Spectrum: Interactive Media & Online Developer News 13 January 2003

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

--Spectrum Feature Review: Toon Boom Studio 2.0

--eZedia Releases Interactive QuickTime Authoring Software

--There, Inc. Creates 3D Online Experience

--Discreet Updates combustion, Drops Price
--Reiss Studio Releases Mac Maya/ Poser Plug-in
--Maya 4.5 Free Edition Available

--DDD Awarded 2D-to-3D European Patent

--X3D Launches 3D Viewer for TV, PC

--Two New 3D Market Research Reports Available

--GarageGames Updates Marble Blast Demo
--Online Myst to Begin Beta Testing
--Sony Announces Amplitude

--Game Developers Choice Awards Nominations Open
--mental ray Developers Get Oscar

--About Spectrum



Spectrum Feature Review: Toon Boom Studio 2.0
By David Duberman

When it comes to graphics tools, this publication tends to focus on 3D software, but there's a whole range of terrific 2D programs out there as well. Perhaps the best-known 2D animation tools are Macromedia's Flash and Director, but both of these require specific methods of working that might be alien to those familiar with traditional animation. For the latter, and those who'd like to explore a Disney-style approach to animation creation, there's Toon Boom Studio, from developer/publisher Toon Boom Techn ologies.


The first stop in 2D animation creation is drawing line art: the inked outlines that will later be filled with color. Toon Boom Studio provides a set of vector-based drawing tools that work well with the mouse, but benefit from the use of a digitizing tab let. Available from a vertical tool palette, they include brush, pencil, line, polyline, rectangle, and ellipse. All of these create centerline shapes of a constant width, except for the brush, which draws a variable-width line, depending on pressure. The resulting brush stroke consists of a filled area between two lines, whose shapes you can manipulate independently. The Properties settings let you specify the minimum and maximum width of the brush line, as well as the amount by which the software smooth es it when you finish a stroke. The centerline tools use the maximum width setting.

Drawing a closed shape with the Brush tool results in a two-vector shape, one describing the inside contour and another describing the outside, with a fill in between. You can use the contour editor tool to move an entire contour, or individual points and handles, but you can't move multiple points. If you move a point on one contour outside or inside the other, you get an open shape, with the outline becoming a single contour. Other editing tools include Select, which lets you scale, move, and rotate ent ire shapes, and Perspective, which lets you add skew and perspective by moving points on a shape's bounding box.

Toon Boom Studio also gives you a number of ancillary drawing tools: For instance, it's usually necessary when drawing to zoom in and out a lot, so it's convenient that these functions are mapped to the X and Z keys, respectively, rather than the Ctrl-key combinations used in other graphics programs. A nice addition here would be the ability to see a text readout of the zoom level. Panning uses the usual spacebar+drag combo, but unique to Toon Boom Studio is the Rotary Light Table feature, which lets you rotate the entire drawing surface interactively. This comes in handy if you're more comfortable drawing at a certain angle. There are also keyboard shortcuts to reset the zoom level and viewing position.

Another animation-specific tool is onion skinning, which lets you see one, two, or three frames ahead and/or behind as you draw. The program uses color coding so you know which is which. And the S and A keys let you move forward and backward through a seq uence of animation frames.

If you'd rather create your line art in another program, Toon Boom Studio can import and vectorize images in a variety of formats, including BMP, Photoshop, GIF, JPEG, Targa, and TIFF. It does a remarkably good job of it, too. The vectorizer has a number of different smoothing and sharpening options that can accommodate a wide range of source imagery. It can't work miracles, though; you'll get the best results if you don't color it first. Vectorized line art comes in as brush strokes, which you can then e dit with the regular drawing tools, if you like.

To organize and sequence a character's animation, you use the exposure sheet feature. This uses a spreadsheet model, with each element using a column, and each animation cel using a cell in the column. Here you can drag cells to change their sequence, ins ert and delete cells, import artwork, and change how animation sequences loop. You can also take advantage of a nifty static light table feature that lets you see other drawing elements as you work. The exposure sheet's functionality goes far beyond that of a traditional dope sheet; it's an impressive piece of work.


When adding color to your drawings, you're likely to want to work with a limited selection so you can easily find the color you need. Toon Boom Studio lets you easily create and define as many custom color palettes as you need, and optionally name each co lor swatch for the part of the drawing in which it will be used. Each color can be a solid, or a linear or radial gradient with any number of steps, and each step can have its own transparency (alpha) value.

When filling outlines with gradient paint, where you click sets the center of the gradient. Thereafter, you can use the Edit Texture tool to move, resize, and rotate the gradient fill. And with radial gradients, you can even add a skew factor. Another han dy paint tool lets you automatically close gaps as you fill an outline. It doesn't add ink at the gap, though; it just uses it as a barrier.

A typical animation contains thousands of frames, which would be very time consuming to paint one by one. A partial solution is Toon Boom Studio's Paint All feature, which applies the fill color to every frame that contains an outline where you click. If the part of the drawing you're painting is relatively static, this can be a godsend, but things do tend to move around in animations, so Paint All sometimes creates more work than it saves.

Lip Sync

If your animated characters speak, using digitized voice tracks, and you want their lip movement to approximate that of real people, Toon Boom Studio has you covered. It uses seven phonemes, or basic mouth positions for different vocal sounds, plus a clos ed-mouth position. When you load a voice track, the software can analyze it, assigning a sequence of default mouth positions to the track. Then, in the exposure sheet, you simply draw a version of the default mouth for each phoneme. When doing this, you c an take advantage of a handy exposure sheet feature that lets you move columns around by dragging them, so as to position elements that you need to compare next to each other. If you've already drawn and sequenced your mouth key frames, the program can au tomatically rearrange them to match the results of its analysis.

Scene Planning

As you gather and create your content, you add it to the project library, where it appears in a list. Then, to create the final animation, you go to the scene planning module, which uses familiar stage (camera view) and timeline metaphors. This is where t he ability to implement an entire 2D animation studio in software really shines. Actually, Toon Boom Studio is a 3D program that lets you position each scene element at a specific position interactively and/or using coordinates. Instead of X, Y, and Z, th e program uses east/west for left and right, north/south for up and down, and front/back for in and out. You position elements using top view and side view windows. These don't show the elements, but the top view shows their width, while the side view sho ws their height. The scene elements, being two dimensional, can be positioned, scaled, and rotated on the in/out axis, and moved up and down in the layer stack.

To animate an element's or camera's position, you attach it to a "peg," or animation path. By default, the path has a start point and an end point, both of which you can reposition interactively in the camera, top, and side views. You can make the path mo re complex by adding intermediate keys and control points, which you can also move interactively. The difference between them is that a key's frame is fixed, while a control point's frame can change depending on how you manipulate neighboring keys and con trol points. You can also build hierarchical animations, for example, to have a bird flying around a walking character's head.

Once you've completed setting up an animation, you can export it in Macromedia Flash or QuickTime format. Because Toon Boom Studio doesn't tween images, exported Flash animations aren't particularly compact. But the program seems intended primarily for cr eating animations destined for presentation on film, tape, or DVD, in which case file size doesn't matter.


What I've described above is impressive, but it doesn't begin to cover the full range of the program's functionality. For instance, you can use the clipping mask effects to "cut out" parts of images with arbitrary shapes. And you can animate or change col ors additively or multiplicatively, such as increasing an image's redness by 20 percent. To help you learn about its features, Toon Boom Studio comes with two well-written electronic manuals: an online Help reference, and a user guide in Acrobat (PDF) for mat. There's some overlap, but they complement each other nicely. The latter includes a few introductory tutorials, but Toon Boom could stand to add a few more.

Toon Boom Studio 2.0 is an extraordinary and remarkably complete program, and, at $374, or $144 for students, a real bargain. I couldn't think of many features it could use but doesn't already have. The manual justifies the lack of image tweening with som e good points, but the feature would definitely come in handy in some circumstances. In any case, after using Toon Boom Studio, it's hard to understand why anyone would go to all the trouble and expense of using traditional cel animation when a program li ke this can save you inordinate amounts of time and work, with results that equal, if not exceed, those achievable using standard methods. If you're working in 2D animation, this is the tool you should be using. And if you're embarking on a career in anim ation, this is one of the best places to start.

Toon Boom Studio is available for the Windows and Macintosh platforms; version 2.0 for Mac is currently in development. Find out more at http://www.toonboomstudio.com/main/.



eZedia Releases Interactive QuickTime Authoring Software

Winnipeg, Manitoba-based eZedia Inc. last week released its newest product, eZediaQTI. The cross-platform interactive QuickTime authoring software is designed for creating Internet content and movies. Users can combine and enhance video, graphics, animati on, sound, VRs, and text to create Web sites, banner ads, online presentations, and interactive videos in a drag-and-drop environment.

eZediaQTI retails for $99, with a limited-time introductory price of $79. eZediaQTI can be purchased online at http://www.ezedia.com, and is available for Mac OS X, Windows 2000, and Windows XP.



There, Inc. Creates 3D Online Experience

But is there a there, there? There, Inc., an online communication and entertainment platform company, last week unveiled There, a 3D online destination where people can play and talk. After more than four years of development, the company began registrati on for its free public beta test. Participants will be invited in to socialize and play until the official launch in Q3 2003.

Neither a game nor a chat service, There is said to be a 3D world that gives people a place to hang out with their friends online, express themselves via personalized avatars, and explore and shape the world around them.

Members begin their experience in There with an interactive guide that teaches them how to personalize an avatar, communicate with others, explore locations in There, participate in activities, and buy and sell items. After this introduction, members are free to do whatever they choose to do. They arrive on a planet that is the size and shape of the Earth, and explore four zones:

* Tiki, a lush, tropical island archipelago
* Tyr, a mysterious realm with dark forests and glowing crystal formations
* Saja, a cloud city of serene landscapes and beautiful vistas
* Egypt, a photo-realistic recreation of Egypt's pyramids and Sphinx

In addition to delivering an immersive consumer experience, the company says it's also opening There to amateur and professional designers and game developers. An initial set of development tools lets members without advanced technical skills create dune buggy and hoverboard race courses, set admission prices, track lap times, maintain leader boards, and award prizes. Other potential activities include treasure hunts, scavenger hunts, poetry readings, game shows, and fashion shows. Activity creators can u se a built-in system to publicize events, sell tickets, and manage reservations.

Members with more technical skill can add objects to There. By using an image editor such as Adobe Photoshop, Macromedia Fireworks, or Microsoft Paint, members can create unique patterns and colors for their own line of clothing, hair, buggy and hoverboar d paint jobs, and furniture. Users of Discreet's gmax 3D modeling tool can invent new types of clothing, vehicles, and furniture. Within the next few months, There, Inc. will publish an open API for C++ developers, along with a more robust set of content development tools targeted at the needs of professional developers. Developers will also be able to: customize the There GUI by using Macromedia Flash; create new scripted events by using "Therescript", a Javascript-like language based on a Brazilian open-source game language called "Lua"; incorporate new Web pages by using the embedded Microsoft Internet Explorer Web browser; and communicate with the There data cluster via standard XML interfaces.




Discreet Updates combustion, Drops Price

Autodesk division Discreet last week began shipping the update to version 2.1 of combustion software, its unified paint, animation and 3D compositing software. Discreet is re-pricing combustion to US $995. Toolsets include tracking and keying technologies , color correction, particles, and rotoscoping tools.



Reiss Studio Releases Mac Maya/ Poser Plug-in

Reiss Studio in cooperation with Curious Labs, the publisher of Poser, has developed and released BodyStudio ($299) for Macintosh. BodyStudio integrates Curious Labs' Poser 3D character animation technology in Alias/Wavefront Maya; allowing users to rende r and playback Poser animations directly inside Maya.

Features include:

* Importing Poser Files -- Automatic recognition of pz3, pzz, and pzr files.
* Poser Animation Playback from within Maya -- Create animations in Poser, or use Poser's automatic walk designer. The geometry will animate and play back in Maya.
* Make changes with Maya Construction History -- After adjusting shaders or making additional deformers in Maya, the user can change the figures position in Poser, and have the changes automatically update in Maya.
* Shader Translation -- BodyStudio translates shaders to Maya Shading Networks, and assigns them to the correct polygons on characters.
* Real World Scaling Presets -- Multiple settings for converting Poser characters from Poser's internal scaling into Maya's units.



Maya 4.5 Free Edition Available

Alias/Wavefront says its Maya 4.5 Personal Learning Edition software is now available for free download from http://www.aliaswavefront.com/mayaple.

One highlight of Maya 4.5 Personal Learning Edition is the enhancement to the watermark, which is no longer visible when working in wireframe mode. Also with this new release, it is possible to import different data types, including files from the commerc ial version of Maya.

The Maya 4.5 Personal Learning Edition includes all new features found in Maya Complete 4.5 software, including new modeling tools, subdivision surfaces, integrated 3D paint and user interface (UI) and workflow enhancements.

User support takes the form of a Web-based resource center that provides access to video tutorials, discussion forums, system requirements and content exchanges, where users can share work and download free sample files. There is also a Maya Personal Lear ning Edition gallery where artists can exhibit their projects. The Maya Personal Learning Edition resource center can be accessed at www.aliaswavefront.com/maya/ple/resource.



DDD Awarded 2D-to-3D European Patent

DDD Group plc has received notification of allowance of its key "Dynamic Depth Cueing" ("DDC") patent in Europe. DDC is a core DDD technology that enables existing film or video images to be converted for display in stereo 3D.

The new European patent extends DDD's coverage of technologies that allow the conversion of existing 2D content libraries to 3D and their delivery in a format that remains compatible with today's 2D televisions. The DDC patents are intended to enable a ra nge of mass market 3D applications including the conversion of existing film and video libraries for viewing on the emerging generation of 3D "without glasses" LCD and plasma televisions via a single DVD or television broadcast.

Dynamic Depth Cueing encompasses the re-creation of 3D depth data from existing 2D material, in essence regenerating 3D information that is not recorded when a conventional film or video camera is used. Once the 3D data is generated, it is then used to ma nipulate the underlying 2D image, allowing 2D images to be transformed to 3D for a variety of 3D display formats ranging from large format IMAX films to the latest generation of 3D displays.

The addition of the DDC patent brings to 8 the total number of issued patents held by DDD and its subsidiaries. In addition to the 3D conversion patent, DDD has other core patents relating to efficient delivery of 3D data along with an unaltered 2D image and the tracking of a viewer's head for 3D display systems. DDD's 3D conversion, transmission and display technologies are marketed under the brand name TriDef.




X3D Launches 3D Viewer for TV, PC

X3D Technologies Corp. last week released its X3D TV & PC Transformer, a 3D device for televisions and computers. The $99 device reportedly enables standard 2D television images to appear in 3D form. The product, consisting of a small transformer unit and wireless infrared viewing glasses, is said to process over 90 million image calculations per second to deliver images in 3D over conventional TV or HDTV screens.




Two New 3D Market Research Reports Available

Acacia Research Group has released two new market studies: 3D Content Creation: Modeling & Animation Tools and 3D Visualization & Simulation: Defense & Government Markets.

3D Content Creation: Modeling & Animation Tools: The entertainment markets for 3D software are maturing and this comprehensive study provides five-year revenue forecasts based on current and projected market conditions, and detailed statistics show how th e game, film, Web and design sectors impact 3D software revenues. Also included is information on the key software toolmakers and their products. Appendices include a list of visual effects studios and software resellers worldwide.

3D Visualization & Simulation: Defense & Government Markets: Examines the market for 3D VizSim products and services within the lucrative defense & government segment. The report includes historical data and five-year projections for the total 3D VizSim m arket and the defense & government segment, along with detailed analyses of the market and technology trends that make this dynamic sector so important to the 3D graphics market. Also included is an in-depth look at key technologies, vendors, and trends.




GarageGames Updates Marble Blast Demo

GarageGames last week released an updated demo for its Marble Blast game. The updated demo features five playable levels and access to several of the game's power up items. The full version of Marble Blast, available at www.garagegames.com for $14.95, inc ludes 72 levels, a variety of power-up bonuses and additional hazards.


Online Myst to Begin Beta Testing

Ubi Soft Entertainment and Cyan Worlds, Inc., developers of Myst and Riven, last week announced their upcoming online adventure Uru: Online Ages Beyond Myst. Players will have the opportunity to explore and interact with meticulously crafted environments in, around, and beyond the newly discovered underground D'ni empire that predates human civilization. Explorers wishing to help test the game during its beta phase are invited to apply today by visiting http://uru.ubi.com.

"Uru is an ancient word, the earliest word for city. It is rooted in the idea of a gathering of people, which is precisely what Uru will foster," said Rand Miller, founder of Cyan Worlds. "We've been working for almost five years developing the ... techno logy, ... design and ... graphics that allow us to build real-time online worlds that go beyond Myst. Imagine being able to explore lush landscapes, ancient deserted cities, mysterious forests, curious swamps -- and that's only the beginning. We're trying to provide an environment that's so engrossing, people will talk about it and share their experience. With Uru the journey is experienced together within the game, with friends, family, even strangers uncovering fantastic places together."

Uru will take advantage of broadband to deliver a continually updated environment and storyline, with content that grows, changes and evolves. It will also reportedly be the first persistent world to support real-time voice communication. Players will be able to customize their level of interaction with other players, choosing to play alone, with small groups of friends or in areas where they can meet new people.


Sony Announces Amplitude

Coming in March from Sony Computer Entertainment America for PlayStation 2 is Amplitude, an extension to its music-gaming title Frequency. Developed by Harmonix Music Systems, Amplitude is a fast-paced rhythm action game designed to appeal to gamers and m usic enthusiasts. Gamers can mix and re-mix songs from top bands in an on- and off-line, interactive gaming experience.

Amplitude expands the music list with a variety of genres including songs and video content from David Bowie, Weezer, Garbage, Quarashi, Logan 7, as well as other recording artists. Surrounded by interactive environments customized to each artist, players can recreate their favorite songs by triggering instruments such as drums, bass, vocals and guitars. Players can also create custom remixes.

Online players can challenge friends in multi-player and remix mode. Utilizing chat capabilities and other online features such as a ladder-ranking system and remix repository, players will be able to collaborate to form an online music community. If a pl ayer creates a remix in the online mode, her remix can be selected and posted in the online lobby for other players to listen to.




Game Developers Choice Awards Nominations Open

Nominations for the 3rd Annual Game Developers Choice Awards are now open. Awards nominees will be submitted and voted on exclusively by game developers.

Nominations will be accepted through January 23, 2003. All those directly involved in the development and design of video games are eligible to nominate. Nomination information is available at www.igda.org/awards.

The International Game Developers Association (IGDA) will present the awards on March 6, 2003, at the Game Developer's Conference (GDC) in San Jose, CA, the world's largest conference and exposition dedicated to video game development and related industri es.

The awards categories focus on rewarding and recognizing innovation and excellence in the art of making games, regardless of genre, platform or delivery medium. Awards will be given in the following categories:

* Lifetime Achievement Award
* IGDA Award for Community Contribution The First Penguin Award
* Excellence in Audio
* Excellence in Game Design
* Excellence in Level Design
* Excellence in Programming
* Excellence in Visual Arts
* Excellence in Writing
* Game of the Year
* Game Innovation Spotlights
* Original Game Character of the Year
* Rookie Studio Award

This year, the IGDA has added an Excellence in Writing award to recognize the growing importance of outstanding writing in an interactive medium.


mental ray Developers Get Oscar

The developers of mental ray, high-end rendering software from mental images, have been awarded an Academy Award by the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Rendering software is used to "translate" 3D scene data into visible images and t he Academy described mental ray as "a highly programmable computer-graphics renderer incorporating ray tracing and global illumination to realistically simulate the behavior of light in computer-generated imagery." The awards will be presented at a ceremo ny on March 1, 2003.

mental ray was initially released in 1989 and has been used in the production of over 100 major motion pictures, such as: * Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
* The Matrix (including its 2003 sequels The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions)
* Spider-Man
* Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones

mental images was founded by Rolf Herken in Berlin, Germany in 1986 with the goal to develop the world's best rendering software. Extensive and ongoing mathematical research is the basis for mental ray. The software is optimized for use with the leading d esign and animation software products and is distributed on an OEM basis with these products, including Maya from Alias|Wavefront, Softimage|XSI from Avid/Softimage and 3ds max from Autodesk/discreet.




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 and online development tools and CD-ROMs for review.

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