Matt Smith & Evan Unruh

Motion Graphics Artists

The Interview

Meet Matt Smith

When I realized I could animate my 2D designs, I knew that’s what I wanted to do.

My core applications are Adobe After Effects, Cinema 4D, and Octane. What I like about Octane is the ability to see everything I do live. Texturing, lighting, all instant.

My previous workstation was the Apple trash can with 32 gigs of ram and two graphics cards. Now, I’m running with the I7X, with the Quadro K5200 display and a Titan X. I’ve seen an increase in two to three times in performance and the ability to have GPU rendering is amazing.

A Conversation

Evan Unruh & Matt Smith talk shop

Evan Unruh and Matt Smith talk shop about their careers in motion graphics. Follow along with the transcript to learn about how they work, what technologies they like to use, and how Mediaworkstation’s i7-X has changed how they work.

My previous workstation was the Apple trash can. Now I’m running with the i-7X, and I’ve seen an increase of two to three times in performance.

An Introduction

A love of learning

Evan Unruh: I’m Evan Unruh, motion graphics artist along with my friend Matt Smith here who is also a motion graphics artist and art director. So tell me, how did you get started in this field? How did you get into motion graphics?

Matt Smith:
So I studied graphic design, print based, at Penn State and started to get interested in After Effects and came out here for an internship and just really fell in love with making things move.

Evan: Was there a key moment like where something just clicked for you? Did you see something or have an experience?

Matt: I think it’s more of the technology that brought me into it. I really like to always learn and always stay updated or try new things and there’s more of an ability to do that with the programs at hand.

The Workspace

After Effects & Cinema 4D

Evan: So what programs do you use most of the time?

Matt: Primarily After Effects, Cinema 4D, a little bit of Premiere Pro and a little bit of Maya but it’s more heavy on the Cinema 4D, After Effects.

Evan: Right, and you like using those two together.

Matt: Yes. Now that they’ve kind of intertwined a little bit, it’s a lot easier to get camera data back and forth and they’re beginning to have GPU support for After Effects so it’s improving the workflow.

Evan: Do you ever have issues with Cinema, trying to talk between the two?

Matt: Yes. So I don’t use that all the time, it’s more just standard, back in the old day, last year basically, you have Cinema 4D and just do all your work there and then I’ll import the camera data.

Evan: So you’ll back to the Adobe After Effects Exchange plugin, most of the time?

Matt: Exactly, most of the time because I’ve hit it two or three times where I just get an error and I just don’t want that error. I guess I don’t like to deal with problem solving in that sense, it’s more my creative side.

Evan: It works great so much of the time but then there’s like that 20% of the time where it doesn’t work at all. The camera data doesn’t match and it’s kind of a pain.

Matt: Exactly.

The Projects

Disney’s Pan and Alvin and The Chipmunks 2

Evan: So what type of stuff are you doing right now? What type of stuff are you doing in Cinema 4D?

Matt: A lot of simulations, using dual graph X particles and then a little bit of 3D modeling. I have a few print designers that always need elements so I’ll make our model or light those things.

Evan: What kinds of sims are you doing?

Matt: A lot of cloth sims, particle simulations and…

Evan: Particles for what, like swirling pixie dust kind of Disney stuff?

Matt: Yeah, that’s a good example. So for PAN, we did all the social for that and I had…

Evan: That’s social media.

Matt: Yeah, social media. There was tons of pixie dust revealing words or words turning into pixie dust and floating away.

Evan: And cloth is like flags and banners.

Matt: Flags. I’m currently working on a santa hat that’s flapping back and forth to the beat of music.

Evan: You’re a little bit of an expert with hats. If I remember, you do some serious chipmunk hats.

Matt: Yeah, I did a—oh, what was that for. It was the Country Music Awards for Alvin and The Chipmunks 2 and they wanted Alvin to take off his bussing hat and it was a cowboy hat instead, so I had to track all of that.

Evan: I remember that, but I also remember too that you made the famous statement, you were doing something in Maya, and you said, “if I was doing this in Cinema 4D, I’d be done already.”

Matt: Exactly, especially with motion graphics involving text. They haven’t catered to that at all. Cinema 4D, you can literally type kern in program so that just saves time. It’s more efficient.

Evan: But Russ was a big fan of using Maya, even for text and type. So what was his justification for that?

Matt: It came down to the renderer at the time, I believe. It was just the metals and the reflections at the time looked nicer. Nowadays, you choose and pick what imperfection of the metallic texture you’re looking for using Maya, Arnold, VRay.

The Performance

i7-X vs. a Mac “trashcan”

Evan: Do you use VRay for Cinema?

Matt: No, I use Octane at home and we use a physical render, the standard in cinema, at work. I’m trying to move that over to Octane though, just because it’s so much faster.

Evan: So we talked a little bit last night but you didn’t do any benchmarks or anything this morning, right? You just slept in?

Matt: No, I actually rebuilt the santa hat that I was working on. Just to get the simulation speed done and I was able to subdivide what I did like eight subdivisions. So I don’t know how many polygons that was, but it was still moving fluidly.

Evan: And that was because of Octane?

Matt: No, that was actually the i7-X. That was just purely the performance of the computer versus the trashcan that I have at work.

Evan: Yeah, that’s great. For those of you who don’t know, to subdivide something, anything, eight times and then to be actually able to simulate it and have it move, and just to be able to move the camera around with that many subdivisions is a big deal.

Matt: Yeah, it was cloth simulation. I had like 700,000 strands of fur so it was heavy and it only took me ten minutes to put it together.

Evan: So fur on top of the subdivision, that’s heavy. So you were able to work with that, no problem. Because I work on a trashcan all the time and I know for a fact, I wouldn’t be able to—it would be like—

Matt: Yeah, that’s the same situation I had when I did that same setup at work. On the Apple computer, it just hung up after four subdivisions, so I kept it at two, and then just used some motion blur.

Evan: Right, but the problem with that is you’re sort of guessing at what your render is going to look like. So with that power and it seems like everything is going that direction now, the power plus the sort of GPU acceleration is starting to give artists more of that immediate experience of this is what it’s going to look like. This is what it looks like rendered now without having to hit the render and go, oh, that looks wrong, and then let me come back and render it again tomorrow.

Matt: And it gives you a little bit more control. You spend—because you can see stuff more instantly, you start to spend more time on texturing it properly or lighting it properly versus, I’ll just do it later. I’ll do it in After Effects. Now you can do it in the program Cinema 4D or Maya.

Evan: So what’s the biggest speed differences or how much of a difference would you say there is between the i7-X and a trashcan?

Matt: I’d say two to three times faster, definitely in Maya, Cinema 4D renders. After Effects, it processes a lot faster while I’m using it, so I can put more layers, more effects.

Matt: The problem though with being creative and just wanting to try things all the time is once something goes faster, you figure out a way to make it slow again by adding all your effects and because of the i7-X, I can add more effects. I can add a better quality motion blur to something versus I have to stay low, keep my render time low. I can splurge a little bit.

Rendering

The i7-X difference

Evan: So when you’re using the After Effects, what’s your biggest hangup? Where does the hardware really help?

Matt: The biggest hangup is the actual rendering.

Evan: Rendering or RAM previewing?

Matt: Rendering. RAM previewing I can always drop down the quality to a quarter if I have to but actual rendering, it’s like, schedule your lunch break around it. If it’s going to take super long, you can’t really do much with it unless you have third party apps to render in the background.

Evan: Do you multi machine, are you usually running on one machine?

Matt: I render on one machine, just with my limitation where I’m working, but ideally, yeah. That would be what I would do is have a few machines and set them up that way.

Evan: For me, it’s more—because where I work, I guess we have a render farm, but in my moment to moment, day to day, like waiting for that RAM preview. It’s like I could wait two, three, four minutes for that sucker to load up so that I can see it.

Evan: I can drop down the quality but sometimes, it’s just like the thing you were talking about with Octane which we’ll get into but it’s like you can’t really judge the full quality. You have to do that guess work that we’ve always had to do as motion graphic artists.

Matt: Yeah, well to get around that, I actually pre-render a lot. So I’ll actually—if I have something that I’m happy with in the background or just one element that takes a while, I’ll just render that first once I’m happy with it, and the I’ll use that footage.

Matt: Yeah, well to get around that, I actually pre-render a lot. So I’ll actually—if I have something that I’m happy with in the background or just one element that takes a while, I’ll just render that first once I’m happy with it, and the I’ll use that footage.

Evan: Do you actually like set up proxies or do you just pre-render and then bring it in?

Matt: Sometimes I set up proxies but that gets harder when I have to collect the files later. So yeah, I just usually, on a side SSD, I’ll just render it to that and then I can read from there.

Evan: So what’s your experience like in using Octane and Cinema 4D?

Matt: It was actually pretty eye opening. You’ve got your progressive render in Cinema already. You can do your little preview window while you’re working, but Octane is just so instant.

Evan: So in terms of that rendering, how much time do you save or how much faster is the i7-X than the trash can?

Matt: Again, it’s like two to three times faster during the render. RAM preview, I have the GPU acceleration on and I don’t know what the bandwidth is that it’s actually using on that, but it’s noticeably faster.

Evan: So what’s your experience like in using Octane and Cinema 4D?

Matt: It was actually pretty eye opening. You’ve got your progressive render in Cinema already. You can do your little preview window while you’re working, but Octane is just so instant. Assuming you have one or two decent graphics cards, it’s just pretty instant. You turn the camera in Window and it’s already figuring out the new calculation.

Evan: Is it integrated into your workflow, like because in Cinema, you’ve got the interactive preview window. Do you have to have something like that up or does it have its own separate window?

Matt: It has its own separate window. So you’re still working on the side in your Cinema window and then your other viewport is basically the live texturing, lighting rendering coming through.

Evan: So you just leave that and as you work, it updates as you go. So you don’t ever have to like, click render or anything like that. It’s just basically live.

Matt: Yeah, it’s live up until once you add a new object. So say you have a new cube that you’ve added. You just have to refresh and then it loads that geometry. So it just needs to store the geometry and then any texture information that you add to that, that’s when it’s live. So you have your text that you’re about to animate, now you can just do iteration after iteration of the look and feel of that text live.

Live Rendering

Working with heavy textures

Evan: So let’s saying I’m doing a heavy texture. Let’s say I’m doing something with lots of reflections, lots of refractions, let’s say. So let’s say it’s glass, so it’s got both the reflections, it’s reflecting the environment and it’s refracting as well. Is it still instant with Octane? Wow, that’s sweet.

Matt: You can literally change the roughness of the reflection.

Evan: Live?

Matt: Live and it’s minuscule too, you’re just changing little things. Or you can bump it way up and it’s live. You just get the feel of what you want it to be instant and then you’re waiting for the render time, to get the final render, and that’s, depending on the reflections and what’s involved, it could be the same as just using Cinema 4D physical render, but all that work to get to that moment was so much faster.

Evan: So is it live like I can scrub it and I can watch and then just say, okay, 74% right there. Or is it, I scrub it to 74, let go, oh, that looks pretty good, go to 76, let go, you know what I mean? That’s a big difference in terms of time and workflow.

Matt: Yeah, no it’ll update as you play. So it’s not live for animation.

Evan: It’s not waiting for you to release before it updates. Like it’ll update just automatically.

Matt: Yeah, once you get to it, it’s there.

Future Predictions

Leading technologies

Evan: So what’s your prediction for how long that’s going to—because that’s clearly going to become the way everybody who is using computers is going to work. Octane, or whether it be their competitors; that’s going to become that way because once it catches on, no one is going to stand for working the old way because it’s archaic. So how long do you think it’ll be before that technology is just a given?

Matt: I’d say in the next year or two. I know the move to have all these—actually, I don’t know enough about the computer chip side, but I know that Intel just came out with the 72 core processor so I don’t know if that’s going to start combatting the graphics cards or not.

Evan: Right, well everybody is going to want to get in on it because otherwise it’s like let’s buy stock in Octane now.

Matt: Right, but it is the leading edge of that technology and I know they have a live interface that you can actually check out sample renders and you can adjust the settings and it’s pretty much what you’d see on their computers. A little slower because you’re going over the cloud and you’re not using your actual graphics cards.

I really enjoy going to the theater and being able to see people’s reactions to whatever trailer is out; it’s just that feeling of excitement that people get from our industry.

Hardware

“I had always used the Mac Pros at work, so I wanted something that was at least as good as that, and this is just way better.”

Evan: What’s it been like using the i7-X and what’s your experience been?

Matt: It’s been extremely pleasant. My previous machine was just, at the time, a pretty decent iMac and I had always used the Mac Pros at work, so I wanted something that was at least as good as that, and this is just way better. Even more so than the new trash can design that they came out with. It’s just geared towards what I need to do. I can edit photography, I can simulate 3D animations. After Effects, Premiere Pro, all work way faster than most of the stuff I do at work.

Evan: So you were telling me you use Premiere Pro and you’ve actually noticed a difference using the 17X with Premiere Pro. What’s that been like?

Matt: That’s been great. I actually did a few side projects, just cutting video together and it’s just more fluid. I can scrub through video faster. It does have GPU acceleration so adding your different color looks and stuff is more instant and again, you can basically just scrub through your look.

Evan: Do you use Looks at all?

Matt: I do.

Evan: Like Motion Builder Looks, do you use that suite?

Matt: Yeah, the Magic Bullet Looks.

Evan: Can you scrub that stuff live?

Matt: That’s a little slower but I know that they’re trying to add the GPU acceleration even more so in the Adobe products so that could change in the next year or two.

Evan: Because then at that point, you’re getting into really like editing with full color correction. You don’t have to like—okay, I’m going to go turn off my color correction so I can go edit. You can actually just work with it on and really see what it’s going to look like as you’re working.

Matt: Yeah, and then the integration to Premiere Pro to After Effects is pretty seamless as well and then that goes full circle. You can edit, bring it back into After Effects, bring in your Cinema 4D. It’s just one package. If your machine can handle all of that, then you don’t need three people working on the same project.

Evan: It’s almost a little bit like the integration with Cinema 4D and the Adobe products it’s almost like it’s part of the Adobe suite because they’ve worked so hard, compared to something like Myaaa where they won’t take each other’s phone calls kind of thing. So okay, for you, with all of this—so you started out at Penn State, and you went motion, it’s cool, there’s all this technology and you’re always learning. And now you’ve got this hardware and now you’ve got this leading edge type of technology.

A Purpose

Pushing boundaries & bringing joy to others

Evan: What do you want to achieve and what do you hope to achieve with your work?

Matt: For me, it’s just enjoying what I do. Trying to find new ways to kind of push that.

I get excited every time something new comes out and I can kind of add to that conversation. I can do something with it that might not have been thought of or add it to something that I used to do but now it’s ten times faster but a lot of what I do is really just to kind of bring joy to other people.

I really enjoy going to the theater and being able to see people’s reactions to whatever trailer is out that I may or may not have contributed to, but it’s just that feeling of excitement that people get from our industry.

The Product

i7-X: Fastest Workstation for Adobe CC

While our king of the hill fastest workstation for Adobe CC is now the i-X Mediaworkstation, the i7-X paved the way.  High frequency Intel Core CPU, 4 double wide GPU capability and m.2 SSD local storage for editing up to 6K raw footage without dropped frames makes the i-X THE choice for Adobe CC centric work, and a solid choice for media professionals who want excellent performance on a budget and fast GPU rendering capability.

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