by Erik Holsinger
Ever notice how some things just never seem to lose their
appeal? Amazingly enough, after over forty years of theme
and variation, police action shows and daytime soap operas
are still going strong. Such is the case with the notorious
3D flying logo. 3D flying logos are the Old Faithful of
the computer graphics world; when in doubt, make that station
ID in 3D. Initially the ability to create 3D text was all
that set some of the early 3D animation programs apart from
their CAD counterparts. Yet 3D text could never compete
with standard character generation systems; the 3D modeling
costs and animation time required was often too costly for
anything but an opening title.
This month we took a look at a product that may change
that perspective; Avid Marquee from Avid Technology. Marquee
is a Windows NT and Silicon Graphics 3D animation software
package that combines word processing capabilities, font
manipulation and 3D text animation into one slick package.
Marquee can create 3D models out of any PostScript or Truetype
font, which means you can use thousands of different font
styles in your production (Holy Video ransom note, Batman!).
The clincher though is Marquees ability to harness all the
power of a fast OpenGL graphics card for near real-time
previews complete with 24-bit textures, drop shadows
and multiple light sources. Even on a Windows NT system
Marquees blistering fast performance was able to impress
my cynical hide; after just a short time on the system I
was truly impressed with how quickly you can create incredibly
Fonts a Flyin'
To run Marquee through its paces, I used my trusty
Intergraph TDZ-425 workstation with 256 Mbytes of RAM, dual
300 Mhz Pentium II processors, and an upgraded Intergraph
Realizm II VX113 graphics card with Geometry accelerator.
I had to upgrade my graphics card because at press time
Avid had only approved three OpenGL cards on the Windows
NT side (the Realizm II, Intergraph's Intense 3D 2200S and
Diamond Fires GL 4000); according to the company other
cards should be approved in future versions.
An interesting quirk on the Windows NT side; you have to
have a Network graphics card installed, or Marquee wont
work. Avid tech support pointed out that this is due to
the floating license server, which when necessary allows
you to use one copy of Marquee on multiple machines. However,
this does mean starting the program initially is a two step
process; first you have to start the license server, and
then you can boot up the program. Once you boot up Marquee,
youll be prompted to log into the server before it
will start the program. For Windows NT users, this is a
typical SGI login process, that while initially irritating
does add some flexibility to the softwares license.
While Marquees ease of use is impressive, its fast
OpenGL-based previews is what truly sets it apart. Even
on my TDZ-425, I was able to play back compositions with
two or three different elements (with their textures and
shadows) in real time without dropping a frame. Naturally,
the more objects and parameters that you animate in the
scene, the more you will tax the capabilities of your OpenGL
card. Yet even when one of my Marquee projects slowed down
to 15 frames per second, the ability to see the movement
with all of the textures and light sources intact was a
huge advantage. If you need real-time output in addition
to previews, then youll need to invest in the SGI
version; the Windows NT systems are quite up to the task
yet. With Intergraph, IBM and others constantly announcing
faster workstations, its just a matter of time before
the Windows NT machines will be able to match SGI performance.
Interface: Marquees interface looks more like
a non-linear editing system than a 3D modeling program. The
Timeline window arranges everything in a top to bottom layer
hierarchy, where the top layer is the closest to the front.
The Gallery and Properties windows are where you add textures,
set 3D coordinates and shadow. If the Animation icon is selected,
all the parameters that you set in the properties window are
saved in the timeline as keyframes.
Keeping In Control
Once youve booted up, youll see the four main
windows; the large Main display window, a Timeline window,
a Gallery window, and the Properties window. The main display
can change shape according to the resolution you set
anything from D-1s 720 X 486 to HDTV resolutions.
Unfortunately you cant save custom resolutions and
there are no standard film or video resolutions so youll
have to set it up for each project. The standard 640 X 480
pixels was also a puzzling omission, as many non-linear
editing systems use this size to import graphics.
Marquees Timeline interface is closer in style to
a non-linear video editing system or a digital compositing
system such as Adobes After Effects; if youve
ever worked on either system youll find the program
is amazingly user-friendly. Creating 3D text is a snap;
just click on the Text tool, drag the mouse to the size
of the "container" and then start typing. The
Timeline window automatically displays your text as a layer
in a top to bottom hierarchy; the lower you are on the timeline,
the farther back your element is in the composition.
Animating any element couldnt be simpler; just click
on the Animation icon, go to the any point in the time line
and make your change. The Timeline automatically sets a
keyframe on all changes and animates between the keyframes.
For example, to make your text fly across the screen just
click on the Animation icon, position your text at the start
of its movement, and then go to the end of the timeline.
Just move the text to where it will finish at the end of
the movement, and hit play: the text smoothly moves from
one keyframe to another. If you need to fine tune the velocity
of the animation, all the controls can be adjusted using
standard bezier curves in the Timeline window.
Once youve created your text, youll use the
Properties and Gallery window to enhance your text. Marquee
uses a tab system to keep all track of all its properties,
which makes sense given all the controls available. In addition
to all the 3D settings (such as X/Y/Z coordinates, extrusion
amount, edge type, and up to eight different light sources),
Marquee also gives you precise control over the kerning,
scroll position, margins. Naturally all these parameters
are animatible, although not all (such as kerning animation)
will display in real-time. The Properties window is also
where you add materials or textures to your text, which
you pull from Marquees Gallery window.
In the Gallery window youll find a collection of
textures, materials, and even animation styles that you
can apply to any or all objects in a scene. The texture
section of the Gallery window is especially powerful, because
you can map any image from 25 different file formats as
the front, profile, extrusion or background of an object.
To give your text a metallic finish, just drag a material
or texture onto the Main section in the Materials box; Marquee
will automatically add and display the texture on your text.
While Marquee gives a lot of fine control over your animations,
there are several things that Id like to see in the
next version of the product. First, more key commands would
be good; the program is still too mouse-based, especially
when you have to jump back and forth between different tabs
in the materials window. Also, some controls, like the ability
to change the render size should be more accessible: right
now you have to go into the program preferences to change
the projects render size. Finally, it would be nice if you
could directly import and extrude EPS logos into Marquee.
While you can do this in other 3D animation programs (such
as 3D Studio Max R2), Marquee only allows you to bring in
EPS graphics as a custom font (see the tips section on how
to do this).
You can set key frames by either using the Animation icon
and then making your change later in the timeline, or by adding
a keyframe onto the parameters control line. Marquee gives
you full control over an objects movement using bezier curves,
and even includes presets for easing in and out.
Bang Versus Buck
With a software package this impressive, there naturally
had to be a sticking point which for some folks will
be the price tag. Marquees list price is quirky; at
$7,495 its at the high-end for niche Windows NT software,
and on the low-end for SGI software. Granted, Avid does
through in a nice bonus of 500 Bitstream fonts. While I
would have preferred Adobe PostScript fonts (due to their
popularity in print designs), the variety and volume of
the Bitstream fonts is a great resource and a nice touch.
Yet for small studios, investing in a software package that
is more expensive than a workstation will give some cause
After fussing over this point with Avid for a few weeks,
I had the matter settled for me during a post-session that
occurred while I was reviewing Marquee. One of my clients
needed a logo treatment, yet it had taken weeks to schedule
a time with them. While in the studio, on a whim I booted
up Marquee, and we started playing with different treatments.
In the space of one hour, my client signed off on a final
version of the animation. Normally this process would have
taken days, with initial comps rendered out and then the
sent back and forth for approval: with Marquee I was done
in an hour. This alone convinced me that Marquees
price was a moot point; any product that can provide that
kind of client cause and effect is worth its weight in gold.
The bottom line? Marquee is an impressive product. Marquees
numerous control parameters, intuitive interface, and wicked
fast previews make it one of the most impressive 3D text
packages on the market. If you create broadcast graphics
and own a high-end NT workstation, you should definitely
add Marquee to your graphics tool set. Considering this
is just the first version of Marquee, I cant wait
to see the next version.
Flying Font Frenzy:
Heres an example that I created using Marquee. This
project used about eight different objects, several 24-bit
textures, three different soft drop shadows and two different
light sources. With this many elements it was necessary to
reduce the quality of the OpenGL acceleration to Low in order
to preview the animation in real-time.
Marquee Technical Tips sidebar
a advanced tips courtesy of Avid Technologys
tech support crew that will help you get the most
out of Marquee.
Styles on Lower Third Graphics.
You can create lower-third titles that share the same
layout, by using: the Page tool to create a deck with
the default single page. If you need to align a lower-third
title to a reference clip, then just apply the clip
as the Background material of the deck. The graphic
will appear on all the pages of the deck. Next create
a text box for the lower-third title on the first
page. Now add a page to the deck using the Add Page
Before or Add Page After commands in the Page tool's
pop-up menu. Viola! The contents of the previous page
are duplicated on the new page. Just type in any changes
to the lower third title, and you are all set. Dont
forget to turn off the Background material for the
deck before you render frames from this project, or
youll have your reference element rendered into
your final file.
3D Logos from EPS files.
While there is no direct way to take EPS files into
Marquee, there is a back door approach that can work.
Just extrude your EPS logo by converting them to a
PostScript Type 1 or Truetype font using a third-party
utility (such as Macromedias Fontographer),
then using the fonts in Marquee. If you want to match
different colors in the logo, youll need to
edit the EPS file in Fontographer so that each different
colored element is a stored in a separate font location.
Then in Marquee, all you have to do is change the
colors of the different elements in the Materials
The beauty of the style section in Marquee is that
anything can become a style, even your light sources.
Just save the animated movement of light sources in
your project as a style definition; then when you
need it you can just apply the style to other light
sources in the same project or other projects.
Off Shadow Softness To Speed Display.
Adding multiple soft shadows to your project will
drag down the frame rate of your project. While creating
rough comps, either set the Softness parameter to
zero or (better) turn off the shadow by selecting
the Disable Shadow radio box. Doing this will give
you a 15% to 20% speed increase.
Marquee 1.0 Quick Look Box
Accelerated 3D text animation and compositing software
Windows NT and SGI
NT: Intel Pentium Pro; Windows NT 4.0; 96 Mbytes
of RAM; 60 Mbytes of hard disk space; 8 Mbytes of Texture
memory; 20" 1024 x 768 color monitor; CD-ROM drive;
Network card; approved OpenGL graphics card.
SGI: O2 running Irix 6.3; 128 Mbytes RAM; 60 Mbytes
Hard disk space.
128 Mbytes RAM; 16 Mbytes of Texture RAM; SGI;
High Impact running Irix 6.2 or OCTANE running Irix 6.4.
$7,495 for both the Windows and SGI versions
Avid Technology, Inc., Metropolitan Technology Park, One
Park West, Tewksbury, MA. 01876. Phone: (800) 949-2843
Web Site: http://www.avid.com