Spectrum: Interactive Media & Online Developer News Special SIGGRAPH Report

11 August 1997

SIGGRAPH '97 Special Report

by Michele Matossian and Jeffrey Abouaf

Los Angeles - Computer graphics developers unveiled a dazzling new array of hardware, software, and services last week at SIGGRAPH '97. In a show that was more evolutionary than revolutionary, real-time motion capture was everywhere, following the trend of 3D predominance. But wait! We have an exclusive scoop!

Character Studio 2.0 will be a powerful new tool in the arsenal of traditional animators who want to take advantage of the convenience of motion capture and still be able to manipulate movement to suit their own requirements. According to software author Michael Girard, animators will now be able to convert motion capture data into Biped format, and apply filters to calibrate and readapt that data for automatic key reduction.

This will give artists greater ability to exaggerate and manipulate motion capture data for human, non-human and even cartoon characters. In addition, free form editing will be beefed up tremendously.

Features include explicit function curve editing for traditional animation, networks of motion flow paths for better transitions between movements, and A-B roll editing to layer different motions together--at the same time.

This means you can take separate clips of hips swiveling, hands strumming, and feet dancing to create your own Elvis impersonator. More flexible footprints are also in the works, allowing you to keep Elvis on the beat, without destroying the coherence of keys. Character Studio 2.0 will be compatible with all major motion capture formats, VRML 2.0 specifications, and popular facial animation plug-ins such as Jetta Reyes, Morph Magic and Smirk. It is expected to ship sometime after 3D Studio Max 2.0 ships this fall.

Kinetix announced that 3D Studio Max R2 will gain over 1,000 new features and enhancements, more than doubling the features of the first version.

Significant changes include much more robust particle systems, NURBS modeling, hard body dynamics, selective ray tracing (from Blur Studios), expanded lens effects (Digimation), improved IK including natural spring back motion, and better organized materials that you can drag and drop.

Memorable demonstrations included a golf ball automatically bouncing down a bumpy course, and an exquisite waterfall. Of particular interest is R2's new scripting capability, which will allow users to write their own plug-ins, incorporate external data, and create objects in batches according to customized parameters. 3D Studio Max R2 will support every leading graphics API, including OpenGL and Direct3D. Slated for fall release, R2 is priced at $3,495 with upgrades from R1.x available for $795.

For more information on Character Studio and 3D Studio Max R2, see http://www.ktx.com.

Softimage is planning an orderly transition to Sumatra, the next generation of Softimage 3D. First comes Digital Studio, a non-linear editing environment that includes audio, compositing, titling, paint and 3-D animation, due out in the fall. Next will be Twister, a fully interactive, multithreaded, platform-independent rendering that will use the Mental Ray 2.0 renderer and include radiosity and multiparser capabilities. Look for it in Q1 '98.

Finally, Sumatra will be released in Q2 '98 with the addition of direct object manipulation, improved IK, blending and filleting, and mass character animation tools. Further product information is available at http://www.softimage.com.

Meanwhile, Wavefront/Alias announced that the IRIX version of Maya will be available in early 1998 and that an NT version is in development. Booth demonstrations included impressive controls for liquid materials and hard body dynamics. Both the IRIX and NT versions will be priced at around $10K.

No ship date was given for the NT version. Alias/Wavefront can be found on the web at http://www.aw.sgi.com.

Strata Inc. announced StudioPro v. 2.1 and their first plug-in collection called PowerModule I. Plug-ins include a bones-based IK system with motion constraints, a mesh deformer, digital hair particle effects, smoothing, mirroring, and trademark effects named 3-D Fire & Smoke, 3-D PixieDust, and 3-D HotSpot Effects. Studio Pro 2.1 has a new scanline renderer, time mapping and several cycling features and is optimized for speed and stability. The Power Macintosh versions are expected to ship at the end of August. A Windows NT/95 port is underway, with release expected by the end of the year. Both Studio Pro 2.1 versions will cost $1495, with Power Module I coming in at $495. Strata is visible at http://www.strata.com.

In hardware news, Intergraph announced the new single and dual 300 MHz Pentium II TDZ 2000 computer. The TDZ 2000 comes in a "cool purple" box with 13 slots (11 of them PCI), 10K rpm Ultra-Wide SCSI, up to 63.2 GB of disk storage, and RealiZm II OpenGL 3D graphics with DirectBurst technology. It retails at $10,495 without monitor and will be available in October 1997.

Intergraph also announced a new partnership with Sony that takes aim at the video and post production markets. Together, they plan on adopting NT as a common platform, and bundling hardware and software together. Sony will also sell value-added clones of Integraph machines. Check out http://www.intergraph.com for more information.

Sun MicroSystems announced the development of the Java 3D API. Java 3D will be layered on OpenGL, Direct3D, and QuickDraw3D. This will allow applications in Java 3D to take advantage of these APIs on any platform running the Java Virtual Machine. Java 3D will allow for a VRML runtime environment. For Java 3D 1.0 technical specifications see http://www.sun.com/products/java-media/3d. A beta version is due in December.

Character animators and medical illustrators can now buy 3D models based on the Visible Human data. Visible productions (http://www.visiblep.com) has created a complete library of super high-resolution organs and systems.

Sample models and prices include: a heart, 1,031,300 polygons for $4,550; a skull with all bones separately modeled, 660,000 polygons for $6,190, an entire skeleton with 2,892,600 polygons for $21,375 and the muscles of the arm and hand for $11,000. Lower-res versions for slightly less and sample CD retails for $20.

Lightscape Technologies demonstrated Lightscape 3.1, featuring drag-and-drop textures, faster redraw speeds, batch rendering of ray-traced animation frames, and VRML and panoramic exporting. Stunning new examples of near-perfect artwork adorned their booth. Have a look at http://www.lightscape.com.

Immersion Corporation, maker of the MicroScribe-3D digitizing system, released MicroScribe-Max, a software plug-in that enables 3D digitizing directly within 3D Studio Max. Visit Immersion's Web site at http://www.immerse.com.

Form*Z will also support MicroScribe-3D in its next release according to auto*des*sys, inc. In addition, Form*Z 2.9.5 will feature radiosity, and support for OpenGL, VRML 2.0 and DWG. Release is scheduled for October. The web address is http://www.formz.com.

In the Cool Stuff department, Wacom demonstrated an LCD tablet that reproduces your monitor in 800 x 600 resolution and 256K color depth on top of an 8.3 x 6.2 inch pressure-sensitive screen. This means you can see what you draw under your pen! The PL-300 lists for $2700. A 12 x 12 version is in the works. See http://www.wacom.com for more information.

Also cool: Sense8 used data from the Mars Pathfinder to generate a navigable 3D environment for its SIGGRAPH '97 booth. Talk about visiting another world! Sense8 is located virtually at http://www.sense8.com.

VRML 97, which will become the ISO standard in December 1997, will contain no technical changes from VRML 2.0, according to VRML consortium president Neil Trevett. Instead, it will be extended and eventually integrated into the next version of VRML in 18 to 24 months to allow for market feedback and content development. The VRML consortium is listed under http://www.vrml.org.

Mark Pesce, co-author of the VRML 1.0 specification, and Jan Mallis, creator of the first VRML character, Floops, have combined to form blitcom llc, to create VRML 3D character-based entertainment. They make use of the "Alive" motion capture technology developed by Protozoa to enable real-time performance animation, and couple this with Adaptive Media's new video streaming technology. Contributing artists include veteran interactive actor Mary Ann Daniels, who performs the female lead, "Bliss.com," artist Jim Ludke who modeled the VRML world Bliss inhabits, and Bay Raitt, who used Nichimen Software to design and build Bliss. Bliss's character consists of 1300 polygons, moving entirely by real-time motion capture (including lip sync), except for eyes and eyebrows, which move with the help of a second puppeteer. Bliss's performance was broadcast across the SIGGRAPH show floor over its network. Blitcom can be accessed at http://tcc.iz.net/blitcom.

Cosmo Software, a Silicon Graphics Company and Intervista Software announced that they will collaborate to achieve standard interoperatility between the leading VRML browsers, Cosmo Player and WorldView, to ensure consistent behaviors for developers making and end users viewing VRML 2.0 content. Worldview runs as a native Netscape plugin, and as an Active X control, supports Microsoft DirectX, including Direct 3D, and will be integrated into Internet Explorer 4.0. InterVista announced the beta of Worldbuilder for MacIntosh. The InterVista browser, now in beta, promises the same functionality as the PC counterparts. We will just have to wait for comparable authoring tools to be ported to this platform.

MultiGen introduced MultiGen Creator, which builds on MultiGen's OpenFlight, its scene description database format, to deliver real-time environment simulations. Previously exclusively on the SGI platform, OpenFlight became a standard in the viz-sim industry, used as a primary tool for creating defense simulation. As the market shifts toward civilian simulations, either for governmental projects such as highways or commercial buildings, or for entertainment, MultiGen is offering simulation tools on both SGI and NT platforms. The tool is not optimized for character animation--for this they import file formats from the popular 3D animation packages, Alias, Softimage, 3DS MAX, etc. Conversely, certain character animation packages will import terrain data in the OpenFlight format. For further information, contact http://www.multigen.com.

Animatek demonstrated a prerelease version of WorldBuilder for NT.

Animatek, Inc. earned its reputation in the 3D design community with its DOS-based World Builder product, which enabled creation of complex terrain through a spline based interface metaphor. Plus it came with an extensive library of vegetation and textures. The NT version is multithreaded, supports multiple processors, follows the same spline design metaphor and ships with a comprehensive library of foliage and textures. It also imports several file formats, including USGS data formats and MultiGen's OpenFlight data.

Animatek, Inc. also showed Caviar, a 3D pixel renderer (similar to Voxel technology), which provides real-time rendering of 3D animation in their browser on a PC. Their demonstration consisted of a hi-res ice skater (120,000 polygons with hi-res texture mapping) animated in 3D Studio MAX.

By plotting movement of pixels only in the 3D space and smoothly swapping LOD, the renderer is able to move the model in real time without sacrifice of visual detail. For further information, contact http://www.animatekusa.com

Newfire demonstrated Catalyst, an authoring and optimization environment for producing real-time VRML 2.0 content, now in beta. At SIGGGRAPH Newfire previewed a pre-computed lighting and shadow solution which adds as little as 200K to the game environment, but appears as real lighting in the scene.

Catalyst output is viewed through Newfire's Torch, a plug-in for Netscape and ActiveX control for Internet Explorer. Catapult takes an existing VRML file from 3D creation tools, assembles it with sound, integrates it with Java, primarily for real-time game play. They showed a new game, Anti-Gravity, by Gravity, Inc. of San Francisco to demonstrate the speed of the product. Torch supports most 3D accelerators. More information on Newfire is available at http://www.newfire.com.

Netscape announced Open GL support in upcoming browsers. Without stating specifics, with the proliferation of the next generation of 3D accelerators, and their universal support of Open GL, VRML files will soon be able to sport high definition texture maps, i.e. to display readable labels or artworks in VRML format.

Disney and SGI announced a DisneyQuest, a location based entertainment project to bring Disney-type virtual theme park attractions to smaller venues. For example, patrons will be able to take a jungle ride or ride Space Mountain in a simulator consisting of a motion platform and sophisticated CG. The first of 30 projected sites will debut in Orlando in summer, 1998 (in time for SIGGRAPH?), followed by a second installation the following year. The initial space will be 100,00 sq. ft. on five floors.

There are no immediate plans to network these facilities.

3Dlabs' showcased the Permedia 2 chip in new low-cost boards. The Permedia 2 graphics accelerator, which first shipped last June, appeared on the show floor under several vendor's names. The chip doubles the performance of its predecessor, and relieves the CPU of much rendering and texturing activity.

Diamond Multimedia offered the most compelling example, with their Fire GL 1000 Pro, a Permedia 2 based chip and 8 Mb of RAM, for $299.00. This ships with Caligari's trueSpace3 and Crystal Graphics 3D type software included.

(trueSpace3 alone was offered elsewhere on the floor at the "show-special" price of $495.00). See http://www.3dlabs.com for more information.

Martin Hash's 3D Animation v. 5 is shipping, featuring patch "hooks" to model without creases, a new high-speed renderer, interface improvements, and seamless "bones" integration, with a "Lip SYNC" plug-in. Multiplane Animation Compositor is a high resolution digital post production tool for compositing multiple animation layers and images for film, broadcast video and multimedia. it also supports Hash's FX plug-in architecture which allows effects such as flare, fog, and depth of field. For information, see http://www.hash.com.

MetaCreations' Real Time Geometry (RTG) 3D Photo Scanner and associated imaging software allows capture of a high resolution human face in a few seconds. While first appearing to be a high-resolution photo, the rotated image is clearly a 3D mesh with high resolution texture map. The RTG technology allows for real-time compression and expansion of the image, retaining definition where most important (i.e., on a face) at the eyes and mouth. They also demonstrated a companion lenticular printer to printer; together these will be marketed for making the next generation of visual ID cards, for location based-entertainment, and for medical imaging. Lockheed Real VR will manufacture the scanner. See http://www.metacreations.com.

Trinity, first shown at SIGGRAPH '96, is alive and shipping for $4995.00.

The package from Play, Inc. includes a live D1 production switcher; 3D digital video effects; non-linear and linear editing capability; character generator; paint animation and compositing; supports virtual sets; dual channel still store; chroma keyer; and two time base correctors. A free video tape demo is available from Play. For information call (800) 306-7529 or see http://www.play.com.

Platinum Technologies, having recently acquired VREAM, Inc. (makers of VR Creator) unveiled VRCreator for VRML 2.0. VR Creator was formerly released using VREAM's proprietary behavioral technology, which supported animated behaviors within their browser. This release promises the same functionality, except in the VRML 2.0 format. Platinum also provides WIRL, a web browser plug-in and ActiveX control that enables viewing of VRML content.

Michele Matossian, MFA is an award-winning artist and teacher. Recent credits include 3d graphics for the 3D Studio Max Viz ad campaign, 3d medical animation for UCSF medical center's "The Upper Anatomy" and "The Musculo-Skeletal System" cd-roms, and SimCity 3000. She is the founder of Lightweaver Animation Studios, a 3D modeling and animation company specializing in realistic and beautiful images. Her work is on display at http://www.lightweaver.com, email 3d@lightweaver.com.

Jeffrey Abouaf is a fine artist, working in 3D graphics/animation for television and online projects. He reports on industry events and products for publications including CyberEdge Information Services and Computer Artist Magazine, and teaches 2D and 3D graphics applications. He can be reached at Ogle cg/fa, email jabouaf@ogle.com ; http://www.ogle.com.






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Spectrum is an independent news service published every Monday for the interactive media professional community by Motion Blur Media. Spectrum covers the tools and technologies used to create interactive multimedia applications and infrastructure for business, education, and entertainment; and the interactive media industry scene. We love to receive interactive media and online development tools and CD-ROMs for review.

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