Siggraph 2001 Report: Part Two
27 August 2001
Reported, written and edited by David Duberman
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Editor's note: This second part of the two-part special Spectrum report from Siggraph contains most of the remaining news stories from the show, with the emphasis on "most." Try as I might, I couldn't cram every last item in this week, so in next week's regular Spectrum, I'll wrap up the show with the few remaining items, and return to our regular coverage of all fascinating things related to interactive-media development.
I did promise last week to provide some of my impressions from the show, but at this point, due to an exhausting workload, I'm afraid I don't have much to offer. All in all, it was a very good show, if perhaps not quite up to the high standards set by previous Siggraphs I've attended. The attendance was off (34,000 this year compared to 42,000 this year, and about 50 fewer exhibitors), and while spirits were high, the air didn't exactly crackle with energy--probably a reflection of the recent downturn in the high-tech industry. Keynoter Danny Hillis was interesting, but his talk about his 10,000-year-clock project didn't fascinate me the way Ray Kurzweil's talk about our digital future did last year.
As always, the Electronic Theater sparkled like a virtual diamond. The enthusiastic audience, packed into L.A.'s mythic Shrine Theater, was treated to behind-the-scenes bits from Hollywood features such as 102 Dalmations, Shrek, and Pearl Harbor, as well as a sneak peak at the upcoming Monsters, Inc., which looks great. The remaining 116 short subjects consisted of an amazing variety of original ideas, jokes, musical numbers, and so on. The show lasted two hours, but kept the audience absorbed much more effectively than most recent commercial movies.
I also attended a number of courses, panels, papers, animations, and, of course, the ever-challenging Emerging Technology exhibit, but it's all just a blur at this point. I do remember a couple of provocative pieces at the Art Gallery, including a device that magnetically treated an oil-like substance to create magical spiky shapes, as well as a voice-activated piece in which words flowed from a spout into a basin, into which you could then dip a "ladle" and move the letters around. I also participated in a gallery "tour" in which we picked one exhibit and created a poem about it using those words on refrigerator magnets you get a game stores.
Siggraph is the best event around for fans of new technology and interactivity, and the only way to experience it is to go there. Next year in San Antonio!
- David Duberman
For those into procedural textures, which offer infinite variety at a relatively low cost in memory, one of the coolest things at Siggraph was the brand-new 2.0 version of DarkTree textures from small but powerful Darkling Simulations. Among the principal new features are a whole slew of new procedural components, added support for creation of cubic bitmaps and new output formats, an improved editor UI as well as expanded animation capabilities, and "tweaks," which let you create textures with custom controls that can be adjusted within the rendering package, courtesy of Darkling's Simbiont plug-ins.
For a complete list of new features, see http://www.darksim.com/html/dt2_new_features.html.
Coming toward the end of 2001 from Discreet is combustion 2, a new version of the paint, animation and 3D compositing software.
New features include multi-format project capabilities, including video, HDTV, and 64-bit color. Also, combustion 2 will include an editable, interactive schematic view, a compositing flowchart designed to ease complex visual effects creation, an integrated 2D particle system, an interactive text and motion graphics module, and garbage-masking technology compatible with inferno, flame and flint, Discreet’s online visual effects systems.
Performance enhancements in combusion 2 include a new, optimized 2D software renderer as well as OpenGL support for combustion’s new particle system and 3D compositing environment. combustion 2 also has a network rendering task manager similar to 3ds max, letting users manage background rendering requirements across multiple distributed systems.
Expanded film capabilities in combustion 2 include support for up to 16-bits-per-channel color, 10-bit Cineon files, color look-up table (LUT), and advanced grain-management tools.
pmG returned to Siggraph with a new name, a new logo and a line of 3D animation products. Attendees witnessed demos of the all-new messiah:studio 3D integrated animation package, composed of messiah:animate, messiah:render, and messiah:develop, a new custom tool for developers.
First previewed at Siggraph 2000, messiah:studio features an all-new interface and efficient architecture. Its debut closes a year of intensive development by the small, virtual company, culminating in the standalone solution for 3D animators and developers. To mark the occasion, the company has adopted a new name, pmG Worldwide LLC, and a new logo design as an overall identifier for the product line.
Both messiah:render and messiah:animate will also be pipeline capable for Maya, Softimage, 3D Studio Max and LightWave, ending messiah's tenure as a plug-in architecture for the latter product. The benefit for users is that messiah:animate will not be affected by interface modifications in any host application.
The company also announced its new TD (Technical Director) Service. pmG-trained technical directors will contract out to producers to do character rigging and custom effects, and if needed, to be on call throughout the entire production process. The service was employed for the first time this year on Paramount/Nickelodeon's upcoming 3D feature Jimmy Neutron, produced by DNA with all character animation by messiah.
messiah:render, the company's and photoreal global luminosity and radiosity engine, features a component-based shader system. Users can link materials to shaders to expressions to scripts, thus inventing and combining shaders and math effects to create new looks and effects. Features include ray tracing, custom volumetric lights, procedural render objects, render-time displacements, and pmG's revolutionary True Bump technology.
messiah:animate's new setup mode addresses concerns about linking objects to skeletons, attaching bones to different skeletons, and animation list management. In addition, the new messiah:scripting feature lets users create plug-in-like custom scripts in. Scripts can also be run as effects or shaders.
New in messiah:animate is the real-time Toon OpenGL drawing mode, which lets 2D artists use 3D models and interactively animate with toon look and cell edges. messiah's effects system can also communicate with external puppet-control hardware, letting users have the characters respond interactively to feedback.
messiah:animate also includes pmG's hierarchical expressions and effects systems, interactive tool drawing and editing, Force Tools, Interactive Soft-Body dynamics, multi-layered effects, smart bones and programmable IK systems, non-linear animation editor, and motion-capture support.
messiah:develop, originally created as an in-house tool, lets developers create and share custom control blocks and create custom effects. Effects templates can be posted online to share with other developers.
Pulse, a developer of 3D animation for the Web, announced Version 5.0 of its technology, which features enhancements including file sizes up to 60 percent smaller than before, Intel Pentium 4 optimization, and enhanced photo-realism of products, environments and characters. With Version 5.0, Pulse also announces a new pricing model for developers: publish unlimited Web content for a renewable annual subscription fee of $3,000.
Meta Motion introduced its new Gypsy Jr. motion capture system with pricing starting at less than $10,000. Features include:
Curious Labs Inc., developer and publisher of the 3D character animation and design tool Poser, launched French- and German-language versions of its add-on, Poser Pro Pack. The Pro Pack lets Poser 4 users create Web-deployable, interactive 3D characters and export them to Macromedia Flash. A key feature is the ability to host animated Poser characters and scenes in high-end animation packages such as Discreet's 3ds max or NewTek's LightWave. Other features include 2D-motion blur, multiple camera view panes, python scripting support, and new compressed library files that save disk space.
Curious Labs also added hosting support within two 3D applications: Cinema 4D XL and PiXELS 3D. The Cinema 4D plug-in will be available for download at no charge to Pro Pack customers from the Curious Labs Web site and will enable Pro Pack users to integrate and render their animated Poser scenes directly in Cinema 4D. The PiXELS 3D plug-in will offer similar functionality, distribution details will be announced once they have been formalized.
Lastly, Curious Labs and Adobe Systems have agreed to work together on technology, content and marketing activities for Adobe Atmosphere software and Curious Labs' avatar-creation tools. Curious will provide Atmosphere with a system for building custom avatars. Additionally, both Adobe and Curious Labs incorporate Viewpoint technology, resulting in smooth-skinned, bending 3D characters from Poser Pro Pack that can be used as avatars in Atmosphere 3D worlds.
IBM announced the Linux Digital Studio Solution, its first complete Linux-based solution for the media and entertainment industry. The suite of IBM workstations, servers, storage and services is designed to support animators, special-effects artists and digital media producers as their work increasingly takes advantage of Linux.
According to IBM, Linux offers numerous advantages for digital media producers. Animation and special effects require substantial processing horsepower to crunch the motion, lighting, textures, color, shapes, camera angles, and physics of the scene, and Linux occupies fewer processing resources and overhead than many other operating systems, which can result in significant performance advantages. The source code is essentially free, studios can modify it themselves, and it runs on lower-cost, standard hardware than UNIX-based variants.
The Web3D Consortium announced the launch of the X3D open standard as a successor to VRML to bring 3D graphics to the Web. X3D (“Extensible 3D”) is an extensible standard that has been developed by the Web3D Consortium with the backing of browser companies such as blaxxun, Nexternet, OpenWorlds and ParallelGraphics. First product shipments are expected by the end of 2001.
X3D is being developed under the Web3D Consortium’s standardization process that provides access to the specification for interested companies and eventual submission to the International Standards Organization for ratification to provide long-term stability for Web3D content and applications.
The X3D standard adopts a component-based architecture said to enable compact 3D clients. These clients can be extended with plug-in components to create standardized profiles for vertical applications. One X3D profile demonstrated at Siggraph was the “VRML 97” profile, which provides compatibility with existing VRML (Virtual Reality Modeling Language) content.
The Web3D Consortium is working with the MPEG-4 group, and the X3D standard is intended to form the core of MPEG-4’s ongoing 3D integration activities. The Consortium is also working with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to integrate X3D with other XML languages for the Web. The X3D standardization work includes an extension registry to be maintained by the Web3D Consortium that will let companies work within a standards framework and ship extensions to X3D.
At Siggraph, NxView introduced NxView Studio 5.5, an update of its Web3D authoring tool. NxView Studio provides a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) interface and drag-and-drop functionality. Other features include the ability to import models from popular 3D modeling and CAD software and to embed interactive 3D scenes within other software programs, such as Macromedia Authorware for development of e-learning courses.
New features include:
At Siggraph, Belgian firm Vartec NV announced the latest version of its Ultima 3D software. First introduced in 1999, the software is designed for developing virtual reality projects. Features include:
New Zealand-based Right Hemisphere announced that its Deep Paint 3D is now available in an integrated LightWave edition for LightWave 3D users. The LightWave edition comes with complete file and plug-in support for LightWave 3D [6.5] and above. It also includes the Projection Paint system that lets artists paint seamlessly across multiple surfaces and through many UV distortion problems. The solution is designed to provide an affordable complement to the Atlas automatic UV mapping system now available with LightWave 3D [6.5].
Right Hemisphere also announces that its 3D Exploration Enterprise Edition Version 1.8 now ships with advanced new features for 3D Web publishing and 3D content creation using Viewpoint’s Media File Format.
This provides Web3D creators with a very easy to use tool for finding, fixing and publishing 3D content onto the Internet. With support for a wide variety of 3D media formats including CAD and entertainment, it is possible to get 3D models from almost any source published to the Web with a just a few mouse clicks.
Publishers can create their own template files to publish 3D content that floats over background HTML templates. Support for rendering features such as reflection, transparency and bump mapping is included, as is animation data for many file types. The tools are targeted at CAD/CAM, industrial design, and entertainment markets. Many options such as 3D page size, texture and geometry compression and shadow generation are included.
3D Exploration Enterprise Edition is a tool for Web searching, viewing, rendering and 3D Web publishing. Features include:
Cebas Computer of Eppelheim, Germany, announced a number of new developments for 3D artists:
Trinity Animation (www.trinity3d.com) is Cebas' and Nemotion's distributor and primary support provider in the USA.
The Visviva Authoring Studio integrates elements such as object design, animation composition, 3D modeling and composition, image painting, vector drawing, and hypertext editing. The offers a variety of design choices, including over 500 different classes and types. Among the components are particle systems, branch systems, dynamic textures for natural phenomena, vector effects, digital books, group animations, and 3D data charts.
At the show, the company shipped a 1.5 upgrade, and announced the 2.0 version coming in Q4 2001. New features in 1.5 include:
And coming in 2.0:
Reflex Systems Inc. showed its Reflex|DRAMA software for modeling, animating and rendering realistic human characters. The software, first shown at last year's Siggraph, sports several new features including a Skeleton Implants feature, motion capture integration, and an improved model "look" with bone, skin and muscle manipulation tools. The software is slated for general availability in Q4, 2001 at a single-user price of $17,000 U.S.
At Siggraph, Reflex also introduced its Human Development Kit (HDK) - a programming interface that provides access to the Reflex|DRAMA environment, enabling control of all human construction and animation elements. This feature is designed to facilitate the development of new application classes such as biomechanics simulators, genetics-based crowd simulators, advanced clothes and hair systems. A white paper on this technology is available at the Reflex Web site www.reflex3d.com.
Reflex|DRAMA's new Skeleton Implant feature enables users to insert real-world data into the software and visualize the resulting human. The new motion capture import/export capabilities let users import motion capture data from a number of common formats into a gesture library, or directly into an animation script. Further blending and editing of keyframes can be done interactively, and formats supported include Motion Analysis (HTR), Acclaim (ASF/AMC), and Biovision (BVH). Additional new features include a plug-in interface that enables users to access the default skin, clothing and scene editing tools to augment the default behavior.
Alias|Wavefront announced version 1.1 of its Maya Shockwave 3D Exporter plug-in. The new version builds on the capabilities of the first release, with support for such animation capabilities as dynamics, expressions and trax non-linear animation. In April the company released the first version of the exporter plug-in, which allows for the optimization and export of 3D Maya scenes into Macromedia Director 8.5 Shockwave Studio software. Version 1.1 is now in public beta and is downloadable at no charge from www.aliaswavefront.com/sw3d.
The company also gave the first public showing of its new mental ray for Maya technology, initially announced in June. The new mental ray for Maya technology will allow access to mental ray features such as global illumination.
Lastly, Alias|Wavefront launched at Siggraph PortfolioWall v. 1.5, a tool designed to support the way creative teams review, annotate, collaborate, manage and select visual digital data. The product incorporates a touchscreen user interface said to reduce user learning cycles. It combines a simple user interface with a large touch-enabled plasma screen, letting users interact more directly with digital assets.
Montreal-based MindAvenue showed Axel, its US $950 3D authoring tool and viewer that enables artists to model, animate, texture, light, add interactivity and publish to the Web.
Axel’s freely distributed viewer can be accessed from http://www.mindavenue.com. Delivering multi-platform, interactive content on Windows and Mac for Internet Explorer and Netscape 4.0 and later, the player uses approximately 300k, and integrates in a user’s browser. The player’s proprietary download format reinforces artists’ copyright protection, inhibiting others from misappropriating or modifying content.
Immersive Technologies, a Boston-based computer graphics technology firm, announced Hyperion, a global illumination rendering system said to calculate computer-generated imagery an order of magnitude faster than traditional renderers. Hyperion’s Accelerated Global Illumination technology is delivered through a hardware-software combination in the form of the Hyperion 1000 server, which the company says can process 1000 gixels/second (gixels measure the number of globally illuminated elements.) Hyperion is a scaleable, multi-server platform for aggregating performance over 100 megabit and gigabit Ethernet. In addition, it has the potential to input data from a variety of formats and plug-ins including 3D Studio MAX, RenderMan, Alias | Wavefront, and CATIA.
Immersive says Hyperion produces realistic imagery because of its ability to support indirect lighting. By more closely modeling how light behaves in the real world, Hyperion can capture effects such as color bleeding, environmental lighting, and soft shadows.
At Siggraph, Eyematic Interfaces announced Eyematic FaceStation, a software/hardware system that streamlines facial animation and integrates with animation packages. The product is designed to let animators create and drive facial character animation in real time.
FaceStation ships with a PC with a video capture card and a standard digital video camera in addition to Eyematic's computer-vision software. It works by recognizing facial features without the need for facial markers and records an actor's facial movements and voice, resulting in the replication of the movement and sound in 3D. The product also includes FaceLifter, a tool that "lifts" facial tracking data from previous video recordings. It also allows the animator to make changes or updates as often as they choose without frame-by-frame modification and rendering the updated shot.
Eyematic FaceStation works with the Eyematic FaceDriver plug-in for 3ds max and Maya, and enables users to create facial animation with life-like emotions for multiple platforms. It also includes Eyematic Avatar Editor, which lets animators create custom avatars from a front and profile character image.
2ce, Inc. launched two new 3D Web and application interface developer tools: CubicEye Web Builder and CubicEye App Builder. Launched last fall, the CubicEye is a customizable interface that uses a cube-based environment to allow a user to navigate Web pages and applications with contextually-enhanced delivery of information, and to organize disjoint collections of Web pages and applications into logical, linked structures.
The CubicEye metaphor of content management and delivery is based on harnessing the mind’s ability to utilize spatial context. The navigation interface is constructed 100% from content, as contrasted to immersive worlds based on empty environmental metaphors that carry a high "pixel price tag."
The newly launched CubicEye Web Builder and CubicEye App Builder are 3D interface tools that enable Webmasters and software developers to author content, functions and interfaces into single or multiple cubes for the display and manipulation of both content and data. 2ce also announced the addition of OpenGL compatibility across its product line.
CubicEye Web Builder lets developers deploy 3D navigation in cube-optimized Website built from existing or new Web pages. Visitors to a CubicEye-enhanced Website that do not use the CubicEye Viewer can still experience the site with standard 2D navigation. The CubicEye Web Builder has a list price of $49.99 and is available now.
CubicEye App Builder allows developers to author cube-optimized applications with tools that handle location and distribution of applications within the cube. Cubic Eye App Builder will implement model support within the volume of a cube-based 3D environment, not just within the surface of a flat Web page. The CubicEye App Builder is expected to ship in Q4 '01.
CubicEye Viewer is a free 1.3MB download that lets users view all CubicEye-enhanced Websites and applications.
Starbase C3, an online 3D sci-fi community Website, introduced and published its first 3D-enabled E-book featuring the fictional sci-fi technology and vehicles from the long-running Website.
"The Starbase C3 Technical Manual" is a 50-page e-book that offers back-story, character information, and information on the starships and technologies that make up the C3 online universe. The e-book features over 25 real-time 3D models of the C3 Starships embedded within the single Acrobat .pdf document.. When viewed with the Cult3d plug-in for Adobe Acrobat and the Cult3D viewer, the "still-art" images of the spacecraft in the book "change" into 3D models that can be manipulated and viewed from any angle by the reader.
German company Egisys announced its 3D Content Brokerage database to provide 3D artists and content developers with a new sales and distribution channel to sell their creations either via the Web or from directly within select 3D applications. Additionally, textures, 3D objects, motion files and other key components for the creation of 3D scenes will be accessible with keyword searches.
Egisys will release its 3D Content Brokerage system later this year. It will be integrated within Curious Labs' Poser and Poser Pro Pack, and also available as a standalone product.
The database targets professional modelers, Web designers, animation and multimedia artists, as well as the large community of hobbyist users working with tools such as Poser. With this Content Brokerage system, all 3D content and components developed and submitted through the system by individual artists will be available as commercial offerings or shareware to the entire 3D community.
In the near future, the EGISYS 3D Content Brokerage database will expand to include movements or motion capture data, speech simulations, mimics and gestures, pose files, and scripts.
Coming in Q3, 2001 as a free upgrade from Boris is Boris Red 2.1, an upgrade to the compositing and titling application. Red integrates 2D and 3D compositing, titling, vector tools (including paint, rotoscoping, and tools to extrude vector objects), 3D modeling and animation, and software DVE technology. New features in 2.1 include new host integration, faster 3D rendering, improved motion tracking, improved Flash Export, export to DV, and a variety of workflow enhancements.
AIST Inc. says its new 3D modeling and animation application, Movie3D, will be released in early September. Movie3D is the latest addition to AIST’s MovieX family of products, which also includes video editing and compositing solutions such as MoviePack and MovieDVsuite as well as plug-ins.
Also this fall, AIST will release a new upgrade to its video editing and compositing software for the PC, MoviePack. New 4.0 features include:
SynaPix, Inc., demonstrated new methods for content creators to capture, analyze, and intermix 2D and 3D media used in game development, film and broadcast productions, and design. When used together, the company’s 3D match moving software, SynaMatch, and its new scene reconstruction software, SynaVision, reportedly give animators and artists an integrated approach for recovering camera paths from virtually any type of shot, and building detailed, scalable models of 3D characters, objects, and scenes using real-world images as starting points.
Key features of SynaMatch 2.0, scheduled for release this fall, include automated line- and point-tracking capabilities, geometric constructs for higher-fidelity camera-path registration, advanced scene graph for full control of 2D, 3D, and geometric relationships, export of primitive scene data in addition to camera path, and resolution independence for film and video.
SynaVision extracts 3D surfaces and textures from recorded
images. According to SynaPix, this lets CG characters be positioned inside, not
on top of, video. Lighting can be augmented and the position, scale, and
rotation of objects that were previously locked in 2D can be interactively
adjusted in 3D.
Both SynaMatch and SynaVision support import from and export to Maya, 3ds max, LightWave, and Softimage.
At Siggraph, the New York Institute of Technology awarded the President's Medal for outstanding technical and artistic achievement to Dr. Edwin Catmull, co-founder and president of Pixar Animation Studios.
Last March, Catmull, whose contributions to the field of technology have been honored and recognized for more than a decade, received an Oscar from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in for his role in the development of the RenderMan software. The rendering software system for high-quality, photo-realistic image synthesis is used internally at Pixar Animated Studios, and is also licensed to third parties.
As the 2001 recipient of the NYIT President's Medal, Dr. Catmull joins a list of leaders from the worlds of education and science including Bill Gates, Richard W. Riley, Secretary of U.S. Department of Education, Robert Fri, Director of the National Museum of National History/Smithsonian Institution, and Eileen Collins, Astronaut for NASA.
The award was presented by Edward Guiliano, president and CEO of New York Institute of Technology.
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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