Spectrum: Interactive Media & Online Developer News

Special Edition: Siggraph 99 Report

19 August 1999

Written by Patric Hedlund and Michele Matossian

Edited by David Duberman

for editorial/subscription inquiries, send mailto:duberman@dnai.com

Check out Spectrum on the Web at http://www.3dlinks.com/spectrum

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Editor's note: All of the credit for today's special Siggraph edition of Spectrum goes to contributing editors Patric Hedlund and Michele Matossian. In the first part of the report, Ms. Hedlund writes about how, although the spirit of sharing found in the early Siggraph conferences has degenerated into crass commercialism and creeping propertization, a few rays of hope still remain. She goes on to discuss the possible death of the graphical user interface, and provides a brief tour of the fascinating Millennium Motel exhibit.

In the second part, Ms. Matossian interviews CyberEdger Ben Delaney about his reaction to announcements made at the Web 3D Consortium press conference. She follows this with an overview of the exhibition, including new software and hardware, and offers up her own experience of the Millennium Motel.

In the next regular Spectrum edition (23 August), we'll provide a wrap-up of the remaining show announcements.

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TODAY'S STORIES

The Unlimited Bandwidth of Human Imagination

By Patric Hedlund

The State of Web 3D: An Interview with Ben Delaney

By Michele Matossian

F.Y.I.

--About Spectrum

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The Unlimited Bandwidth of Human Imagination

By Patric Hedlund

HOARDER CULTS vs. HACKER HISTORY

In 1969, the year of Woodstock, a group of mathematicians and computer scientists gathered around chalkboards to share exciting discoveries about new algorithms that could make computers draw shapes and fill them with colors. The Association for Computer Machinery's Special Interest Group in Graphics, Siggraph, held its first conference guided by the generous hacker spirit of sharing discoveries. That practice catapulted a sideline in mathematics into a global revolution in how we think, build, play and dream.

The 30th anniversary of that meeting, Siggraph '99 in Los Angeles, has gone Hollywood, via Wall Street. The annual academic get-together to share innovation is now dominated by an expansive trade show where Vegas-style glitz and amplified corporate carnie barkers compete in a bedlam of hype backed by throbbing rock music.

Venture capitalists troll the halls to the snappy tune of NASDAQ stock price upticks and professors come equipped with both academic and start-up company cards to flip out of their vest pockets. When an eager grad student or researcher approaches to compliment a colleague, asking how they accomplished a specific bit of techno-wizardry, the standard answer--echoing on escalators, in restaurants, stairwells and restrooms--has become: "I'm sorry, I'd love to tell you, but that's proprietary."

Watching their faces, you believe these proud developers would love to yodel out the answers, that they would eagerly share the joy of discovery and dialogue with their peers. After all, that's why Siggraph was created: "Share what you know. Learn what you don't." Great mathematicians, it is agreed, stand on the shoulders of other mathematicians. In 1999 however, programmers are being asked to stomp on the feet of other programmers. The creeping propertization of information and ideas is encroaching on Siggraph like kudzu vines.

If there is a schizophrenia growing within the event, you can detect a tasteful attempt to accommodate it in the conference layout. The cavernous south wing of the LA Convention Center was dominated by commercial exhibitions and the Millennium Motel, which showcases products of the future. The west wing was devoted to panels, academic papers and well-equipped computer labs lit like discos.

The two were connected by a long walkway umbilicus featuring the art gallery, an electronic theater of animated films, training for teachers, and humorous exhibits referring to Siggraph's history. The marble floor of that corridor is engraved with the theme of evolution, from troglodytes through saber-toothed tigers to the modern-day City of the Angels. Conventioneers scuttle back and forth through this tunnel like RNA molecules, carrying information from one side to the other, but the sucking sound is increasingly one way.

Enrique Santos of Digital Domain encapsulated the situation during a panel on research and development in the film industry: "We implement Siggraph papers, we don't write them," he said, "but implementing a Siggraph paper often leads to enough discovery to fill a new Siggraph paper, maybe two. Unfortunately, we have to inhibit publishing until our product is out, which is often a two year lag, and by then we're hard at work on another project and don't have the time...."

"We do need to maintain an edge," Ed Leonard of DreamWorks, SKG agreed, explaining why the information loop so often gets broken by the large facilities. Paul Yanover of Disney Animation added that Disney's board of directors counts any techniques used on their projects as "a corporate asset worth lots of money that must be closely guarded." No one asked if the same accounting method led the company to pay taxes on the wealth the company has received in the form of freely shared ideas exchanged at prior Siggraph forums.

HACKERS vs. HOARDERS

It was into this depressing fog that Keith Goldfarb of RHYTHM & HUES shined a bright light by announcing that, as head of his company's R&D division and as a member of the company's board, he has initiated adoption of open source software. Currently R&H is using GIMP paint shareware with enthusiastic results. Now they are moving toward adoption of LINUX.

The auditorium erupted in cheers and applause.

A ripple of conflicted enthusiasm swept across the panel, as the heads of R&D for Pacific Data Images, Digital Domain, Disney Feature Animation, Pixar, Lucas Digital (ILM) and DreamWorks, SKG responded to the Rhythm & Hues challenge by saying they had agreed to work together to see how they could start moving toward "giving something back to the larger community" by adopting more open source tools.

If powerful graphics utilities emerge for Linux, the argument for adoption will be hard to resist. From the audience, Joe Higham, manager of software tools for Oscar winner Blue Sky Studios, reminded the group of Carnegie Mellon's report that open source software is uniformly less buggy than proprietary products. He added that his company would be more confident, however, when dependable support for Linux is routinely available.

 At that very moment, 20 men with cell phones glued to their heads rapidly left the room to check with their brokers about RED HAT, Inc. (which offers Linux support services and opened its IPO during the conference). Red Hat stock bounced from $14 to $90 while Siggraph was in session.

Meanwhile, over in the Exhibition Hall, SILICON GRAPHICS announced the release of its new SGI 1400L Server with Red Hat's Linux 6.0. SGI is launching this product at the same time they announce their new Windows NT server. SGI marketing execs said a Linux-based graphics station is in development. At the booth next door, COMPAQ got cheers for giving away cool T-shirts along with the news they are offering Linux on new consumer products. As the trend toward independent contracting and outsourcing to independent designers spreads, an increasing number of talented developers have a stake in the future of this question.

In the walkway, just beyond the troglodytes, a winning entry in Siggraph's Fortune Cookie Sayings For the Future contest was printed on the wall: "One pixel by itself is a lonely thing, but that same pixel with thousands of friends will rule the world." Rhythm & Hues' Goldfarb put it this way: "The history of this field is open source and, we believe, so is the future."

There is seldom confusion about that fact among artists and futurists at Siggraph, so I headed over to a panel called Natural and Invisible Human Interfaces, to consider how interfaces are evolving "away from technology and toward human beings" in the words of Michael Harris of Bear Systems.

 "Why," he asked rhetorically as I found a seat, "are we spending millions and millions of dollars to make smarter and smarter CPUs to put into the same stupid boxes?"

IS GUI DEAD?

 The notion behind "outa yer face" interface design is to make controls disappear by using invisible systems which build upon skills we already possess and which respond to the natural motions and emotions of the human body.

"The Graphical User Interface (GUI) was invented in 1982 and hasn't essentially changed since. Do we really think we got it right?" asks Clark Dodsworth of Osage Associates, pointing to the exhausting level of focus required to use display screens composed of data-filled squares and 2D pretend click buttons which are much as they were first developed in Xerox Park over 17 years ago.

"In contrast," Dodsworth said, "there is emotion implicit in good design, it makes me feel good to use a tool that is intuitive."

 Dr. Hiroshi Ishii of the MIT Tangible Interfaces lab, for instance, experiments with real pinwheels that respond to "digital wind" and lovely old fashioned glass bottles with corks which--by way of illustrating new ways of thinking about bits--contain digital information in the form of music. When you uncork the bottle, the digital music spills out. The pinwheels are being tested in render farms and server co-location rooms, spinning faster and slower in response to the flow of digital traffic through the computers they are attached to. There is no need for people passing through the room to turn focused attention to monitoring machine status. As they work on other things, their nearly unconscious peripheral vision is alerted if a pinwheel stops (indicating machine failure) or starts spinning wildly (indicating a system which is approaching overload).

Interface researchers suggest that 50 percent of product development budgets should be allocated to "bringing the real world into the design loop" through emotional and social factors testing to explore the very important, if not always rational, issues of product usefulness, usability and desirability.

Caleb Chung of Toy Innovation (inventor of Furbee, the big-eyed furball with voice and memory chips for learning language, still selling a million units per month) suggests that toys are the perfect emotional onramp to the internet.

"It's much easier to make something fun smart than to try to make something smart fun," he said.

(Should you doubt Chung's notion, Microsoft already has a relationship with a for-profit subsidiary of PBS, testing toy characters that speak specified phrases in response to infrared beams triggered by digital streams carried invisibly within the vertical interval of children's television shows. As broadcast TV converts from analog to digital, the task of turning those toys into two-way interfaces will not present a significant technological stretch. Ethical issues, however, may prove to be a more difficult hurdle. )

As the panel spoke about the need to create systems that are works of art as elegant as a wooden scythe or a cello, the notion of evolving intelligence in the world of human artifacts took a blow when the wetnet plumbing bulletin began circulating in the rear of the hall. It seems the elegant infrared motion-sensing water faucets in the women's main bathroom at the Convention Center had stopped working, forcing everyone to line up behind one old-fashioned force-feedback lever interface to wash their hands.

Bill Buxton of Alias|Wavefront moved the panel smoothly back on track.

Buxton is not a man known for understatement.

"We're beyond the flying logo stage in effects and design," he said, churning up the excitement level with mention of the Z-CAM, which he claims can composite 3D objects and natural scenes in real time without specialized lighting or blue screen preparation.

"It brings the workstation inside the camera, for WYSIWYG cinematography," says Buxton, calling up a video to demonstrate real-time compositing of special effects with actors.

The Z-Cam pairs traditional optics and full-color, high-definition video with an infrared-beam system to generate a real-time gray-scale depth map of the human actors and natural environments. Prepared 3D objects are simultaneously inserted into the picture using the distance cues to composite the real and digitally generated images, complete with soft lighting and dynamic shadows.

Buxton's sample video showed a big 3D ring--let's call it the giant floating donut (sugar glaze, no messy chocolate)--that passes over the head and face of a human narrator as he speaks. The donut settles onto his shoulders for a moment before lifting back over his head and floating off.

Throughout this sequence the ring's shadow ripples believably over the actor's brow, nose, moving lips, chin and shoulders, causing all the shade changes across his face and body you would see if it were a real object.

The only clue that it isn't real is the fact that the actor fails to sneak a bite or at least lick the thing as it passes. Another sample shows an actor stirring a CG generated digital vapor cloud as it billows through the frame with apparent artifact-free response to the motion of the actor's hand.

Buxton contends that instant, in-camera compositing could cause a major change in the cost structure for creating digital effects, shifting development of 3D elements into preproduction and completing compositing during principal photography. A director able to watch the finished composite image in real time can be sure that actors and effects work together in each scene exactly as she originally envisioned.

Intrigued by the potential economies for the production process, I trekked back to the Exhibition floor in quest of the mythic WYSIWYG Z-Cam, only to discover finally that there is not yet one to be seen on this continent. Richard Kerris of Alias' marketing staff says it is being developed with a group in Israel and will be shown at IBC in Amsterdam in three weeks. But hey, what else should we expect from futurists?

Which brought up the question: what was going on down at the Millennium Motel?

MILLENNIUM DILEMMNIUM

Down two sets of descending escalators to the underground, the rooms beneath the Exhibition Hall carried forward the upstairs themes. Lights dim, your senses are plunged into the strange alertness which accompanies sudden blindness. The Millennium Hotel logo is projected like Batman beams across the carpets. People walk toward the islands of light, stopping to let their irises adjust.

As they became oriented, visitors catch sight of two lavish installations at the entry: one whimsical, one MTV, both expensive. The first includes a laser show of neon-colored beams circling colorfully through dark spaces, reaching toward a luminous white cloud with what appears to be streams of silver rain. Excited faces from many countries glimmer in the black light.

Through the laser rainbow and rolling mists of fog-machine haze a group of people laugh as they reach up to pull on the silver strings. A choir of sixty MIDI voices sings in response. People play together, tugging and listening, discovering as a team how the nature and duration of a tug on each string can result in new voices, crescendos, sustained or staccato phrases of sound. The installation was a success. It gathered people together, all leaning into a playful mystery, stretching their bodies in open space to explore with each other, learning how to make a raincloud sing.

Adjacent to that, just a little deeper into the darkness, under a large "Route 66.6" title card, was a '56 Chevy on methamphetamines, a relic transformed into a sculpture emerging out of fog, a high-octane testosterone dream car launching at a steep angle into a 60 foot cinerama screen playing a continuous loop of a desertscape highway--say the drive through Monument Valley or most any background matte from a RoadRunner cartoon. People gazed at the lavish screen, slid into the front seat, tried steering the car, discovered a 5-percent shift in the huge projection from left to right. That was it for interactivity. A 3,000-pound on-off switch with very limited responsiveness. Far less of a thrill than getting onto the L.A. Freeway, or even having a chat with the taxi driver on the trip back to the hotel. Flash over substance, hugely expensive stage props that did not even attempt to tap into the unlimited bandwidth of human imagination.

Siggraph invested lavishly in the Millennium Motel entry displays, spending with the classic abandon of the nouveau riche, unintentionally illustrating the best and the worst tendencies of lots of money coupled with unexamined values. The future, if we are to believe the meta message, threatens to be a place of technology for its own sake, but where occasionally a delightful innovation makes the merely mediocre snap into background as the price we're willing to pay to create conditions in which the truly inspired may surface.

Corporate sponsors appear to have contributed generously to implement Siggraph '99, and the organizing committees have done a seamless job of coordinating a complex event which extends unparalleled resources to multiple interest groups. This is a truly astonishing event for diversity of offerings and generosity of spirit.

For the artist and the scientist, Siggraph is still the greatest show on earth.

 

BIO:

Patric Hedlund, M.A., is an Applied Media Anthropologist, multimedia artist and systems integrator who has extensive television production credits. She supervised design and construction of a 300-family broadband interactive community cable TV system equipped with house-to-house video conferencing; created SoftForce(R), an exploration of consciousness states as a computer interface; and is currently working on a book and film about the power of augmented reality to alter the human neurosystem. (Learn more about Dendrite Forest, Inc., Hedlund's own "sorry, that's proprietary" company, at http://www.forests.com) .

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The State of Web 3D: An Interview with Ben Delaney

by Michele Matossian

"The big news was no news," according to Web 3D expert and former CyberEdge editor Ben Delaney. While acknowledging the relative importance of Blaxxun’s announcement to release its browser as open source for private use, the most important agenda item for the Web 3D Consortium has not yet been met--that of agreeing on a development standard for 3D on the web.

"If they don’t agree to work together--if Web 3D doesn’t provide an XML-compatible standard before the end of the year--they will not meet the World Wide Web Consortium's [W3C] deadline for new standards. This could be a big problem, as it would assign the Web 3D Consortium to a position of relative insignificance."

Given the relative dearth of 3D applications, he says that "A lot of people are deceiving themselves to think that people will jump to 3D simply because a new application has been released." Ben pointed out that there have been over 20 million 3D cards sold, but just half a million 3D applications. So what’s going on?

"The problem is that the standard development model is to throw a few smart geeks in a room and then hope, a few months later, that someone will buy your product." After stressing the importance of market research, Ben added, with typical irony, "So other than that, I’m very optimistic about it."

Taking a more serious tone, Ben noted that the leadership of the Web 3D Consortium--Neil Trevett and Don Brutzman in particular--are trying very hard to make this come together.

"It’s like herding cats. You have 30-odd members and a dozen conflicting standards. Nobody is willing to concede that theirs is not the best way to do it." What’s at stake here? So far, they are "fighting for a big share of a very small pie with a big potential." And what potential does he see for Web 3D?

"I think the potential is enormous. I think Internet shopping is the single biggest application." Using the example of amazon.com’s growing list of products, Ben says, "VRML can do it, but the files are still way too big, [and] there are still a lot of compatibility issues." He notes that there was a consensus around VRML, "but it’s time for the next thing."

Given the fact that there is no common agreement, and that there is no one with a successful enough application to force the issue, Web 3D may be facing its most serious challenge to date--the challenge of competing egos.

MILLENNIUM MOTEL

In the basement of convention center, we explored emerging technologies in the Millennium Motel. About half of the displays featured alternative input devices designed by students and teachers at the MIT Media Laboratory. For example, in "(void*) A Cast of Characters" a fork and dinner roll--both wireless--make three whimsical characters at a diner dance or fall down by controlling the movement and rotation of their hands. If the characters are made to fall down too much, they begin acting sad or fearful rather than dancing. If they are made to dance a lot, they cheer up, and their friends become interested in dancing as well.

Another interesting display, called "musicBottles," used perfume bottles for input. By uncorking the bottles, you release the sounds of a violin, a cello, and a piano, to create the fragrant sounds of a symphony. The "metaField Maze" brought the classic wood-and-marble game "Labyrinth" up to human scale. By leaping and jumping on an image projected onto the floor, you make the maze tilt, causing a virtual marble to hit or dodge obstacles as it rolls around in the maze.

From Japan, The Laboratories of Image Information Science and Technology presented a head-mounted display that created personal holograms using a single optical display element instead of mirrors for a wider-than-normal field of view. From the University of Tsukuba, the "Ensphered Vision" installation provided wide-angle viewing 270 degrees across by projecting an image around a single user onto a spherical cloth screen. The intention of its makers is to create a convincing display system that can be used in the home.

One of the most effective exhibits came from the ICC Museum in Tokyo. In this virtual environment, users participate in the generation of artificial--and intelligent--life forms called Life Spacies. These shy creatures hide in beautifully articulated, ever-changing 3D plants. Catching them with your hands causes them to clone. If two people occupy the same virtual environment, and they each catch a creature, the two creatures mate, producing a third species that is a "genetic mix" of their parents. You can also create creatures remotely by sending an email message to life@lc.ntticc.or.jp. After a few minutes, you are sent back a gif image of your creature. After a few weeks, you are sent back a "curriculum vita" documenting its life at the museum. To see more about Life Spacies creatures, go to http://red.ntticc.or.jp/~lifespacies/.

TOUCHY TREND

Haptic technology popped up repeatedly on the showroom floor. By using special input devices that provide force feedback, haptics allow you to "feel" the surface of a digital model. Existing applications include medical training for surgeons and dentists, automotive and aerospace design, and toy design. SensAble Technolgies, known for its PHANTOM series of hardware interfaces and GHOST SDK, introduced their new FreeForm modeling system for digital design and content creation aimed at sculptors and 3D designers. With FreeForm, you can sculpt new models, or import existing ones and modify them. SensAble also announced a new strategic partnership with 3D Systems, makers of the ThermoJet printer which creates wax-based thermoplastic sculptures from 3D models. FreeForm runs on Windows NT 4.0 and requires a dual-processor 300mhz Pentium II system with 512MB of RAM. It costs $15,000 for the haptic interface and modeling software. The ThermoJet printer, which is about the size of a large office copier machine, connects to workstations via an Ethernet network, and costs $49,995.

HARDWARE ROUNDUP

3Dlabs announced its new high-end Oxygen GVX210 video board. Priced at $1,999, the GVX210 features two Glint R3 rasterizers that work in parallel, a 256-bit memory bus with 64 MB SGRAM, and the Glint G2 6.3 polygons/second geometry processor. It drives two monitors at 2048x1536 true color resolution.

Not to be outdone, Matrox announced its RT2000 realtime non-linear editing solution that bundles the Matrox Millennium G400 accelerator, the RT2000 codec card, an a/v breakout box, and a content creation suite that includes Adobe Premiere. It is based on the Matrox Flex 3D architecture to create broadcast-quality DVE and 32-bit uncompressed animated graphics in a native DV editing environment. The cost of the mix and effects suite is $1,295.

DPS introduced its new Studio Digital Disk Recorder named dpsReality. It combines the power and functionality of the Perception Video Recorder and Hollywood systems. Its 32-bit file system stores alpha channel data with uncompressed or compressed video data, and it can handle multiple rendering into the system even while the board is playing video in realtime. This makes it suitable for rendering farms or for simultaneous use by animators and compositors. Bundled with the Digital Fusion DFX™ compositing and effects software from eyeon Software, the price will be "comparable" to the DPS PVR.

DPS also announced the new Lockstep 3.0 plug-in for controlling its PVR, PAR NT, Hollywood, and Perception RT/RT3DX systems from within 3D Studio MAX 3.0.

Intergraph announced its new Zx1VisZual and TDZ 2000 GX1 Workstations. The Zx1 features single or dual Pentium III 6000 processors, single or dual flat plane monitors, and single or dual Intense 3D Wildcat graphics cards. The GX1 features Pentium III Xeon processors and Intense3D Wildcat 4110 board.

BOXX Technologies announced its new RenderBOXX machine, a Windows NT- or Linux-based system for rendering using between two and 1,000 Xeon, Pentium III, or Alpha processors on a 2Uor 4U, 24 x 31 inch footprint. RenderBOXX joins the 3DBOXX 3D workstation and the FusionBOXX HD video editing system, which also comes with eyeon Software’s Digital Fusion HD compositing software. RenderBOXX pricing begins at $2,670 for a single unit system.

SOFTWARE SOLUTIONS

In Maya news, Alias|Wavefront announced Paint Effects, a 3D paint tool for Maya 2.5. Available in the fall as a standard feature of Maya 2.5, Paint Effects specializes in organic and painterly effects using pressure sensitive preset brushes that create trees, grass, flowers, hair, lighting, clouds, rain, fire and stars. Natural media brushes include airbrushes, oil paint, chalk, pastels, pencils, watercolors, wet brushes and markers. All Paint Effects brushes can be used either in 3D space or on a 2D canvas. Brushes can be blended together to create new custom presets, and many of the presets have built-in dynamics such as turbulence and gravity. Paint Effects strokes are fully drawn during interactive painting, and final rendering can include 3D cast shadows, depth of field, fog effects and motion blur.

Maya 2.5 will also include features aimed at game developers, including new LOD and polygon reduction tools, multi-threaded interactive photorealistic rendering, SSE support on Pentium III Xeon processors, additional ClipFX libraries, and a new lightweight two-bone IK solver. Maya Unlimited 2.5 will retail for $16,000, and Maya Complete 2.5 will be priced at $7,500. A new subset of Maya, called Maya Builder, is especially aimed at interactive developers, will retail for $2,500. It includes polygonal modeling and texturing tools, Artisan features, MEL scripting and the full Maya API. SRP is $2,995. For more information on Maya 2.5, see www.aliaswavefront.com.

Arete Image Software, maker of photorealistic oceanographic and atmospheric effects software plug-ins, announced that the Nature FX: Psyclone volumetric particle shading plug-in is now available for Maya. Features include 3D volumetric particle rendering, full seamless integration with Maya particles and dynamics, true self-shadowing of rendered clouds, per-particle blurring and edge filtering, and evolving clouds. Digital Nature tools is also available for Softimage, 3D Studio MAX, Lightwave 3D, Power Animator, After Effects, and Electric Image. For more information, see www.areteis.com.

Digital Immersion announced its forthcoming (Q4) release of Merlin 3D, an "intuitive 3D modeling and rendering environment for Microsoft Windows." For $595, it includes 3D primitives, text objects, grid snaps, deformation modifiers, Booleans, lights, materials, maps, fog, viewport animation playback, inverse kinematics, animatable deformations, hybrid radiosity, ray tracing, Phong shading, volumetric lighting, and multiple levels of undo and redo. Merlin 3D will run on an Intel-compatible processor at a minimum speed of 133 MHz with 32 MB RAM, and will be optimized for Pentium III processor with at least 128 MB RAM. For additional information, see www.digital-immersion.com.

Rational Reducer, a standalone 3D polygon reducer from Systems In Motion, outputs files to .dxf, .3ds, .flt and various VRML formats. It runs on Windows 95/98, Windows NT, Linex 2.0+ and SGI IRIX 6.2+ platforms. Using a demo version on a dual 400 PII system with 128 MB RAM, I found I could convert a 25,600 .3ds tri-mesh teapot to 512 triangles in about 40 seconds--a 98% reduction. The results were impressive: the reduced teapot stayed very true to form, with an evenly distributed tri-mesh surface. Futhermore, I found the sliders for pre-determining polygon count and percent of reduction to be both convenient and accurate. By comparison, it took me several tries to optimize the same model in 3D Studio MAX 3--and the results were far less pleasing to the eye. The price for Rational Reducer starts at $495. See www.sim.no for further details.

A simple solution for lip synching is the TalkSync plugin for 3D Studio MAX 3. Developed by Visual Voice, TalkSync analyzes .wav files and automatically keyframes a user-defined mouth. These animation keys can be edited in the Track View. Articulation includes individual vowels and consonants. Expected availability is fourth quarter 1999, for around $1,000. See www.visual-voice.com for more information.

One of the best surprises of the show was Synthetik Software’s Studio Artist™ program. Combining the idea of a music synthesizer with digital paint tools, Studio Artist generates animated paint strokes from a QuickTime movie. As traditionally-trained oil painter, I was fascinated by the rich layers of squishy paint that rapidly flowed from one frame to the next. Given the chance, I could play endlessly with Studio Artist’s 200 paint parameters, or spend hours examining the 600 presets. I was also quite impressed by the quality of the color, which implements an entirely new color space developed by its author, John Dalton. Winner of a Best of Show award at the recent MacWorld conference, Studio Artist runs only on the Macintosh platform at this time. But this may soon change, as the developers were besieged by requests and offers to help develop it for the Windows platforms. A steal at $295. See www.synthetik.com for more on this terrific new product.

Not exactly software, but worthy of your attention nonetheless, is a new book entitled Computer Animation: Expert Advice on Breaking into the Business. Author Dale K. Myers provides valuable advice on getting jobs and setting up your own freelance animation business. Topics include demo reels, interviewing, finding clients, and billing policies. A good value for $19.95. Available from Oak Cliff Press, (248) 676-8084, www.oakcliffpress.com, and amazon.com. ISBN 0-966-2709-6-7, 158 pp.

3D ON THE WEB

Out of the dozens of competing 3D applications for the Web, two products caught my eye: Shout3D from Shout Interactive, and Cult3D from Cycore. Shout3D uses an especially small player--56K--that downloads with their 3D files, and automatically installs into your browser. Based on Java 1.02, it will eventually convert to Java 3D when the technology becomes more widespread. Features include picking, dragging, logic constraints, and real-time rendering of lights and shadows. A strong example file features a fashion show in which the user can select lights, cameras, outfits, hair color, walk styles, poses, music, and backgrounds. The Shout 3D SDK will be released in September, with price varying from $100 for a single user to royalty fees on the "upper end." The Shout3D address is www.shoutinteractive.com.

Cult3D, already in version 4.0, allows you to move, rotate, and zoom objects, and trigger animations and sound over the web. Based on Java and VoxWare voice compression technology, Cult3D allows you to compress one minute of recorded voice to less than 25K. The exporter, which stands alone works with 3D Studio MAX R3, reduces and compresses geometry, controls texture map size and compression, provides a choice of several shaders, and preserves object hierarchy to create interactivity. Authoring is simple and intuitive using Cult3D’s drag-and-drop editor, and interactive transform sliders. Impressive examples include an animated watch with a transparent crystal set to the time of your computer, a Sharp minidisc player that you can open, close, and break apart, and a Nokia 9110 digital assistant you can actually use online. The Cult3D development tool and MAX 3 plug-in can be downloaded for free. Organizations pay a one-time licensing fee of $3,600 that enables them to post an unlimited number of Cult3D objects to their Web sites. For more information, or to download Cult3D, go to www.cult3D.com.

 

BIO:

Michele Matossian is a 3D artist and teacher, as well as the author of 3D Studio MAX 3: Visual QuickStart Guide (ISBN 0-201-35350-4, 374 pp., $19.95, Peachpit Press, August 1999). The book, an introduction to 3D Studio MAX 3, features step-by-step instructions, 16 color plates, and close to 1,000 figures. Available from Peachpit Press, 1-800-429-3110, www.peachpit.com, and www.amazon.com. Both sites now offer a 20% discount.

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F.Y.I.

About Spectrum

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