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Amiga Notes



Although both Scala MM200 and ShowMaker are means to an almost identical end, they take radically different approaches to the problem of co-ordinating the vast range of multimedia options the Amiga can offer. ShowMaker, unlike Scala, doesn't employ a page by page approach but rather uses a method called 'The Timeline'. For we musos this is a very familiar environment, as the Timeline is essentially very similar to a standard sequencing package that's been expanded to encompass both musical and videographic events.

As you can see from the screenshot the Timeline looks just like a fairly standard bar editor. Just as with standard sequencers there are a number of tracks which play in concert with other elements and then terminate as and when required, or alternatively are replaced by similar events on the same track.

ShowMaker in action.


When you first enter the package, ShowMaker provides a selection of 12 default tracks which generally relate to the machine generated side of the production. We'll cover the program's external talents a little later but for now we'll concentrate on the basics.

The first of the 12 is the essential graphics track which defines when either stills or animations will appear. Such imagery provides the background onto which a series of effects or titles can be overlaid. As you might imagine, effects are used to introduce static backdrops which will then remain on-screen until the next still or animation is revealed.

When working with animation it's fairly unlikely the anim will fit perfectly into the allotted time-frame; consequently the package allows anims to loop indefinitely at the frame rate of your choice. To make things as slick as possible it's even possible to lock all transitions to the accompanying backing music. As a result anims seem to keep pace with the action, whilst stills appear and disappear in perfect time, providing a punchy professional feel.

Titling can also play its part in the action. Alas this is perhaps the only failing of an otherwise excellent system. To use an old adage, the program has bitten off a bit more than the machine can chew. Although the Amiga is a powerful beast, asking it to smoothly flow titling over an animated background is a bit too much, especially when it's already busy controlling external devices such as genlocks, issuing ARexx commands, handling MIDI information, and playing internal sound tracks and individual IFF samples.

Even on a heavily accelerated machine, titling in such circumstances isn't the program's most impressive feature. To be fair, the previously mentioned wipes and fades tend to make up for the rather dodgy anim titling, but professional users would be better off employing the talents of an external titler over a pre-recorded tape.

If you can avoid the temptation to title over animated backgrounds the titling options are just about usable. The usual array of bold, italic and underlined combinations are on hand for the selected font, plus an impressive array of drop shadow and outline options that combine with the aforementioned wipes and fades. If you can keep things simple, reasonable, if not spectacular results await.

Four of the 12 default tracks are devoted entirely to the playback of internal samples. Each available channel has its own track, onto which any IFF sample can be assigned — complete with definitions for volume, optional loop, and pitch. In addition you can define whether the sample should have priority over the music track. If, for example, you were employing a pre-recorded SMUS soundtrack the effect sample could steal its particular channel and then return it automatically after playback.

As you might imagine all the various audio sources have individual settings for volume and so on, but in addition an overall volume control has been added. As a result, the entire backing track, samples, SMUS, MIDI and so on can be faded or introduced in concert, maintaining their relative volumes. Perfect for voice-overs and mood building...

As the screen shots shows, MIDI information is well catered for with a series of options including note off/on, control and program change and of course pitch information, all of which is sent by user defined Flex codes — time to dig out the manuals I'm afraid.

Any one of the 16 MIDI channels can be addressed complete with two data controls to define note information. As you've probably guessed, ShowMaker's direct MIDI support isn't as extensive as that of Scala MM200 — in fact its primary use is that of an additional SFX source. But with the help of the program's ARexx interface it's possible to issue commands directly to ARexx-compatible sequencers (such as Bars & Pipes Professional) which will then start and stop entire compositions on demand.

To further reinforce the program's authority as a multimedia mogul, extensive genlock support has been added which allows a combination of Amiga graphics and live video. Alas only the SuperGen 2000S is directly supported. Once combined, the two offer an impressive degree of automation with transitions, dissolves and clean cuts adding even more punch to the performance. Effects are simply defined within a pop-up requester and then applied via the Timeline to add the transition speed or edit point.

Impressive as the internal options are, it's perhaps the program's external exploits that make it special. External devices are controlled via the serial port, which means with the correct driver in attendance ShowMaker can control everything from videos to laser disks, with the Amiga's numeric keypad providing control for the transport of the attached device.

Although the variety of options may seem a little daunting, actually using the software is simplicity itself. The interface is excellent, and follows the same format no matter which element you're working on. Simple clicking and dragging skills are all you'll need, so don't be put off.

Overall, ShowMaker is an impressive product which will come as second nature to the average muso thanks in part to its familiar editing environment featuring SMPTE, MTC, and internal timecode options.

For the average user it must be said that ShowMaker has been superseded by the new Scala release. However, if you're lucky enough to own a substantial collection of additional hardware, and are looking for a means of combining their assorted facilities with those of the Amiga, ShowMaker is still a viable solution to a tricky problem.


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Sound On Sound - Copyright: SOS Publications Ltd.
The contents of this magazine are re-published here with the kind permission of SOS Publications Ltd.

 

Sound On Sound - Dec 1992

Topic:

Computing


Feature by Paul Austin

Previous article in this issue:

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