The Student Loan Problem

As of the publication of this post, I have $81,411.15 in student loan debt, courtesy of the Art Institute of Colorado (whose parent organization, Education Management Corporation, has settled at least one large lawsuit alleging student loan fraud.) The debt paid for two years of tuition, supplies, room and board at a private, for-profit art school and was supplemented a bit by grants and scholarships. My back-of-an-envelope calculations suggest that a four-year degree at a state University would cost a similar amount. A student attending an in-state public University and living with their parents would spend about $36,000. A student living in a dorm at an out-of-state public University could spend upward of $135,000¹. So $80,000 does not represent an atypical debt for a student graduating within the last five years. I therefore consider myself well situated to talk about this topic.

It might be expected that I would be all for any plan to forgive student debt. Who wouldn't want $80,000 added to their net worth in one swell foop? The trouble is that such a move is just moving beans from one bowl to another. It relieves borrowers of their responsibility for their choices (bad, in my opinion) and potentially serves to increase the federal budget deficit (bad, in almost everyone's opinion). It would also spur an even bigger money grab by certain Universities. It's a bad idea, and not one that I see ever making it through the legislature, even if the Democrats had locked away the election.

I think, however, that there are some very fair ways of helping to reduce the burden on students.Continue reading →

Blackmagic Fusion: The Basics

The following article is a chapter in a forthcoming compositing textbook. There are references to chapters and appendices that have not yet been written. As those chapters are completed, I will link to them. For now, please be patient.

Last time we covered importing footage with Loaders, handling color space with the Gamut and CineonLog tools, the Viewports and Time Ruler, and rendering out the finished product with a Saver. There wasn't much in the way of actual finished product to be had, though, so this time around we'll construct a simple composite and learn about some of the most important tools in the compositor's kit: Merges, Color Corrects, Transforms, and Masks.Continue reading →

Anatomy of an Image

I am not entirely certain whether this information should be a chapter of its own, an appendix, or be sprinkled throughout the rest of the text. For now, I'm going to treat it as an appendix to Chapter One. Maybe it will just remain as an article on the blog to which the main text will refer by link and reference.

It's tempting when someone starts going on about LUTs and gamma and gamuts to let your eyes just glaze over and then ignore them until they go away. Unless you're one of the nerdiest nerds who loves to talk about bit-rates and logarithmic response curves, you're probably eager to skip all off the color management stuff and jump straight to the Art.

Bad news: You're going to have to learn at least some of the tech stuff if you're going to be a good compositor. You can be an adequate compositor without all of this, but who wants to settle for merely adequate? You don't have to learn it all in one huge bite like I'm giving it to you here. Read through it, but if you don't understand something right now, don't worry about it—you can come back and read pieces of it again once you've got some better context.Continue reading →

Card Wipe Transition for Fusion – Developer's Diary

The Glitch Tools macro collection I am working on is, in large part, based on a template for After Effects that we have at work. I am not sure where the template came from, probably VideoHive. In any case, one of the glitches depends on After Effects' Card Wipe transition. That's the kind of thing that Fusion doesn't have right out of the box, but that I think I can reconstruct using the 3d system. Since I have had a number of questions recently about macros and expressions, I thought it might be instructive to document my process on creating this thing.Continue reading →

Blackmagic Fusion: Getting Started

Getting Started in Blackmagic Fusion

These articles are mostly based on Fusion 8.2 build 2 running on Windows 7 with an nVidia GPU. There are some slight differences in the interface between Fusion 8 and previous versions. I will do my best to highlight them as they come up throughout this series. For the first couple of lessons I was using Fusion 7, though, so some of the screenshots will look a little different from your interface, regardless of which version you are using.

A note for Mac users: As is typical with most software, the Windows Control key is Mac's Command key. As I am sure you know that already, I won't continue to insult your intelligence by pointing it out every three paragraphs.

This lesson covers importing footage into Fusion, converting it to linear color, viewing and playing it, and exporting it back out in the file format of your choice. Where Fusion differs greatly from Nuke and After Effects, I will make note of it. Continue reading →

Blackmagic Fusion: Expressions

In order to get some early feedback on this chapter of a forthcoming book, I am publishing it early. There are references to other chapters that have been written but are not currently published. 


Computer Graphics is half art and half science. Some practitioners lean more one way or the other, but all of us blend both disciplines in our work to some extent. Expressions are one way in which you can bring a little bit of engineering into your compositing workflow. They allow you to automate animation, to connect the properties of one node to another, and to use programming techniques to make your tools more responsive and interactive.

In this article, I will take you through several applications of expressions and start to set up a foundation on which we will build a solid understanding of tool development, scripting, and automation in Fusion.Continue reading →

Face Replacement with PFTrack, 3DS Max and Fusion

The first year of my time at Muse VFX was spent almost exclusively on the Disney's Dog With a Blog. For those not familiar with the show, it's about a talking dog that (surprise!) has a blog. In a half-hour sitcom, there were typically 30 – 40 shots of Stan with a CG face. By the time Season 3 came around, we had a pretty bullet-proof and fast pipeline in place.

G. Hannelius as Avery Jennings and Mick as Stan the Dog. Copyright It's a Laugh Productions and Disney Channels Worldwide. Stan's brows, eyes, muzzle and jaw are CGI. His ears, nose, and parts of his cheek are real.

I won't give you all of the pieces here, but I would like to describe one particular technique that made many other things possible.Continue reading →

My Small-Space Media Center

media-serverLiving in a small space, as I do, it is important to maximize the utility of every inch of the place. Generally, I am not doing that so well as I might, but in one area I excel: Had I tried to bring with me my library of books, music and movies, there wouldn't be any room in my apartment for a bed! Now, I'll be the first to admit that there is a certain joy that can be taken in handling a real dead-tree book. I love the feel of the paper; I love the smell; I love being able to freely flip back and forth through the pages. I do not love being a slave to my bookshelf, though, so when I started down-sizing, I had a choice to make: Do I keep all of my wonderful books, or do I find an alternative? Continue reading →

Some Reflections on my Birthday

Or a day after my birthday, at any rate. A quick disclaimer: I have no particular theme in mind for this essay; I reserve the right to ramble. Yesterday I turned 40. Years ago among my parents' friends, there was a tradition to pass around a cane as a gag gift on the 40th birthday. It seemed a little cruel to me at the time, but now that I am here I appreciate the humor: 40 isn't old at all.Continue reading →

An Exploration of Euler's Identity

I have long been fascinated by the mysterious mathematical formula called Euler's Identity. I enjoy it so much that I even have it framed on my wall:



Peculiar taste in art, I know. The print is entitled "Beauty," and somewhere in my apartment is a piece of paper with the artist's name and his description. It's amazing that I can lose something in my tiny residence.

In a recent conversation at Khan Academy, where I have been brushing up on my math and programming skills, someone asked what the relationship was between complex numbers and the trigonometric functions of sine and cosine. I had a vague understanding that they were both related to rotation, and I knew the Identity, but I had never really explored the Identity in depth to truly understand it. I have been thinking about it for two weeks now, and I'm still only about 80% of the way there. Another commenter asserted that it cannot be derived without recourse to Calculus, and maybe that's true if you need a formal proof, but I think an intuitive understanding should be within reach of anyone who knows a little trigonometry. Such as I have puzzled out, I share with you.

Continue reading →