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Spectrum: Interactive Media & Online Developer News 8 August 2005
Spectrum: Interactive Media & Online Developer News
Spectrum: Interactive Media & Online Developer News
8 August 2005
Reported, written and edited by David Duberman
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This week we have my report from Siggraph 2005 and a
few news items; we'll follow up next week with a
number of additional news stories from the show.
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Today's Headlines (details below)
--Virtools Upgrades Software Suite
--Khronos Releases OpenGL ES 2.0 Spec
--Lucas, CG Tech Draw More Than 29,000 to L.A.
--Character Animation Technologies Previews CAT2
--Alias Announces Maya 7
--Avid Unveils Softimage|XSI v.5.0
--Autodesk Updates 3ds Max, Discreet Digital Video
--Avid Previews Facial Animation Tech
By David Duberman
I had a great time at Siggraph this year, as always.
The L.A. convention center is a top-notch venue for
the show, being big enough to hold the vast array of
content while not so spread out that you need to walk
for half an hour between sessions, as in New Orleans.
The show will be in Boston next year; I might have to
skip that one, being based on the west coast. San
Diego in '07; going to that one for sure. But it was
particularly exciting to hear that the show will
return to San Francisco in 2010; I'm there! If I'm
still alive, that is.
The official post-show press release (condensed below,
under Graphically Speaking) noted attendance of
29,000+ without mentioning how that compared to recent
shows, but it certainly seemed more crowded than last
year. I was standing just inside the entrance to the
exhibition show floor when they first opened the doors
Tuesday morning, and the attendees rushed in so fast
and intently I had a hard time crossing to my
I have to say, the "keynote" by George Lucas was a bit
underwhelming; he evidently hadn't prepared anything,
but simply sat in an easy chair and allowed himself to
be interviewed by someone who didn't seem to pay much
attention to his answers. Also, an unfortunate camera
angle emphasized his rather sizable wattle, which was
a bit distracting. Be that as it may, many in the
audience seemed to be excited to be in the presence of
the Jedi chief himself, and it was fun to hear about
his future plans: mostly TV shows based on Star Wars.
It'll be interesting to see if Lucas can pull himself
out of the creative slump evinced by his recent filmic
ventures. He mentioned "pre-viz" several times; it's
obvious he's particularly intrigued by this use of 3D
software for figuring out movie shots before the
camerawork actually takes place.
As always at Siggraph, I was pressed for time, but
this year in particular I had to leave early, so was
unable to attend a number of sessions I would've liked
to. On Sunday, the first day, I attended a class
entitled Anyone Can Make Quality Animated Films! (The
Eight Basic Steps to Success). If you're the type who
likes to skip to the end to get the good stuff, I'll
save you time by listing the eight steps right up
* Write a good story script
* Develop an appealing style
* Create a tight storyboard
* Record dynamic voices
* Create backgrounds that fit the story
* Produce the best-quality animation within your
* Composite for entertainment value
* Deliver workable release prints.
The presentation was delivered by three instructors at
The Art Institute of California - San Diego (they also
work in the entertainment industry): Eric Van
Hammersveld, Bob Hanon, and Debra Miller. Their roles
weren't immediately evident (probably because I missed
the start of the class), but Van Hammersveld seems to
be production oriented, Hanon is a skilled artist and
spoke extensively on storyboarding and background
creation, and Miller is adept at twisting her voice
around different speaking styles.
The presenters seemed to favor 2D animation at the
expense of 3D, which is, of course, what most of the
Siggraph audience would be using to create animation.
That no doubt springs from their work experience,
although Van Hammersveld, toward the end of the
course, offered up the interesting rumor that Pixar
has purchased the recently abandoned Disney 2D
animation equipment, and is soliciting 2D demo reels
from potential employees. Of course, there's no basis
in fact there … or is there? At any rate, most of the
material was equally relevant to both 2D and 3D
animation, although Hanon did point out that
backgrounds for 2D projects need to be less obtrusive
than those for 3D animation. I don't necessarily
endorse that view, but he's the expert.
Knowing your audience was one of the overarching
themes of the (non-interactive) class. That's always a
good idea when striving for success with a creative
project, but, as Van Hammersveld pointed out, many
movie producers nowadays seem to be aiming for
eight-year-old viewers, creating movies with lots of
sizzle (i.e., special effects) but no substance (i.e.,
story). As an example of this, he cited the recent War
of the Worlds remake, most of which followed the
protagonists as they ran from the Martian invaders.
This in contrast to the 1953 version, in which the
lead character, portrayed by Gene Barry, actually
tried to do something about the invasion.
When devising a project, it's also important to
determine what it is that intrigues you about the
story. Find something that reflects your interests in
life, that's very personal; something that stirs your
passions. Similarly, you need to decide what kind of
emotional response you want from the audience; what
they should leave the theater with. These concerns tie
in to the following portion of the course: the pitch.
It's not a particularly creative pursuit, but it is
necessary if you're not independently wealthy and you
need money to produce the animation.
When preparing for a pitch, one of the most important
tasks, according to Debra Miller, is to know yourself
and acknowledge your fear of public speaking. No
problem, if you're an accomplished public speaker, but
if not you might want to consider joining a group such
as Toastmasters for support.
Hanon addressed his remarks more to creative aspects
of the animation process, such as the need for a style
guide, which conveys basic design info for project
consistency. Such a document must include character
models, prop models, location and environmental
design, painted backgrounds and background keys, and
color styling. Make many sketches of the various
characters, while rereading the script to discover
what the character "feels like" to you. When creating
character action sheets, it often helps to get up and
pose yourself. It's also important to draw characters
in groups to see if they fit together. Hanon also
asserts that the world is your sketchbook; look at
people and break down why one is a character and why
he or she impresses you. There was a great deal more
information of value and use, not only to those making
animated movies but to those creating animation for
I also attended a panel on Networked Performance,
composed of a number of artists and academics who are
stretching the accepted definitions of performance by
using technology in heretofore unimagined ways. They
discussed theoretical and practical implications of
their research. Later, in the Guerrilla Studio, a
hands-on fixture at Siggraph, I had a brief chance to
experience a game developed by panelist Julian
Bleecker of USC, who, among other pursuits, creates
high-tech versions of classic kids' games. In his take
on Red Light Green Light, the player uses a tablet
computer combined with an orientation sensor so that,
as he turns, he can see other players coming toward
him from all directions, instead of just from one
direction as in the original version. It was fun,
although I didn't do very well at it.
The most interesting session I attended was a panel
entitled Believable Characters: Are AI-Driven
Characters Possible, and Where Will They Take Us? This
is an important issue that deserves to be addressed at
a graphics conference for the simple reason that
highly realistic-looking characters, as will appear in
the next generation of console games, seem creepy to
the player if they don't act realistically as well. If
you've ever played an adventure-type game, you've
probably experienced this when you asked a character a
question several times and received an identical
answer each time. Such interactions do not lead to
suspension of disbelief, as is required for an
immersive game experience, but rather heightening of
The panel was somewhat weighted toward the commercial
side of the games industry, with three representatives
from Electronic Arts, some of whom didn't seem to
understand the real issues at stake. Instead, I'll
mostly limit my review to the remarks of Andrew Stern
(http://www.interactivestory.net/), researcher and
developer at Zoesis Studios. Stern, the most visionary
(or perhaps idealistic) panel member, recently
released Façade, the result of a four-year
collaboration with Michael Mateas. Façade is an
unusual pastime (I hesitate to call it an actual game)
that involves the player visiting an arguing couple.
You can type in anything you want, to which the couple
will respond or not in well-acted spoken voice and
simple but expressive 2D animation. You can also hug
and kiss either member of the couple, but that can be
inappropriate and might lead to your being booted from
Stern characterizes game characters as beautiful,
often violent, often dumb as doorknobs, and, at their
most advanced, akin to sufferers of autism. Even the
best characters are limited in scope; for example,
those in Halo 2 incorporate spatial intelligence for
close combat, but nothing else. Characters in The Sims
have a broad but shallow range of behaviors; he
describes them as "ants in people clothing" that
satisfy their desires by "hill climbing." Like a
previous panelist, he mentioned the groundbreaking
research of roboticist Masahiro Mori, who originally
used the term "uncanny valley" to describe how
characters that look real but don't behave as humans
do can seem spooky.
In the next generation of consoles, Stern foresees the
"big hair era of games," in which developers will
boost the visuals but not the AI. In fact, he thinks
it might be a step backwards because the
general-purpose CPU mostly feeds the graphics
pipeline. If gaming is to advance and gain a larger
audience, intelligence is sorely needed; mostly
important, characters need to listen for and
understand more player expressions. To avoid the
uncanny valley, developers must imbue their games with
a high degree of reactivity and agency, as well as
believable character and gameplay design.
Admittedly, these desires are admirable, if somewhat
impractical given the current state of the industry.
The other panelists spoke in more real-world terms;
for example, one EA game designer addressed the issue
of causing players in a sports game to make more
realistic turns. Moderator Stephen Gray of EA doesn't
think that the upcoming cycle will generate real AI,
but is the cycle in which we can add enough subtlety
to start on the road to believability. He also issued
a challenge to game makers and toolmakers to create
ways to make better AI. In particular, we need
procedural animation, with ways to let artists adjust
the procedures. The days of clipping together linear
animation have to end.
The highlight of the show was the Electronic Theater,
which isn't news if you've been to Siggraph before or
have read my previous reports from the show. I won't
go into specifics, but I will say it was the most
enthralling couple of hours I've spent watching a
screen, big or little, in recent memory. If you live
in or near a city with a Siggraph chapter, ask them to
get the show, or else buy the DVDs. They're not cheap,
but they're worth it, especially if you're looking for
stellar examples of animation to aspire to.
Virtools Upgrades Software Suite
Virtools, recently acquired by Dassault Systemes,
announced Virtools Software Suite 3.5. The set of
software-development solutions for building
interactive 3D content, is said to be the result of
client and partner feedback. Enhancements and new
functionalities for release 3.5, which will begin
shipping in one month, were defined in conjunction
with advanced customers, such as Honeywell and Procter
Procter & Gamble (P&G) uses Virtools Dev as the
underlying technology for the development of an
interactive 3D application that supports the
initiative management process. Several hundred users
across all of P&G's global business units, along with
P&G suppliers, use the application to speed up and
improve internal decision making and innovation.
Virtools Dev 3.5 offers new features oriented towards
better compatibility and support for external
technologies and formats, as well as enhanced control
over the rendering pipeline.
- New video engine - supports live video feed from a
video camera; videos with soundtracks read from local
hard drives or servers
- Native VRML import to load objects at runtime.
- 5.1 sound based on the DirectSound3D engine.
- Ready-to-use shaders library
- Support for OpenGL 1.5, performance said to be
comparable to that of DirectX9
- New VR-specific SDK: VRSDK - provides access to
specific VR Pack functions, to facilitate integration
of external modules programmed in C++ (e.g.,
implementation of "warping" and "edge blending"
- Point cloud integration lets users use data derived
from 3D laser scanning. Millions of points can be
stored and displayed with associated functionalities
such as addition of attributes for each point, display
of such points by shaders, collision management and
level of detail.
- 3D texture support enables easier creation of
classic 3D visualization applications: interactive
positioning of clipping planes, modification of lookup
tables, as well as filtering and treatment by
- Resource thumbnail previews - preview media assets
and resources used in Virtools compositions. A
"Thumbnail" mode will offer previews of various
Virtools resource libraries (.cmo, .nmo) directly in
Windows explorer, as well as media preview in the
Resources window of Virtools Dev.
Khronos Releases OpenGL ES 2.0 Spec
The Khronos Group announced at Siggraph that it has
released the OpenGL ES 2.0, OpenGL ES 1.1 Extension
Pack, EGL 1.2 and OpenGL ES-SC 1.0 specifications. The
OpenGL ES standard is royalty-free and defines subset
profiles of OpenGL to enable small-footprint embedded
applications with advanced graphics capabilities and
has been widely adopted by the wireless and gaming
industries. All the OpenGL ES-related specifications
are available for free download at
OpenGL ES 2.0 combines a version of the OpenGL Shading
Language for programming vertex and fragment shaders
that has been adapted for embedded platforms, together
with a streamlined API from OpenGL ES 1.1 that has
removed any fixed functionality that can be easily
replaced by shader programs, to minimize the cost and
power of advanced programmable graphics subsystems.
The released specification is provisional, as Khronos
will fine-tune the specification as the industry gains
implementation experience of embedded programmable
graphics over the next six months, and silicon vendors
are enabled to immediately start processor designs.
The OpenGL ES 1.1 Extension Pack collects together a
number of optional extensions in one specification to
extend OpenGL ES functionality for fixed function
hardware. The Extension Pack also raises the baseline
for visual configurations to reduce the number of
variations that ISVs need to support, reportedly
making porting OpenGL ES of applications across
multiple platforms both easier and faster.
The latest version of the EGL library for interfacing
with and controlling platform, memory and buffer
resources -- EGL 1.2 -- has been extended to enable
rendering using both OpenGL ES and OpenVG -- the new
2D vector graphics standards also announced by Khronos
-- enabling accelerated, mixed-mode 2D and 3D
Lucas, CG Tech Draw More Than 29,000 to L.A.
Siggraph 2005, the 32nd conference on computer
graphics and interactive techniques, attracted 29,122
artists, research scientists, developers, and
academics from 81 countries to Los Angeles this week.
More than 250 companies exhibited, including 65 for
the first time, covering more than 70,000 net square
feet of space.
The Siggraph 2005 keynote event featured George Lucas
in an interview format. In the revealing dialogue,
Lucas, who is lauded as the father of digital cinema
and internationally known for visionary cinematic
feats such as "Stars Wars" and "Indiana Jones,"
explained, "I am a storyteller at heart."
Looking to the future, Lucas expressed his belief that
advancements in artificial intelligence will vastly
change technology and particularly the game industry.
"I want to get to the point where you can talk to a
game and the game will talk back." Lucas discussed his
plans for Lucasfilm to head more into the television
arena, and commented that unlike industry visionary
Walt Disney, he does not plan to expand his Industrial
Light & Magic effects shop into a film studio.
"This is the first group I could come to that didn't
ask me what digital arts are," commented Lucas on his
1984 visit to SIGGRAPH. Explaining to the audience
that he is not a computer person, Lucas stressed that
his quest for innovation was a quest for immaculate
reality, "How do we make this real?...How do we get
immaculate reality?" Looking to the thousands of
Siggraph faces before him, Lucas smiled and stated," I
don't care how you how you do it, I am just glad you
are doing it."
The Computer Animation Festival jury gave "9" by Shane
Acker (United States) "Best of Show" honors. Jury
Honors were also given to "Fallen Art" by Tomek
Baginski of Platige Image (Poland) and "La Migration
Bigoudenn" by Eric Castaing, Alexandre Heboyan, and
Fafah Togora of Gobelins, l'ecole de l'image (France).
ACM Siggraph presented three awards at the conference
to recognize individuals who made a significant
contribution to the computer graphics community.
Tomoyuki Nishita of the University of Tokoyo received
the Steven Anson Coons Award for Outstanding Creative
Contributions to Computer Graphics for his work on
rendering of natural phenomena. Jos Stam, a senior
research scientist at Alias, received the Computer
Graphics Achievement Award for his pioneering work on
subdivision surfaces and on fast Algorithms for the
simulation of natural phenomena, especially fire,
fluids, and gases. Ronald Fedkiw of Stanford
University received the Significant New Researcher
Award for his contributions to the field of
computational fluid dynamics.
Through an award partnership between Laval Virtual
France and Siggraph, the 2005 Emerging Technologies
installation, "Touch Light: An Imaging Screen and
Display for Gesture-Based Interaction," was selected
by Laval Virtual France for presentation at their
conference 26-30 April. The technology, developed by
Andy Wilson of Microsoft Research is a unique
transparent display using computer vision technology
enabling new applications in gesture-based user
interface, video conferencing, augmented reality, and
ubiquitous computing. Two members of the Siggraph 2006
conference planning committee will travel to Laval
France next April to select a winning installation to
be invited to display at Siggraph 2006 in Boston.
Siggraph 2006, the 33rd International Conference on
Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques, will be
held in the Boston Convention Center, 30 July - 3
August 2006. For more information on how to
participate, see the Siggraph 2006 Call for
Presentations at http://www.siggraph.org/s2006.
Character Animation Technologies Previews CAT2
At SIGGRAPH 2005, Character Animation Technologies
Ltd., a New Zealand-based developer of 3D
character-animation tools, provided a look at CAT
Version 2. A plug-in for Autodesk's 3ds Max, CAT2 is
the next generation of the character system CAT
(Character Animation Toolkit).
CAT was designed to provide animators the flexibility
of a custom rig without the slowdown and technical
complexity. Artists can create any rig configuration
in minutes and save it as a preset for reuse. With the
software's procedural walk-cycle system, walk
sequences can be achieved in less than an hour, and
keyframing is said to be faster and more intuitive.
CAT's non-linear animation system also greatly
improves flexibility and efficiency and artists can
build entire libraries of animation clips to be loaded
onto any other CATRig.
Enhancements and new features include:
- New Rig Manipulation system, F/IK, lets the user
push the character into the desired pose.
- Foot Pivot System - Position and animate the foot
pivot without complication or limitation.
- Stretchy Bones Mode - Drag the length of individual
bones in the viewport with the mouse. Animate the
scale of all rig bones, including spines, with no
skewing; suitable for cartoon-style characters and
- Time Warp Curves - Create slow motion and speed up
The Matrix-like bullet-time effects on a whole
animation layer with a single spline curve.
- Extra Bones - Create more bones to be used as facial
bones, stomach bones, weapon bones, etc. Create and
attach whole facial rigs to a character rig.
- Edit Rig Mesh - Create a proxy mesh, and then save
it as a rig preset for reuse.
- Motion Data Importing -- Import motion data files in
HTR, BVH, FBX and BIP formats.
Alias Announces Maya 7
Maya 7 software offers new and improved tools for
character animation, streamlined modeling and
texturing, visual effects, and increased productivity.
One customer-driven feature is a re-architecture of
the Maya render layers functionality, which means that
multiple versions of objects, including materials,
lights and cameras, as well as post processes such as
Maya Fur and Maya Paint Effects, can now be managed in
a single scene file.
Render layers can be rendered with any renderer
integrated in Maya, including the latest mental ray
for Maya technology. This new workflow not only
streamlines the rendering process, but it also
prepares renders for optimal output to the artists'
compositor of choice, or to Adobe Photoshop or
The integration of the full-body IK solver from Alias
MotionBuilder is designed to make rigging and posing
characters simpler and more precise, as do paintable
Blend Shapes and Wire deformers. Maya 7 now also
supports collaborative, parallel workflows through its
ability to iteratively substitute geometry and allow
modelers, animators and technical directors to work on
the same character simultaneously in a non-destructive
Maya 7 introduces RenderMan-compatible variable
creasing on smoothly subdivided polygon meshes,
allowing control between smooth and hard edges.
Other enhancements for game developers include Edge
Loop and Edge Ring tools, UV unfolding, tri-planar and
multi-mesh mapping, together with the inclusion of
CgFX and ASHLI plug-ins, which allow hardware shaders
for next-generation consoles to be previewed within
Maya. Maya 7 also helps artists optimize scenes
without loss of visible detail through a new Surface
Sampler, which utilizes normal mapping and other data
transfer methods between models of differing
A new Toon Shader leverages Maya's Paint Effects to
support a range of non-photorealistic rendering
styles; it affords control over line style, placement
and width, and features interactive previews in near
real-time. Among the many enhancements in Maya
Unlimited, Maya Hair can now be transplanted from one
character to another, Maya Fur is now integrated with
Maya's dynamic curve technology, and Maya Fluid
Effects benefits from a new High Detail solve mode.
Avid Unveils Softimage|XSI v.5.0
Avid Technology, Inc. (NASDAQ: AVID) expects to ship
version 5.0 of the company's flagship Softimage|XSI
3-D animation software in September. New features
include Ultimapper, a map-generation tool for
producing maps in a few clicks; and Gator, a
property-transfer system for merging textured,
animated 3D models. In addition to running on standard
32-bit CPUs, Softimage|XSI v.5.0 will also be
available in a native 64-bit configuration, which
reportedly lets users model, animate and render scenes
with billions of polygons and layers of 3D, film, and
The new version also includes features for
streamlining the process for modeling, texturing, and
rigging changes to characters without reconstructing
bones, bone weights or shape animation. There's also
migration tools for Maya users, such as a customizable
user interface with new menu, keyboard and mouse
Softimage|XSI v.5.0 has been re-architected to take
full advantage of dual-core 64-bit CPUs, which can
access large amounts of physical memory to effectively
double production throughput during the CG content
creation process. In addition, Softimage|XSI v.5.0 is
integrated with version 3.4 of the mental ray
Additional features in Softimage|XSI v.5.0 include:
- Native XSI Hair. XSI Advanced updates XSI Hair with
a new grooming tool that lets artists create and style
hair, fur, grass and trees. A new instancing system
allows users to replicate this content throughout
- Syflex 3 cloth simulation
- Rigid-body dynamics based on the AGEIA physX physics
simulation engine, including actual-shape collision
- New dotXSI v.5.0 export & import with full source
code supports XSI models, materials, shaders,
animation, skeletons and envelopes. Version 5.0 also
adds support for shape morphing, subdivision
approximation, and blind user-data.
Softimage|XSI v.5.0 is expected to be available in
September 2005 for purchase in the following
Softimage|XSI v.5.0 Foundation for $495 from the
Softimage Website at www.softimage.com/store.
Softimage|XSI v.5.0 Essentials for $1,995 from
authorized Softimage resellers.
Softimage|XSI v.5.0 Advanced for $6,995 from
authorized Softimage resellers.
Autodesk Updates 3ds Max, Discreet Digital Video
At Siggraph, Autodesk announced 3ds Max 8, the newest
version of its 3D-animation software. The company also
showed recently announced updates to its Discreet line
of visual effects, editing and digital color grading
systems during the conference at the Los Angeles
3ds Max 8 reportedly delivers advanced character
tools, scripting features, asset management, and more.
For a complete list of new 3ds Max 8 features, visit:
Autodesk demonstrated new versions of its systems
products, including Discreet Fire 7 and Discreet Smoke
7 editing systems; Discreet Inferno 6.5, Discreet
Flame 9.5 and Discreet Flint 9.5 visual effects
systems; and the Discreet Lustre 2.6 digital color
grading system. Autodesk's IRIX- based Fire, Smoke,
Inferno and Flame systems feature a new 64-bit
architecture. New features include a paint system,
optimized optical flow Timewarp functionality, and
Avid Previews Facial Animation Tech
At Siggraph, Avid Technology also previewed
Softimage|Face Robot, its new facial-animation
technology. The technology is built on a new computer
model of facial soft tissue said to mimic the full
range of emotions portrayed by the human face.
The Face Robot software supports both keyframe
animation and motion capture. The soft tissue model at
the core of the technology is said to remove the need
to manually create dozens or even hundreds of 3D
shapes for different facial expressions and allows
animators to work with control points. Keyframe
animators can gain access to facial expressions, while
motion-capture animators can work with fewer markers
to reduce setup and cleanup time.
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