Using Red 3.04...can I create a shape or use a spline then have my text stay tight inside that shape? I can do it in Illustrator but I can't seem to export a good vector text file with the shape. Maybe I haven't tried enough export settings...? I don't this what I'm trying to do is the same as making a mask.
Depends on how you want them to stay together. You mean for instance a circle with your text cutting through the middle of it? It can be done in Red.
Are you exporting a version 8 Illustrator file? IIRC that's what 3.0.4 prefers.
The simple method is just create a shape and text track and dump them into a container. This only works with the container set to 2D Composite.
Take the same two tracks and convert them to spline objects. Copy the text's spline objects (each letter) and paste them into the Face track of your shape using the Copy and Paste selections on the Composite window. Turn off the text track.
Also from the Composite window go Edit>Select All>Tools>Path>Combine Contours to merge them. You should see the text now cutting through your shape.
Try turning on Extrusion and turning the bevel down to zero for some interesting results.