capsule review

Isadora 1.0

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TroikaTronix’s Isadora, a graphical programming tool that facilitates real-time control of digital audio and video, MIDI, images, and Studio Max 3DS files, has found a following among performers, video artists (VJs), and people looking for a way to render innovative multimedia effects to video.

While other applications (such as ArKaos VJ, Max/MSP, and VDMXX) can create special effects for live performances, their complexity can be daunting; their performance, sluggish; and their effects, predictable.

Isadora’s ease of use and flexibility make it a solid choice. Isadora allows you to manipulate prerecorded and live media—either with programmed effects and controls or on-the-fly via input from a keyboard or a mouse, a MIDI device, a microphone, or a video camera. Isadora can project video onto as many as four monitors (Stages) simultaneously, and you can record any Stage to a QuickTime movie for use in another video-editing program.

At first glance, Isadora can be a bit overwhelming, so you may want to work through the tutorials and spend a little time with the sample files. There’s also an excellent 246-page manual. You’ll quickly lose yourself in experimentation.

Flexible and Extensible

Isadora’s workspace has three panes: a Toolbox, which lists the various modules; a Scene Editor, where you arrange modules and create links to make them work together; and a Scene List, a row of buttons that allow you to jump from one scene to another. The interface lacks Mac-style polish and refinement. For example, some buttons didn’t display correctly. And I wasn’t able to resize or collapse individual panes. My qualms are mainly aesthetic, though—Isadora isn’t much to look at, and it could use some productivity tweaks, but it’s easy to use.

You don’t have to write any code to create a multitude of possible combinations and settings. To create a program, simply select modules from the Toolbox, arrange them in the Scene Editor, and connect them.

Isadora ships with more than 100 ready-made modules—everything from basic effects (Chroma Key, Colorize, Crop, and more) to complex options such as Eyes (which lets you control your media with the brightness of a camera’s live video stream). The program is also compatible with FreeFrame, an open-source video plug-in system (more than 40 free plug-ins are available on the TroikaTronix Web site). And you can create and save your own modules.

Scene Control

An elaborate scene can turn into a tangled web of interconnected modules, but you can hide the clutter by creating a Control Panel—a customized user interface of buttons and sliders that control the modules in a scene.

Complex scenes can heavily tax system resources, but the program was stable and responsive on my dual-800MHz Power Mac G4 with 1.25GB of RAM, even as I experimented with numerous parameters and effects. Video capture may require some compromises in performance, though. Depending on your system, you may not be able to run as many effects, or you may have to capture at a lower frame rate or lesser quality.

Macworld’s Buying Advice

Isadora is powerful, flexible, stable, responsive, and surprisingly easy to use. It’s also reasonably priced. If you need a programming environment for creating live interactive multimedia performances, or want a tool that can help you render live interactive media for use in multimedia projects, Isadora will help you express yourself in unlimited ways.

Input from the outside world can control effects in Isadora. Here, the Eyes module allows the brightness of the streaming tree video to manipulate the glow effect applied to the sunflower movie.
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