23 August 1999
Reported, written and edited by David Duberman
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Editor's note: If you notice a slight bias toward computer graphics in today's Spectrum, color yourself observant. All the stories are from Siggraph, the biggest CG conference in the known universe, held the week before last in Los Angeles. This edition complements our original coverage in last week's special Siggraph edition (http://www.3dlinks.com/spectrum/issues/spectrum_special_siggraph99.cfm).
Today's Headlines (details below)
Hypercosm Inc. announced its authoring environment, Hypercosm Studio. Priced at $995 per seat, the product is scheduled for availability in September. Hypercosm Studio is an Integrated Development Environment (IDE) for the authoring of HTML documents and programs created with Hypercosm's OMAR (Object-oriented Modeling and Rendering) programming language. The IDE provides ease-of-use features such as the ability to collect multiple related files into easily managed "projects." File types used in Hypercosm 3D projects often include HTML documents, image files for textures, sound files, and OMAR source programs.
Hypercosm Studio also has the ability to compile OMAR source programs into Hypercosm 3D applets. These applets can be run immediately from within Hypercosm Studio or can be viewed from locally sited Web pages within the Microsoft Internet Explorer and Netscape browsers. The company claims OMAR applets are so small that they are often smaller than a static JPEG or GIF image representing the same scene.
Immersion Corporation and Logitech have been working together to develop force feedback mice that allow users to "feel" onscreen actions. These products, based on Immersion's FEELit technology, will let users physically interact with anything the cursor touches, adding the sense of feel to user interaction. The first product, the Wingman Force Feedback Mouse from Logitech, is expected to be available this Christmas for an SRP of $99.
Possible applications include:
We played with this at a recent trade show and were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the feedback. This is a new technology with a lot of promise.
Software developers who want to add feel sensations to their upcoming applications can download the free development tools and request free developer hardware from www.force-feedback.com. Web developers who want to add feel sensations to their Web pages can download free development tools from www.FEELtheWEB.com.
TGS is now shipping a new version of its 3D-MasterSuite developer's tool set with support for the Java programming interface. The object-oriented tool set provides high-level classes to developers who need to add interactive 3D, large model visualization, VRML, 2D & 3D data visualization, charting and enhanced vector hard copy to Windows and UNIX applications.
3D-MasterSuite for Java is a library of Java-based objects and methods used to write interactive 3D graphics applications using the Java programming language. Based on OpenGL, the product takes advantage of powerful graphics hardware features to provide high performance with minimal programming effort.
TGS also announced a new release 2.01 of 3Space ClipArtist, its desktop illustration utility. 3Space ClipArtist 2.01 can now publish in the ZAP file format, using new technology developed by TGS which allows users to insert 3D animated contents in Web pages without long download times for large files.
ZAP is based on the Dynamic Geometry technology developed by TGS and used in the Amapi 3D modeler. A ZAP file contains only the essential information originally used to construct the geometry, for example NURBS control points or construction curves. By "reconstructing" (dynamically tessellating) geometry on the client machine, ZAP achieves reductions in file size.
The ZAP player is freely distributable, very small (l50KB download) and very fast (specifically optimized for Pentium III processors and accelerated using any Direct3D or OpenGL graphics board). The ZAP protocol has been developed to display 3D contents within Web pages using the ZAP Player, but ZAP is more than just a 3D format and player for the Web.
One of the most impressive new products we saw at Siggraph was ZBrush, a hybrid 2D/3D program from Pixologic, Inc.. The company, founded in 1997, is headquartered in Los Angeles and has development offices in the Bay Area.
Basically, ZBrush lets you manipulate a 3D object such as a sphere, and then paint with it. While the resultant image is essentially two-dimensional, meaning that you can't turn it around to look at the back side, it retains depth information so that you can paint on parts of the image depending on depth, adjust lighting, and so on. While many companies claim, more or less successfully, that their 3D apps are aimed at 2D artists who want to add depth to their images, Pixologic is the first we've seen that says their product is for 3D artists who want to work in 2D. Here's the company line:
ZBrush offers intelligent, depth-sensitive tools storing comprehensive information about the dimension in space, the pixel and surface attributes giving the artist dynamic control and immediate feedback as he paints. When surface attributes like Materials, Textures, Colors and Lighting are manipulated, ZBrush automatically updates and renders real-time. In combination with a new approach to Layers, Cloning, and Resizing, the artist can quickly create characters and backgrounds.
The trial version of ZBrush is expected to be available by the end of August. The trial version will be free of charge to those who download it from Pixologic's web site. The full version ZBrush 1.0 is expected to be available in October 1999 for Windows 95/98/NT followed by the Macintosh version in November. They hadn't settled on pricing at Siggraph, but we guess it'll be in the $600 range. Visit the company's web site at www.pixologic.com or call Pixologic at (888) 748-5967 for more information.
NewTek announced at Siggraph a new release of LightWave 3D, with new character animation tools, advanced rendering capabilities, a new and improved architecture and a refined work environment. The new version offers real-time subdivision surfaces as a modeling and animation tool, radiosity, caustics, 96-bit floating-point rendering, a hybrid Inverse/Forward Kinematics engine and new character-animation technologies: IntelligEntities, Skelegons, Endomorphs and Multi-meshes.
and Game Development Advancements
IntelligEntities consist of:
A hybrid inverse/forward kinematics engine lets models combine both methods of animation. Free-form and locked IK goals let users have goal items that are locked to the length of the chain or that use a rubberband-style goal that can float in space away from the chain itself. LightWave  also enables vertex grouping for bone assignments, reportedly resulting in greater control of characters.
The rewritten curve editor lets curves be created with multiple tangent types including Bezier, Hermite, TCB, Linear and Stepped. These tangent types can co-exist on a single curve. The graph editor provides tools for manipulating curves of any type and allows interactive copy and paste between those curves.
A new modeling paradigm lets users do real-time subdivision surface modeling with point weights; control UV mapping with infinite layering; use orthogonal and perspective view modeling ports for greater flexibility in the modeling process; and achieve direct control over polygons, vertices and patches.
The software offers infinite layers of projection; procedural, gradient and UV maps, and these layers can feed into each other for texture blending and manipulation. Animatable surface attributes include all general surface settings and can be linked to other items in the scene. The new gradient layers texturing feature can be used to change a surface attribute with inputs such as incidence angle, light incidence, distance to another object or the height of the bump. The software also offers new translucency and glossiness mapping capabilities.
All windows in LightWave  are non-modal and floatable. An enhanced software development kit (SDK) is designed for expansion of functionality by third-party developers. Developers now have direct access to the LightWave interface and internal functions. LightWave  enhances the interoperability between animation and modeling environments, and it includes a "Hub" that acts as a control point for all data.
LightWave  will be available in September for a suggested retail price of $2,495.
France-based NeMo S.A. (formerly Virtools) announced at Siggraph that its NeMo interactive 3D authoring tool has been chosen by Discreet (formerly Kinetix) as a proof-of-concept environment for real-time character animation included in 3D Studio MAX R3. An upcoming version of NeMo will import and take advantage of the following character animation features found in 3D Studio MAX R3:
We tried to pin NeMo down on availability of the upgrade, but they couldn't tell us. They did, however, show us a demo of real-time physics simulation within the authoring software; most impressive. More info on that when available.
The NeMo product family is made up of two software solutions: NeMo Dev and NeMo Creation. NeMo Creation, targeted at independent multimedia authors and companies seeking to integrate real-time interactive 3D into their content, includes:
NeMo Dev, the 3D game development version, adds the NeMo SDK, giving developers low-level access to NeMo technology.
Find NeMo online at http://www.nemo.com. Visit U.S. distributor Digimation at http://www.digimation.com. Discreet's url is http://www.ktx.com.
At Siggraph, MetaCreations announced Painter 6, an upgrade to the company's natural-media image creation, enhancement, retouching and compositing software. New features include the ability to paint in depth with impasto brushes, run text along a curve, and layer vector and bitmap images in one file. Functionality enhancements include an updated, more intuitive interface, significant speed improvements, industry-standard layers implementation and CMYK TIFF support.
Other new features include:
Painter 6 is expected to be available in September, 1999 for an estimated retail price of US $399. Upgrades from previous releases of Painter are $149.
MetaCreations also announced the immediate availability of the Apple Macintosh version of its streaming 3D technology, MetaStream. The Macintosh MetaStream plug-in, available for free download at http://www.metacreations.com/metastream, is an open 3D-file format that enables the incorporation of 3D images into Web sites. Similar to MetaStream for the PC, which was jointly developed by Intel, Mac MetaStream streams 3D objects without a server, with automatic scaling.
After countless delays, Viewpoint Digital announced at Siggraph `99 the release of the Interchange 5.5 file translation system for Windows. The new version introduces a graphical user interface with 3D and hierarchy views, texture conversion capabilities, and a redesigned translation engine.
Interchange 5.5 provides 3D model conversions among more than 40 3D file formats while preserving details including colors, UV coordinates, texture map references and parent-child hierarchical relationships. This version allows users to view, rotate, move or scale objects interactively before saving them to the desired export format. Interchange 5.5 simplifies editing of model hierarchies, pivot points, material attributes, and group and material names. Users can also view and convert 3D models (including materials and texture maps) one at a time within the interface or translate models in batch mode.
New features include:
Right Hemisphere announced at Siggraph the availability of Deep Paint 3D. The shipping version of Deep Paint 3D builds on its predecessor, 4D Paint, with new paint features, performance enhancements, a simplified interface, and support for 3D Studio Max 2.x and 3.0. It also offers a bi-directional shader interface to Photoshop and support for a range of complementary products, including Photoshop plug-ins.
Deep Paint 3D provides designers with artistic media such as oils, watercolors, crayons and pastels that can be "brushed" directly onto 3D models. Brushes include complete material or shader definitions.
Also at Siggraph, Right Hemisphere announced the availability of the latest version of its raytracer, Raygun. Developed in collaboration with Animation Research Ltd., Raygun is said to be the fastest ray-tracing rendering software for 3D Studio MAX. It reportedly enhances the speed of raytracing in a Max environment from 2 to 15 times, and is said to offer the most notable advantage in projects where anti-aliasing is required, and for larger models. Raygun also offers soft shadow support, and fuzzy reflection support.
Pepper's Ghost Productions and Digimation are shipping a new motion capture library called Muybridge Variations. The UK-based Pepper's Ghost Productions (PGP) has developed a motion capture library of over 500 motion capture moves for 3D Studio MAX and Character Studio 2. The Biped format is at the NTSC rate of 30 frames per second.
The library is based on the anatomical photographic studies produced by Eadweard Muybridge in the 1870's. Muybridge pioneered the photographic technique of producing rapid consecutive exposure in order to create a series of images that allowed the close scrutiny of movement.
Muybridge Variations contains over 40 separate categories of movement which can be layered with anyone's own animation. The animator can create dance, sport, walk cycles, character runs and ambient movement, as well as integrate props and supporting objects. Another feature is the facility to build up individual characters into groups and crowds.
Muybridge Variations lists for $395 and is available through Digimation and its worldwide dealer network. Visit the Digimation Web site at http://www.digimation.com, for images and a detailed explanation or call the Digimation Sales Staff at 504-468-7898.
Also, coming in September from Pepper's Ghost and Digimation is a new production management tool for delivery of computer-based animation. The product is aimed at animation producers, technical directors and anyone who needs to organize his or her creative animation work. The tool offers users a continuous overview of the production elements, accurate control of the schedule, and enhanced ability to deliver projects on time and on budget.
PG Studio features:
At Siggraph today, Avid Technology, unveiled its next-generation 3D animation solution, code-named Sumatra, targeted for release at the end of 1999. The company also announced that the new software is now entering broad-scale beta testing. The industry's first truly non-linear animation (NLA) system introduces new concepts such as non-destructive animation mixing, interactive rendering, and real-time surface continuity management.
Avid Technology also announced that its Softimage subsidiary has entered into a strategic agreement with Microsoft (previous owner of Softimage) to design and deliver tools for authoring Microsoft Windows CE-based games for the Sega Dreamcast console.
Softimage will provide game developers with an ASCII-based file format called .XSI. The .XSI file format is based on Microsoft's .x file format, which is already used in conjunction with the Softimage GDK (game development kit) game core module.
Softimage will also develop a real-time viewer for .XSI files, which will serve as a key prototyping component of a Windows CE-based games authoring environment. Together, the .XSI file format and real-time viewer will give game developers an environment for prototyping and exchange of data between their Windows-based PC development platform and target Windows CE-based game consoles. The .XSI real-time viewer will be available to developers in September 1999, and will ship, with source code, as part of Microsoft Windows CE authoring tools.
Also at the show, MathEngine PLC and Softimage announced a collaborative development and marketing effort to deliver real-time physical simulation and behavior tools for game developers. The MathEngine technology will initially appear as a set of Softimage plug-ins. The long-term goal is to make these same simulation tools available as run-time components for upcoming game consoles, such as the next-generation Sony PlayStation.
MathEngine's technology enables users to replace scripted, planned or pre-recorded animation sequences with interactive, real-time physical simulations and behaviors. The first in a series of MathEngine plug-ins will be available for the Softimage 3D system later this year.
Brilliant Digital debuted B3D Studio at Siggraph. The company bills its new product as a development platform for creating interactive 3D content for distribution on the Internet, DVD, CD-ROM and broadcast video. B3D Studio builds on B3D Max, a plug-in for 3D Studio Max that lets animators output models and animations as .b3d files, compressed and optimized for Internet distribution and streaming. b3d files are viewed using Brilliant’s Digital Projector, a free plug-in.
B3D Studio features include:
B3D Max is available as a fully-functioning 30-day trial version from the developer section of Brilliant Digital’s Website www.bde3d.com/dev. B3D Studio will be available in Q2 of 2000.
Puffin Designs plans to develop Composite Wizard, a plug-in for Adobe After Effects, for Windows. The $695.00 (U.S.) product lets artists fix ragged edges, correct poor matte extractions and improper focal depth cues, and balance color schemes.
Matte extraction from blue or green-screen footage typically results in a flawed composite. This is especially true when using a simple keyer on poorly lit footage. Composite Wizard's 20 different filters can reportedly perfect the matte by fixing tattered, aliased, colored, or fringed edges. Composite Wizard also contains "EZ" versions of Deluxe Edge Finder, Edge Blur, Matte Feather and Spill Killer to ease matte fixing for the novice.
Composite Wizard for Windows will be available in September of 1999. The plug-in is already available for the Macintosh platform.
At Siggraph, Side Effects Software announced the successful port of its 3D animation software to the Linux operating system. Beta testing of Houdini 4.0, which does procedural 3D animation and effects, is scheduled to begin this fall with a more precise shipping date to be released in that period. The Linux version of the product will have the same look, feel and feature set as the Irix and Windows NT versions. Mantra, Houdini's photorealistic renderer, will be available on Linux at the same time.
Platform-independent licenses of Houdini are priced at $17,000 US and ship with five Mantra render tokens. The annual upgrade plan is an additional $4,000 US.
At Siggraph '99, Play Incorporated introduced its Trinity NLE nonlinear editing system system, due in September. New capabilities include 3D Video Tracing, which lets editors create 3D graphic animations with live reflections, refractions, shadows and lighting from multiple video sources simultaneously. Other features include random disk access for nonlinear performance without "defragmentation" or "print-to-video" delays, as well as the ability to play back video clips with slower, faster or reverse play, all without rendering.
Play says Trinity NLE can perform true color correction, simultaneous 2D and 3D digital video effects, warp geometry effects and chroma, luma and linear keying, all in real time. It uses next-generation wavelet variable compression technology, said to outperform MJPEG systems.
Play also announced its Electric Image: Universe 3D system, coming soon (?) for Microsoft NT, Macintosh, Sun and SGI platforms. New capabilities include hybrid surface/solid modeling, real-time 3D video tracing and Digital Backlot technology, as well as ray tracing on a model-by-model basis, a "deeper" animation tool set and the ability to directly save Trinity effect file formats. An improved interface offers tear-off tool palettes, custom layouts, context-sensitive menu systems and user created tool palettes.
Electric Image: Universe's Digital Backlot technology, used in "Star Wars : The Phantom Menace" to create effects shots, offers three techniques:
Real-time video tracing lets the user combine Universe 3D scenes and live video sources can be combined with Trinity's custom hardware architecture to create effects using multiple video targeting, lighting, shadows, reflections, refractions and variable transparency.
The hybrid surface/solid modeling system lets 3D sculptors combine surface and solid techniques in one model. Modeling tools include "UberNURBS," multi-dimensional Booleans, blends, bevels, boundary surfaces, surface networks, NURBS, Bezier curves, polylines and primitives. Mathematical formulas can also be used to create surface descriptions.
Following on all the Linux-related info in our special Siggraph report, we learned at the show that SGI-owned Alias|Wavefront plans to create Red Hat Linux V6 versions of its Maya Batch Renderer and Maya Composer Renderer for Intel IA-32 processor-based computers. Available December 1999, the Linux version of the Maya Composer Renderer and Maya Batch Renderer will have the same SRP as the versions for other platforms. Current SRP for the Maya Composer Renderer is $3,000 (US) and the Maya Batch Renderer is $1,295 (US).
Visit www.aliaswavefront.com or call 1-800-447-2542 or 1-978-466-7623 (outside North America).
Toronto-based Cyberworld International Corporation, a new company aiming to let consumers create interactive, multimedia Web experiences, announced Cyberworld Consumer Edition software, an new program that incorporates the company's Internet software technology with an easy-to-use interface.
The Windows software basically lets the user build texture-mapped worlds using simple primitives, navigable by visitors using a free multi-paned proprietary browser. It supports an array of digital media such as images, photos, sound clips, movie links, Web links and more. Theme Packs, priced at $10 each, are specialized libraries of objects and images that center on a special theme. Current libraries include Kids, City, County, Home, Sports, and Holidays. Cyberworld is offering one free Theme Pack with the Consumer Edition.
Scheduled for delivery at the end of this year (pricing TBD), the Maya Real Time SDK is a modular real-time developer's toolkit that mirrors Maya's next generation Dependency Graph architecture in an optimized scene graph, targeting Sony's next generation PlayStation.
The Maya Real Time SDK game engine solution lets content be developed in Maya, pre-visualized in an integrated plug-in, and exported directly to PlayStation. Polygonal and curved surface models, along with Maya's layered shaders and textures, are exported as cinematic-quality renders in real-time, using an advanced, multi-pass rendering pipeline optimized for the next generation PlayStation graphics hardware. Full scene animation, skinned characters, dynamics, inverse kinematics and particle systems can all be set up in Maya and exported to the game engine.
The SDK was created in partnership with Check Six Studios, Inc..
Just out from Famous Technologies is Famous Faces 1.5, an upgraded version of its $6,250 (US) facial animation system. The product reportedly lets users efficiently animate dialog and facial expressions based on an actor's performance, resulting in lifelike movement and lip-synced audio.
New features in FAMOUS Faces 1.5 include:
At Siggraph, Motek Motion Technology, Inc., announced Unica, its service for Web-based access to motion capture data. Data can be exported into a range of professional 3D packages, including AVID Softimage and Discreet 3D Studio MAX.
The service draws on a proprietary 1.5 terabyte catalog of motion capture data compiled over the last eight years at Motek's Amsterdam facility for projects ranging from commercials, computer games, and feature films. Motek's blending technology, based on bio-mechanical rules, lets animators manipulate motion capture data in positions that were never recorded in the original sequence.
Unica will be available as a beta test at http://www.motek.org. The final version is expected to be available in late September, at which time pricing will be announced.
Intense3D claims its new Wildcat 4110 graphics accelerator offers the fastest 3D graphics performance on any platform. The 4110 delivers a sustained 6 million triangles/sec. and a peak texture fill rate of 143 Mpixel/sec., and includes such new features as SuperScene multisampled anti-aliasing, which reportedly supports 16 samples per pixel utilizing the same amount of memory as other techniques that use four. Other features include 128 MB onboard memory (64 MB frame buffer and 64 MB texture memory); volumetric 3D texturing, which enables cross-sectional texturing of 3D objects for scientific/medical visualization, oil and gas exploration, and other GIS applications; AGP 2X and AGP 4X implementations; Linux drivers and more.
For more information, visit www.intense3d.com or call 877-286-1185.
3Dlabs new high-end graphics accelerators Oxygen GVX210 combines two 3Dlabs GLINT R3 rasterization engines with the new-generation 5,000Mflop GLINT Gamma G2 geometry processor on one AGP card. The company promises the card will deliver a fill rate of 460M dual bilinear mip-mapped texels/sec and over 6.3M lit, transformed polygons/sec geometry throughput. It's expected to drive two displays up to 2046x1536 true-color resolution and to support high-resolution stereo displays.
Oxygen GVX210 will ship with 3Dlabs' new-generation Pentium III-optimized, multi-threaded PowerThreads SSE OpenGL drivers that dynamically distributes the geometry and lighting load between the on-board geometry processor and the host CPUs for optimal system throughput.
LightWork Design announced during Siggraph 99 that its Kazoo technology has been selected by Adobe Systems Incorporated for future use in Adobe's consumer digital imaging products. Kazoo lets users select a 3D model, manipulate it, and paint it in styles including cartoon, pen and ink, mosaic, watercolor, and marble.
At Siggraph, The Motion Factory announced that Interplay Entertainment Corp. has licensed its Motivate 3D Development System and PlayStation middleware technology to develop their first game title for Sony's next generation PlayStation. Interplay's NG PlayStation development team, headed by producer Rusty Buchert, will use Motivate to create a new RPG title.
The company also announced that Prince of Persia 3D, an action adventure game that showcases the animation and characters that can be created using its Motivate system, is slated for a September release by Mindscape Entertainment.
Thirdly, Zowie Intertainment Inc., publisher of smart toy and CD-ROM-based entertainment products, has chosen the Motivate system to speed creation of proof-of-concept prototypes for its third-party developers. The company will release its first two Zowie PlayZone titles, Ellie's Enchanted Garden and Redbeard's Pirate Quest, this fall. The CD-ROM titles offer animated virtual worlds, with companion toys and figurines, for kids ages 4 and up.
Lastly, Motivate is being used by the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology to create a visual simulation interface for planning and simulating manual manufacturing operations. Scientists and engineers in NIST's Manufacturing Systems Engineering Group are working with Motivate's behavior programming tools to develop a 3D simulation model of skilled workers said to be able to perform a range of realistic behaviors typically associated with assembly line work.
NIST created this prototype system to demonstrate the feasibility of a data-driven visualization and validation of manual manufacturing operations using neutral data interfaces. Basic motion skills and associated behaviors were defined using Motivate's skill definition and hierarchical finite state machine modeling capabilities. Once the simulated worker is programmed to perform basic assembly skills, an external interface was incorporated to allow the worker to execute a sequence of tasks specified in an assembly process plan.
The Motivate development system's real-time animation engines and AI scripting language provide NIST developers with a foundation for visual simulation development, and technology that they could integrate into their own existing system. NIST's first Motivate application, illustrating the modeling of a Black and Decker assembly workstation, was recently demonstrated at the NIST Systems Integration for Manufacturing Applications (SIMA) July 16 Program Review.
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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