SOFTWARE REVIEW - The Millennium Review

Because Advanstar Press ceased publication of Newtekniques Magazine recently, all links to the original articles are down. Due to the number of requests for my reviews, and in the interest of making the information in these articles available to the public, I have posted them here through my site. I am told that the original html docs and image files are being released soon. When I get them I will add the extra text and images.


The Millennium Review

JAN 2000
By Bob Ketchum

Welcome to the new Millennium! And "Welcome to Millennium". Just in time to greet the new millennium, this long overdue and highly praised Toaster Flyer upgrade has been a long time coming. Ever since the "teaser" article appeared in the August/September '99 issue of NewTekniques, readers and Toaster/Flyer Pilots have been drooling over the prospects of this release, and with good reason. The Millennium CD-ROM package is the first major release of software updates to Toaster/Flyer users in years. It is presented by NewTek and has been produced by Nova Design, Inc. It is a collection of software, scripts, effects, fonts, backgrounds, and other content designed to update your Video Toaster and Flyer dramatically. It is a huge endeavor, pooling the resources of many software developers into a comprehensive and whopping three CD-ROM set, complete with printed manuals and even a VHS tape of an introduction to it's many features. The bottom line is simply this: If you have not been purchasing third party software for your system, this one package will definitely bring you into the Millennium in a hurry.

Due to the great number of features in this release and the limited space allotted for this article, I will not delve deeply into the workings and operation of each application. I will however, give the reader a look into what this package offers the T/F user. In terms of the sheer weight of numbers, it is quite an impressive release. There are many tools included, which will give you more power than ever to proceed with your video production work, and to do it in less time. Some of the material has been included in prior releases of software, some is all brand new, and some has been updated to be more Toaster and Flyer friendly. For starters, let's begin with applications.

First, there is Wipe Studio. This is not the "lite" version, but the complete package of the very latest full version. You can use it to create you own custom-designed wipes, perhaps using a client's logo in a wipe, or even your own studio logo. This version also has some scripts for transparent wipes as well. Wipe Studio has a bit of a learning curve, but rumors of a "Beyond the Millennium" video which will focus on Wipe Studio are already circulating.

Next, there is RenderFX, which is an update from the original 2.0 version, and enables access to rendering ChromaFX. This package allows you to render your Flyer Clip sequences down to a new Flyer Clip. You can then layer more video, CG, and effects for a far more impressive production. In addition, an updated version of ProMix software has been included. This package provides audio tools to let you add audio to video, import/export audio formats, add audio to Flyer Clips and animation's, and much more, complete with high tech looking interface screens. A set of Flyer Utilities and tools which have basically never been available before are included, with utilities for converting Toaster wipes between 3.x and 4.x formats, Undeleting Flyer Clips, Timecoding and much more.

Electric Scene Knife is all-new. It lets you digitize all of your video as one big clip, and then it automatically detects radical scene changes and even slices up the clip for you. This saves a lot of time and hassle separating a clip into scenes before editing. Due to some last minute programming by the Millennium crew, I was unable to fully evaluate Electric Scene Knife, but here are some hasty observations based on a cursory examination. As a test, I digitized several different types of footage as a single Flyer Clip. I then ran the MARKSCENE script to see how well it worked. Some of the scenes were obviously different (eagles in the bright blue sky to a frog sitting in a gravel pile) and others were very similar (different scenes shot in the same part of the studio with similar lighting situations). On the first pass, I selected 20 as my default delta number. The delta number decides the amount of change needed in a scene before it is marked. With a delta number of 20, Electric Scene Knife selected over two dozen croutons on the Toaster screen. Most of them were incorrect edit points and many croutons had only selected two frames as a proposed edit point. No luck there. Next, I jumped to the far end of the scale and selected a delta number of 100. This time it did a better job. Only eight croutons were selected. However, even with a delta number of 100, the application still missed a few edits, most notably the ones which had very little image information which had changed between edit points. It really had a hard time with the frog in the gravel segment and assigned five edit points in the same scene. I got the same results with four different sequences shot inside the studio of Robert playing. All four sequences were in the same proposed edit. It did nail the bird in the blue sky sequence every time, but when the eagle flew behind some tree branches Electric Scene Knife got "confused" and created a couple of edit points. Perhaps my inexperience with the delta settings is a shortcoming to the purposes of a fair evaluation, and more time spent learning its idiosyncrasies would be in order.

I really DO like how the program assigns a "picture icon" for each selected edit point from the composite clip BEORE cutting it up. It makes it handy to tell at a glance how it will be cut later. I think Electric Scene Knife will be most useful if all your shooting environments are widely different. For instance, if you had, say, four different jobs on the same tape: One indoor shoot, one exterior in bright sunlight, one with city skylines, and one all underwater footage. I believe with the proper delta setting Electric Scene Knife would do the trick. But if you were attempting to cut up a clip in which all the scenes were basically shot in the same manner and location, I think you will be less than satisfied with the results, and you will have to do some judicial tweaking to some of the clips to set it up for the CUTSCENE routine. In addition, it would be nice to be notified that the operation was completed. I never know when it's done and when it's still working. Other than listening for the hard drive clicking there is no other indication that the operation is underway. In addition, if you have purchased Millennium but cannot get Electric Scene Knife to load, the Millennium patch archive will be free and available shortly. As a further explanation to my problems, I was told that "like all bugs it always happens to people on deadlines and to ALL journalists."

More goodies include FLYER BACKUP- A script based system that can backup your actual Flyer Clips to a hard drive or to removable media; CG PILOT - The famous CG ARexx scripts that automate many time consuming CG tasks; FAST FRAMES - Allows you to 'Toasterize' your Video Flyer by pre-recording CG sequences, Framestore montages, and create flying CG effects and more; KEY PLAYER - Uses the Toaster's luminance keyer to superimpose a sequence of "Flying" CG Framestores over incoming video while digitizing; SUPER CLIPS - uses RenderFX to superimpose animated Fast Frames CG video clips over other existing video clips; FAST FUEL MILLENNIUM - Adds video deck control to the Toaster/Flyer interface for automatic clip recording; VI FLY - Lets future Flyer people write new tools for the Flyer with great looking interfaces and functionality beyond what ARexx can do (All of Aussie's new stuff is written with VI Fly). There are over 300 new Arexx scripts included to do a variety of chores. And the list goes on..............

One of the more powerful new applications is Control Tower, which is a subset of the full package lacking only the scripts for third party packages like ImageFX. This gives you all of the Flyer scripts and effects. I guess the developers omitted the ImageFX scripts simply because they did not want people to feel they were being misled into needing ImageFX to complete the package. However, I would have rather they include ALL the scripts and perhaps placed the ImageFX scripts in a separate folder for those users who already had ImageFX. Instead, you will have to buy an update from Nova Design, which includes the ImageFX scripts. Control Tower has a very nice looking interface which automates many tasks in the Flyer. This also includes Flyer Menu, which gives the switcher screen a series of pull-down menus to allow easy and intuitive access to third party applications. This feature alone saves LOTS of time trying to find the right application for the job. If you already do have ImageFX, Control Tower can be utilized to it's full potential (with the optional upgrade), which will amaze you and save you lots of production time in the process. You can composite clips (including blue screen effects); do a picture-in-a-picture; Batch image process; Batch process Frames to Clips or Stills; Batch file conversion; Batch render through LightWave, and many more scripts which makes Control Tower the Swiss army-knife of Toaster/Flyer utilities.

Now let's cover some of the effects, and are there a lot of them! Over a complete CD full. Categories (and effects) in the 4.x file include: ANIMALS (6), ATARI (22), ATARI GAMES (21), BARS (21), BLINDS (4), BUSINESS (5), FIRE (8), FLYING SHAPES (5), GEOMETRIC (8), HEARTS (4), HOLIDAYS (18), MEDIA (7), MILITARY (6), MISCELLANEOUS (33), MUSIC (2), NATURE (3), ORGANIC (16), ORIGINALS (132), PAGE PEELS (4), PEOPLE (21), SPACE (2), SPORTS (25), SWIRLS (8), SYMBOLS (9), TOYS (3), TRANSPARENT EFFECTS (20), TRANSPORTATION (17), WEDDING (4), and WIPES (15). The 3.x folders are very similar in their content.

Most of the effects and wipes are available for both Toaster 3.x and 4.x so both Toaster and Flyer owners can use them. Some of these transitions were available on the Club Toaster collection. Others were available as add-on collections, but were not on the market very long and dropped into obscurity. Other wipes were only available in 4x and not in 3.x, so they were back-converted. There are many new ones created expressly for this collection, mostly in the Organic directory. Therefore, while some have been available before, they have never all been available for Flyer users AND 3.x users as well. As far as the wipes, neither the SWIPES! nor the ProWipes collections have ever been available in 4.x format. They were all converted by hand. All the other wipes on the disk have not been available in either format. Also included is the MegFX collection - Over 40 Flyer 4.x effects that perform real-time, full dual-stream (dual-clip), split-screen and layering effects that directly run in Flyer projects with no rendering. My favorites included effects found in the Organic, Transparent, and Swirls folders. Recently there has been a lot of discussion about the "missing" FlyingTrails effects originally installed with the 3.0 Toaster but omitted in the 4.0 release. These four effects were valued for their usefulness in producing music videos, and users will be grateful to learn that these four effects are being upgraded and will be included in the Millennium patch archive soon to be released. And speaking of that, I have just learned as of this writing that the update patch will be available on the NewTekniques website to coincide with the release of this issue.

Now for a few observations about these effects. In trying to make a total "body count", I cross-referenced the effects and discovered that all but 23 of the effects found in the ORIGINALS folder are found elsewhere in other folders in this collection. In addition, I found a few "extra" effects located on CD #1. So, by my count there are 318 different 4.x color effects and wipes and 104 different 3.x color effects and wipes included in the Millennium package. In addition, there are some 61 mattes in 3.x and 159 mattes in the 4.x section. While space limitations will not allow me to rate each and every effect, I will report that in my estimation more than half of the total effects are what I would call good, usable effects and wipes. By that, I mean that those effects could be used very readily in many types of productions. Some of the "lesser" effects might be suitable in certain circumstances or special applications on a limited scope. There are some "clinkers" which have no appeal or are just plain bland. Case in point would be the Atari folders containing 43 "effects" which have no attraction for me, but I suppose the Atari could make a retro "comeback" and then we would be ready for the onslaught! Keep in mind that in any big collection like this, there are bound to be some duds.

I was disappointed to find many of the croutons did not have pictures on them, but a B&W "Wipe Studio" or "Bar-code" image on the crouton. After doing some sleuthing I discovered that the croutons ARE included in the set, but that the culprit was in a misnaming routine which occurred during conversion to CD-ROM. Simply put, a "." Became a "_" during the conversion process. In other words, a filename that originally read "2BARS.4X.I" became "2BARS_4X.I", therefore the Flyer interface would not recognize the crouton and assign a default crouton to the effect. This error has been taken care of and will be included in the free Millennium patch archive. However, for those of you who want to see these great-looking color croutons NOW.... Here is a DIY "fix" using Directory Opus:

The solution is that the underscores need to be changed back into periods. Then they will show up and work fine. Since you cannot use the Flyer interface to change JUST the crouton's filename, you will need to use DOPus. Furthermore, by using multi-select, you can make short work of the renaming process.

- One of your windows should have a directory of wipes from the CD open.
- The other window should be the destination that you are going to copy to.
- Make sure that the CD's window (the source) is highlighted.
- Between the two windows toward the bottom, there are four tiny buttons. One of them is an "S"
- Left click on the "S", and you'll get a little window saying "enter select pattern" and there will already be an asterisk typed in there for you.
- Simply type in ".4x" (without the quotes) and hit return.
- You will see all of the "4x" related files selected.
- Copy them over by hitting "copy"
- Do this as many times as you need.

To do the rename of all of the ".I" files do this:

- Highlight the window showing the heard drive where you just copied everything to.
- Use that little "S" button again.
- This time, type in the following: "*.I" (the asterisk is already probably there.)
- You will see that all of the icon files are selected.
- Hit "rename"
- In the top dialog, type in "*_4x.I" (without quotes)
- In the bottom one, type in "*4x.I" (without quotes)

Following this procedure, you should be able to select and rename all of the wipes' icons in something like15 minutes. In addition, thanks to Bohus Blahut for familiarizing me with the Directory Opus Operations Manual.

Another item is the 80 or so Megs worth of fonts (3,180 of them!)- Complete with CGbooks allowing you to preview what the fonts look like. Some of the books loaded into my system okay, and some needed some "tweaking" and then re-saving to another directory to be able to utilize them. They are all SCROLL pages with the name of each font appearing in its style. Although it makes a good way to browse fonts by just calling up a particular page and letting it run, I would have preferred them as Framestore CG page. There would have been more pages that way, but then you could use FastFrames to create FlyerStills and keep them in a Flyer Drive folder for instant font identification. I did notice that the "H" file was duplicated in the "G" folder. I was told that the original MegaFont library also had missing "G" fonts, which makes it just an oddity of the MegaFont collection rather than a SNAFU on the part of the Millennium team. So we'll just have to do with the remaining three thousand or so fonts included! In addition, there are several archived files containing a TrueType compatible font engine for the Amiga OS. This means that Amiga applications, which use normal system fonts, are now able to use TrueType fonts.

The Millennium set also includes over 300 Framestore backgrounds of many different styles and types, to be used as backgrounds for CG pages or in ToasterPaint. There are also 29 FlyerClips of video sequences of captured or animated scenes to use as well. Some are even provided from the Pyromania Flyerclips Collection and can be used in many ways. Last but not least are seven folders with image sequences in .JPG or .IFF formats that range from fire to water footage and some animations.

Did I mention there is full documentation included on all software applications? All neatly edited by Paul Lara and placed in an orderly, easy to read manual. And if that's not enough, there is even a VHS tape included, not as a tutorial, but rather as an index to the contents of the disc. It shows all of the FlyerClips and all of the wipes. There is also a brief tutorial on getting the wipes to work on a 3x system. As I mentioned early in this review, I refrained from "rating" the applications, effects, Framestores, FlyerClips, and scripts, as there simply is not enough room to do so. I will tell you that this release is so large you cannot go wrong even if you have kept up with all the various third party applications. Yes, I do have some of the software, Framestores, fonts, and effects in previous product releases, but after it's all said and done, there has never been such a complete coverage for the Toaster/Flyer user in one package, and all on three CD-ROMS. Much of the previously released software has been updated by the various developers just for this package. And if you haven't added these remarkable applications to your system, this release is a gold mine. It will not only save you HOURS or tedium, but will enable you to produce with a style and ability never before accessible to the Toaster or Flyer user, and well worth the suggested resale price of $349.95. Remember that Millennium is for the Toaster owner as well as the Flyer owner. The upgrade was designed with all of us in mind, and for that I say "Thanks" to Aussie, Bill Evans, Bohus Blahut, Kermit Woodall, Jeff White, and the scores of other contributors who made the Millennium package well worth the wait.

For more information or to order Millennium for the Amiga Toaster/Flyer directly, you can call 1-800-462-4369 Monday-Friday or fax at (804) 282-3768.

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