the gray regions of the mat so that the foreground would appear to be a little bit backlit by the lasers. The other thing I would do is I would take the lasers with the foreground, I'd use shift channels to shift the foreground to black, multiply it over the lasers. Now I've got the lasers cut out by the foreground. I would put a glow effect on that, and then add that back in on top of everything so that the glow from the lasers wraps around the spaceships. Right?

Stu:So, at this point, I'm 17 pre-comps deep, and if I get food poisoning, the poor sucker who has to take over this After Effects project is probably going to just wish they had eaten at the same place I had eaten. So, I've long had this vision of a tool that would still allow an artist to think of layers as layers, but that would work with effects that we all need to do in compositing things like light wrap and things like glow, but that would, in that same way that Magic Bullet Looks gave you a metaphor that you could understand for these things, and then it would do whatever was necessary under the hood to make it look right.

Stu:I wanted to create a do what I mean, not what I say compositing engine. So, if I apply the glow to the lasers in After Effects and then put the spaceships on top of it, well, the glow doesn't know about the spaceships, and it's not going to wrap around the foreground. But if you put a glow effect on the lasers in Supercomp, it will wrap around the foreground because we know what you want out of that glow. Of course, that's optional. You don't have to have it do that. You can actually make a really nice effect by mixing the two types of glow. We have one called layer glow that doesn't wrap around the foreground, and one called optical glow that does, and a little bit of both is a lovely recipe for most kind of glowing things that have a foreground associated with them.

Mark:Yeah. Just like with Looks, you've built an environment where you can go over the top, or you could actually be very feature film compositor about what you want to do with it.

Stu:It's very true. Both looks in Supercomp require artistic restraint, and yeah, may be guilty-

Mark:Or not.

Stu:... or encourage you to not show that restraint, and may get a bad reputation for being complicit in encouraging you to not show restraint. But yeah... Well, and-

Mark:Well, see, motion graphic people don't give a damn about their bad reputation. No, that's not true. I mean, the truth of it, actually, is the sweet spot is right there in the middle. It is somewhere... Because we want films to amazing us, and then they cross the line. It's like, yeah, okay. [crosstalk 01:03:34]

Stu:Yeah. It's a funny thing. We want films to amaze us, but I don't know. When we were watching Star Wars, I think we knew that the Star Destroyer flying over our head was a model. I grew up loving Godzilla movies and Dr. Who. You know?


Stu:Visual effects that were not convincing-

Mark:At one level, yes.

Stu:... but they were weirdly fun to watch. When you're watching a Godzilla movie, you're not sitting there thinking, man, how did they do that? You're kind of thinking, look at that glorious model of a pagoda. Oh, my god. He's going to crush it. I can't wait to see it, and...

Mark:Yeah, yeah. Well, and you respect it when you see they've done their work, whatever that was. I mean, it could be a puppet show, but if they've done the work just to help you suspend your disbelief, I feel like... So, it's when it feels [crosstalk 01:04:41], I think, maybe.

Stu:Well, yeah. I don't know. I think there was that sense. I mean, there have been those moments where people are truly, how did they do that, and I think Star Wars was one, and I think Jurassic Park was another. Do we even have those anymore?

Mark:Yeah. Yes.

Stu:I mean, I guess maybe we have that a bit with... I think you're more likely to get that from a one continuous shot in an episode of True Detective or something than you're likely to get that from a hovering aircraft carrier crashing into a government complex in an Avengers movie. You know?

Mark:That's true. Trying to go over the top to amaze people probably doesn't work as well, but at the same time, this is the era of Hashi blowing minds of civilians who don't remotely want to do this, but wow, how would you do that in detail? Show me.

Stu:Yeah. Well, and he's bringing his professional level of visual effects stuff into dad videos of his kids, which makes it feel super accessible and fun, and yeah, it's true that-


Stu:... he's a part of a generation of artists who are making these kind of viral videos, that the fact that they are shot on a phone and look like they're shot on a phone is actually an intrinsic part of what sells them. You know?

Mark:Yeah. So, what do you... We got a new decade coming up on us. So, Supercomp points to... I mean, when I first saw it, I was like, wait a minute. Is this going to be my new After Effects pipeline? Then I came to understand, well, yes, but only for the things that it does, which are interactions of light and color, effectively, in this specific way where you're over-driving them. But what do you want to see happen in this whole sandbox that you're playing around with over the next few years?

Stu:Well, that's a great question. I'm inspired, as everyone is, by the stuff that Hashi does. We were together in Amsterdam for IBC, and I was there giving a presentation at the Adobe booth, and Hashi was there to be on a panel, and when I had time off, I would go drink a beer and walk around Amsterdam, and when Hashi had time off, he would go film viral videos. He posted two or three visual effects shots from the show, and it was an amazing thing because I was walking with him a lot of the times, and he would just be like, "Hold on. I'm going to film something." In fact, in his... He posted one. Out in front of the RAI Conference Center, there's this big sign that says, "I Amsterdam," and he filmed that and then panned off of it onto additional letters that he made [crosstalk 01:07:31]

Mark:Oh, yeah. I know that sign.

Stu:... 3-D that say, "And are you not," which is hilarious. You can actually hear my voice in the background of that video because I was having a friend take a photo of me in front of the I Am S-T-E to make a dumb joke about how they misspelled my name. You can actually hear me talking to my friend in the background of his video. So, in the amount of time that it took me to take a still photo representing, yeah, just a bad dad joke, he was shooting a visual effects [crosstalk 01:08:07]

Mark:Came up with a dad pun and a still photo.

Stu:Which, by the way, I discovered this about his pipeline. If you wanted to hate him even more than you already do for how brilliant he is, he did that shot mostly from his phone by remotely controlling his PC back home. Yeah. Yeah. So, he's actually not human or from this earth.

Mark:What? Damn.

Stu:So, just don't feel bad that you can't do what he does, because he is not... It's like when you hear about Quentin Tarantino's writing process, and he talks about they finally forced him to use a computer. So, he sits down, he types one page of a screenplay, prints it, adds it to a stack of paper next to him, erases the text on the screen, types the next page, prints it, adds it to the stack, and you realize, okay, nothing you tell me about your writing process is ever going to help me write. That's kind of the way I feel about Hashi's visual effects process. I'm like, "The more I learn about how you do things, the more I realize that I can't do what you do."


Stu:Yeah. Yeah.

Mark:Great. I have to live in your world.

Stu:Okay. Accessibility, right? I want things to be easier for folks.

Mark:All right.

Stu:I am just excited about making these tools that make things easier, and Supercomp represents a really fun way of exploring that, because After Effects is so plugin-able that we've been able to build something pretty robust and strong that lives happily inside of it, and I just see enormous potential there. I mean, you look at basically how Cinema 4D can a be fully capable and brilliant 3-D application on its own, or to many people, it can effectively be a plugin in After Effects. Right? The version of Cinema that's bundled with After Effects, you can't launch on its own. You apply it a plugin, and then you click a button, and just like in Magic Bullet Looks, you're transported into another user interface.

Stu:Same thing happens with Cinema. You're transported into a fully 3-D world, and you do stuff, and it syncs back up with what you're doing in After Effects. Supercomp is like a tiny little version of that where the things that After Effects historically hasn't prioritized are laid out for you in a way that we get to design, and yet everything that After Effects does so brilliantly is still there for you, and so you get the best of both worlds. Supercomp represents a pretty ambitious take on that kind of integration, and I think there's a lot more we can do.

Mark:Yeah. Cool. All right. Well, this is great. I feel that we could keep chatting for a long time, but I want to be respectful of your time, so to wrap it up, I'll just ask you if you have anything else to add before we do sign off.

Stu:Yeah, we sure have. No. I mean, this has been great. I really appreciate the conversation, and you've given me a chance to talk about all the things that matter most to me.

Mark:We've covered a lot.

Stu:Yeah. I mean, the main thing I would just say is that you can continue to expect to see more tutorials and kind of sharing and filmmaking and kind of expressions of my passion about this stuff on Red Giant's channel. That's my new outlet for these things, and for the more kind of moment-by-moment ephemeral stuff, follow me on Twitter @5tu, and that's just a great place to kind of check in with me and see what I'm geeked out about on that particular. But there's very exciting things yet to come-


Stu:... and I feel very lucky to be finally, kind of at this late phase in my career, figured out this wonderful kind of cross-dissolve between the filmmaking and the filmmaking tools making that I love equally.

Mark:It has always, frankly, amazed me how Stu has leveraged his unique set of skills. Sure, he's got a strong technical mind and a good deal of artistic ability, but the guy's also got a sense of humor, and that's all accompanied by a clear vision of how things actually are, and how they work. If you want more, definitely check out the short film, Tank, but moreover, definitely watch the 20-minute making of video for that animation. It's a testament to how giving yourself clear guidelines and strong limitations, in this case, rather extreme ones, can really liberate creativity. Thank you for listening.


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Illuminate your 3D skills with Lights, Camera, Render! Dive deep into advanced Cinema 4D techniques with David Ariew. Master core cinematography skills, gain valuable assets, and learn tools and best practices to create stunning work that wows clients.

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Master After Effects at your own pace with Jake Bartlett's beginner course. Perfect for video editors, you'll learn to create stylish animated graphics, remove unwanted elements, and track graphics into shots. By the end, you'll be equipped for everyday AE needs and more.

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Revolutionize your Premiere workflow with customizable AE templates! Master creating dynamic Motion Graphics Templates (Mogrts) in After Effects to speed up your team's work. By the end, you'll craft easily-customizable templates for seamless use in Premiere Pro.

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Not sure where to start?

If you’re a beginner, here are some great courses to help you get started:

After Effects Kickstart

Dive into the fundamentals of motion design with our most popular (and recently updated) After Effects course.


Photoshop + Illustrator Unleashed

Master the basics of Photoshop and Illustrator and gain invaluable insights in this introductory level course.


Design Kickstart

An introduction to the design principles behind all great work.


More Advanced?

If you’re a more advanced student looking to up your game, here are some great options:

Animation Bootcamp

Learn the art and principles of creating beautiful movements in Adobe After Effects.


Design Bootcamp

Learn to design for motion in this intermediate-level, project-based course.


Cinema 4D Basecamp

Learn Cinema 4D from the ground up in this exciting introductory C4D course.


Now is the time to learn the skills you need to advance in your motion design career: