Siggraph 2001 Report: Part One
20 August 2001
Reported, written and edited by David Duberman
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Editor's note: In this first part of a two-part special Spectrum report from the Siggraph computer graphics conference, we include a number of news stories from the show, plus a few other important items. In next week's concluding report, we'll offer our impressions of some of the sessions we attended, plus lots more news items.
- David Duberman
Gomid showcased its 2D/3D convertible Web browser last week at Siggraph 2001. We didn't get a chance to see it, but the company says the browser enables simultaneous viewing of a site's 2D contents in a 3D environment, allowing concurrent users to meet, interact, and share information more easily
Gomid recently completed development of its 3D multimedia contents world, NeoCos, which comprises 10 different sub-worlds such as the Business Area, Education Center and Game Zone. Using a 3D community search engine, users can visit a virtual community and see the contents in 3D. In addition, NeoCos users can build a custom 3D home in their community using the authoring tool.
Gomid says its Java-based products can run smoothly on Windows, Mac, Linux and other portable devices.
Hot on the heels of LightWave 3D 6.5, NewTek, Inc. announced and shipped version  at last week's Siggraph conference in Los Angeles.
New features include:
Critical Mass Lab, creator of Vortex physics software, released Vesuvius, a 3D particle-effects simulator that uses physics for atmospheric, explosion, liquid, and pyrotechnic effects.
Vesuvius is a set of libraries that developers can integrate into simulations to create special effects of dust, snow, smoke, sparks or explosions that exhibit natural behavior. The real-time SDK can be integrated in a graphics or rendering pipeline. Vesuvius particle systems are based on physical properties such as mass and charge and can be made to react to simulated forces including wind, gravity, turbulence, magnetic charge, and collisions with other particles.
Advanced Rendering Technology (ART) of Cambridge, UK, showed its latest 3D graphics processor, the AR350 chip, at Graphics Hardware 2001, held concurrently with Siggraph last week in Los Angeles. The chip, said to be the world's only ray traced rendering graphics processor, uses physically based ray traced rendering to produce photorealistic images. It features two processor cores, each with a dedicated ray geometry co-processor and a vector parallel programmable-shading co-processor.
Graphics Hardware is an international forum for exchanging experience and knowledge related to computer graphics hardware.. The workshop is a forum for the graphics hardware community and brings together researchers, engineers, and architects. More information can be found at www.graphicshardware.org.
Digital Element will offer its WorldBuilder package with a new Poser Pro Pack plug-in to integrate animated Poser scenes. The Poser Pro Pack is an extension to Poser 4, the Curious Labs' 3D character animation Tool. Pro Pack offers a combination of plug-ins that enable the hosting of Poser scene files inside Discreet’s 3ds max and Newtek’s LightWave, exporters to generate 2D Flash animation, and Web-deployable 3D characters via Viewpoint output, and delivers added core functionality such as motion blur, multi-pane views, and scriptable application control through a Python interface. New figure setup tools allow creation of new characters from any geometry.
Also at Siggraph last week, Digimation and Digital Element announced the immediate availability of the WorldBuilder Professional 3ds max Communications extension (plug-in). The plug-in lets users make changes to models in 3DS Max and have those changes transfer in real time over to the WorldBuilder development bed. The programs can also share cameras and camera paths, lighting, and other features.
At Siggraph 2001, Okino Computer Graphics, Inc. announced that it has licensed the "Web Integration Server" XML-based Internet searching and asset link management technology from Web2xml Inc. Adding this technology to Okino's PolyTrans 3D Scene Translation System and NuGraf Rendering System products will let users search the Internet for specific 3D model or 2D texture image assets button. The company did not specify when the search capability will be implemented in its software.
At Siggraph, Kaydara Inc. and InSpeck Inc. announced support for Kaydara's FBX 3D file interchange format in InSpeck's EM 3D, modeling software that uses digitized data obtained from 3D scanning technology. FBX is an authoring format that provides a hub for the acquisition, authoring, and delivery of 3D digital content.
InSpeck's EM software provides tools that convert digitized data from InSpeck's 3D Capturor, 3D-DF and 3D Full Body scanning systems, into texture-mapped 3D models. The software provides geometry control, texture merging, 3D/2D paint, and multi-patch 3D surfaces, including NURBS models.
Also at the show, Viewpoint Corporation announced it will support the FBX 3D file interchange format. Through its support of FBX, Viewpoint will make the company's library of 3D models, motion, and characters available for use in the Kaydara FiLMBOX production pipeline.
Lastly, Japan's ExpressionTools Inc. announced support in Shade for the FBX format. ExpressionTools will integrate support for FBX into upcoming versions of its Shade line of 3D products. Support for FBX in Shade will provide users with a data interchange format that gives them access to Alias Maya, NewTek LightWave, discreet 3d studio max, RealViz Matchmover, and Softimage|3D data. Also, users of other packages will also have access to content already created in Shade.
New from Trinity3D is finalRender, a modern raytracing system for 3ds max. The software uses a physically correct approach called Global Illumination to calculate diffuse and non-diffuse light situations.
Included with finalRender is the LumaObject illumination plug-in. It offers two new light types: fRObjectLight and fRParticleLight. It lets any object become a light emitter, and offers the option to fake global illumination with faster render times. A special "light" bouncing mode makes it possible to turn an object into a real light reflector, resulting in an image that reportedly looks like a radiosity or GI rendering.
The Institute for Creative TechnoIogies (ICT) showed HDR Shop at Siggraph 2001 in Los Angeles, August 12-17. The application, developed by a team under the guidance of ICT graphics researcher Dr. Paul Debevec, is an image manipulation program that reportedly supports high-dynamic-range (HDR) images--those whose brightness levels correspond to actual quantities of light in the real world--often surpassing the dynamic range of traditional photographs and images by factors of several thousand.
For example, an early HDR image taken in Stanford’s Memorial Church simultaneously captures detail in the mosaic tiles on the wall, the shadowed crevices in the dark wooden rafters, and the radiant light streaming through the stained glass windows, with a total dynamic range of more than 100,000 to one. An HIDR Shop user can create an HDR image by compiling a sequence of standard digital images taken with varying levels of exposure, usually by taking several images with a wide range of shutter speeds. As an HDR Shop user edits the HDR image, they can brighten and darken its appearance in order to browse through its full dynamic range.
In addition to resampling, cropping, and mathematical operations, HDR Shop also supports transformations among common panoramic image formats, facilitating the use of HDR panoramas for illuminating computer-generated objects with light captured in the real world. As HOR Shop is designed to work correctly with HOR images, all operations are done using floating-point arithmetic, and a plug-in architecture lets programmers add their own operations to the program.
“In our work at the ICT, our goal is to advance the level of realism achievable with computer graphics. Allowing artists and technicians to capture and process real-world illumination is an important next step," stated Debevec, who indicates that HDR Shop is designed to interoperate with industry-standard programs such as Adobe Photoshop, which currently do not support high-dynamic-range imagery. “By offering HDR Shop free of charge for academic and non-commercial use, with the hope that professionals will pay a reasonable licensing fee, we anticipate it will become a widely used tool.”
Computer graphics applications include:
Motion blurring images containing bright light sources creates realistic luminous streaks.
HDR lighting environments can be convolved to produce the appearance of how they would reflect from a variety of objects.
Images are processed and combined using physically correct mathematics, allowing composited images to emulate the interactions of light one would observe in the real world.
At Siggraph Sun Microsystems, Inc. featured new products and demos targeted for visualization, simulation and digital media markets, including:
Sun showed off what it claims is the world's first 24-inch flat-panel LCD monitor featuring multimedia capabilities. Features of the new monitor include: 24-inch LCD monitor with 27-inch CRT image size in a 3-inch-deep form factor; DVI interface; 2.3 million pixels at 1920 x 1200 resolution and 170-degree viewing angle; supports workstation interfaces via DVI and analog interfaces as well as direct interface capabilities for HDTV, DVD, VCR and other video sources.
Sun also showcased its Sun Fire server line with technology demos. Based on the 64-bit Solaris OS and UltraSPARC architecture, the new graphics servers can drive multiple displays and collaborative visual solutions in a single system.
In addition to its new product demos, Sun's booth provided interactive demos, featuring Pixar's short animation "For the Birds," and WeatherOne's new weather-forecasting application. The booth will showcased Kewazinga's synthetic-video application, which lets viewers navigate around an action scene, such as a golfer swinging in motion, providing the viewer with a 360-degree experience. Finally, Full Sail showed an interactive, competitive car racing game written entirely with Java and Java 3D technology. Users drove the cars using alternative input devices, demonstrating the versatility of the Java 3D API input model.
Coming soon from 3D-content library Turbo Squid is a plug-in for LightWave that will give users more convenient access to the 3D models and digital assets in the Turbo Squid system. The plug-in lets users launch Turbo Squid from a menu within LightWave and works with versions 5.6 and 6.5 of LightWave for both Windows and Macintosh. In addition to plug-in support, Turbo Squid has also ported many of its models, including vehicles, anatomy, animals and furniture, to the LightWave format.
Turbo Squid allows users to purchase digital content, download it and import it directly into their projects. In addition to LightWave models, users can acquire textures, motion capture files and materials.
Turbo also announced a strategic alliance with Softimage Co., the Montreal-based animation and special effects division of Avid Technology, Inc. Softimage will integrate Turbo Squid's Web client with the SOFTIMAGE/XSI NetView feature, while Turbo Squid will host a collection of assets in Softimage's dotXSI format on its Website.
The company also announced today an agreement with Right Hemisphere that offers access to the Turbo Squid assets from within Right Hemisphere's new 3D Exploration 1.8.
Thanks to Josh Duberman for this tip: If you're interested in examining computer games beyond the superficial level provided by most gaming sites, you owe it to yourself to check out Espen Aarseth's new Computer Game Studies online journal. Aarseth, an associate professor in humanistic informatics at the University of Bergen, Norway, cites several raisons d'etre for the journal:
Among the article titles in the first edition are:
Noted PDA firm Palm, Inc. last week agreed to acquire the intellectual property and technology assets of Be Incorporated. Palm has also made employment offers to Be's engineering team. The purchase price is $11 million, to be paid in Palm stock, following approval from Be shareholders.
King Be Jean-Louis Gassee will assist Palm in integrating the technology and talent through a temporary advisory relationship, effective upon closing of the transaction. He also will provide strategic advice related to the anticipated separation of the Palm Platform business from the Solutions Group. He will report to the Platform Solutions Group Committee of the Palm Board of Directors.
Palm also announced the resignation of Alan Kessler, general manager, Platform Solutions Group. Kessler, who is leaving Palm effective Aug. 17, did not disclose his plans.
Eric Benhamou, chairman of the Palm Board of directors and a member of the Platform Solutions Group Committee of the board, will act as chief executive officer of the Platform Solutions Group until a permanent replacement is named. He will work closely with Yankowski, a fellow member of the board committee, and David C. Nagel, who is chairman of the board committee.
The Platform Solutions Group develops the Palm OS platform and licenses it to makers of handheld computers including HandEra, Handspring, Sony, Symbol and Palm's Solutions Group, and smartphone makers including Kyocera and Samsung.
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- David Duberman
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