Stu Maschwitz is the Chief Creative Officer at the new entity from the merging of Maxon and Red Giant. Last month marked the completion of all financial and regulatory agreements required to complete the merger of the two companies. Additionally, key appointments in executive leadership have been revealed. David McGavran is the CEO and amongst those reporting directly to him is Maschwitz. The new executive team includes leaders from both Maxon and Red Giant, making this a true fusion of the two companies. Stu Maschwitz is a long-time friend of fxguide and contributor to various courses over at fxphd.com, our sister site. We sat down with him to discuss the merger and the implications he saw for future developments. He is both a senior member of the new team and, independently, a well-known filmmaker and champion of Indie ‘rebel’ productions. From years of publishing, directing and supervising effects, Maschwitz has become known as one of the most insightful artists and level headed professionals in the industry.
The merger was in part due to Maschwitz’s longstanding relationship with Dave McGavran. He explains, “Dave, was at Adobe at the time, working on After Effects and Premiere, in what was a really critical time in my relationship with Adobe and After Effects”. This was when Maschwitz was at his company The Orphanage, who were heavily reliant on After Effects for compositing. “At the time, we were interested in Premiere for editing and Dave (McGavran) was interested in how After Effects and Premiere could work together”. Some years later, when McGavran had moved to Germany to join Maxon, the two fiends reconnected, which coincided with Maschwitz joining the board of Red Giant full time.
The whole merger was actually a rather slow and deliberate move, that built up over about 2 years. This timed well with the internal operational desires of the original Red Giant team and Maschwitz found that Red Giant valued and increasingly needed his, “user perspective combined with software nerd perspective.” Luckily as the two teams examined their respective skill bases, there was found to be very little overlap, and thus the two teams combined relatively effortlessly. “There were shockingly few collisions of responsibilities between the two companies,” he recounts, pointing to the inherent differences in product lines and “just kind of a difference in org. chart. Red Giant is very broad and maybe a little shallower, as we have a wide array of products and maybe the teams are smaller, whereas with Maxon it was narrower, as they have one very rich product. So it was actually kind of amazing to see how we at Red Giant had kind of a level of product management that Maxon had never required because they only have one main product.”
Maschwitz also discovered he had a lot in common with people at Maxon, especially Philip Losch, one of the original Maxon founders and the Chief Technology Officer of the new company. “Philip has almost the same kind of like Amiga tinkering background that I have,” jokes Maschwitz. “The first versions of Cinema 4D came from him writing ray tracers on an Amiga 1000, which is exactly how I started doing 3D. So we learned that about each other over a beer and we have been best friends ever since.”
The combined company now numbers over 200 people but there are no plans to move staff or centralize operations. Internally the teams are very agile and adaptive, for example, the engineer that developed Red Giants’ audio sinking algorithm “PluralEyes, went off and did a bunch of R&D and came back as an expert on fluid dynamics,” Maschwitz points out proudly, highlighting how fluidly the engineers move between projects. Red Giant has a very decentralized structure, but with Project Managers who are “keenly interested and active in Agile and Scrum approaches” says Maschwitz. Similarly, he and the team are keen to learn more from Maxon’s dedicated UX and Rendering departments. Red Giant has been adding 3D render capabilities to tools such as their Mirror tool, and Trapcode Particular, (now with Fluid Dynamics) is their most successful product yet. However, clearly, Maxon’s Cinema 4D is one of the primary 3D tools in the industry.
Red Giant’s two primary product lines were Magic Bullet and Trapcode, with the company pushing more heavily into motion graphics (MoGraph), which has always been a strong part of the user base of Maxon. The largest recent release was the Red Giant VFX Suite, “which was the culmination of about a year and a half of work to refocus on good old visual effects – which was something I was obviously keen to do,” Maschwitz comments. VFX Suite includes a range of effects that are integrated and include Knoll Light Factory, originally by ILM’s CCO John Knoll, which was the very first plugin that Red Giant ever sold. At the other end of the spectrum, VFX Suite also contains last year’s Supercomp software, which is one of Maschwitz’s favorite tools. “It isn’t just layering … it contains 20 years of my angst and agony over trying to do a good job of compositing,” he says. Adding that, “I got the nicest tweet from somebody today saying that Supercomp had changed their life and made their production pipeline so much faster. I’ll take that any day. I try to stay kind of grounded about the exciting, sexy new stuff and just help build really useful things to do tasks we all need to do every day – corner pin tracking, removing things from shots, whatever it is. There is still so much to do.”
Maxon and Red Giant are yet to solidly move into the world of virtual production and real-time workflows. When pushed on this point, Maschwitz responded that, “I’m keenly interested, but in picking a focus at Red Giant, I always think a little bit about Apple and how they would not necessarily fight to be the first in the space but would wait, and want to bring their level of ease of use and slick presentation of a technology, when it was ready … and for a really broad audience … so while I like what’s going on right now with The Lion King and The Mandalorian in virtual production … and my filmmaking ‘geek side’ loves it – my ‘product development’ side goes back to my DV Rebel days where I’m obsessed with accessibility and I want to make tools that everyone can use.”
When it comes to Machine Learning (ML), Maschwitz sees a more direct path. He personally is keen to see ML used for reducing drudgery, and repetitive tasks such as AI roto with semantic isolation and identification of objects. “We’re keenly interested in that stuff that, that fits very well into culturally, like what I think, uh, the kinds of products I like to make.” But he adds that he strongly believes that the tools will not automate the effects process, but enhance it, and he uses the example of Red Giant’s very successful Magic Bullet Colorista which does guided color correction. “It walks you through an approach of balancing out a shot. You could just ‘click’ and have it do it for me, but our customers never ask for that complete shortcut because our customers see the benefit of going through each step and interjecting their personal taste at each stage and winding up with a result that is not just colored corrected, but it’s actually their interpretation of what the shot should look like.”
Short films and tutorials
Central to the successful social media marketing of Red Giant has been their tutorials which tend to honor indie productions and connect with the zeitgeists of what people are interested in. There are several ways these come to life, some are personal projects such as Maschwitz’s Tank film or in house director Seth Warley’s Darker Colours, and others are the great work of Daniel Hashimoto, AKA Hachi, AKA ‘Action Movie Dad’. Hachi was a freelance VFX and visual development artist at DreamWorks Animation, who used Adobe After Effects to make the short videos of his son for YouTube. To date, these have had 355,475,930 views combined. Since April 2018, he has produced a series of tutorials. In these, he re-creates popular film effects using AE and Red Giant tools and shows how to quickly and inexpensively create Hollywood Blockbuster-level VFX. The new combined company remains “very committed to continuing with this work,” says Maschwitz. “We’ve put more of a priority on doing that kind of work.”
While the brands continue, for now, one gets the sense that Maschwitz wants the two companies to present as one and not two equal but separate companies. For now Maschwitz and the rest of the team are comfortable to focus on other things.
For readers who know Stu Maschwitz for his Rebel DV work, we did ask him what he was currently shooting with privately, and what projects and cameras he currently likes. Learn more about Stu’s private work in our bonus new Insider’s Newsletter, out at the end of this week.