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Pilgrim Stuff/R1 Review
This is my review of Pilgrim R1 as posted on VJ Central in Oct 2003 or so



Circa '97 me and the guys used to chat about our ideal setup for playing video out in a club to accompany the DJ. We'd have video sequences and realtime animations which reacted to the music, we'd have a bunch of computers and someone "flying" it, it would be amazing.

Considering that the fastest machine available at the time was a Pentium 200mmx and nobody except SGI had thought to put the words "3d" and "hardware" in the same sentence our options were limited to say the least. The concept of VJing was itself unheard of, the closest thing we'd heard of
was a bunch of guys involved with "Escape from Samsara" at the Fridge in Brixton who were doing animations and projecting them along with the music.

Fast forward 6 years, I've got 2 weeks to prepare enough footage to entertain a roomful of clubbers for 5 hours I had started to panic. People had liked the video we produced last time and had expectations and this is supposed ot be a nice little sideline, so I still have to squeeze doing my normal work in there too.

After some frantic searching on the web for and alternative to pre-preparing video sequences a little voice kept saying "realtime". A random search on google returned a page on VJcentral which I have never been able to find since - a review of "pilgrim" - what's that??? well the link worked, there's a demo :-) God bless broadband, 10 mins later I had the demo. 20 mins later I was jumping around the room with excitement (no really - ask the authors - I emailed them at the time!).

I had downloaded a few other demos over the previous few days, resolume, kazetachi AD, touch player etc among others and none of them had quite been what I was looking for. All were either too off the wall, too video-based or too "Mac"-like. I didn't know quite what i was looking for but I didn't want a toy with pretty icons, I wanted serious bit of software which can jump through hoops for hours on end and use every bit of juice my hardware has to offer. Derivative's Touch player/mixer/designer looked the closest thing to what I wanted but was a tad out of my pricerange and I miserably failed to get the demo to do *anything* other than go round and round. The fact that their website kept doing a disappearing (for whatever reason) act didn't exactly bolster my faith in the hope of getting any support.

Ok so not being a big fan of instructions I fired up the demo project and started pushing buttons. Within 5 mins I realised that RTFM is the order of the day. Tutorial one.., two... the next thing I know i've done all the tutorials and it's light outside.

In summary what we have here with Pilgrim is a simple principle very well applied. There are "layers", these can be video, capture sources or 3d scenes. These layers have properties - e.g. scale, rotate, rgb levels, as well as a bunch of realtime Direct X effects which all run off the GPU on your 3d card (you *need* a decent 3d card btw). Everything is realtime and the only thing which interrupts playback is saving the project.

The layers are arranged in columns and the first "slot" is "active" - i.e. adds to the current output. You can of course control (and animate) the individual column parameters too (e.g. alpha, pick next clip etc) as well as having a wealth of transfer modes available for each (e.g. opaque, add, modulate, subtract etc) - some you'll be familiar with and some you may not.

On the bottom toolbar we also have a waveform showing (among other things) the music which is displaying the input from your audio feed. The system picks up the beats and spits out a number of parameters e.g. bpm-count, beat period, average frequency & amplitude etc.

The fun starts when you start linking these parameters to the layer parameters, so you may have a logo which pulses in time to the beat etc. There's a whole bunch of preset ways of linking the beat counter etc to the layer properties such as "oscillate one sine period over 4 beats", "ping pong on beat", "random" etc. All these presets can be tweaked to your heart's content and if you feel the urge (i did!) you can start writing your own formulas which takes things take on a whole new level. That said you can do a hell of a lot with the built in presets and I'm sure the next release will have even more.

The 3d scenes are where I think Pilgrim starts making massive leaps ahead of the competition. Admittedly the 3d editor can be a bit fiddly to use but refinements are being made and persevering here really does pay off. So you have these 3d scenes - which comprise obects i.e. models, cameras, lights, paths etc - regular 3d stuff. These objects each also have masses of parameters e.g. rotate, scale and many more. You can once again link virtually any of these parameters to the beat input events. I'd like to also mention that this is the *only* 3d software I've ever seen which has a "tunnel" tool. Everyone knows how visually pleasing flying through tunnels is and I was immensely pleased to see a tool to address just this :-D (and very effective it is too!)

An example scenario (used in my last project) is a layer where you're flying through a tunnel where the flight speed is based on the bpm count, the colour if the fog and dynamic lighting RGB values are each linked to individual frequency/amplitude based triggers. What you end up with is a very visually pleasing but "low maintenance" effect which reacts to the sound and is the kind of thing one can get blissfully lost in when it's coming at you on a pair of projector screens.

Add to all of that the realtime effects (blur, glow, ripple etc all animatable), a fully fledged realtime particle system (also all animatable and effectable), 3ds file import, a second "meshops" mesh deform pipeline (which I've not even *looked* at yet but looks rather funky), 3d array systems, a dynamics engine (also not got to yet), non-linear/discontinuous playback of video (e.g. so you can "scratch" video with a suitable midi controller link up), being able to take a live capture source and apply it as a texture to a 3d object (that's kinda mad to see!), support for just about any kind of video you choose to throw at it and many other features I've probably missed and you have what I can only describe as an *awesome* package. I haven't been this amazed with a piece of software since I first grasped the concept of 3d Studio (3dsr3 i think it was then) back in '95/96.

Did I mention that anything you can "link" (i.e. almost everything), you can also control via midi? You could for instance perhaps also have *several* PCs with this system on it, all being controlled from the same midi source?

Are we having fun yet?


Going back to what me 'n the guys were talking about in '97, Pilgrim is *exactly* what we were hoping would one day become reality. Well, it's here, except it needs not hordes of computers but one, and there's more tweaks and improvements than you can shake a stick at due in the 1.1 release coming shortly. Add to that that you can email the guys who wrote it who are as knowledgable and helpful as they are enthusiastic about their product. All this for 250Euros?

I had the demo 2 days before buying it (pay-cheque had to clear!) and absolutely *adore* what this software lets me do. It let's me create on the screen what I see when I close my eyes and that's the nearest thing to being able to fly. I've spent the best part of the last 3 weeks eating, sleeping and breathing this software and bar a few minor UI niggles here and there
and the odd little bug I genuinely can't fault it. It's worth bearing in mind that this is the v1.0 release!! It's only been out since late July - by comparison 3dsmax was as full of holes as a swiss cheese up to about v2.5 if anyone chooses to remember, and don't even get me started on "Animation Master"! I am waiting with bated breath to see what these guys come up with in the future and I know for a fact that this next 1.1 release will already be a massive leap forward.

In two weeks I managed to not just produce enough visual footage to entertain a crowd for 5 hours, but to leave them with their jaws on the floor. With about 150 clips which were a mixture of random trippy 3d animation, snippets of video, stuff captured of the telly and me running around with my little fuji digicam we had something like 22,500+ combinations of layers to play with. The DJs and many others personally congratulated us on the visuals with comments ranging from "Those graphics were f****n amazing" (audio bullys) to "Please don't make the pictures stop!"


Realistically I think to really get the *most* out of Pilgrim you'd probably benefit form a solid background in 3d modelling/animation and digital video as well as having a good understanding of codecs and just basically how your computer does what it does. This is definitely not one for the mac-heads.

Unless you're blessed with the latest dual cpu offering it's a fine balance of distributing your CPU cycles effectively to get the most out of the hardware you've got. For instance dropping a dozen divX movies in there won't give you the best result because divx is very cpu intensive, I run most of the videos as Indeo 3.2 because it's quite quick to compress, and seemed to have a low enough decompression cpu overheat to work best for what I wanted. Anyone with a backgorund in 3d will be instantly familiar with the terms and concepts you'll encounter along the way. Don't let that put you off however if you've not got stacks of 3d/video experience, but it does
make for a smoother ride in my opinion.

It's not a huge issue but the only real niggle I have with it so far is that how you output to the end result seemed a bit fiddly. There's a mode which is supposed to work with "span mode" on nvidia cards but mine wasn't going to play. Apparently however the 1.1 release will support fullscreen output to a second monitor which will be *just* what the doctor ordered.

For the live performance we did I mapped lots of keys to control columns of video and played in fullscreen mode and had the layer manager displayed on a second monitor. Whilst I couldn't make in flight adjustments it meant I could at least see what layers were coming up next and cycle through them accordingly. This has all been communicated to the authors and the updates in 1.1 should hopefully completely solve this situation and allow full "in flight" control if your graphics card won't support nvidia "spanning". :-)


Pilgrim is one of those packages which *unfolds* in front of you. Just when you reach the limit of what you can do and start wondering if it can do so-and-so, you discover the "do so-and-so" button and a new chapter begins....


Details:
we ran one copy of PilgrimR1 on one PC with the following specs:

cpu: athlon 2400 "thoroughbred"
ram: 1x512 (333ddr) dimm
graphics card: Gainward geforce 3 AGP (output screen via TV out), Gainward
geforce 4 PCI (displayed layer manager on second monitor)
3 x maxtor hard disks

The output from the PC was sent into a Panasonic mx50 video desk, and we had an xbox playing the DivXs from the last event going into another channel on the video desk (Xbox was running as a backup in case the PC died dramatically)

We also had two remote control, ceiling mounted cameras which also went into the desk and the output went out through a pair of projectors (one x-mirrored) onto a rear projection 20 foot wide screen (approx) set up
behind the decks.

This meant we had 4 different places to go, if I needed to tweak the pilgrim settings we'd just mix to the xbox or a camera, do the settings and then bring the pc back in. It might sound fiddly but it did actually work exceptionally well.

You can see photos related to the setup of the visuals on the "photos" link on my site (www.acidgfx.com) and general photos of the event on the site for the clubnight: www.clubsessions.co.uk. Click the "photos" link and it's in there, you need to enter a valid email address to get a password but it gets mailed to you straightaway.

If you fancy seeing what can be done with Pilgrim you can download my latest promo videos from www.acidgfx.com

I'm happy to answer any questions as best I can but it may be worth directing them to the authors themselves. They're most helpful and will probably give a shorter answer than I - or better still download the demo!

One happy customer





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