28 July 2003
Reported, written and edited by David Duberman
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By David Duberman
Some of us who work in the 3D graphics industry tend to forget that there's a market for software that can fulfill some basic requirements without costing an arm and a leg. Reallusion of San Jose, Calif. has not, however, and in an attempt to reach this market, recently introduced Effect3D Studio (E3DS), a $100 Windows program. As you might expect, E3DS isn't really on a level with programs like 3ds max and Maya, but for the money it offers a relative wealth of functionality.
I'll start with the limitations. E3DS can animate and render only one 3D object at a time. There's no keyframing animation capability; you can animate only using one of the built-in procedural animation methods. The maximum rendering size is 800 x 600, and the program doesn't support the standard AVI and MOV animation formats. But even with those restrictions, it can do quite a bit.
The program's user interface consists of a row of module icons across the top, a preview/render window on the left side, and a library window on the right. The first module is Project, where you can save and load projects. Each project appears with a thumbnail in the library; you can open it by double-clicking or by dragging it into the preview window. This same method works with most of the library content; a nice consistency. The preview window gives you interactive controls for zooming, panning, rotating, plus a reset function. In addition, you can choose preset views such as Front and Top, and one of four lens focal lengths for varying degrees of perspective. One interesting function here lets you paste the current image to the background; you can also copy it to the Windows clipboard.
The Background module is fairly straightforward; the program comes with a number of sample backgrounds, and you can import your own in BMP, GIF, or JPG format. If it's larger than the supported resolution, it's automatically resized.
Once you've selected a background, you can add one of the supplied 3D objects and then move, rotate, and scale it on one or two axes at a time. You can do so interactively or using numeric fields with spinners. E3DS comes with a large selection of objects such as cartoon animals, small appliances, architectural shapes, leisure, signs and symbols, sport, and web design. The objects are simple but handsomely designed, and are well suited to the types of projects a non-professional might want to tackle. And some of the objects even include their own animation, such as a clown juggling. But if you need something else, you can import objects in 3DS format. I was able to bring a teapot exported from 3ds max into E3DS without any trouble. Also, I could animate it and apply materials just like the included objects. Even better, for importing 3D objects and backgrounds, the program supports drag and drop from Windows Explorer.
A common application for this type of program is to create 3D text. Instead of an object, you can create a single line of extruded 3D text using any font in your system. You can use any of 12 different bevel types, change the width and height separately, and set the resolution (number of faces) of the text as well as the depth of the extrusion. Among the included styles are still text, optionally against a simple background such as a word balloon; a nice variety of animated effects such as each character successively spinning into place; and scenes such as a brush painting the text onto the screen. The latter category also includes the requisite curved text circling a sphere, albeit a wireframe one.
One of the most impressive modules is Rendering Effects; these include standard with a bump mapping option; various toon and hand-drawn styles; materials such as brass and marble; and artistic styles that make the image look as if painted with a dry or stipple brush (for example). These work quite well and can give the rendered output an original look that might be difficult to obtain even with more sophisticated programs.
The material module is fairly straightforward, but offers some advanced options such as different mapping methods and tiling amounts, plus transparency mapping. More extraordinary is the animation module, with categories such as simple movement (different rotations) and biomorph, with some difficult-to-describe but original animations. My favorite category name is "Animal Act," which is not what you might suspect, but offers movements such as a pet wriggling with pleasure.
So for $100 (actually, $80 with the current special offer), Effect3D Studio provides more functionality than you might expect. I should also mention that the included documentation is very good, although you do need to go to the company's Website for tutorials. So if your goals for 3D animation are relatively modest, and especially if you don't want to wrestle with the steep learning curves of the more advanced programs, this just might be your ticket to self-expression in the 3D arena. You can get more information and download a trial version at http://www.reallusion.com/.
OpenGL ES is an evolving API being designed to bring advanced 3D capabilities to a variety of embedded systems, from handheld devices such as cell phones to advanced displays in cars and planes. OpenGL ES defines subsets of OpenGL to enable 3D functionality in cost- and power-sensitive devices, with or without hardware acceleration. The Khronos Siggraph booth (#3535) is offering a copy of the download instructions for the OpenML Linux/IRIX SDK and the OpenGL ES 1.0 Specification, and a showcase of Member demos running on early versions of OpenGL ES:
Coming in September from Interwoven, Inc. is Interwoven TeamSite 6.0 Content Server, a content-management program. New features include:
3Dlabs Inc. will demonstrate the newly announced OpenGL Shading Language running on a Wildcat VP990 Pro graphics accelerator and integrated with the RenderMonkey shader development tool suite at Siggraph '03 (July 29-July 30) in San Diego, California. Also in 3Dlabs' booth (#2814), four software vendors will let visitors hone their skills on 3D software-design applications in a classroom setting.
3Dlabs says it is the first company to ship a preliminary implementation of the OpenGL Shading Language, which was ratified by the OpenGL Architecture Review Board as an official extension to OpenGL 1.5 and is expected to form the foundation of the upcoming OpenGL 2.0 standard. 3Dlabs will demo the RenderMonkey shader development tool suite with integrated support for OpenGL Shading Language shader development and powered by its Wildcat VP family of graphics accelerators. In collaboration with ATI Technologies, Inc., both companies plan to release RenderMonkey with OpenGL Shading Language support within three months.
"Pandromeda will demonstrate … MojoWorld 2.0 in 3Dlabs' booth," said Pandromeda chief Ken 'Doc Mojo' Musgrave. "Through our work with 3Dlabs, MojoWorld customers will [use] the OpenGL Shading Language … on fractal landscapes in real time."
In addition to its product demonstrations, 3Dlabs extends an invitation to software developers, animators, and content creators to participate in 3D software training sessions in its Siggraph exhibit. Eighteen training systems will be equipped with 3Dlabs Wildcat VP990 Pro graphics accelerators and loaded with 3D software programs from Alias, Discreet, Pandromeda, and SideEffects. There will also be a special demonstration from Luxology.
Turbo Squid last week released finalRender Stage-1, from Germany-based cebas Computer GmbH, as the latest offering in the Discreet Certified 3ds max Plug-in program.
New features in Stage-1 include:
Other features include:
finalRender Stage-1 has a suggested retail price (SRP) in North America of US $795, with an introductory special of $695 for a limited time. Stage-1 is available from Turbo Squid at www.turbosquid.com/dcpstore, from Discreet at http://www.discreet.com/products/3dsmax/dcp and from authorized resellers. For a reseller near you, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pandromeda Inc. will announce the release of the new MojoPack productivity add-on for MojoWorld Generator 2.0 during the upcoming Siggraph 2003 convention in San Diego, CA. The product includes:
MojoWorld Generator 2.0, Pandromeda's flagship product, enables users to create, explore, render and animate landscapes in a global context. Artists can build and render photo-realistic landscape scenes for artwork, background elements, or animation sequences.
MojoPack can be purchased from http://www.pandromeda.com for $99 U.S. and will be available in early August, 2003.
Side Effects Software will pre-release Houdini 6.1 this week at Siggraph 2003. Distributed via the latest free, non-commercial Houdini Apprentice CD, and soon to be downloadable online, the Houdini 6.1 "Early Access" release adds features including new tools to support implementation of Houdini digital assets on long-format character-animation projects. The Apprentice CD also includes a 12-panel quick reference card.
Feature highlights for Houdini 6.1 include: drag-and-drop support for promoting handles and parameters onto a digital asset; a streamlined Pose tool that for animating digital asset characters; support for inverse kinematic squash-and-stretch of bones; pick-walking in a bone chain; new muscle and wire deformers; the ability to transfer attributes to a new piece of geometry; and a Flipbook feature for preview of OpenGL-rendered animations with audio. Additional features range from a new pelt surface operator for "unwrapping" texture UVs in a manner similar to real-world pelting to interface and compositing enhancements, such as the customer-requested return of the Render COP.
Houdini Apprentice differs mainly in that output renders include an unobtrusive watermark, renders are limited to 640 X 480, and projects can be rendered only in Houdini's renderer, Mantra.
Munich, Germany-based Iridas, a developer of digital playback solutions for the film, broadcast and digital content creation industries, will unveil its new color correction technology this week at Siggraph 2003. SpeedGrade is a new application said to permit a more flexible approach to color correction than previously possible.
SpeedGrade allows for non-destructive color correction: rather than changing the source material, the application attaches XML-based color correction parameters to sequence playlists. Using XML is designed to simplify exporting color information to asset management, compositing, and editing applications. SpeedGrade exchanges color-grading parameters with IRIDAS' FrameCycler uncompressed playback applications to allow color-corrected playback of the unchanged source material. Actual output of frames can be deferred until the last point in the pipeline.
IRIDAS will provide technology previews of SpeedGrade and FrameCycler 3 at the nVidia booth (#2625) at Siggraph 2003 in San Diego, CA, July 29 through 31. SpeedGrade is scheduled for release in the fall of 2003.
New form PNY Technologies is the Quadro FX 3000 series of professional workstation graphics boards. Debuting at Siggraph 2003 (Booth 2522), the Nvidia Quadro FX 3000 and Quadro FX 3000G by PNY offer 27.2 GB/sec memory bandwidth and powerwall capabilities.
PNY says the Quadro FX 3000G is its first graphics board to offer both framelock and genlock functionality. Framelock links multiple systems in order to synchronize video across multiple displays and projectors, while genlock synchronizes graphics with other media streams such as audio and video for compositing and editing. Both the FX 3000 and the FX 3000G offer the additional ability to drive a single-system dual-channel powerwall, which allows any application to be projected from a single system onto a large projected display with edge blending to achieve uniform luminosity.
The Quadro FX 3000 comes with 256MB of high-speed memory and Dual DVI (1 Dual Link TMDS Display) and a workstation stereo connector. MSRP $2,295
The Quadro FX 3000G synchronizes standard graphics with standard video formats and house-sync signals for video post-processing and editing. It also synchronizes the output of multiple systems for clustered applications. It comes standard with Dual DVI (1 Dual Link TMDS Display), BNC (Genlock), two RJ45 (Framelock) and a workstation stereo connector. MSRP $2,995
Japanese mobile-3D-rendering-technology firm HI Corporation intends to offer its Mascot Capsule Engine to customers of Motorola's Innovative Convergence i.250, 2.5G GSM/GPRS handset platform.
The platform integrates hardware, software, development and test environments. The Mascot Capsule Engine is a compact software engine that enables real-time rendering of 3D graphics applications on mobile handsets. HI Corporation intends to make the Mascot Capsule Engine available to customers who plan to enable 3D-rendering capability and incorporate 3D graphics applications into consumer devices.
The HI technology is also scheduled to be available to Motorola's i.MX applications processor customers and i.Smart Smartphone reference design customers.
"Content will drive the sales of new devices for wireless, entertainment, and information exchange, and innovative 3D graphics capabilities are becoming a necessary feature for all 2.5G phones," said Kenny Cheung, Asia Pacific region general manager for Motorola's Wireless and Mobile Systems Group. "… we believe 3D capabilities such as these will help move content, devices, and the industry, forward."
Do it today; don't delay! Deadline for the Call for Submissions is July 28, 2003, 12:00 AM (ET). Submit a proposal at www.gdconf.com/abstracts.
The Unified Modeling Language, or UML, is a standard notation--a visual language--used for modeling and communicating about systems. Using diagrams and supporting text as a means of communication, the UML makes it possible for team members to collaborate to successfully develop systems. Seemingly simple, UML is a rich and expressive language, and is quickly becoming an industry standard for specifying and documenting software systems, endorsed by almost every maker of software-development products. "Learning UML" (O'Reilly, US $34.55) by Sinan Si Alhir begins with an introduction to UML and then leads readers through an orderly progress towards mastery of the language.
Readers begin by learning how UML is used to model the structure of a system. Many key UML concepts, especially that of the general (classes) versus the specific (objects), are illustrated in the chapter on class and object diagrams.
Next, readers learn how to use use-case diagrams to model the functionality of a system. Finally, they learn how component and deployment diagrams are used to model the way in which a system is deployed in a physical environment.
Each chapter in "Learning UML" uses an example-driven approach to progressively introduce key UML concepts with increasingly more involved examples. Using a project-management system case study, the book guides the reader though learning how to read, understand, write, and apply the UML. Exercises are included so readers can practice and improve their skills.
Chapter 8, "Activity Diagrams," is available free online at: http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/learnuml/chapter/index.html
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has spearheaded an effort to create an extension of the Web that brings meaning and order to Web data. It's called the Semantic Web, and at its core is the Resource Description Framework (RDF), an application of XML.
While the Semantic Web is still more a concept than a reality, RDF, which provides the tools and syntax to structure complex Web data, is being used right now in an increasing number of business applications.
"Practical RDF" (Shelley Powers, US $39.95) explains how to use RDF with information from library catalogs and worldwide directories to bioinformatics, Mozilla internal data structures, and knowledge bases for artificial intelligence projects.
After an introduction to RDF, the book covers the RDF specification documents. The second section focuses on programming language support, and the tools and utilities that allow developers to review, edit, parse, store, and manipulate RDF/XML. Subsequent sections focus on RDF's data roots, programming and framework support, and practical implementation and use of RDF and RDF/XML.
Chapter 8, "Jena: RDF in Java," is available free online at: http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/pracrdf/chapter/index.html
Thanks to a recent deal, indie publisher GarageGames will soon release Bridge Construction Set for Windows from developer Chronic Logic. Formerly known as Pontifex II, the aim of the game is to design and build bridges. Once your bridge design is completed, it's tested by trains and other vehicles traveling across it As you watch, the vehicles either pass over safely or plummet into the river below, depending on your design. BCS uses complex physics, which allows for many different types of bridges to be built and tested. The 3D graphics engine lets the user view the bridge from any angle, including a first-person train view.
BCS includes many types of levels, varying in difficulty from simple to complex. It also includes a level editor with which you can create your own levels to trade with other people. The full version includes:
Montreal-based Kaydara Inc., a developer of 3D character-animation and motion-capture solutions, has selected Mac OS X as the single Unix-based operating system for the development of the upcoming release of Kaydara Motionbuilder 5.
"Based on feedback from customers and our current industry projections, we do not believe the 3D market warrants the development and support of two different Unix-based platforms," said Michel Besner, president of Kaydara.
Anark Corporation last week finalized its Series C financing round, closing a total of $3.5 million in new equity. The company says it is buoyed by growing product sales and successful product development, including the recent launch of Anark Studio 2 and upcoming Mac OS X launch.
Denver-based 5280 Partners joins existing investors Holden Capital, Murphree Venture Partners, and Wolf Ventures in completion of the Series C round. Anark plans to use the additional capital for continued sales ramp, increased distribution channels and to increase overall market awareness.
In addition to closing the round, Anark announced that Jeffrey Bennis, managing member at 5280 Partners, has joined Anark's board of directors. Bennis previously served as president and COO of cable system operator Rifkin & Associates, and in various operational and marketing roles with Bristol-Myers Squibb Company.
Infinium Labs says that, due to the postponement of the Ultimate Gamers Expo, the unveiling of its Phantom game console will take place online at midnight on Sunday, August 17 at http://www.phantom.net and http://www.infiniumlabs.com.
Added Timothy M. Roberts, Infinium CEO/founder, "We also will explore the opportunity to exhibit the Phantom game console at COMDEX, the global technology marketplace trade show that takes place November 17-20, 2003, in Las Vegas."
Phantom is a next-generation game console said to support games on demand, game rentals, game demos, seamless upgrades and patch management. Infinium claims that at launch, it will be the fastest console on the market and will include a broad selection of pre-loaded games. Phantom is an always-on broadband device, which will allow gamers options including wireless connectivity to massive multiplayer capability to allowing gamers to demo games before purchasing or subscribing.
Sony Computer Entertainment America last week released Downhill Domination for PlayStation2. Developed and created by the company's Santa Monica studio with Incog Inc. Entertainment, the downhill mountain bike racing game features professional riders, licensed manufacturers, a music roster, and courses from around the globe.
Downhill Domination is based on the extreme sport of downhill mountain bike racing and puts players in control of customizable mountain bikes to race down vertical mountainsides and urban environments while performing stunts at speeds in excess of 60 miles per hour. In first- and third-person perspectives, players will be able to select from one of 14 riders, including five pro-riders in a race to gain corporate sponsorship and a chance at the Downhill Domination Championship. Players can choose bikes from various manufacturers as well as more than 27 courses inspired by locations in the United States, Italy, Japan, and others.
id Software and Activision are bringing Doom 3 to QuakeCon 2003. The multiplayer gaming event will host the first-ever opportunity for fans to play Doom 3 multiplayer. In Dallas at the Adam's Mark Hotel from Aug. 14-17, QuakeCon attendees will go toe-to-toe at the Activision/id Software booth in the sneak preview.
Attendees will have the chance to play Doom 3's four-player Deathmatch on a level co-developed by id Software and U.K.-based developer Splash Damage, Ltd. Splash Damage most recently worked with id Software on Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, and will be co-developing Doom 3's multiplayer levels.
Coming to Xbox next spring is Activision's Tenchu: Return from Darkness. Building on the PS2 title Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven, the new title promises updated design and technical enhancements, new maps and features, and support for Xbox Live. The title is being developed by K2, Ltd. in conjunction with Prosoft Corp.
Set in the late 1570's, one year after the original Tenchu, the game lets players assume the role of the ninja Rikimaru, Ayame, or the mysterious Tesshu to battle the evil Tenrai and his six lords of darkness. As a silent assassin, the player must use cunning, strategy, stealth, and weapons to complete missions and defend the Japanese countryside from Tenrai's armies.
Tenchu: Return from Darkness will feature three gameplay modes including single-player, two-player (versus and co-op), and Xbox Live. The title will also include 11 stages of gameplay in the story mode with two new single-player maps and six multiplayer levels. Additionally, the game will feature new cut-scenes, enemy layouts, and a new training mode.
Here's TrendWatch's pre-Siggraph top 10 list of planned investment categories for all U.S. studios/facilities: (Have budgeted for & plan to buy one or more...)
--Excerpted from the TrendWatch Visual Effects/Dynamic Media Report - Issue #2, Winter 2003
Sign up for free TrendWatch Fast Facts featuring facts from Visual Effects/Dynamic Media reports at http://www.trendwatch.com/fastfacts/efx_03_07_22.html. These market facts are based on original TrendWatch market research with executives and business owners in the visual effects/dynamic media industries.
This month's Bandwidth Report compares cable and DSL broadband Internet access in the US. Cable has 67% to 105% more users than DSL in the US, according to two recent surveys.
Overall, broadband grew by .83% in June, with 36.7% of wired US users enjoying a high-speed connection. The charts and tables below, derived from Nielsen//NetRatings and Ipsos-Insight data, show trends in connection speeds to the Internet in the US.
As of June 2003, most users in the US connect to the Internet using dial-up modems of 56Kbps or less. 51.4% use 56Kbps modems, 9% use 28/33.3Kbps, and 2.9% use 14.4Kbps modems. In total, 63.3% of home users in the US connect to the Internet at 56Kbps or less (See the July 2003 Bandwidth Report)
Broadband penetration in US homes increased by .83% in May. As of June 2003 broadband penetration was at 36.7%, up from 35.87% in May. This is higher than the average increase in broadband of 72% per month from October 1999 to May 2003. Extrapolating the data provided by Nielsen//NetRatings, broadband share in the US should exceed 50% by June of 2004 (See the July 2003 Bandwidth Report)
As of June of 2003, of those connected to the Internet, 69.8% of US users at work enjoy a high-speed connection, up slightly from 69.7% in May. 30.2% connect from work at 56Kbps or less (See the July 2003 Bandwidth Report)
Ipsos-Insight found in a May 2003 survey of 1,000 US adults that 40% had broadband while 59% had a dial-up connection. Of those with broadband, 25% had a cable connection while 15% had a DSL connection. Confirming this trend, Nielsen//NetRatings found that cable has over twice the penetration (14.6%) of DSL (7.1%) in the US as of June 2003.
The Bandwidth Report is a monthly roundup of connectivity trends in the US and elsewhere. Each month's bandwidth report offers the latest statistics in Internet connectivity and broadband trends.
GDC Europe 2003 (London, 26-29 August) keynote speakers and panels feature:
Great Game Graphics...Who Cares?, Jason Rubin, Naughty Dog: The breakneck pace of improving graphics has driven video game sales since the first titles were unleashed on the public three decades ago. New technologies allowed designers to make better games, rake in more quarters, or sell more units of software. Most companies spent a majority of their effort winning the engine race by making each title look that much better than the competition, displaying more polygons, flashing this or that effect.
That era has ended.Although video game graphic improvement continues, and even accelerates, this lecture makes the argument that gamers won't care.
Developer Deathmatch: Peter Molyneux vs. Gary Penn, Peter Molyneux, Lionhead Studios, Gary Penn, Denki Ltd.: Peter Molyneux and Gary Penn represent two diametrically opposed corners of game development. Both are eloquent, articulate and passionate about what they do. Is there any middle ground? Is one approach better than the other? What does each really think about the other's ideas, and how do they judge each other's games? Look forward to a lively debate exploring two very different styles of games design and development.
Preparing for the Transition to What Issues Will Arise and How Does The Paradigm Shift as PS3, Xbox 2 and Gamecube 2 Come to Market?, Seamus Blackley, Capital Entertainment Group, David Braben, Frontier Developments, David Lau Kee, Criterion, Gary Liddon, Climax, Ian Shaw, Electronic Arts: Expectations for next-generation games is sky high, and the games need to deliver for the platforms to take off. The panel will discuss the issues involved in reaching this goal, including: changes in team size, increased development time and reconciling the consequent development budgets with likely initial sales, possible technologies that will be needed or will become available, and the various opportunities for smaller developers.
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- David Duberman
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