Spectrum: Interactive Media & Online Developer News 29 July 2002
Reported, written and edited by David Duberman
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Today's Headlines (details below)
--Web3D Consortium Releases Final X3D Draft
--Nvidia Open Sources Cg Compiler Technology --RoboDemo Builds Flash Demos, Tutorials --Microsoft Research Presents Seven Papers at Siggraph --SGI Demos Visualization Developments
--Eovia Releases Carrara Studio 2
--Discreet Announces character studio 4 --Curious Labs Announces Poser 5
--Eyematic Updates 3D Facial Animation Tool --Kaydara Announces Motionbuilder 4.0
--Alias|Wavefront Announces mental ray for Maya --InterSense, eMagin Show VR Headset
--Softimage Announces XSI Upgrade
--Side Effects Launches Houdini Compositing App --Next Limit Updates Real Flow
--Cebas/Trinity Launch Max Plug-ins
--Roland Debuts 3D Milling SW, Scanner
GAMES PEOPLE PLAY
--Activision Ships GBA Stuart Little 2
Web3D Consortium Releases Final X3D Draft
The Web3D Consortium last week announced the availability of the final working draft version of the X3D ("Extensible 3D") specification to bring 3D graphics to the Web and broadcast environments for a variety of applications and devices. The X3D final working draft was unveiled during the ACM Siggraph 2002 conference held in San Antonio, Texas, where demonstrations of X3D implementations were shown. The Consortium has also issued a Call for Implementations, inviting companies to evaluate and implement products using this open, royalty-free specification in preparation for submission of X3D to the International Standards Organization (ISO). The X3D specification is available for download at http://www.Web3d.org/specs.
X3D will ship with sample content to facilitate conformance testing and to educate content developers. The X3D Software Development Kit (SDK) CD will be available from the Web3D Consortium's Web site at http://www.Web3d.org/.
"The X3D Final Working Draft is the culmination of four years of design, implementation and evaluation by leaders in the Web3D industry," said former VRML guru Tony Parisi, currently president of Media Machines and co-editor of the X3D specification. "X3D integrates the best of proven 3D graphics technology with emerging Web and broadcast technologies to provide a flexible, open platform for developing compelling content."
X3D enables the creation and deployment of 3D graphics on small, lightweight clients, and the integration of 3D into broadcast and embedded devices. X3D also works with World Wide Web technologies including the Extensible Markup Language (XML) and the Document Object Model (DOM), providing application-development capabilities. X3D provides a componentized architecture that enables compact client players with add-on components, as well as a set of profiles designed to meet the demands of a variety of applications.
Earlier this year the X3D Interactive Profile was accepted by the Motion Picture Experts Group (MPEG) as the basis for lightweight, interactive 3D graphics in the MPEG-4 multimedia standard. The Web3D Consortium will deliver X3D with a rich set of base components and profiles with additional components and profiles to follow in the near future.
X3D has been developed by the Web3D Consortium with the backing of member companies, organizations, and professionals, including 3Dlabs, blaxxun, Media Machines, US Naval Postgraduate School, Nexternet, OpenWorlds, ParallelGraphics, Sun Microsystems, and Yumetech. X3D is already being used in a growing number of commercial, academic and government applications.
X3D comes with a sample open-source implementation, Xj3D. Xj3D is a java-based toolkit developed by Yumetech that allows companies to support X3D. The full source code is available under the LGPL license, and can be used by companies as a library without restrictions. To enable the deployment of Xj3D across a wide range of platforms and devices, the Web3D Consortium has formed the Java Rendering Working Group. The Java Rendering Working Group, led by members from Sun Microsystems, Yumetech and Aniviza, will define Java-technology bindings for common graphics application programmer interfaces, such as Direct3D and OpenGL, providing a foundation rendering layer for implementing X3D everywhere.
Nvidia Open Sources Cg Compiler Technology
At Siggraph, Nvidia Corporation announced that it is open sourcing its Cg Compiler technology under a nonrestrictive, free license. Available in August for download from the developer.nvidia.com and http://www.cgshaders.org/ Web sites, this code will contain the parser that reads the language and creates intermediate code for compilation, as well as a generic back-end. Together, these components provide everything required to create optimized Cg compilers for other platforms and architectures. In addition to the compiler, Nvidia has provided full source code for example shaders in the Nvidia Cg Toolkit.
"Petty licensing disputes have marred many attempts at industry-wide cooperation," said John Carmack, co-founder, owner and lead programmer of id Software, Inc. "Nvidia's decision to open source some of their development work with a very liberal license is a positive step that I hope other vendors will follow."
The Cg Language Specification provides developers with a programming environment designed for the creation of special effects and real-time, cinematic-quality experiences on multiple platforms. By providing a new level of abstraction, Cg removes the need for developers to program directly to the graphics hardware assembly language, and thereby more easily target OpenGL, DirectX 8.0 and DirectX 9.0. The language was developed in collaboration with Microsoft and is compatible with Microsoft's recently announced High Level Shading Language for DirectX 9.0.
Last month, Nvidia announced its Cg Toolkit, comprised of the Cg Compiler 1.0, optimized for DirectX and OpenGL; the Cg Browser, a prototyping/visualization environment with a large library of Cg shaders; a CgFX file format; the Cg Standard Library; and a collection of pre-written Cg shaders that can be used for a variety of applications, ranging from game development to digital content creation and computer-aided design. The Cg Toolkit and other user documentation can be downloaded at http://developer.nvidia.com/cg.
RoboDemo Builds Flash Demos, Tutorials
Coming next month from eHelp Corporation, the maker of RoboHelp, is RoboDemo, software for creating software demos and tutorials in Flash format. The tool is designed to let non-technical people to make animated, interactive demonstrations of software for use in marketing, training, and support. It combines Flash technology with a standard Windows interface.
RoboDemo can record Flash movies of any application in use, or any onscreen activity, which can then be played back as a demo or tutorial. Authors can enhance recorded movies with captions, images, click boxes, scoring, text boxes, audio, and special effects. Companies can use RoboDemo to create marketing demonstrations, training tutorials, and online support for their products. RoboDemo movies can also enhance software Help systems by offering end users a visual, step-by-step demonstration on how to perform a task.
A sample RoboDemo movie can be viewed on the Internet at http://movie.robodemo.com.
Microsoft Research Presents Seven Papers at Siggraph
Last week at Siggraph 2002, the leading industry conference on computer graphics, Microsoft Research (MSR) presented of seven technical papers in graphics research that detail tools and algorithms that enable game developers and interactive artists to render more realistic and accurate graphics in real time. Each research project was explored and developed in collaboration with graduate students from computer science universities around the globe.
"A dream for computer graphics is to create images on the screen in real time that are as clear, detailed and lifelike as what you see when looking out your window," said Rick Rashid, senior vice president of Microsoft Research.
Researchers presented graphics technologies they developed in the areas of motion capture, texture synthesis, images and video, lighting and appearance, and human and animal rendering. Such technologies have the potential to enhance gaming, animation, movie special effects, and industrial design and prototyping applications. Many of these tools and algorithms address primary challenges to producing high-quality graphics, including computational costs, transmitting, and displaying complex geometric models.
Some of the papers presented last week are described below: * "Video Matting of Complex Scenes." A new kind of rotoscoping tool that builds upon Bayesian Matting can extract complex mattes, such as wisps of hair and smoke.
* "Motion Textures: A Two-Level Statistical Model for Character Motion Synthesis." Motion capture technology uses captured motion to create new but similar motion, so a virtual character can dance in a nonrepeating way after only a modest amount of motion-capture data has been recorded.
* "Precomputed Radiance Transfer for Real-Time Rendering in Dynamic, Low-Frequency Lighting Environments." A new, real-time method for rendering diffuse and glossy objects in any lighting environment captures soft shadows, interreflections and caustics.
* "Synthesis of Bidirectional Texture Functions on Arbitrary Surfaces." A six-dimensional texture mapping technology can be used for developing games that re-create artificial surfaces on any object.
Also at Siggraph, Microsoft Research collaborator and Harvard professor Steven Gortler, who has written several papers on image-based rendering, photo-realistic rendering and geometric modeling with Microsoft researchers, received the Significant New Researcher Award. The award recognizes researchers who have made a notable contribution very early in their career and are likely to make more.
Founded in 1991, Microsoft Research conducts both basic and applied research in computer science and software engineering. Its stated goal is to develop new technologies that simplify and enhance the user's computing experience, reduce the cost of writing and maintaining software, and facilitate the creation of new types of software. Microsoft Research employs more than 600 people, focusing on more than 40 areas of computing.
Researchers in five facilities on three continents collaborate with academic, government and industry researchers to simplify and enhance technology in such areas as speech recognition, user-interface research, programming tools and methodologies, operating systems and networking, graphics, natural language processing, and mathematical sciences. More information can be found at http://www.research.microsoft.com/.
SGI Demos Visualization Developments
At Siggraph 2002, SGI showed developments and new milestones in its advanced visualization initiatives, including:
Project X: Presented in collaboration with the Scientific Computing and Imaging (SCI) Institute and the Geometric Design and Computation Group (GDC) of the University of Utah, Project X demonstrates techniques for visualizing massive scene complexity, such as huge volumetric data sets, smooth surfaces and curves, with interactivity and realism.
Based on the *Ray (pronounced "star ray") technology developed at the University of Utah, Project X demonstrates interactive rendering of more than 50GB of data, with representations of sophisticated lighting, transparency and reflection effects said to be more accurate than those found in traditional rendering approaches. By handling smooth or curved objects and volumes in their "natural" state instead of translating them into millions of triangles, Project X reportedly demonstrates rendering speeds equivalent to tens of billions of triangles per second and advanced lighting, shading and effects beyond techniques available with traditional computer graphics.
Using an SGI Onyx 3000 series visualization system to generate completely interactive images, the Project X demonstration ushered viewers through a series of submerged themed rooms connected by transparent tubes showing the complex play of light through the surrounding ocean environment. Other Project X demonstrations included:
* The Living Room illustrated how this rendering approach could be used to improve visual quality and speed design reviews by showing the accurate lighting, soft shadows and surface details of objects including diffraction effects from a curved water pitcher
* The Graphics Museum showcased a historical look at important advances in computer graphics demonstrating renderings of extremely high resolution and curved surface models
* The Science Room illustrated the extraordinary quality of imaging that could hugely improve medical diagnostics, featuring the "Visible Woman" medical model which allows users to examine the skeletal, organ, vascular and muscle systems of the human body in great detail * The Galaxy Room demonstrated the speed and detail with which special effects can be created. It contains all of the solar system's planets and moons, which will all be accurately choreographed with elliptical orbits and painted with high-resolution layered texture maps including reflective bodies of water and swirling clouds casting shadows across planetary terrain
SGI also introduced the new InfiniteReality4 graphics subsystem, which can support up to 16 InfiniteReality4 graphics pipelines, each supporting a different independent user or viewing angle. This allows multi-disciplined design teams to collaborate using a single high- resolution image in a seamless, scalable display.
In addition, SGI unveiled the latest in both SGI Reality Center environments for local group collaboration and Visual Area Networking for network-based collaboration. Features include new mobile-device and set-top box capabilities along with data navigation, display and high-performance distance-collaboration capabilities. A sweeping 30-foot by 12-foot curved display surrounds and immerse viewers in live, interactive guided tours of the textures, volume, composition, topical and interior details of exhibits that include: the first 3,000-year-old mummy to be studied without unwrapping or damaging the artifact; ancient Greece's Temple of Zeus; oil fields and other subjects rendered with incredible accuracy. The demonstration features an SGI Onyx 3000 series system configured with 32 processors, six InfiniteReality family graphics subsystems, 16GB main memory, 3TB of high-performance storage with over 1.5GB per second bandwidth and BARCO DLP projectors for a front-projected, blended, curved display.
Eovia Releases Carrara Studio 2
Just out from Eovia is Carrara Studio 2, a new version of the company's 3D graphics software. New features include:
* Photon Mapping combines ray tracing and radiosity. Features include reflection, refraction, diffuse lighting, color bleeding, caustics, area light emitters (with no limitation on geometry and complexity), sky dome illumination, and environment illumination.
* Bones skinning helps modify, deform and animate an existing object or group of objects in real time, with all the influence zones being automatically calculated.
* Subdivision modeling allows the design of complex, detailed characters and organic shapes via simplified polygonal objects that are automatically subdivided to add detail.
* Native MAC OS X version
* Also: enhanced object selection tool, free and volumetric particle system, new physics engine, and enhanced anti-aliasing. qq
Discreet Announces character studio 4
Scheduled for release this fall from Discreet is character studio 4, a new extension to 3ds max. The new release adds a constraint-based animation mixer, an animation analyzer and fixer and quaternion function curves.
The non-linear animation mixer is designed to allow for the smooth blending of multiple motion files. Also, the new time warp ability gives animators control over staging and changing animation timings including increasing or decreasing the speed of motion.
The animation analyzer provides for precise correction of discontinuities through a complete analysis of any animated limb. The animation fixer takes it a step further with suggested fixes or "most likely resolution" mode, an option that enables the system to tweak the data in a way that maintains tangencies and provides smoother character motions. Finally, the ability to view quaternion rotations as function curves lets artists combine the smoothest method of rotation with control finesse of function curves displayed in familiar X, Y and Z axes.
Curious Labs Announces Poser 5
Curious Labs says it will release Poser 5, a new version of its $549 3D-character animation tool, late this summer.
New features include:
* FireflyRenderer- hybrid micro-polygon subdivision surface and raytracer render engine that enables render-time smoothing of facets, displacement mapping, 3D motion blur, depth of field, procedural textures, luminosity, refraction and reflection, shader tree with material nodes * dynamic cloth with physics and parametric cloth attributes * dynamic hair with growth, styling and physics controls * facial photo-based modeling with scanned 3D human head and texture database * FacePutty for interactive sculpting, and caricature and random head generators
* new 3D human figures with fully articulated hands and feet, featuring photo-realistic texture maps and facial morphs from RuntimeDNA * MorphPutty tool
* collision detection
Poser 5 will initially be available for Windows; details about a Macintosh version will be announced later this summer.
Eyematic Updates 3D Facial Animation Tool
Coming next month from Eyematic is FaceStation 2, an upgrade to its $2,000 3D facial-animation software suite. The software integrates computer-vision technology with speech analysis. FaceStation 2 includes additional ready-to-animate characters as well as workflow and usability improvements.
FaceStation 2 lets the user "drive" a shaded 3D character in real time using their own facial expressions and a camcorder attached to a standard PC. No motion-capture hardware, physical facial markers or offline rendering processes are required. It's integrated with standard 3D software packages including 3ds max and Maya.
The new version also includes an enhanced version of Avatar Editor, allowing the creation of ready-to-animate characters complete with morph targets by using front and side photographs.
Kaydara Announces Motionbuilder 4.0
Coming this fall from Kaydara is Motionbuilder for Windows XP, Mac OS X, and Redhat Linux at USD $3,495. The company's next-generation solution for 3D character animation will sport a new, drag-and-drop interface plus automatic character rigging, improved lip sync and facial animation, and real-time display.
Motionbuilder also natively supports Kaydara's FBX file interchange format, a format for 3D data that lets users acquire and exchange 3D assets and media from a wide variety of sources. FBX is supported by 3D content and streaming media vendors such as 2D3, Alias|Wavefront, Autodesk/Discreet, DI-O-Matic, Digimask, Expression Tools, InSpeck, Motek, NewTek, QEDsoft, Reflex3D, Softimage, Turbosquid, Vicon, Viewpoint and Zygote.
Alias|Wavefront Announces mental ray for Maya
mental ray for Maya version 1.5 will be available to licensed Maya 4.5 users as a free, public beta version plug-in for the Windows, IRIX and Linux operating systems, late this summer. The Mac OS X version will become available shortly thereafter.
The optional, integrated plug-in renderer for Maya will support functionality new to the soon-to-be-released Maya 4.5, including volume lighting and rendering, particle instancing and the Maya Fluid Effects Ocean Shader feature.
InterSense, eMagin Show VR Headset
InterSense, Inc., a developer of motion-tracking technology, and eMagin Corporation, which develops active matrix OLED-on-Silicon microdisplays for virtual-imaging applications, teamed to demonstrate an immersive visualization solution integrating the two companies' tech at Siggraph.
The system was showcased in a demonstration of Microsoft's Flight Simulator 2002 Virtual Cockpit feature. A demonstration binocular headset was configured using eMagin's microdisplays with SVGA resolution (over 1.3 million color picture elements) integrated with InterSense's InterTrax2 motion tracker. The InterTrax2 offers angular tracking with 3 degrees of freedom, speed and accuracy, zero jitter, stability and attitude-compensation algorithms and is compatible with most 3D applications.
Softimage Announces XSI Upgrade
Coming in October from Softimage is version 3.0 of the Softimage|XSI software. The new version is said to let users work interactively with larger data sets, giving them the ability to work with more complex characters in larger numbers, more static scene elements of greater detail, and more effects of greater complexity.
Coinciding with the release is a new crowd-simulation toolkit, a behavioral-animation and crowd-simulation system that incorporates behavioral scripting, visual state-graph editing and dynamic motion synthesis. New additions to character construction and setup include options for generating customizable biped and quadruped set-ups and rigs.
Other new features include:
* Interactive rendering including tools for working with HDR (High Dynamic Range) images and the integration of mental ray v.3.1 technology, with improvements in quality and speed.
* Integrated dynamics simulation environment includes multiple enhancements to its hair and fur dynamics tools, as well as enhancements to the "advanced particles" system.
* Integrated compositing adds animatable rotosplines, Cineon format support, film-grain tools and retiming tools.
* New tools for games artists include enhancements to the real-time shader tools, support for programmable Microsoft DirectX real-time shading effects, a DirectX CustomView, and Platform Development Kits (PDKs) for Microsoft XBox platform and for Sony's PlayStation 2.
The Softimage|XSI v.3.0 software also includes new versions of the XSI Viewer, the Viewer SDK, the XSI File Tool Kit (FTK), the dotXSI file format, a new C++ API for the XSI SDK, and tighter interoperability with Avid products.
Side Effects Launches Houdini Compositing App
Side Effects Software's new Houdini Halo, a stand-alone compositing and image editing application, will be commercially available in Q4 of 2002 at a list price of US$3,000.
Halo incorporates the same VEX and VOPs tools as Houdini Master. VEX is the language that is used throughout the Houdini family and allows artists to create custom operators to drive effects functions. VOPs, new to the 5.5 version upgrade, allow artists an interactive, visual way of creating custom VEX operators including shaders, composite operators, and more, without the need to write code.
Next Limit Updates Real Flow
Spain's Next Limit announced RealFlow 2.0 at Siggraph 2002. The next-generation release of the physically-based particle system simulates a variety of fluid states based on traditional computational fluid dynamic techniques.
The software calculates various fluid states through a series of unique algorithms and a collision engine that allow fluids to interact with a moving polygonal environment to create realistic fluid simulations. It is available as a stand-alone application, or as an addition to major 3D packages.
Enhancements include a new streamlined user interface that includes time-sliders to preview fluid simulations over time. Challenging ultra-realistic fluid simulations are said to be enabled by an improved internal engine for greater particle management. A new body-dynamics engine has also been included in this new version allowing 3D models to collide with and be dragged by the fluids.
RealFlow 2 retails for $895, and will be available online beginning September 1.
Cebas/Trinity Launch Max Plug-ins
Germany's Cebas develops plug-ins for 3ds max, and the U.S.A.'s Trinity sells them. Here're some new items they showed at Siggraph:
finalRender Stage 1 - plug-in GI renderer (will ship fall '02 at $695) * new form of per-bucket scene division said to allow fast rendering of large scene files.
* faster global illumination
* networked GI and raytrace rendering that works on each bucket * new form of displacement mapping said to allow raytracing of large amounts of smooth displaced geometry in practical timeframes. For example, a rock wall or ocean may be displaced into ten million or more polygons using any bitmap or procedural texture, which will reportedly render in a minute or so on a modern PC.
* new analytical light-particle model for creating reflected and refracted caustics more efficiently. Cebas says the new technology can create effects of bent light (such as a swimming pool bottom on a sunny day) quickly and also create the thin, wispy look of true caustics without artifacts.
* 3D motion blur
* new mode for sub-surface scatter, where light penetrates translucent surfaces and lights them from inside
finalToon - cartoon/illustration system * built in to finalRender stage 1, and available separately * includes image-based hatching, a new form of non-photorealistic rendering. Can create pen-and-ink, woodcut and scratchboard style art effects by accentuating the topography with the generated cross-hatching, * not a shader but an intelligent analytic engine for tracing and ink and paint * hand-drawn effects like shaky line strokes, scribbles and water colors
DeeZoo (sneak peek)
* hardware-based real-time rendering engine that displays 3D data in a Web browser
* control animation, material switching and other virtual-world controls * authoring system from within 3ds max
Crowd Creator (sneak peek)
* automated system for the creation of thousands of detailed human spectators, each with uniquely textured wardrobes and faces * included libraries of character geometry, material wardrobes, character motions
* support for changing seat types, seat orientation, and complex seat materials
Thinking Particles and Pyrocluster
* build procedural particle system from scratch
Roland Debuts 3D Milling SW, Scanner
At Siggraph, Roland demonstrated new ProMill 4-Axis CAM software for the MDX-650 benchtop milling machine, as well as the LPX-250 3D laser scanner.
ProMill 4-Axis supports full rotary and indexed 4-axis milling. It allows engineers to mill undercuts and other hard-to-reach areas with the Roland MDX-650.
MDX-650 benchtop milling machine turns CAD files into 3D prototypes and molds. Powered by AC servo motors on all three axes, it mills ABS, modeling wax, aluminum, brass and other non-ferrous metals. With its optional rotary axis, the MDX- 650 mills the full circumference of objects. It mills up to 200 inches per minute, and has a maximum work area of 25.56" x 17.69" x 6.06".
The LPX-250 3D laser scanner performs both rotary and plane scanning and includes 3D scanning and editing software. The $10,000 unit does plane scanning, capturing side cuts and cavities, and rotary scanning at up to 1,800 steps per revolution. Maximum work area is 10" (diameter) by 16" (height).
GAMES PEOPLE PLAY
Activision Ships GBA Stuart Little 2
Activision's new GBA title Stuart Little 2 features voiceover talent and sound effects from the movie and lets players continue the adventures of the CGI mouse beyond the movie. Players must solve the disappearances of Stuart's new best friend, Margalo, and Mrs. Little's wedding ring. They skateboard, dodge, jump and fly through 10 levels while competing in races, taking on foes, piloting a "bi-plane" and scaling skyscrapers in a hot air balloon. The multiplayer feature lets players go head-to-head as either Stuart or Margalo via the Game Link cable in racing action.
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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