Spectrum: Interactive Media & Online Developer News

15 August 2005
Reported, written and edited by David Duberman
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Today's Headlines (details below)

--Make: vol. 03

--SensAble Updates OpenHaptics Toolkit

--wondertouch Releases particleIllusion 3.0 for Mac OS X
--Turbo Squid Announces New Hair Tech for 3ds Max
--SplutterFish Updates Brazil Rendering System
--Izware Updates Nendo
--Maxon Announces Upgrades, Production Bundle
--Cebas Announces Product Upgrades
--ART VPS Announces Support for Hardware-Accelerated GI
--@Last Releases SketchUp 5
--Antics Announces Previsualization Software
--Ageia Announces physX Plug-in for 3ds Max
--SensAble Updates ClayTools system for 3ds Max
--Illuminate Labs unleashes Turtle 2 for Maya

F.Y.I. About Spectrum



Review: Make: vol. 03
By David Duberman

I've been remiss in not covering previous editions of Make:, the ultimate techie DIY journal from estimable publisher O'Reilly, but now that the third quarterly edition has arrived, I'll make amends. Even if you never undertake a single one of its myriad projects, Make: is worth at least your perusal, just to see what others are doing with accessible technology that you might never have dreamed of.

For example, now that your VCR is obsolete, consider turning it into a cat feeder. Being that every VCR has a programmable timer, this possibility has undoubtedly occurred to you already, but you might not have quite figured out the exact steps required. Briefly, it involves converting the motor that is supposed to spin the video head to operate a food-delivery mechanism instead. Or, perhaps, with fall drawing nigh, you've decided to indulge your longtime dream of turning your casa into a haunted house for scaring the holy bejeebers out of the neighborhood kiddies. Never fear; Eric Wilhelm's article Geek Meets Ghoul lays it out for you, showing you how to build a relay board that toggles electrical devices in time to an audio file that plays on a laptop.

If you think your car isn't high-tech enough, the special section Mod Your Rod offers a number of projects that could make James Bond's Q eat his heart out with jealousy. Perhaps the most interesting of these shows how to turn a car into a mobile wi-fi hotspot. The main advantage of doing so is that you can mount high-power antennas on the car, vastly increasing the range compared to a comparable card for a laptop PC. Mod Your Rod also covers creating biodiesel in your back yard, a variety of ways to play MP3s through your car stereo, a wiring diagnostic tool, and adding a Mac Mini to a VW.

The current issue also has articles on cold fusion (not quite at the do-it-yourself point), welding, making large posters and squeezable nightlights, and even a step-by-step procedure for building a mighty potato cannon, including directions on how to use it responsibly. There are also short reviews of such interesting items as a substance for turning your wall into a giant Post-it pad, a 99-cent degreaser, and a service for renting technical videos. Make: magazine is a hands-on Popular Mechanics for the 21st century; give it a try.




SensAble Updates OpenHaptics Toolkit

SensAble Technologies, Inc. recently announced version 2.0 of the OpenHaptics toolkit and the OpenHaptics Academic Edition with special licensing, both available now. Version 2.0 of the OpenHaptics toolkit provides new functionality at both the Haptic Device API (HDAPI) and Haptic Library API (HLAPI) levels, up to 5x increased HLAPI performance with optimized applications such as HapticExtenderplug-ins, and programmer productivity enhancements. The OpenHaptics Academic Edition of the toolkit is available at no charge to students and faculty associated with any academic institution worldwide that has purchased a SensAble Phantom haptic device. The academic licensing enables students and faculty to use the toolkit in classrooms, labs, and at home.

Using the OpenHaptics toolkit, developers can add haptics and true 3D navigation to a range of applications including 3D design and modeling, medical, games, entertainment, visualization, and simulation. With haptically enabled applications, users go beyond working with a 2D mouse to feel objects in a scene, and to interact with and manipulate objects in a more realistic fashion, for the purpose of making the application more intuitive and easier to learn, and the user more productive.

The OpenHaptics Academic Edition currently includes the same features and functionality as the OpenHaptics toolkit v2.0, but provides a special, no-charge, academic license. "We've been using the OpenHaptics toolkit with PHANTOM Omni haptic devices for over a year," said Georges Grinstein, Professor of Computer Science and Director of the Institute for Visualization and Perception Research at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. "Initially, a small team of our student programmers created a novel musical experience integrating haptics, graphics, and digital sound to produce playable instruments and scores. Now with the OpenHaptics Academic Edition, we can make the toolkit available to more students and offer them greater flexibility in where they do their work."

The OpenHaptics toolkit is patterned after the OpenGL API, making it familiar to graphics programmers and facilitating integration with OpenGL applications. Using the OpenHaptics toolkit, developers can leverage existing OpenGL code for specifying geometry and supplement it with OpenHaptics commands to simulate haptic material properties such as friction and stiffness. The extensible architecture enables developers to add functionality to support new types of shapes. The toolkit is also designed to integrate third-party libraries such as physics/dynamics and collision detection engines. The OpenHaptics toolkit supports the range of SensAble Phantom devices, from the low-cost Phantom Omni device to the larger Phantom Premium devices. The OpenHaptics toolkit supports Microsoft Windows XP and 2000, Linux, and Macintosh OS X platforms.




wondertouch Releases particleIllusion 3.0 for Mac OS X

wondertouch, a developer of particle-effects software, recently released particleIllusion 3.0 for Mac OS X. The Mac version includes all features found in the Windows version, including super emitters, forces that improve integration into existing production environments, and new color options. Rendering engine improvements deliver higher-quality image output and additional effects creation benefits. New customers can purchase particleIllusion 3.0 for Mac OS X online at http://www.wondertouch.com for the introductory price of $349.00.

The release of particleIllusion 3.0 for Mac OS X affords digital content creators working on Apple's operating system such benefits as access to particleIllusion's library of more than 1,300 preset particle emitters to deliver a range of effects including smoke, fire, explosions, water effects, sparkles, and artistic effects.

particleIllusion for Mac OS X is currently in use on a number of productions including the recently-released "H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds," and the upcoming sci-fi/horror features, "Legion of the Dead," "Frankenstein," and "The Beast of Bray Road."

Feature highlights include:
* Super emitters: allows for the automatic creation of emitters.
* Forces: allows for influencing particles after they are created; wind for example.
* Color options: including "get color from layer" allow users to simulate "displacement" and "painterly" effects in real-time.
* Interface and productivity improvements over particleIllusion SE.



Turbo Squid Announces New Hair Tech for 3ds Max

Just out from Turbo Squid is a new 3ds Max plug-in for creating hair and fur. Hairtrix is the result of a joint collaboration with Dimension dESIGN Animation Group (the developers of hairfx), EPHERE (the developers of Ornatrix), and Turbo Squid (the publisher and distributor for the Autodesk Certified Animation Plug-in Program).

According to Turbo Squid, Hairtrix offers users:
* two hair and fur solutions in one integrated product
* superior rendering times to other 3ds Max hair solutions
* finalRender Stage-1 and Mental ray support for both hair renderers
* the ability for users to style hair directly from the 3ds Max viewports instead of a separate window
* interoperability between the two component products which provides the ability to add Ornatrix modifiers to the hairfx View object, render hairfx objects through Ornatrix and much more.
* the ability to choose the workflow that fits the user's style

Pricing is $595 for the full version. Current users of hairfx can upgrade to Hairtrix for $150. Users of Ornatrix can upgrade to Hairtrix for $250.



SplutterFish Updates Brazil Rendering System

Slated for release this fall from SplutterFish LLC, a developer of 3D rendering software, is Brazil Rendering System Version 2.0 for Autodesk 3ds max and VIZ, the newest version of its 3D rendering software.

The new version includes tools for managing settings, and adds system improvements to reduce memory footprint for optimal speed and performance when combining disparate high-end features. New features include render-time displacement, 3D motion blur, implicit surface rendering, core-level caching, and on-demand buffer generation for irradiance, baking, and high-volume data handling.



Izware Updates Nendo

New from tiny developer Izware is Nendo 1.5, the latest version of its dedicated modeling software. New features include improved platform compatibility, new sample models, over 50 new seamless textures, new tutorial scripts, enhanced native (.ndo) file format, choose texture size for each object in scene, updated TIFF and PNG image handling, and improved memory management. For more of what's new, see http://www.izware.com/nendo/new-in-1-5.htm



Maxon Announces Upgrades, Production Bundle

At Siggraph, Maxon announced the upcoming (September) release of Cinema 4D Release 9.5, BodyPaint 3D 2.5 and a new Maxon Production Bundle for studio visual effects. Cinema 4D Release 9.5 boasts improved workflow, lighting and rendering enhancements, and Sky, a tool that lets users create atmospherics. BodyPaint 3D Release 2.5 provides optimized workflow and new tools to assist artists in creating textures by painting directly on their 3D models. Both these tools can be found in the Maxon Production Bundle, which will include the entire Maxon product offering plus other production tools such as 16/32-Bit 3D painting tools, Renderman Output, matte painting tools, and a Linux version.

Cinema 4D Release 9.5 offers improvements in lighting, rendering and workflow. Lighting setup has been simplified, while more lighting possibilities exist with lights that can take any shape. Area lights and area shadows, important for realistic-looking scenes, now render up to four times faster than before. Images can be output in 32-bit per channel color depth as HDRI or OpenEXR, and multipass renderings can be output directly as compositing files for Shake. The new Content Browser gives users an overview of projects and presets saved and organized in real time locally or on the server. Full-screen mode quickly offers the maximum amount of working space. A reworked Baker lets users create textures, normal maps and UVs with just a few clicks of the mouse.

Owners of the Advanced Render module enjoy additional new features in Cinema 4D Release 9.5, including Ambient Occlusion and Sky. Ambient Occlusion lets users render more-realistic shadows. Ambient Occlusion can either be rendered or baked as a texture. The Sky toolset lets users create atmospherics with a few clicks of the mouse.

Improvements can be seen in the workflow of the stand-alone version of Maxon's 3D paint tool in BodyPaint 3D R2.5. Full-screen mode and the new Content Browser give users an overview of their projects here as well. Other workflow improvements borrowed from Cinema 4D include the Heads-Up Display to view and adjust scene data within the viewport and a one-touch customizable menu offering access to most application functions. Importing models includes support for n-gons, while users can now apply individual layers and masks from .psd files as textures. The layer shader allows multiple images, layers, filters and procedurals to be mixed into a single texture, while detachable projection layers let users fit existing textures over geometry.



Cebas Announces Product Upgrades

Coming from Turbo Squid are new upgrades for plug-ins developed by cebas Computer, GmbH:

* finalRender Stage-1, a global-illumination rendering system for 3ds Max, has a new service pack, SP3. SP3 brings new micro triangle displacement technology to 3ds Max allowing users to create long, thin spikes with full GI rendering at fast speeds. SP3 also supports ZBrush 2 displacement maps from Pixelogic. SP3 is a free upgrade for registered users of finalRender Stage-1.

* finalRender Stage-1 Release 2.0 incorporates a new (4th generation) GI engine, said to deliver improved performance and stability when rendering complex animations.

* finalRender Stage-2 for Maya and Cinema 4D will deliver cebas's most robust global illumination engine and a flexible shader-tree system to Cinema 4D and Maya.

* ThinkingParticles 2.0 Service Pack 1 integrates of the Novodex physics system, which allows hardware-accelerated particle systems and real-time collision detection by plugging in the upcoming accelerator PCI card.



ART VPS Announces Support for Hardware-Accelerated Global Illumination

ART VPS Ltd. announces that it will support hardware-accelerated global illumination in the upcoming version of its RenderPipe plug-in software, scheduled for release in September. The RenderPipe plug-in interfaces popular 3D applications such as Maya, 3ds Max, Catia and Viz with ART VPS's Pure and RenderDrive hardware ray-tracing systems.

RenderPipe's new support for global illumination enhances lighting effects by using bidirectional path ray tracing in each AR350 processor in the RenderDrive and Pure systems. Global illumination increases the photorealism of computer-generated images by mimicking the subtleties of natural light, diffusing color properties as light radiates between objects.

Realism will be further enhanced by new support in RenderPipe for caustics that simulate light reflections and refractions.

Other new features in RenderPipe include:

Pure and RenderDrive incorporate ART VPS's modular ray-tracing architecture, which accelerates 3D rendering by distributing it across an array of specially designed chips. The systems generate full-frame previews in seconds, and give users the speed to take advantage of advanced 3D rendering features such as multiple area lights, accurate 3D motion blur and depth of field, secondary illumination, HDRI lighting, and physically based materials, lighting and camera properties.



@Last Releases SketchUp 5

New from @Last Software is SketchUp 5. SketchUp is billed as a simple-yet-powerful tool that lets users design and communicate in 3D on both Macintosh and Windows platforms.

SketchUp 5 brings new features to designers worldwide, including a suite of new terrain tools called The Sandbox, which creates easy ways to model terrain and similar organic shapes, add roads, building pads, and parking lots. The Sandbox allows the projection of 2D geometry onto complex 3D surfaces.

An expanded components library (from 145 items to over 3,000) allows design objects such as windows, doors, automobiles and desks, plus organic objects like people and animals, to add variety and detail to designs.

Enhanced sketching tools include depth-cued edges that make the foreground of a model darker than the lines in the background. The end points tool highlights the corners of a model, and transparency maps support handling and use of images and texture maps.

An improved user interface with new toolbars and icons gives SketchUp a new look while enhancing intuitiveness and simplicity. This includes "Snappy Dialogs" in which settings panels stay together, a wider variety of keyboard shortcuts, and improved online user guides.

Improved file import and export functions ensure the ability to design and redesign throughout the project workflow. They include:



Antics Announces Previsualization Software

Coming soon from Antics Technologies is a new version of its previsualization software application, Antics Pre-Viz. New features include new, integrated timeline-based workflow model. A point-and-click, drag-and-drop user model enables usage by media creative professionals who may not have used an animation or digital content creation application before.

Antics Pre-Viz is designed to let members of a production team, such as directors and producers, to create and manage the previsualization of projects in an animated, real-time 3D environment. The toolset and workflow reportedly allow rapid set assembly and layout, easy camera setup and configuration, and the creation of intelligent characters, shots and whole scenes, which are stored as animated storyboards and can be cut together and output as AVI movies.

Feature set summary:

Antics Pre-Viz v1.0 is available for $995/£570/€675. Version 2 will ship late Q4 and will be priced at $1,225.


Ageia Announces physX Plug-in for 3ds Max

At Siggraph 2005, Ageia Technologies, Inc., a developer of hardware-accelerated physics for games, announced plug-in functionality that will enable support for Ageia's physX SDK (formerly called NovodeX) for artists using Autodesk 3ds Max, a 3D tool for multimedia development. The plug-in functionality will be combined with export capability, which will let artists export physics- characters and environments into runtime game applications.

With Ageia's physX technology plug-in, artists can incorporate software physics effects and hardware-accelerated realism into game action in an intuitive, graphical way-without requiring the intervention of programmers.

Ageia Technologies, Inc. is a fabless semiconductor company and develops hardware-accelerated physics for games. Its flagship product, the physX processor, is a dedicated physics processing unit. The physX processor and supporting software deliver the processing horsepower to calculate real-time interactive worlds. Developers can define these worlds to obey the laws of classical physics, or create their own physical laws that make their game a unique, hyper-dimensional experience.

Ageia works with leading developers, publishers, add-in board vendors and console manufacturers. Consumer add-in boards and systems equipped with the Ageia physX processor and games that take advantage of the technology will be available in late 2005.



SensAble Updates ClayTools system for 3ds Max

SensAble Technologies, Inc. will version 1.1 of the ClayTools system for 3ds Max software this month.

The ClayTools system uses a virtual clay metaphor said to remove the constraints of technical modeling. The system includes the Phantom Omni device, a 3D interface with force feedback. Users can carve, smudge, and tug at models to create characters, creatures, terrain, and props. Special detailing tools speed the creation of large areas of detail on models such as reptilian scales or patterned textures.

Users can create 3D concept models and high-resolution models either by starting with a 3ds Max model and then using the ClayTools application to add details, or creating a ClayTools model, and then using the TextureKiln functionality to generate a variety of texture maps that can then be applied to models originally created in 3ds Max. The detail from ClayTools models can be exported as a pre-calculated set of lighting values for normal maps and ambient occlusion maps, or as height values for displacement or bump maps.

V1.1 includes new detailing features and the built-in TextureKiln functionality for normal-map generation. The ClayTools system also includes the HapticExtender/MX plug-in which, along with the Phantom Omni device, enables users to interact with 3D scenes in 3ds Max. It adds the sense of touch with 3D navigation to the tools within 3ds Max, and enables users to touch and manipulate objects and sub-objects, and to create and edit geometry.



Illuminate Labs unleashes Turtle 2 for Maya

New from Sweden's Illuminate Labs is the next generation of its renderer, Turtle 2. Focusing on the needs of studios with a Maya pipeline, Turtle users can reportedly open and render extremely large scenes with advanced lighting effects at a speed previously unseen.

Turtle is integrated in the Maya GUI and uses native Maya shading networks. Turtle 2 is based on the second generation of Illuminate's LiquidLight technology platform, and is said to have gained in all aspects of the rendering process.

A new architecture improvement is the Shading System, which is no longer based on Maya's API, but implemented from scratch in Turtle based on the native Maya shaders. The artist can use the familiar native Maya shaders for predictable results, but with better performance in Turtle. New realistic materials and utility nodes have been added to complement the native Maya shaders. Scenes with complex shading can be rendered at more than twice the rendering speed than before with Turtle 2.

With the new Render Pass System users also get more control over the compositing of images. Component passes include reflections, refractions, incandescence, subsurface scattering, and global illumination. The user can build custom passes from any shading network, such as motion vectors, reflection occlusion and normals. Any shader can be rendered as a separate pass.

The improvements to global illumination include a new final gathering shading method, IES-light profiles and global adjustment of intensity and saturation. Users can combine indirect illumination (transparency, incandescence) within the direct light from a photon map. Photon shaders also separate the photon scattering properties from the surface shader.

Baking improvements include super-sampling and filtering of the baked textures and the baking of surface properties from high-resolution surfaces to low-resolution surfaces. Turtle 2 allows vertex and texture baking of any shading or lighting, including ambient and reflection occlusion as well as global illumination. Batch baking of multiple objects and multiple frames is also supported.

With the Surface Transfer function it now becomes possible to transfer surface properties from high-resolution to low-resolution objects. Surface Transfer supports the output of normals, displacement and lighting/shading at higher levels of detail.




About Spectrum

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/online-development tools and end product for review.

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- David Duberman


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