So no, Phoenix Pro isn't real!! What a relief eh! This year's macProVideo.com April Fools shenanigans for a fake plugin that can turn poorly played guitar into audio gold was just a big prank.
When I was approached by Steve H to do this it sounded like a bit of fun. After some brainstorming with Rounik Sethi and Mo Volans over Skype we came up with Phoenix Pro! Watch the video below:
So how do you build a fake plugin? Well it turns out to be more complicated than I thought! The idea was to make it look as real as possible which bought up some problems of its own!
I'm going to run through how I put this together. All in all there were six applications used to pull this off.
First off I recorded some really bad guitar playing. I think I might have done it left handed! Here's a taste :
And so it began!
Design wise everything started with a screen shot of Sculpture in Logic.
The interface was then cut down to a size of 800 x 500px using Photoshop. I also removed the text from the plugin window by simply copying blank space over it.
I then placed a red rectangle as a base over Sculpture.
Next up I mapped out some panels using a few shapes and simple layer styles and added some text. The plugin header and footer text is Myriad Pro the default in Logic.
After some deliberation I worked out the controls and added the text and dial graphics to the image. This would be the background template for the final product.
Every plugin needs some good knobs to finish it off. I knew at the start that to make a fake plugin you could actually interact with, that Reaktor was the best way to do it as you can make custom interfaces and skin them.
Reaktor uses vertical image maps to display the animation of custom controls so I set about building some.
I've done this many times before so I had a good quick system in place already. Let's start with the generic dials.
These we're firstly modeled in Cinema 4D. It's all pretty much basic primitive geometry. The grips are a rectangle that's cloned using a MoGraph Cloner object. This was all then textured and lit to add some reflections.
I then aligned the camera face on and animated the dial turning.
There are two main flavors of this dial. One is a 12 step version for the selectors at the top, the other is a 64 step (higher resolution) version for the controls at the bottom. I had to render out two different versions.
One was animated over 12 frames the other over 64 frames. These were rendered as a PNG sequence with Alpha channel. Each PNG contains a frame of the animation.
These are then imported into Photoshop as a Layer Stack using a script that comes with Photoshop called Load Files Into Stack. This places all the images on top of each other on a separate layer.
I then arrange these into a vertical stack using a custom script that I wrote myself called Vertical Strip from Stack. This turns all the layers into a kind of film strip that Reaktor runs through when you turn the dial.
To do this manually would take forever, the script does it in about 5 seconds!!
The center piece control was a bit more complex. Again this was done in Cinema 4D
The lights are just some clones colored using a Shader Effector which maps a gradient over the clones.
The camera was aligned to the front and the inner dial animate over 64 frames.
Before I rendered, I added an Object Buffer to the lights. This renders out a pixel mask (or Luma Matte) so I could separate these from the image in After Effects later.
I then rendered another version with the lights off.
In After effects, I masked the lit version using my Object Buffer in its own Pre Comp.
This was then composited over the unlit version and animated on as the dial turned using a simple Radial Wipe effect.
This was then rendered out to a PNG sequence and converted to a vertical strip in Photoshop.
The switches are just a two state image strip made in Photoshop.
So now to build the interface. Firstly I added the Photoshop image of the GUI as a background to a new Reaktor instrument.
I then created all the necessary controls in Reaktor like Knobs and Switches etc.
I then positioned the controls and assigned the vertical image maps to the dials starting with the 12 step versions for the selectors.
Then the 64 step ones. Note there are two sizes. I just scaled the map down in Photoshop.
Lastly the Hero Dial.
I created a level meter in Reaktor too.
This was driven by placing Reaktor as a plugin on a dummy track in Logic with a duplicate version of the bad guitar playing on that was hidden.
This made the input light up as the audio played for added realism.
With Reaktor open in Logic, I screen casted myself moving the controls to a rough script I'd outlined. I could hear the bad guitar track and just had to be finished by the time it ended. It took a few takes!!!! :o
This was then exported from Screenflow as a high res quicktime.
So now I had the raw material. There were quite a few things that needed sorting to get this to work. I imported the quicktime movie into After Effects. Firstly there was a large frame around the Reaktor instrument that had to go.
I copied the movie and masked a slither that showed the timeline moving across the screen. This was copied several times and moved to obscure Reaktor.
I then took another copy of the movie and masked out the plugin.
This was then put on top of the other layers with a slight drop shadow. This was good as I could place the plugin where I wanted and the timeline moved behind it.
One small touch was to have the Compare switch turn on the first time I moved a control, just like Logic. This was again a duplicate of the movie masked out. I think when screencasting I'd already moved a control so this was already on so it needed to be resynced.
The same with the level indicator. I needed to simulate this shutting off when I did a bypass so this was again masked and composited on top in sync.
During the screencast for some reason I never actually hit the bypass button. I only noticed this later and I had to do a separate screencast of the bypass being turned off and on in the channel strip using Option Click.
This was masked, timed and put on top.
Unfortunately this posed a problem that my cursor from the screencast disappeared under this layer!!
I made a cursor icon!!
Then animated this to follow the cursor from the screencast as it moved in.
This happened three times! In hindsight I made a bit of work for myself here but hey, I was making it up as I went!!! This was then rendered as a quicktime.
With all my compositing done I dubbed the better guitar to picture in Logic. All the bypasses were synced and style changes and so on. I bounced this out as a WAV.
Then came the voice over. Holy smoke!! That was the worst bit as my german accent was rubbish!! :) Anyway I got through it! This was also done to picture over many, many takes!
All this was finally (and oddly) brought into Screenflow so I could do the zooming, add the titles, text and some basic edits.
This was again exported as a high res HD quicktime. Done!
This was a fun project to do and took place over about a week on and off. When it went up it got some interesting reactions. Some folks got it straight away, some were appalled that something like this existed and went on a tirade of abuse!! Eric Persing from Spectrasonics even shared it on Facebook!! Ha!
The strange thing is that products like this (fake as it may be) already exist!! Vocal tuning, sample libraries, sequencers, quantizing all allow anyone to make music without having to put in years of hard work to actually learn how to play an instrument properly. Why would something like this even come as a surprise?
You know, next year this might not be an April Fool!!!