iPad App Review: Cinefex

(Available in the iTunes App Store for the iPad. Requires iOS 5.0 or later. The app is free to download, while single-issue prices are $4.99. Subscription to the magazine for 1 year is $18.99 for 4 issues)

Along with my early love for animation, I also became intrigued by special effects as a youngster. My mind was blown seeing DeLoreans disappear in a flash of smoke and fire trails, of animated characters moving real-life chairs around, and in 1993, seeing computer-generated dinosaurs that just had me wishing my family’s Macintosh Performa could do what I was seeing on the big-screen!

Unknown to me at that time, the magazine world had a publication that would be a dream come true for my ‘acquired tastes.’ I still remember going down to Cedar Rapids, IA in December of 1997 with my family, and visiting the Barnes & Noble there (the closest one to my hometown of Waterloo, IA at that time). I had been amazed by James Cameron’s Titanic a few days before, but almost every store had already sold out of the official movie ‘companion’ book. It was while perusing the periodicals, that I came across Issue 72 of Cinefex. That $8.50 purchase was like a portal to me. Encased within, were stories and anecdotes on bringing back to life the once proud ship, and then sinking her using as many modern day effects tools as possible. Cinefex also broke down the different effects shots by company (over 14 in all!).

Over the next 15 years, I’d purchase the magazine periodically, and read up on some of the films I was most curious about. Cinefex would often cover films that I couldn’t find detailed making-of material anywhere else (such as A.I. Artificial Intelligence).

After buying an iPad 2 in 2011, I was hesitant to actually buy any magazines or subscriptions for my newsstand app. Entertainment Weekly just didn’t do it for me anymore, and I was wary to drop money on the UK’s Empire magazine (not that they aren’t a good publication, I’m just a little too cheap). But to me, the iPad’s screen seemed the perfect size to be filled with the pages of Cinefex.

It just so happened that the magazine was also eyeing the realms of digital publication, and in August of 2012, they released their app, designed by New Scribbler Press.

The scrolling menu showing all of Cinefex’s issues.

Once the application opens, you are treated to a horizontally-scrolling ‘issue library,’ showcasing covers from every issue of Cinefex. Any issues you purchase will be seen above the library area, in a zone marked ‘My Issues.’ Currently, issues #128 to the most recent issue are available for single purchase, but there are expectations that soon, the entire Cinefex library will be available for single-issue purchase. As of my writing this review, issue #127 is available as a free download to test the app’s capabilities. However, I decided to actually complete a purchase, and went for issue #130, which detailed the effects work of such summer productions as Marvel’s The Avengers, and Prometheus.

Price-wise, paying $4.99 for a digital edition of the issues feels more comfortable to me than paying $12.50 for a printed issue (and a little easier than scoping out multiple Barnes & Nobles for the latest release). If you are connected to the internet through Wi-Fi or a 3G connection, you can even archive your purchases, and pull them back up at a later time, saving you valuable shelf-space around the house.

While price and storage convenience of the digital publication are nice, the app’s navigation compared to the printed version is a bit of a learning curve.

Tapping anywhere on a page of the issue, will bring up the navigation bar.

Instead of the text and pictures grouped together, each article has its text on a single page that can be scrolled vertically to be read. Images and digital media related to the article, can be viewed by scrolling horizontally.

Pages such as this one, that have multiple small squares like the ones to the right of the page text, can allow viewers to toggle between before-and-after shots, like this one showing a quinjet landing in Marvel’s “The Avengers.”

The high-point of the digital publication, is the interactivity afforded the articles. Unlike the printed magazine, one can see progression video of various effects sequences, get more comparison shots, and behind-the-scenes still images.

Interactivity also extends to several ads for visual effects houses, or effects-related software or tools that are in the publication. Several of the ads in the publication function as mini-commercials (thankfully, you control if you want to watch them or not).

The addition of video content to Cinefex provides a great way to show layering and compositing of digital effects (topmost image). These stills are from a compositing reel from Industrial Light & Magic for the film”Battleship,” showing the multiple layers used to make the final film image seen above.

Of course, the app is not without some flies in the ointment.

Given the amount of data involved, it took some time for issue 130 to load via my Wi-Fi connection.  I also got a few network errors saying there was trouble retrieving inventory status, once I archived issue 127.

One thing I do wish the digital copy would have, is a bookmark feature. The app has crashed on me several times, and I’ve usually had to start from square one, and either use the ‘history’ function, or flip through pages to get back to my place.

Personally, I wish the format would be closer to the printed magazine structure, with the ability to enlarge pictures, or click on icons to open some of the video features, or see various pictures showing some of the effects work.

There is at least a way to send feedback regarding the app, so it’s nice to know there’s been some effort put forth to listen to the readers of the publication, and continue to enhance and improve on the app over the course of its lifespan.

The digital publication of Cinefex is definitely a good thing in my eyes. Those with iPads who don’t have access to a Barnes & Noble, can now gain easy access to this information. Plus, the promise of digital back-issues for purchase will help satisfy special effects fanatics both young and old, and those just beginning their fascination with behind-the-scenes material.

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About MWH1980

Growing up in the state of Iowa, one would assume I'd be enamored with pigs and corn. Well, I wasn't. Instead, I grew fascinated by many things that were entertainment-related. Things like movies, animation, toys, books, and many more kept my attention. This blog I hope to use to express myself regarding my varied obsessions. (P.S. There's no Photoshop involved in that Gravatar-I really am holding an Oscar)

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