How to do a NYE Countdown

Download the sample ISF clock generators from this tutorial.

One of the biggest nights for live visual performers is New Years Eve and in particular there is responsibility in particular that can be unexpectedly tricky to get right. That is handling the countdown to midnight. Often it can mean coordinating with other performers or workers at the venue. Depending on what is required of you during the show there are a few different approaches you may want to take when setting up your projects. It also helps to have an idea in advance of what your options are for running a visual countdown.

When creating a countdown to midnight, there are two main details that can be decided:

  1. Will the countdown be automated by a clock or external source, or manually advanced?
  2. What will it look like? Will it be a 10 second count down, or a clock display that counts up to midnight? Will it be pre-rendered or live generated? What happens when midnight is reached?

In this tutorial we'll start with a discussion about how to answer each of these questions and then look at a few different ideas to get you started with the available approaches.

Manually Advanced Clocks vs Automated Clocks

Depending on your needs you there are two different directions you can go in for running the timer behind the countdown.

As an example, at many events there is a person who is leading the crown in a countdown and you may be required to keep in sync with them. In some cases the easiest and most flexible approach is to create 10 different still images and manually trigger them one by one. Similarly you may find it useful to create a movie file that starts with an exact 10 second countdown animation that a person can read along with. Another route to working with automated clocks is to use an interactive live rendering composition created in ISF, Vuo or Quartz Composer that is displayed on screen.

In other cases you may need to automate the timing to be in sync with the time of a computer or another event. An example of an external event you may want to keep in sync with is a televised countdown from a local broadcaster. Very often these broadcasts are playing in homes and other public venues around the world and it can sometimes be nice to just cut to this instead of creating your own countdown. For this you can get a digital HDTV receiver and an HDMI capture device (such as a Blackmagic Mini Recorder) to access the live feed like any other camera connected to your computer. Do note that in some venues you may need to get special permission to use live televised feeds as part of your set.

Designing A Countdown

Download the sample ISF clock generators from this tutorial.

Regardless of whether you are using a clock that runs automated or manually, unless you are using a live feed as your timer, you may have some creative control over what the display looks like. In the second part of this tutorial we'll discuss the design considerations that go into making a clock followed by taking a quick look at how the pre-rendered countdown movie was made in Motion and how the three different ISF based example compositions are written in GLSL.

Within this topic there are two initial decisions to decide on. The first major design consideration to make is if you will be counting down from 10 or if you'd prefer to display a clock that approaches midnight. The major technical consideration to make is if you want to pre-render a media files (such as a movie or still images), or if you plan to use a live rendered option such as ISF, Vuo or Quartz Composer.

Whether using pre-rendered or live generated material you may want to design materials that make use of alpha channels so that they can be overlaid on top of other media that you are playing or to be used as masking layers during composition.

Tips and Notes:

The ISF Editor can be found on the VDMX dmg or downloaded online.

Find more examples of live generated media at

If needed use QuickTime Player 7 or the AVF Batch Converter to re-encode movies from ProRes 4444 to Hap Alpha.