Brian Mulligan: Smoke Hero at WTHR Indianapolis

Posted by Marc-Andre Ferguson, 15 November 2011 7:00 pm


Things I learned watching TV.

Brian Mulligan is one of the new moderators on The Area's Smoke forum, but he’s no stranger to Smoke. Mulligan, aka BKM Editor, is a fixture on Area, Twitter, FXPHD and Creative COW, dispensing his extensive knowledge of Smoke to fledgling artists and grizzled veterans alike.

Like a lot of us in the industry, Brian admits he grew up watching a little too much TV, falling in love with the medium, and eventually focusing on broadcast studies. After graduating from college in the early ‘90s, he landed at WTHR-TV in Indianapolis, doing a little of everything at the station.

In 1993, Brian was promoted to full-time editor, a golden opportunity for him, just when the station equipped itself with a then state-of-the-art linear editing room. He cut everything from news and promos to PSAs, commercials and special reports.

The broadcast industry being in constant flux, the editing and graphic style of promos has evolved over the years to become more and more complex, sometimes mimicking big budget movie trailers. In order to meet the challenge of producing such work, and to add new skills to his traditional storytelling role as an editor, Brian branched out into motion graphics, exploring tools such as Adobe After Effects. He also moved into non-linear editing with a Lightworks system.

WTHR 13 Investigates Promo from Brian Mulligan on Vimeo.

Shiny new things.

In 2004, when the time came for WTHR to upgrade one of its editing suites, Brian looked at three systems: Avid DS, Sony XPRI and discreet smoke* (for the uninitiated, for several releases, Discreet products were written in lower case, with an asterisk at the end). Although the first two systems ran on Windows NT, Smoke, then at version 5, ran on SGI workstations with the IRIX OS. "I didn't know anything about SGI or IRIX, but I saw that Smoke did everything. Timeline editing, visual effects, motion graphics, it was all there", recalls Brian. "It was really fast, and from a pure editing standpoint, it was a lot like Lightworks".

WTHR’s acquisition of Smoke was a turning point in Brian's career, broadening his palette of colours, so to speak. "Smoke gave us that speed and flexibility that you really need in broadcast work. Just in editorial, you can sift through sources really quickly. The other systems were more cumbersome." As he put Smoke through its paces, he was hard pressed to reach its limits, loving the integration of effects with the timeline and Smoke’s dedicated 3D compositing environment – often stacking up to 100 layers in the DVE (the predecessor of Smoke’s Action module).

Brian has seen several versions of Smoke over the last few years and has been actively involved in Autodesk's beta program, contributing his unique perspective. As a preditor (producer editor), he edits everything himself in the Smoke timeline, so there are no EDLs or conforms involved. Typical of broadcast, deadlines are way too tight for any other workflow, considering most of his spots go from edit to air in eight hours or less. More complex ads get two days of editing at best. "The timeline is strong, it's easy to organize your clips the way you want, slide them around, it's all very fluid".

For doing graphics work, Brian likes the fact that he doesn't have to jump from one application to another. Colour correction, 3D type and geometry, texturing and layering, Smoke has "everything in one box". He particularly loves the new Flame FX: "They're the greatest thing ever, eliminating the need for 3rd party plugins". The Action 3D compositor is also on top of his favourite list. With its ability to animate scenes in and out of the same Action setup, he sometimes builds entire spots inside of this flexible 3D workspace.

WTHR Promo: Marcus Schrenker from Brian Mulligan on Vimeo.

From core group to community.

Now, with Smoke available on the Mac, Brian believes this will help spread Smoke to a wider audience. "It's the biggest thing I've ever heard coming from Autodesk; it's now available to a broader community, putting it in the hands of Final Cut Pro users who might consider using Smoke as an editor".

Brian cites community as a great way to learn new things about using software, as in discussing with other users, he often learns about parts of the app he doesn't touch upon in his day-to-day broadcast workflow. For example, the Paint module was never one of his strong suits, and Brian admits he gathered several new tricks from Grant Kay's tutorials on the subject. On the other hand, Smoke users can learn several tricks of the broadcast trade by reading Brian’s posts and watching his homegrown tutorials, especially when it comes to using the application in a time-sensitive manner.

As he loves to learn something new about Smoke every day, Brian Mulligan also loves to share what he knows. His involvement as moderator on The Area's Smoke forum came naturally. "I like helping out because it's important for me to give back to the community. With Smoke, there's a lot to learn. When I started, we only had an e-mail news group. Sometimes I'd pose a problem I had with a 46-layer edit I was working on, and no one knew how to help me, so I had to figure it out myself. The Area aims to bring everyone together into a centralized source of information".

Aside from his social media activity, he teaches news production at a local college, teaching journalism students how to tell stories.

His other current teaching job for this semester is at FXPHD, with a class on Creative Editing and Graphics with Smoke on Mac (SMK207). Brian taught a few classes in the Smoke and Flame programs in the past, but this is his first 10-class semester. "I'm a big fan of John Montgomery and FXPHD, and I'm honoured to be a part of that".

Be sure to drop by The Area and say "hi" to him and check out some of his work on Vimeo.

Brian Mulligan's Demo Reel



Smoke for Mac




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