Day 1 from Adobe MAX 2019

The Creativity Conference

Last year, I was invited to attend Adobe MAX and to say I was overwhelmed would be an understatement. You expect a conference and get a summer camp. As someone tasked with summarizing the event it becomes incredibly difficult to do everything available, as there are at least 3 talks going on at any given time. This year, thankfully, I feel much more prepared and as such will attempt to extract only the most relevant information for you while still conveying the true MAX experience, which I think is important to know about as it truly is its own thing.

Around 6:30 in the morning I headed to the Press Room and came upon Tested’s Joey Fameli, who I am a great admirer of,  and as he was here for the first time had similar questions like I had last year (“what in the hell do I even cover here?”). It was nice to hear that I wasn’t alone in those feelings, if I’m honest. After a bit of shop talk, we headed over with the group to the massive main hall for the opening Keynote.

The name of the game this year seems to be “Empowering all voices” and “Creativity for all”, with focus on Adobe’s Sensei technology and products designed for folks who may not have experience with or knowledge of professional-level applications. Sensei allows for powerful features like Content-Aware Fill for video, Auto Reframe in Premiere, and cool stuff like a new feature in Illustrator which can analyze a sketch and turn it in to vector paths with the click of a button. Or “select subject” in Photoshop, which intelligently figures out what you intend to select via a rough marquee outline and masks out the rest. This works for “delete background” too, making extraction of assets from photographs take literally seconds. While those are objectively “professional” features, they’re the type of thing that can improve everyone’s life regardless of skill level and make Adobe’s products more accessible. 

Another Sensei-powered product they announced was “Photoshop Camera” which is an app for your phone that, similarly, analyzes your image and isolates you and your friends from the photo and allows you to throw in cool backgrounds -moving or still- and various elements to spice up your images. It’s a little corny, maybe, but people can submit their own “lenses” and we’ll see how prolific those things become. People use Snapchat filters like crazy so I can’t say there’s no market for it.

Full versions of Photoshop and Illustrator have also been released for the iPad, which is pretty cool, and as such get those selection and extraction features included in their releases. Being able to use a physical pen in those apps is nothing to sneeze at and is easily something that any artist would prefer over mouse input.

Across the board everything in Creative Cloud seems to have been sped up performance-wise, which is another welcome announcement, but overall Adobe seems to be pretty keen on their (what I’ll call) “consumer software” this year, instead of perhaps “pro stuff”. I think last year with the release of Adobe Premiere Rush I perceived a larger focus on video from Adobe via this conference, and this year after talking to previous attendees I’m starting to better understand the Adobe MAX experience. It definitely seems like more of a (as they advertise it, duh on my part) Creativity Conference designed to excite, inspire, and combine creative minds versus a high-level discussion about certain software. How boring would a white paper conference be anyway? At the same time that’s what the lectures and what-not are for at MAX, so it’s not like you can’t find those discussions. I mean, Aaron Draplin is talking about Illustrator at the Microsoft Theater as I write this (and can’t attend sadly, as I have a conflict) so the pros are out here. Last night I attended a screening/Q&A with Tim Miller and team of Terminator Dark Fate*, for instance, so while Adobe does seem to be pushing out a lot more “prosumer” stuff at this specific event, I do think that’s more just the experience of MAX and less a “mission statement” from Adobe. In any case, while MAX doesn’t seem to be video-heavy this year, I’ll endeavor to find the morsels for you.

After the morning Keynote, I stopped by the Puget Systems booth to say hi and it would seem that they’ve started working in a smaller form factor than the one they sent me for my review, which is awesome. They also mentioned having a custom Pelican case to carry it to set with for DITs and the like, which is doubly awesome. Great thinking there.

After that, I walked over to Aaron Draplin’s booth to give him some of my money (I got a sweet hat and a key hook) and say hi. I’m a huge fan of his, as I’ve mentioned before, and bought his font to be the official typeface of OWL BOT, so I had to give him one of the recent products I’ve been selling with the label loosely inspired by his work. If you don’t know about Field Notes, get after it. Best notebooks in the game, by far.

DDC hat stowed away, I walked over to my first meeting with Samsung to chat about their new monitors. I previously reviewed the CJ79 and really liked it, but noted that for filmmakers it might be a bit to “in the middle” with its sub-4K resolution and not being a “replacement” for a two monitor setup but more of a supplement. I had suggested that one potentially get a 49″ version, and wouldn’t you know it they had a new one on display: the CRG9049, which gives you the space of two 27″ QHD monitors in a single QLED display with HDR capability as well. It also has a 120hz refresh rate for when you’re trying to out-shoot folks in Rainbow Six. Perhaps more interesting to filmmakers (maybe) was the absolutely bonkers 82″ 8K QLED display monitor strapped to the side of their booth. Dubbed the “QPR”, this thing basically looks more real-life than real life. I couldn’t find a pixel to save my life and from a distance, certain images looked 3D. It even has a processor built-in to intelligently upscale 4K footage to 8K, which was cool to hear. I couldn’t tell you how much that thing costs, nor how you’d really use it in a workflow, but if you’ve got Blur Studios-level money, that might be a sick edit bay TV or something.

After that I rushed over to Dell to talk about their monitors, but got immediately derailed by their Precision line of computers on display. If I’m truthful I didn’t know about them, even being the level of nerd that I am, but it’s their pro-level (so to speak) workstation line. Think HP-Z, Puget, Mac Pro, that kind of arena. They had a few laptops, ranging from good to best, and a desktop workstation on display as well. Their desktops are highly customizable with multiple chassis options as well as internals. The name of the game with the Precision line is stability: they’re certified to work with the Adobe suite and are tuned and tested to make sure that your system won’t crash out on you randomly due to some update or what have you. It also comes with a free version of their Dell Precision Tuner which basically allows you to say “hey, I’m going to be working in X-Program now, please tune the computer to do that as efficiently as possible” which is pretty cool. The ~$100 version actually uses machine learning to analyze how you are using said program and tunes it to your specific spec, which I’d love to test out. Resources would be used differently in, say, Premiere between a 1080p and 4K workflow, especially if you are or aren’t using a ton of effects that aren’t (or are) GPU accelerated. For instance. The fact that the Dell can make those adjustments for you is pretty cool. They essentially are calling this the “conservative” line, meaning “I don’t want the headaches that come with bleeding edge tech, I want the newest most stable version of a workstation I can get” which is huge in a studio setting. I know people who are still on CC2017 just because that was “The last version that didn’t crash on our machines” so it’s nice to hear that a company like Dell is taking those folks into consideration and are trying to make super stable, efficient workstations like that. Hopefully I’ll be able to put one of those rigs to the test.

On the monitor side, Dell is announcing a sub-$2000 27″ 4K color accurate monitor covering sRGB/P3/Rec2020 (about 98%, 100%, and 80% respectively if I remember correctly), complete with a built-in colorimeter that you can schedule to calibrate while you’re away. Working close with SpectraCAL, they’re hitting a sweet spot that’s emerging in the creative field where you don’t fully need a Flanders monitor, but still want something that gets you most of the way there. Also, kind of fun, the colorimeter is a tiny little popsicle stick looking thing that hides away in the bottom bezel of the monitor when not in use. It will be able to hold two LUTs, so you can A/B color spaces if necessary, and can even take two separate inputs and display them side by side if you like (although that seems to be increasingly common these days). Really cool piece of tech there, and the only monitor with a colorimeter built in which, coupled with the scheduling capability, is honestly a bigger boon than you’d think.

From there I walked around a bit and grabbed some food for the first time, sit down, and write this thing. 

After that I headed over to Andrew Kramer‘s talk. After hitting us with the new hotness he spent his time giving back to the crowd that he says allowed him to do what he does today. His talk was largely about ambition tempered with realism and I for one am all about it. Andrew kept his talk pretty broad but from what I gathered his message was largely “Shoot for the moon, but know where to relax”. In other words, you should never phone it in, but with a lot of hard work and experience you’ll come upon times where you will have learned enough to get “close enough”. Like Ernie Gilbert said in my interview with him, “until it looks cool it doesn’t look cool”. Andrew was advocating for learning AE because there’s so many applications where AE can add incredible production value to your film, but let’s not forget that Andrew has given products products to the community like Action Essentials, Element 3D, and the genuinely excellent Nebula 3D (coming soon) which allows for realistic volumetric lighting effects within After Effects with minimal effort. I’ve always wanted to check out Element but Nebula seems far more valuable. At least to me. In any case, a pep-talk from Andrew was just enough to get me out of my chair and in to the tail-end of the evening which largely takes place in the Pavilion with beverages in hand.

After chatting with a handful of new acquaintances like Ted from The Art of Photography and nerding out about my new Fuji XT3 (coming from the Nikon D90 it’s a big upgrade) I sprinted over to the Grammy Museum for the Universal Production Music party, celebrating Universal’s purchase and re-branding of Killer Tracks. I’m still not sure who invited me to it but my name was spelled wrong and it was locked-in so I must assume it’s someone who knew me.

That party was largely unrelated to anything at MAX but Adobe sponsored it and it was a good time, so I figured it was at least worth mentioning. Tomorrow will be a new day, and as I’m staring down the barrel of 4 hours of sleep I’ll just have to promise that I’ll be diligent in finding the film-centric goods for you.

* In regards to Terminator, Tim and his team spoke about how seeing (really sneaking into) Terminator 2 was incredibly formative for them as kids and young filmmakers (for me it was The Matrix) and how being afforded the opportunity to continue Sarah Connor’s story was a blessing. Tim has been working with his crew since Deadpool and before, but this film was a much larger undertaking. Their main goal, truly, was just “to make it not suck”. The past Terminator films weighed on them and they just wanted to make a film that was fun to go see and did right by Sarah, which I’d argue was accomplished on all fronts. If you haven’t seen the film, see it before having an opinion. I’m seeing a lot of talk online, especially with the box office performance, but I’d argue those folks haven’t seen it. If you like a good action film, go see Dark Fate. If you’re a die-hard Terminator fanperson, I can’t tell you how you’ll feel about it because to be perfectly honest I don’t know where we’re at with Terminator lore at this point so I can only judge this film alone and I liked it. In regards to making the film, they spoke about wanting to recreate that feeling of relentless pursuit like T2 without just flat out remaking it, which would be kind of boring (cough TFA cough).

From a technical perspective, Tim and the gang edited Dark Fate on Premiere (surprise) after having used it to edit Deadpool. You can actually get the Project file template and some presets used on that film from Vashi Nedomansky here. In any case, they had a lot of homework for Adobe to take care of before they came back (editing Deadpool 2 on Avid) and apparently Adobe delivered, primarily in the form of much-improved shared project features, an absolute necessity on large projects like this. That build of Premiere, built specifically for the Terminator team, will be pushed to the rest of us via an update here shortly so look forward to that.

There wasn’t anything too remarkable about the teams setup; Mac Pros maxed out, 128TB SSDs, reels broken in to projects, scene bins… 2300 VFX shots… they used Premiere, After Effects, Substance, Mixamo, Red Giant (but I don’t know what product), Zbrush, 3DS Max, Vray, Nuke, Octane, and apparently they’re looking at Katana for lighting in the future. The most surprising thing, honestly, was that Tim has stuck to the Fincherian behavior of meticulously reframing and split-comping everything, so almost every shot had some form of adjustment on it if not just Lumetri or some kind of Camera Shake applied (apparently Tim loves extra shake). Split-comping, in my opinion, is one of the easiest tricks to pull as an editor and the result is well worth the few-second effort, as long as the shot is locked off. Fun fact: literally nothing in Dark Fate is locked off. The other thing the team had to deal with was time; they never had any. They deserve some kind of medal for the work they put in, and if you want any proof just watch the opening scene with Sarah and John (not spoiling anything, really) at the beach bar. That’s not de-aging, that’s just straight-up CGI and it’s flawless. Flawless.

At the end of the Q&A the team had a unified message to filmmakers, and that was to stick with it. You can’t win if you don’t play the game and, at least in Tim’s case, sometimes that takes until you’re 50, but if you quit that’ll never happen. Stay with it, work hard, and don’t lose hope.

Tomorrow, I’ll bring you more Adobe MAX.

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Kenny McMillan is the founder and director of OWL BOT Digital Cinema located in West LA. His work spans the Internet from Vimeo to YouTube netting dozens of views. He previously worked as an events…