'Smoke is Fast and Fluid': Brian Mulligan

By FARHATNAZ ANSARI | 11 February, 2011 - 12:53

Brian Mulligan, Senior Editor, WTHR, Indianapolis, US had graced the session of Autodesk in association with Aditya Infotech for promoting Autodesk Smoke in Mumbai recently. As part of the promotions, Brian conducted a small session atThe Club, Andheri. The session was attended by almost 100 professional users and the response was overwhelming. Brian spoke about his work, gave tips and shared his tricks of using Smoke.

Similar sessions have also been conducted at Noida and Chennai. AnimationXpress.com‘s Farhatnaz Ansari spoke to Brian Mulligan before the session in Mumbai.


Tell us something about yourself and WTHR?
I‘m the post production editor at a broadcast television station WTHR in Indianapolis, Indiana. Indiana is the heart of mid west area. We are not a super large city but we are not even very small. We are the 25th largest TV market in the country out of probably over 200.

What was your first encounter with Autodesk Smoke?
My first encounter with Smoke was going to demos, much like this one. And it was always reading about it in magazines and all not much on online at the time. And reading and hearing what Flame could do. I started out many years ago editing from tape to tape, so seeing computer based editing was just excellent.

I have been working with WTHR for 14 years so I have been there for a long time and I have been the editor for most of the time. I started out in promotions; I was the writer, producer and editor. I would shoot for other people and I would edit for other people and then I‘ll shoot my own stuff and will write my own stuff.

And then the station changed and they wanted dedicated people. They said that specialization was going to be the key to a better success. So they wanted full time editors, post production editors, photographers and producers.

At that time the linear editing happened. You have a timeline, a digital fax, switcher and a tape machine and we had made all that work. I have literally done that, I mean what you can do with editing in 1995. After a while that needed to be changed, as industry changed, technology changed, computers became more powerful. Looks of the broadcast changed and so these old linear gears couldn‘t keep up. It couldn‘t give the looks that you need. So we end up searching for other options.

So what made you decide on Autodesk Smoke?
About some six years ago, we did some demos of various different companies editing suites looking for something to help us further. Also it was very early stages of HD so our company was looking for a new system that could do HD. Six years ago there were very few systems around that could do justice to our needs. And one of those was Smoke. We demoed it with few other systems. We picked it up because it was fast and editorially it had all the tools.

You could do what I used to do in linear suite in great timing of cuts and dissolves. You have files and clips on your screen you could just scrub them and find your shot, because in a broadcast environment we work very fast. The Smoke Interface and Smoke Desktop at that time were very fluid. We could edit fast and drop clips down on the timeline. It was on very high powered computers, SGI computers and it was wonderful. It had thing which we the broadcasters needed. It also then had the effects tool that we needed to stay with current trends. And stay competitive in a video sense of keeping a good quality production.

What version did you first buy?
The first version which we bought about 5 years back was version 5. We had linear suite as well and we used both but Smoke became our primary editing suite. We started doing outside work along with station promotions in-house we also did some commercial work for our on-air clients.

There are local businesses like car dealers, grocery stores, who want to run a TV commercial on our station, so we sell them the time and that‘s how we make the money. But they may or may not have a commercial. So then we have a photographer who goes to the store shoot a video or two, whatever he wants and then write a script and then we do the editing on Smoke. So we got an in-house work as well as out-house.

What areas of your work does Autodesk Smoke finds application in?
We use Smoke at the station for the in-house promo work. We are a television news broadcaster and we are affiliates of National Broadcasting Company (NBC). We have a right to air their programs and national news programs and we also do our local news.

We are using Smoke for station promotions work by telling people - hey we are doing a special news story and it will be on Thursday night at 6pm and you should watch it. We make a little commercial of 30 seconds, like an advertisement, that promotes it. Apart from this we also make and air commercials for local business on Smoke. Mainly it‘s spot work. There‘s also lot of graphic work and motion designs that I do in commercials. Because that‘s how commercials look in modern days, it has lots of graphics and motion and animation all grouped together. I have also edited news programming on Smoke of about 3-4 minutes long. The reporter who did the story will have a script and videos, so I will edit it and clip together a finish piece on Smoke. We have news editor but the reason that I‘m doing it is because of my experience as an editor and on Smoke I‘m a good editor. So I can tell story, mix it and time it and space it all.

And occasionally we‘ll also do an hour long program that needs to be assembled, the intros and outros or wrap around. The time frame in which the broadcast has to happen is very short especially for promos and commercials. I may have a day or a day and a half to work on a 30 seconds spot and get it started, polished up and out. The resources in broadcast media are sometimes very slim but we make do. We sometimes use graphic work; manipulate some still images that we have and we tell the story.

We have got into this style lately at the station of making commercials like a movie trailer and people are responding to it well. When you see a Hollywood or Bollywood movie review it‘s all flashy and has all the good parts of the movie, there‘s some text also. It intrigues you enough that you say that I‘m gonna see that movie. We use this style to sell our news product which is different to use than to sell news product. There‘s so much news available that we try and find something that connects with the viewers. There‘s images and sound and graphics, we dress it up and polish it up. And smoke helps us to do that as it‘s all are right there. I can do timeline and graphics with it, I have got editorial tools to cut it together, mix my own audio on Smoke. I have done 12 tracks of audio on smoke mixing music and sound effects. I do my own audio and video mixing together. In broadcasting terms, Smoke is fast and fluid.

Does the tight deadline of broadcast media make you compromise on the quality?
No I don‘t think so. I have been working with this station for 16 years. I understand this city and its people. With Smoke, quality is there. In addition to our talents, the system also has a gear to enable quality. There‘s no quality loss, we have HD video that we are working with. Sometimes we dont get high quality video, if the thing is recorded in a hurry with whatever was handy at the time, we can still dress it up with Smoke. We can colour correct shots, clean up some shots if need be.

Your bio reads that you handle the creative and technical aspect of production. How do you juggle both and do justice to both?
I‘m little geeky and I have a little artistic background and little technical background. I just push them together and make it work. I like computer stuff, manipulating images, graphic designs and works but I have enough creativity to make something good out of it. I‘m not an artist I‘m an editor and I edit. I don‘t like to call myself smoke artist, don‘t think so I do justice to the word art, I call myself Smoke Editor.

I know this gentleman in India he works with Zee TV, I have seen his work and he is a true artist. He can paint and draw and use Smoke for those tools. I‘m impressed with his work. He can do so much but I know enough of technical stuff like how to manipulate images, import a vector-based illustrator file and edit it on Smoke, add my animation to it and somehow I use the technical part to balance the artistic aspect of it. I sometimes wish I have more artistic background in me but I make do.

This is coming from a person who has got 14 awards including an Emmy Awards?
Yeah I know. I don‘t like to mention it. Emmy Awards are the National Television Academy Arts and Science Awards which is given to National television talk shows celebrities or television movies. There‘s a regional category of the same awards. In this they take a map United States and cut it up in different sections. And they would group cities and those cities would compete with each other in categories like for best promo, best news story, best news cast, best news writing and all.

I have been fortunate enough in our region to cope against the next major broadcaster in our region, Cleveland Higher that is up north and they are the 13th largest market in the country. So we are 25th and they are 13th, they broadcast to more people. They have more resources. Therefore they should in theory be better. But I have won multiple awards against them. Our station has won multiple Emmy awards because the quality of work that we have is better. And the beautiful thing about WTHR is that it believes in doing quality work and for that it keeps quality people and provides them with quality tools that they need to do the quality work. And in editing they listened to me and I told them that Smoke is good and it has all the tools that we need right now. And they agree.

I‘m grateful for the awards and over time it does make you consistent and I‘m happy that my work is appreciated. You know this kind of presenting demos and coming to India has been so humbling. I come from a small city and I have a simple family life I don‘t travel a whole lot. I just like to sit in my edit suite in the dark. I‘m happy that I can impress my kids with my work and feel good about it.

What according to you makes Autodesk Smoke better than other editing and motion graphic suites?
Smoke is necessarily a motion graphic suite and there are tools in Smoke that I sometimes manipulate and use for other purposes other than what it is meant for. Like for example, there‘s a tool in Smoke called 3D path, so you can draw a path with it and then string things like text or images to it and that will follow the path in 3D space. It is meant for this function but then I thought what else can be done with this. And then I linked a camera to it and I was able to do very complex 3D space camera moves, the one which you see in after-effects scenes. So I thought if I can draw and edit this complex camera path in real time because Smoke responds in real time, I can animate this camera through and do complex fly bys and wrap around, circular cork screw moves in about 5 minutes and not have to spend ton of times in key framing stuff. Once you have a path drawn out you can just fix your images in that space. This I‘m going to show in the demo. In motion graphics animation sense it works very well.

And there‘s also creating something out of nothing. You can export vector files from a illustrator and a Photoshop file which will take all the vector based layers and then draw it and reprise it, then put them on the Photoshop file and import that in Smoke and it comes out and all of the layers are linked and the composition you had in Photoshop is all right there and the pieces can be fitted together. I‘ll show in the demo a plant IV how a seed is there and then it develops and fills the entire screen.

The session was attended by almost 100 professional users and the response was overwhelming. Brian spoke about his work, gave tips and shared his tricks of using Smoke.