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First Look at AIST MoviePack 4.0

It's Like a Cross Between After Effects and Commotion, with a Bit of Premiere Thrown in For Version 4.0 By Charlie White
The flagship of AIST's (Animated Image Systems Technology) ever-expanding line of nonlinear video editing software packages has recently been updated, and it looks like it's going to be even better than ever. Here's an application that is built from the ground up in a modular way, meaning that as AIST's developers come up with new ideas, the application gets more and more sophisticated without a need for a complete rewrite. It's MoviePack 4.0, and according to the company it will be available soon.

Perhaps the most striking feature of MoviePack is its on-screen preview window. This window resides on the computer screen, not necessarily on an NTSC or PAL monitor. Whenever you update something on your timeline, this window updates that effect. It's continually looping the effect on which you're currently working, and its remarkable power allows you to see many layers of a thick composite, moving in a clean-looking preview. This is why version 3.0 of MoviePack received positive recognition from many in the digital video editing industry.

Building on that first success comes MoviePack version 4.0. Where version 3 was strong in compositing, new AIST-U.S. President Keith Hughes exhorted his development team to expand MoviePack's editing capability. The Germany-based developers leapt at the opportunity to improve MoviePack, adding new and more useful buttons to the timeline, making the app more keyboard-friendly for faster editing, and made it so you're able to change the entire appearance of the interface with new skinning features. And that was just in the first week.

It's remarkable how smoothly the previews are played back. This bodes well for the future, because the way MoviePack is designed, its smoothness of playback depends on the power of the graphics card in your computer. And, as you've probably noticed, the development cycle for new graphics cards, once measured in years, is now marked in months. The latest kings-of-the-hill, cards built around NVidia's GeForce 3 graphics processor, make MoviePack positively butta-smooth. Coupled with that are ever-rising processor speeds, which also bodes well for the app because, with MoviePack, compression and decompression are also processor-dependent. And, even though Pentium 4 processors aren't that much faster than Pentium 3s of like megahertz, Pentium 4's strength lies in its ability to compress video much faster. So by anticipating tomorrow's technology, AIST has put itself into a catbird seat-like existence. As hardware gets faster, so does AIST's software across the board -- like that old adage, "a rising tide lifts all boats." Beyond that, the software architecture is designed in such a way that a virtual barrier has been built around the application, allowing it to take full advantage of multiprocessing environments, splitting the load equally so that all processors can be used to their fullest, all the time.

Packing all this compositing and editing power represents a new thrust by AIST into higher-end markets, aimed squarely at the After Effects crowd. However, at $799, it will be within reach of more users than After Effects, which sells for a few hundred dollars more. Speaking to that market segment, AIST is also releasing MoviePack Extreme, which will add additional effects and motion stabilization. Another big plus that was only recently introduced into After Effects (with version 5.0) is the ability to import 3D objects into MoviePack. In addition, MoviePack can cut seven chromakeys in one pass, and lets you preview all that in real time. The impression I got of this software was of a cross between After Effects with its motion control and layering power, and Commotion, with its speedy previews and floating masks. Icing on the cake are its new cube and particle effects.

What's next for MoviePack? The company says it's now working on network features, allowing groups of MoviePack users to collaborate on projects involving elaborate compositing and 3D animations, along with editorial tasks, all over TCP-IP. And, with the application's scalable architecture, it should be interesting to see how much more powerful MoviePack gets when it's riding on an entire network's worth of processors.

I'm hoping that developers take notice of this powerful new platform for editing and compositing. Because of its open source code and modular architecture, it's almost an open invitation for developers to create plugins for this system. It's truly an application that must be seen to be believed. If you'd like to take a close look at MoviePack, and see if it will fit in with your needs, there's a free trial available (it works for a month) on the AIST Web site at aistinc.com.

Charlie White has been writing about digital video editing since it was the laughingstock of the postproduction industry. He's an Emmy award-winning producer and director for PBS, and Senior Producer at Digital Media Net. Reach him at cwhite@digitalmedianet.com.

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