By James DeRuvo (doddleNEWS)
Aharon Rabinowitz is the head of marketing at Red Giant Software and executive producer/co-writer of Red Giant Films. He hosts Red Giant TV and designs VFX software. Having gotten his start as a production intern at Sesame Street, Aharon quickly moved to the world of CGI and Visual effects, where he worked as an animator/VFX artist and producer. I sat down with him for a quick 20 questions about Red Giant Software, the state of the visual effects industry, and what he sees that’s over the horizon.
1Q: Give us some backstory. What did you do before RED Giant?
A: I was motion graphics/VFX artist working as a freelancer and eventually through my own company. Before that I had been a producer and technical manager in Children’s educational TV. I got started working as a production intern at Sesame Street, which is where I was first exposed to animation software tools.
2Q. What was the inspiration behind creating Red Giant? Did it address a specific need?
A: Red Giant is a company made up of filmmakers, motion designers, and VFX artists. Even at the customer service, sales, and QA level, there are people who have gone to design or film schools. We are passionate about all of these things and we make tools because we want to use them ourselves. Having gone through the process of learning to do these kinds of things ourselves, we constantly seek to make the experience of creating awesome visuals both intuitive and fast.
3Q: What solutions does Red Giant offer?
A: Red Giant creates plug-ins and applications for filmmakers and motion graphics artists. And there are a lot of tools! Our most popular are Trapcode Suite for creating 3D motion graphics, Magic Bullet Suite for color correction, finishing and film looks, PluralEyes for fast audio/video sync and Universe, a library of over 70 plug-ins for editors.
4Q. Your software sounds like it has some sophisticated features. Is this an app for professionals only?
A: That’s kind of a loaded question. The line between professional and amature is being blurred more and more every day. The best way I can answer this is to say that our tools are used in motion picture and broadcast TV (my wife hates watching TV with me as I call out a Red Giant tool in use every 10 minutes) but they are also used in everything from music videos to YouTube vlogging, to wedding videos. The customers who buy our products are generally people making a living using our software, but there are definitely people just starting out in video who are also using our tools. The bottom line is that we make tools that are a mainstay in the pro industry, while making them approachable even to newcomers.
5Q. Who is the typical customer for Red Giant?
A: It’s so broad! But if I had to really widdle it down, editors and motion graphics artists are our typical customers. But even that can mean anything from 200+ editors or mograph artists at a major network to a single person wearing many hats for a client.
6Q. Can you explain the post workflow with Red Giant’s software? Is there a steep learning curve?
A: For the most part, our tools plug-in to applications you are already using. For example, Red Giant Universe runs in After Effects, Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro X, Resolve, and much more. So basically you access those tools within an app you already know. You apply the effects or transitions the same way you apply any internal effect. We supply a ton of presets to help you get started, but the tools are very customizable. When I am working I tend to jump right into the presets, find something that gets me close (or 100% there) and then tweak a bit. So there is not much of a learning curve there. Some of the tools in Trapcode Suite and Magic Bullet Suite have a steeper learning curve, but we’ve done a lot to make our user experience easier and more intuitive than any other tools that play in a similar space. Plus we provide hundreds of hours of free training on our site.
7Q: Which is your most popular app and plug-in and why?
A: Trapcode Suite (which is made up of 11 motion graphics plug-ins) is consistently rated as the most beloved set of tools in the motion graphics industry. While it’s been around a long time, we are constantly innovating and finding ways of making it easier for users to get better results faster. That said, Universe is blowing us away – it has the fasted growing user base of anything we’ve ever made.
8Q Which plug-ins do you think are the best kept secret?
A: I think that if you haven’t looked at Universe, you’re missing out on some awesome stuff. So many of the tools are born out of the tools we want to use in our motion graphics and editing work. There are so many great plug-ins in there (over 70), that you might get overwhelmed by all the info about them.
9Q: What’s the most interesting or complex project a customer has completed using RGS?
A: That’s hard to say. We love so much of the work our customers do. I will say that some of my personal favorite stuff has come from Territory Studios, who uses Trapcode Suite in their feature film work. Part of what they do is create Fantasy User Interfaces for Hollywood blockbuster films like Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy – just beautiful, intricate stuff. But really, so many of our customers are doing insanely cool things, I could sit here all day.
10Q: And how did your tools enable them to do things they might night have been able to do?
A: Some of our tools do things that other tools simply cannot do. But I think a big part of the equation of not being able to do something is also not having enough TIME. Our tools make it possible to do professional color correction, motion graphics or visual effects work, without leaving the main application (like After Effects or Premiere Pro) to go to something like Resolve or a 3D application. We’ve also GPU-accelerated a lot of our stuff. Essentially, we make it possible to sit down and get things done quickly, in a place you are already comfortable.
11Q: What trends do you think are driving development of visual effects software, where’s it going?
A: Speed is a big one, for sure. VFX take time to create and render and any kind of acceleration is going to be key. Also the Gaming industry is producing some really amazing stuff for creating 3D animation and VFX. I am really interested in where that will go.
12Q. Tell us about your most recent announcements and how they’re affecting the post production workflow?
A: Our most recent announcement was Trapcode Suite 14.1 which included GPU Acceleration and multiple particle systems in the same 3D space. This makes it possible to work faster but also create more intricate motion graphics and visual effects directly in After Effects than ever before.
13Q: As processors get more powerful, is there an opportunity you see for visual effects in mobile filmmaking, adding them from a handheld device?
Let’s wade into philosophical water …
A: I don’t think anyone is going to be making a hollywood movie on their phone anytime soon. But that said, I take any opportunity I can to add some kind of visual effect to pictures or videos on my phone for fun. There are a few tools out there for sure. Nothing pro though. I think that, with the help of things like automatic tracking, pre-made visual effects (presets or pre-rendered), and cloud rendering you’ll eventually be able to do some cool stuff – if not hollywood quality (or unique enough that it isn’t immediately recognizable). The idea of doing real VFX work on my phone makes me sweat because even with a 30” monitor, I feel like I have to get super close to see what I want to see. On the other hand doing mobile VFX work from anywhere through an AR setup… now that could get interesting. But that’s still a fantasy.
14Q: Last summer, there was a big story about how Warner Brothers had to spend millions on removing out Henry Cavill’s moustache for Superman in the Justice League. Then a fan used special effects software to do it for nothing. Do you think that consumer grade visual effects software is not only democratizing the artform, but also disrupting it?
A: Putting that face example aside (for just a moment) I have yet to hear of consumer grade software used in broadcast or film – although I have definitely seen some instances where the quality of the end result quality was good enough. Of course there has always been a stigma attached to low-end tools and how they are perceived in the world of professional VFX. Stu Maschwitz, our Chief Creative Officer, was part of the Rebel Mac Unit at ILM, where they used what were considered low-end tools to pull off high-end VFX, quickly and far under the cost of doing it the “professional” way. Ultimately, if you can create beautiful unique things on low-end software, it’s a great thing. It means anyone has the opportunity to learn and create. But ultimately, creating quality VFX is still about an experienced artistic vision, and the know-how to pull it off – not about the software. There is no way to do it wrong if it looks right.
15Q: Artificial Intelligence was a big buzzword at NAB 2018 – where do you see the opportunities for AI in post production?
A: I think that face replacement example in your previous question really shows off the crux of the issue. I have seen a few examples of that application of AI, and it both shows the vast potential and current limitations of AI. Some of it looks good, and most of it looks bad, and there’s not a ton in between. Until an AI can cross that chasm between automation and good artistic judgement, we’re still in a place where AI in animation and VFX is a fanciful idea. I have not yet seen a version of that workflow where a human can get involved in the process to fix the bad stuff the AI doesn’t understand is bad. I am sure its coming though. And, man, I look forward to having an AI to do the super boring scutwork like rotoscoping. If they could nail that – it would open up so many possibilities.
16Q: What do you think of VR? Where is it going?
A: I have a playstation VR helmet and enjoy flying an X-wing in Star Wars Battlefront and playing some other games. I love the idea of putting on a VR helmet and having a really personal, fun and immersive experience, where I get to interact with a fantasy world in some way. For me the power of VR is more about experiences than passive consumption. So, while there was a big push for VR in filmmaking a year ago, I have never believed it is the future of “filmmaking.” I think VR has huge potential to take us places we could never go (or to an event that we are unable to attend), but what that form of entertainment will ultimately be is still undefined. VR hasn’t been super successful in the gaming industry yet, which is where I would most expect it to succeed. Frankly, as a viewer I don’t think I’ll ever want to watch a film that requires me to sit passively, not interacting with the world I am in, while constantly being forced to look around trying to follow the story. But I am still excited about the potential – and there is a lot. Red Giant’s Co-Founder, Sean Safreed, started a VR-tech company called Pixvana, which is doing some really interesting things in the area of broadcasting immersive experiences.
17Q: What other trends are you watching closely?
A: This is less about VFX but more about video production. E-Sports. I was really surprised by how big the focus on live streaming and video production for gaming was at NAB this year.
18Q: What’s over the horizon for Red Giant?
A: We are working on a new suite of tools geared specifically towards visual effects. While some of our tools, like Trapcode Suite are used in VFX, these will be next generation plug-ins directly addressing the needs of VFX.
19Q. Now for the religious question. IBM or MAC?
A: I am a Mac guy out of convenience. I hate dealing with tech support issues, which, when I was on Windows, was an all too regular thing. And with Apple, my computer, iPhone, iPad and Apple TV all connect with each other nicely. But I fully support the people that choose to go the other way. More bang for the buck, for sure. Red Giant’s tools are all Windows and Mac compatible, and if you buy it for one OS, you get the tools for both.
20Q: What’s in your camera bag?
A whole lot of nothing. I am not a camera guy. Cameras are an important tool in the process of filmmaking, but they are not my tool. Even when I was directing last year, I did it all through a monitor, on-set. It helped that I was working with a really good DP who understood my vision.