Spectrum: Interactive Media & Online Developer News

30 May 2005
Reported, written and edited by David Duberman
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Today's Headlines (details below)

--Xara3D 6 Review

--Electric Rain Updates Swift 3D
--Toon Boom 3 Goes Beta
--Bauhaus Software Introduces Storyboarding Tools
--PD Pro Digital Painter Updated
--AutoDesSys Previews New form.Z Features
--Maya Helps Power Sith

--Cinema 4D and Cinebench Hit 64 Bits

--Wisconsin Center Announces 3D Classes
--"DHTML Utopia" Teaches Modern DHTML, DOM, Ajax Coding

--Activision Acquires Quebec Developer
--Midway to Use 3ds Max for Next-Gen Titles
--Skunk Studios Expands Portal with Premium Play

--Activision Ships Madagascar License
--Titans of Steel Goes Download
--"Arc The Lad: End Of Darkness" Goes Gold
--Adventure Company Announces New Titles

--About Spectrum



Xara3D 6 Review By Lucy Daggett

High-end 3D graphics programs like Maya and 3ds Max are amazing pieces of software. It's not farfetched to suggest that one could use them to produce movies on the order of recent releases from Pixar and Dreamworks Animation, given enough time, energy, and skill. And it's a fact that a number of game studios use them to create some of the titles that fuel the multi-billion-dollar interactive entertainment industry. But many potential users of 3D software just don't need that much power, especially at those kinds of prices ($thousands). UK software developer Xara is aware of this demand, and fills it nicely with Xara3D. The company recently released version 6 of the program, priced at a very reasonable $45.

Xara3D doesn't even begin to fill the shoes of a Softimage or 3ds Max, but then, it's not intended to. As with the remainder of the Xara software product line, it's aimed specifically at those creating Websites. If all you need is a spiffy, eye-catching logo or a piece of animated text, Xara3D will probably deliver nicely.

The Xara3D interface consists of a menu bar, toolbars to the left of and atop a 3D viewport, and a command panel to the right. When you start or reset the program, it creates a default beveled, extruded 3D logo (X3D Version 6) using a couple of different fonts framed by an oval border. You can rotate this logo in three dimensions by clicking on the background and dragging, or you can change the extrusion depth of the text or the frame by dragging the side of either. You can also move the drop shadow by dragging it; all nicely interactive.

To customize the text, you click a button to open the Text Options dialog, where you can change the font, set boldface/italic/outline styles, and change size, aspect ratio, justification, line and letter spacing, and even move text up and down, all on a per-character basis. Alternatively, you can set many of these interactively, directly in the workspace. There's lots of power here, probably more than most users will need.

Speaking of power, the Color panel lets you change color for 11 different items, including text front and sides together and separately, the border, the background, the shadow, and the three light sources. You can also position the three lights interactively by dragging arrows in the viewport; a fourth lets you control the shadow placement. And you can specify bitmap textures for several items, including the background, using a file dialog or simply by dragging and dropping from Windows Explorer. Supported input formats are JPEG, BMP, PNG, GIF, and even ICO. I was surprised to find a number of useful ICO files already on my hard drive, installed by other programs. In some cases, such as text, you can resize, rotate, and move the texture, but with the background texture you can only move it. Also, with a background texture present you can no longer interactively rotate the design, but it's easy enough to turn off the texture temporarily to restore that capability.

The Design panel provides options for your logo's overall look. Xara3D gives you five basic designs: Text only; Button, a filled border with 2D, solid-colored text; Board, which is essentially button with embossed text; Board With Holes (the text is cut out rather than overlaid on the border); and Border, which is the default type. You can use any of the included basic shapes as a border, or you can import a vector shape in the limited format range of WMF, EMF, and a few proprietary Xara formats. Other basic options include a nice selection of bevel choices.

That leaves animation, where, again, Xara3D offers a wealth of options. You don't have direct control over the logo animation, as in a completely custom setup with keyframes and tweening, but you can choose from eight different types, including one where the text types itself out as if from a typewriter, and others involving rotation and size changes. A fair degree of customization is available with some of these. For example, with the Pulsate style and the Border design, you can have the text and border shrink and grow in tandem, or in opposition, or have the text shrink or grow only while the border pulsates. You can also enter several pages of text (that is, a few lines of text per page) and have Xara3D cycle through them.

The last step is outputting your image or animation; supported formats include AVI, GIF, Flash bitmap and vector, and ANI (animated cursor), a format readily abused by amateur Web designers who tend to end up as the butt of jokes by more experienced Websters. The compact Flash vector format doesn't support such options as shadows and textures, so it's nice that that Xara3D offers a quick way to preview this output option via a toolbar button.


I'm a relative novice in the world of 3D graphics, but even I had little trouble picking up Xara3D 6 and producing great-looking results within a few hours. With its easy interaction, abundant options, and the included library of nicely varied shapes, textures, and animation, you too should find yourself able to bring a touch of distinction and class to your Website without breaking a sweat (even in the summer heat). Just be careful not to go overboard with the animated cursors.




Electric Rain Updates Swift 3D

Electric Rain, Inc. recently released Swift 3D version 4.5, a standalone application allowing designers to build and export vector and raster-based 3D animations for Macromedia Flash, as well as FLV (Flash Video), QuickTime, AVI and other popular formats. New features allow the program to be utilized in conjunction with video-editing tools such as Adobe After Effects and Apple Final Cut Pro to add 3D elements, titling, and motion graphic effects to video projects.

In addition to providing vector- and raster-style video export, Swift 3D 4.5 introduces vector-rendering enhancements including pen-style outlines for improved cartoon rendering, adjustable shadow density and color, realistic transparency, render speeds up to 50 times faster, control over outlines at intersections, support for Level 3 EPS, and enhanced SVG output.



Toon Boom 3 Goes Beta

Montreal-based Toon Boom Animation recently released the beta version of Toon Boom Studio v3 for Mac and PC. New features include: * The Free Transform tool lets users apply any combination of scaling, rotation, skewing.
* Users can also add text for effective communication in Web presentations, comic strips and more.
* Automated lip sync tools allow fast soundtrack synchronization .
* Improved sound scrubbing enables accurate adjustments to the lip synchronization.
* Users can animate with key frames and use interpolation to create animation faster.
* The library enables users to save drawings, animation cycles and motions for reuse.
* The time line lets the user organize layers, set the timing, and attach motion paths to elements.
* cell-swapping and templates
* Users can create dollys, trucks, zooms, and other eye-catching camera moves, with the 3D space and camera.

Toon Boom Studio v3 also improves animation keyframing, asset reuse, and lip synchronization. In addition, the release offers a simplified user interface with Drawing and Sceneplanning modes combined into a single mode.

The customer release is scheduled for early July 2005. All customers who purchase Toon Boom Studio between today and the customer release will receive the upgrade at no charge. Upon customer release, the v3 upgrade will sell at $ 199.99 USD for V1/V2 customers and at $ 99.99 USD for V2.5 customers.



Bauhaus Software Introduces Storyboarding Tools

Just out from Bauhaus Software Inc. is Boardomatic, digital storyboarding tools for the Mirage 2D animation and special effects system. Designed for 2D animators and storyboard artists accustomed to working on paper, Boardomatic lets artists produce digital storyboards and animatics. Boardomatic is available now to all current Mirage owners and users who downloaded the full-use Mirage demo version.

Designed in conjunction with animator Rusty Mills (“Animaniacs,” “Pinky and the Brain”) and others, Boardomatic provides a digital equivalent to classic storyboarding techniques, with the benefits of digital manipulation. Boardomatic's key features include built-in preset storyboarding templates, as well as automatic generation of different pan layouts. In addition to using Mirage's range of natural-media tools to digitally “draw” storyboards, Boardomatic lets artists scan-in and place thumbnails for board creation, or completed paper storyboards for revisions. Finished digital boards can be customized with logos, user-defined page numbers, and notes, and then printed out in standard two or three-panel formats. Digital boards can also be combined with sound files to generate animatics. Artists can return to these digital storyboard files later if any adjustments are required.

Boardomatic is a free toolbar extension for existing Bauhaus Mirage customers, and is available now for download at www.bauhaussoftware.com. Boardomatic is available for both Windows PC and Mac OS/X; Boardomatic tutorials are also available on the Bauhaus Web site.


PD Pro Digital Painter Updated

Dan Ritchie, author of PD Pro Digital Painter, has released a new free update patch for users of PD Pro 3.x. Version 3.1a contains new tools for traditional animators, improvements on existing tools, and minor bug fixes. It was also rebuilt against new versions of image conversion libraries and a treeview navigation system. Batch image conversion reportedly benefits from this as well.

"I'm a traditional animator myself and I've created Dogwaffle as a tool for my own projects in animating Silver Squirrel," said Ritchie. "Since we recently introduced multi-page scanning it was fitting that we added additional tools to help and assist in cleaning up the scanned image sequences."

* Non-photo Blue removal: When scanning traditional animator's sketches it is common that blue shades are used on paper which need to be removed when scanning into a paint program, so as to return to clean black on white lines only. The new "non-photo blue" removal filter takes care of this across all frames of an imported animation.

* Edge Cleanup: Another common issue is that some lines are not clean, they bleed, and are generally not ready for color filling and shading. The new "edge cleanup" tool helps reduce the time an animator needs to manually fix imperfections in the directly scanned or file-imported image.

* Convolution Kernel: A generalized convolution kernel was added and is documented in the User Guide available at TheBest3D.com/dogwaffle/help

* maXsharpen: A new sharpening tool creates interesting color-reduction side-effects for the benefit of new cartoonish styles.

Other new features and improvements are listed at http://www.thebest3d.com/dogwaffle/whatsnew


AutoDesSys Previews New form.Z Features

AutoDesSys, Inc., the developer of form.Z, recently previewed new tools it is currently working on and plans to release in the near future in form.Z 5.5 and 6.0.

form.Z 5.5, scheduled to be released in the next couple of months, will add newer versions of its smooth modeling and rendering libraries, but also a number of enhancements and new tools. Among these is Bend Along Curve, which, as its name suggests, bends an object along any freely flowing 3D curve, according to a variety of alignment options. For example, this operation can take a linear object like a pencil and give it the shape of a pretzel.

Object animation is the most significant feature of form.Z 6.0. This new feature enables objects and lights to be animated directly in form.Z. The new animation features expand upon the currently available camera animation capabilities. Like all tools in form.Z, animation is a design tool. Animation can be used for traditional design visualization or as a way of generating 3D forms from the animation process. The combination of animation transformation, parameter animation, morphing and deformation create a new dimension in design exploration and form generation. These are, of course, forms that cannot be created with classical traditional methods and imply results that can only be produced by artificially creative processes. form.Z 6.0 is scheduled to be released by the end of the summer.



Maya Helps Power Sith

Toronto, Canada-based Alias wants all and sundry to be aware that its Maya software was the only non-proprietary animation solution used to realize characters and scenes in the recently released Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith. Throughout the film's production, Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) reportedly used Maya as main animation and pre-visualization software, allowing the company's animators to create the performances of such fully digital characters as Yoda and the commander of the droid army, General Grievous. Scenes such as the film's opening, a space battle that ends with the acrobatics of a Maya-driven Obi-Wan Kenobi, were also animated with Maya.

With over 90 minutes of CG - 2,151 shots - Episode III makes use of a great deal of 3D animation talent and technology in order to tell its story. The most difficult shots to create were those where digital characters interact with real actors. Maya has been used as a 3D software and animation package at ILM for many years, but with this latest production it was elevated to the role of primary animation package.

Along with Yoda, who appears in 173 shots in the film, the other primary character who is 100% CG is the part-droid, part-alien General Grievous. Like Yoda, Grievous, who appears in 84 shots, has to interact - often at the point of a light saber - with real actors. Because Grievous' alien visage is predominantly sheltered behind a droid mask, he did not require the high levels of detailed facial animation seen in Yoda. Nevertheless, Grievous has many unique, sometimes "creepy" Maya-driven moves.

Also, many of the key, "live" cast members - including Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan Kenobi), Hayden Christensen (Anakin Skywalker), Ian McDiarmid (Supreme Chancellor Palpatine) and Christopher Lee (Count Dooku) - had their own Maya-powered stunt doubles. The digital doubles are used to perform feats and acrobatic stunts that would be difficult or dangerous for live actors.



Cinema 4D and Cinebench Hit 64 Bits

Maxon Computer recently released its software in 64-bit versions for the Windows 64 operating system. Claimed benefits include increased available memory and improved speed.

The 2GB memory limit has been topped for Cinema 4D, making up to 1 terabyte (1024 GB) RAM available for large projects. As a result of the optimized performance for 64-Bit processors, improved rendering speeds of up to 20% have reportedly been achieved.

The benchmark application Cinebench, used by Intel to test its CPUs, is also available in a 64-bit version and lets owners of 64-bit systems put their computers to the test.

All 64-bit CPUs such as Intel's Pentium 4 and Xeon with EM64T expansion as well as AMD 64 and AMD Opteron are supported. Windows XP Professional 64 or a 64-bit compatible Windows operating system is required.




Wisconsin Center Announces 3D Classes

Virtual Partners recently announced its schedule digital media classes in 3ds Max, Viz 2006, Combustion, Character Studio, AutoCAD and Forensic Animation, taught by animation experts in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

The classes are hands-on, open to the public, and do not require a portfolio review for admission. Classes are limited to eight attendees to ensure personalized attention and run from 8AM-5PM each day. In addition to standard course materials, attendees receive any books published by the instructors as an adjunct to their training experience.

Classes include:
* Forensic Animation with David Wright will start with basics and move through the essential information of forensic animation in the U.S. legal system. Class will include video samples from actual cases and discussion of issues involved with cases.
* 3ds Max/Viz with Ted Boardman
* Comprehensive Introduction to Character Studio with Derek Elliott
* Comprehensive Introduction to Combustion with Gary Davis: learn workflow, techniques, tips and tricks.
* AutoCAD with Lee Ambrosius
* AutoCAD 2006 Upgrade Class from 2005
* AutoCAD 2006 Upgrade Class from 2004
* AutoCAD 2006 Upgrade Class from 2000/2000i/2002
* Streamlining Design through: Introduction to VBA for AutoCAD
* Streamlining Design through: Advanced Techniques in VBA for AutoCAD
* Streamlining Design through: Customization for AutoCAD
* Streamlining Design through: Introduction to AutoLISP/Visual LISP
* Streamlining Design through: Enhancing AutoLISP/Visual LISP with DCL

All classes are held at the Virtual Partners Training Center, located in the Allouez Business Center, 1920 Libal Street, Suite 10A, Green Bay, Wisconsin 54301. To register for an upcoming class or for additional information, contact James Murphy at 800-701-7936 or 920-435-7345 or via email at murph@virtualpartners.com. For complete schedules and course information, including pricing, registration forms, and hotel accommodations, visit them on the web at www.virtualpartners.com.


"DHTML Utopia" Teaches Modern DHTML, DOM and Ajax Coding

SitePoint Pty. Ltd. (SitePoint.com), provider of content for Web authors recently released "DHTML Utopia: Modern Web Design Using JavaScript & DOM," a primer on modern, standards-compliant DHTML techniques by Stuart Langridge.

"As Web users evolve, they demand more from the online experience. Yet many Web professionals hesitate to use technologies that may not work for all users, in all browsers," noted SitePoint CEO and co-founder Mark Harbottle


In this, SitePoint's ninth title, author Stuart Langridge utilizes Web standards, and separates code from markup as he constructs usable and interactive DHTML applications that degrade gracefully.

From the Document Object Model, remote scripting, and Ajax, to XML-RPC and xPath, the book dips into a range of technologies as vehicles to a more usable, and enjoyable online experience.

DHTML Utopia: Modern Web Design Using JavaScript & DOM Stuart Langridge, 318 Pages ISBN: 0957921896 , $39.95 USD / $55.95 CAD http://www.sitepoint.com/books/dhtml1/



Activision Acquires Quebec Developer

Publisher Activision, Inc. recently acquired game developer Beenox, Inc. The company says that the acquisition further bolsters its internal development capabilities by providing it with a foothold in the province of Quebec, one of the fastest-growing development talent pools in North America.

Activision has worked with Beenox since 2003 on games including such titles as Shrek 2, Tony Hawk's Underground 2, and its upcoming release, Fantastic Four. Beenox has established itself as a leader in platform conversion technologies that allow for simultaneous multiplatform game development. On March 17, 2005, the studio received the "Innovative Enterprise of the Year" award at the 22nd edition of the Fidéides Awards, organized by the Quebec Business Council.

Under the terms of the agreement, Beenox has become a wholly owned subsidiary of Activision and Beenox's management team and key employees have signed long-term employment contracts with Activision. The 32-person team will continue to be based in Quebec City, Canada.



Midway to Use 3ds Max for Next-Gen Titles

Autodesk says game developer and publisher Midway has adopted Autodesk 3ds Max animation software for use in its next-generation games production. Midway will be using 3ds Max 7.5 to help create new titles.

Midway has been a 3ds Max software customer for years, creating scores of game titles, including Area 51 and the upcoming Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks and Blitz: The League, out of its Chicago, San Diego, Austin, and Los Angeles studios. The decision to advance its use of 3ds Max software came as the company wrapped up a review of tools to drive future development.

Midway debuted its latest games lineup at E3 earlier this month.



Skunk Studios Expands Portal with Premium Play

Game Trust, an infrastructure for casual games, and developer Skunk Studios plan to expand SkunkStudios.com (http://www.skunkstudios.com) with premium games and skill tournaments for cash and prizes, powered by Game Trust.

SkunkStudios.com has become a casual game destination by featuring franchise titles, including “Gutterball 2” and “Tennis Titans.” Nearly one million unique visitors per month download and play games at the destination, according to recent MediaMetrix data. Players will now be able to compete in skill tournaments for cash and prizes on SkunkStudios.com. The new tournament titles provided by Game Trust include more than 20 titles, such as a series of online pool games, “Shroomz,” and “Secret of Maya.”

Founded in 2002, Game Trust (www.gametrust.com) is a platform for premium game play said to reach a combined audience in excess of 130 million players per month. The company is venture backed with offices in New York and Denmark.




Activision Ships Madagascar License

Just out from Activision is DreamWorks Animation's Madagascar The Game, based on the CGI feature film. The game lets players discover their true animal instincts when a journey lands them on the remote island of Madagascar. Gamers must master each animal's individual survival skills in order to tackle obstacles and foes in scenarios from the movie and beyond.

The title features lifelong pals Alex the lion, Marty the zebra, Melman the giraffe, and Gloria the hippo as they escape from the zoo, encounter a crew of plotting penguins, and land on the strange and exotic island of Madagascar where they each learn unique skills that help them work together to survive in the wild.

The team discovers the unknown by roaring, racing, spinning, sneaking, puzzle solving, and exploring varied environments, interacting with animals and characters exclusive to the game and playing head-to-head against their friends in mini-games such as "Tiki Golf" and "Lemur Rave."

The handheld versions of the game also gives players the gameplay and the Nintendo DS version lets players engage in wireless multiplayer minigames and use the touch screen to switch characters in the middle of levels and to play mini-games exclusive to the DS version.

Madagascar The Game was developed for the console platforms by Toys for Bob, for the Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS by Vicarious Visions and for the PC by Beenox.



Titans of Steel Goes Download

Matrix Games says its title Titans of Steel: Warring Suns is now available to purchase via digital download. The title involves mech combat game and incorporates an open-ended role playing system that lets players choose among eight different race and gender combination. Each pilot has a statistics sheet and earns experience points, can be used to increase seven attributes and 19 skills. Pilots can go up in rank and receive additional training. They are assembled in squads, which can have eight pilots and up to 16 Titan-ATs. Titans-ATs can be configured with 74 internal systems, four armor types, 20 chassis styles, and 29 different weapons.

Titans of Steel is now available with a new fully updated v1.21 installer for Digital Download for $20 from the Matrix Games Online Store and the boxed copies of the original release are still be available for $30.



"Arc The Lad: End Of Darkness" Goes Gold

Coming soon from Namco Hometek Inc. is "Arc The Lad: End of Darkness" for PlayStation2. The first title in the Arc The Lad series to feature real-time combat, the new title lets players engage in clashes in a large, detailed game world alone or with friends, in the game's story mode or in online cooperative or competitive multiplayer modes.

"End of Darkness" takes place five years after the events of the "Arc The Lad: Twilight of the Spirits." Young warrior Edda's life is forever changed when he meets the mysterious Kirika. Players embark on a journey through evil-infested areas, utilizing weapons and magic to avert the threat, unlocking 24 playable characters from the Arc The Lad series in the process. Players can then take the adventure online, battling competitively with up to seven other players in match mode, or teaming up with three other combatants in co-op mode to proceed through quests, defeat enemies, and collect cards for items and rare equipment while upgrading their character.



Adventure Company Announces New Titles

This fall, The Adventure Company will publish The Sacred Rings, the sequel to Aura: Fate of the Ages, for Windows. The game is being developed by Streko-Graphics.

Since ancient times, a clan of Keepers has guarded a collection of sacred rings that, when united with several hidden artifacts, grant the holder infinite power and immortality. When a rival clan, led by Durad, makes known its intention to obtain this power for an evil purpose, the Keepers send their prized student to uncover the artifacts and deliver them, along with the rings, to Grifit, the Old Master. Umang's journey leads him to the portal of a world unknown even to the powerful Keepers.

In The Sacred Rings, the portal transports Umang to Manula Valley and a series of truths are revealed. To his dismay, Umang discovers that this world was once inhabited by the Keepers, hundreds of years ago, until it was taken from them by Durad and his clan. More disturbing, it is revealed that Umang's arrival in Manula Valley is just one more step in a plot manipulated by Durad to bring Umang and the rings one step closer to evil. He must now outwit Durad's powerful forces to complete his quest and return the sacred rings to his clan.

Features include:

Also, coming sometime from The Adventure Company, is Journey to the Center of the Moon for Windows, under development by Kheops Studio. Based on the premise of Jules Verne's novel, the game follows as a group of scientists create a space capsule with the intent of landing on the moon's surface. Where as in the novel, their mission fails, leaving them floating high above the lunar surface, in this adventure, they succeed.

As scientist Michel Ardan, the player can wander the surface of the moon in an unstable but breathable atmosphere and witness the explosion of plant life at dawn. Players explore locations including the space capsule, the lunar surface, an ancient temple, and other mysterious ruins. They will also encounter a subterranean civilization inside the moon, as well as the Selenite City, the home of an ancient but intelligent race, the Selenites.

With each step of the journey, questions arise as to the fate of the Selenite people: Did they deteriorate, like so many of the statues they left behind? Did they leave the surface to seek refuge in the center of the moon? Once players answer these questions, they may find their way to back to earth with news of their discoveries.

The game features a variety of puzzles and an "Intelligence Management" system. Actions made by the player throughout the game, as well as the puzzles they solve, are awarded points, raising their score and earning the respect of the Selenites. Along the journey, players interact with a cast of mysterious characters and creatures.




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/online-development tools and end product for review.

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